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Title: War
Author: Loti, Pierre, 1850-1923
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Internet Archive/American Libraries.)



 WAR



 WAR



 BY

 PIERRE LOTI



 TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH BY
 MARJORIE LAURIE


 [Illustration]


 PHILADELPHIA AND LONDON
 J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
 1917


 COPYRIGHT, 1917, BY J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY

 _Printed by J. B. Lippincott Company
 The Washington Square Press, Philadelphia, U. S. A._


 TO MY FRIEND

 LOUIS BARTHOU, P.L.



CONTENTS


                                                          PAGE

     I. A LETTER TO THE MINISTER OF MARINE                   9

    II. TWO POOR LITTLE NESTLINGS OF BELGIUM                12

   III. A GAY LITTLE SCENE AT THE BATTLE FRONT              18

    IV. LETTER TO ENVER PASHA                               28

     V. ANOTHER SCENE AT THE BATTLE FRONT                   34

    VI. THE PHANTOM BASILICA                                53

   VII. THE FLAG WHICH OUR NAVAL BRIGADE DO NOT YET
        POSSESS                                             68

  VIII. TAHITI AND THE SAVAGES WITH PINK SKINS LIKE
        BOILED PIG                                          80

    IX. A LITTLE HUSSAR                                     85

     X. AN EVENING AT YPRES                                 95

    XI. AT THE GENERAL HEADQUARTERS OF THE BELGIAN ARMY    111

   XII. SOME WORDS UTTERED BY HER MAJESTY, THE QUEEN OF
        THE BELGIANS                                       127

  XIII. AN APPEAL ON BEHALF OF THE SERIOUSLY WOUNDED IN
        THE EAST                                           139

   XIV. SERBIA IN THE BALKAN WAR                           148

    XV. ABOVE ALL LET US NEVER FORGET!                     151

   XVI. THE INN OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN                      157

  XVII. FOR THE RESCUE OF OUR WOUNDED                      174

 XVIII. AT RHEIMS                                          177

   XIX. THE DEATH-BEARING GAS                              192

    XX. ALL-SOULS' DAY WITH THE ARMIES AT THE FRONT        205

   XXI. THE CROSS OF HONOUR FOR THE FLAG OF THE
        NAVAL BRIGADE                                      211

  XXII. THE ABSENT-MINDED PILGRIM                          219

 XXIII. THE FIRST SUNSHINE OF MARCH                        242

  XXIV. AT SOISSONS                                        265

   XXV. THE TWO GORGON HEADS                               299



WAR



I

A LETTER TO THE MINISTER OF MARINE


CAPTAIN J. VIAUD OF THE NAVAL RESERVE, TO THE MINISTER OF
MARINE.

 _Rochefort, August 18th, 1914._

SIR,

When I was recalled to active service on the outbreak of war I had hopes
of performing some duty less insignificant than that which was assigned
to me in our dock-yards.

Believe me, I have no reproaches to make, for I am very well aware that
the Navy will not fill the principal rôle in this war, and that all my
comrades of the same rank are likewise destined to almost complete
inaction for mere lack of opportunity, like myself doomed, alas! to see
their energies sapped, their spirits in torment.

But let me invoke the other name I bear. The average man is not as a
rule well versed in Naval Regulations. Will it not, then, be a bad
example in our dear country, where everyone is doing his duty so
splendidly, if Pierre Loti is to serve no useful end? The exercise of
two professions places me as an officer in a somewhat exceptional
position, does it not? Forgive me then for soliciting a degree of
exceptional and indulgent treatment. I should accept with joy, with
pride, any position whatsoever that would bring me nearer to the
fighting-line, even if it were a very subordinate post, one much below
the dignity of my five rows of gold braid.

Or, on the other hand, in the last resort, could I not be appointed a
supernumerary on special duty on some ship which might have a chance of
seeing real fighting? I assure you that I should find some means of
making myself useful there. Or, finally, if there are too many rules and
regulations in the way, would you grant me, sir, while waiting until my
services may be required by the Fleet, liberty to come and go, so that I
may try to find some kind of employment, even if it be only ambulance
work? My lot is hard, and no one will understand that the mere fact that
I am a captain in the Naval Reserve dooms me to almost complete
inaction, while all France is in arms.

 (_Signed_) JULIEN VIAUD.

 (PIERRE LOTI.)



II

TWO POOR LITTLE NESTLINGS OF BELGIUM


 _August, 1914._

One evening a train full of Belgian refugees had just entered the
railway station of one of our southern towns. Worn out and dazed, the
poor martyrs stepped down slowly, one by one, on to the unfamiliar
platform where Frenchmen were waiting to welcome them. Carrying with
them a few articles of clothing, caught up at haphazard, they had
climbed up into the coaches without so much as asking themselves what
was their destination. They had taken refuge there in hurried flight,
desperate flight from horror and death, from fire, mutilations
unspeakable and Sadic outrages--such things, deemed no longer possible
on earth, had been brooding still, it seemed, in the depths of
pietistic German brains, and, like an ultimate spewing forth of primeval
barbarities, had burst suddenly upon their country and upon our own.
Village, hearth, family--nothing remained to them; without purpose, like
waifs and strays, they had drifted there, and in the eyes of all lay
horror and anguish. Among them were many children, little girls, whose
parents were lost in the midst of conflagrations or battles; aged
grandmothers, too, now alone in the world, who had fled, scarce knowing
why, clinging no longer to life, yet urged on by some obscure instinct
of self-preservation. The faces of these aged women expressed no
emotion, not even despair; it seemed as if their souls had actually
abandoned their bodies and reason their brains.

Lost in that mournful throng were two quite young children, holding each
other tightly by the hand, two little boys, evidently two little
brothers. The elder, five years of age perhaps, was protecting the
younger, whose age may have been three. No one claimed them; no one knew
them. When they found themselves alone, how was it that they understood
that if they would escape death they, too, must climb into that train?
Their clothes were neat, and they wore warm little woollen stockings.
Evidently they belonged to humble but careful parents. Doubtless they
were the sons of one of those glorious soldiers of Belgium who fell like
heroes upon the field of honour--sons of a father who, in the moment of
death, must needs have bestowed upon them one last and tender thought.
So overwhelmed were they with weariness and want of sleep that they did
not even cry. Scarcely could they stand upright. They could not answer
the questions that were put to them, but above all they refused to let
go of each other; that they would not do. At last the big, elder
brother, still gripping the other's hand for fear of losing him,
realised the responsibilities of his character of protector; he summoned
up strength to speak to the lady with the brassard, who was bending down
to him.

"Madame," he said, in a very small, beseeching voice, already
half-asleep, "Madame, is anyone going to put us to bed?"

For the moment this was the only wish they were capable of forming; all
that they looked for from the mercy of mankind was that someone would be
so good as to put them to bed. They were soon put to bed, together, you
may be sure, and they went to sleep at once, still holding hands and
nestling close to each other, both sinking in the same instant into the
peaceful oblivion of children's slumbers.

One day long ago, in the China Seas during the war, two bewildered
little birds, two tiny little birds, smaller even than our wren, had
made their way, I know not how, on board our iron-clad and into our
admiral's quarters. No one, to be sure, had sought to frighten them, and
all day long they had fluttered about from side to side, perching on
cornices or on green plants. By nightfall I had forgotten them, when the
admiral sent for me. It was to show me, with emotion, his two little
visitors; they had gone to sleep in his room, perched on one leg upon a
silken cord fastened above his bed. Like two little balls of feathers,
touching and almost mingling in one, they slept close, very close
together, without the slightest fear, as if very sure of our pity.

And these poor little Belgian children, sleeping side by side, made me
think of those two nestlings, astray in the midst of the China Seas.
Theirs, too, was the same trust; theirs the same innocent slumber. But
these children were to be protected with a far more tender solicitude.



III

A GAY LITTLE SCENE AT THE BATTLE FRONT


 _October, 1914._

At about eleven o'clock in the morning of that day I arrived at a
village--its name I have, let us say, forgotten. My companion was an
English commandant, whom the fortunes of war had given me for comrade
since the previous evening. Our path was lighted by that great and
genial magician, the sun--a radiant sun, a holiday sun, transfiguring
and beautifying all things. This occurred in a department in the extreme
north of France, which one it was I have never known, but the weather
was so fine that we might have imagined ourselves in Provence.

For nearly two hours our way lay hemmed in between two columns of
soldiers, marching in opposite directions. On our right were the English
going into action, very clean, very fresh, with an air of satisfaction
and in high spirits. They were admirably equipped and their horses in
the pink of condition. On our left were French Artillerymen coming back
from the Titanic battle to enjoy a little rest. The latter were coated
with dust, and some wore bandages round arm and forehead, but they still
preserved their gaiety of countenance and the aspect of healthy men, and
they marched in sections in good order. They were actually bringing back
quantities of empty cartridge cases, which they had found time to
collect, a sure proof that they had withdrawn from the scene of action
at their leisure, unhurried and unafraid--victorious soldiers to whom
their chiefs had prescribed a few days' respite. In the distance we
heard a noise like a thunderstorm, muffled at first, to which we were
drawing nearer and yet nearer. Peasants were working in the adjoining
fields as if nothing unusual were happening, and yet they were not sure
that the savages, who were responsible for such tumult yonder, would not
come back one of these days and pillage everything. Here and there in
the meadows, on the grass, sat groups of fugitives, clustered around
little wood fires. The scene would have been dismal enough on a gloomy
day, but the sun managed to shed a cheerful light upon it. They cooked
their meals in gipsy fashion, surrounded by bundles in which they had
hurriedly packed together their scanty clothing in the terrible rush for
safety.

Our motor car was filled with packets of cigarettes and with newspapers,
which kind souls had commissioned us to carry to the men in the
firing-line, and so slow was our progress, so closely were we hemmed in
by the two columns of soldiers, that we were able to distribute our
gifts through the doors of the car, to the English on our right, to the
French on our left. They stretched out their hands to catch them in
mid-air, and thanked us with a smile and a quick salute.

There were also villagers who travelled along that overcrowded road
mingling in confusion with the soldiers. I remember a very pretty young
peasant woman, who was dragging along by a string, in the midst of the
English transport wagons, a little go-cart with two sleeping babies. She
was toiling along, for the gradient just there was steep. A handsome
Scotch sergeant, with a golden moustache, who sat on the back of the
nearest wagon smoking a cigarette and dangling his legs, beckoned to
her.

"Give me the end of your string."

She understood and accepted his offer with a smile of pretty confusion.
The Scotchman wound the fragile tow-rope round his left arm, keeping his
right arm free so that he might go on smoking. So it was really he who
brought along these two babies of France, while the heavy transport
lorry drew their little cart like a feather.

When we entered the village, the sun shone with increasing splendour.
Such chaos, such confusion prevailed there as had never been seen
before, and after this war, unparalleled in history, will never again be
witnessed. Uniforms of every description, weapons of every sort, Scots,
French cuirassiers, Turcos, Zouaves, Bedouins, whose burnouses swung
upwards with a noble gesture as they saluted. The church square was
blocked with huge English motor-omnibuses that had once been a means of
communication in the streets of London, and still displayed in large
letters the names of certain districts of that city. I shall be accused
of exaggeration, but it is a fact that these omnibuses wore a look of
astonishment at finding themselves rolling along, packed with soldiers,
over the soil of France.

All these people, mingled together in confusion, were making
preparations for luncheon. Those savages yonder (who might perhaps
arrive here on the morrow--who could say?) still conducted their great
symphony, their incessant cannonade, but no one paid any attention to
it. Who, moreover, could be uneasy in such beautiful surroundings, such
surprising autumn sunshine, while roses still grew on the walls, and
many-coloured dahlias in gardens that the white frost had scarcely
touched? Everyone settled down to the meal and made the best of things.
You would have thought you were looking at a festival, a somewhat
incongruous and unusual festival, to be sure, improvised in the vicinity
of some tower of Babel. Girls wandered about among the groups; little
fair-haired children gave away fruit they had gathered in their own
orchards. Scotsmen in shirt-sleeves were persuaded that the country they
were in was warm by comparison with their own. Priests and Red Cross
sisters were finding seats for the wounded on packing-cases. One good
old sister, with a face like parchment, and frank, pretty eyes under her
mob-cap, took infinite pains to make a Zouave comfortable, whose arms
were both wrapped in bandages. Doubtless she would presently feed him as
if he were a little child.

We ourselves, the Englishman and I, were very hungry, so we made our way
to the pleasant-looking inn, where officers were already seated at table
with soldiers of lower rank. (In these times of torment in which we
live hierarchal barriers no longer exist.)

"I could certainly give you roast beef and rabbit _sauté_," said the
innkeeper, "but as for bread, no indeed! it is not to be had; you cannot
buy bread anywhere at any price."

"Ah!" said my comrade, the English commandant, "and what about those
excellent loaves over there standing up against the door?"

"Oh, those loaves belong to a general who sent them here, because he is
coming to luncheon with his aides-de-camp."

Hardly had he turned his back when my companion hastily drew a knife
from his pocket, sliced off the end of one of those golden loaves, and
hid it under his coat.

"We have found some bread," he said calmly to the innkeeper, "so you can
bring luncheon."

So, seated beside an Arab officer of _la Grande Tente_, dressed in a
red burnous, we luncheon gaily with our guests, the soldier-chauffeurs
of our motor car.

When we left the inn to continue our journey the festival of the sun was
at its height; it cast a glad light upon that ill-assorted throng and
the strange motor-omnibuses. A convoy of German prisoners was crossing
the square; bestial and sly of countenance they marched between our own
soldiers, who kept time infinitely better than they; scarcely a glance
was thrown at them.

The old nun I spoke of, so old and so pure-eyed, was helping her Zouave
to smoke a cigarette, holding it to his lips rather awkwardly with
trembling, grandmotherly solicitude. At the same time she seemed to be
telling him some quite amusing stories--with the innocent, ingenuous
merriment of which good nuns have the secret--for they were both
laughing. Who can say what little childish tale it may have been? An
old parish priest, who was smoking his pipe near them--without any
particular refinement, I am bound to admit--laughed, too, to see them
laugh. And just as we were going into our car to continue our journey to
those regions of horror where the cannon were thundering, a little girl
of twelve ran and plucked a sheaf of autumn asters from her garden to
deck us with flowers.

What good people there are still in the world! And how greatly has the
aggression of German savages reinforced those tender bonds of
brotherhood that unite all who are truly of the human species.



IV

LETTER TO ENVER PASHA


 _Rochefort, September 4th, 1914._

 MY DEAR AND GREAT FRIEND,

Forgive my letter for the sake of my affection and admiration for
yourself and of my regard for your country, which to some extent I have
made my own. In the country round Tripoli you played the part of
splendid hero, without fear and without reproach, holding your own, ten
men against a thousand. In Thrace it was you who recovered Adrianople
for Turkey, and this feat, the recapture of that town of heroes, you
effected almost without bloodshed. Everywhere, with the violence
necessitated by the circumstances, you suppressed cruelty and
brigandage. I witnessed your indignation against the atrocities of the
Bulgarians, and you yourself desired me to visit, in your service motor
car, the ruins of those villages through which the assassins had passed.

Well, I will tell you a fact of which you are doubtless yet ignorant: In
Belgium, in France, and moreover _by order_, the Germans are committing
these same abominations which the Bulgarians committed in your country,
and they are a thousand times more detestable still, for the Bulgarians
were primitive mountaineers under the influence of fanaticism, whereas
these others are civilised. Civilised? So fundamental is their brutality
that culture has no grasp of their souls and nothing can be expected of
them.

Turkey to-day desires to win back her islands; this point no one who is
not blinded with prejudice can fail to understand. But I tremble lest
she should go too far in this war. Alas! well do I divine the pressure
that is brought to bear upon your dear country and yourself by that
execrable being, the incarnation of all the vices of the Prussian race,
ferocity, arrogance, and trickery. Doubtless he has seen good to take
advantage of your fine and ardent patriotism, luring you on with
illusive promises of revenge. Beware of his lies! Assuredly he has
contrived to keep truth from reaching you, else would he have alienated
your loyal soldier's heart. Even as he has convinced a section of his
own people, so he has known how to persuade you that these butcheries
were forced upon him. It is not so; they were planned long ago with
devilish cynicism. He has succeeded in inspiring you with faith in his
victories, though he knows, as to-day the whole world knows, that in the
end the triumph will rest with us. And even if by some impossible chance
we were to succumb for a time, nevertheless would Prussia and her
dynasty of tigerish brutes remain nailed fast forever to the most
shameful pillory in all the history of mankind.

How deeply should I suffer were I to see our dear Turkey, by this
wretch, hurl herself in his train into a terrible venture. More painful
still were it to witness her dishonour, should she associate herself
with these ultimate barbarians in their attack upon civilisation. Oh,
could you but know with what infinite loathing the whole world looks
upon the Prussian race!

Alas! you owe no debt to France, that I know only too well. We lent our
authority to Italy's attempt upon Tripoli. Later, in the beginning of
the Balkan War, we forgot the age-long hospitality so generously offered
to us Frenchmen, to our seminaries, to our culture, to our language,
which you have almost made your own. In thoughtlessness and ignorance we
sided with your neighbours, from whom our nation received naught but
ill-will and persecution. We initiated against you a campaign of
calumny, and only too late we have acknowledged its injustice. The
Germans, on the other hand, were alone in affording you a little--oh, a
very little!--encouragement. But even so, it is not worth your
committing suicide for their sakes. Moreover, you see, in this very
hour, these people are succeeding in putting themselves outside the pale
of humanity. To march in their company would become not only a danger,
but a degradation.

Your influence over your country is fully justified; may you hold her
back on that fatal decline to which she seems committed. My letter will
be long on the way, but when it arrives your eyes may perhaps be already
opened, despite the web of lies in which Germany has entrammelled you.
Forgive me if I wish to be of the number of those by whose means some
hint of the truth may reach you.

I maintain an unwavering faith in our final triumph, but on the day of
our deliverance how would my joy be veiled in mourning if my second
country, my country of the Orient, were to bury itself under the débris
of the hideous Empire of Prussia.



V

ANOTHER SCENE AT THE BATTLE FRONT


 _October, 1914._

Whereabouts, you may ask, did this come to pass? Well, it is one of the
peculiarities of this war, that in spite of my familiarity with maps,
and notwithstanding the excellence in detail of the plans which I carry
about with me, I never know where I am. At any rate this certainly
happened somewhere. I have, moreover, a sad conviction that it happened
in France. I should so much have preferred it to have happened in
Germany, for it was close up to the enemy's lines, under fire of their
guns.

I had travelled by motor car since morning, and had passed through more
towns, large and small, than I can count. I remember one scene in a
village where I halted, a village which had certainly never before seen
motor-omnibuses or throngs of soldiers and horses. Some fifty German
prisoners were brought in. They were unshaven, unshorn, and highly
unprepossessing. I will not flatter them by saying that they looked like
savages, for true savages in the bush are seldom lacking either in
distinction or grace of bearing. Such air as these Germans had was a
blackguard air of doltish ugliness--dull, gross, incurable.

A pretty girl of somewhat doubtful character, with feathers in her hat,
who had taken up a position there to watch them go past, stared at them
with ill-concealed resentment.

"Oh indeed, is it with freaks like those that their dirty Kaiser invites
us to breed for beauty? God's truth!" and she clinched her unfinished
phrase by spitting on the ground.

For the next hour or two I passed through a deserted countryside, woods
in autumn colouring and leafless forests which seemed interminable under
a gloomy sky. It was cold, with that bitter, penetrating chill which we
hardly know in my home in south-west France, and which seemed
characteristic of northern lands.

From time to time a village through which the barbarians had passed
displayed to us its ruins, charred and blackened by fire. Here and there
by the wayside lay little grave-mounds, either singly or grouped
together--mounds lately dug; a few leaves had been scattered above them
and a cross made of two sticks. Soldiers, their names now for ever
forgotten, had fallen there exhausted and had breathed their last with
none to help them.

We scarcely noticed them, for we raced along with ever-increasing
speed, because the night of late October was already closing rapidly in
upon us. As the day advanced a mist almost wintry in character thickened
around us like a shroud. Silence pervaded with still deeper melancholy
all that countryside, which, although the barbarians had been expelled
from it, still had memories of all those butcheries, ravings, outcries,
and conflagrations.

In the midst of a forest, near a hamlet, of which nothing remained save
fragments of calcined walls, there were two graves lying side by side.
Near these I halted to look at a little girl of twelve years, quite
alone there, arranging bunches of flowers sprinkled with water, some
poor chrysanthemums from her ruined plot of garden, some wild flowers
too, the last scabious of the season, gathered in that place of
mourning.

"Were they friends of yours, my child, those two who are sleeping
there?"

"Oh no, sir, but I know that they were Frenchmen; I saw them being
buried. They were young, sir, and their moustaches were scarcely grown."

There was no inscription on these crosses, soon to be blown down by
winter winds and to crumble away in the grass. Who were they? Sons of
peasants, of simple citizens, of aristocrats? Who weeps for them? Is it
a mother in skilfully fashioned draperies of crape? Is it a mother in
the homely weeds of a peasant woman? Whichever it be, those who loved
them will live and die without ever knowing that they lie mouldering
there by the side of a lonely road on the northern boundary of France;
without ever knowing that this kind little girl, whose own home lay
desolate, brought them an offering of flowers one autumn evening, while
with the advent of night a bitter cold was descending upon the forest
which wrapped them round.

Farther on I came to a village, the headquarters of a general officer in
command of an army corps. Here an officer joined me in my motor car, who
undertook to guide me to one particular point of the vast battle front.

We drove on rapidly for another hour through a country without
inhabitants. In the meantime we passed one of these long convoys of what
were once motor-omnibuses in Paris, but have been converted since the
war into slaughter-houses on wheels. Townspeople, men and women, sat
there once, where now sides of beef, all red and raw, swing suspended
from hooks. If we did not know that in those fields yonder there were
hundreds of thousands of men to be fed we might well ask why such things
were being carted in the midst of this deserted country through which
we are hastening at top speed.

The day is waning rapidly, and a continuous rumbling of a storm begins
to make itself heard, unchained seemingly on a level with the earth. For
weeks now this same storm has thundered away without pause along a
sinuous line stretching across France from east to west, a line on which
daily, alas! new heaps of dead are piled up.

"Here we are," said my guide.

If I were not already familiar with the new characteristics wherewith
the Germans have endued a battle front, I should believe, in spite of
the incessant cannonade, that he had made a mistake, for at first sight
there is no sign either of army or of soldiers. We are in a place of
sinister aspect, a vast plain; the greyish ground is stripped of its
turf and torn up; trees here and there are shattered more or less
completely, as if by some cataclysm of thunderbolts or hailstones. There
is no trace of human existence, not even the ruins of a village; nothing
characteristic of any period, either of historical or even of geological
development. Gazing into the distance at the far-flung forest skyline
fading on all sides into the darkening mists of twilight, we might well
believe ourselves to have reverted to a prehistoric epoch of the world's
history.

"Here we are."

That means that it is time to hide our motor car under some trees or it
will attract a rain of shells and endanger the lives of our chauffeurs,
for in that misty forest opposite there are many wicked eyes watching us
through wonderful binoculars, by whose aid they are as keen of sight as
great birds of prey. To reach the firing-line, then, it is incumbent on
us to proceed on foot.

How strange the ground looks! It is riddled with shell-holes,
resembling enormous craters; in another place it is scarred and pierced
and sown with pointed bullets, copper cartridge-cases, fragments of
spiked helmets, and barbarian filth of other sorts. But in spite of its
deserted appearance, this region is nevertheless thickly populated, only
the inhabitants are no doubt troglodytes, for their dwellings, scattered
about and invisible at first sight, are a kind of cave or molehill, half
covered with branches and leaves. I had seen the same kind of
architecture once upon a time on Easter Island, and the sight of these
dwellings of men in this scenery of primeval forest completes our
earlier impression of having leapt backwards into the abyss of time.

Of a truth, to force upon us such a reversion was a right Prussian
artifice. War, which was once a gallant affair of parades in the
sunshine, of beautiful uniforms and of music, war they have rendered a
mean and ugly thing. They wage it like burrowing beasts, and obviously
there was nothing left for us but to imitate them.

In the meantime here and there heads look out from the excavations to
see who is coming. There is nothing prehistoric about these heads, any
more than there is about the service-caps they are wearing; these are
the faces of our own soldiers, with an air of health and good humour and
of amusement at having to live there like rabbits. A sergeant comes up
to us; he is as earthy as a mole that has not had time to clean itself,
but he has a merry look of youth and gaiety.

"Take two or three men with you," I say to him, "and go and unpack my
motor car, down there behind the trees. You will find a thousand packets
of cigarettes and some picture-papers which some people in Paris have
sent you to help to pass the time in the trenches."

What a pity that I cannot take back and show, as a thanksgiving to the
kind donors, the smiles of satisfaction with which their gifts were
welcomed.

Another mile or two have still to be covered on foot before we reach the
firing-line. An icy wind blows from the forests opposite that are yet
more deeply drowned in black mists, forests in the enemy's hands, where
the counterfeit thunderstorm is grumbling. This plain with its miserable
molehills is a dismal place in the twilight, and I marvel that they can
be so gay, these dear soldiers of ours, in the midst of the desolation
surrounding them.

I cross this piece of ground, riddled with holes; the tempest of shot
has spared here and there a tuft of grass, a little moss, a poor flower.
The first place I reach is a line of defence in course of construction,
which will be the second line of defence, to meet the improbable event
of the first line, which lies farther ahead, having to be abandoned. Our
soldiers are working like navvies with shovels and picks in their hands.
They are all resolute and happy, anxious to finish their work, and it
will be formidable indeed, surrounded as it is with most deadly
ambushes. It was the Germans, I admit, whose scheming, evil brains
devised this whole system of galleries and snares; but we, more subtle
and alert than they, have, in a few days, equalled them, if we have not
beaten them, at their own game.

A mile farther on is the first line. It is full of soldiers, for this is
the trench that must withstand the shock of the barbarians' onset; day
and night it is always ready to bristle with rifles, and they who hold
the trench, gone to earth scarcely for a moment, know that they may
expect at any minute the daily shower of shells. Then heads, rash enough
to show themselves above the parapet, will be shot away, breasts
shattered, entrails torn. They know, too, that they must be prepared to
encounter at any unforeseen hour, in the pale sunlight or in the
blackness of midnight, onslaughts of those barbarians with whom the
forest opposite still swarms. They know how they will come on at a run,
with shouts intended to terrify them, linked arm in arm into one
infuriated mass, and how they will find means, as ever, to do much harm
before death overtakes them entangled in our barbed wire. All this they
know, for they have already seen it, but nevertheless they smile a
serious, dignified smile. They have been nearly a week in this trench,
waiting to be relieved, and they make no complaints.

"We are well fed," they say, "we eat when we are hungry. As long as it
does not rain we keep ourselves warm at night in our fox-holes with good
thick blankets. But not all of us yet have woollen underclothing for the
winter, and we shall need it soon. When you go back to Paris, Colonel,
perhaps you will be so kind as to bring this to the notice of Government
and of all the ladies too, who are working for us."

("Colonel"--the soldiers have no other title for officers with five rows
of gold braid. On the last expedition to China I had already been called
colonel, but I did not expect, alas! that I should be called so again
during a war on the soil of France.)

These men who are talking to me at the edge of, or actually in, the
trench belong to the most diverse social grades. Some were leisured
dandies, some artisans, some day labourers, and there are even some who
wear their caps at too rakish an angle and whose language smacks of the
ring, into whose past it is better not to pry too curiously. Yet they
have become not only good soldiers, but good men, for this war, while it
has drawn us closer together, has at the same time purified us and
ennobled us. This benefit at least the Germans will, involuntarily, have
bestowed upon us, and indeed it is worth the trouble. Moreover our
soldiers all know to-day why they are fighting, and therein lies their
supreme strength. Their indignation will inspire them till their latest
breath.

"When you have seen," said two young Breton peasants to me, "when you
have seen with your own eyes what these brutes do in the villages they
pass through, it is natural, is it not, to give your life to try to
prevent them from doing as much in your own home?"

The cannonade roared an accompaniment in its deep, unceasing bass to
this ingenuous statement.

Now this is the spirit that prevails inexhaustibly from one end of the
fighting-line to the other. Everywhere there is the same determination
and courage. Whether here or there, a talk with any of these soldiers is
equally reassuring, and calls forth the same admiration.

But it is strange to reflect that in this twentieth century of ours, in
order to protect ourselves from barbarism and horror, we have had to
establish trenches such as these, in double and treble lines, crossing
our dear country from east to west along an unbroken front of hundreds
of miles, like a kind of Great Wall of China. But a hundred times more
formidable than the original wall, the defence of the Mongolians, is
this wall of ours, a wall practically subterranean, which winds along
stealthily, manned by all the heroic youth of France, ever on the
alert, ever in the midst of bloodshed.

The twilight this evening, under the sullen sky, lingers sadly, and will
not come to an end. It appeared to me to begin two hours ago, and yet it
is still light enough to see. Before us, distinguishable as yet to sight
or imagination, lie two sections of a forest, unfolding itself beyond
range of vision, the contours of its more distant section almost lost in
darkness. Colder still grows the wind, and my heart contracts with the
still more painful impression of a backward plunge, without shelter and
without refuge, into primeval barbarism.

"Every evening at this hour, Colonel, for the last week, we have had our
little shower of shells. If you have time to stay a short while you will
see how quickly they fire and almost without aiming."

As for time, well, I have really hardly any to spare, and, besides, I
have had other opportunities of observing how quickly they fire "almost
without aiming." Sometimes it might be mistaken for a display of
fireworks, and it is to be supposed that they have more projectiles than
they know what to do with. Nevertheless I shall be delighted to stay a
few minutes longer and to witness the performance again in their
company.

Ah! to be sure, a kind of whirring in the air like the flight of
partridges--partridges travelling along very fast on metal wings. This
is a change for us from the muffled voice of the cannonade we heard just
before; it is now beginning to come in our direction. But it is much too
high and much too far to the left--so much too far to the left that they
surely cannot be aiming at us; they cannot be quite so stupid.
Nevertheless we stop talking and listen with our ears pricked--a dozen
shells, and then no more.

"They have finished," the men tell me then; "their hour is over now,
and it was for our comrades down there. You have no luck, Colonel; this
is the very first time that it was not we who caught it, and, besides,
you would think they were tired this evening, the Boches."

It is dark and I ought to be far away. Moreover, they are all going to
sleep, for obviously they cannot risk showing a light; cigarettes are
the limit of indulgence. I shake hands with a whole line of soldiers and
leave them asleep, poor children of France, in their dormitory, which in
the silence and darkness has grown as dismal as a long, common grave in
a cemetery.



VI

THE PHANTOM BASILICA


 _October, 1914._

To gaze upon her, our legendary and wonderful basilica of France, to bid
her a last farewell before she should crumble away to her inevitable
downfall, I had ordered a _détour_ of two hours in my service motor car
at the end of some special duty from which I was returning.

The October morning was misty and cold. The hillsides of Champagne were
deserted that day, and their vineyards with dark brown leaves, wet with
rain, seemed to be wrapped completely in a kind of shining fleece. We
had also passed through a forest, keeping our eyes open and our weapons
ready in case of a meeting with Uhlan marauders.

At last, far away in the fog, uplifting all its great height above a
sprinkling of reddish squares, doubtless the roofs of houses, we saw the
form of a mighty church. This was evidently the basilica.

At the entrance to Rheims there are defences of all kinds: stone
barriers, trenches, _chevaux de frise_, sentinels with crossed bayonets.
To gain admission it is not sufficient to be in uniform and military
accoutrements; explanations have to be made and the countersign given.

In the great city where I am a stranger, I have to ask my way to the
cathedral, for it is no longer in sight. Its lofty grey silhouette,
which, viewed from afar, dominated everything so imposingly, as a castle
of giants would dominate the houses of dwarfs, now seems to have
crouched down to hide itself.

"To get to the cathedral," people reply, "you must first turn to the
right over there, and then to the left, and then to the right, etc."

And my motor car plunges into the crowded streets. There are many
soldiers, regiments on the march, motor-ambulances in single file, but
there are many ordinary footfarers, too, unconcerned as if nothing were
happening, and there are even many well-dressed women, with prayer-books
in their hands, in honour of Sunday.

At a street-crossing there is a gathering of people in front of a house
whose walls bear signs of recent damage, the reason being that a shell
has just fallen there. It is just one of their little brutal jests, so
to speak; we understand the situation, look you; it is a simple pastime,
just a matter of killing a few persons, on a Sunday morning for choice,
because there are more people in the streets on Sunday mornings. But it
seems, indeed, as if this town had reconciled itself to its lot, to
live its life watched by the remorseless binoculars, under the fire of
savages lurking on the neighbouring hillside. The wayfarers stop for a
moment to look at the walls and the marks made by the shell-bursts, and
then they quietly continue their Sunday walk. This time, we are told, it
is women and little girls who lie weltering in their blood, victims of
that amiable peasantry. We hear about it, and then think no more of the
matter, as if it were of the smallest importance in times such as these.

This quarter of the town is now deserted. Houses are closed; a silence
as of mourning prevails. And at the far end of a street appear the tall
grey gates, the lofty pointed arches with their marvellous carvings and
the soaring towers. There is no sound; there is not a living soul in the
square where the phantom basilica still stands in majesty, where the
wind blows cold and the sky is dark.

The basilica of Rheims still keeps its place as if by miracle, but so
riddled and rent it is, that it seems ready to collapse at the slightest
shock. It gives the impression of a huge mummy, still erect and
majestic, but which the least touch would turn into ashes. The ground is
strewn with its precious fragments. It has been hastily enclosed with a
hoarding of white wood, and within its bounds lies, in little heaps, its
consecrated dust, fragments of stucco, shivered panes of glass, heads of
angels, clasped hands of saints, male and female. The calcined
stone-work of the tower on the left, from top to bottom, has assumed a
strange colour like that of baked flesh, and the saints, still standing
upright in rank on the cornices, have been decorticated, as it were, by
fire. They have no longer either faces or fingers, yet, still retaining
their human form, they resemble corpses ranged in rows, their contours
but faintly defined under a kind of reddish shroud.

We make a circuit of the square without meeting anyone, and the hoarding
which isolates the fragile, still wonderful phantom is everywhere firmly
closed.

As for the old palace attached to the basilica, the episcopal palace
where the kings of France were wont to repose on the day of their
coronation, it is nothing more than a ruin, without windows or roof,
blackened all over by tongues of flame.

What a peerless jewel was this church, more beautiful even than
_Notre-Dame de Paris_, more open to the light, more ethereal, more
soaringly uplifted with its columns like long reeds, astonishingly
fragile considering the weight they bear, a miracle of the religious art
of France, a masterpiece which the faith of our ancestors had wakened
into being in all its mystic purity before the sensual ponderousness of
that which we have agreed to call the Renaissance had come to us from
Italy, materialising and spoiling all. Oh, how gross, how cowardly, how
imbecile was the brutality of those who fired those volleys of
scrap-iron with full force against tracery of such delicacy, that had
stayed aloft in the air for centuries in confidence, no battles, no
invasions, no tempests ever daring to assail its beauty.

That great, closed house yonder in the square must be the archbishop's
palace. I venture to ring at the door and request the privilege of
entering the church.

"His Eminence," I am told, "is at Mass, but would soon return, if I
would wait."

And while I am waiting, the priest, who acts as my host, tells me the
history of the burning of the episcopal palace.

"First of all they sprinkled the roofs with I know not what diabolical
preparation; then, when they threw their incendiary bombs, the woodwork
burnt like straw, and everywhere you saw jets of green flame which
burned with a noise like that of fireworks."

Indeed the barbarians had long prepared with studied foresight this deed
of sacrilege, in spite of their idiotically absurd pretexts and their
shameless denials. That which they had desired to destroy here was the
very heart of ancient France, impelled as much by some superstitious
fancy as by their own brutal instincts, and upon this task they bent
their whole energy, while in the rest of the town nothing else, or
almost nothing, suffered damage.

"Could no attempt be made," I ask, "to replace the burnt roof of the
basilica, to cover over as soon as possible these arches, which will not
otherwise withstand the ravages of next winter?"

"Undoubtedly," he replies, "there is a risk that at the first falls of
snow, the first showers of rain, all this will crumble to ruins, more
especially as the calcined stones have lost their power of resistance.
But we cannot even attempt to preserve them a little, for the Germans do
not let us out of their sight. It is the cathedral, always the
cathedral, that they watch through their field-glasses, and as soon as a
single person appears in the bell turret of a tower the rain of shells
begins again. No, there is nothing to be done. It must be left to the
grace of God."

On his return, His Eminence graciously provides me with a guide, who has
the keys of the hoarding, and at last I penetrate into the ruins of the
basilica, into the nave, which, being stripped bare, appears the loftier
and vaster for it.

It is cold there and sad enough for tears. It is perhaps this unexpected
chill, a chill far more piercing than that of the world without, which
at first grips you and disconcerts you. Instead of the somewhat heavy
perfume that generally hangs about old basilicas, smoke of so much
incense burned there, emanations of so many biers blessed by the
priests, of so many generations who have hastened there to wrestle and
pray--instead of this, there is a damp, icy wind which whistles through
crevices in the walls, through broken windows and gaps in the vaults.
Towards those vaults up yonder, pierced here and there by shrapnel, the
eyes are raised, immediately, instinctively, to gaze at them. The sight
is led up towards them, as it were, by all those columns that jut out,
shooting aloft in sheaves, for their support. They have flying curves,
these vaults, of exquisite grace, so designed, it seems, that they may
not hinder prayers in their upward flight, nor force back to earth a
gaze that aims at heaven. One never grows tired of bending the head
backwards to gaze at them, those sacred vaults hastening to destruction.
And then high up, too, quite high up, throughout the whole length of the
nave, is the long succession of those almost ethereal pointed arches
which support the vaults and arches, alike, yet not rigidly uniform, and
so harmonious, despite their elaborate carving, that they give rest to
the eye that follows them upwards in their soaring perspective. These
vast ceilings of stone are so airy in appearance, and moreover so
distant, that they do not oppress or confine the spirit. Indeed they
seem freed from all heaviness, almost insubstantial.

Moreover, it is wiser to move on under that roof with head turned upward
and not to watch too closely where the feet may fall, for that pavement,
reverberating rather sadly, has been sullied and blackened by charred
human flesh. It is known that on the day of the conflagration the
church was full of wounded Germans lying on straw mattresses, which
caught fire, and a scene of horror ensued, worthy of a vision of Dante;
all these beings, their green wounds scorched by the flames, dragged
themselves along screaming, on red stumps, trying to win through doors
too narrow. Renowned, too, is the heroism of those stretcher-bearers,
priests and nuns, who risked their lives in the midst of falling bombs
in their attempt to save these unhappy wretches, whom their own German
brothers had not even thought to spare. Yet they did not succeed in
saving all; some remained and were burnt to death in the nave, leaving
unseemly clots of blood on the sacred flagstones, where formerly
processions of kings and queens had slowly trailed their ermine mantles
to the sound of great organs and plain-song.

"Look," said my guide, showing me a wide hole in one of the aisles,
"this is the work of a shell which they hurled at us yesterday evening.
And now come and see the miracle."

And he leads me into the choir where the statue of Joan of Arc,
preserved it may be said by some special Providence, still stands
unharmed, with its eyes of gentle ecstasy.

The most irreparable disaster is the ruin of those great glass windows,
which the mysterious artists of the thirteenth century had piously
wrought in meditation and dreams, assembling together in hundreds,
saints, male and female, with translucent draperies and luminous
aureoles. There again German scrap-iron has crashed through in great
senseless volleys, shattering everything. Irreplaceable masterpieces are
scattered on the flagstones in fragments that can never be
reassembled--golds, reds and blues, of which the secret has been lost.
Vanished are the transparent rainbow colours, perished those saintly
personages, in the pretty simplicity of their attitudes, with their
small, pale, ecstatic faces; a thousand precious fragments of that
glasswork, which in the course of centuries has acquired an iridescence
something in the manner of opals, lie on the ground, where indeed they
still shine like gems.

To-day there is silence in the basilica, as well as in the deserted
square around it; a deathlike silence within these walls, which for so
long had vibrated to the voice of organs and the old ritual chants of
France. The cold wind alone makes a kind of music this Sunday morning,
and at times when it blows harder there is a tinkling like the fall of
very light pearls. It is the falling of the little that still remained
in place of the beautiful glass windows of the thirteenth century,
crumbling away entirely, beyond recovery.

A whole splendid cycle of our history which seemed to live in the
sanctuary, with a life almost tangible, though essentially spiritual,
has suddenly been plunged into the abyss of things gone by, of which
even the memory will soon pass away. The great barbarism has swept
through this place, the modern barbarism from beyond the Rhine, a
thousand times worse than the barbarism of old times, because it is
doltishly, outrageously self-satisfied, and consequently fundamental,
incurable, and final--destined, if it be not crushed, to overwhelm the
world in a sinister night of eclipse.

In truth it is strange how that statue of Joan of Arc in the choir has
remained standing calm, intact, immaculate, without even the smallest
scratch upon her gown.



VII

THE FLAG WHICH OUR NAVAL BRIGADE DO NOT YET POSSESS


 _December, 1914._

At first they were sent to Paris, those dear sailors of ours, so that
the duty of policing the city, of maintaining order, enforcing silence
and good behaviour might be entrusted to them--and I could not help
smiling; it seemed so incongruous, this entirely new part which someone
had thought fit to make them play. For truth to tell, between ourselves,
correct behaviour in the streets of towns has never been the especial
boast of our excellent young friends. Nevertheless by dint of making up
their minds to it and assuming an air of seriousness, they had acquitted
themselves almost with honour up to the moment when they were freed
from that insufferable constraint and were sent outside the city to
guard the posts in the entrenched camp. That was already a little
better, a little more after their own hearts. At last came a day of
rejoicing and glorious intoxication, when they were told that they were
all going into the firing-line.

If they had had a flag that day, like their comrades of the land-forces,
I will not assert that they would have marched away with more enthusiasm
and gaiety, for that would have been impossible, but assuredly they
would have marched more proudly, mustered around that sublime bauble,
whose place nothing can ever take, whatever may be said or done.
Sailors, more perhaps than other men, cherish this devotion to the flag,
fostered in them by the touching ceremonial observed on our ships, where
to the sound of the bugle the flag is unfurled each morning and furled
each evening, while officers and crew bare their heads in silence, in
reverent salute.

Yes, they would have been well pleased, our Naval Brigade, to have had a
flag wherewith to march into the firing-line, but their officers said to
them:

"You will certainly be given one in the end, as soon as you have won it
yonder."

And they went away singing, all with the same ardour of heroes; all, I
say, not only those who still uphold the admirable traditions of our
Navy of old, but even the new recruits, who were already a little
corrupted--no more than superficially, however--by disgusting,
anti-military claptrap, but who had suddenly recovered their senses and
were exalted at the sound of the German guns. All were united, resolute,
disciplined, sobered, and dreaming of having a flag on their return.

They were sent in haste to Ghent to cover the retreat of the Belgian
Army, but on the way they were stopped at Dixmude, where the barbarians
with pink skins like boiled pig were established in ten times their
number, and where at all costs a stand was to be made to prevent the
abominable onrush from spreading farther.

They had been told:

"The part assigned to you is one of danger and gravity; we have need of
your courage. In order to save the whole of our left wing you must
sacrifice yourselves until reinforcements arrive. _Try to hold out at
least four days._"

And they held out twenty-six mortal days. They held out almost alone,
for reinforcements, owing to unforeseen difficulties, were insufficient
and long in coming. And of the six thousand that marched away, there are
to-day not more than three thousand survivors.

They had the bare necessities of life and hardly those. When they left
Paris, where the weather was warm and summery, they did not anticipate
such bitter cold. Most of them wore nothing over their chests except the
regulation jumper of cotton, striped with blue, and light trousers, with
nothing underneath, on their legs, and over all that, it is true,
infantry great-coats to which they were unaccustomed and which hampered
their movements. For provisions they had nothing but some tins of
_confiture de singe_.[1] Naturally no one was prepared for what was
practically isolation for twenty-six long days. In the same
circumstances ordinary troops, even though their peers in courage, could
never have been equal to the occasion. But they had that faculty of
fighting through, common to seafaring men, which is acquired in the
course of arduous voyages, in the colonies, among the islands, and
thanks to which a true sailor can face any emergency--a special way
with them, after all so natural and moreover so merry withal, so
tempered with ingratiating tact that it offends nobody.

Well, then, they had fought through; for after those three or four epic
weeks, in which day and night they had battled like devils, in fire and
water, the survivors were found well-nourished, almost, and with hardly
a cold among them.

The only reproach, which I heard addressed to them by their officers,
who had the honour to command them in the midst of the furnace, was that
they could not reconcile themselves to the practice of crawling.
Crawling is a mode of progression introduced into modern warfare by
German cunning, and it is well known that our soldiers have to be
prepared for it by a long course of training. Now there had not been
time to accustom these men to the practice, and when it came to an
attack they set out indeed as ordered, dragging themselves along on all
fours, but, promptly carried away by their zeal, they stood up to get
into their stride, and too many of them were mown down by shrapnel.

One of them told me yesterday, in the words I now quote, how his company
having been ordered to transfer themselves to another part of the battle
front--but without letting themselves be seen, walking along, bent
double, at the bottom of a long interminable trench--were really unable
to obey the order literally.

"The trench was already half full of our poor dead comrades. And you
will understand, sir, that in places where there were too many of them,
it would have hurt us to walk on them; we could not do it. We came out
of the ditch, and ran as fast as our legs would carry us along the slope
of the parapet, and the Boches who saw us made haste to kill us. But,"
he continued, "except for trifling acts of disobedience such as that, I
assure you, sir, that we behaved very well. Thus I remember some
officers commanding sharp-shooters and some officers of light infantry,
who had witnessed the Battles of the Marne and the Aisne. Well, when
they came sometimes to chat with our officers, we used to hear them say,
'Our soldiers they were brave fellows enough, to be sure! But to see
your sailors fighting is an absolute eye-opener all the same.'"

And that town of Dixmude, where they contrived to hold out for
twenty-six days, became by degrees something like an ante-room of hell.
There were rain, snow, floods, churning up black mud in the bottom of
the trenches; blood splashing up everywhere; roofs falling in, crushing
wounded in confused heaps or dead bodies in all stages of
decomposition; cries and death rattles unceasing, mingling with the
continual crash of thunder close at hand. There was fighting in every
street, in every house, through broken windows, behind fragments of
walls--such close hand-to-hand fighting that sometimes men were locked
together trying to strangle one another. And often at night, when
already men could no longer tell where to strike home, there were
bewildering acts of treachery committed by Germans, who would suddenly
begin to shout in French:

"Cease fire, you fools! It is our men who are there and you are firing
on your own comrades."

And men lost their heads entirely, as in a nightmare, from which they
could neither rouse themselves nor escape.

At last came the day when the town was taken. The Germans suddenly
brought up terrific reinforcements of heavy artillery, and heavy shells
fell all round like hail--those enormous shells, the devil's own, which
make holes six to eight yards wide by four yards deep. They came at the
rate of fifty or sixty a minute, and in the craters they made there was
at once a jumbled mass of masonry, furniture, carpets, corpses, a chaos
of nameless horror. To continue there became truly a task beyond human
endurance; it would have meant a massacre to the very last man, moreover
without serving any useful purpose, for the abandonment of that mass of
ruins, of that charnel-house, which was all that remained of the poor
little Flemish town, was no longer a matter of importance. It had
resisted just the necessary length of time. The essential point was that
the Germans had been prevented from crossing over to the other bank of
the Yser, at a time when, nevertheless, all the chances had seemed in
their favour; the essential point was this especially, that they would
never at any time cross over, now that reinforcements had arrived to
hold them up in the south, and now that the floods were encroaching
everywhere, barring the way in the north. On this side the barbarians'
thrust was definitely countered. And it was our Naval Brigade, who
almost by themselves, unwavering in the face of overwhelming numbers,
had there supported our left wing, though losing _half_ of their
effective and eighty per cent. of their officers.

Then they said to themselves, those who were left of them:

"Our flag--we shall get it this time."

Besides, officers in high command, touched and amazed at so much
bravery, had promised it to them, and so had the head of the French
Government himself, one day when he came to congratulate them.

But alas! they have not yet received it, and perhaps it will never be
theirs, unless those officers in high command, to whom I have referred,
who have partly pledged their word, intervene while there is yet time,
before all these deeds of heroism have fallen into oblivion.

For God's sake give them their flag, our Naval Brigade! And even before
sending it to them it would be well, methinks, to decorate it with the
Cross.

       *       *       *       *       *

P.S.--Last week the Naval Brigade were mentioned at the head of the Army
Orders of the day, _for having given proof of the greatest energy and
complete devotion to duty in the defence of a strategic position of
great importance_.

FOOTNOTE:

[1] Military slang term for tins of preserved meat.



VIII

TAHITI AND THE SAVAGES WITH PINK SKINS LIKE BOILED PIG


 _November, 1914._

After the lapse of so many years, and in the midst of those moods of
rage and anguish or of splendid exaltation which characterise the
present hour, I had quite forgotten the existence of a certain enchanted
isle, very far away, on the other side of the earth, in the midst of the
great Southern Ocean, rearing among the warm clouds of those regions its
mountains, carpeted with ferns and flowers. In our October climate,
already cold, here in this district of Paris, bare of leaves and in
autumn colouring, where I have lived for a month, whence you have but to
withdraw a little way to the north in order to hear the cannon crashing
incessantly like a storm, and where each day countless graves are
prepared for the burial of the most precious and cherished sons of
France--here the name of Tahiti seems to me the designation of some
visionary Eden. I can no longer bring myself to believe that my sojourn
in former days in that far-away island was an actual fact. It is with an
effort that I recall to my memory that sea, bordered with beaches of
pure white coral, the palm trees with arching fronds, and the Maoris
living in a perpetual dream, a childlike race with no thought beyond
singing and garlanding themselves with flowers.

Tahiti, the island of which I had thought no more, has just been
abruptly recalled to my mind by an article in a newspaper, in which it
is stated that the Germans have passed that way, pillaging everything.
And the commander of the two cruisers, who, without running any risk to
themselves, be it understood, committed this dastardly outrage on a poor
little open town lying there all unsuspecting, cannot claim to have had
any order issued to them from their horrible Emperor--no, indeed, since
they were at the other end of the world. All by themselves they had
found this thing to do, and of their own accord they did it, from sheer
Teutonic savagery.

Yesterday in one of the forts of Paris garrisoned by our sailors, I met
an old naval petty officer who, in former days, had on two or three
occasions sailed under my orders. He seems to me to have found the name
most appropriate to the Prussians and one that deserves to stick to
them.

"Well you see, Commander," he said to me, "you and I have often visited
together all kinds of savages whom I should have thought the biggest
brutes of all, savages with black skins, with yellow skins, or with red
skins, but I now see clearly that there is another sort still--those
other dirty savages with pink skins like boiled pig, who are much the
worst of all."

And so Tahiti the Delectable, where blood had never before been shed, a
little Eden, harmless and confiding, set in the midst of mighty
oceans--Tahiti has just suffered the visitation of savages with pink
skins like boiled pig. So without profit, as without excuse, simply for
the sport of the thing, for the pure German pleasure of wreaking as much
evil as possible, never mind upon whom, never mind where, these savages,
indeed "that worst kind of all," amused themselves by making a heap of
ruins in that Bay of Papeete with its eternal calm, under trees ever
green, among roses ever in flower.

It is true this happened in the Antipodes, and it is so trifling, so
very trifling a matter, compared with the smoking charnel-houses which
in Belgium and France were landmarks in the track of the accursed army.
But nevertheless it is especially deserving of being brought up again as
a still more peculiarly futile and fatuous act of ferocity.



IX

A LITTLE HUSSAR


 _December, 1914._

His name was Max Barthou. He was one of those dearly loved only sons
whose death shatters two or three lives at least, and already we had too
nearly forgotten all the skill and courage on his father's part to which
we owed the Three Years' Service Bill, without which all France to-day
would be prostrate under the heel of the Monster.

To be sure he, young Max, had done no more than all those thousands of
others who have given their lives so gloriously. It is not, then, on
that account that I have chosen to speak of him in a special manner. No;
one of my chief reasons, no doubt, is that his parents are very dear
friends of mine. But it is also for the sake of the boy himself, for
whom I had a great affection; moreover, I take a melancholy pleasure in
mentioning what a charming little fellow he was. In the first place he
had contrived to remain a child, like boys of my own generation long
ago, and this is very rare among young Parisians of to-day, most of
whom, although this sort of thing is now being brought under control,
are at eighteen insufferable little wiseacres. To remain a child! How
much that implies, not freshness alone, but modesty, discernment, good
sense, and clear judgment! Although he was very learned, almost beyond
his years, he had contrived to remain simple, natural, devoted to hearth
and home, which he seldom left for more than a few hours in the day,
when he went to attend his lectures.

During my flying visits to Paris, when I chanced to be dining with his
parents on special days as their only guest, I used to talk to him in
spite of the charming shyness he displayed, and each time I appreciated
still more deeply his gentle, profound young soul. I can still see him
after dinner in the familiar drawing-room, where he would linger with us
for a moment before going away to finish his studies. On those
occasions, unconventional though it may have been, he would lean against
his mother's knee so as to be closer to her, or even lie on the rug at
her feet, still playing the part of a coaxing child, teasing the
while--oh, very gently, to be sure--an old Siamese cat which had been
the companion of his earliest years and now growled at everyone except
him. Good God, it was only yesterday! It was only last spring that this
little hero, who has just fallen a victim to German shrapnel, would
tumble about on the floor, playing with his friend, the old growling
cat.

But what a transformation in those three months! It is scarcely a week
since I met in a lobby at General Headquarters a smart and resolute blue
hussar, who, after having saluted correctly, stood looking at me, not
venturing to address me, but surprised that I did not speak to him. Ah!
to be sure, it was young Max, whom, at first sight, I had not recognised
in his new kit--a young Max of eighteen, greatly changed by the magic
wand of war, for he had suddenly grown into a man, and his eyes now
shone with a sobered joy. At last he had obtained his heart's desire;
to-morrow he was to set out for Alsace for the firing-line.

"So you have got what you wanted, my young friend," I said to him. "Are
you pleased?"

"Oh yes, I am pleased."

That, to be sure, was clear from his appearance, and I bade him good-bye
with a smile, wishing him the luck to win that splendid medal, that
most splendid of all medals, which is fastened with a yellow ribbon
bordered with green. I had indeed no foreboding that I had just shaken
his hand for the last time.

What insinuating perseverance he had brought to bear in order that he
might get to the Front, for his father, though to be sure he would have
made no attempt to keep him back, had a horror of doing anything to
force on his destiny, and only yielded step by step, glad of heart, yet
at the same time in agony at seeing his boy's splendid spirit developing
so rapidly.

First of all he had to let him volunteer; then when the boy was chafing
with impatience in the _dépôts_ where our sons are trained for the
firing-line he had to obtain permission for him to leave before his
turn. The commander-in-chief, who had welcomed him with pleasure, had
wished to keep him by his side, but he protested, gently but firmly, on
the occasion of a visit his father paid to the general headquarters.

"I feel too much sheltered here, which is absurd considering the name I
bear. Ought I not, on the contrary, to set an example?"

And with a sudden return to that childlike gaiety which he had had the
exquisite grace to preserve, hidden under his soldier's uniform, he
added with the smile of old days:

"Besides, papa, as the son of the Three Years' Service Bill, it is up to
me to do at least three times as much of it as anyone else."

His father, need I say, understood--understood with all his
heart--understood so well that, divided between pride and distress, he
asked immediately that the boy might be sent to Alsace.

And he had scarcely arrived yonder--at Thann, on the day of a
bombardment--when a senseless volley of Germany shrapnel, whence it came
none knew, without any military usefulness, and simply for the pleasure
of doing harm, shattered him like a thing of no account. He had no time
to do "thrice as much as anyone else," alas no! In less than a minute
that young life, so precious, so tenderly cherished, was extinguished
for ever.

Four others, companions of his dream of glory, fell at his side, killed
by the same shell, and the next day they were all committed to the care
of that earth of Alsace which had once more become French.

And in his honour, poor little blue hussar, the people of Thann, who
since yesterday were German no longer, desired of their own accord to
make some special demonstration, because he was the son of the Three
Years' Service Bill. These Alsatians, released from bondage, had the
fancy to adorn his coffin with gilding, simple but charming, as if for a
little prince in a fairy-tale, and they carried him in their arms, him
alone, while his companions were borne along behind him on a cart.

After the service in the old church the whole assembly, at least three
thousand in number, were warned that it would be exceedingly dangerous
to go any farther. As the cemetery was in an exposed position, spied
upon by German binoculars, the long procession ran a great risk of
attracting the barbarians' shrapnel fire, for it was unlikely that they
would miss such an excellent opportunity of taking life. But no one was
afraid, no one stayed behind, and the little hussar was escorted by them
all to the very end.

And there are thousands and thousands of our sons mown down in this
manner--sons from villages or castles, who were all the hope of, all
that made life worth living for, mothers, fathers, grandfathers, and
grandmothers. Night and day for eighteen years, twenty years, they had
been surrounded with every care, brooded over with all tenderness.
Anxious eyes had watched unremittingly their physical and moral growth.
For some of them, of humbler families, heavy sacrifices had necessarily
to be made and privations endured so that their health might be assured
and their minds have scope to expand, to gain knowledge of the world, to
be enriched with beautiful impressions. And then, suddenly, there they
are, these dear boys, prepared for life with such painstaking love;
there they are, beloved young heroes, with shattered breast or brains
blown out--by order of that damnable Jack-pudding who rules in Berlin.

Oh, execrations and curses upon the monster of ferocity and trickery
who has unchained all this woe! May his life be greatly prolonged so
that he may at least have time to suffer greatly; and afterwards may he
still live on and remain fully conscious and lucid of intellect in the
hour when he shall cross the threshold of eternity, where upon that
door, which will never again be opened, may be read, flaming in the
darkness, that sentence of utmost horror, "_All hope abandon, ye who
enter here._"



X

AN EVENING AT YPRES

      "In anticipation of death I make this confession, that I
      despise the German nation on account of its infinite
      stupidity, and that I blush to belong to it."

      SCHOPENHAUER.

      "The character of the Germans presents a terrible blend of
      ferocity and trickery. They are a people of born liars. One
      must see this to believe it."

      VELLEIUS PATERCULUS,
      _In the year 10 of the Christian era_.


 _March, 1915._

Ruins in a mournful light which is anxious, seemingly, to fade away into
a premature darkness. Vast ruins, ruins of such delicacy! Here is a
deployment of those exquisite, slender colonnades and those archways of
mysterious charm, which at first sight conjure up for the mind the
Middle Ages and Gothic Art in its fair but transient blossoming. But in
general, surviving specimens of that Art were only to be found in
isolated examples, in the form of some old church or old cloister,
surrounded by things of modern growth, whereas at Ypres, there is an
_ensemble_; first a cathedral with additions of complicated
supplementary buildings, that might be called palaces, whose long
façades with their clock-towers present to the eye their succession of
windows with pointed arches. As an architectural group it is almost
unique in the world, actually a whole quarter of a town, built in little
columns, little arches and archaic stone tracery.

The sky is low, gloomy, tormented, as in dreams. The actual night has
not yet begun to fall, but the thick clouds of northern winters cast
upon the earth this kind of yellowish obscurity. Round about the lofty
ruins, the open spaces are full of soldiers standing still, or slowly
making their rounds, all with a certain air of seriousness, as if
remembering or expecting some event, of which everyone is aware, but
which no one discusses. There are also women poorly dressed, with
anxious faces, and little children, but the humble population of
civilians is merged in a crowd of rough uniforms, almost all of them
faded and coated with earth, obviously returned after prolonged
engagements. The yellow khaki uniforms of the English and the almost
black uniform of the Belgians mingle with the "horizon" blue of
great-coats worn by our French soldiers, who are in a majority; all
these different shades blend into an almost neutral colour scheme, and
two or three red burnouses of Arab chiefs strike a vivid note,
unexpected, disconcerting, in that crowd, coloured like the misty winter
evening.

Here are ruins indeed, but on closer inspection, inexplicable ruins, for
their collapse seems to date from yesterday, and the crevices and gaps
are unnaturally white among the greyish tints of the façades or towers,
and here and there, through broken windows, on the interior walls is
visible the glittering of gilding. Indeed it is not time that has
wrought these ravages--time had spared these wonders--nor yet until our
own days, even in the midst of the most terrible upheavals and most
ruthless conquest, had men ever attempted to destroy them. No one had
dared the deed until the coming of those savages, who are still there,
close at hand, crouching in their holes of muddy earth, perfecting each
day their idiotic work, and multiplying their volleys of scrap-iron,
wreaking their vengeance on these sacred objects whenever they are
seized again by an access of rage in consequence of a new repulse.

Near the mutilated cathedral, that palace of a hundred windows, which in
the main still stands, is the famous Cloth Hall, built when Flanders was
at the height of her glory, a building vulgarised in all its aspects by
reproductions, ever since the vindictiveness of the barbarians rendered
it still more famous. One November night, it will be remembered, it
blazed with sinister magnificence, side by side with the church and the
precious buildings surrounding it, illuminating with a red light all the
open country. The Germans had brought up in its honour the best that
they could muster of incendiary material; their benzine bombs consumed
the Hall and then all that it contained; all the treasures that had been
preserved there for centuries, its state-rooms, its wainscoting, its
pictures, its books, all burned like straw. Now that it is bereft of its
lofty roof it has acquired something rather Venetian and surprising in
its appearance, with its long façades pierced with uninterrupted rows of
floreated pointed arches. In the midst of its irremediable disorder, it
is strange and charming. The symmetrical turrets, slender as minarets,
set in the angles of the walls, have hitherto escaped those insensate
bombs and rise up more boldly than ever, whereas the woodwork of the
pointed roofs no longer soars with them up into the air. But the belfry
in the centre, which ever since the Middle Ages has kept watch over the
plains, is to-day hatefully disfigured, its summit clean cut off,
shattered, cleft from top to bottom. It is scarcely in a condition to
offer further resistance; a few more shells, and it will collapse in one
mass. On one of its sides, very high up, still hangs the monumental
dial of a ruined clock, of which the hands point persistently to
twenty-five minutes past four--doubtless the tragic moment at which this
giant among Flemish belfries received its death blow.

Around the great square of Ypres, where these glories of past ages had
so long been preserved for us intact, several houses, the majority of
them of ancient Flemish architecture, have been eviscerated in like
manner, without object, without excuse, their interior visible from
outside through great, gaping holes. But this the barbarians did not do
on purpose; it was merely that they happened to be too near, these
houses, too closely adjacent to the targets they had chosen, the
cathedral and the old palace. It is known that everywhere here, as at
Louvain, at Arras, at Soissons, at Rheims, their greatest delight is to
direct their fire at public buildings, ruining again and again all that
is famous for beauty, art or memories. So then, except for its historic
square, the town of Ypres has not suffered very greatly. Ah, but wait! I
was forgetting the hospital yonder, which likewise served them for
target; for the matter of that the Germans have notoriously a preference
for bombarding places of refuge, shelters for wounded and sick,
ambulances, first-aid stations and Red Cross wagons.

These acts of destruction, transforming into a rubbish heap that
tranquil country of Belgium, which was above everything an incomparable
museum, all are agreed to stigmatise as a base, ignoble crime. But it is
more than that, it is a masterpiece of the crassest stupidity--the
stupidity that Schopenhauer himself could not forbear to publish in the
frank outburst evoked by his last moments; for after all it amounts to
signing and initialling the ignominy of Germany for the edification of
neutrals and of generations to come. The bodies of men tortured and
hanged, of women and children shot or mutilated, will soon moulder away
completely in their poor, nameless graves, and then the world will
remember them no more. But these imperishable ruins, these innumerable
ruins of museums or churches, what overwhelming and damning evidence
they are, and how everlasting!

After having done all this it is perhaps still more foolish to deny it,
to deny it in the very face of such incontrovertible evidence, to deny
it with an effrontery that leaves us Frenchmen aghast, or even to invent
pretexts at whose childish imbecility we can only shrug our shoulders.
"A people of born liars," said the Latin writer. Yes, and a people who
will never eradicate their original vices, a people who, moreover,
actually dared, despite the most irrefutable written documents, to deny
the premeditation of their crimes and the treachery of their attack.
What absurd childishness they reveal in their impostures! And who can be
the simpletons whom they hope to deceive?

The light is still fading upon the desolate ruins of Ypres, but how
slowly to-day! That is because even at noon the light was scarcely
stronger on this dull day of March; only at this hour a certain
atmosphere, indefinite and sad, broods upon the distant landscape,
indicating the approach of night.

They look instinctively at the ruins, these thousands of soldiers,
taking their evening walk in such melancholy surroundings, but generally
they remain at a distance, leaving the ruins to their magnificent
isolation. However, here are three of them, Frenchmen, probably
newcomers, who approach the ruins hesitatingly. They advance until they
stand under the little arches of the tottering cathedral with a sober
air, as if they were visiting tombs. After contemplating them at first
in silence, one of them suddenly ejaculates a term of abuse (to whom it
is addressed may be easily imagined!), doubtless the most insulting he
can find in the French language, a word that I had not expected, which
first makes me smile and then, the next moment, impresses me on the
contrary as a valuable discovery.

"Oh those hooligans!"

Here the intonation is missing, for I am unable to reproduce it, but in
truth the compliment, pronounced as he pronounced it, seems to me
something new, worth adding to all the other epithets applied to
Germans, which are always pitched in too low a key and moreover too
refined; and he continues to repeat, indignant little soldier that he
is, stamping with rage:

"Oh those hooligans among hooligans!"

At last the fall of night is upon us, the true night, which will put an
end here to all signs of life. The crowd of soldiers gradually melts
away along streets already dark, which, for obvious reasons, will not be
lighted. In the distance the sound of the bugle summons them to their
evening soup in houses or barracks, where they will fall asleep with no
sense of security, certain of being awakened at any moment by shells, or
by those great monsters that explode with a crash like thunder. Poor,
brave children of France, wrapped in their bluish overcoats, none can
foresee at what hour death will be hurled at them, from afar, blindly,
through the misty darkness--for the most playful fancy presides over
this bombardment; now it is an endless rain of fire, now only a single
shell which comes and kills at haphazard. And patiently awaiting the
rest of the great drama lie the ruins, enveloped in silence. Here and
there a little timid light appears in some house still inhabited, where
the windows are pasted over with paper to enable them to resist the
shock of explosions close at hand, and where the air-holes of the
cellars of refuge are protected by sandbags. Who would believe it?
Stubborn people, people too old or too poor to flee, have remained at
Ypres, and others even are beginning to return, with a kind of
fatalistic resignation.

The cathedral and the great belfry project only their silhouettes
against the sky, and these seem to have been congealed, gesturing with
broken arms. As the night enfolds the world more completely in its thick
mists, memory conjures up the mournful surroundings in which Ypres is
now lost, deep plains unpeopled and soon plunged in darkness, roads
broken up, impassable for fugitives, fields blotted out or mantled with
snow, a network of trenches where our soldiers, alas! are suffering cold
and discomfort, and so near, hardly a cannon-shot away, those other
ditches, more grim, more sordid, where men of ineradicable savagery are
watching, always ready to spring out in solid masses, uttering Red
Indian war whoops, or to crawl sneakingly along to squirt liquid fire
upon our soldiers.

But how the twilight has lengthened in these last few days! Without
looking at the clock it is evident that the hour is late, and the mere
fact of still being able to see conveys in spite of all a vague presage
of April; it seems that the nightmare of winter is coming to an end,
that the sun will reappear, the sun of deliverance, that softer breezes,
as if nothing unusual were happening in the world, will bring back
flowers and songs of birds to all these scenes of desolation, among all
these thousands of graves of youth. There is yet another sign of
spring, three or four little girls, who rush out into the deserted
square in wild spirits, quite little girls, not more than six years old;
they have escaped, fleet of foot, from the cellar in which they sleep,
and they take hands and try to dance a round, as on an evening in May,
to the tune of an old Flemish song. But another child, a big girl of
ten, a person in authority, comes along and reduces them to silence,
scolding them as if they had done something naughty, and drives them
back to the underground dwellings, where, after they have said their
prayers, lowly mothers will put them to bed.

Unspeakably sad seemed that childish round, tentatively danced there in
solitude at the fall of a cold March night, in a square dominated by a
phantom belfry, in a martyred city, in the midst of gloomy, inundated
plains, all in darkness, and all beset with ambushes and mourning.

Since this chapter was written the bombardment has continued, and Ypres
is now no more than a shapeless mass of calcined stones.



XI

AT THE GENERAL HEADQUARTERS OF THE BELGIAN ARMY


 _March, 1915._

To-day on my way to the General Headquarters of the Belgian Army,
whither I am bound on a mission from the President of the French
Republic to His Majesty King Albert, I pass through Furnes, another town
wantonly and savagely bombarded, where at this hour of the day there is
a raging storm of icy wind, snow, rain, and hail, under a black sky.

Here as at Ypres the barbarians bent their whole soul on the destruction
of the historical part, the charming old town hall and its surroundings.
It is here that King Albert, driven forth from his palace, established
himself at first. Thereupon the Germans, with that delicacy of feeling
to which at present no one in the world disputes their claim,
immediately made this place their objective, in order to bombard it with
their brutal, heavy shells. I need hardly say that there was scarcely
anyone in the streets, where I slowed down my motor so that I might have
leisure for a better appreciation of the effects of the Kaiser's "work
of civilisation"; there were only some groups of soldiers, fully armed,
some with their coat-collars turned up, others with the back curtains of
their service-caps turned down. They hastened along in the squalls,
running like children, and laughing good-humouredly, as if it were very
amusing, this downpour, which for once was not of fire.

How is it that there is no atmosphere of sadness about this half-empty
town? It is as if the gaiety of these soldiers, in spite of the gloomy
weather, had communicated itself to the ruined surroundings. And how
full of splendid health and spirits they seem! I see no more on any
faces that somewhat startled, haggard expression, common at the
beginning of the war. The outdoor life, combined with good food, has
bronzed the cheeks of these men whom the shrapnel has spared, but their
principal support and stay is their complete confidence, their
conviction that they have already gained the upper hand and are marching
to victory. The invasion of the Boches will pass away like this horrible
weather, which after all is only a last shower of March; it will all
come to an end.

At a turning, during a lull in the storm, I come very unexpectedly upon
a little knot of French sailors. I cannot refrain from beckoning to
them, as one would beckon to children whom one had suddenly found again
in some distant jungle, and they come running to the door of my car
equally delighted to see someone in naval uniform. They seem to be
picked men: they have such gallant, comely faces and such frank,
spirited eyes. Other sailors, too, who were passing by at a little
distance and whom I had not called, come likewise and surround me as if
it were the natural thing to do, but with respectful familiarity, for
are we not in a strange country, and at war? Only yesterday, they tell
me, they arrived a whole battalion strong, with their officers, and they
are camping in a neighbouring village while waiting to "down" the
Boches. And I should like so much to make a _détour_ and pay them a
visit in their own camp if I were not pressed for time, tied down to the
hour of my audience with His Majesty. Indeed it gives me pleasure to
associate with our soldiers, but it is a still greater delight to
associate with our sailors, among whom I passed forty years of my life.
Even before I caught sight of them, just from hearing them talk, I
could recognise them for what they were. More than once, on our military
thoroughfares in the north, on a pitch-dark night, when it was one of
their detachments who stopped me to demand the password, I have
recognised them simply by the sound of their voices.

One of our generals, army commander on the Northern Front, was speaking
to me yesterday of that pleasant, kindly familiarity which prevails from
the highest to the lowest grade of the military ladder, and which is a
new tone characteristic of this essentially national war in which we all
march hand in hand.

"In the trenches," he said to me, "if I stop to talk to a soldier, other
soldiers gather round me so that I may talk to them too. And they are
becoming more and more admirable for their high spirits and their
brotherliness. If only our thousands of dead could be restored to us
what a benefit this war would have bestowed upon us, drawing us near
together, until we all possess but one heart."

It is a long way to the General Headquarters. Out in the open country
the weather is appalling beyond description. The roads are broken up,
fields flooded until they resemble marshes, and sometimes there are
trenches, _chevaux de frise_, reminding the traveller that the
barbarians are still very near. And yet all this, which ought to be
depressing, no longer succeeds in being so. Every meeting with
soldiers--and the car passes them every minute--is sufficient to restore
your serenity. They have all the same cheerful faces, expressive of
courage and gaiety. Even the poor sappers, up to their knees in water,
working hard to repair the shelter pits and defences, have an expression
of gaiety under their dripping service-caps. What numbers of soldiers
there are in the smallest villages, Belgian and French, very fraternally
intermingling. By what wonderful organisation of the commissariat are
these men housed and fed?

But who asserted that there were no Belgian soldiers left! On the
contrary, I pass imposing detachments on their way to the front, in good
order, admirably equipped, and of fine bearing, with a convoy of
excellent artillery of the very latest pattern. Never can enough be said
in praise of the heroism of a people who had every reason for not
preparing themselves for war, since they were under the protection of
solemn treaties that should have preserved them forever from any such
necessity, yet who, nevertheless, sustained and checked the brunt of the
attack of the great barbarism. Disabled at first and almost annihilated,
yet they are recovering themselves and gathering around their sublimely
heroic king.

It is raining, raining, and we are numb with cold, but we have arrived
at last, and in another moment I shall see him, the King, without
reproach and without fear. Were it not for these troops and all these
service motor cars, it would be impossible to believe that this remote
village was the General Headquarters. I have to leave the car, for the
road which leads to the royal residence is nothing more than a footpath.
Among the rough motor cars standing there, all stained with mud from the
roads, there is one car of superior design, having no armorial bearings
of any kind, nothing but two letters traced in chalk on the black door,
S.M. (_Sa Majesté_), for this is _his_ car. In this charming corner of
ancient Flanders, in an old abbey, surrounded by trees and tombs, here
is his dwelling. Out in the rain, on the path which borders on the
little sacred cemetery, an aide-de-camp comes to meet me, a man with the
charm and simplicity that no doubt likewise characterise his sovereign.
There are no guards at the entrance to the dwelling, and no ceremony is
observed. At the end of an unimposing corridor where I have just time to
remove my overcoat, in the embrasure of an opening door, the King
appears, erect, tall, slender, with regular features and a surprising
air of youth, with frank eyes, gentle and noble in expression,
stretching out his hand in kindly welcome.

In the course of my life other kings and emperors have been gracious
enough to receive me, but in spite of pomp, in spite of the splendour of
some of their palaces, I have never yet felt such reverence for
sovereign majesty as here, on the threshold of this little house, where
it is infinitely exalted by calamity and self-sacrifice; and when I
express this sentiment to King Albert he replies with a smile, "Oh, as
for my palace," and he completes his phrase with a negligent wave of the
hand, indicating his humble surroundings. It is indeed a simple room
that I have just entered, yet by the mere absence of all vulgarity,
still possessing distinction. A bookcase crowded with books occupies the
whole of one wall; in the background there is an open piano with a
music-book on the stand; in the middle a large table, covered with maps
and strategic plans; and the window, open in spite of the cold, looks
out on to a little old-world garden, like that of a parish priest,
almost completely enclosed, stripped of its leaves, melancholy, weeping,
as it were, the rains of winter.

After I have executed the simple mission entrusted to me by the
President of the Republic, the King graciously detains me a long time in
conversation. But if I felt reluctant to write even the beginning of
these notes, still more do I hesitate to touch upon this interview, even
with the utmost discretion, and then how colourless will it seem, all
that I shall venture to say! It is because in truth I know that he never
ceases to enjoin upon those around him, "Above all, see that people do
not talk about me," because I know and understand so well the horror he
professes for anything resembling an "interview." So then at first I
made up my mind to be silent, and yet when there is an opportunity of
making himself heard, who would not long to help to spread abroad, to
the utmost of his small ability, the renown of such a name?

Very striking in the first place is the sincere and exquisite modesty of
his heroic nature; it is almost as if he were unaware that he is worthy
of admiration. In his opinion he has less deserved the veneration which
France has devoted to him, and his popularity among us, than the least
of his soldiers, slain for our common defence. When I tell him that I
have seen even in the depths of the country, in peasants' cottages, the
portraits of the King and Queen of the Belgians in the place of honour,
with little flags, black, yellow and red, piously pinned around them, he
appears scarcely to believe me; his smile and his silence seem to
answer:

"Yet all that I did was so natural. Could a king worthy of the name have
acted in any other way?"

Now we talk about the Dardanelles, where in this hour serious issues
hang in the balance; he is pleased to question me about ambushes in
those parts, which I frequented for so long a time, and which have not
ceased to be very dear to me. But suddenly a colder gust blows in
through the window, still opening on to the forlorn little garden. With
what kindly thoughtfulness, then, he rises, as any ordinary officer
might have done, and himself closes the window near which I am seated.

And then we talk of war, of rifles, of artillery. His Majesty is well
posted in everything, like a general already broken in to his craft.

Strange destiny for a prince, who, in the beginning, did not seem
designated for the throne, and who, perhaps, would have preferred to go
on living his former somewhat retired life by the side of his beloved
princess. Then, when the unlooked-for crown was placed upon his youthful
brow, he might well have believed that he could hope for an era of
profound peace, in the midst of the most peaceful of all nations, but,
contrary to every expectation, he has known the most appallingly tragic
reign of all. Between one day and the next, without a moment's
weakness, without even a moment's hesitation, disdainful of compromises,
which for a time, at least, though to the detriment of the civilisation
of the world, might have preserved for a little space his towns and
palaces, he stood erect in the way of the Monster's onrush, a great
warrior king in the midst of an army of heroes.

To-day it is clear that he has no longer a doubt of victory, and his own
loyalty gives him complete confidence in the loyalty of the Allies, who
truly desire to restore life to his country of Belgium; nevertheless, he
insists that his soldiers shall co-operate with all their remaining
strength in the work of deliverance, and that they shall remain to the
end at the post of danger and honour. Let us salute him with the
profoundest reverence.

Another less noble, might have said to himself:

"I have amply paid my debt to the common cause; it was my troops who
built the first rampart against barbarism. My country, the first to be
trampled under the feet of these German brutes, is no more than a heap
of ruins. That suffices."

But no, he will have the name of Belgium inscribed upon a yet prouder
page, by the side of Serbia, in the golden book of history.

And that is the reason why I met on my way those inestimable troops,
alert and fresh, miraculously revived, who were on their way to the
front to continue the holy struggle.

Before him let us bow down to the very ground.

Night is falling when the audience comes to an end and I find myself
again on the footpath that leads to the abbey. On my return journey,
along those roads broken up by rain and by military transport wagons, I
remain under the charm of his welcome. And I compare these two monarchs,
situated, as it were, at opposite poles of humanity, the one at the pole
of light, the other at the pole of darkness; the one yonder, swollen
with hypocrisy and arrogance, a monster among monsters, his hands full
of blood, his nails full of torn flesh, who still dares to surround
himself with insolent pomp; the other here, banished without a murmur to
a little house in a village, standing on a last strip of his martyred
kingdom, but in whose honour rises from the whole civilised earth a
concert of sympathy, enthusiasm, magnificent appreciation, and for whom
are stored up crowns of most pure and immortal glory.



XII

SOME WORDS UTTERED BY HER MAJESTY, THE QUEEN OF THE BELGIANS


      "All the world knows what value to attach to the King of
      Prussia and his word. There is no sovereign in Europe who
      has not suffered from his perfidy. And such a king as this
      would impose himself upon Germany as dictator and protector!
      Under a despotism which repudiates every principle, the
      Prussian monarchy will one day be the source of infinite
      calamity, not only to Germany, but likewise to the whole of
      Europe."

 THE EMPRESS MARIA THERESA.


 _March, 1915._

Far away, far away and out of the world seems this place where the
persecuted Queen has taken refuge. I do not know how long my motor car,
its windows lashed by rain, has rolled along in the dim light caused by
showers and approaching night, when at last the Belgian non-commissioned
officer, who guided my chauffeur along these unfamiliar roads, announces
that we have arrived. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth of the Belgians, has
deigned to grant me an audience at half-past six, and I trembled lest I
should be late, for the way seemed interminable through a countryside
which it was too dark to see; but we were in time, punctual to a moment.
At half-past six on an evening in March, under an overcast sky, it is
already dark as night.

The car stops and I jump out on to the sands of the seashore; I
recognise the sound of the ocean close at hand, and the boundless
expanse of the North Sea, less dark than the sky, is vaguely perceptible
to the sight. Rain and cold winds rage around us. On the dunes two or
three houses without lights in the windows are visible as greyish
outlines. However, someone carrying a little shining glass lamp is
hurrying to receive me; he is an officer in Her Majesty's service,
carrying one of those electric torches which the wind does not blow out,
and which in France we call an Apache's lantern.

On entering the first house to which the aide-de-camp conducts me, I
attempt to leave my overcoat in the hall.

"No, no," he says, "keep it on; we have still to go out of doors to
reach Her Majesty's apartments."

This first villa shelters only ladies-in-waiting and officers of that
court now so shorn of ceremony, and every evening it is plunged
purposely in darkness as a precaution against shrapnel fire. A moment
later I am summoned to Her Majesty's presence. Escorted by the same
pleasant officer with his lantern, I hurry across to the next house.
The rain is mingled with white butterflies, which are flakes of snow.
Very indistinctly I see a desert-like landscape of dunes and sands
almost white, stretching out into infinity.

"Would you not imagine it a site in the Sahara?" says my guide. "When
your Arab cavalry came here the illusion was complete."

It is true, for even in Africa the sands turn pale in the darkness, but
this is a Sahara transported under the gloomy sky of a northern night,
and it has assumed there too deep a melancholy.

In the villa we enter a warm, well-lighted room, which, with its red
furnishings, introduces a note of gaiety, almost of comfort, into this
quasi-solitude, battered by wintry squalls. And there is a pleasure,
which at first transcends everything else--the physical pleasure of
approaching a fireplace with a good blazing fire.

While waiting for the Queen I notice a long packing-case lying on two
chairs; it is made of that fine, unequalled, white carpentry which
immediately reminds me of Nagasaki, and on it are painted Japanese
letters in columns. The officer's glance followed mine.

"That," he says, "is a magnificent ancient sabre which the Japanese have
just sent to our King."

I, personally, had forgotten them, those distant allies of ours in the
Farthest East. Yet it is true that they are on our side; how strange a
thing! And even over there the woes of these two gracious sovereigns are
universally known, and the Japanese desired to show their special
sympathy by sending them a valuable present.

I think this charming officer was going to show me the sabre from Japan,
but a lady-in-waiting appears, announcing Her Majesty, and he withdraws
at once.

"Her Majesty is coming," says the lady-in-waiting.

The Queen, whom I have never yet seen, consecrated as it were by
suffering, with what infinite reverence I await her coming, standing
there in front of the fire while wind and snow continue to rage in the
black night outside. Through which door will she enter? Doubtless by
that door over there at the end of the room, on which my attention is
involuntarily concentrated.

But no! A soft, rustling sound makes me turn my head towards the
opposite side of the room, and from behind a screen of red silk which
concealed another door the young Queen appears, so near to me that I
have not room to make my court bow. My first impression, necessarily
furtive as a flash of lightning, a mere visual impression, I might say a
colourist's impression, is a dazzling little vision of blue--the blue of
her gown, but more especially the blue of her eyes, which shine like
two luminous stars. And then she has such an air of youth; she seems
this evening twenty-four, and scarcely that. From the different
portraits I had seen of Her Majesty, portraits so little faithful to
life, I had gathered that she was very tall, with a profile almost too
long, but on the contrary, she is of medium height, and her face is
small, with exquisitely refined features--a face almost ethereal, so
delicate that it almost vanishes, eclipsed by those marvellous, limpid
eyes, like two pure turquoises, transparent to reveal the light within.
Even a man unaware of her rank and of everything concerning her, her
devotion to duty, the superlative dignity of her actions, her serene
resignation, her admirable, simple charity, would say to himself at
first sight:

"The woman with those eyes, who may she be? Assuredly one who soars very
high and will never falter, who without even a tremor of her eyelids
can look in the face not only temptations, but likewise danger and
death."

With what reverent sympathy, free from vulgar curiosity, would I fain
catch an echo of that which stirs in the depths of her heart when she
contemplates the drama of her destiny. But a conversation with a queen
is not directed by one's own fancy, and at the beginning of the audience
Her Majesty touches upon different subjects lightly and gracefully as if
there were nothing unusual happening in the world. We talk of the East,
where we have both travelled; we talk of books she has read; it seems as
if we were oblivious of the great tragedy which is being enacted,
oblivious of the surrounding country, strewn with ruins and the dead.
Soon, however, perhaps because a little bond of confidence has
established itself between us, Her Majesty speaks to me of the
destruction of Ypres, Furnes, towns from which I have just come; then
the two blue stars gazing at me seem to me to grow a little misty, in
spite of an effort to keep them clear.

"But, madam," I say, "there still remains standing enough of the walls
to enable all the outlines to be traced again, and almost everything to
be practically reconstructed in the better times that are in store."

"Ah," she answers, "rebuild! Certainly it will be possible to rebuild,
but it will never be more than an imitation, and for me something
essential will always be lacking. I shall miss the soul which has passed
away."

Then I see how dearly Her Majesty had already loved those marvels now
ruined, and all the past of her adopted country, which survived there in
the old stone tracery of Flanders.

Ypres and Fumes incline us to subjects less impersonal, and gradually
we at last come to talk of Germany. One of the sentiments predominant,
it seems, in her bruised heart is that of amazement, the most painful as
well as the most complete amazement, at so many crimes.

"There has been some change in them," she says, in hesitating words.
"They used not to be like this. The Crown Prince, whom I knew very well
in my childhood, was gentle, and nothing in him led one to expect----
Think of it as I may, day and night, I cannot understand---- No, in the
old days they were not like this, of that I am sure."

But I know very well that they were ever thus (as indeed all of us
know); they were always the same from the beginning under their
inscrutable hypocrisy. But how could I venture to contradict this Queen,
born among them, like a beautiful, rare flower among stinging nettles
and brambles? To be sure, the unleashing of their latent barbarism which
we are now witnessing is the work of that King of Prussia who is the
faithful successor of him whom formerly the great Empress Maria Theresa
stigmatised; it is he indeed, who, to use the bitter yet very just
American expression, has given them swelled heads. But their character
was ever the same in all ages, and in order to form a judgment of their
souls, steeped in lies, murders, and rapine, it is sufficient to read
their writers, their thinkers, whose cynicism leaves us aghast.

After a moment's pause in which nothing is heard but the noise of the
wind outside, remembering that the young martyred Queen was a Bavarian
princess, I venture to recall the fact that the Bavarians in the Germany
Army were troubled at the persecutions endured by the Queen of the
Belgians, who had sprung from their own race, and indignant when the
Monster who leads this Witches' Sabbath even tried to single out her
children as a mark for his shrapnel lire.

But the Queen, raising her little hand from where it rested on the
silken texture of her gown, outlines a gesture which signifies something
inexorably final, and in a grave, low voice she utters this phrase which
falls upon the silence with the solemnity of a sentence whence there is
no appeal:

"It is at an end. Between _them_ and me has fallen a curtain of iron
which will never again be lifted."

At the same time, at the remembrance of her childhood, doubtless, and of
those whom she loved over there, the two clear blue eyes which were
looking at me grow very misty, and I turn my head away so that I may not
seem to have noticed.



XIII

AN APPEAL ON BEHALF OF THE SERIOUSLY WOUNDED IN THE EAST


 _June, 1915._

The Orient, the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmora--the mere enunciation of
these words, especially in these beautiful months of summer, conjures up
images of sun-steeped repose, a repose perhaps a little mournful because
of the lack of all movement in those parts, but a repose of such
adorable melancholy, in the midst of so many remembrances of great past
destinies of humanity, which, throughout these regions, slumber,
preserved under the mantle of Islam. But lately on this peninsula of
Gallipoli, with its somewhat bare and stony hills, there used to be, in
the winding folds of every river, tranquil old villages, with their
wooden houses built on the site of ancient ruins, their white minarets,
their dark cypress groves, sheltering some of those charming gilded
_stelae_, which exist in countless numbers, as everyone knows, in that
land of Turkey where the dead are never disturbed. And it was all so
calm, all this; it seemed that these humble little Edens might have felt
sure of being spared for a long time yet, if not for ever.

But alas! the Germans are the cause of the horror that is unchained here
to-day, that horror without precedent, which it is their genius to
propagate as soon as they have chosen a spot wherein to stretch out
their tentacles, visible or concealed. And it has become a most sinister
chaos, lighted by huge flames, red or livid, in a continuous din of
hell. Everything is overthrown in confusion and ruin.

"The ancient castles of Europe and Asia are nothing more than ruins,"
writes to me one of our old Zouaves, who is fighting in those parts;
"it is to me unspeakably painful to see those idyllic landscapes
harrowed by trenches and shells; the venerable cypress trees are mown
down; funereal marbles of great artistic value are shattered into a
thousand fragments. If only Stamboul at least may be preserved!"

There are trenches, trenches everywhere. To this form of warfare,
underground and treacherous, which the Germans have invented, the Turks,
like ourselves, have necessarily had to submit. And so this ancient
soil, the repository of the treasures of antiquity, has been ploughed up
into deep furrows, in which appear at every moment the fragments of some
marvel dating from distant, unknown epochs.

And at every hour of the night and day these trenches are reddened with
blood, with the blood of our sons of France, of our English friends,
and even of those gentle giants of New Zealand, who have followed them
into this furnace. The earth is abundantly drenched with their blood,
the blood of all these Allies, so dissimilar, but so firmly united
against the monstrous knavery of Germany. Opposite, very close, there
flows the blood of those Turks, who are nothing but the unhappy victims
of hateful plots, yet who are so freely insulted in France by people who
understand nothing of the underlying cause. They fall in thousands,
these Turks, more exposed to shrapnel fire than our own men;
nevertheless they fight reluctantly; they fight because they have been
deceived and because insolent foreigners drive them on with their
revolvers. If on the whole they fight none the less superbly, it is
merely a question of race. And the simplest of them, who have been
persuaded that they had to do with only their Russian enemies, are
unaware that it is we who are there.

On this peninsula we occupy a position won and retained by force of
heroism. The formation of the ground continues to render our situation
one of difficulty and our tenacity still more worthy of admiration. Our
position, indeed, is dominated by the low hills of Asia, where the forts
have not yet all been silenced; there is therefore no nook or corner, no
tent, no single one of our field hospitals, where doctors can attend to
the wounded in perfect security, absolutely certain that no shell will
come and interrupt them.

This terrible void France desires to fill with all possible dispatch.
With the utmost haste, she is fitting out a great hospital ship, which
the Red Cross Society has offered to provide at its own expense with
three hundred beds, with linen, nurses, drugs and dressings. This
life-saving ship will be moored in front of an island close to the
scene of battle, but completely sheltered; steam and motor launches will
be attached to it to fetch those who are seriously wounded and bring
them on board day by day, so that they may be operated upon and tended
in peace before infection and gangrene set in. How many precious lives
of our soldiers will thus be saved!

It must be understood that the stretcher-bearers of the ship will bring
back likewise wounded Turks, if there are any lying in the zone
accessible to them; and this is only fair give and take, for they do the
same for us. Some Zouaves who are fighting there wrote to me yesterday:

"The Turks are resisting with unequalled bravery; this all the
newspapers of Europe admit. But our wounded and our prisoners receive
excellent treatment from them, as General Gouraud himself announced in
an Order of the Day; they nurse them, feed them, and tend them better
than their own soldiers."

And here is a literal extract from a letter from one of our adjutants:
"I fell, wounded in the leg, beside a Turkish officer more seriously
wounded than myself; he had with him emergency dressings and he began by
dressing my wound before thinking of his own. He spoke French very well
and he said to me, 'You see, my friend, to what a pass these miserable
Germans have brought us!'"

If I dwell upon the subject of the Turks it is not, I need hardly say,
because I take a deeper interest in them than in our own men; no one
will insult me by such a reflection. No. But as for our own soldiers,
does not everyone love them already? Whereas these poor fellows are
really too much misjudged and slandered by the ignorant masses.

"Spare them as soon as they hold up their hands," said a heroic
general, brought home yesterday from the Dardanelles covered with
wounds. He was addressing his men in a proclamation admirable for the
loyalty of its tone. "Spare them," he said; "it is not they who are our
enemies."

So, then, the great life-saving ship which is about to be sent to those
parts is being made ready to sail in all haste. But the Red Cross
Society have herewith taken upon themselves a heavy responsibility, and
it will be readily understood that they will need money, much money.
That is why I make this appeal on their behalf to all the world. So much
has already been given that it is an earnest wish that still more will
be forthcoming, for with us charity is inexhaustible when once the noble
impulse stirs. I would ask that help may be given very soon, for there
is need of dispatch.

How greatly this will change the condition of life for our dear
soldiers. What confidence it will give them to know that if they fall,
seriously wounded, there is waiting for them a place of refuge, like a
little corner of France, which is equivalent to saying a corner of
Paradise, and that they will be taken there at once. Instead of the
miserable makeshift field hospital, too hot and by no means too safe,
where the terrible noise never ceases to rack aching temples, there will
be this refuge, absolutely out of range of gun fire, this great peaceful
ship, open everywhere to the good, wholesome air of the sea, where at
last prevails that silence so passionately desired by sufferers, where
they will be tended with all the latest improvements and the most
ingenious inventions by gentle French nurses in white dresses, whose
noiseless footfall disturbs no slumber nor dream.



XIV

SERBIA IN THE BALKAN WAR


 _July, 1915._

But lately I had included Serbia--its prince in particular--in my first
accusations against the Balkan races, when they hurled themselves
together upon Turkey, already at grips with Italy. But later on, in the
course of so many wrathful indictments, I did not once again mention the
name of the Serbians. That was because my information from those parts
proved to me clearly that among the original Allies, the Allies of the
Balkans, the Serbians were the most humane. They themselves, doubtless,
observed that I made no further reference to them, for no insulting
letter reached me from their country, whereas Bulgarians and even Greeks
poured upon me a flood of unseemly abuse.

Since then the great philanthropist, Carnegie, in order to establish
the truth definitely in history, has set on foot a conscientious
international court of inquiry, whose findings, published in a large
volume, have all the authority of the most impartial official documents.
Here are recorded, supported by proofs and signatures, the most
appalling testimonies against Bulgarians and Greeks; but noticeably
fewer crimes are ascribed to Serbia's account. But this volume entitled
"Conquest in the Balkans" (Carnegie Endowment) has, I fear, been too
little read, and it is a duty to bring it to the notice of all.

Moreover, who would refuse pardon to that gallant Serbian nation for the
excesses they may have committed? Who would not accord to them the
profound sympathy of France to-day, when the Prussian Emperor, in his
ruthless ferocity, has sacrificed them as a bait for one of his most
abominable and knavish plots? Poor little Serbia! With what magnificent
heroism she has succeeded in defending herself against an enemy who did
not even shrink from the atrocious act of burning her capital at a time
when it was peopled solely by women and children! Poor little Serbia,
suddenly become a martyr, and sublime! I would willingly at least win
back for her some French hearts which my last book may perhaps have
alienated. And that is the sole purpose of this letter.



XV

ABOVE ALL LET US NEVER FORGET!


 _August 1st, 1915._

A year ago to-day began that shameful violation of Belgian territory. In
the midst of these appalling horrors, time, it seems, has hastened still
more in its bewildered flight, and already we have reached the
anniversary of that foul deed, the blackest that has ever defiled the
history of the human race. This crime was committed after long,
hypocritical premeditation, and no pang of remorse, no vestige of shame,
caused those myriads of accomplices to stay their hands. It is a crime
that leaves with us, in addition to immeasurable mourning, an impression
of infinite sadness and discouragement, because it proves that one of
the greatest countries in Europe is hopelessly bankrupt of all that men
have agreed to call honour, civilisation, and progress. The barbarian
onslaughts of ancient days were not only a thousand times less
murderous, but, let it be specially noted, incomparably less revolting
in character. There were certain dastardly deeds, certain acts of
profanation, certain lies, at which those hordes that came to us from
Asia hesitated; an instinctive reverence still restrained them; and,
moreover, in those times they did not destroy with such impudent
cynicism, invoking the God of Christians in a burlesque pathos of
prayer!

Thus in our own day has arisen a grisly Emperor, with a pack of
princelings, his own progeny, a litter of wolves, whose most savage and
at the same time most cowardly representative wears a death's head upon
his helmet; and generals and millions of Germans have been found ready
to unite, after a calculated preparation of nearly half a century, in
committing this same preliminary crime, the forerunner of so many
others, and by way of prelude, to crush ignobly in their advance a
little nation whom they had deemed without defence.

But lo! the little nation arose, quivering with sacred indignation, and
attempted to check the great barbarism, suddenly unmasked; to check it
for at least a few days, even at the cost of a seemingly inevitable doom
of annihilation.

What starry crowns can history award worthy of that Belgian nation and
of their King, who did not fear to bid them set themselves there as a
barrier.

King Albert of Belgium, dispossessed to-day of his all and banished to a
hamlet--what tribute of admiration and homage can we offer him worthy of
his acceptance and sufficiently enduring? Upon tablets of flawless
marble let us carve his name in deep letters so that it may be well
insured against the fugitiveness of our French memories, which, alas!
have sometimes proved a little untrustworthy, at least in face of the
age-long infamies of Germany. May we remember for ever, we, and even our
far distant posterity, that to save civilised Europe, and especially our
own country of France, King Albert did not for one moment shrink from
those sheer, unconditional sacrifices which seemed beyond human
strength. Spurning the tempting compromises offered by that monstrous
emperor, he has fulfilled to the end his duty of loyal hero with a calm
smile, as if nothing were more natural. And so perfect is his modesty
that he is surprised if he is told that he has been sublime.

As for Queen Elizabeth, let each one of us dedicate to her a shrine in
his soul. One of the most dreaded duties that falls almost invariably to
the lot of queens is having to reign over adopted countries while exiled
from their own. In the special case of this young martyred queen, this
doom of exile which has befallen her, and many other queens, must be a
far more exquisite torture, added to all the other evils endured, for a
crushing fatality has come and separated her for ever from all who were
once her own people, even from that noble woman, all devotion and
charity, who was her mother. This additional sorrow she bears with calm
and lofty courage which never falters. She is by the King's side, his
constant companion in the most terrible hours of all; a companion whose
energy halts at nothing. And she is by the side of the poor who have
lost their all by pillage or fire; by the side of the wounded who are
suffering or dying; to them, too, she is a companion, comforting the
lowliest with her adorable simplicity, shedding on all the increasing
bounty of her exquisite compassion. Oh, may she be blest, reverenced,
and glorified! And for her altar, dedicated within our souls, let us
choose very rare, very delicate flowers, like unto herself.



XVI

THE INN OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN


 _August, 1915._

In spite of the kindly welcome which the visitor receives and a
wholesome spirit of gaiety which never fails, it is an inn that I cannot
honestly recommend without reserve.

In the first place it is somewhat difficult of access, so much so that
ladies are never admitted. To climb up to it--for it is perched very
high--the traveller must needs make his way for hours through ancient
forests which the axe had spared until a very few months ago, along
unknown paths winding at steep gradients; among giant trees, pines or
larches, felled yesterday, which still lie about in all directions;
paths that are concealed by close-growing greenery with such jealous
care that in the few open spaces occurring here and there trees have
been planted right into the ground, trees uprooted elsewhere, and which
are here only to hide the wayfarer behind their dying branches. It may
be supposed that on the neighbouring hills sharp eyes, unfriendly eyes,
are watching, which necessitate all these precautions.

But there are many people on the road through those forests, which
seemed at first sight virgin. Viewing from a little distance all these
mountains covered with the same strong growth of forest, so luxuriant,
and everywhere so alike in appearance, who would imagine that they
sheltered whole tribes? And such strange tribes, evidently survivors of
an entirely prehistoric race of men, and in the anomalous position of
having no women-folk. Here are nothing but men, and men all dressed
alike, with a singular fancy for uniformity, in old, faded, woollen
great-coats of horizon blue. They have not paid much attention to their
hair or beards, and they have almost the appearance of brigands, except
that they all have such pleasant faces and such kindly smiles for the
wayfarer that they inspire no terror. So far from this he is tempted
rather to stop and shake hands with them. But what curious little
dwellings they have built, some isolated, some grouped together into a
village! Some of them are quite lightly constructed of planks of wood
and are covered over with branches of pine, and within are mattresses of
leaves that serve for beds. Some are underground, grim as caves of
troglodytes, and the approach to them is protected by huge masses of
rock, doubtless their defence against formidable wild beasts haunting
the neighbourhood. And these dwellings are always close to one of the
innumerable streams of clear water which rush down babbling from the
heights, among pink flowers and mosses--for these miniature waterfalls
are many, and all these mountains are full of the pleasant music of
running water. From time to time, to be sure, other sounds are heard,
hollow sounds of evil import, detonations on the right or the left,
which the echoes prolong. Can it be that there is artillery concealed
almost everywhere throughout the forest? What want of taste, thus to
disturb the symphony of the springs.

They have probably just arrived here, these savage tribes, dressed in
greyish blue; they are recent settlers, for all their arrangements are
new and improvised, and so likewise is the interminable winding road
which they have laid out, and which to-day our motor cars, with the help
of a little goodwill, manage to climb so rapidly.

One of the peculiarities of these hidden villages which crouch in the
shade of the lofty forest trees is that each has its own cemetery,
tenderly cared for, so close that it almost borders on the dwellings, as
if the living were anxious not to sever their comradeship with the dead.
But how comes it that death is so frequent among these limpid streams,
in a region where the air is so invigorating and so pure? These tombs,
so disquieting in their disproportionate numbers, are ranged in rows,
all with the same humble crosses of wood. They have borders of ferns
carefully watered, or of little pebbles, well selected. Flowers such as
thrive in shady places and are common in these parts, shoot up their
pretty pink spikes all around, and the whole scene is steeped in the
green translucent twilight which envelops the whole mountain, the
twilight of these unchanging trees, pines and larches, stretching away
into infinity, crowded together like wheat in a field, tall and straight
like gigantic masts.

In our haste to reach that Inn of the Good Samaritan, which is our
destination, we keep on climbing at a rapid pace, notwithstanding
acute-angled corners where our cars have to back before they can effect
the turn, and other awkward places where our cars slip on the wet soil,
skid, and come to a stop.

These tribes, so primitive in appearance, through whose midst we have
been travelling since the morning, seem to be concentrating their
energies especially on making these roads, which, one would think,
cannot really be necessary to their simple mode of existence. In our
onward course we meet nearly all these men, working with might and main,
with axes, shovels, stakes and picks, hurrying as if the task were
urgent. They stand erect for a moment to salute us, smiling a little
with touching and respectful familiarity, and then they bend down again
to their arduous work, levelling, enlarging, timbering, or digging out
roots that are in the way, and rocks that encroach. And when we were
told that it is scarcely ten months since they began this exhausting
work in the midst of forest, virgin hitherto, we are fain to believe
that all the Genii of the mountains have roused themselves and lent
their magic help.

Oh! what tribute of admiration mingled with emotion do we owe to these
men, likewise, the builders of roads, our gallant territorials, who seem
to be playing at wild men of the woods. They have revived for us the
miracles of the Roman Legions who so speedily opened up roads for their
armies through the forests of Gaul. Thanks to their prodigious labour,
performed without a break, without a murmur, the conditions of warfare
in this region, only yesterday still inaccessible, will be radically
changed for the benefit of our dear soldiers. Everything will reach them
on the heights ten times more expeditiously than before--arms, avenging
shells, rations; and in a few hours the seriously wounded will be gently
driven down in carriages to comfortable field hospitals in the plains.

Roughly speaking at an altitude of about fourteen or fifteen hundred
metres, the ancient forest with its arching trees ends abruptly. The sky
is deep blue above our heads, and infinite horizons unfold around us
their great spectacular display of illusive images. The air is very
clear and pure to-day in honour of our arrival, and it is so
marvellously transparent that we miss no detail of the most distant
landscapes.

We are told that we have reached the plateau where stands that
hospitable inn; it is, however, not yet in sight. But the plateau
itself, where is it situated, in which country of the world? In the
foreground around us and below nothing is visible except summits
uniformly wooded with trees of the same species; this brings back to
mind those great, monstrous expanses of forest which must have covered
the entire earth in the beginning of our geological period, but it is
characteristic of no particular country or epoch of history. In the
distance, it is true, there are signs of a more tell-tale nature. Thus
yonder, on the horizon, that succession of mountains, all mantled with
the same dark verdure, bears a close resemblance to the Black Forest;
that chain of glaciers over there, silhouetting so clearly against the
horizon its ridges of rosy crystal, might well be taken for the Alps;
and that peak in particular is too strikingly like the Jungfrau to
admit of any doubt. But I may not be more definite in my description; I
will merely say that those bluish plains in the East, rolling away at
our feet like a great sea, were but lately French, and are now about to
become French once more.

How spacious is this plateau, and how naked it stands among all those
other summits mantled with trees. Here there is not even brushwood, for
doubtless the winter winds rage too fiercely; here nothing grows but
short, thick grass and little stunted plants with insignificant flowers.
It is ecstasy to breathe here in this delicious intoxication of pure air
and of spaciousness and light. And yet there is some vague sense of
tragedy about the place, due perhaps to those great round holes, freshly
made; to those cruel clefts with which here and there the earth is rent.
What can have fallen here from the sky, leaving such scars on the level
surface? We are warned, moreover, that monstrous birds of a very
dangerous kind, with iron muscles, often come and hover about overhead
in that fair blue sky. And from time to time a cannon shot from some
invisible battery comes to disturb the impressive silence and
reverberates in the valleys below; and then comes, long drawn out, the
whirring of a shell, like a flight of partridges going past.

We notice some French soldiers, Alpine _chasseurs_, or cavalry on their
horses, scattered in groups about this plain, as it may be called,
situated at such an altitude. At this moment all lift their heads and
look in the same direction; this is because one of those great dangerous
birds has just been signalled; it is flying proudly, remote in the open
sky, in the clear blue. But immediately it is pursued by white clouds,
quite miniature clouds, which give the effect of being created
instantaneously, only to vanish as quickly--little explosions of white
cotton wool, one might say--and it seems impossible that they should be
freighted with death. However, that evil bird has understood; he is
aware that good marksmen are aiming at him, and he turns back on hasty
wing, while our soldiers gaily burst out laughing.

And the inn? It lies just in front of us, a few hundred paces away; it
is that greyish hut with its gay tricolour floating on the light breeze
of these altitudes, but near it stands a very lofty cross of pine-wood,
four or five yards high, stretching out its arms as in solemn warning.

The fact is, I must admit, that people die very frequently at this Inn
of the Good Samaritan or in its neighbourhood, and it is for this reason
that in the beginning I recommended it with reserve. It is surprising,
is it not, in such health-giving air? But the truth of it is
indisputable, and it has been necessary hurriedly to attach to it a
cemetery whose existence this tall cross of pine proclaims from afar to
travellers.

Yes, many men die here, but they die so nobly, a death of all deaths
most desirable--each according to his own temperament, according to the
nature of his soul: some in the calm serenity of duty done, others in
magnificent exaltation, but all in glory.

Can this be the famous inn--in other words the dwelling of those
officers who command this outpost, and where their friends on rare and
brief visits, liaison officers, bearers of dispatches, etc., are sure of
finding such cordial and genial hospitality--this modest hutting built
of planks? So it is, and that there may be no mistake, there is an
imposing signboard in the fashion of old times. Shaped like a shield,
it hangs from an iron rod and bears the inscription, "Inn of the Good
Samaritan." The legend is painted in ornamental letters, and the humour
of it is irresistible among such Crusoe-like destitution. Doubtless one
day some officer in a specially happy mood thought of this jest as a
welcome for comrades coming thither on special duty. Naturally he found
at once among his men one who was a carpenter and another a decorator in
civil life, both very much amused at being ordered to put this
unpremeditated idea forthwith into execution.

The furniture of the inn is very rough and ready, if the truth be told,
and the wall of planks just shelters you from the snow or rain, but from
the wind hardly, and from shells not at all. But one fills one's lungs
to the full with the air that reaches one through the little windows,
and from the threshold, looking downwards, there is a marvellous
bird's-eye view of great forests, of an unending chain of glaciers,
clear as crystal, of unbounded distances, and even over the tops of
clouds.

Ah well! all along the battle front there are such Inns of the Good
Samaritan. These others are perched less high, and they do not bear the
same name; indeed very often they have no name at all; but in all of
them prevails the same spirit of kindly hospitality, firm confidence,
smiling endurance and cheerful sacrifice. Here, as there, between two
showers of shells, men are capable of amusing themselves with childish
trifles, so stout of heart are they, and if access were not forbidden on
military grounds I would invite all pessimists in the background, who
have doubts of France and of her destiny, to come here for a cure.

And now, having seen the inn, let us pay a pious visit to the annex, the
inevitable annex, alas! Around the wooden cross which dominates it is a
piece of ground enclosed with an open fence, made of boughs of larch
artistically intertwined. Within its bounds those tombs, too numerous
already, preserve something of a military aspect, ranged as they are in
such correct alignment and all with the same little crosses, adorned
with a wreath of greenery. The Cross! In spite of all infidelity,
denial, scorn, the Cross still remains the sign to which a tender
instinct of atavism recalls us at the approach of death. There is not a
tree, not a shrub, for none grow here: on the ground there is only the
short grass that grows upon this wind-swept plateau. An attempt has been
made, to be sure, to make borders of certain stunted plants found in the
neighbourhood, but rows of pebbles last best. And in five weeks or so,
thick shrouds of snow will begin to cover up everything, until another
spring succeeds the snows and the grass grows green again, in the midst
of still deeper oblivion.

Nevertheless let us not pity them, for they have had the better part,
these young dead who rest there on that glorious mountain-top which is
destined to become once more, after the war, a solitude ineffably calm,
high above forest, valley and plain.



XVII

FOR THE RESCUE OF OUR WOUNDED


 _August, 1915._

The preservation of the lives of our dear wounded, who day by day are
stricken down upon the field of battle, depends nine times out of ten on
the rapidity with which they are carried in; on the gentleness and
promptness with which they are taken to the field hospitals, where they
may be put into comfortable beds and left in the care of all the kind
hands that are waiting for them. This fact is not sufficiently well
known; often it happens that wounds which would have been trifling have
become septic and mortal because they have been left too long covered
with inadequate, uncleanly bandages, or have trailed for many hours on
the earth or in the mud.

In the first weeks of the war when we were taken unawares by the
barbarians' attack, treacherous and sudden as a thunderbolt, it was not
bullets and shrapnel alone that killed the sons of France. Often, too,
it happened that help was slow in arriving; sufficient haste could not
be made, and it was impossible to cope right at the beginning with these
shortcomings, in spite of much admirable devotion and ingenuity in
multiplying and improving the means of service. Since then helpers have
poured in from all sides; gifts have been showered with open hands;
organisation has been created with loving zeal, and things are already
working very well. But much still remains to be done, for the work is
immense and complex, and it is our duty to hold ourselves more than ever
in readiness, in anticipation of great final struggles for deliverance.

Now a society is being formed for sending to the Front some fresh
squadrons of fast motor-ambulances, furnished with cots and mattresses
of improved design. Thus thousands more of our wounded will be laid
immediately between clean sheets, then brought into hospital with all
speed, without that delay which is a cause of gangrened wounds, without
those jolts that aggravate the pain of fractured bones and inflict yet
more grievous suffering on those dear bruised heads.

But in spite of the first magnificent donations, a remainder of the
money has still to be found to complete the enterprise satisfactorily.
And so I beseech all mothers, whose sons may fall at any moment; I
beseech all those who have in the firing-line a kinsman dear to them; I
beseech them to send their offerings without hesitation, without
calculation, so that soon, before the April battles begin, several
hundreds of those great life-saving ambulances may be ready to start,
which will assuredly preserve for us a vast number of precious lives.



XVIII

AT RHEIMS


 _August, 1915._

On a beautiful August evening I am hastening in a motor car towards
Rheims, one of our martyred towns, where I am hoping to find shelter for
the night before continuing my journey to the General Headquarters of
another Army. In order to avoid military formalities I wish to enter the
town before the sun sets, and it is already too low for my liking.

The evening is typical of one of our splendid French summers; the air is
exquisitely clear, of a delightful, wholesome warmth, tempered with a
light, refreshing breeze. On the hillsides of Champagne the beautiful
vines on which the grapes are ripening spread a uniform expanse of green
carpet, and there are so many trees, so many flowers everywhere,
gardens in all the villages, and roses climbing up all the walls.

To-day the cannon is heard no more, and one would be tempted to forget
that the barbarians are there close at hand if there were not so many
improvised cemeteries all along the road. Everywhere there are these
little graves of soldiers, all alike, which are now to be found from end
to end of our beloved France, all along the battle front; their simple
crosses of wood are ranged in straight lines as if for a parade, topped,
some of them, with a wreath; others still more pathetically with a
simple service-cap, red or blue, falling to rags. We salute them as we
pass.

Among these glorious dead there are some whose kindred will seek them
out and bring them back to the province of their birth later, when the
barbarians have gone away, while others, less favoured, will remain
there forever until the great final day of oblivion. But what masses of
flowers people have already been at pains to plant there for them all.
Around their resting-place there is a brave show of all shades of
brilliant colour, dahlias, cannas, China asters, roses. Who has
undertaken this labour of love? Girls from the nearest villages? Or
perhaps even their own brothers-in-arms, who dwell on the outskirts
everywhere like invisible subterranean tribes in these casemates, trench
shelters, dug-outs of every shape covered over with green branches?

This region, you must know, is not very safe, and when we arrive at a
section of the road which is too much exposed, a sentinel, especially
posted there to give warning, instructs us to leave the high road for a
moment, where we should run the risk of being seen and shelled, and to
take some sheltered traverse behind the curtains of poplars.

One of my soldier-chauffeurs suddenly turns round to say to me:

"Oh look, sir, there is an Arab cemetery. They have put on each grave
their little crescents instead of the cross."

Here to be sure the humble _stelae_ of white wood are all topped with
the crescent of Islam, and this is something of a shock to us in the
very heart of France. Poor fellows, who died for our righteous cause, so
far from their mosques and their marabouts they sleep, and alas! without
facing Mecca, because they who laid them piously to rest did not know
that this was to them a requisite of peaceful slumber! But the same
profusion of flowers has been brought to them as to our own countrymen,
and I need not say that we salute them likewise--a little late, perhaps,
for we pass them so rapidly.

We reach Rheims just before sunset, and here a sudden sadness chills us.
All is silent and the streets almost deserted. The shops are closed,
and some of the houses seem to gape at us with enormous holes in their
walls.

One of the infrequent wayfarers tells us that at the Hotel Golden Lion,
Cathedral Square, we may still be able to find someone to take us in,
and soon we are at the very foot of the noble ruin, which is still
enthroned as majestically as ever in the midst of the martyred town,
dominating everything with its two towers of open stone-work. I stop my
car, the sound of whose rolling in such a place seems profanation; the
sadness of ruins is intensified here into veritable anguish, and the
silence is such that instinctively we begin to talk softly, as if we had
already entered the great church that has perished.

The Golden Lion--but its panes of glass are broken, the doors stand
open, the courtyard is deserted. I send one of my soldiers there,
bidding him call, but not too loudly, in the midst of all this mournful
meditation. He returns; he has received no reply and has seen holes in
the walls. The house is deserted. We must seek elsewhere.

It is twilight. A golden after-glow still lingers around the magnificent
summits of the towers, while the base is wrapped in shadow. Oh, the
cathedral, the marvellous cathedral! what a work of destruction the
barbarians have continued to accomplish here since my pilgrimage of last
November. It had ever been a lace-work of stone, and now it is nothing
but a lace-work torn in tatters, pierced with a thousand holes. By what
miracle does it still hold together? It seems as if to-day the least
shock, a breath of wind perhaps, would suffice to cause it to crumble
away, to resolve itself, as it were, into scattered atoms. How can it
ever be repaired? What scaffolding could one dare to let lean against
those unstable ruins. In an attempt to afford it yet a little protection
sandbags have been piled up, mountain high, against the pillars of the
porticoes, the same precaution that has been taken in the case of St.
Mark's in Venice, of Milan, of all those inimitable masterpieces of past
ages which are menaced by the refined culture of Germany. Here the
precautions are vain; it is too late, the cathedral is lost, and our
hearts are wrung with sorrow and indignation as we look this evening
upon this sacred relic of our past, our art, and our faith, in its death
throes and its abandonment. Ah, what savages! And to feel that they are
still there, close at hand, capable of giving it at any hour its _coup
de grâce_.

To bid it farewell, perhaps a last farewell, we will walk around it
slowly with solemn tread, in the midst of this deathlike silence which
seems to grow more intense as the light fails.

But suddenly, just as we are passing the ruins of the episcopal palace,
we hear a prelude of sound, a tremendous, hollow uproar, something like
the rumbling of a terrible thunderstorm, near at hand and unceasing. And
yet the evening sky is so clear! Ah yes, we were warned, we know whence
it comes; it is the bombardment of our heavy artillery, which was
expected half an hour after sunset, directed at the barbarians'
trenches. This is a change for us from the silence, this cataclysmal
music, and it contributes to our walk a different kind of sadness,
another form of horror. And we continue to gaze at the wonderful stone
carving overhanging us--the bold little arches, the immense pointed
arches, so frail and so exquisite. Indeed how does it all still hold
together? Up above there are little columns which have lost their base
and remain, as it were, suspended in the air by their capitals. The
windows are no more; the lovely rose-windows have been destroyed; the
nave has huge fissures from top to bottom. In the twilight the whole
cathedral assumes more and more its phantom-like aspect, and that noise
which causes everything to vibrate is still increasing. It is a question
whether so many vibrations will not bring about the final downfall of
those too fragile carvings which hitherto have held on so persistently
at such great heights above our heads.

Here comes the first wayfarer in that solitude, a well-dressed person.
He is hurrying, actually running.

"Do not stay there," he shouts to us; "do you not see that they are
going to bombard?"

"But it is we, the French, who are firing. It is our own artillery.
Come, do not run so fast."

"I know very well that it is we, but each time the enemy revenge
themselves on the cathedral. I tell you that there will be a rain of
shells here immediately. Look out for yourselves."

He goes on. So much the better; it was kind of him to warn us, but his
jacket and his billy-cock jarred upon the melancholy grandeur of the
scene.

Where a street opens into the square two girls now appear; they stop and
hesitate. Evidently they are aware, these two, that the barbarians have
a habit of taking a noble revenge upon the cathedral, and that shells
are about to fall. But doubtless they have to cross this square in order
to reach their home, to get down into their cellar. Will they have time?

They are graceful and pretty, fair, bare-headed, with their hair
arranged in simple bands. They gaze into the air with their eyes raised
well up towards the heavens, perhaps to see if death is beginning to
pass that way, but more likely to send up thither a prayer. I know not
what last brightness of the twilight, in spite of the encroaching gloom,
illumines so delightfully their two upturned faces, and they look like
saints in stained-glass windows. Both make the sign of the cross, and
then they make up their minds, and hand in hand they run across the
square. With their religious gestures, their faces expressing anxiety,
yet courage too and defiance, they suddenly seem to me charming symbols
of the girlhood of France; they run away, indeed, but it is clear that
they would remain without fear if there were some wounded man to carry
away, some duty to perform. And their flight seems very airy in the
midst of this tremendous uproar like the end of the world.

We are going away too, for it is wiser. In the streets there are a very
few wayfarers who are running to take shelter, running with their backs
hunched up, although nothing is falling yet, like people without
umbrellas surprised by a shower. One of them, who nevertheless does not
mind stopping, points out to us the last hotel still remaining open, a
"perfectly safe" hotel, he says, over there in a quarter of the town
where no shell has ever fallen.

God forbid that I should dream of laughing at them, or fail to admire as
much as it deserves their persistent and calm heroism in remaining here,
in defiance of everything, in their beloved town, which is suffering
more and more mutilations. But who would not be amused at that instinct
which causes the majority of mankind to hunch their backs against hail
of whatever description? And then, is it because the air is fresh and
soft and it is good to be alive that after the unspeakable heartache at
the sight of the cathedral and the passion verging on tears, a calm of
reaction sets in and in that moment everything amuses me?

At the end of a quiet street, where the noise of the cannonade is
muffled, in the distance, we find the hotel which was recommended to us.

"Rooms," says the host, very pleasantly, standing on his doorstep, "oh,
as many as you like, the whole hotel if you wish, for you will
understand that in times such as these travellers---- And yet as far as
shells go you have nothing to fear here."

An appalling din interrupts his sentence. All the windows in the front
of the house are shivered to fragments, together with tiles, plaster,
branches of trees. In his haste to run away and hide he misses the step
on the threshold and falls down flat on his face. A dog who was coming
along jumps upon him, full of importance, recalling him to order with a
fierce bark. A cat, sprung from I know not where, flies through space
like an aerolith, uses my shoulder for a jumping-off place, and is
swallowed up by the mouth of a cellar. But words are too tedious for
that series of catastrophes, which lasts scarcely as long as two
lightning flashes. And they continue to bombard us with admirable
regularity, as if timing themselves with a metronome; the wall of the
house is already riddled with scars.

It is very wrong, I admit, to take these things as a jest, and indeed
with me that impression is only superficial, physical, I might say; that
which endures in the depth of my soul is indignation, anguish, pity. But
at this entry which the Germans made into our hotel, that peaceful spot,
with flourish of their great orchestra, in the presence of so many
surprises, how retain one's dignity? There is a fair number of little
shells, it seems, but no heavy shells; they travel with their long
whistling sound, and burst with a harsh din.

"Into the cellar, gentlemen," cries the innkeeper, who has picked
himself up unhurt. Apparently there is nothing else to be done. I should
have come to that conclusion myself. So I turn round to order in my
three soldiers too, who had remained outside to look at a hole made by
shrapnel in the body of the car. But upon my word I believe they are
laughing, the heartless wretches; and then I can restrain myself no
longer, I burst out laughing too.

Yes, it is very wrong of us, for presently there will be bloodshed and
death. But how resist the humour of it all: the good man fallen flat on
his face, the self-importance of the dog, who thought he must put a stop
to the situation, and especially the cat, the cat swallowed up by an
air-hole after showing us as a supreme exhibition of flight its little
hindquarters with its tail in the air.



XIX

THE DEATH-BEARING GAS


 _November, 1915._

It is a place of horror, conceived, it might be thought by Dante. The
air is heavy, stifling; two or three nightlights, which seem to be
afraid of shining too brightly, scarcely pierce the vaporous, overheated
darkness which exhales an odour of sweat and fever. Busy people are
whispering there anxiously, but the principal sound that is heard is an
agonised gasping for breath. This gasping comes from a number of cots,
in rows, touching one another, on which are lying human forms, their
chests heaving with rapid and laboured breathing, lifting the bedclothes
as though the moment of the death-rattle had come.

This is one of our advance field hospitals, improvised, as best might
be, the day after one the most damnable abominations committed by the
Germans. The nature of their affliction made it impossible to transfer
all these sons of France, from whom seems to come the noise of the
death-rattle without hope of recovery, to a place farther away. This
large hall with dilapidated walls was yesterday a wine cellar for
storing barrels of champagne; these cots--about fifty in number--were
made in feverish haste of branches which still retain their bark, and
they resemble the kind of furniture in our gardens that we call rustic.
But why is there this heat, in which it is almost impossible to draw a
natural breath, pouring out from those stoves? The reason for it is that
it is never hot enough for the lungs of persons who have been
asphyxiated. And this darkness: wherefore this darkness, which gives a
Dantesque aspect to this place of torment, and which must be such a
hindrance to the gentle, white-gowned nurses? It is because the
barbarians are there in their burrows, quite near this village, with the
shattering of whose houses and church spire they have more than once
amused themselves; and if, at the gloomy fall of a November night,
through their ever watchful field-glasses, they saw a range of lighted
windows indicating a long hall, they would at once guess that there was
a field hospital, and shells would be showered down upon the humble
cots. It is well known, this preference of theirs for shelling
hospitals, Red Cross convoys, churches.

And so there is scarcely light enough to see through that misty vapour
which rises from water boiling in pans. Every minute nurses fetch huge
black balloons, and the patients nearest to suffocation stretch out
their poor hands for them; they contain oxygen, which eases the lungs
and alleviates the suffering. Many of them have these black balloons
resting on chests panting for breath, and in their mouths they are
holding eagerly the tube through which the life-saving gas escapes. They
are like big children with feeding bottles; it adds a kind of grisly
burlesque to these scenes of horror. Asphyxia has different effects upon
different constitutions, and calls for variety in treatment. Some of the
sufferers, lying almost naked on their beds, are covered with
cupping-glasses, or painted all over with tincture of iodine. Others
even--these alas! are very seriously affected indeed--others are all
swollen, chest, arms, and face, and resemble toy figures of blown-up
gold-beater's skin. Toy figures of gold-beater's skin, children with
feeding bottles--although these comparisons alone are true, yet indeed
it seems almost sacrilege to make use of them when the heart is wrung
with anguish and you are ready to weep tears of pity and of wrath. But
may these comparisons, brutal as they are, engrave themselves all the
more deeply upon the minds of men by reason of their very unseemliness,
to foster there for a still longer time indignant hatred and a thirst
for holy reprisals.

For there is one man who spent a long time preparing all this for us,
and this man still goes on living; he lives, and since remorse is
doubtless foreign to his vulturine soul, he does not even suffer, unless
it be rage at having missed his mark, at least for the present. Before
thus unloosing death upon the world he had coldly combined all his
plans, had foreseen everything.

"But nevertheless supposing," he said to himself, "my great
rhinoceros-like onrushes and my vast apparatus of carnage were by some
impossible chance to hurl itself in vain against a resistance too
magnificent? In that case I should dare perhaps, calculating on the
weakness of neutral nations, I should dare perhaps to defy all the laws
of civilisation, and to use other means. At all hazards let us be
prepared."

And, to be sure, the onrush failed, and, timidly at first, fearing
universal indignation, he tried asphyxiation after exerting himself, be
it understood, to mislead public opinion, accusing, with his customary
mendacity, France of having been the originator. His cynical hope was
justified; there has been, alas! no general arousing of the human
conscience. No more at this than at earlier crimes--organised pillage,
destruction of cathedrals, outrage, massacres of children and
women--have the neutral nations stirred; it seems indeed as if the
crafty, ferocious, deathly look of his Gorgon-like or Medusa-like head
had frozen them all to the spot. And at the present hour in which I am
writing the last to be turned to stone by the Medusa glare of the
monster is that unfortunate King of Greece, inconsistent and bungling,
who is trembling on the brink of a precipice of most terrible crimes.
That some nations remain neutral from fear, that indeed is comprehensive
enough; but that nations, otherwise held in the highest repute, can
remain pro-German in sentiment, passes our understanding. By what arts
have they been blinded, these nations; by what slanders, or by what
bribe?

Our dear soldiers with their seared lungs, gasping on their "rustic"
cots, seem grateful when, following in the major's footsteps, someone
approaches them, and they look at the visitor with gentle eyes when he
takes their hand. Here is a man all swollen, doubtless unrecognisable by
those who had only seen him before this terrible turgidity, and if you
touch his poor, distended cheeks however lightly, the fingers feel the
crackling of the gases that have infiltrated between skin and flesh.

"Come, he is better than he was this morning," says the major, and in a
low voice meant for the nurse's ear, he continues, "This man too, nurse,
I am beginning to think that we shall save. But you must not leave him
alone for one moment on any account."

Oh, what unnecessary advice, for she has not the smallest intention of
leaving him alone, this white-gowned nurse, whose eyes have already
black rings around them, the result of a watch of forty-eight hours
without a break. Not one of them will be left alone, oh no! To be sure
of this, it is sufficient to glance at all those young doctors and all
those nurses, somewhat exhausted, it is true, but so attentive and
brave, who will never let them out of their sight.

And, thank heaven, nearly all of them will be saved.[2] As soon as they
are well enough to be moved they will be taken far away from this
Gehenna at the Front, where the Kaiser's shells delight to hurl
themselves upon the dying. They will be put more comfortably to bed in
quiet field hospitals, where indeed they will suffer greatly for a week,
a fortnight, a month, but whence they will emerge without excessive
delay, better advised, more prudent, in haste to return once more to the
battle.

It may be said that the scheme of gas attacks has failed, like that
other scheme of attacks in great savage onrushes. The result was not
what the Gorgon's head had expected, and yet with what accurate
calculation the time for these attacks has been selected, always at the
most favourable moment. It is well knows that the Germans, past masters
of the art of spying, and always informed of everything, never hesitate
to choose for their attacks of whatever kind, days of relief, hours when
newcomers in the trenches opposite to them are still in the disorder of
their arrival. So on the evening on which the last crime was committed
six hundred of our men had just taken up their advanced position after a
long and tiring march. Suddenly in the midst of a volley of shells which
surprised them in their first sleep, they could distinguish, here and
there, little cautious sibilant sounds, as if made stealthily by sirens.
This was the death-bearing gas which was diffusing itself around them,
spreading out its thick, gloomy, grey clouds. At the same time their
signal lights suddenly ceased to throw out through that mist more than a
little dim illumination. Then distracted, already suffocating, they
remembered too late those masks which had been given them, and in which
in any case they had no faith. They were awkward in putting them on;
some of them, feeling the scorching of their bronchia, urged by an
irresistible impulse of self-preservation, even yielded to a desire to
run, and it was these who were most terribly affected, for, breathing
deeply in the effort of running, they inhaled vast quantities of
chlorine gas. But another time they will not let themselves be caught in
this way, neither these nor any others of our soldiers. Wearing masks
hermetically closed, they will station themselves immovably around piles
of wood, prepared beforehand, whence sudden flames will arise,
neutralising the poisons in the air, and the upshot of it all will be
hardly more than an uncomfortable hour, unpleasant while it lasts, but
almost always without fatal result. It is true that in those accursed
dens which are their laboratories, Germany's learned men, convinced now
that the neutral nations will acquiesce in anything, are making every
effort to discover worse poisons still for us, but until they have found
them, as on so many other occasions, the Gorgon gaze will have missed
its mark. So much is certain. We, alas! have as yet found no means of
returning them a sufficiently cruel equivalent; we have no defence other
than the protective mask, which, however, is being perfected day by day.
And, after all, in the eyes of neutral nations, if they still have eyes
to see, it is perhaps more dignified to make use of nothing else. At the
same time, how very different our position would be if we succeeded in
asphyxiating them too, these plunderers, assassins, aggressors, who
broke into our country like burglars, and who, despairing of ever
bursting through our lines, attempt to smoke us out ignominiously in
our own home, in our own dear country of France, as they might smoke out
rabbits in their burrows, rats in their holes. No language of man had
ever anticipated such transcendent acts of infamy which would revolt the
most degraded cannibals, and so there are no names for such acts. Our
poor victims of their gas, panting for breath in their cots, how
ardently I wish that I could exhibit them to all the world, to their
fathers, sons, and brothers, to excite in them a paroxysm of sacred
indignation and thirst for vengeance. Yes, exhibit them everywhere, to
let everyone hear the death-rattle, even those neutral nations who are
so impassive; to convict of obtuseness or of crime all those obstinate
Pacifists, and to sound throughout the world the alarm against the
barbarians who are in eruption all over Europe.

FOOTNOTE:

[2] Of six hundred who were gassed that night, more than five hundred
are out of danger.



XX

ALL-SOULS' DAY WITH THE ARMIES AT THE FRONT


 _2nd November, 1915._

Two or three days ago all along the front of the battle began the great
festival in honour of our soldiers' graves. No matter where they lie,
grouped around churches in the ordinary village cemeteries, ranged in
rows with military precision in little special cemeteries consecrated to
them, or even situated singly at the side of a road, in a corner of a
wood, or alone and lost in the midst of fields, everywhere, seen from
afar off, under the gloomy sky of these November days and against the
greyish background of the countryside, they attract the eyes with the
brilliant newness of their decorations. Each grave is decked with at
least four fine tricolours, their flagstaffs planted in the ground, two
at the head, two at the foot, and an infinite number of flowers and
wreaths tied with ribbons. It was the officers and the comrades of our
dead soldiers who subscribed together to give them all this, and who,
sometimes in spite of great difficulties, sent to the neighbouring towns
for the decorations, and then arranged them all with such pious care,
even on the graves of those of whom little was known, and of those poor
men, few in number, whose very names have perished.

Here in this village where I chance to be staying in the course of my
journey, the cemetery is built in terraces, and forms an amphitheatre on
the side of a hill, and the corner dedicated to the soldiers is high up,
visible to all the neighbourhood. There are fifteen of these graves,
each with its four flags, making sixty flags in all. And in the bitter
autumn wind they flutter almost gaily, unceasingly, all these strips of
bunting, they wanton in the air, intermingle, and their bright colours
shine out more conspicuously. For the matter of that, no three other
colours in combination set off one another so gaily as our three dear
colours of France.

And these tombs, moreover, have such quantities and quantities of
flowers, dahlias, chrysanthemums and roses, that they seem to be covered
with one and the same richly decorated carpet. During these days of
festival, the rest of the cemetery is also very full of flowers, but it
looks dull and colourless compared with that corner sacred to our
soldiers. It is this favoured corner which is visible at first sight,
from a distance, from all the roads leading to the village, and
wayfarers would ask themselves:

"What festival can they be celebrating with all those flags fluttering
in the air?"

Two days before, I remember coming to see the preparations for these
ingenious decorations. _Chasseurs_, with their hands full of bunches of
flowers, were working there rapidly and thoughtfully, speaking in low
tones. In the distance could be heard, though much muffled, the
orchestra of the incessant battle in which the magnificent, great voice
of our heavy artillery predominated; it seemed like the muttering of a
storm all along the distant horizon. It was very gloomy in that
cemetery, under an overcast sky, whence fell a semi-darkness already
wintry in aspect. But the zeal of these _chasseurs_, who were decking
the tombs so well, must yet have solaced the souls of the youthful dead
with a little tender gaiety.

And what beautiful, moving Masses were sung for them all along the front
on the day of their festival. All the little churches--those at least
that the barbarians have not destroyed--had been decorated that day
with all that the villages could muster in the way of flags, banners,
tapers and wreaths. And they were too small, these churches, to hold the
crowds that flocked to them. There were officers, soldiers, civil
population, women mostly in mourning, whose eyes under their veils were
reddened with secret tears. Some of the soldiers, of their own accord,
desiring to honour the souls of their comrades with a very special
concert, had taken pains to learn the Judgment hymns, the _Dies iræ_,
the _De profundis_, and their voices, unskilfully led though they were,
vibrated impressively in the unison of plain-song, which the organ
accompanied. Indeed what could better prepare them for the supreme
sacrifice and for a death nobly met than these prayers, this music and
even these flowers?

They sang this morning, these improvised choristers, with a solemn
transport. Then after Mass, in spite of the icy rain and the muddy
roads, the crowds that issued from each church in procession betook
themselves to the cemeteries, in attendance on the priests bearing the
solemn crucifix. And again, as on the day of the funerals, all the
little graves were blessed.

If I record these scenes, it is for the sake of mothers and wives and
families, living far from here in other provinces of France, whose
hearts no doubt grow heavier at the thought that the grave of someone
dear to them may be neglected and very soon become unrecognisable. Oh
let them take comfort! In spite of the simplicity of these little wooden
crosses, almost all alike, nowhere are they cared for and honoured so
well as at the front; in no other place could they receive such touching
homage, such tribute of flowers, of prayers, of tears.



XXI

THE CROSS OF HONOUR FOR THE FLAG OF THE NAVAL BRIGADE!


Paris, which is above all other towns famous for its noble impulses, was
fêting some days ago our Naval Brigade from the Yser--or rather the last
survivors of the heroic Brigade, the few who had been able to return. It
was well done thus to make much of them, but alas! how soon it will all
be forgotten.

To-day, in honour of the Brigade, of which three-quarters were
annihilated, our well-beloved and eminent Minister of Marine, Admiral
Lacaze, has given instructions that the glorious Order of the Day, in
which the commander-in-chief bade them farewell, should be posted up on
all our ships of war. It ends with these words:

"The valiant conduct of the Naval Brigade on the plains of the Yser, at
Nieuport, and at Dixmude will always be to the Forces an example of
warlike zeal and devotion to their country. The Naval Brigade and their
officers may well be proud of this new and glorious page which they have
inscribed on their records."

Indeed this Order posted up on board the ships will be more permanent
than the welcome that Paris gave them; but alas! this likewise will be
forgotten, too soon forgotten.

As it was decided when this Brigade of picked men were disbanded to
preserve their flag for the Army so that their memory might be
perpetuated, could not the Cross of Honour be attached to a flag of such
distinction? This idea, it seems, has been entertained, but perhaps--I
know nothing of the matter--there is some impeding clause in the
regulations, for I seem to remember to have read there that before it
can be decorated with the Cross a flag must have been unfurled on the
occasion of a great offensive or a splendid feat of arms. Now the case
of our Naval Brigade is so unprecedented that no regulations could have
made provision for it. How could they have unfurled their flag in that
unparalleled conflict since in those days they still had none? This
Brigade, hastily organised on the spur of the moment, was thrown into
the firing-line without that incomparable symbol, the tricolour, which
all the other brigades possessed before they set out. It was not until
later, long after the great exploits with which they won their spurs,
that their flag was presented to them, at a time when they had a
somewhat less terrible part to play. In such circumstances I venture to
hope that the regulation may be relaxed in their favour. If this flag of
theirs were decorated, all the sailors who received it with such joy
over there, that day when all its three colours were still new and
brilliant, would feel themselves distinguished at the same time as the
flag itself, and later, in future days, when their descendants came to
look at it, poor, sacred, tattered remnant, tarnished and dusty, this
Cross, which had been awarded, would speak to them more eloquently of
sublime deeds done on the Belgian Front.

They can never be too highly honoured, the Naval Brigade, of whom it has
been officially recorded:

"No troops in any age have ever done what these have done."

And here is an extract from a letter which, on the day when they were
disbanded, after reviewing them for the last time, General Hély d'Oissel
wrote to the captain of the _Paillet_, who was then commanding the
Brigade, a letter which was read to all the sailors, drawn up in line,
and which brought tears to their honest eyes:

"I should be happy to preserve the Brigade State (the terrible roll of
dead, officers, non-commissioned officers, and men) as an eloquent
witness of the immense services rendered to the country by this
admirable Brigade, which the land forces are proud to have had in their
ranks, and which I, personally, am proud to have had under my command
during more than a year of the war.

"This morning when I saw your magnificent sailors filing past with such
cheerfulness and precision, I could not but feel a poignant emotion when
I reflected that it was for the last time."

       *       *       *       *       *

Indeed it was just there, in the blood-drenched marshes of the Yser,
that for the second time, and finally, the onrush of the barbarians was
broken. The two great decisive reverses suffered by that wretched
Emperor of the blood-stained hands were, everyone knows, the retreat
from the Marne and then that check in Belgium, in the face of a very
small handful of sailors of superhuman tenacity.

They were not specially selected, these men sublimely stubborn; no, they
were the first to hand, chosen hastily from among the men in our ports.
They had not even gone away to fight, but quietly to police the streets
of Paris, and from Paris, one fine day, in the extremity of our peril,
they were dispatched to the Yser, without preparation, inadequately
equipped, with barely sufficient food, and told simply:

"Let yourselves be killed, but do not suffer the German beast to pass!
At all costs resist for at least a week, to give us time to come to the
rescue."

Now they held out, it will be remembered, indefinitely, in the midst of
a veritable inferno of fire, shrapnel, clamour, crumbling ruins, cold,
rain, engulfing mud, and ever since that day when they brought to a
standstill the onrush of the beast, France felt that she was saved
indeed.

Indeed, as a general rule, it is sufficient to take any honest fellows
whatsoever, and merely by putting a blue collar on them, you transform
them into heroes. In the Chinese expedition, among other instances, I
have seen at close quarters the very same thing: a small handful of men,
taken haphazard from one of our ships, commanded by very young officers
who had only just attained their first band of gold braid, and this
assembly of men, hastily mustered, suddenly became a force complete in
itself, admirable, united, disciplined, zealous, fearless, capable of
performing within a couple of days prodigies of endurance and daring.

Oh that Brigade of the Yser, whose destiny I just missed sharing! I had
plotted desperately, I admit, for the sake of being attached to it, and
I was about to gain my end when an obstacle arose which I could never
have foreseen and which excluded me inexorably. To have to renounce
this dream when it was almost within my grasp will be for me unto my
life's end a subject of burning and tormenting regret. But at least let
me comfort myself a little by paying my tribute of admiration to those
who were there. Let me at least have this little pleasure of working to
glorify their memory. Therefore I herewith beg on their behalf--not only
in my own name, for several of my comrades in the Navy associate
themselves in my prayer, comrades who were likewise not among them, the
disinterested nature of whose motives cannot consequently be
questioned--I beg herewith on their behalf almost confidently, although
the regulation may prove me in the wrong, that it may be accorded to
them, the distinction they have earned ten times over, at which no one
can take umbrage, and that a scrap of red ribbon be fastened to their
flag.



XXII

THE ABSENT-MINDED PILGRIM


 _December, 1915._

That day, during a lull in the fighting, the General gave me permission
to take a motor car for three or four hours to go and look for the grave
of one of my nephews, who was struck down by a shell during our
offensive in September.

From imperfect information I gathered that he must be lying in a humble
emergency cemetery, improvised the day after a battle, some five or six
hundred yards away from the little town of T---- whose ruins, still
bombarded daily and becoming more and more shapeless, lie on the extreme
border of the French zone, quite close to the German trenches. But I did
not know how he had been buried, whether in a common grave, or beneath a
little cross inscribed with his name, which would make it possible to
return later and remove the body.

"To get to T----," the General had said, "make a _détour_ by the village
of B----, that is the way by which you will run the least risk of being
shelled. At B----, if the circumstances of the day seemed dangerous, a
sentinel would stop you as usual; then you would hide your motor behind
a wall, and you could continue your journey on foot--with the usual
precautions, you will understand."

Osman, my faithful servant, who has shared my adventures in many lands
for twenty years, and who, like everyone else, is a soldier, a
territorial, had a cousin killed in the same fight as my nephew, and he
is buried, so he was told, in the same cemetery. So he has obtained
permission to accompany me on my pious quest.

To-day all that gloomy countryside is powdered with hoar-frost and over
it hangs an icy mist; nothing can be distinguished sixty yards ahead,
and the trees which border the roads fade away, enveloped in great white
shrouds.

After driving for half an hour we are right in the thick of that inferno
of the battle front, which, from habit, we no longer notice, though it
was at first so impressive and will later on be so strange to remember.
All is chaos, hurly-burly; all is overthrown, shattered; walls are
calcined, houses eviscerated, villages in ruins on the ground; but life,
intense and magnificent, informs both roads and ruins. There are no
longer any civilians, no women or children; nothing but soldiers,
horses, and motor cars; of these, however, there are such numbers that
progress is difficult. Two streams of traffic, almost uninterrupted,
divide the roads between them; on one side is everything that is on its
way to the firing-line; on the other side everything that is on its way
back. Great lorries bringing up artillery, munitions, rations, and Red
Cross supplies jolt along on the frozen cart ruts with a great din of
clanging iron, rivalling the noise, more or less distant, of the
incessant cannonade. And the faces of all these different men, who are
driving along on these enormous rolling machines, express health and
resolution. There are our own soldiers, now wearing those bluish helmets
of steel, which recall the ancient casque and bring us back to the old
times; there are yellow-bearded Russians, Indians, and Bedouins with
swarthy complexions. All these crowds are continuously travelling to and
fro along the road, dragging all sorts of curious things heaped up in
piles. There are also thousands of horses, picking their way among the
huge wheels of innumerable vehicles. Indeed it might be thought that
this was a general migration of mankind after some cataclysm had
subverted the surface of the earth. Not so! This is simply the work of
the great Accursed, who has unloosed German barbarism. He took forty
years to prepare the monstrous _coup_, which, according to his
reckoning, was to establish the apotheosis of his insane pride, but
which will result in nothing but his downfall, in a sea of blood, in the
midst of the detestation of the world.

There is certainly a remarkable lull here to-day, for even when the
rolling of the iron lorries ceases for a moment, the rumbling of the
cannon does not make itself heard. The cause of this must be the fog and
in other respects, too, how greatly it is to our advantage, this kindly
mist; it seems as if we had ordered it.

Here we are at the village of B----, which, the General had expected,
would be the terminus of our journey by car. Here the throng is chiefly
concentrated among shattered walls and burnt roofs; helmets and
overcoats of "horizon" blue are crowding and bustling about. And every
place is blocked with these heavy wagons, which, as soon as they arrive,
come to a halt, or take up a convenient position for starting on the
return journey. For here we have reached the border of that region
where, as a rule, men can only venture by night, on foot, with muffled
tread; or if by day, one by one, so that they may not be observed by
German field-glasses. At the end of the village, then, signs of life
cease abruptly, as if cut off clean with the stroke of an axe. Suddenly
there are no more people. The road, it is true, leads to that town of
T----, which is our destination; but all at once it is quite empty and
silent. Bordered by its two rows of skeleton trees, white with frost, it
plunges into the dense white fog with an air of mystery, and it would
not be surprising to read here, on some signpost, "Road to Death."

We hesitate for a moment. I do not, however, see any of the signals
which are customary at places where a halt must be made, nor the usual
little red flag, nor the warning sentry, holding his rifle above his
head with both hands. So the road is considered practicable to-day, and
when I ask if indeed it leads to T----, some sergeants who are there
salute and confine their answer to the word "Yes, sir," without showing
any surprise. So all that we have to do is to continue, taking,
nevertheless, the precaution of not driving too fast, so as not to make
too much noise.

And it is merely by this stillness into which we are now plunging, by
this solitude alone, that I am aware that we are right in the very
front; for it is one of the strange characteristics of modern warfare
that the tragic zone bordering on the burrows of the barbarians, is
like a desert. Not a soul is visible; everything here is hidden, buried,
and--except on days when Death begins to roar with loud and terrible
voice--most frequently there is nothing to be heard.

We go on and on in a scenery of dismal monotony, continually repeating
itself, all misty and unsubstantial in appearance as if made of muslin.
Fifty yards behind us it is effaced and shut away; fifty yards ahead of
us it opens out, keeping its distance from us, but without varying its
aspect. The whitish plain with its frozen cart ruts remains ever the
same; it is blurred and does not reveal its distances; there is ever the
same dense atmosphere, resembling cold white cotton wool, which has
taken the place of air, and ever the two rows of trees powdered with
rime, looking like big brooms which have been rolled in salt and thrust
into the ground by their handles. It is clear indeed that this region is
too often ravaged by lightning, or something equivalent. Oh, how many
trees there are shattered, twisted, with splintered branches hanging in
shreds!

We cross French trenches running to the right and left of the road,
facing the unknown regions towards which we are hastening; they are
ready, several lines of them, to meet the improbable contingency of a
retreat of our troops; but they are empty and are merely a continuation
of the same desert. I call a halt from time to time to look around and
listen with ears pricked. There is no sound; everything is as still as
if Nature herself had died of all this cold. The fog is growing thicker
still, and there are no field-glasses capable of penetrating it. At the
very most they might hear us arrive, the enemy, over there and beyond.
According to my maps we have still another two miles at least before us.
Onwards!

But suddenly there appears to have been an evocation of ghosts; heads,
rows of heads, wearing blue helmets, rise together from the ground,
right and left, near and far. Upon my soul! they are our own soldiers to
be sure, and they content themselves with looking at us, scarcely
showing themselves. But for these trenches, which we are passing so
rapidly, to be so full of soldiers on the alert, we must be remarkably
close to the Ogre's den. Nevertheless let us go a little farther, as the
kindly mist stays with us like an accomplice.

Five hundred yards farther on I remember the enemy's microphones, which
alone could betray us; and it so happens that the frozen earth and the
mist are two wonderful conductors of sound. Then it suddenly occurs to
me that I have gone much too far, that I am surrounded by death, that it
is only the fog which shelters us, and the thought that I am responsible
for the lives of my soldiers makes me shudder. It is because I am not on
duty; my expedition to-day is of my own choosing, and in these
conditions, if anything happened to one of them, I should suffer remorse
for the rest of my life. It is high time to leave the car here! Then I
shall continue my journey on foot towards the town of T----, to find out
from our soldiers who are installed there in cellars of ruined houses,
whereabouts the cemetery lies which I am seeking.

But at this same moment a densely crowded cemetery is visible in a field
to the left of the road; there are crosses, crosses of white wood,
ranged close together in rows, as numerous as vines in the vineyards of
Champagne. It is a humble cemetery for soldiers, quite new, yet already
extensive, powdered with rime too, like the surrounding plains, and
infinitely desolate of aspect in that colourless countryside, which has
not even a green blade of grass. Can this be the cemetery we are
seeking?

"Yes, certainly this is it," exclaims Osman, "this is it, for here is my
poor cousin's grave. Look, sir, the first, close to the ditch which
borders the cemetery. I read his name here."

Indeed, I read it myself, "Pierre D----." The inscription is in very
large letters, and the cross is facing in our direction more than the
others, as if it would call to us:

"Halt! we are here. Do not run the risk of going any farther. Stop!"

And we stop, listening attentively in the silence. There is no sound, no
movement anywhere, except the fall of a bead of frost, slipping off the
gaunt trees by the wayside. We seem to be in absolute security. Let us
then calmly enter the field where this humble cross seems to have
beckoned to us.

Osman had carefully prepared two little sealed bottles, containing the
names of our two dead friends, which he intended to bury at their feet,
fearing lest shells should still be capable of destroying all the labels
on the graves. It is true we have carelessly forgotten to bring a spade
to dig up the earth, but it cannot be helped, we shall do it as best we
may. The two chauffeurs accompany us, for knowing the reason for our
expedition, they had, with kindly thoughtfulness, each brought a camera
to take a photograph of the graves. Pierre D---- had been discovered at
once. There remained only my nephew to be found among these many frozen
graves of youthful dead. In order to gain time--for the place is not
very reassuring, it must be confessed--let us divide the pious task
among us, and each of us follow one of these rows, ranged with such
military regularity.

I do not think human imagination could ever conceive anything so dismal
as this huge military cemetery in the midst of all this desolation, this
silence which one knows to be listening, hostile and treacherous, in
this horrible neighbourhood whose menace seems, as it were, to loom over
us. Everything is white or whitish, beginning with the soil of
Champagne, which would always be pale even if it were not powdered with
innumerable little crystals of ice. There is no shrub, no greenery, not
even grass; nothing but the pale, cinder-grey earth in which our
soldiers have been buried. Here they lie, these two or three hundreds of
little hillocks, so narrow that it seems that space is precious, each
one marked with its poor little white cross. Garlanded with frost, the
arms of all these crosses seem fringed with sad, silent tears which have
frozen there, unable to fall, and the fog envelops the whole scene so
jealously that the end of the cemetery cannot be clearly seen. The last
crosses, hung with white drops, are lost in livid indefiniteness. It
seems as if this field alone were left in the world, with all its myriad
pearls gleaming sadly, and naught else.

I have bent down over a hundred graves at least and I find nothing but
unknown names, often even that cruel phrase, "Not identified." I say
that I have bent down, because sometimes, instead of being painted in
black letters, the inscription was engraved on a little zinc
plate--nothing better was to be had--engraved hastily and difficult to
decipher. At last I discover the poor boy whom I was seeking, "Sergent
Georges de F." There he is, in line as if on a parade ground, between
his companions, all alike silent. A little plate of zinc has fallen to
his lot, and his name has been patiently stippled, doubtless with the
help of a hammer and a nail. His is one of the few graves decked with a
wreath, a very modest wreath to be sure, of leaves already discoloured,
a token of remembrance from his men who must have loved him, for I know
he was gentle with them.

For reference later, when his body will be removed, I am now going to
draw a plan of the cemetery in my notebook, counting the rows of graves
and the number of graves in each row. Look! bullets are whistling past
us, two or three in succession. Whence can they be coming to us, these
bullets? They are undoubtedly intended for us, for the noise that each
one makes ends in that kind of little honeyed song, "Cooee you! Cooee
you!" which is characteristic of them when they expire somewhere in
your direction, somewhere quite close. After their flight silence
prevails again, but I make more haste with my drawing.

And the longer I remain here the more I am impressed with the horror of
the place. Oh this cemetery which, instead of ending like things in real
life, plunges little by little into enfolding mists; these tombs, these
tombs all decked with gem-like icicles which have dropped as tears drop;
the whiteness of the soil, the whiteness of everything, and Death which
returns and hovers stealthily, uttering a little cry like a bird!
Yonder, by the grave of Pierre D----, I notice Osman, likewise much
blurred in the fog. He has found a spade, which has doubtless remained
there ever since the interments, and he finishes burying the little
bottle which is to serve as a token.

Again that sound, "Cooee you! Cooee you!" The place is decidedly
unhealthy, as the soldiers say. I should be to blame if I lingered here
any longer.

Upon my soul, here comes shrapnel! But before I heard it explode in the
air I recognised it by the sound of its flight, which is different from
that of ordinary shells. This first shot is aimed too far to the right,
and the fragments fall twenty or thirty yards away on the little white
hillocks. But they have found us out, so much is certain, and that is
owing to the microphones. This will continue, and there is no cover
anywhere, not a single trench, not a single hole.

"Stoop down, sir, stoop down," shouts Osman from the distance, seeing
another coming towards me while my attention is still occupied with the
graves. Why should I stoop down? It is a useful precaution against
shells. But against shrapnel, which strikes downwards from above? No,
we ought to have our steel helmets, but carelessly, anticipating no
danger, we left them in the car with our masks. All that is left for us
is to beat a hasty retreat. Osman comes running towards me with his
spade and his second little bottle, and I shout at him:

"No, no, it is too late, you must run away."

Good heavens, the car has not even been turned! Why, that was an
elementary precaution, and as soon as we arrived I ought to have seen to
that. What a long, black record of carelessness to-day; where is my
head? It is because our entry to the cemetery was so undisturbed. I call
out to the two chauffeurs who were still taking photographs:

"Stop that, stop! Go at once and turn the car! Not too fast though, or
you will make too much noise, but hurry up! Run!"

Osman took advantage of this diversion with the chauffeurs to begin
digging in the ground near me.

"No, I tell you, stop at once. Can you not see that they are still
shelling us? Run and get behind a tree by the roadside."

"But it is all right, sir, it is just finished. It will be finished by
the time the car has been turned."

In my heart I am glad that he is disobeying me a little and completing
the work. Never was a hole dug so rapidly nor a bottle buried so nimbly.
Then he puts back the earth, jumps on it to flatten it down, and throws
down his sexton's spade. Then we run away at full speed, stepping on the
hillocks of our dead, apologising to them inwardly. Nothing seems so
ridiculous and stupid as to run under fire. But I am not alone; the
safety of these soldiers is in my charge, and I should be guilty if I
delayed them for as much as a second in their flight.

Shrapnel is still bursting, scattering its hail around us. And how
strange and subtle are the ways of modern warfare, where death comes
thus seeking us out of invisible depths, depths of a horizon that looks
like white cotton wool; death launched at us by men whom we can see no
more than they can see us, launched blindly, yet in the certainty of
finding us.

We reach the car just as it has finished turning; we jump in, and off
our car goes at full speed, all open. We pass the occupied trenches like
a hurricane; this time heads are scarcely raised because of the shower
of shrapnel. These men, to be sure, are under cover, but not so we, who
have nothing but our speed to save us.

In our frantic flight, in which my part is simply passive, my
imagination is free to return to that gloomy cemetery and its dead. And
it was strange how clearly we could hear the shrapnel in the midst of
this silence and in this extraordinary mist, which increased, like a
microphone, the noise of its flight. It is, moreover, perhaps the first
time that I have heard it performing a solo apart from all the customary
clamour, in intimacy, if I may say so, for it has done me the honour of
coming solely on my account. Never before, then, had I felt that almost
physical appreciation of the mad velocity of these little hard bodies,
and of the shock with which they must strike against some fragile
object, say a chest or a head.

The game is over, and we are entering again the village of B----. Here,
out of range of shrapnel, only long-distance guns could reach us. We
have not even a broken pane of glass or a scratch. Instinctively the
chauffeurs draw up, just as I was about to give the order, not because
the car is out of breath, or we either, but we need a moment to regain
our composure, to arrange the overcoats thrown into the car in a
confused heap, which, after our hurried departure, danced a saraband
with cameras, helmets, and revolvers.

And then, like people who at last succeed in finding a shelter from a
shower in a gateway, we look at one another and feel inclined to
laugh--to laugh in spite of the painful and still recent memory of our
dead, to laugh at having made good our escape, to laugh because we have
succeeded in doing what we set out to do, and especially because we have
defied those imbeciles who were firing at us.



XXIII

THE FIRST SUNSHINE OF MARCH


 _March 10th, 1916._

It is just here, I believe, that that zone, some fifteen to twenty miles
in breadth, so terribly torn and rent, which stretches through our land
of France from the North Sea to Alsace, following the line of those
trenches, where the barbarians have dug themselves in, it is just here,
I believe, that that zone, where suffering and glory reign supreme,
attains the climax of its nightmare-like illusiveness, the climax of its
horror. I say "just here" because I am not allowed to be more definite;
just here, however, in a certain province which had even before the war
a depressing-nickname, something like "the desolate province," "the mean
province," or even, if you like, "the lousy province." The reason was
that even before it was laid waste it was already very barren, almost
without verdure; it had nothing to show except unfruitful valleys, some
clumps of stunted pines, some poverty-stricken villages, which had not
even the saving grace of antiquity, for century by century savages from
Germany had come and disported themselves there, and when they went away
everything had to be rebuilt.

And now since the great new onrush, which surpassed all abominations
ever before experienced, how strange, fantastic almost, seems this
region of woe, with its calcined ruins, its chalky soil dug over and
again dug over down to its very depths, as if by myriads of burrowing
animals.

Once again I make my way to-day in my motor car into the midst of it all
on some mission assigned to me, and I had never yet seen it in all the
mire of the thaw, in which our poor little warriors in blue caps are so
uncomfortably engulfed up to mid-leg. I feel my heart sinking more and
more the farther I go along these broken-up roads, which are becoming
still more crowded with our dear soldiers, all lamentably coated with
greyish mud. The occasional villages on our road are more and more
damaged by shells, and peasant women or children are no longer to be
seen; there are no more civilians, nothing but blue helmets, but of
these there are thousands. The rapid melting of the snow in such a
sudden burst of sunshine marks the distant landscape with zebra-like
stripes, white and earth-coloured. And all the hills which we pass now
seem to be inhabited by tribes of troglodytes, while every slope which
faces us, who are coming in this direction, and which, owing to its
position, has thus escaped the notice and the fire of the enemy, is
riddled with mouths of caves, some ranged in rows, some built in
stories one above the other, and from these peer out human heads in
helmets, enjoying the sun. What can this country be? Is it prehistoric,
or merely very remote? Surely no one would say that it was France. Save
for this bitter, icy wind, this country, with its sky almost too blue
to-day for a northern sky, might be taken for the banks of the upper
Nile, the Libyan ridge where subterranean caverns gape.

Again a semblance of a village appears, the last through which I shall
pass, for those which are distant landmarks on the road that leads
towards the barbarians, are nothing more now than hapless heaps of stone
resembling barrows. This village, too, be it understood, is
three-quarters in ruins; there remain fragments of walls in grotesque
shapes, letting in the daylight and displaying a black marbling of soot
where the chimneys used to be. But many soldiers are gaily having their
breakfast in the purely imaginary shelter afforded them by these remains
of houses. There are pay-sergeants even, who are seated unconcernedly at
improvised tables, busy with their writing.

Bang! A shell! It is a shell hurled blindly and from a great distance by
the barbarians, without definite purpose, merely in the hope that it may
succeed in hurting someone. It has fallen on the ruins of a roofless
stable, where some poor horses are tethered, and here are two of them
who have been struck down and are lying bellies upwards and kicking out,
as they do when they are dying; they stain the snow crimson with blood
spurting from their chests in jets, as if forced from a pump.

The village soon disappears in the distance, and I enter this no man's
land, always rather a solemn region, which from end to end along the
front indicates the immediate neighbourhood of the barbarians. The March
sun, astonishingly strong, beats down upon this tragic desert where
great sheets of white snow alternate with broad, mud-coloured surfaces.
And now whenever my car stops and pauses, for some reason or other, and
the engine is silent, the noise of the cannon is heard more and more
loudly.

At last I reach the farthest point to which my car can convey me; if I
took it on farther it would be seen by the Boches, and the shells that
are roaming about here and there in the air would converge upon it. It
must be safely bestowed, together with my chauffeurs, in a hollow of the
undulating ground, while I continue my journey alone on foot.

First of all I have to telephone to General Headquarters. The telephone
office is that dark hole over there, hidden among scanty bushes.
Climbing down a very narrow flight of steps, I penetrate seven or eight
yards into the earth, and there I find four soldiers installed as
telephone girls, illumined by tiny electric lamps that shine like
glow-worms. These are territorials, about forty years of age, and the
man who hands me the telephone apparatus wears a wedding ring--doubtless
he has a wife and children living somewhere yonder out in the open air,
where life is possible. Nevertheless he tells me that he has been six
months in this damp hole, beneath the surface of ground which is
continually swept by shells, and he tells me this with cheerful
resignation, as if the sacrifice were quite a natural thing. In the same
spirit his companions speak of their white-ant existence without a shade
of complaint. And these, too, are worthy of admiration, all these
patient heroes of the darkness, equally so, perhaps, with their
comrades who fight in the open air in the light of day, with mutual
encouragement.

Emerging from the underground cave, where the noises are muffled, I hear
very clearly the cannonade; my eyes are dazzled by the unwonted sunlight
which illumines all those white stretches of snow.

I have to journey about two miles through this strange desert to reach a
paltry little clump of sorry-looking pines which I perceive over there
on some rising ground. It is there that I have made an appointment to
meet an officer of sappers, whom my business concerns, for the purpose
of fulfilling my mission.

A pretence of a desert, I ought rather to call it, for underground it is
thickly populated by our soldiers, armed and alert. At the first signal
of an attack they would rush out through a thousand apertures; but for
the moment, throughout the whole extent of this tract, so sun-steeped
and yet so cold, not more than one or two blue caps are visible,
belonging to men who are stealing along from one shelter to another.

And it is, moreover, a terribly noisy desert, for besides the continual
detonation of artillery from varying ranges, there is a noise like huge
kinds of beetles flying, which, as they pass, make almost the same
buzzing sound as aeroplanes, but they all fly so fast as to be
invisible. Their flight is haphazard, and when they strike their heads
hard against the ground pebbles, earth, scrap-iron, spout up in jets
shaped like wheat-sheaves. On the eastern horizon, silhouetted against
the sky, stands one of those tumuli of ruins which now mark the place of
former villages; and it is here especially that those huge beetles are
bent on falling, raising each time clouds of plaster and dust. It is, to
be sure, a useless and idle bombardment, for already all this has
perished.

To-day especially, being a day of a great thaw, a distance of two miles
here in this region where so many of our poor soldiers are doomed to
exist, is equal to a distance of at least ten miles elsewhere--it is
such heavy going. You sink up to your ankles in mud, and you cannot draw
your foot out, for the mud sticks tight like glue. The wind still
remains cold and icy, but in the midst of a sky too deeply blue shines a
sun, beating down upon my head, and under the steel helmet, which grows
heavier and heavier, beads of sweat stand upon my forehead. The snow has
made up its mind to melt, and that suddenly. All the summits of those
melancholy-looking hills, bared of their covering, resume again their
brown colour and resemble hindquarters of animals couching on these
plains which still remain white.

This is the first time that I find myself absolutely, infinitely alone,
in the midst of this scene of intense desolation, which, though to-day
it happens to glitter with light, is none the less dismal. Until I reach
the little wood whither I am bound on duty there is nothing to think
about, nothing with which I need concern myself. I need not trouble to
get out of the way of shells, for they would not give me time, nor even
to select places where to put my feet, since I sink in equally wherever
I step. And so, gradually, I find myself relapsing into a state of mind
characteristic of former days before the war, and I look at all these
things to which I had grown accustomed and view them impartially, as if
they were new. Twenty short months ago, who would have imagined such
scenes? For instance, these countless spoil-heaps, white in colour,
because the soil of this province is white, spoil-heaps which are thrown
up everywhere in long lines, tracing on the desert so many zebra-like
stripes; is it possible that these indicate the only tracks by which
to-day our soldiers of France can move about with some measure of
safety? They are little hollow tracks, some undulating, some straight,
communication trenches which the French nickname "intestines." These
have been multiplied again and again, until the ground is furrowed with
them unendingly. What prodigious work, moreover, they represent, these
mole-like paths, spreading like a network over hundreds of leagues. If
to their sum be added trenches, shelter caves, and all those catacombs
that penetrate right into the heart of the hills, the mind is amazed at
excavations so extensive, which would seem the work of centuries.

And these strange kinds of nets, stretched out in all directions, would
anyone, unless previously warned and accustomed to them, understand
what they were? They look as if gigantic spiders had woven their webs
around countless numbers of posts, which stretch out beyond range of
sight, some in straight lines, some in circles or crescents, tracing on
that wide tract of country designs in which there must surely be some
cabalistic significance intended to envelop and entangle the barbarians
more effectively. Since I last came this way these obstructing nets must
have been reinforced to a terrible extent, and their number has been
multiplied by two, by ten. In order to achieve such inextricable
confusion our soldiers, those weavers of snares, must have made in them
turnings and twists with their great bobbins of barbed wire carried
under their arms. But here, at various points, are enclosures, whose
purpose is obvious at a glance and which add to the grisly horror of the
whole scene; these fences of wood surround closely packed groups of
humble little wooden crosses made of two sticks. Alas! what they are is
clear at first sight. Thus, then, they lie, within sound of the
cannonade, as if the battle were not yet over for them, these dear
comrades of ours who have vanished, heroes humble yet
sublime--inapproachable for the present, even for those who weep for
them, inapproachable, because death never ceases to fly through the air
which stirs overhead, above their little silent gatherings.

Ah! to complete the impression of unreality a black bird appears of
fabulous size, a monster of the Apocalypse, flying with great clamour
aloft in the air. He is moving in the direction of France, seeking, no
doubt, some more sheltered region, where at last women and children are
to be found, in the hope of destroying some of them. I keep on walking,
if walking it can be called, this wearisome, pitiless repetition of
plunges into snow and ice-cold mud. At last I reach the clump of trees
where we have arranged to meet. I am thankful to have arrived there, for
my helmet and cap were encumbrances under that unexpectedly hot sun. I
am, however, before my time. The officer whom I invited to meet me
here--in order to discuss questions concerning new works of defence, new
networks of lines, new pits--that is he, no doubt, that blue silhouette
coming this way across the snow-shrouded ground. But he is far away, and
for a few more moments I can still indulge in the reverie with which I
whiled away the journey, before the time comes when I must once more
become precise and businesslike. Evidently the place is not one of
perfect peace, for it is clear that these melancholy boughs, half
stripped of leaves already, have suffered from those great humming
cockchafers that fly across from time to time, and have been shot
through as if they were no stronger than sheets of paper. It is, to be
sure, but a small wood, yet it keeps me company, wrapping me round with
an illusion of safety.

I am standing here on rising ground, where the wind blows more icily,
and I command a view of the whole terrible landscape, a succession of
monotonous hills, striped in zebra fashion with whitish trenches; its
few trees have been blasted by shrapnel. In the distance that network of
iron wire, stretching out in all directions, shines brightly in the sun,
and is not unlike the gossamer which floats over the meadows in spring
time. And on all sides the detonation of artillery continues with its
customary clamour, unceasing here, day and night, like the sea beating
against the cliffs.

Ah! the big black bird has found someone to talk to in the air. I see
it suddenly assailed by a quantity of those flakes of white cotton wool
(bursts of shrapnel), in appearance so innocent, yet so dangerous to
birds of his feather. So he hurriedly turns back, and his crimes are
postponed to another day.

From behind a neighbouring hill issues a squad of men in blue, who will
reach me before the officer on the road yonder. It is one, just one, of
a thousand of those little processions which, alas! may be met with
every hour all along the front, forming, as it were, part of the
scenery. In front march four soldiers carrying a stretcher, and others
follow them to relieve them. They, too, are attracted by the delusive
hope of protection afforded by the branches, and at the beginning of the
wood they stop instinctively for a breathing space and to change
shoulders. They have come from first line trenches a mile or two away
and are carrying a seriously wounded man to a subterranean field
hospital, not more than a quarter of an hour's walk away. They,
likewise, had not anticipated the heat of that terrible March sun, which
is beating down on their heads; they are wearing their helmets and
winter caps, and these weigh upon them as heavily as the precious burden
which they are so careful not to jolt. In addition to this they drag
along on each leg a thick crust of snow and sticky mud, which makes
their feet as heavy as elephants' feet, and the sweat pours in great
drops down their faces, cheerful in spite of fatigue.

"Where is your man wounded?" I ask, in a low voice.

In a voice still lower comes the reply: "His stomach is ripped open, and
the Major in the trench said that----" they finish the sentence merely
by shaking their heads, but I have understood. Besides he has not
stirred. His poor hand remains lying across his eyes and forehead,
doubtless to protect them from the burning sun, and I ask them:

"Why have you not covered his face?"

"We put a handkerchief over it, sir, but he took it off. He said he
preferred to remain like this, _so that he could still look at things
between his fingers_."

Ah! the last two men have blood as well as sweat pouring over their
faces and trickling in a little stream down their necks.

"It is nothing much, sir," they say, "we got that as soon as we started.
We began by carrying him along the communication trenches, but that
jolted him too much, so then we walked along outside in the open."

Poor fellows, admirable for their very carelessness. To save their
wounded man from jolts they risked their own lives. Two or three of
these death-bringing cockchafers, which go humming along here at all
hours, came down and were crushed to pieces on the stones close to them,
and wounded them with their shattered fragments. The Germans disdain to
fire at a single wayfarer like myself, but a group of men, and a
stretcher in particular, they cannot resist. One of these men, both of
whom are dripping with blood, has perhaps actually received only a
scratch, but the other has lost an ear; only a shred is left, hanging by
a thread.

"You must go at once and have your wound dressed at the hospital, my
friend," I say to him.

"Yes, sir. And we are just on our way there, to the hospital. It is very
lucky."

This is the only idea of complaint that has entered his head.

"It is very lucky."

And he says this with such a quiet, pleasant smile, grateful to me for
taking an interest in him.

I hesitated before going to look more closely at their seriously wounded
man who never stirred, for I feared lest I should disturb his last
dream. Nevertheless I approach him very gently, because they are just
going to carry him away.

Alas! he is almost a child, a child from some village; so much is clear
from his bronzed cheeks, which have scarcely yet begun to turn pale. The
sun, even as he desired, shines full upon his comely face, the face of a
boy of twenty, with a frank and energetic expression, and his hand still
shades his eyes, which have a fixed look and seem to have done with
sight. Some morphia had to be given him to spare him at least
unnecessary suffering.

Lowly child of our peasantry, little ephemeral being, of what is he
dreaming, if indeed he still dreams? Perhaps of a white-capped mother
who wept tender tears whenever she recognised his childish writing on an
envelope from the front. Or perhaps he is dreaming of a cottage garden,
the delight of his earliest years, where, he reflects, this warm March
sun will call to life new shoots all along some old wall. On his chest I
see the handkerchief with which one of the men had attempted to cover
his face; it is a fine handkerchief, embroidered with a marquis's
coronet--the coronet of one of his stretcher bearers. He had desired
_still to look at things_, in his terror, doubtless, of the black night.
But soon he will suddenly cease to be aware of this same sun, which now
must dazzle him. First of all he will enter the half-darkness of the
field hospital, and immediately afterwards there will descend upon him
that black inexorable night, in which no March sun will ever rise again.

"Go on at once, my friends," I say to them, "the wind blows too cold
here for people drenched with sweat like you."

I watch them move away, their legs weighted with slabs of viscous mud.
My admiration and my compassion go with them on their way through the
snow, where they plod along so laboriously.

These men, to be sure, still have some privileges, for they can at least
help one another, and careful hands are waiting to dress their wounds in
an underground refuge, which is almost safe. But close to this, at
Verdun, there are thousands of others, who have fallen in confused
heaps, smothering one another. Underneath corpses lie dying men, whom it
is impossible to rescue from those vast charnel-houses, so long ago and
so scientifically prepared by the Kaiser for the greater glory of that
ferocious young nonentity whom he has for a son.



XXIV

AT SOISSONS


 _September, 1915._

Soissons is one of our great martyred towns of the north; it can be
entered only by circuitous and secret paths, with such precautions as
Redskins take in a forest, for the barbarians are hidden everywhere
within the earth and on the hill close at hand, and with field-glasses
at their wicked eyes they scan the roads, so that they may shower
shrapnel on any rash enough to approach that way.

One delightful September evening I was guided towards this town by some
officers accustomed to its dangerous surroundings. Taking a zigzag
course over low-lying ground, through deserted gardens, where the last
roses of the season bloomed and the trees were laden with fruit, we
reached without accident the suburbs, and were soon actually in the
streets of the town. Grass had already begun to sprout there from the
ruins during the last year in which all signs of human life had
vanished. From time to time we met some groups of soldiers, otherwise
not a soul, and a deathlike silence held sway under that wonderful
late-summer sky.

Before the invasion it was one of these towns, fallen a little into
neglect, that exist in the depths of our provinces of France, with
modest mansions displaying armorial bearings and standing in little
squares planted with elms; and life there must have been very peaceful
in the midst of somewhat old-fashioned ways and customs. It is in the
destruction of these old hereditary homes, which were doubtless loved
and venerated, that senseless barbarism daily wreaks its vengeance. Many
of these buildings have collapsed, scattering on to the pavement their
antiquated furniture, and in their present immobility remain, as it
were, in postures of suffering. This evening there happens to be a lull.
A few somewhat distant cannon shots still come and punctuate, if I may
say so, the funereal monotony of the hours; but this intermittent music
is so customary in these parts that though it is heard it attracts no
notice. Instead of disturbing the silence, it seems actually to
emphasise it and at the same time to deepen its tragedy.

Here and there, on walls that still remain undamaged, little placards
are posted, printed on white paper, with the notice: "House still
occupied." Underneath, written by hand, are the names of the
pertinacious occupants, and somehow, I cannot say why, this strikes the
observer as being a rather futile formality. Is it to keep away robbers
or to warn off shells? And where else, in what scene of desolation
similar to this, have I noticed before other little placards such as
these? Ah, I remember! It was at Pekin, during its occupation by
European troops, in that unhappy quarter which fell into the hands of
Germany, where the Kaiser's soldiers gave rein to all their worst
instincts, for they may be judged on that occasion, those brutes, by
comparing their conduct with that of the soldiers of the other allied
countries, who occupied the adjoining quarters of the town without
harming anyone. No, the Germans, they alone practised torture, and the
poor creatures delivered up to their doltish cruelty tried to preserve
themselves by pasting on their doors ingenuous inscriptions such as
these, "Here dwell Chinese under French protection," or "All who dwell
here are Chinese Christians." But this availed them nothing. Besides,
their Emperor--the same, always the same, who is sure to be lurking,
his tentacles swollen with blood, at the bottom of every gaping wound in
whatever country of the world, the same great organiser of slaughter on
earth, lord of trickery, prince of shambles and of charnel-houses--he
himself had said to his troops:

"Go and do as the Huns did. Let China remain for a century terrorised by
your visitation."

And they all obeyed him to the letter.

But the treasures out of those houses in Pekin, pillaged by his orders,
that lay strewn on the ancient paving-stones of the streets over there,
were quantities of relics very strange to us, very unfamiliar--images
sacred to Chinese worship, fragments of altars dedicated to ancestors,
little _stelae_ of lacquer, on which were inscribed in columns long
genealogies of Manchus whose origins were lost in night.

Here, on the other hand, in this town as it is this evening, the poor
household gods that lie among the ruins are objects familiar to us, and
the sight of them wrings our hearts even more. There is a child's
cradle, a humble piano of antiquated design, which has fallen upside
down from an upper story, and still conjures up the thought of old
sonatas played of an evening in the family circle.

And I remember to have seen, lying in the filth of a gutter, a
photograph reverently "enlarged" and framed, the portrait of a charming
old grandmother, with her hair in curl-papers. She must have been long
at rest in some burial vault, and doubtless the desecrated portrait was
the last earthly likeness of her that still survived.

The noise of the cannon comes nearer as we move on through these streets
in their death-agony, where, during a whole summer of desolation,
grasses and wild flowers have had time to spring up.

In the midst of the town stands a cathedral, a little older than that of
Rheims and very famous in the history of France. The Germans, to be
sure, delighted in making it their target, always under the same
pretext, with a stupid attempt at cleverness, that there was an
observation post at the top of the towers. A priest in a cassock
bordered with red, who has never fled from the shells, opens the door
for us and accompanies us.

It is a very startling surprise to find on entering that the interior of
the church is white throughout with the glaring whiteness of a perfectly
new building. In spite of the breaches which the barbarians have made in
the walls from top to bottom, it does not, at first sight, resemble a
ruin, but rather a building in course of construction, a work which is
still proceeding. It is, moreover, a miracle of strength and grace, a
masterpiece of our Gothic Art in the matchless purity of its first
bloom.

The priest explains to us the reason for this disconcerting whiteness.
Before the coming of the barbarians, the long task was scarcely
completed of exposing the under-surface of each stone in turn, so that
the joints might be more carefully repaired with cement; thus the grey
hue with which the church had been encrusted by the smoke of incense,
burnt there for so many centuries, had resolved itself into dust. It was
perhaps rather sacrilegious, this scraping away of the surface, but I
believe it helps to a better appreciation of the architectural beauties.
Indeed, under that unvarying shade of cinder-grey which we are
accustomed to find in our old churches, the slender pillars, the
delicate groining of the vaults, seem, as it were, made all in one, and
it might be imagined that no skill had been necessary to cause them
thus to soar upwards. Here, on the contrary, it is incomprehensible,
disconcerting almost, to see how these myriads and myriads of little
stones, so distinct each from the other in their renovated setting,
remain thus suspended, forming a ceiling at such a height above our
heads. Far better than in churches blurred with smoky grey is revealed
the patient, miraculous labour of those artists of old, who, without the
help of our iron-work or our modern contrivances, succeeded in bestowing
stability upon things so fragile and ethereal.

Within the basilica, as without, prevails an anguished silence,
punctuated slowly by the noise of cannon shots. And on the episcopal
throne this device remains legible, which, in the midst of such ruin,
has the force of an ironic anathema launched against the barbarians,
_pax et justitia_.

Walking among the scattered _débris_, I pick my way as carefully as
possible to avoid stepping on precious fragments of stained-glass
windows; it is pleasanter not to hear underfoot the little tinkle of
breaking glass. All the shades of light of the summer evening, seldom
seen in such sanctuaries, stream in through gaping rents, or through
beautiful thirteenth-century windows, now but hollow frameworks. And the
double row of columns vanishes in perspective in the luminous white
atmosphere like a forest of gigantic white reeds planted in line.

Emerging from the cathedral, in one of the deserted streets, we come
upon a wall covered with printed placards, which the shells seem to have
been at special pains to tear. These placards were placed side by side
as close together as possible, the margins of each encroaching upon
those of its neighbours, as if jealous of the space the others occupied
and all with an appearance of wishing to cover up and to devour one
another. In spite of the shrapnel which has riddled them so effectively,
some passages are still legible, doubtless those that were considered
essential, printed as they were in much larger letters so that they
might better strike the eye.

"Treason! Scandalous bluff!" shouts one of the posters.

"Infamous slander! Base lie!" replies the other, in enormous, arresting
letters.

What on earth can all this mean?

Ah yes, it is a manifestation of all the pettiness of our last little
election contests which has remained placarded here, pilloried as it
were, still legible in spite of the rains of two summers and the snows
of one winter. It is surprising how these absurdities have survived,
simply on scraps of paper pasted on the walls of houses. As a rule no
wayfarer looks at such things as he passes them, for in our day they
have become too contemptible for a smile or a shrug of the shoulders.
But on this wall, where the shells have ironically treated them as they
deserved, piercing them with a thousand holes, they suddenly assume, I
know not why, an air irresistibly and indescribably comic; we owe them a
moment of relaxation and hearty laughter--it is doubtless the only time
in their miserable little existence that they have at least served some
purpose.

To-day who indeed remembers the scurrilities of the past? They who wrote
them and who perhaps even now are brothers-in-arms, fighting side by
side, would be the first to laugh at them. I will not say that later on,
when the barbarians have at last gone away, party spirit will not again,
here and there, attempt to raise its head. But none the less in this
great war it has received a blow from which it will never recover.
Whatever the future may hold for us, nothing can alter the fact that
once in France, from end to end of our battle front and during long
months, there were these interlacing networks of little tunnels called
trenches. And these trenches, which seemed at first sight nothing but
horrible pits of sordid misery and suffering, will actually have been
the grandest of our temples, where we all came together to be purified
and to communicate, as it were, at the same holy table.

As for our trenches, they begin close at hand, too close alas! to the
martyred town; there they are, in the midst of the mall, and we make our
way thither through these desolate streets where there is no one to be
seen.

Everyone knows that almost all our provincial towns have their mall, a
shady avenue of trees often centuries old; this one was reputed to be
among the finest in France. But it is indeed too risky to venture
there, for death is ever prowling about and we can only cross it
furtively by these tortuous tunnels, hastily excavated, which are called
communication trenches.

First of all we are shown a comprehensive view of the mall through a
loophole in a thick wall. Its melancholy is even more poignant than that
of the streets, because this was once a favourite spot where formerly
the good people of the town used to resort for relaxation and quiet
gaiety. It stretches away out of sight between its two rows of elms. It
is empty, to be sure, empty and silent. A funereal growth of grass
carpets its long alleys with verdure, as if it were given up to the
peace of a lasting abandonment, and in this exquisite evening hour the
setting sun traces there row upon row of golden lines, reaching away
into the distance among the lengthening shadows of the trees. It might
be deemed empty indeed, the mall of this martyred town, where at this
moment nothing stirs, nothing is heard. But here and there it is
furrowed with upturned earth, resembling, on a large scale, those heaps
that rats and moles throw up in the fields. Now we can guess the meaning
of this, for we are well acquainted with the system of clandestine
passages used in modern warfare. From these ominous little excavations
we conclude at once that, contrary to expectations, this place of
mournful silence is populated by a terrible race of men concealed
beneath its green grass; that eager eyes survey it from all sides, that
hidden cannon cover it, that it needs but an imperceptible signal to
cause a furious manifestation of life to burst forth there out of the
ground, with fire and blood and shouts and all the clamour of death.

And now by means of a narrow, carefully hidden descent we penetrate
into those paths termed communication trenches, which will bring us
close, quite close, to the barbarians, so close that we shall almost
hear them breathe. A walk along those trenches is a somewhat unpleasant
experience and seems interminable. The atmosphere is hot and heavy; you
labour under the impression that people are pressing upon you too
closely, and that your shoulders will rub against the earthen walls; and
then at every ten or twelve paces there are little bends, intentionally
abrupt, which force you to turn in your own ground; you are conscious of
having walked ten times the distance and of having advanced scarcely at
all. How great is the temptation to scale the parapet which borders the
trench in order to reach the open air, or merely to put one's head above
it to see at least in which direction the path tends. But to do so
would be certain death. And indeed there is something torturing in this
sense of imprisonment within this long labyrinth, and in the knowledge
that in order to escape from it alive there is no help for it, but to
retrace one's steps along that vague succession of little turnings,
strangling and obstructing.

The heat and oppressiveness of the atmosphere in these tunnels is
increased by the number of persons to be met there, men in horizon blue
overcoats, flattening themselves against the wall, whom, nevertheless,
the visitor brushes against as he passes. In some parts the trenches are
crowded like the galleries of an ant-hill, and if it suddenly became
necessary to take flight, what a scene would ensue of confusion and
crushing. To be sure the faces of these men are so smiling and at the
same time so resolute that the idea of their flight from any danger
whatsoever does not even enter the mind.

As the hour for their evening meal approaches they begin to set up their
little tables, here and there, in the safest corners, in shelters with
vaulted roofs. Obviously it is necessary to have supper early in order
to be able to see, for certainly no lamps will be lighted. At nightfall
it will be as dark here as in hell, and unless there is an alarm, an
attack with sudden and flashing lights, they will have to feel their way
about until to-morrow morning.

Here comes a cheerful procession of men carrying soup. The soup has been
rather long on the way through these winding paths, but it is still hot
and has a pleasant fragrance, and the messmates sit down, or get as near
to that attitude as they can. What a strangely assorted company, and yet
on what good terms they seem to be! To-day I have no time to linger, but
I remember lately sitting a long time and chatting at the end of a meal
in a trench in the Argonne. Of that company, seated side by side, one
was formerly a long-named conscientious objector, turned now into a
heroic sergeant, whose eyes will actually grow misty with tears at the
sight of one of our bullet-pierced flags borne along. Near him sat a
former _apache_, whose cheeks, once pale from nights spent in squalid
drinking-kens, were now bronzed by the open air, and he seemed at
present a decent little fellow; and finally, the gayest of them all was
a fine-looking soldier of about thirty, who no longer had time to shave
his long beard, but nevertheless preserved carefully a tonsure on the
top of his head. And the comrade, who every other day did his best to
conserve this tell-tale manner of hairdressing, was formerly a
root-and-branch anticlericalist, by profession a zinc-maker at
Belleville.

We continue our way, still without seeing anything, following blindly.
But we must be near the end of our journey, for we are told:

"Now you must walk without making a sound and speak softly," and a
little farther on, "Now you must not speak at all."

And when one of us raises his head too high a sharp report rings out
close to us, and a bullet whistles over our heads, misses its mark, and
is lost in the brushwood, whence it strips the leaves. Afterwards
silence falls again, more profound, stranger than ever.

The terminus is a vaulted redoubt, its walls composed partly of clay,
partly of sheet-iron. This blindage has been pierced with two or three
little holes, which can be very quickly opened or shut by rapidly
working mechanism, and it is through these holes alone that it is
possible for us to look out for a few seconds with some measure of
safety, without receiving suddenly a bullet in the head by way of the
eyes.

What, have we only come as far as this? After walking all this time we
have not reached even the end of the mall. In front of us still extend,
under the shade of the elms, straight and peaceful, its desolate
grass-grown walks. The sun has blotted out the golden lines it was
tracing a moment ago, and twilight will presently be over all, and there
is still no sound, not even the cries of birds calling one another home
to roost; it is like the immobility and silence of death.

Looking in a different direction through another opening in the
sheet-iron, on the other bank (the right bank), scarcely twenty yards
away from us, quite close to the edge of the little river, of which we
hold the left bank, we notice perfectly new earth-works, masked by the
kindly protection of branches, and there, as in the mall, silence
prevails, but it is the same silence, too obviously studied, suspicious,
full of dread. Then someone whispers in my ear:

"It is _They_ who are there."

It is _They_ who are there, as indeed we had surmised, for in many other
places we had already observed similar dreadful regions, close to our
own, steeped in a deceptive silence, characteristic of ultra-modern
warfare. Yes, it is _They_ who are there, still there, well entrenched
in the shelter of our own French soil, which does not even fall in upon
them and smother them. Sons of that vile race which has the taint of
lying in its blood, they have taught all the armies of the world the art
of making even inanimate objects lie, even the outward semblance of
things. Their trenches under their verdure disguise themselves as
innocent furrows; the houses that shelter their staffs assume the aspect
of deserted ruins. They are never to be seen, these hidden enemies; they
advance and invade like white ants or gnawing worms, and then at the
most unexpected moment of day or night, preceded by all varieties of
diabolical preparations that they have devised, burning liquids,
blinding gas, asphyxiating gas, they leap out from the ground like
beasts in a menagerie whose cages have been unfastened. How humiliating!
After prodigious efforts in mechanics and chemistry to revert to the
custom of the age of cave-dwellers; after fighting for more than a year
with lethal weapons perfected with infernal ingenuity for slaughter at
long range to be found thus, almost on top of one another for months at
a time, with straining nerves and every sense alert, and yet all hidden
away under cover, not daring to budge an inch!

How horrible! I believe they were actually whispering in those trenches
opposite. Like ourselves they speak in low voices; nevertheless the
German intonation is unmistakable. They are talking to one another,
those invisible beings. In the infinite silence that surrounds us, their
muffled whispers come to us, as it were, from below, from the bowels of
the earth. An abrupt command, doubtless uttered by one of their
officers, calls them to order, and they are suddenly silent. But we have
heard them, heard them close to us, and that murmur, proceeding, as it
were, from burrowing animals, falls more mournfully upon the ear than
any clamour of battle.

It is not that their voices were brutal; on the contrary, they sounded
almost musical, so much so that had we not known who the talkers were we
should not have felt that shudder of disgust pass through our flesh; we
should have been inclined, rather, to say to them:

"Come, a truce to this game of death! Are we not men and brothers? Come
out of your shelters and let us shake hands."

But it is only too well known that if their voices are human and their
faces too, more or less, it is not so with their souls. They lack the
vital moral senses, loyalty, honour, remorse, and that sentiment
especially, which is perhaps noblest of all and yet most elementary,
which even animals sometimes possess, the sentiment of pity.

I remember a phrase of Victor Hugo which formerly seemed to me
exaggerated and obscure; he said:

"Night, which in a wild beast takes the place of a soul."

To-day, thanks to the revelation of the German soul, I understand the
metaphor. What else can there be but impenetrable, rayless night in the
soul of their baleful Emperor and in the soul of their heir apparent,
his ferret face dwarfed by a black busby with the charming adornment of
a death's head? All their lives they have had no other thought than to
construct engines for slaughter, to invent explosives and poisons for
slaughter, to train soldiers for slaughter. For the sake of their
monstrous personal vanity they organised all the barbarism latent in the
depths of the German race; they organised (I repeat the word because
though it is not good French alas! it is essentially German), they
"organised," then, its indigenous ferocity; organised its grotesque
megalomania; organised its sheep-like submissiveness and imbecile
credulity. And afterwards they did not die of horror at the sight of
their own work! Can it be that they still dare to go on living, these
creatures of darkness? In the sight of so many tears, so many torments,
such vast ossuaries, that infamous pair continue peacefully sleeping,
eating, receiving homage, and doubtless they will pose for sculptors and
be immortalised in bronze or marble--all this when they ought to be
subjected to a refinement of old Chinese tortures. Oh, all this that I
say about them is not for the sake of uselessly stirring up the hatred
of the world; no, but I believe it to be my duty to do all that in me
lies to arrest that perilous forgetfulness which will once again shut
its eyes to their crimes. So much do I fear our light-hearted French
ways, our simple, confiding disposition. We are quite capable of
allowing the tentacles of the great devil-fish gradually to worm their
way again into our flesh. Who knows if our country will not soon be
swarming again with a vermin of countless spies, crafty parasites,
navvies working clandestinely at concrete platforms for German cannon
under the very floors of our dwellings. Oh, let us never forget that
this predatory race is incurably treacherous, thievish, murderous; that
no treaty of peace will ever bind it, and that until it is crushed,
until its head has been cut off--its terrible Gorgon head which is
Prussian Imperialism--it will always begin again.

When in the streets of our towns we meet those young men who are
disabled, mutilated, who walk along slowly in groups, supporting one
another, or those young men who are blinded and are led by the hand, and
all those women, bowed down, as it were, under their veils of crape, let
us reflect:

"This is their work. And the man who spent so long a time preparing all
this for us is their Kaiser--and he, if he be not crushed, will think of
nothing but how he may begin all over again to-morrow."

And outside railway stations where men are entrained for the front, we
may meet some young woman with a little child in her arms, restraining
the tears that stand in her brave, sorrowful eyes, who has come to say
good-bye to a soldier in field kit. At the sight of her let us say to
ourselves:

"This man, whose return is so passionately longed for, the Kaiser's
shrapnel doubtless awaits; to-morrow he may be hurled, nameless, among
thousands of others, into those charnel-houses in which Germany
delights, and which she will ask nothing better than to be allowed to
begin filling again."

Especially when we see passing by in their new blue uniforms the "young
class," our dearly loved sons, who march away so splendidly with pride
and joy in their boyish eyes, with bunches of roses at the ends of their
rifles, let us consider well our holy vengeance against the enemy who
are lying in wait for them yonder--and against the great Accursed,
whose soul is black as night.

From that roofed-over redoubt where we are at present, whose iron flaps
we have to raise if we would look out, the mall is still visible with
its green grass; the mall, lying there so peaceful in the dim light of
evening. The barbarians are no more to be heard; they have stopped
talking; they do not move or breathe; and only a sense of uneasy
sadness, I had almost said of discouraged sadness, remains, at the
thought that they are so near.

But in order to be restored to hope and cheerful confidence, it is
sufficient to turn back along the communication trenches, where the men
are just finishing their supper in the pleasant twilight. As soon as our
soldiers are far enough away from those others to talk freely and laugh
freely, there is suddenly a wave of healthy gaiety and of perfect and
reassuring confidence.

Here is the true fountain-head of our irresistible strength; from this
source we draw that marvellous energy which characterises our attacks
and will secure the final victory. Very striking at first sight in the
groups around these tables is the excellent understanding, a kind of
affectionate familiarity, that unites officers and men. For a long time
this spirit has existed in the Navy, where protracted exile from home
and dangers shared in the close association of life on board ship
necessarily draw men nearer together; but I do not think my comrades of
the land forces will be angry with me if I say that this familiarity, so
compatible with discipline, is a more recent development with them than
with us. One of the benefits conferred upon them by trench warfare is
the necessity of living thus nearer to their soldiers, and this gives
them an opportunity of winning their affection. At present they know
nearly all those comrades of theirs who are simple privates; they call
them by name and talk to them like friends. And so, when the solemn
moment comes for the attack, when, instead of driving them in front of
them with whips, after the fashion of the savages over there, they lead
them, after the manner of the French, it is hardly necessary for them to
turn round to see if everyone is following them.

Moreover, they are very sure that, if they fall, their humble comrades
will not fail to hasten to their side, and, at the risk of their own
lives, defend them, or carry them tenderly away.

Now it is to this superhuman war, and especially to the common existence
in the trenches, that we owe the ennobling influence of this concord,
those sublime acts of mutual devotion, at which we are tempted to bend
the knee. And in part is it not likewise owing to life in the trenches,
to long and more intimate conversations between officers and men, that
these gleams of beauty have penetrated into the minds of all, even of
those whose intelligence seemed in the last degree unimpressionable and
jaded. They know now, our soldiers, even the least of them, that France
has never been so worthy of admiration, and that its glory casts a light
upon them all. They know that a race is imperishable in which the hearts
of all awaken thus to life, and that Neutral Countries, even those whose
eyes seem blinded by the most impenetrable scales, will in the end see
clearly and bestow upon us the glorious name of liberators.

Oh let us bless these trenches of ours, where all ranks of society
intermingle, where friendships have been formed which yesterday would
not have seemed possible, where men of the world will have learnt that
the soul of a peasant, an artisan, a common workman may prove itself as
great and good as that of a very fine gentleman, and of even deeper
interest, being more impulsive, more transparent and with less veneer
upon it.

In trenches, communication trenches, little dark labyrinths, little
tunnels where men suffer and sacrifice themselves, there will be found
established our best and purest school of socialism. But by this term
socialism, a term too often profaned, I mean true socialism, be it
understood, which is synonymous with tolerance and brotherhood, that
socialism, in a word, which Christ came to teach us in that clear
formula, which in its adorable simplicity sums up all formulæ, "Love one
another."



XXV

THE TWO GORGON HEADS


      "My plan is first to take possession. At a later stage I can
      always find learned men to prove that I was acting within my
      just rights."

 FREDERICK II.

      (_called, for want of a better epithet, the Great_).


I

THEIR KAISER

 _April, 1916._

There are certain faces of the accursed, which reveal in the end with
the coming of old age the accumulated horror and darkness that has been
seething in the depths of the soul. The features are by no means always
ignoble, but on these faces something is imprinted which is a thousand
times worse than ugliness, and none can bear to look upon them. Thus it
is with their Kaiser. The sight of his sinister presentment alone, a
mere glimpse of the smallest portrait of him reproduced in a newspaper,
is sufficient to make the blood run cold. Oh that viperine eye of his,
shaded by flaccid lids, that smile twisted awry by all his secret vices,
his utter hypocrisy, morbid brutality, added to cold ferocity, and
overweening arrogance which in itself is enough to provoke a horsewhip
to lash him of its own accord. Once in an old temple in Japan I saw a
gruesome work of art, which was considered a masterpiece of genre
painting, and had been preserved for centuries, wrapped in a veil, in
one of the coffers containing temple treasures.

It is well known how highly the Japanese esteem gruesome works of art,
and what masters their artists are in the cult of the horrible. It was a
mask of a human face, with features, if anything, rather regular and
refined, but if you looked at it attentively its appalling expression,
at the same time cruel and lifeless, haunted you for days and nights.
From out the cadaverous flesh, livid and lined, gleamed its two eyes,
partly closed, but one more so than the other, and they seemed to wink,
as if to say:

"For a long time, while I lay waiting there in my box, I meditated some
ghastly surprise for you, and at last you have come; you are in my
power, and here it is."

Well, for those who have eyes to see, the face of their Kaiser is as
shocking as that mask, hidden away in the old temple over there; it
matters not in what kind of helmet, more or less savage in design, he
may choose to trick himself out, whether it have a spike or a death's
head. In all the years during which the terrible expression of this man
has haunted me, I not only shared the presentiment common to everyone
else that he was "meditating some surprise for us," but I had a
foreboding that his plot would be laid with diabolical wickedness and
would prove more terrible than all the crimes of old, uncivilised times.
And I said to myself:

"It is of vital importance for the safeguard of humanity to kill that
thing."

Indeed he should have been killed, the hyena slain, before his latent
rabidness had completely developed, or at least he should have been
chained up, muzzled, imprisoned behind close set and solid bars.

What could have possessed the anarchists, to whom such an opportunity
presented itself of redeeming their character, of deserving the
gratitude of the world, what could have possessed them? When there is
question of killing a sovereign they attempt the life of the charming
young King of Spain. From the Austrian court, which held a far more
suitable victim, they select and stab the mysterious and lovely Empress,
who never harmed a soul. And of the quartet of kings in the Balkans,
their choice fell upon the King of Greece, when there was that monster
Coburg close at hand, an opportunity truly unique.

Their Kaiser, their unspeakable, Protean Kaiser, whenever it seems that
everything possible has been said about him, bewilders one by breaking
out in some new direction which no one could ever have foreseen. After
his almost doltish obstinacy in persistently posing his Germany as the
victim who was attacked, in spite of most blinding evidence to the
contrary, most formal written proofs, most crushing confessions which
escaped the lips of his accomplices, did he not just recently feel a
need to "swear before God" that his conscience was pure and that he had
not wished for war? Before what God? Obviously before his own, "his old
God," proper to himself, whom in private he must assuredly call, "my old
Beelzebub." What excellent taste, moreover, to couple that epithet "old"
with such a name!

This Kaiser of theirs seems to have received from his old Beelzebub not
only a mission to spread abroad the uttermost mourning, to cause the
most abundant outpouring of blood and tears, but also a mission to shoot
down all forms of beauty, all religious memorials; a mission to profane
everything, defile everything, and disfigure everything that he should
fail to destroy. He has succeeded even in bringing dishonour on science,
by degrading it to play the part of accomplice in his crimes. Moreover
it is not merely that this war of his, this war which he forced upon us
with such damnable deliberation, will have been a thousand times more
destructive of human life than all the wars of the past collectively,
but he must needs likewise attack with vindictive fury, he and his
rabble of followers, all those treasures of art which should have
remained an inviolable heritage of civilised Europe. And if ever he had
succeeded in realising his dream of morbid vanity and becoming absolute
tyrant of the world, not by means of explosives and scrap-iron alone
would he have achieved the ruin of all art, but through the incurably
bad taste of his Germany. It is sufficient to have visited Berlin, the
capital city of pinchbeck, of the gilded decorations of the parvenu, to
form an idea of what our towns would have become. And with a shudder one
contemplates the rapid and final decadence of those wonderful Eastern
towns, Stamboul, Damascus, Bagdad, upon the day when they should submit
to his law.

This unspeakable Kaiser of theirs, how cunningly sometimes he adds to
dishonour a touch of the grotesque. For instance, did he not lately
offer as a pledge to that insignificant King of Greece his word of a
Hohenzollern? The day after the violation of Belgium to dare to offer
his word was admirable enough, but to add that his word was that of a
Hohenzollern, what a happy conceit! Is it the result of dense
unconsciousness or of the insolent irony with which he regards his timid
brother-in-law, at whose little army, on the occasion of a visit to
Athens, he scoffed so disdainfully? Who that has some slight tincture of
history is ignorant of the fact that during the five hundred years of
its notoriety the accursed line of the Hohenzollern has never produced
anything but shameless liars, kites that prey on flesh. As early as 1762
did not the great Empress Maria Theresa write of them in these terms:

"All the world knows what value to attach to the King of Prussia and
his word. There is no sovereign in Europe who has not suffered from his
perfidy. And such a king as this would impose himself upon Germany as
dictator and protector! Under a despotism which repudiates every
principle, the Prussian monarchy will one day be the source of infinite
calamity, not only to Germany, but likewise to the whole of Europe."

Unhappy King of Greece, who approached too near to the glare of the
Gorgon, and lies to-day annihilated almost by its baleful influence!
Should not his example be as much an object lesson--though without the
heroism and the glory--for sovereigns of neutral nations who have still
been spared, as the examples of the King of Belgium and the King of
Serbia?

Their Kaiser, whose mere glance is ominous of death, baffles reason and
common sense. The morbid degeneracy of his brain is undeniable, and yet
in certain respects it is nevertheless a brain excellently ordered for
planning evil, and it has made a special study of the art of slaughter.
For the honour of humanity let us grant that he is mad, as a certain
prince of Saxony has just publicly declared.

Agreed; he is mad. His case may actually be classified as teratological,
and in any other country but Germany this war of his would have resulted
for him in a strait-waistcoat and a cell. But alas for Europe! the
accident of his birth has made him Kaiser of the one nation capable of
tolerating him and of obeying him--a people cruel by nature and rendered
ferocious by civilisation, as Goethe avers; a people of infinite
stupidity, as Schopenhauer confesses in his last solemn testament.

In some respects this infinite stupidity he himself shares. Otherwise
would he have failed so irremediably in his first outset in 1914 as to
imagine up to the very last moment that England would not stir, even in
face of Belgium's great sacrifice.[3] And is there not at least as much
folly as ferocity in his massacres of civilians, his torpedoing of ships
belonging to neutral countries, his outrages in America, his Zeppelins,
his asphyxiating gas; all those odious crimes which he personally
instigated, and which have had merely the result of concentrating upon
himself and his German Empire universal hatred and disgust?

After forty years of feverish preparation, with such formidable
resources at his disposal, shrinking from no measures however atrocious
and vile, trammelled by no law of humanity, by no pang of conscience, to
wallow thus in blood, and yet after all to achieve nothing but
failure--there is no other explanation possible; some essential quality
must be lacking in his murderous brain. And the nation must indeed be
German in character still to suffer itself to be led onwards to its
downfall by an unbalanced lunatic responsible for such blunders. They
are led onwards to downfall and butchery. And is there never a limit to
the sheepish submission of a people who at this very moment are
suffering themselves to be slaughtered like mere cattle in attacks
directed with imbecile fury by a microcephalous youth, equally devoid of
intelligence and soul?


II

FERDINAND OF COBURG

But recently it would have seemed an impossible wager to undertake to
find an even more abominable monster than their Kaiser and their Crown
Prince. Nevertheless the wager has been made and won; this Coburg has
been found.

And to think that in his time he aroused the enthusiasm of the majority
of our women of France! About the year 1913, when I alone was beginning
to nail him to the pillory, they were exalting his name and flaunting
his colours. "Paladin of the Cross"--as such he was popularly known
among us. Oh, a sincere paladin he was, to be sure, wearing the
scapular, steeped in Masses, after the fashion of Louis XI., yet one
fine morning secretly forcing apostasy upon his son. Moreover we know
that to-day, for our entertainment, he is making preparations for a
second comedy of conversion to the Catholic faith, which he recently
renounced for political reasons, and over there he will find priests
ready to bless the operation and to keep a straight face the while.

He, too, has a Gorgon's head, and his face, like the Kaiser's, is marked
with the stigmata of knavery and crime. Twenty-five years ago, at the
railway station of Sofia, when for the first time I came under the
malevolent glance of his small eyes, I felt my nerves vibrate with that
shudder of disgust which is an instinctive warning of the proximity of a
monster, and I asked:

"Who is that vampire?"

Someone replied in a low, apprehensive voice:

"It is our prince; you should bow to him."

Ah, no indeed; not that!

In private life this man has proved himself a cowardly assassin,
committing his murders from a safe distance, for he prudently crossed
the border whenever his executioner had "work to do" by his orders. And
then, as soon as any particular headsman threatened to compromise him he
would take effective steps to cripple him.[4]

And this man, too, offers up prayers in imitation of that other.
Recently, when there was a hope that his great accomplice was at last
about to die of the hereditary taint in his blood, he knelt for a long
time between two rows of Germans, convoked as audience, to plead with
heaven for his recovery--a monster praying on behalf of another
monster--and he arose, steeped in divine grace, and said to the
audience:

"I have never before prayed so fervently."

Those heavy-witted Boches, for whose benefit these apish antics were
performed, were even they able to restrain their wild laughter? In
political life, likewise, he is an assassin, attempting the life of
nations. After his first foul act of treason against Serbia, his former
ally, whom he took in the rear without any declaration of war, he
endeavoured, it will be remembered, to throw upon his ministers the
blame of a crime which was threatening to turn out badly. And again
without warning he deals another traitorous blow to the same race of
heroes, already overwhelmed by immense hordes of barbarians, like a
highwayman who, under pretence of helping, comes from behind to give the
finishing stroke to a man already at grips with a band of robbers.

Poor little Serbia, now grown great and sublime! Lately, in my first
moments of indignation at the report that reached me of deeds of horror
perpetrated in Thrace and Macedonia, I had accused her undeservedly of
sharing in the guilt. Once again in these pages I tender her with all my
heart my _amende honorable_.

If Germany's _entente_ with Turkey was so little capable of being
accomplished unassisted that it was found necessary to have recourse to
the "suicide" of the hereditary prince, the _entente_ with Bulgaria was
made spontaneously. _Their_ Kaiser and this scion of the Coburgs, who
emulates him, and is, as it were, his duplicate in miniature, found each
other fatally easy to understand. That such sympathy was likely to exist
between them might have been gathered from a mere comparison of the two
faces, each bearing the same expression of beasts that prowl in the
night. How was it that our diplomatists, accredited to the little court
of Sofia, suspected nothing nearly twenty months ago, when the treaty
of brigandage was signed in secret? And to-day, until one devours the
other, behold them united, these two beings, the refuse of humanity,
compared with whom the foulest, most hardened offenders, who drag a
cannon-ball along in a convict's prison, seem to have committed nothing
but harmless and trifling offences.

Arouse yourselves, then, neutral nations, great and small, who still
fail to realise that had it not been for us your turn would have come to
be trampled underfoot like Belgium, like Serbia and Montenegro only
yesterday! The world will not breathe freely until these ultimate
barbarians have been completely crushed; how is it that you have not
felt this? What else can be necessary to open your eyes? If it is not
enough for you to witness in our country all the ruin inflicted on us of
set purpose and to no useful end, to read a vast number of irrefutable
testimonies of furious massacres which spared not even our little
children; if all this is not enough look nearer home, look at the
insolent irony with which this predatory race brings pressure to bear
upon you, look at all the outrages, done audaciously or by stealth,
which have already been committed on the other side of the ocean. Or
again, if indeed you are blind to that which goes on around you, at
least survey briefly all the writings, during centuries, of their men of
letters, their "great men." You will be horrified to discover on every
page the most barefaced apology for violence, rapine, and crime. Thus
you will establish the fact that all the horror with which Europe is
inundated to-day was contained from the beginning in embryo there in
German brains, and, moreover, that no other race on earth would have
dared to denounce itself with such cynical insensibility. And you,
priests or monks, belonging to the clergy of a neighbouring country,
who reproach us with impiety and are the blindest of men in
proselytising for our enemies, turn over a few pages of the official
manifesto addressed to the Belgian bishops, and tell us what to think of
the soul of a people who continually take in vain the name of the "All
Highest" in their burlesque prayers, and then make furious attacks on
all the sanctuaries of religion, cathedrals, or humble village churches,
overthrowing the crucifixes and massacring the priests. Is it logically
possible for anyone, not of their accursed race, to love the Germans?
That a nation may remain neutral I can understand, but only from fear,
or from lack of due preparation, or perhaps, without realising it, for
the lure of a certain momentary gain, through a little mistaken and
shortsighted selfishness. Oh, doubtless it is a terrible thing to hurl
oneself into such a fray! Yet neutrality, hesitation even, become worse
than dangerous mistakes; they are already almost crimes.

An insane scoundrel dreamed of forcing upon us all the ways of two
thousand years ago, the degrading serfdom of ancient days, the dark ages
of old; he plotted to bring about for his own profit a general
bankruptcy of progress, liberty, human thought, and after us, you, you
neutral nations, were designated as sacrifices to his insatiable,
ogreish appetite. At least help us a little to bring to a more rapid
conclusion this orgy of robbery, destruction, massacres, and bloodshed.
Enough, let us awaken from this nightmare! Enough, let the whole world
arise! Whosoever holds back to-day, will he not be ashamed to keep his
place in the sun of victory and peace when it once more shines upon us?
And we, when at last we have laid low the rabid hyena, after pouring
out our blood in streams, should we not almost have a right to say,
with our weapons still in our hands:

"You neutral nations, who will profit by the deliverance, having taken
no part in the struggle, the least you can do is to repay us in some
measure with your territory or with your gold?"

Oh, everywhere let the tocsin clang, a full peal, ringing from end to
end of the earth; let the supreme alarm ring out, and let the drums of
all the armies roll the charge! And down with the German Beast!

FOOTNOTES:

[3] In addition to a thousand other widely known examples of his
shameless knavery, I record another instance, which, moreover, may
easily be verified; an instance perhaps not yet sufficiently widely
published. Be it known to everyone that on August 2nd, 1914, on the very
eve of the violation of Belgium, when the German Army was already massed
on the frontier and all the orders had been given for the attack the
next day, King Albert called upon the Kaiser for an explanation. The
Kaiser replied officially through his diplomatists:

"The Belgians have no cause for alarm. I have not the slightest
intention of repudiating my signature."

[4] Panitza, Stambouloff, etc.



    +-----------------------------------------------+
    |             Transcriber's Note:               |
    |                                               |
    | Typographical errors corrected in the text:   |
    |                                               |
    | Page  30  neverthless changed to nevertheless |
    | Page  56  pleasantry changed to peasantry     |
    | Page 204  Pacificists changed to Pacifists    |
    +-----------------------------------------------+





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