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Title: Many Fronts
Author: Freeman, Lewis R. (Lewis Ransome), 1878-1960
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Many Fronts" ***

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    MANY FRONTS



    MANY FRONTS

    BY
    LEWIS R. FREEMAN


    LONDON
    JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, W.
    1918


    ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



    CONTENTS


                                              PAGE

    THE FIGHT FOR THE GARDEN OF EDEN             7

    IT’S A WAY THEY HAVE IN THE AIR CORPS       38

    SHARKS OF THE AIR                           66

    TO BRITISH MERCHANT CAPTAINS                96

    THE PASSING OF A ZEPPELIN                  112

    FIGHTING FOR SERBIA                        128

    BEATING BACK FROM GERMANY                  156

    THE SINGING SOLDIER                        192

    BLOWING UP THE CASTELLETTO                 219

    WONDERS OF THE TELEFERICA                  246

    THE GARIBALDI FIGHT AGAIN FOR FREEDOM      280


My grateful acknowledgments are due to the several magazines in which
these stories and sketches have appeared:--_The Cornhill Magazine_,
_Land and Water_, and _The World’s Work_ in England; and in America,
_The Atlantic Monthly_, _The World’s Work_, and _The Outlook_.

    L. R. F.
    _October, 1918._



MANY FRONTS

THE FIGHT FOR THE GARDEN OF EDEN


I

I had known F---- through years of hunting and sports in India, but
never until the night that our old British-India coaster lay off the
Shat-el-Arab bar waiting for the turn of the tide to run up to
Bassorah, did I hear him speak of the things that were really next his
heart. Then it was that I was vouchsafed transient vision of the outer
strands of the previsionary web England was weaving beyond the marches
of India against events to come. I will give his story, as nearly as I
can remember, in his own words.

       *       *       *       *       *

For the best part of the last five years [said he], I have been coming
to Arabia and Mesopotamia on “language study.” In all of that time I
have not been back to England, and I am almost a stranger to the
officers of my own regiment. I talk like an Arab, I am beginning to
think like an Arab, and, what with sunlight and dirt that have gone so
deep under my epidermis that they will never come out, I shall soon
look like an Arab. Perhaps in time--you’d never believe the appeal of
the Koran till you’ve bowed toward Mecca, with a Bedouin on either
side of you, morning and evening, for six months at a stretch--I shall
pray like an Arab. I have had smallpox, dysentery,--which has become
practically chronic,--and a dozen varieties of fevers and skin
diseases, and I’m mottled from head to foot with “Aleppo button”
scars, two of which have never healed. I’ve been alone so much that I
talk to myself even in Calcutta and Simla. The Persians in this region
distrust me, the Russians and Germans hate me, and the Turks are
perfectly frank in saying that they will send me on “the long
pilgrimage” if ever a fair chance offers.

All that my Government does is to allow my pay to go on and to provide
me with a passport that will land me at Koweit, Bassorah, or Bagdad.
If I get into trouble they will not--cannot, in fact--do as much for
me as they would for a spindle-legged Hindu coolie. And all this on
the chance that, some time before I am retired for old age or
invalided from the Indian army, the Great White Bear will try to come
down to the Persian Gulf to slake his age-long thirst. In this
contingency, of course, there is no denying the fact that I shall be
very much in demand, especially if operations are carried on in my own
“sphere,” that of North-Eastern Arabia and Southern Mesopotamia, up to
a line drawn from Bagdad to Hitt.

Afoot, or by horse or camel, I have traversed almost every square mile
of this region. There is not a bazaar from Kerbela to Koweit in which,
disguised, I cannot mingle unsuspected in the throng, or, in case of
need, call upon friends who will do anything, from giving me a
cigarette or a handful of dates to risking their lives to save my own.
I also know every one of the greater, as well as most of the lesser,
Bedouin sheikhs whose peoples roam the deserts between Bassorah and
Damascus; and with one of the most powerful of these--his camels are
over 100,000 in number and his sheep and goats three times that--I
have gone through the “blood brotherhood” ceremony. The blood of our
arms has actually mingled, and each is pledged to stop at no act to
serve the other. My friends, I need hardly say, are all Arabs,
Chaldeans, Syrians, Jews, or people of one of the other subject races
of this region; to the Turk, courteous as he is to me socially in
Bagdad and Bassorah, my name is anathema. A week hence, for instance,
I shall exchange Oriental amenities with the Vali of Bagdad in his
garden on the banks of the Tigris. He will toast me in scented coffee
and drink to the success of my visit; and all the while a double guard
of police will be watching the gates to prevent my getting away to the
desert and my Arab friends. Personally, I know it would pain him if I
were to be shot in the dark for neglecting to answer a sentry’s
challenge; but officially he is dead keen for it, and there is no
doubt that it would do him a lot of good in Stamboul, where he is not
in very high favour at present.

The whole thing, when all is said and done, resolves itself down to
about this: If a war involving operations in this “sphere” comes
within the next twenty years, I,--and a couple of other chaps who are
doing the same sort of work,--provided I do not lose my life, or my
health, or the best of my faculties in the interim, will probably
break all records outside of a Central American revolution for quick
promotion. I should probably be a brigadier-general at forty, with ten
or a dozen letters after my name. But if, as is likely, there is no
war, I shall probably continue these little jaunts into the desert
until my health gives out, when, at best, I shall be invalided home
and retired on the half-pay of a captain or a major.

So, you see, my future depends entirely upon whether or not some of
our neighbours, or would-be neighbours, see fit to “start something”
in this little neck of Central Asia within the next decade or two. And
now that Russia is in the Entente, and we are acting so entirely in
concert with her in Persia, I’m very much afraid that it’s going to be
a case of the “hope deferred which maketh the heart sick.”


II

The following day we caught the river steamer at Bassorah, and four
days later arrived at Bagdad, F---- putting up at the grim brown fort
which housed the British Consulate, post office, and telegraph
station. I saw him on and off for a week, usually at tiffins or
dinners given for him by some of his British friends. At other times
he was not to be found. “F---- _Sahib_ gone to bazaar,” his Pathan
bearer invariably answered my inquiries; and F---- himself volunteered
no more than that he was spending a good deal of time “renewing old
acquaintances.” Then, at the end of about ten days, without a good-bye
to anybody, so far as I could learn, he dropped from sight. “F---- is
off again to his Arabs,” said his friends.

“I am much relieved,” the Consul whispered to me. “They hung on him
like leeches this time, but F---- got away by togging up as an
Armenian _arabana_ driver when they were expecting him as an Arab. The
Armenian came here, F---- stained his face, got into the chap’s
clothes, and actually drove the _arabana_, with a load of passengers,
to Kerbela. The Turks nabbed the real driver when they caught him
going out on foot, but got little out of him, and I don’t think they
know yet exactly what happened. F---- is far into the desert by this
time.”

This was in 1912, and at that time no one--least of all F----, who had
the most to gain by such an event--appeared to dream that the
blood-drenched plains of Babylonia and Assyria were likely to echo ere
many years to the tramp of hostile armies. The broad scope of
Germany’s activities, extending far beyond the mere construction of
the Bagdad Railway, was evident to every one; but, this
notwithstanding, the general impression seemed to be that the
whip-hand in this region was Russia’s. This feeling was aptly
expressed by an old Turkish officer with whom I discussed Near Eastern
politics at Mosul. “The Germans may build railroads,” he said,
punctuating his measured speech with puffs from a gurgling _hookah_,
“and the British may build ships, and the Turks may build dams and
canals,”--referring to the reclamation work at Hindia on the
Euphrates,--“but in the end the Great White Bear will come down to the
Persian Gulf and have his drink of warm water.”

That the Germans had ambitious plans for controlling the commerce of
the incalculably rich Tigro-Euphrates Valley no one doubted, or even
that the Kaiser aimed at some sort of political control. But that
German influence should prevail over that of Britain and Russia in
Constantinople, to the extent of aligning the Porte on the side of the
Kaiser against the Triple Entente, was not dreamed of in Mesopotamia,
even by the Turks themselves. The price to the Entente, however, of
alienating Italy from the Triple Alliance by acquiescing in that
Power’s conquest of Tripoli, was the irretrievable loss of Turkey’s
friendship; and with the succession of Enver Pasha to the War Ministry
at the end of the first Balkan conflict, there is no doubt that the
Porte stood absolutely committed to action with Germany. After the
outbreak of the present war, Turkey’s participation on the side of the
Central Powers was only a matter of the Kaiser’s nod. Enver Pasha,
educated in Berlin and always actively anti-Russian, had spent nearly
two years in preparation for the struggle which the Germans had
doubtless assured him was inevitable; and the making ready for a fight
to the death at the Dardanelles was not allowed to interfere with a
general stiffening of the Eastern defences. This, briefly, was the way
in which it came about that Britain is facing Turkey instead of the
long-prepared-against Russia in the Mesopotamian “theatre.” But I will
let my friend F----, to whom it was given to help set and stage the
opening scenes of the play, tell something of what happened up to the
moment of his tragic exit.

Late in the fall of 1914, a hastily scribbled card reached me in
California. “Things looming large at last,” it read. “Am off for the
‘P.G.’[1] to-morrow with big work in prospect. Will write when I can
get anything of interest passed.” The card was post-marked Karachi,
and dated but a few days previous to Turkey’s official entry into the
war. I took it, therefore, that the Indian Government had discounted
this action, and that at the moment the Turks opened hostilities by
bombarding the Russian coast, F----, doubtless with considerable
forces, was on the way to his “sphere.”

    [1] Persian Gulf.

The promised letter was long delayed, and when it came bore the
post-mark Bassorah, not in the pothook Turkish characters, but in
plain English letters, while the blue two-and-a-half anna stamp of
India appeared in the corner formerly sacred to the narrow, pink,
half-gummed one-piastre sticker which you had often to affix with a
pin to keep it from falling off. Thus ran the letter:--

“I am writing you this from the one-time home port of ‘Sinbad the
Sailor,’ which, I am rejoiced to say, has been under our flag for some
days. The Turks had considerable forces of seasoned troops
here,--doubtless you remember how much of the old town was taken up by
barracks,--but, evidently because they did not expect us so soon, or
in such force, had done little in the way of outpost defence. This,
coupled with the facts that our naval strength was overwhelming and
the river very ineffectively mined, made what might have been an
operation of tremendous difficulty comparatively easy. The guns of our
cruisers outranged those of the old forts at the mouth of the
Shat-el-Arab, and, with sweepers working ahead of them, the
light-draught gunboats peppered so hotly those dense palm groves which
fringe the river banks that we had little difficulty in fighting our
way through them without great loss.

“Co-operating with the advance up the river, our main force was landed
above Koweit and marched across the open desert to attack Bassorah on
the west, threatening the rear of the Turkish positions on the left
bank. Here the Turk could have made us no end of trouble had he been
in sufficient force, for the lowlands were partly inundated and a
defence of the practicable routes could have been made very effective.

“It was the weakness of the opposition met here that first led us to
hope that Bassorah was not going to be strongly defended. Although the
advance resolved itself into little more than a series of outpost
actions, the period was an anxious one for us--and especially for
me--in that it put to the acid test the result of our work, not only
in forecasting the capricious and variable overflow, but also in
conciliating the no less capricious and variable Arabs of a region
nominally subject to Turkey. I can only tell you now that things
turned out, and are continuing to turn out, even better than we had
any reason to hope they would. There was no suggestion of a menace to
our exposed left flank from the hordes of curious but in no wise
hostile Arabs who showed themselves all along the way, and the censor
will probably not allow me to tell you that our transport and
commissariat, if nothing more, will probably be much helped by active
assistance from this source. [Here several sentences, doubtless
telling something more of the attitude of the Arabs, were obscured by
the censor’s brush.] So you will see that the Turk is reaping the
harvest he deserves from his sowing of harshness and duplicity among
the Bedouins, and that the time and efforts of us ‘language students’
who have worked this sphere will not have been spent in vain.

“The Turks have undoubtedly been quite sound in deciding not to make a
stand at Bassorah. With the sea approaches in our hands, and with the
city entirely encompassed by desert and marsh, the holding of it for
any time would have hinged upon command of either the Tigris or the
Euphrates all the way to the rich agricultural region to the west of
Bagdad. As the cutting of this line by us was only a matter of time,
the city would have been isolated and forced to withstand a siege
which could only have ended in the capture of whatever forces were
locked up there. As it is, the most of these forces are now at liberty
to dispute our advance, through a very difficult country, to
Mesopotamia and Bagdad. Here it seems certain we shall have all the
fighting we care for.

“I have not mentioned the fact that I have received my captaincy and
am assigned to the general staff. In an ordinary campaign the latter
circumstance would mean a lot of dreary consultations at headquarters,
and no action. Here, Allah be praised, the case is quite different.
R----, K---- (the two chaps who have also worked this sphere), and I
are always called in, if we chance to be on hand, when the maps are
unrolled; but most of the time the whole lot of us are off on
something else. R---- has been through the Turkish lines twice, once
spending three days in Kurna, their advanced base, and I have been off
on a week’s journey to receive renewed assurances of the friendship of
my Bedouin ‘blood-brother.’ It is going to be a jolly amusing game.”


III

Another letter came from F---- a month later, this being in answer to
one I had rushed off on receiving the card announcing his departure
for the Persian Gulf:--

“You ask what we are driving at here, by which I suppose you mean,
‘What is our plan of campaign?’ This, obviously, is a question I can
answer only in the most general way. Our principal purpose in the
present campaign will be the occupation of southern and central
Mesopotamia up to and including the cities of Bagdad and Kerbela, a
region roughly corresponding to what might be called ancient Babylonia
proper. Our objective in this is twofold. First, to gain control of
all the irrigated--and hence highly productive--portion of the
Tigro-Euphrates Valley, and, second, to establish ourselves strongly
upon the flank of Persia in the event that that country should show a
disposition to make common cause with our enemy.

    [Illustration: MAP OF THE TIGRO-EUPHRATES VALLEY, Where the
    operations against Bagdad were carried out.]

“There is little doubt that the advance to Bagdad will be a fight all
the way. The most difficult country will be that between here and
about fifty miles north of where the Tigris and Euphrates come
together. Most of this area is marshy all the year, and practically
all of it will be under water from the spring floods by the time we
are ready to get into it. An endless network of ‘canals’ and backwater
channels makes it practically impossible to advance on foot even
across much of the overflow country, and one of the main reasons for
our long halt in Bassorah has been the training of our men in the use
of the various native craft which will have to figure in our
transport. Luckily, the Turks will be under the same handicap as
ourselves in this region, and our superior artillery and organisation
are sure to give us the ‘edge.’ The real fighting is going to come
when we emerge upon the level alluvial plains of Central Mesopotamia.
Here the enemy will have the Bagdad railway at his back, and, without
doubt, a pretty complete little system of German-made light railways
to keep him in munitions and food.

“It may be that it will take us to the end of 1915 to attain our first
goal. Then, if a decision in Europe has not been reached in the
meantime, our next general advance would be up the Tigris to Samara,
Tekrit, and Mosul, and up the Euphrates to Hitt and Deyr; this advance
would place in our hands an upland grain-growing region of
considerable productivity. Still another campaign would have to be
launched to occupy the country up to a line from Aleppo to Mardin or
Diarbekir; but Russia should reach this region from the Caucasus
before we can get there from the south. Upon the guns and munitions
which the Germans are able to send through to Bagdad will depend the
character of the stand that the Turk is going to make in Babylonia.

“But what a game it is going to be, this fight for the old Garden of
Eden,--with the high-banked canals and the crumbling walls of Babylon
and Hitt serving for trenches and forts, and the _khans_ which
sheltered Ali Baba and Haroun-al-Raschid as outposts! Why, the
‘G.C.C.’ and I have even discussed how we are going to use that
isolated old _tepe_ of Birs Nimrud--which some call the ‘Tower of
Babel’--when the time comes!

“Our transport for the new campaign will probably be the most
remarkable thing of the kind ever assembled. The fact that the
country into which we are advancing will be largely under water will
compel us to become practically amphibious. On land we are using
camels, horses, mules, and donkeys, while on the water the services of
everything, from the native _balems_, _gufas_, and _kaleks_ to
shallow-draught gunboats and river-steamers, will be in demand. The
old Bagdad side-wheelers have all been converted into gunboats, but
even their slight draught of five or six feet is too great for all but
the main river-channels. One of these, by the way, went into action
the other day with an armour improvised from mats of dried dates. Of
course the Turkish shrapnel made an awful mess of it, and, I am sorry
to say, also of the chaps behind it.

“The direction of the training of our men in the use of the native
watercraft has been one of my recent duties. The _balem_ is a
gondola-like sort of boat which has long been used for passenger
transport on the canals and rivers of this region. It may be rowed,
sculled, or paddled, and since it is of fairly stable equilibrium, the
men are not long in mastering it. The _gufa_, however, is quite
another matter. It is a slightly flattened ball of woven reeds covered
with pitch, having a hole from five to ten feet across at the top to
receive passengers and freight. It is propelled by paddling, now on
one side, now on the other, and two or three old hands can make very
fair progress with it. A novice, however, can do little more than make
the thing spin on its own axis. Moreover, he invariably renders
himself still more helpless by laughing at his own uselessness; and
although some of the more serious-minded Sepoys have made considerable
progress in handling the _gufa_, I am afraid we shall never be able to
make Thomas Atkins, or his equally frivolous comrade-in-arms, the
Ghurka, take it as other than a perpetual joke.

“A score of miles to the north of here, a few days ago, a dozen
dismounted troopers, in lieu of anything better to hand, tried to
cross a broad back channel of the Shat-el-Arab in a _gufa_, in order
to dislodge some troublesome Turkish snipers. Their best efforts,
however, served only to send the contrary craft bobbing down their own
bank, the finest kind of a mark for the enemy’s sharpshooters. The
latter (I have this on the word of the sergeant whose misplaced
enthusiasm was responsible for the trouble), evidently highly amused,
held their fire until after the ‘marines,’ as they have since been
dubbed by their comrades, had kicked a hole in the bottom of the
_gufa_ and been compelled to take to the water. The few scattering
shots fired even then were apparently sent only with the intent of
‘shooing’ several belligerent Tommies back to their own side, for the
only casualty reported was the drowning of a man who, in the language
of one of his surviving comrades, ‘caught ’is bloomin’ spur in the
bally goofy an’ got ’eld under water.’

“Which incident reminds me to say a word for our old friend, the Turk,
as a sporting fighter. Of course, we knew all the time that he was a
first-class offensive fighter and a superlative defensive one; but,
because for years we have known him under such characterisations as
‘The Terrible,’ and ‘The Unspeakable,’ we had come to expect from him
a programme of ‘frightfulness’ quite in keeping with that of his
allies of the Occident. That nothing of this character has been in
evidence is one of the most refreshing surprises of the campaign. I
can only set down here one of a number of instances in point which
have fallen under my observation.

“You doubtless read in the papers that the Turks made an attempt in
some force to recover Bassorah a few weeks ago, going by boats to
Nasire, on the Euphrates, and marching from there around the
inundation area to approach this point from the west. Fortunately, one
of our ‘friends’ sent us word of what was afoot, and we were able to
prepare a proper reception at Shaiba. It was after we had beaten them
back at this point, and while they were fighting rearguard actions in
a most cleverly conducted retreat, that the incident I have in mind
occurred. I was out with, though not in command of, a troop of cavalry
which was pressing the pursuit a considerable distance ahead of our
main force. About eleven o’clock in the morning we found our way
blocked by a small detachment of the enemy which had been left to make
a stand at an isolated _khan_, one of those walled desert
halting-places of the caravanserai order,--really more of a fort than
a tavern.

“There was no use in trying to dislodge the Turks until the guns came
up, but, unluckily, about a dozen chaps, out of touch with their
officer, attempted to rush the gate ’on their own.’ The enemy coolly
let them come on to about a hundred yards from the _khan_, and then,
unmasking a machine-gun, dropped them all in a space not fifty feet
square. A rifle volley brought down the three or four reckless spirits
who, in spite of wounds, staggered to their feet and lurched ahead.
Taking advantage of the cover afforded by a pair of old canal banks,
we managed to get up within about three hundred yards of the _khan_
gate without exposing ourselves dangerously, there to wait for our
field guns and to be ready to make it lively for our Turkish friends
in case they tried to evacuate in the meantime.

“For a while we thought that, mercifully, no life remained in any of
the still, sprawling brown figures in front of the _khan_; but
presently, with his face covered with the dirt a sniper’s bullet had
thrown on it as he put his head up for a look, a man crawled back to
report to Major S---- that he had seen a hand feebly raised as though
trying to attract our attention. Verifying the truth of the statement
at the risk of his big new _shikar_ helmet, S---- promptly called for
volunteers to try to bring the wounded man in. ‘It’s a slim chance,’
he said, ‘but this noonday sun would kill an unwounded man lying on
his face for an hour out there. We’ve got to make the attempt.’

“Passing down the line, S---- picked the four spryest and wiriest
looking of the sprawling row of grimy Tommies, each of whom had raised
an appealing hand as the word for volunteers passed along. ‘Make the
best of the cover of that strip of date-palms, and bring in the
man--he’s the one nearest us--the same way,’ he ordered just about as
he would have sent them out on patrol. ‘We’ll give the Turks what
diversion we can in the meantime.’

“Then we began peppering the ports of the old _khan_ in a blind and
large sort of way that had little effect, as a consequence of the fact
that the machine-gun fire which came in reply made it impossible to
put our heads up to aim. Enough of a diversion was created, however,
to allow the volunteers to make their way, apparently unobserved, to
the farther end of the palm clump. But a hail of bullets met them as
they left cover, and the last of them dropped while he was still a
dozen yards from the object of his rush. The three first to fall lay
still,--shot dead, as we learned later,--but the last one, in spite of
a punctured femur, presently pulled himself together and began to
crawl forward. It was not until this moment, I am certain, that the
Turks fully comprehended what we were driving at; for now, although
they continued to keep us under cover with sweeping jets from their
machine-gun, not another shot was directed at the man on the ground.
Nor was there any attempt to check his painful progress as he dragged
the man he had been sent after back to the palm grove. Nor yet, finest
of all, did the Turks try to wing a single one of another brave four,
who, disdaining the cover of the palm trunks, dashed out to relieve
their comrade of his burden.

“Encouraged by the forbearance of the enemy, we were about to send out
a squad under a white flag to see if any more of the wounded were
alive, when dust clouds on the southern horizon warned the Turkish
leader that our field-guns were coming up; and, with his task of
delaying the pursuit well fulfilled, he made ready to retire by
sweeping our cover with a fresh fusillade. The only gate of the
_khan_, opening to the south, was completely covered from our
position; but the resourceful Turk coolly breached the northern wall
with a flake or two of gun-cotton, and, the first thing we knew, the
whole troop--machine-gun and all--went scurrying off across the
desert. For two or three minutes they were fair marks for us, and, as
they sent several Parthian volleys themselves, there was no military
reason why we should not have tried to bring down a few of them. As a
matter of fact, we did send a few perfunctory volleys; but if its
shooting on that occasion was any criterion of the marksmanship of
S----’s troop, Allah have mercy on it when it comes to real grips
with the Turk! Not one of the fugitives dropped from his saddle, and
I don’t think one of them was hit. If we had done for even a man of
them, imagine what our feelings would have been when, on taking
possession of the _khan_, we found, hung carefully in a thick-walled
crypt well beyond all danger from our rifle fire, three goatskins of
clear, cold water, while scrawled on the wall, in both French and
Turkish, was the direction, ‘For the Wounded.’ As we had been out of
water for hours ourselves, and as a few cups sufficed for the two or
three wounded who had survived the withering sun heat, you may surmise
that our hostility toward the ‘unspeakable Turk’ was not materially
increased by this latter incident.

“The chap who was rescued at so great a cost died a few hours later,
but rather from exposure to the sun than from his wound, which was
slight. The man who brought him in is well on the road to recovery
and, I trust, a V.C.”


IV

My next, and what proved to be my last, letter from F---- reached me
in London:--

“Our general advance has begun, and we have attained our first
important objective in the occupation of the ‘Garden of Eden.’ Not
the greater ‘Garden of Eden,’ which name Sir William Willcocks applies
to all of Mesopotamia south of Hitt and Samara, but the traditional
site of the Garden at the meeting of the Tigris and Euphrates. This
was surely one of the strangest engagements in history. The country
was under water for miles around, and the Turks had fortified and
elected to make their stand on the only dry ground in the whole
region, a series of low rises--hardly to be called hills--in the rear
of Kurna. Fortunately, their available artillery was not powerful. We
had prepared for the assault by emplacing batteries of heavy howitzers
at every point sufficiently solid to support them, while lighter guns
were mounted on the river-steamers and on barges.

“After a heavy shelling of the Turkish positions our troops, in
everything from _balems_ and _gufas_ to _kaleks_ and gunboats, were
rowed, paddled, poled, and steamed forward to the limit of the draught
of their respective craft. Then over they went into the water, and the
assault commenced. Luckily the Turkish guns had been pretty well put
out of action by our howitzers, else that half-mile or more through
mud and water would have been a very costly business for us. As it
was, some barges and _kaleks_ with machine-guns on them were brought
up close to the enemies’ lines, and, the fire of these and the
gunboats having made the Turkish positions practically untenable, the
troops had to do little more than go and round up a very sizeable
bunch of prisoners who had been cut off by a swift flanking movement
of a column of Sepoys. Some of our men, in their eagerness, went
overboard into deep water, and, as a consequence, had to chuck their
accoutrements and swim for it. A number of them, in fact, lost more
than their arms; and a bevy whom I saw later helping to shepherd some
Turkish prisoners aboard a gunboat had little to differentiate them,
sartorially, from Father Adam in the earliest days of this same
‘Garden of Eden.’

“I had a rather interesting job a few days ago. This was to lead a
small picked force across country and destroy a bridge of boats which
the Turks were endeavouring to maintain across the Tigris at the Tomb
of Ezra, for the use of any stragglers who might still be drifting
back from the south.

“You recall the Bible story of this famous structure. The Prophet
Ezra, faring about this region in his old age, feeling the hand of
Death upon him, directed his followers to bind his body to a camel,
drive the animal into the desert, and where it finally lay down to
rest, there to make the holy man’s burial-place. The camel headed
straight for the nearest reach of the Tigris, and there the
brilliantly-tiled tomb which was reared above the Prophet’s remains
stands to this day, a mecca for Jews and Mohammedans alike.

“I didn’t make a very brilliant success of my job with the bridge of
boats. We got into a marsh in the darkness and waded about in it until
too late to make the night surprise I had counted upon at Ezra’s Tomb.
We did get there at dawn, however, and, principally because the Turks
must have thought we had strong support coming up, managed to induce
the latter to evacuate his very good position about the Tomb and
retire to the east bank of the river. We established ourselves in one
of the Tomb gardens, but could go no farther for the moment on account
of the brisk and accurate fire of the enemy from the other side.

“Most of the day I lay on my back in a bed of petunias under the
garden wall, and gorged myself on the ripe pomegranates which the
Turkish bullets cut down from the trees above. But about mid-afternoon
they knocked a couple of bee-hives off the wall into the very midst of
us, and, as we were wearing ‘shorts,’ with nothing to protect the leg
from calf to knee, the sequel was a very unpleasant one. So dead sure
were those bees that our inoffensive little party was responsible for
upsetting their homes that they divided themselves into just as many
bands as we were men, and started, impartially and systematically, to
sting us to death. My men were out of hand in an instant, and I really
believe that, had not a modern miracle been wrought, another
minute would have seen the whole pack of us, careless of such
trifles as Turkish rifle and machine-gun fire, wallowing in the
fifty-yard-distant Tigris.

“The miracle was performed by a little pink-cheeked, bare-footed angel
of a Jewess, evidently the ‘shepherd of the bees.’ Unconcernedly
tripping out among the writhing ‘casualties,’ oblivious alike to the
threat of Turkish bullets and the roaring masses of bees, she set up
the punctured hives in a safe place under the wall, and then began to
beat sharply with a stick upon an old bronze gong which was suspended
from her neck by a thong. Instantly the bees stopped stinging, and
inside of five minutes the last of them was settling back with a
contented buzz into its hive. I could have kissed the stubby brown
toes of the pink-cheeked little angel of mercy. And here again let me
record to the credit of the Turks that, although her head and
shoulders must have been visible to them above the low wall, they made
no attempt to stop with a bullet the work which, had they only known
it, was all that prevented the whole lot of us from falling into their
hands.

“Every man of us was, of course, in beastly shape from the stings. My
own agony from this source was infinitely worse than that from a
bullet which ploughed up my scalp when we cut the bridge of boats
after darkness had fallen; in fact, if the truth were known, I think
the desperate pain all of the boys were in had a good deal to do with
the absolute recklessness they displayed when the time came for us to
try to fulfil our mission. I heard one chap tell another he was afraid
that he _wasn’t_ going to get shot, and the whole bunch acted as if
they felt the same way. Luckily, the Turks had no searchlight, and it
is probable their own fire helped not a little in breaking up the
bridge. At any rate, it went off down the yellow Tigris in a score of
sections, and we--or what was left of us--with it. A half-dozen
impetuous Turks who, in their eagerness to get at close quarters, had
come out to welcome us half-way, were also carried along when the
bridge broke up. After that it was a case of _sauve qui peut_ for all
of us, and I’m sorry to say that only about a third of the force I
started out with has, so far, straggled back to Kurna.”


V

I was still chuckling over F----’s account of his experience with the
bees when, opening the latest issue of the _Sphere_ the following
afternoon, I saw his familiar face smiling back at me from the corner
of one of the first pages. “Been getting mentioned in dispatches,” I
said to myself; and then the title of the page, on which appeared a
score of other portraits, met my eye: “Dead on the Field of Honour;
Officers Killed in Action.” There were no particulars, not even a
date; nor was anything further to be learned behind the tape-bound
portals of Whitehall. To the officers of F----’s regiment, now
fighting in Flanders, some few details were ultimately vouchsafed; and
from one of these, whom I encountered a few days ago, during his leave
in London, I learned all that I have so far been able to gather
concerning the death of my friend.

“F----’s work in cutting the bridge of boats across the Tigris,” he
said, “is spoken of as one of the most daring things of the
Mesopotamian campaign. Undoubtedly he deserved a V.C. for it, and it
is just possible one may be awarded posthumously. He was slightly
wounded there, but must have been out on duty again within a very few
days. According to the account we have received, he was off on some
special detail when he came upon a number of imbeciles of the
transport trying to ferry several camels and machine-guns across a
back channel of the Euphrates on a _kalek_, a sort of raft consisting
of a light platform resting on inflated sheepskins. One of the camels
had kicked a hole in the platform and was rapidly demolishing the
supporting skins, when F----, fearing the loss of the guns, swam off
to try and set things right. In endeavouring to extricate the camel,
he ducked under the _kalek_, where, it seems likely, his wounded head
was struck by one of the brute’s sharp hoofs, and he let go his grip
and sank before any one could get hold of him. Glorious death, wasn’t
it,--for a man who had led the life F---- had, and who, for that
particular region, was the most nearly indispensable man with the
expedition?”

Two months have gone by since F----’s last letter was written, and
the Mesopotamian campaign has been prosecuted along the general lines
he forecasted at the outset. Nasire and Amara have fallen, and the
early winter will see the armies drawn up for the final fight for
Bagdad, probably upon that same Plain of Shinar where the scarlet
desert flowers still keep alive the old belief that

                        Never blows so red
    The rose as where some buried Cæsar bled.

For destiny has decreed that once more the might of two rival races
shall lock in death-grips for the possession of that age-old prize,
the Garden of Eden. Eve was put without the gates when she tasted of
the Forbidden Fruit, and right on down through the ages the same
undeviating penalty has been inflicted upon the Babylonian, Mede,
Assyrian, and other empires that gorged themselves upon the Forbidden
Fruit of Corruption. Brave foeman that he is, the Turk, cloyed with
the same Forbidden Fruit, has long been marked for the inexorable
justice of the ages, and every precedent of tradition, history, and
strategy points to the conclusion that the closing hour of his
stewardship of the Garden of Eden is about to strike.



“IT’S A WAY THEY HAVE IN THE AIR CORPS”


I

It had been all of nine years since I first met Horne at an _estancia_
house-party in the heart of the Argentine Pampas, and fully seven
since I last saw him at a banquet given at the Buenos Aires Jockey
Club in his honour, a day or two after he had led his four to victory
in the finals of the River Plate polo championships. Yet, in spite of
the pallor of a face I had always remembered as bronzed, and a slight
hitch in his once swinging gait, I recognised him instantly--it was
the keen, piercing glance, I think, and the sudden flash of white
teeth in the quick smile--when he hailed me from a passing taxi and
came hobbling back along the broad pavement of Whitehall to meet me.

“What does this mean?” I asked, indicating his jaunty Flying Corps
uniform, after we had shaken hands. “I thought it was the army you
were in before you resigned to become an opulent _estanciero_ and
‘man-about-the-Pampas.’”

“It was the army I came back to,” he replied, “and I was with my old
regiment at Neuve Chapelle when a fragment of hand-grenade effected a
semi-solution of the continuity of one of my Achilles tendons and put
a period on my further usefulness in that branch of the service. The
‘air’ was still open to me, however, and, as I had already dabbled in
flying,--I was the first man to pilot an aeroplane across the Plate
estuary,--I got a commission almost immediately, and so lost very
little time.”

“But your ‘lily-white’ face and hands,” I pressed. “I never heard that
the air had a bleaching effect on the complexion.”

“Oh--that--” (Horne looked absently at a blue-veined hand and shuffled
uneasily), “that must have come from my spell of ‘C.H.’--confined in
hospital. Got knocked up a bit again. Flying over Belgium. Got shot
down and hit the edge of Holland a trifle too hard when I volplaned
over the boundary. Telescoped a few vertebræ, that’s all. Now, be a
good chap and stop asking questions and jump in with me and come along
to the Club.”

Horne waited for me while I picked up a few promised figures at the
“Lloyd-Georgery,” as he facetiously called the new Ministry of
Munitions in Whitehall Gardens, and then took me up to one of the
Service clubs in Piccadilly. There, without giving me further chance
to “get him up into the air,” he launched at once into news and
reminiscence of the Plate and the Pampas. When I left him at six, we
had talked for close on two hours without more than the most casual
reference to events of the war.

“A keen patriot, like all the rest of these young Britons who have
flocked home from overseas to fight for their country,” I reflected as
I sauntered down through Green Park; “but certainly not keen on his
work.” I even speculated as to whether or not Horne might be in some
sort of trouble in the service. Nothing else seemed to account for the
man’s reticence regarding everything connected with his special
activities.

A few days later Horne called me up to ask me to dine with him that
evening at a famous old restaurant in the Strand.

“‘S----’s’ is a bit more ‘merry and bright’ than this old tomb of a
Club,” he said, “and a few of the Flying Corps chaps who are in the
habit of rendezvousing there while in London on leave you’ll find well
worth knowing.”

The gathering was even more informal than I had anticipated. One of
the long tables, it appeared, was set aside for “R.F.C.” officers and
their friends, and these dropped in by twos and threes, as suited
their convenience, all the way from seven to ten o’clock.

There were half-a-dozen men at the table when Horne and I entered, and
all of these--they had stalls for a new “revue”--presently took their
leave. One of the group was a South African, one a New Zealander, and
two Australians. The latter we found bent over the racing page of the
Sydney _Bulletin_, while the New Zealander was evidently trying to
persuade the Africander that a dairy herd near Wellington offered
better prospects than a general farm in Rhodesia. One of the
Australians, whose family was interested in an importing house,
lingered behind a moment to ask me if I thought the war was going to
force up the price of American agricultural machinery in foreign
markets. None of them said a word about flying, and Horne volunteered
no more than that they were all “good men--that little chap from New
Zealand really ‘topping.’”

Horne, with the fleshpots of Argentina in his mind, ordered solidly
and lengthily, and three or four more officers had “wolfed” hasty
meals of roast beef and whisky-and-soda before our _Chateaubriand_
(which represents the nearest Anglo-French equivalent to the _carne
asado_ of the Pampas) had been done to its proper turn over the
coals. These, like the others, rattled on about the music-halls, the
homeland, the “rotten London weather”--anything and everything, in
fact, save the war in general and the war in the air in particular.

One, it is true,--he had come from France only that afternoon,--in
accounting for a bandaged hand, did mention something about getting a
finger jammed under the belt of his machine-gun; but it seemed to
occur to no one to inquire what he had been shooting at, or whether or
not he had hit it, or any of a dozen or so other things concerning
which I, for one, was at once consumed with interest.

By nine all of those with theatre or other engagements had come and
gone, and the eight or ten still seated at the table were leisurely
diners with the evening on their hands. Yet not even among these
unhurried ones was there evident any inclination to talk of their
work. On the contrary, I fancied I discerned an inclination to avoid,
to “side-step” it. When they were reminiscent, it was the friends and
events of their old life--“trekking,” “caravanning,” “hiking,”
“mushing”; Arctic midnights and tropic dawns; strange odds and ends of
adventure by land and sea--that they called up. And when they spoke
of the present, it was in connection with little happenings incident
to their leaves--with the comparative merits of “kit” shops, Turkish
baths, “revue” favourites, the pros and cons of drink restriction, and
the extortionate charges of dentists.

Yet every man of them appeared true to what I have since come to
recognise as a rapidly-developing type--the “Flying Type.” The army
aviator of to-day is picked for his quickness of mind and body, and
the first thing that strikes you about him is a sort of feline,
wound-up-spring alertness. Then you note his reticence, the cool
reserve of a man whose lot it is to express himself in deeds rather
than words. And lastly there is the quiet seriousness, verging almost
on sadness, of the man who must hold himself ready to look Death
between the eyes at any moment, and yet keep his mind detached for
other things.

It was the youngest, and therefore the least “formed,” officer of the
lot--a lad who had left his cacao plantation in Trinidad to come home
and fight--who was responsible for the only “shop” discussion of the
evening. Noting that he was eating but little, and constantly passing
his hand over his temples, some one asked him banteringly if he was
“homesick or only lovesick.”

“Neither,” he answered, relaxing his set lips in a forced smile. “Had
a bit of an accident yesterday, and have had a deuce of a headache
ever since. Can’t for the life of me make out whether it comes from
going up too high or coming down too quick. I went up higher and came
down faster than ever before in my experience. Landed all right, but
ever since I’ve felt as though I were being blown up by a tire-pump
that was driving air into every capillary and nerve-tip. My head feels
as though some one was opening up a jack-screw inside of it. Suppose I
should have gone to the hospital and found out what was wrong, but I
didn’t want to spoil my leave. Maybe some of you chaps can tell me why
I feel as though I had to keep holding my head together to stop its
flying to pieces,” he concluded, pressing the heels of his hands to
his temples to offset the seeming pressure from within.

Every one stopped talking and leaned forward with interest, and for an
instant I thought the curtain was going to drop and reveal something
of the experiences, if not the minds, of those khaki-clad sphinxes of
the air. Horne’s coldly professional diagnosis dashed the hope.
“Altitude,” he pronounced laconically. “Got over twelve thousand,
didn’t you? Over thirteen thousand? That accounts for it. And you
went up wide-open, trying to take ‘pride of place’ away from a Fokker,
I suppose? Of course. And when you got there you began to feel like a
deep-sea fish looks when you bring him up out of the kelp-beds and his
own air-bladders blow him up? A man can go up fifteen thousand feet by
rail or on foot without more than a shortness of breath and occasional
nose-bleed. But not every man--and not even every seasoned flyer--can
stand jumping up to twelve thousand feet in the half-hour that some of
the new machines can negotiate that height in. The difficulty’s almost
entirely physical, and it all depends upon how a man is made whether
or not his flesh and blood will accommodate themselves to the suddenly
reduced pressure of the atmosphere. There’s no growing used to it. If
it ‘gets’ you once, it’s pretty sure to do it again. At the best you
may only have a bad headache and a sort of ‘boiled-owl’ feeling for a
week. At the worst you faint, lose control of your machine, and are
listed among the casualties of ’cause unknown.’ Did _you_ lose
control, by any chance?”

“I think not,” was the reply. “It was a second German machine--one
that I hadn’t seen--that brought me down. It came nose-diving down
out of a cloud, shaking its tail, and giving me a regular shower-bath
of bullets--the usual Fokker trick. I’m almost positive I can remember
all the way down. Fact is, with my machine in the shape that it was
after its peppering, any ‘lapse’ on my part would have started it
somersaulting at once. No. Rotten as I felt, I’m sure I kept
‘connected up’ mentally all the way down.”

Horne shook his head dubiously. “You may be able to stick it,” he
said; “but before you try any more big-game shooting among the high
places, best have a few practice flights in the upper empyrean. The
sooner a man learns his altitude limit the better. There’s plenty of
useful work below twelve thousand feet for the man who begins to
‘blow-up’--mentally or physically--above that height.”

Conversation became general again even before Horne had finished
speaking, for to most of them there was nothing new in what he was
saying. None but the man on the left of the young West Indian ventured
an inquiry as to the details of what had happened, and it was only by
straining my ears that I was able to catch the drift of the
low-voiced, almost monosyllabic exchange.

“Get your petrol tank?”

“No, for a wonder. Got about everything else, though. Propeller all
chewed up; wings a pair of sieves. Bumped the bumps all the way down.
Ground was about the softest thing I hit.”

“Any one get the Hun?”

“None of us. Got himself, though. He came breezing out of a tuft of
cirro-cumuli all of fifteen thousand feet up, and seemed to be going
wild; sort of running amuck. Seemed to be trying to ram me when he
nose-dived, and the reason he bored me so full of holes was that he
didn’t sheer off to give me a berth. Missed me by a hair, and almost
upset me with his wind. But he never recovered from his dive. Just
seemed to lose control and started going end over end. Fell almost
into some of our trenches. I landed five miles away from the wreck of
him with nothing shot up but my machine and my nerves.”

“Any one get the first machine--the one you went up after?”

“No. It had the heels of all of us. The Hun’s ‘Archies’[2] brought
down one of our machines that tried to follow it.”

    [2] Soldiers’ slang for anti-aircraft guns.--THE EDITORS.

“Shop” interest waned at this juncture, and the conversation upon
which I had been eavesdropping veered off _viâ_ headache-remedies and
a pretty Scotch nurse at a hospital in France to the comparative
merits of the “Empire” and “Alhambra” choruses; and I was able to turn
both ears to Horne, who had been holding forth learnedly for some
minutes on the points of the Andean pony-thoroughbred cross as a polo
mount.


II

Our fellow diners drifted away as they had come--singly, and in twos
and threes--and by ten o’clock Horne and I were alone in the deserted
lounge with our cigars and coffee. He was expecting to be rung up at
ten-thirty, he said, and as the time approached I could not help
noticing that he became _distrait_ and nervous, palpably anxious. The
call came promptly, and it was with a look of ill-concealed
apprehension on his face that he rose to follow the summoning flunkey
to the telephone booth. A minute later he returned walking on air.
Twice or thrice he tried to take up the dropped thread of Argentine
reminiscence, finally giving it up as a bad job.

“I can’t help telling you that I’ve just had some very good news,” he
exclaimed, with beaming face. “For six weeks now I have been haunted
by a fear that that last jarring up I got was going to put me out of
the game for good. Yesterday I had the doctors go over me, and now,
after being kept all day on tenterhooks, comes word that, so far as
flying is concerned, I’m going to be as right as rain. Nothing
whatever likely to occur to prevent my going back in a fortnight. I
think I must be just about the happiest man in London to-night. I----”

He checked himself with a deprecatory gesture. “Really, you’ll have to
pardon my outburst, old chap; but I wasn’t half sure that I wasn’t in
line for invaliding out. Besides, I’ve been fairly itching to be ‘up’
all day. There’s been witchery in the air ever since sunrise. I’ve
never known more perfect flying weather. Which reminds me, by the way,
that the Zepps are expected in this vicinity to-night. They were on
the ‘East Coast’ last night, you know. It’s just a little too clear
for their purposes; but the air itself is perfect--_perfect_. There
haven’t been more than one or two other such days for flying as this
one since the war began. You can’t understand it till you’ve been in
the air yourself. It was in the blood of all those chaps at dinner
this evening. They talked about everything on earth except flying; and
were thinking about nothing else but that. Didn’t you notice that they
were as restive as the lions in the Zoo an hour before feeding time?”

Throwing aside all reserve, Horne began to speak of his work--his love
of it, the fascination of it, the great and increasingly important
part it was playing in the war. This was precisely what, hoping
against hope, I had been trying to draw him out on all the evening;
and so, lighting a fresh cigar, I sank back contentedly in my armchair
to play the part of the appreciative auditor. Scarcely was I well
settled, however, when Horne abruptly ceased speaking and leaned
forward with his head cocked in an attitude of attentive listening.

“Did you hear that?” he whispered; “and that, and that?”

“Nothing but the chatter of the first dribble of the supper crowd,” I
answered. “What is it?”

“Bombs,” was the reply; “three or four of them. And, I think,
gun-fire. The Zepps must be nearer London than they have been at any
time since last October. Let’s get down to the Embankment. We can see
from there, if anywhere. They never wander far from the ‘river road.’”

The Strand, packed with the crowds from the emptying theatres, was
plainly oblivious and unalarmed, and I promptly taxed Horne with
letting either the wine or the “perfect air conditions” go to his
head. He said nothing, but, all the way down the black little canyon
of a street along which we threaded our way, appeared to be listening
intently. Not until we were about to emerge into the brighter
blankness of the Embankment did he speak again.

“There have been no more bombs,” he said, “but I think the guns are
going right along. If the sound is too faint for your ‘unattuned’ ear,
perhaps the fact that you hear no shunting of trains or whistling at
Charing Cross or Waterloo (you know of the new order which halts all
trains during air-raids) will convince you that the Zepps are about.
Or if not that, then come along here and have some ocular evidence.
What do you say to that?” And Horne pointed off down past the looming
mass of St. Paul’s to where the stationary beam of a single
searchlight laid low along the eastern horizon.

“I see the searchlight plainly enough,” I said, “but where’s the
Zepp?”

“Take my glass,” said Horne, handing me a small pair of
semi-collapsible binoculars which was evidently a constant companion.
“Now focus on that point of brighter glow, with a shadow behind it,
half-way down the shaft--right there, straight over the back of the
right-hand lion at the foot of the Obelisk.”

I did as directed, fairly to gasp with astonishment as a tiny blur, so
indistinct as to go unnoticed by the passers-by on the Embankment,
sharpened to a long, yellow-ribbed pencil, with pin-points of
light--fireflies escorting a glow-worm--flashing out and disappearing
above and below and round about it.

“The first Zepp to get over London in six months,” I ejaculated
excitedly. “How long will she take to get here? Hadn’t we better get
away from the river and under cover? But no,” I went on, peering
through the glass again; “I don’t think she’s coming this way. Seems
to be standing still. Probably hovering over W----, the old
objective.”

“London! W----!” laughed Horne. “Do you realise that _you_ didn’t hear
any bombs, and that none of these people have any idea that there’s a
raiding Zeppelin, with shells bursting about it, squarely in their
range of vision? That fellow’s all of twenty-five miles away, and as
for its ‘hovering,’ you may rest assured that when you see a Zepp with
incendiary shells bursting _above_ it, it is either badly hit or else
doing seventy miles an hour toward the home hangars. As a matter of
fact, I’ve been expecting to see this fellow begin to drop at any
moment. He’s evidently run into better guns and gunners than he
counted on. Ah! No hope!” (Horne snatched his glass and turned it
quickly on the now agitated searchlight beam.) “He’s gone. Even the
light’s lost him.”

Horne turned around disgustedly, led the way to a bench by the curb,
pushed along a somnolent “match dame” to make room for him, and
wearily sat down.

“He’s slippery game--the Zepp,” he observed presently, after watching
the futile flounderings of the questing searchlight. “I didn’t tell
you, did I, that it was through trying to get a Zepp that I came that
last cropper of mine over Belgium?”

“You know perfectly well you didn’t,” I replied, folding a corner of
the old match-seller’s straggling cloak back over her knees and
sitting down in the space vacated. “Go to it.”

“I was starting on a reconnaissance over a corner of Belgium just as
the Zepp was returning from a raid over France. I got above him, and
just after I dropped my first bomb the ‘Archies’ opened up on me from
the ground and put me out at just about the first shot. Jolly nervy
work, with my machine only a couple of hundred feet above the Zepp. A
little too nervy, perhaps, for I’ve never been quite certain in my
own mind whether it was my bomb or one from the German guns which sent
the Zepp--not wrecked but pretty badly messed up--down into a
sugar-beet field. I headed----”

“Just a moment,” I interrupted, anticipating the end of the tale at
the end of Horne’s next breath. “You’re dumping over your story just
the way a Zeppelin under fire dumps over its bombs. Now please back up
and tell it properly. The night is young, the raiders are now headed
out to sea, and the lady and I are here to follow you to the end.”


III

Horne laughed uneasily, fumbled through his pockets in a vain search
for matches, filched a box from the tilted tray of our nodding
companion,--leaving a sixpence in its place,--lit his pipe, puffed
pensively for a minute or two; and even after all that preparation
made his beginning apologetic.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever told the yarn from the beginning,” he
said, “and I’m dead sure I’ve never said much about the end. If I
chatter a bit to-night, you’ll please check it up against the good
news I had a while ago--and the air. A man could pretty nearly walk on
the air as it has been to-day, and a machine would slide through it
like tearing silk. Funny thing, but it was in the dawn following
almost just such a night as this that I went off on the flight I have
spoken of.

“There are three main factors in flying,”--Horne spoke more freely
again as he digressed upon generalities,--“the man, the machine, and
the atmosphere. Theoretically, man and machine are supposed to be sent
out in perfect order, ready to take the air as they find it. There
_are_ days, of course, when you are ‘off’, your machine ‘cranky,’ and
the air all ‘heights’ and ‘hollows,’ and at such times there is pretty
sure to be a ‘stormy passage,’ if nothing worse. Usually, however,
it’s a fairly fit man and machine against indifferent air. But once or
twice a year there comes a period, like the last eighteen hours, when
the air is almost absolutely ‘homogeneous,’ and then, with his engine
running ‘sweet,’ the man has spells of fancying himself an ‘air god’
in fact as well as in name, and acts accordingly,--invariably either
to his own or his enemy’s sorrow.

“It was like that on the morning I am telling you about--man, machine,
and air all in harmony--yes, and with the usual result. I would have
remembered this flight for several reasons, even if the Zepp hadn’t
come along; for one, because of our ride down the wake of a ‘42’
shell; for another, on account of the terrific shelling they gave, or
tried to give us, as we passed over the German lines.

“The meeting with the shell was merely one of those freak experiences
that might happen to any one, or, just as well, never happen at all.
It was during the time I am speaking of that the Germans were amusing
themselves by a long-distance bombardment of N---- with their biggest
guns, and we--(I had an observation officer along, a chap named K----,
whom you may have heard of as a long-distance runner)--simply chanced
to meander into the path of one shell somewhere about the last quarter
of its trajectory. Watching from a distance, you can always see one of
these brutes go hurtling along, but this one we only heard,--and
felt,--and it was like two express trains, going in opposite
directions, passing at full speed. There was a strange soft sort of a
buzz, growing into a rushing roar inside of two or three seconds, a
blow from a solid wall of air that was like colliding with the side of
a house, and then, for two or three minutes, a series of bumps like
going over a corduroy road in a springless cart.

“I don’t know whether we interfered very much with the course of that
shell, but the shell pretty nearly brought _our_ flight to an end then
and there. Only the fact that we met the first big rush of air head-on
saved us. I wouldn’t have had one chance in a thousand of ‘correcting’
if it had caught us sideways--and even as it was, the machine, in
spite of its seventy-miles-an-hour headway, was stood up on its rudder
like a rearing horse. After that first ‘collision,’ our fluttering
flight down the wake of the ‘42’ was only ‘queer,’ but withal a
different sensation from anything I had ever experienced.

“I have no idea how close we passed to each-other. My impression of
the moment was that the distance was inside of fifty yards, though it
was doubtless really much greater. We were not, of course, going in
exactly opposite directions, for the shell must have been coming down
at a considerably greater angle than that at which we were going up.
Yet the ‘aerial surf’ stirred up by the passage of the Hun’s little
messenger of goodwill in that smooth stretch of atmosphere was heavy
and persistent enough to keep my machine wallowing for over a mile.

“The air was going by us in a swift, steady river as we neared the
German lines, and I never recall having been able to climb so quickly
and easily. Lucky it was, too, for the enemy--probably in anticipation
of a pursuit of their returning raiders--had their whole trench
‘hinterland’ planted with anti-aircraft guns, both stationary and
movable. There was one little strip that blossomed out like a poppy
garden as they opened up on us, and for a minute or so the smoke from
the spreading shell-bursts formed a good-sized little cloud of its
own. But they never had any real chance of getting us. My good little
engine, singing like the wind in the telephone wires, had enabled me
to get up over fourteen thousand feet without turning a hair and at
that height you’re a lot safer from shells in an aeroplane than from
taxis in crossing the Strand. K---- was feeling the altitude a bit, I
think; I saw him wiping blood from his nose and pressing his hands to
his ears, but he gave no signs of real distress. As for myself, beyond
a little swelling of the fingers and a drumming at the temples, I was
quite as usual.

“We passed over the main ‘bouquets’ of the ‘Archies’ without even
feeling the kick of the shells bursting beneath us; but in dropping
down to ten thousand feet a few miles beyond, we encountered an
unexpected ‘plant’ of them and the shrapnel bullets were flying all
about us for a minute or two. A score of neat little holes winked out
in the wings, and one friendly bit of a bullet--spent, but still hot
from its sharp flight--dropped gently into my lap and slightly singed
the fold of my coat in which it found lodgment. Then we left that
mare’s nest behind and the going grew smoother once more.

“It was only a few minutes later, and before any beginning had been
made on the work we had come for, that K---- picked up a Zepp through
his glass and began reporting its progress to me over the telephone.
At first it was flying very high, doubtless to keep above gun-fire in
crossing our lines. Once over, however, it came down rapidly,
probably, as K---- suggested, with the purpose of luring the pursuing
aeroplanes into easy range of the German ‘Archies.’ If that was the
plan, it was eminently successful; for K---- presently reported one of
our ‘chasers’ falling in flames, another planing for our own lines,
and two or three others turning back. I could see the marauder myself
by this time, and noted that it appeared to be heading off about
twenty-five degrees to the west of me, and flying already at a level
considerably lower than the twelve thousand feet I had run up to in
getting away from the last spasm of gun-fire.

“It was this commanding height, together with the fact that my engine
was running as sweetly as when it started, that determined me to take
a hand in the game at this juncture. Still keeping well up, I promptly
headed across to cut off the returning prodigal. For a minute or two
the Zepp either didn’t recognise me as ‘enemy,’ or else ignored me
entirely. But presently a sharp speeding up of its engines was
apparent, and for a moment I thought that it was going to challenge me
for a climbing contest, generally a Zepp’s first resort. But a few
seconds later it had altered its course through nearly half a quadrant
and headed off at top speed, at the same time beginning to descend at
what I figured was about an angle of ten per cent., or five hundred
feet to the mile. The ruse--to draw me down over some concealed line
of ‘Archies’ in that direction--was plain as day; but I had three
thousand feet of altitude to the good, power to burn, and, moreover,
was bitten deep for the moment with that ‘air-god’ bug I have spoken
of. It seemed as natural that I should chase Zepps as that a
fox-terrier should chase chickens. Without further thought, I accepted
the challenge and launched off in pursuit of the speeding ‘sausage.’

“It really never occurred to me to discuss the thing with K----, but,
like the trump he was, he never showed by word or sign that tilting at
airships had not been included in our orders. He, also, twigged the
game at once.

“‘Guns probably in that thick clump of trees by the little pond,’ his
far-away voice said over the telephone. ‘Best catch him as far this
side there as you can. One of his engines missing badly, and he’s not
going very fast.’

“With a quarter of an hour instead of a couple of minutes to work in,
I would have preferred to keep along on a comparatively high level,
and only descend, to drop my bombs, at an angle that would have kept
me pretty well out of the range of the Zepp’s guns. But K----’s
warning was too sound to be disregarded and, in this case, the
quickest way was also the only way. As it was, it was really almost a
nose-dive, and I did the first half of it with the throttle wide open.
So fast did we come up with the Zepp that it seemed almost as if a
giant had taken the big gas-bag in his hand and thrown it at us.

“The patter of machine-gun bullets sounded only for a second or
two--it wasn’t unlike walking over a lawn-sprinkler--and, so far as I
could see, did no harm. Then, cold as ice for the work in hand, I shot
straight down along the yellow spine of the airship, letting go a
couple of bombs before my terrific speed carried me beyond my mark.

“Now a perfect torrent of shrapnel burst out around me--the
smoke-tufts made the still distant clump of trees look like a cotton
field--and almost at the same instant there was a strong rush of air
from below. The machine teetered giddily on one wing-tip for a moment,
and I just managed to right it in time to free a hand to grab the tail
of K----’s coat as he, apparently unconscious, started to lurch over
the side. I don’t seem to have any very clear recollection of being
able to get him back into his seat at all.

“I didn’t have a chance for another good look at the Zepp; I only know
that it descended rapidly, although apparently not entirely out of
control. My machine, badly shot up as it was, still seemed to have a
good deal of ‘kick’ left, though the reek of petrol in the air wasn’t
an encouraging indication that its ‘vitality’ would continue. The
impetus of my descent quickly carried me out of range of that spiteful
but isolated little battery of ‘Archies’--luckily, too, in just the
direction I wanted to go.

“Just before I flew over the Zepp--it was while the machine-gun
bullets were still pattering, I have since recalled--K---- ’phoned me
the compass bearing of the nearest point of the Dutch boundary, and
said something about it being our only chance if things went wrong.
(That they had already ‘gone wrong’ with him he gave no hint.)
Strangely, the figures had stuck in my head, and it was in that
direction I sheered as soon as the machine was on an even keel again.
It was not far, thank heaven, and, partly planing, partly under the
power of that brave little half-fed engine, I somehow managed to keep
up long enough to clear the top wire of the boundary fence and pile up
in a heap in the hospitable silt of good old Holland.”

A dozen questions tumbled after each other off the tip of my eager
tongue, and the old “match dame,” who had snored peacefully all
through Horne’s even narration, stirred and muttered petulantly at the
unwonted disturbance. But Horne, rising and working his stiff joints,
essayed to answer all in a single breath.

“I don’t know how much harm was done to the Zepp, or whether it was I
or the Hun’s own ‘Archies’ that did it. K---- died in a Dutch
hospital, without regaining full consciousness, two days later. (It
was a bullet from one of the Zepp’s machine-guns that did for him.) I
can’t tell you how I managed to get out of Holland; and”--as a low
whistle sounded from Charing Cross and a hooded eye peeped cautiously
out of the black shed--“the trains are running again; so we may take
it that the little visitor we were watching is now out over the North
Sea and on its way home to bed. I think it’s high time that we
followed its good example on the latter score. Good-night and sweet
dreams, mother.” And he took my arm and began piloting me back to the
Strand to waylay a taxi.

       *       *       *       *       *

Horne has been back at work for a month now, and, so far as I have
heard, with no recurrence of ill luck. Last week I met another friend
from Argentina--a doctor, returned to “do his bit” with the Red Cross.
“Horne has made a brilliant success of his flying,” he said; “did he
tell you anything of his exploits?”

“Only a little about a brush with a Zeppelin,” I replied, “and scant
details of that.”

“That’s all he has ever told any one. Yet the Dutch patrol swear that
he came down in Holland with the tail of his half-dead observation
officer’s coat in his teeth (only thing that kept the chap from
falling out); and there is also every reason to believe that it was
his bombs that brought that Zepp down, and badly knocked up, too.
Either one of them would bring him anything from the Military Cross to
the V.C. if he would tell even the plain, unvarnished tale of it. But
the quixotic idiot made his report so confoundedly non-committal that
there was simply nothing for his commander to go by. Was hardly enough
to merit mention in dispatches the way it stood, much less to award a
decoration on. Queer thing, but they say they’ve had the same sort of
trouble with a number of the flying chaps. Seems to be a sort of cult
with them. Can’t say it’s a wholly bad one, either.”



SHARKS OF THE AIR


The sea raid, the land raid, the airship raid--this was the trio of
bugaboos under the menace of which Britain, uninvaded, almost
unthreatened, for a thousand years, stirred uneasily at the outbreak
of the war and turned anxious eyes toward the leaden mist curtain
which veiled the North Sea. Then the bulldog of the Navy after a
tentative snap or two, set its teeth in an ever-tightening
strangle-hold, and with the dying gasps of German sea-power the threat
of the sea and land raids disappeared for good. So far as England was
concerned, only the ways of the air were left open to Germany; only
the menace of the Zeppelin remained.

And when weeks had lengthened to months, and summer had given way to
autumn, and autumn to winter, without the threatened bombing from the
sky, the name of Zeppelin ceased to have interest for the stolid
Briton, now just awakening to the fact that he had a mighty task to
perform beyond the sea. Continued immunity bred contempt, and even the
fore-running aids of the spring of 1915 failed to stir London from
her impassive calm. By midsummer she was showing signs of being bored
with the whole subject, and the sky-searching antics of the comedians
in her packed music halls began to be greeted with yawns from the
stalls. She was becoming impatient of her darkened streets, and
captious “Pro Bono Publicos” wrote to the papers demanding more
illumination and a general return to “Business as Usual.”

The “authorities” still kept up a pretence of preparedness. The
so-called anti-aircraft guns--really a nondescript lot of ordnance,
left over after the fittest of the few available pieces had been
requisitioned for use in France, on the coast, or by the Navy--still
had their crews of half-trained amateurs, and the golden beams of the
searchlights continued to whirl and dip and curtsey in their nocturnal
minuets. Buckets of water and boxes of sand stood ready for emergency
use in the art galleries and museums, and on the hoardings conspicuous
posters gave with meticulous articularity instructions as to how one
should act if Zeppelin bombs began raining in his vicinity. At the
first sight of a hostile airship, we were told, we should repair at
once to the nearest cellar, and in case a smarting sensation in the
nostrils indicated the release of deleterious gas, the mouth and nose
should be covered with a moist double bandage containing a layer of
carbonate of soda. Some of the pharmacies displayed patent anti-gas
respirators in their windows, but none would admit ever having had an
inquiry for one.

“We’ve got a war to fight. Zepps ain’t war; fergit ’em.” So a London
bus conductor summed up the situation to me, and so seemed to feel the
majority of his fellow townsmen of all classes.

Such, as regards Zeppelins, was the spirit of “London and the Eastern
Counties”--to use the official phrase--as the summer of 1915 waxed and
began to wane. Something of how this spirit met the trying events of
the months which followed, I shall try to show by a few extracts from
my journal. In deference to the wishes of the British Censorship the
names of several points in London have been slightly altered.


I

                                          On Board Yacht ----
                                           _en voyage,_
                                     Wroxham Broad to Hickling Broad.

                                                        _August--._

We sailed and poled along the river and canal yesterday, and in the
afternoon moored to the bank at this point, which is but a mile or two
from the North Sea. The morning papers, which we picked up as we
passed through the little village of Potter Heigham, contained an
official bulletin telling of a Zeppelin raid on the “Eastern Counties”
the previous night; and later in the day word was brought us that
Lowestoft, the great trawlers’ port about twenty miles to the
south-east, had been heavily bombed. A second raid in this vicinity
seemed, therefore, anything but likely.

The afternoon closed in one of those characteristic butterfly chases
of sunshine and showers so familiar to the August _voyageur_ on The
Broads, and, lounging at ease on deck after dinner, we had watched the
twilight aeroplane patrol, stencilled in black silhouette against the
glowing western clouds, pass north from Yarmouth to meet its fellow
from the Cromer hangars. A half-hour later the sharp staccato of its
engine, rather than its blurred image against the paling afterglow,
told us of its homeward flight.

It was a good two hours after the drumming of the aeroplane’s engine
had ceased to be heard that a strange new sound became audible, first
distantly, in the puffs of the quickening night breeze, soon more
imminent and with steady insistence. It was apparently the booming
explosions of powerful gas engines, and presently, blending with this,
could be distinguished a buzzing clackity-clack that suggested
whirring propellers.

“Another aeroplane,” suggested one. “A fleet of aeroplanes,” hazarded
another. “A dirigible threshing-machine,” opined a third. And, judging
by the now almost overpowering rush of sound, the latter was nearest
to the truth.

The whole universe seemed to have resolved itself into one mighty
roar, and I distinctly recall that the mainsail halyard by which I
steadied myself vibrated to the beat of the pulsating grind from
above. For a moment--sensing rather than seeing--I was aware of a
great black bulk blotting out the stars above the river, and then,
stabbing the darkness like a flaming sword, the yellow flash of a
search light leapt forth from the dusky void and ran in swift zigzags
back and forth across the marshes and canals beneath. Now a herd of
cows could be seen staggering dazedly to their feet, now the startled
bridge-players on the deck of the houseboat moored above were
revealed, and now our own eyes blinked blindly in the yellow glare
before the questing shaft darted on down the river to spot-light an
eel-fisher’s shanty on the dyke and the gaunt frame of a towering
Dutch windmill beyond.

Now it found the sharp right-angling bend of the river, quivered there
for a second or two and then flashed out, leaving a blanker blackness
behind. At almost the same instant the “Thing of Terror”--a hurtling
mass of roaring engines and clattering propellers--shot by overhead,
followed by a confused wake of conflicting air-currents. It passed
straight down above the middle of the river at a height of not over
300 feet, and beneath the dimly guessed bulk of it bright chinks and
squares of light, broken by the shadows of moving men, plotted the
lines of two under-slung cars. A Zeppelin had passed almost within a
stone’s throw.

The lights of the car leaped sharply upward almost as soon as the bend
of the river was reached, and at the end of a couple of minutes the
roar of the engines dwindled to a distant buzz and died away
completely. Ten minutes passed, during which the old eel-fisher went
on stringing his traps across the river and the house-boaters resumed
their interrupted bridge. Then a red signal light flashed out in the
heavens in the direction of Yarmouth, and at almost the same moment,
clear and sharp, came the sound of furious light-artillery fire. This
lasted for only a minute or two, and there was another eight- or
ten-minute interval before a still more distant sound of gun-fire
became faintly audible. Drowning the crack of these latest shots
suddenly came the roll of a heavy boom, quickly to be followed by
another, and another, and another, until a dozen or more had sounded.
Then the peaceful silence of the early evening resumed its sway.

The eel-fisher finished sinking his traps before paddling up the
gangway of the yacht and venturing a casual inquiry as to whether or
not we had “chanct to see the Zepp.” “’Er do this onct befoor,” he
chirruped. “’Er gets bearin’s from ’e’ riv’r an’ then ’eds off fu
No’ich o’ Ya’muth. I be thinkin’ if ’er knowed this grouse moor
b’longed tu Ser Edderd Grey, ’er’d a bombed it good as ’er goed by.”

This morning the London papers have the bulletin of still another raid
on the “Eastern Counties,” with a good many casualties; also an
account of how a Zeppelin was brought down in the North Sea and
destroyed by aeroplanes from Nieuport.


II

LONDON, _September_--.

Yesterday’s papers had the usual account of an air raid on the
“Eastern Counties,” and during the day word was passed round that
this had consisted of an attempt to bomb the Woolwich Arsenal. This
morning they have finally had to add “and London” to the regular
formula, as last night, for the first time, bombs were dropped upon
the heart of the city and seven million people watched the whole
performance. It was the nearest thing to their promised “big raid”
that the Germans have yet brought off, and to-day London--in the
defence of the metropolitan area of which guns were fired for the
first time in many hundreds of years--appears to have declared a sort
of informal half-holiday to note the consequences.

To Londoners, a Zeppelin raid appears to be a good deal like the
paradoxical “man-sitting-on-the-pin” joke--it is funniest to those who
miss the point. To the ones in the swath of the raid, like the one who
sits on the pin, it is anything but a laughing matter. “But the swath
of the raid is so narrow, London so broad; the killed so few,
Londoners so many. If this is the worst the Huns can do, on with
‘Business as Usual!’” There is no denying that this epitomises the
spirit of London--even as it mourns its dead--on the morrow of the
first great air raid of history. For myself, I must admit that I was
rather too near the point of the pin, and have since seen rather too
many of the “pin-pricks,” to be able to look at the diversion from
quite the standpoint of the great majority.

Last night was clear, calm, and moonless--ideal Zeppelin
conditions--and walking down from my hotel to the Coliseum at eight
o’clock, I noticed that the searchlights were turning the dome of the
sky into one great kaleidoscope with their weaving bands of
brightness. The warming-up drill was over as I entered the music hall,
and, returning home at the end of the “top-liner’s” act, I picked my
precarious way by the light of the stars and the diffused halos of
what had once been street lamps. I was in bed by a quarter to eleven,
and it was but a few moments later that the distant but unmistakable
boom of a bomb smote upon my unpillowed ear. I was at my east-facing
window with a jump, and an instant later the opaque curtain of the
night was being slashed to ribbons by the awakening searchlights.

For a minute or two, all of them seemed to be reeling blind and large
across the empty heavens, and then, guided by the nearing explosions,
one after another they veered off to the east and focussed in a great
cone of light where two or three slender slivers of vivid brightness
were gliding nearer above the dim bulks of the domes and spires of
the “City.”

Swiftly, undeviatingly, relentlessly, these little pale yellow dabs
came on, carrying with them, as by a sort of magnetic attraction, the
tip of the cone formed by the converged beams of the searchlights.
Nearer and louder sounded the detonations of the bombs. Now they burst
in salvos of threes and fours; now singly at intervals, but with never
more than a few seconds between. Always a splash of lurid light
preceded the sound of the explosion, in most instances to be followed
by the quick leap of flames against the skyline. Many of these fires
died away quickly,--sometimes through lack of fuel, as in a
stone-paved court; more often through being subdued by the firemen,
scores of whose engines could be heard clanging through the
streets,--others waxed bright and spread until the yellow shafts of
the searchlights paled against the heightening glow of the eastern
heavens.

The wooden clackity-clack of the raiders’ propellers came to my ears
at about the same moment that the sparkling trail of the fuse of an
incendiary bomb against the loom of a familiar spire roughly located
the van of the attack as now about half a mile distant. After that,
things happened so fast that my recollections, though photographically
vivid, are somewhat disconnected. My last “calmly calculative” act was
to measure one of the on-coming airships--then at about twenty-five
degrees from directly overhead--between the thumb and forefinger of my
outstretched right hand, these, extended to their utmost, framing the
considerably foreshortened gas-bag with about a half-inch to spare.

Up to this moment, the almost undeviating line of flight pursued by
the approaching Zeppelins appeared as likely to carry them on one side
of my coign of vantage as the other; that is to say, they _seemed_ not
unlikely to be going to pass directly overhead. It was at this
juncture, not unnaturally, that it occurred to me that the
basement--for the next minute or two at least--would be vastly
preferable, for any but observation purposes, to my top-floor window.
Before I could translate this discretionary impulse into action,
however, a small but brilliant light winked twice or thrice from below
the leading airship, and a point or two of change was made in the
course, with the possible purpose (it has since occurred to me) of
swinging across the great group of conjoined railway termini a
half-mile or so to the north. This meant that the swath of the bombs
would be cut at least a hundred yards to the north-east, and, impelled
by the fascination of the unfolding spectacle, I remained at my
window.

During the next half-minute the bombs fell singly at three-or
four-second intervals. Then the blinking light flashed out under the
leader again,--probably the order for “rapid fire,”--and immediately
afterwards a number of sputtering fire-trails--not unlike the wakes of
meteors--lengthened downward from beneath each of the two airships. (I
might explain that I did not see more than two Zeppelins at any one
time, though some have claimed to have seen three.)

Immediately following the release of the bombs, the lines of fire
streamed in a forward curve, but from about halfway down their fall
was almost perpendicular. As they neared the earth, the hiss of cloven
air--similar to but not so high-keyed as the shriek of a shell--became
audible, and a second or two later the flash of the explosion and the
rolling boom were practically simultaneous.

Between eight and a dozen bombs fell in a length of five blocks, and
at a distance of from one to three hundred yards from my window, the
echoes of one explosion mingling with the burst of the next. Broken
glass tinkled down to the left and right, and a fragment of slate
from the roof shattered upon my balcony. But the most remarkable
phenomenon was the rush of air from, or rather to, the explosion. With
each detonation I leaned forward instinctively and braced myself for a
blow on the chest, and lo--it descended upon my back. The same
mysterious force burst inward my half-latched door, and all down one
side of the square curtains were streaming outward from open or broken
windows. (I did not sit down and ponder the question at the moment,
but the phenomenon is readily explained by the fact that, because the
force of the explosives used in Zeppelin bombs is invariably exerted
upwards, the air from the lower level is drawn in to fill the vacuum
thus created. This also accounts for the fact that all of the window
glass shattered by the raiders has fallen on the sidewalks instead of
inside the rooms.)

Tremendous as was the spectacle of the long line of fires extending
out of eyescope to the City and beyond, there is no denying that the
dominating feature of the climax of the raid was the Zeppelins
themselves. Emboldened perhaps, by the absence of gun-fire, these had
slowed down for their parting salvo so as to be almost “hovering” when
the bombs were dropped opposite my vantage point. Brilliantly
illuminated by the searchlights, whose beams wove about below them
like the ribbons in a Maypole dance, the clean lines of their gaunt
frameworks stood out like bas-reliefs in yellow wax. Every now and
then one of them would lurch violently upward,--probably at the
release of a heavy bomb,--but, controlled by rudders and planes, the
movement had much of the easy power of the dart of a great fish.
Indeed, there was strong suggestion of something strangely familiar in
the lithe grace of those sleek yellow bodies, in the swift swayings
and rightings, in the powerful guiding movements of those hinged
“tails,” and all at once the picture of a gaunt “man-eater” nosing his
terribly purposeful way below the keel of a South-Sea pearler flashed
to my mind, and the words “Sharks! Sharks of the air!” leaped to my
lips.

While the marauders still floated with bare steerage-way in flaunting
disdain, the inexplicably delayed firing order to the guns was flashed
around, and--like a pack of dogs baying the moon, and with scarcely
more effect--London’s “air defence” came into action. Everything from
machine-guns to three-and four-inchers,--not one in the lot built for
anti-aircraft work,--belched forth the best it had. Up went the
bullets and shrapnel, and down they came again, down on the roofs and
streets of London. Far, far below the contemptuous airships the little
stars of bursting shrapnel spat forth their steel bullets in spiteful
impotence, and back they rained on the tiles and cobbles.

Suddenly a gruffer growl burst forth from the yelping pack, as the
gunners of some hitherto unleashed piece of ordnance received orders
to join the attack. At the first shot a star-burst pricked the night
in the rear of the second airship, and well on a line with it; a
second exploded fairly above it; and then--all at once I was conscious
that the searchlights were playing on a swelling cloud of white mist
which was trailing away into the north-east. The Zeppelin had
evidently taken a leaf from the book of the squid.

The tinkle of shrapnel bullets on the roof sent me down at this
juncture to join the gathering of my fellow guests on the ground
floor, where, on the manager’s calling attention to the fact that my
knees were shaking from the cold, I was glad to avail myself of the
loan of his overcoat. I was not unappreciative of his delicacy in
attributing the undeniable shiver in my frame to the cold, and I have
not yet entirely made up my mind just to what extent the chill night
air, standing in a twisted and cramped position in order to look up,
and sheer funk shared the responsibility for it.

I have been under shell-fire on several occasions, and I confess quite
frankly that I never before felt anywhere near so “panicky” as during
that long half-minute in which the airships appeared certain to pass
directly overhead. The explanation of this, it seems to me, may be
found in the fact that, in the trenches or in a fort which is under
fire, one is among cool, determined, and often callous men who are
meeting the expected as a part of the day’s work, while in a Zeppelin
raid one is more or less unconsciously affected by the unexpectedness
of it, and by the very natural terror of the unhardened
non-combatants. At any rate, to say that there was not a very
contagious brand of terror “in the air” in the immediate vicinity of
the swath of last night’s raid would be to say something that was not
true of my own neighbourhood.

As soon as the firing ceased I slipped into my street clothes and
hurried out, reaching the “Square” perhaps ten minutes after the last
bomb had fallen. That terror still brooded was evident from the white,
anxious faces at street doors and basement gratings, but a mounting
spirit was recorded in the gratuitous advice shouted out by the
“Boots” at a hotel entrance to a portly and not un-Teutonic-looking
gentleman who went puffing under a street-light.

“No use hurryin’, mister,” chirped the young irrepressible. “Last Zepp
fer Berlin’s just pulled out.”

At the end of a block my feet were crunching glass at every step, and
a few moments later I was in the direct track of the raid. By a
strange chance--it is impossible that it could have happened by
intent--that last fierce rain of bombs had descended upon the one part
of London where the hospitals stand thicker than in any other; and
yet, while every one of these was windowless and scarred from
explosions in streets and adjacent squares, not one appeared to have
been hit. One large building devoted entirely to nervous disorders was
a bedlam of hysteria, and the nurses are said to have had a terrible
time in getting their patients in hand. From another, given over to
infantile paralysis, hip-disease, and other ailments of children, came
a pitiful chorus of wails in baby treble. The other hospitals,
including one or two foreign ones, appeared to be proceeding quietly
with their share of the work of succour, receiving and caring for the
victims as fast as they could be hurried in.

The fires, except for a couple of wide glows in the direction of the
City and a gay geyser of flame from a broken gas main in the next
block, had disappeared as by magic, and most of the places where bombs
had dropped in this vicinity could be located only by the little knots
of people before the barred doors, or by following a line of hose from
an engine.

Except for an occasional covered stretcher being borne out to a
waiting ambulance, the killed and maimed were little in evidence; and
but for a chance encounter with a friend who was doing some sort of
volunteer surgical work, I should have failed entirely to have an
intimate glimpse of the grimmer side of the raid. I jostled him at a
barrier where the crowd was being held back from a bombed tenement,
and he pressed me into service forthwith.

“They are trying to uncover some kiddies on the second floor. Four of
them--all in one room,” he explained. “Two floors above smashed in on
them. Everybody fagged out, and I’m after some brandy to buck ’em up.
You’re fresh. Take this armlet and tell the police at the door I sent
you.”

The little lettered khaki band passed me by the police cordon, and I
found myself in the lantern-lighted hallway of a rickety brick
building such as they erected as tenements in London thirty or forty
years ago. Two blanket-covered bodies lay on the floor waiting to be
removed to the morgue, and a third, hideously mangled, but still
breathing, was being hastily bandaged by a doctor before sending on to
the hospital. A dozen children were crying in a room which opened off
the hall, and there, too, a hysterical woman in a nightgown, her face
and hands streaming blood, was being restrained by a couple of
uniformed police-women from rushing up the sagging stairway.

A fireman who had collapsed on the floor gave me his axe, and a
special constable with a lantern guided me up the quaking stairs to a
little back flat, where several men, distinguished by armlets as some
kind of volunteers, were hacking away at the pile of _débris_ which
filled most of one of the rooms. Four children had been sleeping in
that room, explained the policeman, and one of them had been heard
whimpering a while back. There was no light but a lantern and a flash
torch, he added, and every one was dead played out; but just the same,
they were going to stick to it as long as there was a chance that the
“nipper” was alive.

This must have been somewhere around midnight, and it was by the first
light of dawn leaking in through the shattered beams and rafters that
we reached the last of the little bruised bodies buried under the
_débris_. The ghastly interval between was in many respects the most
trying I have ever experienced. Somebody’s strength, or nerves, or
courage was giving way every few minutes, and there was one dreadful
quarter hour during which we all had to knock off and help hold down
the now stark-mad mother who had somehow escaped from the room below.
For our reward we found that the youngest child was breathing, and
might continue to do so, according to the doctor, for several hours.
Its two brothers and its sister had mercifully been killed outright in
the first crash.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Same day_, 7.30 P.M.

I wrote the foregoing after a couple of hours of sleep; then went out
and spent the rest of the day back-tracking the raiders. As the swath
was largely cut through the tenement and slum districts of the East
End, the property damage was not great, but, for the same reason, the
loss of life must have been considerable. Pathetic little
funerals--the kind one sees advertised on posters of enterprising
Shoreditch and Whitechapel undertakers as costing two pounds ten
shillings, with hearse and two carriages, with an extra carriage
added for an even three pounds--were to be seen here and there; but
withal there was a remarkable absence of “hate” observable in the
crowds that thronged from far and near to view the work of the
nocturnal visitors from beyond the North Sea.

It is, indeed, well said that the Briton is a poor hater, and almost
the only evidence that I could see of his being stirred by the events
of last night was in the heightened activity of recruiting. The astute
authorities, quick to see the advantage of taking the tide at flood,
kept speakers--both civilians and soldiers--all day at the barriers
where the crowds were held back in the vicinities of the points
bombed, and many hitherto wavering volunteers were gathered in as a
consequence. Here and there threatening crowds gathered in front of
bakeries and butcher shops which bore German names; but their leaders
were half-tipsy cockney dames whom the ever imperturbable “Bobbies”
had no trouble in hustling on out of the way. No, stubborn fighter
that he is, the Briton is only the most indifferent of haters.


III

From the time of the big raid, in early September, until the second
week in October there was not a single night on which the moon, wind,
clouds, or some combination of meteorological conditions was not
unfavourable to Zeppelin action, and it was not until this date that
they tried to come again. Although rather nearer than before to two or
three of the explosions, I had no such opportunity to view the
progress of the raid as on the previous occasion, and this latest
bombing is, perhaps, most memorable to me as having served to shake
the monumental calm of two of the most famous and impressive of all
London’s institutions, the “Bobby” and the Frivolity chorus girl. I
turn again to my journal.

       *       *       *       *       *

LONDON, _October_--

I was at the Frivolity last night with my friend Captain J----, of the
Royal Artillery, home from France on a week’s leave, to see an
oculist. About nine-thirty the nearing boom of heavy explosions
heralded another Zeppelin attack. I started for the door at once, but
J----, an old Londoner, pulled me down into my stall by the coat-tail,
dryly observing that, right before us under the Frivolity footlights,
there was transpiring an infinitely more epochal event than anything
that could possibly be seen outside.

“We have had other Zeppelin raids,” he shouted close to my ear, to
make himself heard above the uneasy bustle which filled the theatre as
the bombs boomed more imminent, “but never before in history has man
beheld the Frivolity chorus shaken from its traditional languor. But
now look! They faint to left and right, and I’m jolly certain that
M---- doesn’t get her cue to embrace G---- until the next act. ’Pon my
word, I never expected to live to see the waters of this fount of
brides for the British peerage so disturbed.” J----’s voice trailed
off into wondering speechlessness.

“Boom!” This time it was close at hand, and the rattle of falling
_débris_ could be heard above the discordant wail of the mechanically
labouring orchestra. Utterly unable to sit still any longer, I shook
off J----’s restraining arm, and reached a side exit just as two
bombs fell in quick succession, a hundred yards up the Avenue. Again I
was conscious of those strange rushes of air from the “wrong”
direction which I had experienced during the previous raid. The panes
of the upper windows shivered to bits, but the fragments, striking the
reinforced glass of the marquee, were robbed of their force before
they had caromed to the sidewalk.

On both sides of the Avenue glass was falling in countless tons,--in
one great corner building alone 25,000 pounds of plate glass are
estimated to have been shattered,--and there is no doubt that many
were killed and injured by being caught under the vitreous avalanche.

Almost immediately three or four more bombs fell beyond the Avenue,
there was another crescendo of falling glass, and then a lone
Zeppelin--apparently at the end of its ammunition--headed up and off
to the north-east pursued by a single searchlight beam and a
scattering gun-fire.

The Frivolity chorus, having been soothed and revived, resumed its
wonted demeanour and took up the dropped thread of the performance,
and J----, no longer held a fascinated captor by the wonder of its
lapse, joined me on the sidewalk to see what had been happening
outside. It is a remarkable fact that the great majority of the
audience, many of whom had not stirred from their seat, elected to
remain and see the show out. From the three theatres opposite,
however, one of which had been struck, considerable numbers were
pouring forth. But not in all the now dense crowd in the Avenue were
there the symptoms of a panic.

As we stepped from the curb something tinkled against my foot. Picking
it up, it turned out to be a still warm piece of torn steel which
J---- identified at once as a fragment of the casing of an incendiary
bomb. It was not over an eighth of an inch thick, but of such
superlative quality that it rang like a silver bell even to the tap of
a finger-nail. A far more murderous fragment of shivered metal, which
J---- kicked into a few minutes later, was a piece of shrapnel casing,
and there is no doubt that the casualties from anti-aircraft-gun
projectiles are very considerable.

The police and fire department work was even more remarkable than in
the September raid. Not a single tell-tale glow marked the path by
which the Zeppelin had come, and the only fire in our immediate
vicinity was the spout from another sundered gas main. Barriers
already shut off the crowds from the points where the worst damage had
been done, and the work of removing the dead and wounded was being
carried on quickly and expeditiously.

A bomb falling in the Avenue midway between a motor bus and a taxi had
taken a heavy toll of the passengers of both, while the two vehicles,
still standing upright, had been flattened until their appearance was
not unlike that of their respective “property” prototypes occasionally
employed to give perspective to the stage-setting of a street. A dozen
or more dead and wounded lay in a row in front of a gin palace which
had collapsed under a bomb; but, as far as we could see or learn,
there had been little, if any, loss of life in the historic old
theatre which had been struck.

A sinister coincidence had landed one bomb on a temporary wooden
building occupied as Belgian Refugee headquarters. Miraculously
however, although the rickety frame was blown quite out of shape, no
fire was started among the small mountains of highly inflammable
baggage on which the bomb exploded.

“The ’Uns ain’t satisfied with wot they did to ’em in Belg’um,”
snorted an indignant coster, viewing the wreck; “the baby-killers ’ad
to follow ’em to Lunnon.” This was, I believe, about the nearest thing
to “hate” that I heard expressed during the several hours we mingled
with the crowds on the streets.

Faring on down the “bomb-track” into that historic section of Old
London which lies to the east of the Avenue, we came upon an
apparition quite as astounding to me as the spectacle of the “panicky”
Frivolity girls had been to J----. It was nothing less than a London
police constable, hatless, breathless, and so little master of himself
that he was unable to respond with the customary “First to the right,
second to the left, and so on” formula when we asked him the way to
the B---- Court, where we had heard there had been heavy damage.
Slamming down on the pavement a heavy burden which he carried by a
loop of wire, he began jabbering something to the effect that the
“bloomin’ pill” came down “’arf a rod” from where he stood, and that
orders called for the instant fetching of all “evidences” to the
nearest station. I switched on my electric-torch--everybody here has
carried them since the streets were darkened,--to recoil before the
sight of the pear-shaped cone of dented steel toppled over on the
cobbles at my feet.

“Good heavens, man, you’ve got an unexploded bomb!” I gasped, backing
against the wall. “What do you mean by slamming it around in that
way?”

“If she didn’t go off after fallin’ from the sky, I fancy she can
stand a drop of a few inches,” was the reply. “It isn’t ’avin’ ’er
’ere, sir, that gets my nerves. They went to pieces when she came down
and bounced along the pavement in front of where I stood.”

“Perhaps she has a time fuse, set to go off when she gets a crowd
around her,” said the irrepressible J---- by way of encouragement.
“The Huns are adepts at just such forms of subtlety. Better leave her
alone for a spell.”

Shaking in every limb, but still resolved to carry out “orders” to the
last, the doughty chap slipped his bleeding fingers through the wire
loop and trudged off on his way to the station, staggering under the
weight of half a hundred pounds of “T.N.T.”[3] That he reached there
without mishap is evidenced by a flashlight in one of the “penny
pictorials” this morning showing both him and his booty at the wicket
of the B---- Street Police Station.

    [3] Trinitrotoluol.

Two or three times during the next couple of hours searchlights
flashed out to the east and south, and the blink of shrapnel bursting
under barely defined patches of pale yellow indicated that the raid
was an ambitious one, participated in by many airships. The heart of
the city, however, was not reached again. I have it on good authority
this morning that a number of bombs were exploded on the works at
Woolwich, but, even if true, this only goes to show that Britain’s
great arsenal, if not less, is at least not more vulnerable than the
non-military areas.

If possible, London took this latest raid even more calmly than the
previous one, and the level-headed practicality of the remark of the
bus conductor I have quoted--“We’ve got a war to fight. Zepps ain’t
war; fergit ’em!”--may be taken as fairly representing the frame of
mind in which the metropolis awaits the really frightful visitation
that Germany has promised.

For three months following the October visitation there were no
further air raids on England, and it was known that this immunity was
due to one or more of four things: the strengthening of Britain’s
anti-aircraft defences, unfavourable weather, the efficacy of the
Allies’ reprisals on South German cities, or a dawning realisation on
the part of Germany that the maximum physical damage which can
possibly be inflicted on Great Britain by air raids can never be more
than an insignificant fraction of the damage done to the Teutonic
cause as a consequence of resorting to this form of terrorism.

As weeks lengthened to months without an attack--even though incessant
reports from a score of sources told of feverish Zeppelin construction
in all parts of the Kaiser’s dominions--there awakened a hope in the
breasts of Germany’s enemies and her friends that the humanitarian
consideration had been the moving one. This hope was rudely
crushed by the mid-January aeroplane raid--evidently a scouting
reconnaissance--upon Kent, and the renewed Zeppelin attacks on Paris
and the Midland counties. Subject only to the weather, then, and to
such defensive measures as may be taken in France and England, we now
know that this least warranted and most cruel of all forms of Teutonic
“frightfulness” may be expected to continue until the end of the war.



TO BRITISH MERCHANT CAPTAINS


All yesterday evening I came upon little knots of sailor men gathered
along the quay or at the corners of the streets of Harwich and
Dovercourt. Their weather-beaten parchment-brown faces were drawn and
troubled, and they spoke in the jerkily lowered voices of men not wont
to hold their tongues or passions in restraining leash. There was
something in the half-stunned, half-angry looks suggestive of the
expressions I had seen on the faces of the sailors at a North Wales
port on the evening that a carelessly-framed despatch had tricked them
into transient belief that the British Fleet had been beaten by the
Germans in the North Sea. But I had been with naval men all afternoon,
and knew that there was nothing fresh to report from behind the grey
fog-curtain to the north. The trouble was of another kind, but from
past experience I knew that the moment when the British sailor man
spoke through clenched teeth in those jerkily lowered tones, with his
brow corrugated in mahogany wrinkles of perturbation and his blue eyes
fixed absently on the fingers of his working hands, was not the one
for even the most sympathetically curious to intrude upon him.

Enlightenment came later, when I asked the maid who lowered the
shutters and drew the double curtains of my room in the little hotel
on the Dovercourt cliff, why it was that the children playing in a
narrow street that branched off diagonally below my window hushed
their voices and tiptoed as they came down toward the seaward end, and
why many of even belated and hurrying delivery carts were pulling up
and taking another way on their clattering rounds.

“Is somebody sick?” I asked, “or is one of the neighbours dead?”

“Didn’t you know, sir?” faltered the girl. “That is Captain Fryatt’s
’ome down there. It’s the little red-brick ’ouse--the fourth or fifth
from the corner, sir. We all o’ us ’ere knew ’im, sir, an’ loved ’im;
an’--you’ll excuse me, sir” (her voice broke for a moment and the
starting tears glistened in the flickering light of her candle)--“but
I was thinkin’ o’ the missus an’ the nippers. They’s waitin’ down
there for more news from Belg’um. I hates to think o’ ’em, sir. It
makes me want to scream an’--an’ to fight. I’ll be going now, sir; it
gets me all wrought up w’en I talks about it.”

It came to me all at once what those stunned angry sailors on the
street were talking of, and the hot wave of indignation--checked for
an hour or two by the excitement of meeting and boarding a returning
submarine--that had surged over me that afternoon when I first read
the news of Captain Fryatt’s execution in the paper, welled up anew
inside me and throbbed against my temples. I was conscious of the
passing of one of a class of men whom I had learned to know and love
during many years of intimate association--in craft stout and frail,
on seas fair and stormy--and the fact that the death of this man had
been compassed with a cold-blooded cynicism scarcely paralleled in
modern history brought the significance of it home to me with especial
poignancy. In a dull sort of way I had been conscious of a similar
feeling every time I had read of the loss of merchant officers and
crews from the inauguration of the submarine campaign, but only now
had I come to understand how much of a hold these same sailor men had
on my affection, what parts they had played in scores of the vivid
incidents of my life that I cared most to dwell upon in memory.

Three of the last ten years of my life had been spent upon the sea, I
reflected, and of this time perhaps six months had been put in on one
or another of the “floating palaces” of the main tourist routes, and
not more than that aboard ships under the German, French, Dutch, or
American flag. That left a good two years--more than seven hundred
days and nights--spent aboard the smaller British merchantmen--tramps,
coasters, colliers, traders, flat-bottomed river stern-wheelers--in
out-of-the-way water-lanes of the world.

Two years of my life--and what treasured years they were, too!--spent
in the care of the bold, bluff, bronzed British merchant captains who
drove “the swift shuttles of an Empire’s loom.” What strange seas they
had steered me through, and what strange corners in the ports that
served those seas! And what adventures they had run me into, and what
scrapes got me out of! And what courtesy, what consideration--aye,
even what tenderness in times of misadventure and sickness--had I not
enjoyed at their hands!

Pulling on my cardigan jacket, I “stood-by” at the hour of
one--midnight by the sun-time, by which the ships of the sea still
sail--and at the instant when the steamers in the harbour would have
been sounding “Eight bells” had there been no lurking Zeppelins to
guard against, leaned out of the open window till the indrifting fog
blew sharp against my face and began my “watch.”

Just so--with a rough blue sleeve brushing against my own--had I
leaned over the bridge or taffrail of a hundred steamers ploughing a
hundred sea-ways, and now, with the familiar breath of the sea in my
nostrils and the familiar mist of the sea damping my hair again, old
friends of other days strode down the corridors of memory and ranged
themselves, one at a time, by my side. At first I tried to muster them
chronologically, in the order I had known them from my first tentative
coastal voyages in the Pacific--(B----, of the Vancouver-Seattle
packet, who let me sleep on his cabin couch one night when the rooms
were all taken in order that I might be rested for the tennis
tournament I was engaging in at Tacoma on the morrow; R----, of the
old Alaska “Inland Passage” coaster, who taught me to “box” the
compass and awoke the slumbering love o’ the sea in my blood with
tales of the Victoria sealing fleet; P----, of the Mexican trader, who
smuggled me out of Guaymas when the Sonora authorities were trying to
arrest me for landing on Tiburon without a permit)--but presently the
magnet of my quickened memory began drawing them forward out of turn,
and ere long they were crowding on like guests at a reception.

Now I would think of the bravery of them, and instantly a series of
pictures took shape before my eyes, a score of names leapt to my lips,
a score of hands--hard brown hands, with a world of warmth in their
steady grip--reached out to clasp my own. Who was the bravest among
men that had all been brave? I asked myself; and then how the pictures
formed and dissolved as one stirring incident after another flashed
across my mind! What could have been finer than the way Captain K----,
of that cranky clipper-bowed old “C.N.” steamer, had stuck out that
typhoon off Taiwan, lashed to the bridge for three days, and
subsisting on coffee and rum and pilot bread? I could see his
brine-white face (as I saw it when I took a timid peep up the
companion way on the day the “twister” began to die down) taking shape
out there in the drifting fog even as the recollection of that
fearsome storm crystallised in my memory, and then fancy turned
another cog, and it was a sun-blistered South Pacific trader that I
seemed to see, with a sallow, fever-wracked figure at the wheel, and
two or three dozen naked blacks writhing in agony on the forrard deck.
How old B----, of the _Cora Andrews_, took his load of plague-stricken
Papuans through the Barrier Reef and into the quarantine station at
Townsville is a South Sea epic.

Then came memories with a more personal touch, and I dwelt for a few
moments over the shifting scenes of the mix-up I started the time I
tried to take a flashlight of the smokers in the “Opium Den” of the
old _Yo San_, plying on the Hongkong-Bangkok run. Some of the Chinese
crew were smuggling opium that voyage, and, taking me for a Secret
Service officer on search, started to wipe up the deck with my
protesting anatomy. Curled round my camera under a bunk in the corner
of the opium den, with nothing but the fact that my assailants were so
numerous that they got in each other’s way saving me from instant
annihilation, and expecting every moment that one of them would gather
his wits together sufficiently to pounce down on me through the slats,
I cowered in terror, and was ever music sweeter than the raucous
bellow of bluff old Captain G---- when, cursing like a pirate and
banging right and left with the belaying pins he held in either hand,
he ploughed his way into the den and yanked me out by the scruff of
the neck. Poor old G----! he was lost with his ship two voyages later,
when the ancient _Yo San_ was piled up by a typhoon on the Tongking
coast.

Then the recollection of the ignominious way in which old G---- had
pulled me out from under the bunk by the coat collar recalled the time
when another British skipper--his command was only a “P.S.N.C.” tender
in Valparaiso, and I had long since forgotten his name--saved my life
by handling me in quite the same unceremonious manner. The schooner on
which I had planned to sail to Juan Fernandez had broken loose in a
violent “Norther” and was fast driving before the mountainous swells
upon the _malecon_ or seawall, when the “Navigation Company’s” tender,
out to salve some drifting barges, came nosing cautiously in toward
where the hollow waves were curling over into crashing breakers. The
barges and their cargoes were probably worth more than our walty old
hooker, but the skipper of the tender, noting only that there were
lives to be saved on the latter, hesitated not an instant about
deciding to try and stand-by. Unfortunately, we had a lot of German
_colonistas_ aboard, and the panic among them prevented many from the
schooner being saved. I was one of the half-dozen who did not fail in
their leaps for the tender’s outreaching starboard bow, but my hold on
the slippery rail was so precarious that only the mighty hand of the
skipper on my neck prevented my slipping back into the sea. For a
moment now, out in the drifting fog, I saw his round red face, under
its “sou’wester,” just as I had peered up into it after he dragged me
over the rail and slammed me down on the heeling deck.

At times memories crowded so that they became confused. I was not
sure, for instance, whether it was T----, of the _Eimoo_, or P----, of
the _Levuka_, whom I had seen go over the rail into shark-infested
Rotrura Lagoon to jerk the kink out of an air-hose before his diver
strangled; or which of two otherwise well-remembered “B.I.” skippers
it was that waded in, barehanded, and floored every one of a bunch of
Lascars who were fighting with their knives; or whether it was the
mate or the skipper of the East African coaster who, with one of his
thighs being torn to ribbons by the beast’s hind claws, kept his grip
on the throat of a young leopard that had slipped from its cage, and
which he was afraid might become panic-stricken and jump overboard
before it could be recaptured; or whether it was the captain of a
“Burns, Philips” or a “Union” steamer that I had seen put out through
the tortuous passage of Suva Bay when the wind was snapping the tops
from the coconut palms, and the barometer was at 28.50 and still
falling, just because the wife of the missionary on some obscure
little bit of the Fijian Archipelago to the north was expecting to
become a mother and needed the attention of the ship’s doctor.

I would have gone on to the end of my “watch” thinking of the
bravery--moral and physical--the ready nerve and the general
“sufficiency unto occasion” of my old friends, but most that had been
brave had also been kind and considerate, and every now and then I
found my mind occupied with recollections of the little things they
had done for me, or that I had seen them do for others. There was
B----, of the old _Changsha_, running from Yokohama to Sydney, who
went miles off his course just to satisfy my whim to pass over the
spot where _Mary Gloster_ was buried at sea. What an afternoon that
was! The Straits of Macassar “oily and treacly,” just as Kipling had
described them, and the milk-warm land breeze wafting the odours of
the spice groves of Celebes. B---- had his volume of Kipling and I had
mine, and between us was the reef-freckled chart of Macassar Straits
with Borneo to starboard, Celebes to port, and a thousand dotted
lines indicating islets and reefs and rocks--mostly lurking,
half-submerged--in between.

    “By the Little Paternosters, as you come to the Union Bank,
    We dropped her--I think I told you--and I pricked it off where she
      sank--
    (Tiny she looked on the grating--that oily, treacly sea--)
    Hundred and eighteen East, remember, and South just three.
    Easy bearings to carry....”

read B----, running his finger along the chart.

“Aye, easy to carry. _Here’s_ the spot,” and he marked it with a
circled dot. Then we “dead reckoned” the latitude from the noon sight,
and “shot” for the longitude as we “came to the Union Bank.” And
finally, when we were over the spot as near as might be determined
from hasty reckoning, nothing would do but B---- must start the lead
going to determine the depth. Never shall I forget the way his face
lit up when the leadsmen droned out “Fourteen,” and there were tears
glistening in his eyes as he turned back a couple of pages and read--

    “And we dropped her in fourteen fathoms; I pricked it off where
    she sank.”

“I might have known that Kipling worked it out with a chart,” he
exclaimed; “but what a thrill it gives one to find it exact, even to
the soundings!”

The margins of “The _Mary Gloster_,” in my “Seven Seas,” bear the
pencilled records--now thumbed and fingered into dim blurs--of our
“mid-sea madness” to this day, and there is nothing that I treasure
more. B---- would never have taken his 5,000-ton freighter miles off
her course, at the cost of some hours of time and a number of tons of
good Nagasaki coal, had he been any less daft about Kipling than I
was. But all British sailors love Kipling; as a class, I have always
felt that they had a fuller appreciation of the message of “the
uncrowned Laureate” than have any others.

For an hour at least I must have turned in fancy the pages of Kipling,
now with this well-remembered skipper, now with that, until the
recollection of how kind old N----, of a Liverpool Para-Manaos
freighter, had read to me “The Hymn Before Action” one night when I
was half delirious from the Amazon “black-water” fever he had been
nursing me through set the current of my thought on another tack.
N---- was only one of a dozen who had coddled me through some sort of
tropical illness or patched me up after some sort of a smash-up.

It was R----, of the Valparaiso-Panama coaster, who had put my hand in
splints after it had been crushed between the gangway and a dug-out
full of ivory nuts off some pile-built village of Ecuador, and it was
my fault rather than his that the little finger was still crooked.
And it was H----, of the big White Star freighter on the
Australia-South Africa run, who laboured for an hour in helping the
ship’s doctor worry back into place the shoulder I had dislocated in
the “sports” one afternoon; and it was D----, of the Rangoon-Calcutta
“B.I.,” who had reduced with horse-liniment the ankle I had sprained
in dodging out of the path of a temperamental water-buffalo while
ashore at Akyab; and it was A----, of the Lynch river boat plying from
Basra to Bagdad, who stitched up my scalp after the Arabs of the
bazaar of then almost unheard-of Kut-el-Amara had amused themselves
with bouncing rocks off my head because (this was during the
Turco-Italian war) they imagined I looked like an “alien enemy.”

A---- was killed when the Turks shelled his ship--then a
transport--early in the Mesopotamian operations, I remembered, and
this led my thoughts off to the long watch I kept by the bedside of
poor old Y----, on whose “B.P.” steamer I had been roaming in and out
among the Solomons, New Hebrides, Fijis and other islands of western
Polynesia for two months. Y----’s heart had been giving out for a
number of years, and now very hot weather following, the excitement of
seeing his ship through an unusually heavy hurricane had hastened an
end long inevitable. He knew his “number was up,” and so he told me,
that night, of things he wanted me to explain and set right for him in
Australia. It was the thinking of these, and the visit that I
subsequently paid to his wife and children in the Illawara, that
finally brought my mind back to that other bereaved family in the
little red house beneath my window.

The short night had passed, the fog had lifted, and now in the early
morning light I saw a milkman stop his cart a half-dozen doors from
the Fryatt home and go softly tip-toeing on his near-by deliveries to
avoid making unnecessary noise. Out of the retreating fog-bank to
seaward two small freighters took sharpened line and headed for the
harbour mouth. They were much of a size and type, but the gay red and
white splashes on the bows of the more northerly ones indicated she
sailed under the flag of an enterprising Scandinavian country, while
the unbroken black of the side of the other told just as plainly that
she was British. As I watched, the shifting of the shadows on the
sides of the Norwegian told me that she was altering her course
sharply every few hundred yards--“zigzagging” to minimise the danger
from submarine attacks. A wise precaution, I told myself; now what
about the other? I took up my glass and held it on the Briton. One,
two, three, four, five minutes passed. All the time the wave curled
evenly back from her forefoot; not a ripple of shifting light or
shadow told of deviation in her course of the fraction of a point.

“Straight on to your goal, little ship,” I said, saluting with my
glass.

But I might have known as much. That was Fryatt’s way, and that was
the way all my friends of the Red Ensign did, and always will do.
“Good luck, fair weather and snug berths to you all; aye, and a quiet
haven when the last watch, the long watch, is finally over!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Knots of troubled sailor men still gathered along Harwich quay this
morning, but now that I understood by what they were moved I no longer
hesitated to mingle and talk with them. Their slow anger was steadily
mounting--gradually crowding out all other feelings--with every word
that was spoken, with every hour that passed; but among them were
still men who were stunned and dazed, who could not understand how a
thing so monstrous really could have happened.

“But w’y, w’y ha’ the ’Uns done it?” persisted a grizzled old salt,
turning his troubled eyes to mine after all the others had shaken
their heads perplexedly.

“It is just possible,” I said, “that the Germans believe that the
execution of one skipper who attempted to ram one of their submarines
will make the others think twice before trying to do the same thing.”

Two or three of the older men fairly snorted in their incredulity that
even the Germans should thus cheaply rate the British sailor, but the
plausibility of the theory soon convinced even these.

“Do you re’ly believe the ’Uns think that o’ us?” one of them finally
ventured.

“I do,” I replied, “for there is nothing else to think.”

The old man took a deep breath and turned his eyes away to sea. “God
pity all ’Uns!” he muttered, and “God pity ’em!” “God pity ’em!”
echoed his mates.



THE PASSING OF A ZEPPELIN


In the year that had gone by since the first great air-raid on London
we knew that much had been done in the way of strengthening the
defences. Just what had been done we did not, of course, and do not,
know. We knew that there were more and better guns and searchlights,
and probably greatly improved means of anticipating the coming of the
raiders and of following and reporting their movements after they did
come. At the same time we also knew that the latest Zeppelin had been
greatly improved; that it was larger, faster, capable of ascending to
a greater altitude, and probably able to stand more and heavier
gun-fire than its prototype of a year ago. It seemed to be a question,
therefore, of whether or not the guns could range the raiders, and, if
so, do them any vital damage when they did hit them. The aeroplane was
an unknown quantity, and, in the popular mind at least, not seriously
reckoned with. London knew that the crucial test would not come until
an airship tried again to penetrate to the heart of the metropolitan
area, and awaited the result calmly if not quite indifferently.

The Zeppelin raids of the spring and early summer, numerous as they
had been, had done a negligible amount of military damage and scarcely
more to civil property. The death list, too, had, mercifully, been
very low. It seemed significant, however, that the main London
defences had been avoided during all of this time, indicating,
apparently, that the raiders were reluctant to lift the lid of the
Pandora’s box that was laid out so temptingly before them for fear of
the possible consequences. Twice or thrice, watching with my glasses
after I had been awakened by distant bomb explosions or gun-fire, I
had seen a shell-pocketed airship draw back, as a yellow dog refuses
the challenge that his intrusion has provoked, and glide off into the
darkness of some safer area. “Would they try it again?” was the
question Londoners asked themselves as the dark of the moon came round
each month, and, except for the comparatively few who had had personal
experience of the terror and death that follow the swath of an
air-raider, most of them seemed rather anxious to have the matter put
to the test.

Last night--just twelve “darks-of-the-moon” after the first great
raid of 1915--the test came. It was hardly a conclusive one, perhaps
(though that may well have come before these lines find their way into
print), but it was certainly highly illuminative. I write this on my
return to London from viewing--twenty miles away--a tangled mass of
wreckage and a heap of charred trunks that are all that remain of a
Zeppelin and its crew which--whether by accident, intent, or the force
of circumstances will probably never be known--rushed in where two
others of its aerial sisters feared to fly, and paid the cost.

There was nothing of the surprise (to London, at least; as regards the
ill-starred Zeppelin crew none can say) in last night’s raid. The
night grew more heavily overcast as the darkness deepened, and towards
midnight stealthy little beams of hooded searchlights pirouetting on
the eastern clouds told the home-wending Saturday night theatre crowd
that, with the imminent approach of the raiders, London was lifting a
corner of its mask of blackness and throwing out an open challenge to
the enemy. This was the first time I had known the lights to precede
the actual explosion of bombs, and the cool confidence of the thing
suggested (as I heard one policeman tell another) that the defence had
something “up their sleeves.”

It was towards one in the morning when I finished my supper at a West
End restaurant and started walking through the almost deserted streets
to my hotel. London is anything but a bedlam after midnight, but the
silence in the early hours of this morning was positively uncanny.
Now, with the last of the ’buses gone and all trains stopped, only the
muffled buzz of an occasional belated taxi--pushing on cautiously with
hooded lights--broke the stillness.

Reaching my room I pulled on a sweater, ran up the curtain, laid my
glass ready and seated myself at the window, the same window from
which, a year ago, I had watched those two insolently contemptuous
raiders sail across overhead and leave a blazing wake of death and
destruction behind them. On that night, I reflected, I had felt the
rush of air from the bombs, and--later--had watched the firemen
extinguishing the flames and the ambulances carrying the wounded to
the hospitals. Would it be like that to-night? I wondered (there was
now no doubt that the raiders were near, for the searchlights had
multiplied, and far to the south-east, though no detonations were
audible, quick flashes told of scattering gun-fire), or would the
defence have more of a word to say for itself this time? I looked to
the eastern heavens where the shifting clouds were now “polka-dotted”
with the fluttering golden motes of a score of searchlights, and
thought I had found my answer.

There was no wheeling and reeling of the lights in wide circles, as a
year ago, but rather a steady persistent stabbing at the clouds, each
one appearing to keep to an allotted area of its own. “Stabbing”
expresses the action exactly, and it recalled to me an occasion, a
month ago, when a “Tommy,” who was showing me through some captured
dug-outs on the Somme, illustrated, with bayonet thrusts, the manner
in which they had originally searched for Germans hiding under the
straw mattresses. There was nothing “panicky” in the work of the
lights this time, but only the suggestion of methodical, ordered,
relentless vigilance.

“Encouraging as a preliminary,” I said to myself; “now” (for the night
was electric with import) “for the main event!”

There was not long to wait. To the south-east the gun-flashes had
increased in frequency, followed by mist-dulled blurs of brightness in
the clouds that told of bursting shells. Suddenly, through a rift in
the clouds, I saw a new kind of glare--the earthward-launched beam of
an airship’s searchlight groping for its target--but the shifting
mist-curtain intervened again even as one of the defending lights took
up the challenge and flashed its own rapier ray in quick reply.
Presently the muffled boom of bombs fleeted to my ears, and then the
sharper rattle of a sudden gust of gun-fire. This was quickly followed
by a confused roar of sound, evidently from many bombs dropped
simultaneously or in quick succession, and I knew that one of two
things had happened--either the raider had found its mark and was
delivering “rapid fire,” or the guns were making it so hot for the
visitor that it had been compelled to dump its explosives and seek
safety in flight. When a minute or more had gone by I felt sure that
the latter had been scuttled, and that it was now only a question of
which direction the flight was going to take.

Again the eastward searchlights gave me the answer. By twos and
threes--I could not follow the order of the thing--the lights that had
been “patrolling” the eastern sky moved over and took their station
around a certain low-hanging cloud to the south. The murky sheet of
cumulonimbus seemed to pale and dissolve in the concentrated rays, and
then, right into the focus of golden glow formed by the dancing light
motes, running wild and blind as a bull charges the red mantle
masking the matador, darted a huge Zeppelin.

Perhaps never before in all time has a single object been the centre
of so blinding a glare. It seemed that the optic nerve must wither in
so fierce a light, and certainly no unprotected eye could have opened
to it. Dark glasses might have made it bearable, but could not
possibly have resolved the earthward prospect into anything less than
the heart of a fiery furnace. Indeed, it is very doubtful if the
bewildered fugitive knew, in more than the most general way, where it
was. Cut off by the guns to the south-east from retreat in that
direction, but knowing that the North Sea and safety could be reached
by driving to the north-east, it is more than probable that the
harried raider found itself over the “Lion’s Den” rather because it
could not help it than by deliberate intent.

What a contrast was this blinded, reeling thing to those arrogantly
purposeful raiders of a year ago! Supremely disdainful of gun and
searchlight, these had prowled over London till the last of their
bombs had been planted, and one of them had even circled back the
better to see the ruin its passing had wrought. But _this_ raider--far
larger than its predecessors and flying at over twice as great a
height though it was--dashed on its erratic course as though pursued
by the vengeful spirits of those its harpy sisters had bombed to death
in their beds. If it still had bombs to drop its commander either had
no time or no heart for the job. Never have I seen an inanimate thing
typify terror--the terror that must have gripped the hearts of its
palpably flustered (to judge by the airship’s movements) crew--like
that staggering helpless maverick of a Zeppelin, when it finally found
itself clutched in the tentacles of the searchlights of the aerial
defences of London.

All this time the weird, uncanny silence that brooded over the streets
before I had come indoors held the city in its spell. The watching
thousands--nay, millions--kept their excitement in leash, and the
propeller of the raider--muffled by the mists intervening between the
earth and the 12,000 feet at which it whirred--dulled to a drowsy
drone. Into this tense silence the sudden fire of a hundred
anti-aircraft guns--opening in unison as though at the pull of a
single lanyard--cut in a blended roar like the Crack o’ Doom; indeed,
though few among those hushed watching millions realised it, it _was_
literally the Crack o’ Doom that was sounding. For perhaps a minute or
a minute and a half the air was vibrant with the roar of hard-pumped
guns and the shriek of speeding shell, the great sound from below
drowning the sharper cracks from the steel-cold flashes in the upper
air.

It was guns that were built for the job--not the hastily gathered and
wholly inadequate artillery of a year ago--that were speaking now, and
the voice was one of ordered, imperious authority. Range-finders had
the marauder’s altitude, and the information was being put at the
disposal of guns that had the power to “deliver the goods” at that
level. What a contrast the sequel was to that pitiful firing of the
other raid! Only the opening shots were “shorts” or “wides” now, and
ten seconds after the first gun a diamond-clear burst blinking out
through a rift in the upper clouds told that the raider--to use a
naval term--was “straddled,” had shells exploding both above and below
it. From that instant till the guns ceased to roar, seventy or eighty
seconds later, the shells burst, lacing the air with golden glimmers,
and meshed the flying raider in a fiery net.

For a few seconds it seemed to me that, close-woven as was the net of
shell-bursts, the flashes came hardly as fast as the roar of the guns
would seem to warrant, and I swept the heavens with my glasses in a
search for other possible targets. But no other raider was in sight;
there was no other “nodal centre” of gun-fire and searchlights.
Suddenly the reason for the apparent discrepancy was clear to me. The
flashes I saw (except for a few of the shrapnel bullets they were
releasing) were only the misses; the hits I could not see. The
long-awaited test was at its crucial stage. Empty of bombs and with
half of its fuel consumed, the raider was at the zenith of its flight,
and yet the guns were ranging it with ease. It was now a question of
how much shell-fire the Zeppelin could stand.

In spite of the fact that the airship--so far as I could see through
my glasses--did not appear to slow down or to be perceptibly racked by
the gun-fire, I have no doubt what the end would have been if the test
could have been pressed to its conclusion in an open country. But
bringing a burning Zeppelin down across three or four blocks of
thickly settled London was hardly a thing the Air Defence desired to
do if it could possibly be avoided. The plan was carried to its
conclusion with the almost mathematical precision that marked the
preliminary searchlight work and gunnery.

From the moment that it had burst into sight the raider had been
emitting clouds of white gas to hide itself from the searchlights and
guns, while the plainly visible movements of its lateral planes
seemed to indicate that it was making desperate efforts to climb still
higher into the thinning upper air. Neither expedient was of much use.
The swirling gas clouds might well have obscured a hovering airship,
but never one that was rushing through the air at seventy miles an
hour, while, far from increasing its altitude, there seemed to be a
slight but steady loss from the moment the guns ceased until, two or
three miles further along, it was hidden from sight for a minute by a
low-hanging cloud. Undoubtedly the aim of the gunners had been to
“hole,” not to fire the marauder, and it must have been losing gas
very rapidly even--as the climacteric moment of the attack
approached--at the time increased buoyancy was most desirable.

The “massed” searchlights of London “let go” shortly after the
gun-fire ceased, and now, as the raider came within their field, the
more scattered lights of the northern suburbs wheeled up and “fastened
on.” The fugitive changed its course from north to north-easterly
about this time, and the swelling clouds of vapour left behind
presently cut off its foreshortened length entirely from my view. A
heavy ground mist appeared to prevail beyond the heights to the
north, and in the diffused glow of the searchlights that strove to
pierce this mask my glasses showed the ghostly shadows of flitting
aeroplanes--manœuvring for the death-thrust.

The ground mist (which did not, however, cover London proper) kept the
full strength of the searchlights from the upper air, and it was in a
sky of almost Stygian blackness that the final blow was sent home. The
farmers of Hertfordshire tell weird stories of the detonations of
bursting bombs striking their fields, but all these sounds were
absorbed in the twenty-mile air-cushion that was now interposed
between my vantage point and the final scene of action.

Not a sound, not a shadow, heralded the flare of yellow light which
suddenly flashed out in the north-eastern heavens and spread
latitudinally until the whole body of a Zeppelin--no small object even
at twenty miles--stood out in glowing incandescence. Then a great
sheet of pink-white flame shot up, and in the ripples of rosy light
which suffused the earth for scores of miles I could read the gilded
lettering on my binoculars. This was undoubtedly the explosion of the
ignited hydrogen of the main gas-bags, and immediately following it
the great frame collapsed in the middle and began falling slowly
toward the earth, burning now with a bright yellow flame, above which
the curl of black smoke was distinctly visible. A lurid burst of
light--doubtless from the exploding petrol tanks--flared up as the
flaming mass struck the earth, and half a minute later the night, save
for the questing searchlights to east and south, was as black as ever
again.

Then perhaps the strangest thing of all occurred. London began to
cheer. I should have been prepared for it in Paris, or Rome, or
Berlin, or even New York, but that the Briton--who of all men in the
world most fears the sound of his own voice lifted in unrestrained
jubilation--was really cheering, and in millions, was almost too much.
I pinched my arm to be sure that I had not dozed away, and, lost in
wonder, forgot for a minute or two the great drama just enacted.

Under my window half a dozen Australian “Tommies” were rending the air
with “cooees” and dancing around a lamp-post, while all along the
street, from doorways and windows, exultant shouting could be heard.
For several blocks in all directions the cheers rang out loud and
clear, distinctly recognisable as such; the sound of the millions of
throats farther afield came only as a heavy rumbling hum. Perhaps
since the dawn of creation the air has not trembled with so strange a
sound--a sound which, though entirely human in its origin, was still
unhuman, unearthly, fantastic. Certainly never before in history--not
even during the great volcanic eruptions--has so huge a number of
people (the fall of the Zeppelin had been visible through a fifty-to
seventy-five-mile radius in all directions, a region with probably
from 10,000,000 to 15,000,000 inhabitants) been suddenly and intensely
stirred by a single event.

It was undoubtedly the spectacularity of the unexpected _coup_ that
had made these normally repressed millions so suddenly and so
violently vocal. Many--perhaps most--stopped cheering when they had
had time to realise that a score of human beings were being burned to
cinders in the heart of that flaming comet in the north-eastern
heavens; others--I knew the only recently restored tenements where
some of them were--must have shouted in all the grimmer exultation for
that very realisation. I can hardly say yet which stirred me more
deeply, the fall of the Zeppelin itself or that stupendous burst of
feeling aroused by its fall.

       *       *       *       *       *

By taxi, milk-cart, tram, and any other conveyance that offered, but
mostly on foot, I threaded highway and byway for the next four hours,
and shortly after daybreak scrambled through the last of a dozen
thorny hedgerows and found myself beside the still smouldering
wreckage of the fallen raider. An orderly cordon of soldiers
surrounding an acre of blackened and twisted metal, miles and miles of
tangled wire, and a score or so of Flying Corps men already busily
engaged loading the wreckage into waiting motor-lorries--that was
about all there was to see. A ten-foot-square green tarpaulin covered
all that could be gathered together of the airship’s crew. Some of the
fragments were readily recognisable as having once been the arms and
legs and trunks of men; others were not. A man at my elbow stood
gazing at the pitiful heap for a space, his brow puckered in thought.
Presently he turned to me, a grim light in his eye, and spoke.

“Do you know,” he said, “that these” (indicating the charred stumps
under the square of canvas) “have just recalled to me the words Count
Zeppelin is reported to have used at a great mass meeting called in
Berlin to press for a more rigorous prosecution of the war against
England by air, for a further increase of frightfulness? Leading two
airship pilots to the front of the platform, he shouted to the crowd,
‘Here are two men who were over London last night!’ And the assembled
thousands, so the despatch said, roared their applause and clamoured
that the Zeppelins be sent again and again until the arrogant
Englanders were brought to their knees. Well”--he paused and drew a
deep breath as his eyes returned to the heap of blackened
fragments--“it appears that they _did_ send the Zeppelins again--more
than ever were sent before--and now it is _our_ turn to be presented
to ‘the men who were over London last night.’ I wonder if the flare
that consumed these poor devils was bright enough to pierce the black
night that has settled over Germany?”

       *       *       *       *       *

The tenseness passed out of the night, and--the raid was over. Who
knows but what, so far as the threat to England is concerned, the
passing of _a_ Zeppelin marked also the passing of _the_ Zeppelin?



FIGHTING FOR SERBIA


I have had many strange meetings--strange in place and attendant
circumstance--in various and sundry odd corners of the world, but,
everything considered, I am inclined to think my encounter with
Radovitch, toward the end of last March, was the strangest of them
all.

It was on the gorgeously flower-carpeted slope of a mountain-side
in----. But let that transpire in its proper place.

There had been hint of gathering activity in the marching troops on
the roads, and I knew that some kind of a skirmish was on from the
scattering spatter of rifle-fire above and to my right; but that I had
actually blundered in between the combatants was not evident until the
staccato of a suddenly unmasked machine-gun broke out in the copse
below. I did not hear the familiarly ingratiating swish of speeding
bullets, and only an occasional twitching in the oak scrub told of a
skirmishing soldier, but it was plain that if the rifles were firing
in the direction of the machine-gun, and the machine-gun was firing in
the direction of the rifles, the position of my shivering anatomy
came pretty near to blocking a portion of the restricted little neck
of atmosphere along which the interchanged pellets must make their
way. One never learns it until he is under fire--especially
rifle-fire--for the first time, but the faculty for taking cover, for
making oneself inconspicuous at the approach of real or fancied
danger, is one of the few things in which the more or less degenerate
human of the present day suffers the least in comparison with that
fine and self-sufficient animal, his primitive ancestor.

I hurdled neatly over a natural “entanglement” of magenta-blossomed
cactus, dived through a bosky tunnel in the gnarled oak scrub, and
landed comfortably in the matted mass of soft maiden-hair where the
water dripped from the side of a deep hole excavated by the village
brick-makers in taking out clay. There was ample cover from anything
but high-angle artillery fire on either side; so, picking out a bed of
lush grass with a cornflower and buttercup pillow, I stretched in
luxurious ease to let the battle blow over.

The rifles spat back at the woodpecker drum of the machine-gun for a
minute or two, then quieted suddenly and gave way to the crashing of
underbrush and the chesty ’tween-the-teeth oaths that tell of
charging men. Scatteringly, in ones and twos and threes, they began
stumbling by above my head, now revealed by the quick silhouette of a
set jaw and forward-flung shoulders, and now by the glint of a bobbing
bayonet, but mostly by those guttural swearwords which mark the
earnest man on business bent. One of them--a gaunt-eyed Serb in the
faded horizon-blue uniform of a French _poilu_--who passed near enough
to the rim of my refuge to allow of a three-quarters length glimpse of
him, carried a squawking golden-hued hen by the feathers of her
hackle, and I was just reflecting how every other soldier that I had
ever known would have put a period on that tell-tale racket by
extending his grip round the windpipe, when Radovitch came down to
join me. Not that he had anything of the ulterior intention of seeking
cover that brought me there--quite to the contrary, indeed. I saw him
running hard and low (as every good soldier goes into grips with his
foe), burst out of the thicket, saw him straighten up and try to
swerve to the right as the hole suddenly yawned across his path, and,
finally, saw the quick tautening of the scaly yellow loop of
earth-running aloe root which deftly caught the toe of his shambling
boot and defeated the manœuvre.

There was little of the fine finesse of my own soft landing in the
whacking “kerplump” which completed the high dive executed by
Radovitch after his contact with the aloe root. His gun out-dived him
and cut short its parabola with the bayonet spiking a fern frond on
the opposite bank, but his broad, bronzed Slavic face was the first
part of Radovitch himself to reach the bottom, so that all the inertia
of the bone and muscle in his firmly-knit frame was exerted in driving
the ivory crescent of the teeth of his back-bent lower jaw in a swift,
rough gouge through the yielding turf. He pulled himself together in a
dazed sort of way, sat up, rubbed the grass out of his eyes, and
kneaded gently the strained joints of his jaw to see that they were
still swinging on their hinges. Reassured, he spat forth sputteringly
asphodel and anemone and the rest of his mouthful of flower-bed,
completing the operation by running an index finger around between the
lower teeth and lip to remove lurking bits of earth and gravel.

There was something strangely familiar in that index-finger operation,
and it was the sudden recollection that was the identical way in which
we used to get rid of the gridiron clods that had been forced under
our football nose-guards which was responsible for my fervent
ejaculation of surprise. I don’t recall exactly what I said, but it
was probably something akin to “I’ll be blowed!”

The look of dazed resentment on Radovitch’s grass-and dirt-stained
face changed instantly to one of blank surprise. The poor strained jaw
relaxed, and he turned on me a stare of open-eyed wonder.

“Where in ’ell d’you come from?” he gasped finally; and then, “You
speak English?”

When, ignoring the former query, I grinned acquiescence to the latter,
he came back with, “Ain’t ’Merican, are you? Don’t know New York, do
you?”

On my admission of guilt on both charges, he crawled over and gripped
my hand crushingly in his grimy paw.

“My name’s Radovitch. ’Merican citizen myself,” he said proudly. “Took
out my last papers just ’fore I came over to fight for Serbia. Went to
school five years in New York when I was a kid. Ever been in Chicago?”

“Of course.”

Radovitch’s excitement, increasing when he found I had been in Omaha
(where he had worked in the stockyards), and Jerome, Arizona (where he
had “dumped slag” in the copper smelter), reached its climax when I
assured him that I had once played a game of baseball at Aldridge, a
little coal-mining town in Montana, near the northern portal of
Yellowstone Park.

“I got a store there, and a half int’rest in the baseball grounds and
a dance-hall,” he cried; and he was just in the midst of an excited
account of his rise to fortune in what he called the “hottest little
ol’ camp in the Yellowstone,” when the din of two or three fresh
machine-guns opening in unison drowned his voice, and a few minutes
later a half-dozen rifle muzzles were poked over the edge of our
refuge, while a gruff-voiced Serb corporal, in the khaki tunic of a
British Tommy and the baggy breeches of a French Zouave, informed us
that we were his prisoners.

Radovitch, with a sheepish grin on his face, threw up his hands with
the classic cry of “Kamerad!” and then, shambling over opposite his
captors, coolly bade them toss down a box of cigarettes for him and
his “Merikansky” friend.

“Smashed mine when I fell,” he explained, sauntering back and offering
me a “Macedonia.” “Wouldn’t you reckon we’d had about enough fighting
in Serbia without these d---- d sham fights while we’re supposed to be
resting up here in Corfu? It may be all right for new recruits; but
you’ll have to admit that two years of the brand of scrapping we’ve
been getting over yonder in those mountains is not going to put us on
edge for play-fighting like this. But never mind, we’ll be back to the
real thing again in a month or two. Come on along down to the camp and
meet my Colonel. We were kids together in Prilep. Now he’s in command
of three thousand men and I’m only a corporal; but just the same I
could buy him out twenty times over.”

The bare outline of Radovitch’s story he told me that evening (after
he had officially been “set free” again), as I trudged beside him
across the hills to his camp; but it was not until he obtained an
afternoon’s leave three or four days later, and took me for a stroll
through the Serbian Relief Camp, that I learned he had been one of
that immortal band of heroes who, disdaining to take advantage of the
open roads to the Adriatic or Macedonia after Belgrade fell, made
their way to a mountain fastness in the heart of their own country and
stayed behind to wage such warfare as they could on the hated invader.
What sort of a warfare this was--indeed, what sort of a warfare it
_is_, for the band still survives, making up in an unquenchable
spirit what it has lost in numbers--I then learned for the first time.

It was only the unexpected coming across a newly arrived comrade
(suffering--and it looked to me, dying--from an open bayonet wound and
an advanced and hitherto neglected attack of scurvy), that turned
Radovitch from wistful reminiscence of Aldridge, Montana, and set him
talking of the grim realities of the life he had been leading in
Serbia, a subject on which I had found him strangely reticent up to
that moment. The things he spoke of that afternoon covered only an
incident or two of his life with a body of men who, steadily depleted
and yet as steadily recruited from Heaven knows where, have furnished
an example of bravery and devotion to an all but lost cause almost
without a parallel even in a war in which bravery and devotion form
the regular grist of the day’s work.

Because this band in question, although its exploits are even now
being sung of by the Serbs along with those of the half-legendary
heroes of their early history, is still a “force in being,” exercising
in its sphere an influence of its own on the course of the war, it is
necessary that the names of the villages and towns and mountains and
valleys and rivers to which Radovitch so constantly referred in his
narrative should be entirely suppressed. I may say, however, that
later inquiry which I made at Serbian Headquarters at Salonika
revealed ample evidence that the things he told me of--as well as
others scarcely less remarkable of which the time has not yet come to
write--occurred beyond the shadow of a doubt.

The mood to talk did not seize Radovitch until after he had led me to
the summit of the hill behind the Relief Camp, from which lofty
vantage the eye roved eastward across a purple strait to the
snow-capped peaks of Epirus and Albania, westward to where what was
once the Kaiser’s villa of Achilleon stood out sharply against the
sombre green of the backbone ridge of the island, northward to where
its twin castles flanked to right and left the white walls and red
roofs of Corfu town, and southward to the dim outlines of Leukas and
Cephalonia, thinning in the violet haze of late afternoon. Below, on
three sides, was the sea, with the storied Isles of Ulysses bracing
themselves against the flood-tide racing into the bay; above, a vault
of cloudless sky, and round about a thousand-year-old forest of
gnarled olives. It was the effect of all this, together with the sight
of his friend from Serbia in the little tented hospital of the Relief
Camp, which set Radovitch talking of things I had been vainly trying
to draw him out upon ever since I met him. While the mood lasted he
seemed to need no other encouragement than the attentive listener so
ready to hand; when it had passed he was back to the mines of Montana
again, deaf and blind to my every attempt to make him talk of Serbia
and what had befallen him there.

“How did your band get together in the first place?” I had asked, “and
what sort of men was it made up of? Was there some kind of
organisation before the retreat, or did you simply drift together
afterwards?”

“It must have been mostly ‘drift,’” replied Radovitch. “Probably the
Government and our generals knew we’d have to give way when the
Austrians and Bulgars together came at us, but none of the rest of us
ever dreamed we couldn’t wallop the whole bunch. So I don’t think
there is much truth in the yarn about the band of ‘blood brothers’
that had been formed in advance. We were about evenly made up at the
start of men who wouldn’t leave the country and men who couldn’t leave
the country. The first were mostly mountain men of the region we went
to. There were a lot of ex-brigands among them, and most of them had
been fighting the Turk, or the Bulgar, or the Government, or each
other, all their lives. It was to the way these fellows knew the
country, and how to live off it and fight in it, that we owed most of
our success. The rest of us were all sorts of odds and ends who had
fallen out of the retreat but had still been able to keep out of enemy
hands.

“At first this particular mountain region--which later became our
stronghold, and is now the only part of Old Serbia in which the enemy
has never set foot--was but a refuge, and for a few weeks we were
pretty hard put to find enough to live on. It was touch and go for
food all of the first winter, and we lived mostly by night raids on
straggling Austrian supply trains. But before long we rounded up
enough sheep and goats to keep us going, and in the spring got one of
the little mountain valleys under cultivation. Since last
summer--except for vegetables, which we had no luck with--food was one
of our least troubles.

“We had plenty of rifles from the first. A Serb will drop his clothes
before he will his gun, as you will find if you ever see our army in
action where a river has to be forded. Many a man straggled in to us
without pants or shirt, but never a one that I ever heard of without
his rifle, We were also tolerably well fixed for cartridges, because
a man don’t use one in raiding or fighting from ambush to a hundred he
pots off in the trenches. We always managed to have enough for our own
regular army rifles, and after we got well started raiding, Austrian
rifles and munition came in faster than we ever had use for them. We
could have done with an extra machine-gun or two before we had our
stone-rolling defence organised, and before the Austrians had learned
that it didn’t pay to try and crawl in and pull us out of our holes.
But before the winter was over we had enough spare ‘spit-firers,’ so
that we didn’t mind risking the loss of one or two by taking them
along on raiding parties.

“The lay of the mountains made the whole _mesa_[4] just one big
natural fort, and I miss my guess if in all the world there’s another
place of the same kind so easy to defend and so hard to attack. The
mountains are steeper and rockier than that main range of Albania you
see across there against the sky, and that’s going some. I never
struck anything half so rough in all the summers I put in prospecting
in Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. Only one of the passes had a cart-road
up to it, and only three had mule trails. At two or three other
places a man could scramble up by using his hands, but everywhere else
he would need to have ropes and scaling ladders.

    [4] Table-land.

“At every one of the passes--including the one of the cart-road--a
half-dozen good rock-rollers, with plenty of ‘ammunition,’ could put
the kibosh on an army, and you may bet we saw to it that there was no
shortage of pebbles on hand. For the first week or two my fingers were
worn pretty near to the bone from handling rocks. The only way the
Austrians could have got the best of us, once we had made ourselves at
home, would have been with not less than a dozen regiments of their
Kaiser Jaeger, mountain batteries and all; but by the time this fact
sunk into them the Italians were keeping them so busy that they
probably figured they couldn’t spare any such number of Alpine troops
for side-shows. Anyhow, they never even gave us a good run for our
money in the way of attacks, though of course some of the raiding
parties came in for pretty bad punishings every now and then.

“The one thing that we needed most, first and last, was dynamite. If
we could have got hold of even half a ton of it in the first month or
two, before the Austrians got their patrols organised, we could have
done no end of harm in blowing up bridges and tunnels where they had
been missed in the rush of the retreat, and upsetting communications
generally. When we finally did begin to get hold of powder, all the
danger-points were so heavily guarded that we never got a fair chance
at them. Once, with fifty men armed with knives, we rushed the guard
at an important bridge and cleaned up the lot before a shot was fired.
But something must have been wrong with the fuse or caps, for the
dynamite placed under the near abutment never exploded, and there
wasn’t time to go back and do the job over. The next time we tried the
same tactics it was on a tunnel, but here they had an ambush ready,
and only about a dozen of the hundred men who were in the raid ever
came back. The smoothest piece of tunnel work ever brought off was not
done by our gang at all, but by a much smaller one that worked in the
region of Uskub for a while, led by a Serbian Intelligence Officer
from Salonika who had been dropped there a month before from an
aeroplane. They descended into a very important pass in broad
daylight, seized a train of empty freight cars that was waiting on a
siding for a south-bound troop-train to go by, held it until a signal
arranged for in advance told them the troop-train was entering the
north end of the longest tunnel in that part of the country, and then
turned the freight loose into the other end. We had word later that
never a man was brought out alive, but the best effect of the job was
its setting afire the lime rock in the heart of the mountain and the
blocking of traffic for many months.

“This southern band--after recruiting up to over a thousand men at one
time, and making life miserable for the Austrians for nearly four
months--ran short of food in mid-winter and had to break up. Its
leader, however, disguised as a Bulgar soldier, worked his way back
through the enemy lines, and after just missing being potted by the
first Serb patrol he ran into after crossing the Cerna, reached
Salonika in safety with a complete report of what he had seen during
five months in hostile territory. It was the slickest job of the kind
that has been put through in this neck of the war. The guy’s name
is----, and, unless he’s off on another lay of the same kind, you can
probably see him in Salonika.[5]

    [5] Through the courtesy of the Crown Prince of Serbia, the
    writer, on his subsequent visit to Salonika, was granted an
    interview with the Intelligence Officer in question, and expects
    shortly to have permission to write a complete account of what
    was undoubtedly not only one of the most daring, but also one of
    the most successful exploits of the war.

“As I was telling you,” resumed Radovitch, “dynamite was the one thing
we felt the need of more than anything else, and yet--perhaps the one
big thing we did wouldn’t have been half so big (and maybe it would
have failed completely) if we’d had the powder to go about the job the
way we planned to do it in the first place. Did you ever hear what
happened to the Austrian force that was camped in the ---- Valley last
spring?”

“I remember reading one of their bulletins,” I replied, “which
admitted losing a battalion or two in a flood in that region. But that
was due to ‘natural causes,’ wasn’t it? Didn’t a broken dam have
something to do with it?”

“Natural causes and a busted dam did have something to do with it,”
said Radovitch with a grin; “but nature in this case had some active
assistance, and that was where we came in. It wasn’t just a battalion
that went down-stream, either; it was more like two of their big
regiments--the whole of the main force they had shivvied together to
bottle us up with. It was the best thing we did by a mile; and, as I
told you, it wouldn’t have been half the clean-up it was if we’d had
in the first place the powder to do it in the ‘regular way.’ If we
_had_ had the powder, we’d never have given Providence a chance, and,
believe me, it was nothing but Providence that could have worked
things round the way they finally came out.

“You see, it was this way,” went on Radovitch, settling back
comfortably and smiling the pleased smile of reminiscence that sits on
the face of a man who recalls events in which he has taken keen pride
and enjoyment, “the most open approach to our mountain country was by
the gorge up which ran the cart-road. There was a good-sized area of
watershed draining out this way, so that the little river running
through the gorge was a pretty powerful stream even in low water--a
good bit bigger than the old Firehole in Yellowstone Park. This river
flowed out of the main mass of the mountains into a fine bowl of an
uplands valley, and then on out of that, through a rough range of
foothills, in another gorge. At the head of this last gorge is a
natural site to store water, and there--as a project of an old
Government reclamation scheme that had been held up halfway for lack
of money to go on with--a high dam had been built which backed up a
deep, narrow lake four or five miles long.

“The Austrians had a small force in the little village in the valley
of the lake, and patrolled four or five miles of the cart-road into
the mountains, but the main lot of them were camped below the second
gorge in an open, triangle-shaped valley that ran up from the plain to
the foothills. It was a good, safe, healthy, well-drained camp, well
above the top marks of spring high-water. The only threat to it was
the lake behind the dam in the valley above, but, unluckily for them,
they didn’t know all the facts about that dam.

“The truth was that this dam was built to hold up a lake half again as
deep as the one then there, but poor engineering and scamp contracting
combined to make it too weak to stand the pressure up to the level
intended. The English engineer who came to inspect it put a mark about
two-thirds of the way up, and warned that it wouldn’t be safe to ever
let the water rise above that height. As a precaution, it had been the
custom every February or March, before the spring thaw came, to drain
off the water of the lake during the month or two before the run-off
was the greatest, so that there was plenty of margin against the
floods shoving up the level above the danger-point. The Austrians were
good enough engineers to know that it was a rotten dam, but they
didn’t seem to have the sense to start lowering the water level before
the spring freshets set in.

“Of course we didn’t have to set up nights to figure what a break in
the dam--if only it came sudden enough--would do to the main Austrian
camp; but the contriving of ways and means to bring about that ‘sudden
break’ seemed to have us guessing from the first. The simple and
natural thing would have been to try and work down a couple of raiding
parties on either side of the lake, rush the guards at the dam with
knives (as we did later at the bridge I told you of), plant two or
three charges of dynamite, touch off the fuses, and beat it back to
the hills. If we’d had enough powder, probably that’s the thing we’d
have tried, but with what success it’s hard to say. The chances
against anything like a ‘clean job’ were anywhere from ten to fifty to
one. In the first place, there was the chance of some of the raiders
running into an Austrian patrol or sentry and starting something
before they ever got near the dam. Then there was the chance that the
rush at the dam might not go off quietly enough to keep from bringing
the force in the village down on us and making it hopeless to try and
place the powder, even if we had cleaned up the guards. Or, if we did
get the powder placed, there was the chance that we might fail to
explode it (as happened at the bridge); or even if it did explode, it
was no cinch that the dam would go all at once, or that the camp below
wouldn’t be warned in time to get clear. Yes, I’m sure it was a good
fifty-to-one that one of these things would have upset the apple-cart
if we’d happened to be in shape to try and do the job with dynamite.
And once we’d showed our hand, of course, the Austrians had only to
let the water out of the lake or move the lower camp, and the game was
up for good.

“But the hundred or so sticks of forty per cent. ‘giant’ we had in
stock were out of the question to tackle the job with, and so no move
was made that might have stirred the enemy’s suspicions of what we had
in pickle for him. So, far from taking any precautions as the flood
season approached, he only let the water go on rising in the lake and
extended the main camp a hundred yards nearer the river. We talked
over a hundred plans in the long winter nights, but it was not till
the snow began to turn slushy at noonday, along towards the middle of
March, that we hit on one that seemed to promise a chance of success.

“We had been hoping all along that the Austrians might let the water
go on piling up behind the dam until it gave way, but it was not till
one day when our scouts brought word that the gates had now been
opened, with the evident intention of holding the lake at a level
which they figured at about ten feet above the danger-point, that it
occurred to us that we might do something to help the good work along.
Nobody ever recalled afterwards whose idea it was, but a dozen of
us--officers and men together, in the Serbian fashion--suddenly found
ourselves waving our arms and getting red in the face discussing a
plan for building a little dam of our own, backing up as big a lakeful
of water behind it as we could, and then turning it loose on the big
lake below at the crest of the spring floods. If any of us had had any
engineering sense we’d have known that we couldn’t build--with no
tools but a few axes and spades, and no materials but what nature had
put there--a dam in a year big enough to be of any use, let alone in a
month. But having no sense to speak of in things of that kind, we went
ahead with the job, and, with the luck of fools, pulled it off.

“There was a fine site for a dam at the upper end of the cart-road
gorge, where it looked as though a solid barrier thirty feet high
would back up a lake something like three-quarters of a mile long and
from a quarter to half a mile wide. We began by building a ‘crib’ of
pine-trunks thirty feet wide--which was to be filled with boulders
and gravel. On our pencil plan of it, it was to be heavily buttressed
from below and slope from both sides till it was only ten feet wide at
the top. Our idea was to make it as much like a fort as possible, so
that if the Austrians piped it off from an aeroplane they would think
we were only working on defences. A hole was to be left in the middle
for the river to flow out through, as we didn’t intend to store water
till the big rains and thaws set in. As it was rainy or windy every
day from the time we started to work, the Austrians--as far as we ever
knew--did no flying over the mountains, so that we had no worry on
that score.

“Upwards of five hundred husky Serbs can do a deal of work,
but it didn’t take more than three days of log-rolling and
rock-packing to show that--even at the pace we were hitting it--that
hundred-yard-long, thirty-feet-high dam wouldn’t be finished before
the next season, and that, even if we did get it done some time, the
stuff we were putting in it was too loose to stop water. It was at
this stage of things that I had _my_ big idea. I had worked in
hydraulic mines in the West, and while we had nothing to rig up a pipe
and nozzle from, there _was_ a chance to divert a little mountain
torrent that came tumbling down from the snows only a few yards below
our dam site. Why not, I suggested, build up only a narrow crib of
boulders and pine logs to act as a barrier, and then bring over this
little torrent--it was flowing about a hundred miner’s inches at this
time--and let it sluice down the loose ‘conglomerate’ from the
four-hundred-foot-high cliff through which it flowed? Because no one
had anything else to offer, we decided to try the thing.

“We used up a good half of our poor little store of powder in making
the cut to bring over the stream, but the job was mostly easy digging,
and we finished it in three days. My young ‘hydraulic’ sure tore down
a lot of rock and gravel, but, as we couldn’t rig up anything to
confine it properly, it only spread out in a big ‘fan,’ which in turn
was sluiced away by the river. That fairly stumped us, and when on top
of it a big storm came on and brought down a flood that washed away
all our cribbing, we chucked up in disgust our project of ‘harnessing
nature’ against the Austrian and began to plan raids again.

“All that night it rained cats and dogs, and when I looked out of my
hut the next morning the river was over its banks and humping it like
a ‘locoed’ mustang. But the funny thing was that the cascade from the
little stream we had diverted seemed to have disappeared. At first I
thought it had bucked its way back into its old channel, but when I
went down to look I found that it had been ‘swallowed’ up by the
cliff. Five times as big as on the night before, it came tumbling down
over an up-ended stratum of slate, to disappear in a foamy
yellow-white spout into a deep crack it had sluiced into the soft
‘conglomerate.’ At the bottom of the cliff it came boiling out from
under the angling slate-layer in a stream that looked to be about
equal parts of gravel and water. My baby ‘hydraulic’ had evidently
undermined a sloping section of the cliff for a hundred feet or more,
and only the tough slate stratum was staving off a big cave-in. How
big a cave-in it was going to be, and what it was going to lead to, I
never guessed.

“The warm rain kept plugging down all day, and was still pelting hard
when I went to sleep that night. Towards morning I was waked up with a
roar a hundred times louder than any snow-slide I ever heard, and then
came a jar that rocked the whole valley. I felt sure a piece of the
cliff had come down, but didn’t have the least hunch that anything
like what the first daylight showed up had come off. The first thing I
saw as the dark slacked off was the shimmer of a flat stretch of
water in the bottom of the valley, a lake--just as if it had been
dropped from the sky--right where we’d been trying to start one
ourselves.

“The cliff had broken back a couple of hundred feet or more all the
way to the top, and in falling had piled up clear across the head of
the gorge. On the near side it was about one hundred and fifty feet
high, on the farther side something like sixty.

“With the rain still pouring pitchforks and the snow melting all over
the mountains, water was coming down at a rate that had the lake
rising at the rate of two feet an hour all morning, and better than
half that fast even when it began to spread out over the valley floor
in the afternoon. The storm kept right on for three days. The second
morning there was twenty-five feet of water at the dam, on the third
forty feet and on the fourth near to fifty. The lake by this time was
both bigger and deeper than the one we’d planned to make ourselves.

“By good luck the streams ramping down from the mountains into the
gorge below the slide kept two or three times its average flow in the
river, and so the Austrians--who didn’t know its habits very
well--failed to notice that anything unusual had come off up-stream.
Our scouts reported that the water in the lower lake had not risen
much, and that it seemed to stand at about fifteen feet above the
danger mark. The Austrians, they said, did not appear to be paying any
more attention to the dam than usual.

“We were hoping that the storm would hold until enough water was
backed up to bust the dam on its own, but when it began to clear on
the fourth day it was plain the best way out of it was to give the
thing a push on our own account. We didn’t have a hundredth of enough
‘giant’ to do the job, so had to rig the best makeshift we could by
turning the still husky stream of my ‘hydraulic’ right along the
sloping top of the slide and off down into the gorge.

“It was about midday when we set it sluicing, and all afternoon it
licked off the loose earth as if it was sugar. By dark half the near
end of the slide had slushed away, and the wall that still held was
beginning to bulge and cave with the seep forced through from the
other side. Half an hour later our pitch-pine torches showed the water
bubbling through all the way along, and we knew it was time for us to
clear out. It was none too soon either, for the last man was just out
of the way when a heavy sort of rolling-grind started, and
then--whouf!--out she went.

“I’ve been in ‘Yankee Jim’s’ Canyon of the Yellowstone when the flood
behind the break-up of the ice-jam in the lake came down, but that was
a rat-a-tat to the roar that sounded now. The mountains themselves
were shaking, and the movement started the ‘hanging’ snow-slides all
the way down the gorge. It must have been a racket like that when the
world was made. The lake was drained of all but mud in ten minutes,
and it must have been about twice that long before a new sound broke
in--a roar so deep that it seemed to almost be a rumbling from under
the earth. But we knew that it was the big dam going--that our work
was done for that night.

“The next morning at daybreak every man in shape to stand the climb
over a mountain path we knew--the road down the gorge had been scoured
out clean--dropped down from three sides on the little Austrian force
in the village where the dam had been, and killed or captured the
whole bunch. Then we pushed on to the top of the foothills looking
down to the plain. Where the main Austrian camp had been was a slither
of smooth mud, dotted with the stumps of snapped-off trees; and just
that, and no more, was all we could see as far as our eyes could
reach.

“And just so,” cried Radovitch, leaping to his feet and shaking a fist
toward the serrated sky-line to the north-east, beyond which ran the
roads to Monastir and Prilep and Uskub; “just so, when the time comes,
will the whole ---- ---- herd of the swine be swept out of Serbia!”



BEATING BACK FROM GERMANY

(AS TOLD BY AN ESCAPED PRISONER).


I was born on a Wisconsin farm, almost within sight of Lake Michigan
and only a few miles from the Illinois State line. My father was Irish
and my mother German. Like my name, most of my qualities--both good
and bad--were those of my father rather than my mother. He died when I
was ten, and within a year my mother married our German hired-man. My
mother was never unkind to me, but my stepfather was a brute, and from
the day of his coming to live with us I date a steadily growing
dislike for his race, which has been made worse by a sort of fatality
which, in spite of myself, has seemed to work to throw me amongst them
all my life.

My stepfather was always rough with me, but until I was sixteen
confined himself to a black-snake and horsewhip in beating me. I got
on as best I could with him, but when he celebrated my coming to what
he called “man’s estate” by starting in on me with a hoe-handle, it
was more than I could stand. The second time he tried it I was ready
for him and caught him a blow behind the ear with an iron
monkey-wrench that laid him out across the chopping-block. Afraid that
I had killed him--he was really not hurt much--I ran away, taking
nothing with me but the wrench I had in my hand. I never parted with
that good old monkey-wrench during all my wanderings of the next ten
years, and I felt worse about losing it to the Germans in Flanders
than I did about the two fingers their shrapnel bashed off.

For the next few years I did all kinds of farm work, always being
employed by Germans because nearly all of the farms in southern
Wisconsin are owned by those people. Possibly there were many good
people amongst them, but it always seemed to be my luck to get with
the others. Hard workers themselves, they were also hard drivers of
those who worked for them, and full of mean little tricks for getting
more time out of you or for giving you less money. Of course, being
quick-tempered and with a sort of standing grudge against all
“square-heads” growing up inside of me anyhow, I was in hot water most
of the time. The week that went by without a fight was very
exceptional. If they were content to go after me with their fists, I
usually kept to the same weapons, and hardly recall a time when I
didn’t have the best of it. But if they ever tried anything else I
always fell back on my trusty monkey-wrench, which I generally carried
swung to my belt with a raw-hide. After a while, just as the Indians
used to tally their scalps on the handles of their tomahawks, I
started cutting a notch on the wooden grip of my monkey-wrench for
every time I had dropped--I don’t think I ever killed one--a
“square-head” with it. At first--proud of what they stood for--I cut
them broad and long, but soon I saw I was using up my limited space
too fast, and, to provide for “future developments,” began cutting
them smaller. It was surprising how much the notches improved the
grip.

By the time I was twenty I was able to run both the engine and the
separator of a threshing-machine outfit, and started going west every
summer to the Dakotas and Montana to get the benefit of the high
harvest pay. My winters I spent in a big factory in Racine, learning
to repair and build threshers and tractors. Partly to save the money
that I would have had to pay for a ticket, but more for the lark of
it, I started beating my way back and forth between the east and the
west on the trains. Sometimes I stowed away with a week’s food in an
empty furniture car, sometimes I rode the “blind baggage,” but mostly
it was the old stand-by of the “bindle-stiff” called “riding the
rods.” My nerve was good and my arms strong, and it wasn’t long before
I could swing up and disappear inside the “bumpers” of a train doing
thirty miles an hour as easily as the conductor swung on to the tail
of the caboose by his hand-rail. It was little idea I had that the
tricks I learned in those days were going to make all the difference
between my starving in a German prison camp and (what is happening
now) being fed on chocolates and pink teas in London by way of
training for another go at the Huns.

In 1913 I went to South America to set up and run threshing outfits
that had been sold to the ranchers by the Racine company I had been
working for winters. I had a two years’ contract, and was supposed to
go to Uruguay or the Argentine. If I had done that, probably things
would have been all right. But at the last moment, as a result of some
one else dropping out, I was sent to Rio Grande do Sul, in the
southern “pan-handle” of Brazil. But don’t believe that because it was
Brazil there were any Brazilians there, or leastways any that counted
for anything. The Germans have been swarming into Rio Grande and
Santa Catharina for thirty years, and to-day southern Brazil is as
“Dutch” as--southern Wisconsin. Probably, in fact, it is more so, for
there are over half a million Germans there, and hardly a third that
many Brazilians.

I had been avoiding German farms for the last two or three years, but
in Rio Grande all the ranchers were Germans, and I had to go wherever
an outfit had been sold anyhow. The notches multiplied pretty fast on
my old monkey-wrench for about three weeks, but at the end of that
time I found myself in jail for knocking out the front teeth of a fat
German farmer after I had ducked a prod from his pitchfork. Our agent
at Santa Catharina and the American Consul at Santos got me clear, but
the former took the occasion to cancel my contract and ship me home
before, as he put it, I had ruined the company’s trade in that end of
Brazil.

I was breaking prairie with a big gasoline tractor outfit in northern
Manitoba when the European War started, and so sure I was that my
country was going to take some kind of a stand against the invasion of
Belgium that I got ready at once to go home and enlist in case we had
to back up the protest with force. I waited, with my grip packed,
until it was plain that there was no chance of any move from our
brave statesmen at Washington--it must have been three or four weeks
before I gave up hope--and then threw up my job, did sixty miles on
horseback in nine hours to the railway station, and went to the
nearest recruiting office. They would probably have taken me as an
American, but I was taking no chances on being rejected. I told them I
was an Irish-Canadian, and the next day was being put through the
paces by the drill-sergeant. I could have got much more pay and a
better billet generally by going into the transport service and
driving a motor truck, but I had suddenly become aware that I had been
nursing a sort of slumbering desire to kill Germans for the last
decade, and I wasn’t going to miss the chance to let that desire wake
up. I sewed an extra loop on my belt so that I could have my good old
monkey-wrench always handy, and began looking anxiously forward to the
time when I should be able to complete my “register” of bashed-up
Dutchmen on the handle. I might have to use my rifle for long-range
work, I told myself, but for the close-in action in the trenches I was
going to do with my wrench what the other fellows did with their
bayonets. Lucky it was for my peace of mind in those days that I
couldn’t look forward and see what the end of the next eight or ten
months had in pickle for me.

The call was pretty persistent for men in those first months of the
war and, in spite of the shortage of all kinds of equipment, our
training was rushed from the very beginning. Most of the boys in my
regiment had seen service or had training--some had been in the South
African War, and others had been members of the English Territorials
or the Canadian Militia--already, and we made much better progress
than the rawer contingents that came later. We had about three months
in Canada, a little longer in England (where I had a touch of typhoid
on Salisbury Plain), and by the early spring of 1915 we were in
reserve in Flanders. By the time the Germans made their second attempt
to drive through Ypres to Calais we had been pushed up into the first
line. Until the big attack came, however, we had had no real fighting.
The Germans--I had begun to call them Huns by this time instead of
Dutchmen--made scattering raids on our trenches and we made scattering
raids on theirs, but I never figured in any of this to the extent of
mixing in hand-to-hand work. I had no chances to add any notches to
the handle of my old monkey-wrench, but from my always carrying it
around with me the English “Tommies” (who call a wrench a spanner)
had dubbed me “Spanner Mike.” They pretended to believe I was a little
“cracked” about my trusty old friend, but I found that they were never
above borrowing it for everything, from opening boxes from home to
tinkering the gear of broken-down automobile trucks--“motor lorries,”
they call them. It’s really remarkable what a lot of things a man can
use a monkey-wrench for if only he happens to have it handy when he
needs it.

For some days the shell-fire against us had been getting heavier--at
least they called it heavy then; it would be nothing now--and we knew
that the Huns were getting ready for some kind of an attack. What kind
it was going to be we little dreamed, for even our officers seem to
have known nothing about the gas they had been experimenting with over
in Germany. When it came--it rolled toward us in heavy clouds like the
morning mists in the Dakota “Bad Lands”--the word went round that the
Huns’ munitions had got afire, and we were telling each other that we
ought to be sent across to take advantage of the confusion. It was
only when we began to notice that it was bubbling up at fairly regular
intervals--thick greasy yellow clouds of it--that it seemed they
might be putting up a game on us, and by that time one of the advanced
tongues of the stuff lapped over into our trench.

I shall never forget the horrible agony and surprise in the eyes of
the men who got that first dose. It was the look of a dog being
suddenly beaten for something it hadn’t done. They looked at each
other with questioning eyes--I only recall hearing one man start
cursing--then they began gulping and coughing, and then fell down with
their faces in their hands. All the time the shrapnel was popping
overhead and raining bullets about, and, just as the gas began to pour
over my parapet, a bullet knocked my rifle out of my hand, and I
slipped in the mud as I jumped back and went down in a heap. It must
have been all of six weeks before I stood on my feet again.

My first sensation was of a smarting way up inside of my nose. This
quickly extended to my throat, and then, as my lungs suddenly seemed
filled with red-hot needles, I was seized with a spasm of coughing.
Coughing up red-hot needles is not exactly a pleasant operation, and
the pain was intense. Mercifully, it was only a few minutes before a
sort of stupor seemed to come on, but even as I passed into
half-consciousness I was aware of my outraged lungs revolting, in
heaves that shook my frame, against the poison that had swamped the
trench. With some of my comrades the fighting instinct was the last
thing that died, and I have a sort of a recollection of two or three
of them clutching at the parapet and firing from cough-shaken
shoulders off into the depths of the rolling yellow gas clouds. One
lad toppled over beside me and still kept pumping shots from the
bottom of the trench. I remember hazily trying to kick his rifle out
of his hand as he discharged it over my ear, and, failing to locate it
with my foot, recall groping instinctively for my old wrench and
trying to disarm him with that. My last recollection of this stage of
things was the shock of feeling the wrench-handle swing backward
harmlessly for lack of my two shrapnel-smashed fingers to steady it.

I had rolled and writhed, in the agony of the pain of the gas in my
lungs, in a pool of slush in the bottom of the trench, and it must
have been the lying with my face buried in the shoulder of my wet
woollen tunic that saved my life. Most of my comrades were quite
unconscious when the Huns, with their heads protected by baggy
“snoots,” came pouring into the trench, but I had enough of my senses
left unparalysed to be able to watch them in a hazy sort of way. The
horrible quietness of the thing was positively uncanny. Always before
the enemy had charged with yells (it is directed in their manual that
they do so, though, of course, a man “gives tongue” naturally on such
occasions from sheer excitement), but now they were hardly making a
sound. Probably this was by orders, so that no more air than was
necessary should be taken into the lungs, but even when some of them
did try to speak the words were so muffled that it must have been very
hard to make them out.

The Huns were pretty excited at first, and started right down the
trench bayoneting one body after another. But before they got to me an
officer stopped them for a minute and evidently gave them to
understand that they were to confine their butchery only to those that
tried to resist. Two or three of our boys, who had not gone under
entirely but had not sense enough to understand the uselessness of
putting up a fight, made a few groggy passes at the Huns and paid the
penalty. I lay quiet and played “possum,” but got a nasty prod in the
groin when one of them turned me over with his bayonet to see where I
was wounded. There was still a good deal of gas in the bottom of the
trench, and between that and loss of blood I must have lost
consciousness entirely about this time.

My recollections covering the next day or two are very dim and
confused, but one thing was photographed so clearly on my mind that
the image of it has never faded; I even grow hot as I think of it now,
over a year later. This was the last thing I saw before I “went to
sleep” in the trenches--two Huns using my monkey-wrench (the tool I
had been “strafing” “Dutchmen” with for the last ten years, and which
I had brought along to continue that good work with) to tinker up one
of our own smashed machine-guns to use against our own men. I never
saw it again, and its loss rankled in my mind during the whole year
that I was doomed to spend in German hospitals and prison camps.

I have some memory of being carried in a stretcher, and of passing
through one or two dressing-stations where my wounds were washed and
bandaged. My connected recollections begin after my waking up in a
hospital--well back from the Front, but still not out of the sound of
the guns--that was evidently devoted entirely to “gas” cases. The ward
I was in was filled with men from my own regiment, but what interested
me specially--as soon as I was able to take any interest in anything
beyond my own suffering--was to observe that a great many Germans
were also being treated in the same hospital. I never did find out
just how these happened to be “gassed,” but presume it was either
through accidents to their apparatus or from their “snoots” being
faulty.

At any rate, the Germans had evidently prepared in advance for “gas”
cases, and the chances are that they pulled through a good many of us
who might have died had we been taken back to our own hospitals, where
they had, at that time, small facilities for handling that kind of
trouble. The ward was kept as hot as a Turkish bath, and some of our
chaps thought this was done with the idea of making our agony worse.
One of them, who jumped out of bed, threw up a window, got a lungful
of cold air, and died the same night, gave us a proper object-lesson
in why the air had to be kept at close to blood heat. Some of them
also thought that a kind of stuff they gave us to inhale made us worse
rather than better, but that was only their imagination. If there was
any real ground for complaint it might have been on the score that the
doctors tried a good many experiments on us because this was the first
chance they had had to study gas poisoning on a large scale, but that
was no more than we could have expected. Probably our own doctors
would have been glad of some “dogs,” in the shape of Huns, to “try it
on” when they first began to study “gassing.”

But the doctors were always attentive, and the nurses always
kind--more than kind, most of them. But I already had learned that a
nurse’s best stock-in-trade is her “sympathy,” and those I met in
Germany were no exception to the rule. I think it was the way that
those plump blonde _fräuleins_ looked after us poor devils in that
steaming-hot ward that kept me from trying to run amuck and commit
murder as soon as I was well enough to be sure that my memory of those
two Huns tinkering at our machine-gun with my old monkey-wrench was no
“fevered vision.”

I have been told often since returning to England that it will be just
as well not to say too much about my hardships in the German prison
camps, as it might be the way of making things all the worse for those
still doomed to remain there. So I shall touch lightly on this side of
my experiences, and, to be on the safe side, will try not to mention
any camps or other German localities by name. I was sent to what, had
I but known it, was the most liberally run prison camp in Germany
after my discharge from the hospital, but even at that the treatment
was so abominable in comparison with what I had been receiving and had
a right to expect that it undid at once the “soothing” effect the kind
nurses and doctors had had on me. I don’t mean that I went back
physically a great deal--my constitution was too strong for that--but
only that my old hate of the Hun redoubled. This would have been all
very well if I had only been back in the trenches, but in a prison
camp it could only have one end. I dropped in his tracks with my
fist--mighty hard it was his shaved head felt to my half-healed
“right”--the first guard that tried to hustle me into line with the
toe of his boot. Then I used up what strength I had left in a rough
and-tumble with three or four others, until one of them finally put me
to sleep with the butt of his rifle. In at least three other camps I
could name I would have been shot then and there (it has happened to
many a lad whose pride made him turn loose on a brutal guard), and I
can count myself very lucky that I got off with no more than a bit
more of a beating up and two weeks’ solitary confinement on black
bread and water. Perhaps the worst consequence of my action was my
transfer, a few weeks later, to a camp that has since become notorious
for both its unhealthfulness and its inhumanity.

The first glimmerings of sense (regarding the situation that I was
going to have to face as a prisoner of war in Germany) was let into my
rather thick head by the blow it got from that rifle-butt; the
rest--enough to start me on the right course, at least--filtered in
during my two weeks of solitary confinement on bread and water. I was
of no use to myself or any one else in a German prison camp, I told
myself. I had no chance there either to kill Huns or destroy Hun
property. Once outside I might well be able to do both--perhaps even
get back to England and join my regiment if any of it was left. How to
get out?--that was the question. From that time on I turned my every
thought and act to that one end.

What makes it almost hopeless for a prisoner of war to get out of
Germany is not so much the actual escape from his prison--that is
comparatively easy, especially if he is on outside work--as the lack
of clothes and money, and the difficulty of avoiding giving himself
away by being unable to speak the language. These things make the odds
a thousand to one against the average prisoner having more than
twenty-four hours’ freedom at the outside. The chances against success
are so big that few attempt it. Luckily, I had one advantage over the
general run of the prisoners in my ability to speak fairly good
German. I must have had a lot of accent, of course, but I still
understood all that was said to me in German, and was also able to say
all that I wanted to. This would be good enough, I told myself, to run
a bluff with the ordinary run of people I might meet about my being a
returned German-American come back to work for my Fatherland; that is
to say, I ought to be able to prevent such people from being
suspicious of me, where they would have attacked or reported a man who
could not speak German at once. Anything in the way of police or
officials I should have to fight shy of, and, as I foresaw there must
be all kinds of checks on strangers and travellers, I knew I should
have to steer clear of trains and hotels. I felt sure of myself on the
score of language, therefore; clothes and money were things to be
provided as opportunity offered. Fortunately, Fate was very kind to me
in this respect.

One little incident I must mention before I go on with my story. In
the prison I was transferred to most of the English prisoners, after a
while, began to receive parcels from home, even some of the Canadians
coming in on the deal. I, having no friends either in Canada or
England, got nothing direct, but all sorts of nice little odds and
ends of dainties came my way in the final “divvy.” One lad from the
south of England, who was dying with a sort of slow blood-poisoning
and lack of care of a never-healed wound at the back of his neck, was
especially generous to me with the things he got from home, and when
he finally went under I managed to get permission to write a few words
to his family, telling them, among other things, how kind he had been
to me with his parcels. And what should they do--his brokenhearted
mother and sisters in Devonshire--but “adopt” me in his place and keep
right on sending the chocolate and cigarettes and other “goodies” just
as regularly as before. And now they’ve been to see me here, and tell
me they are going to keep sending me things when I return to the Front
just the same as though I was the boy they had lost.

As soon as I had fully made up my mind what I wanted to do, I went on
my good behaviour, got into the “trusty” class, and was one of the
first picked for outside work when the call came for English prisoners
to help in harvesting and road-making. I had a good chance to practise
my German during the harvest work, but the prospects for making good
after a “get-away” were not very promising, and I had sense enough to
bide my time. But when I got switched on to road work, and when almost
the first thing I saw was a bunch of Huns clustered round an old Holt
“Caterpillar” tractor that had got stalled on them, I felt that time
was drawing near.

Now a “Caterpillar” is just about the finest tractor in the world for
general purposes, provided it is run by a man that has had plenty of
experience with its funny little ways; in the hands of any one
else--even a first-class engineer that is quite at home with a wheel
tractor--it is the original fount of trouble. To me the machine was an
old friend, however, for I had run one for two or three seasons in the
West and worked for a winter in one of the company’s factories in
Illinois. I took the first opportunity to let the Huns know my
qualifications, and when they saw me start in to true up the wobbly
“track,” they just about fell on my neck then and there. They had
seized the machine in a Belgian sugar-beet field a few days after the
outbreak of the war, they explained, and it had been used for a while
to haul heavy artillery in the drive into France. After a time the
hard usage had begun to tell on the “track,” and--as they had no new
parts to replace worn ones with--it had been giving about as much
trouble as it was worth ever since. When I told them that it was
adjustment rather than replacement that was needed, and that in a few
days I could have the machine as good as new, they fairly tumbled over
themselves to “borrow” me for the job.

As a matter of fact, the old “crawler” was just about on its last
legs, but I knew in any case that I could tinker it into some kind of
running shape, and the comparative freedom of the job was what I
wanted. This worked out even better than I expected, for after the
first day or two, in order to save the time taken up by returning me
to the prison camp at night and bringing me back in the morning, they
arranged for me to bunk in in the road camp. They were too much
occupied in hustling the job along to think about asking me for my
parole--a lucky thing, for I should have had a hard time to keep from
breaking it.

With two men to help me, I took the tractor all down, “babbitted” up
the bearings, readjusted the gears, and had it up and running at the
end of a week. With a string back to the seat to open up the throttle
for the sharp pulls, I had it snaking a string of ten waggon-loads of
crushed rock where it had been stalling down on three before the
overhauling. During that week I had also managed to pick up--no
matter how--several marks in money, and had succeeded in concealing so
effectually the greasy jacket of one of my assistants that he gave up
hunting for it and got a new one. A machinist’s cap had already been
given me, and the evening that the other helper washed out his
overalls and flung them over his tent to dry, I--seeing a chance to
complete my wardrobe--decided promptly that the time had come to make
a move. They had offered me a steady job running the old
“Caterpillar,” and at something better than ordinary “prisoner’s pay,”
but as it would have kept me in the same neighbourhood, I could not
figure how it would help my chances in the least to “linger on.”

There was supposed to be a sentry watching the road machinery, and
also keeping a wary eye on the tent where I bunked with a half-dozen
of the engineers, but he did not take his job very seriously, and I
knew I would have no difficulty avoiding him. We had had a hard day of
it, and my tent mates were in bed by dark--about 8 o’clock--and
asleep, by their deep breathing, a few minutes later. They all slept
in their working clothes, else I could have made up my outfit then and
there. But it did not matter, for within half a minute of the time I
had slipped noiselessly under the loosened tent-flap, I was making off
down the road with a full suit of German machinist’s togs under my
arm. Five minutes later I stopped in the darker darkness under a tree
by the roadside and slipped them on over my prison suit, rightly
anticipating that the extra warmth of the latter might be very welcome
if I had much sleeping out to do.

It was partly bravado, probably, and partly because I felt that, if
missed, I would be searched for in the opposite direction, that caused
me to head for the two-mile-distant town of X----. And it was probably
the same combination which led me, after passing unchallenged down the
long main street, to march up to the wicket of a “movie” show, pay my
twenty-five pfennig and pass inside. Had there been a “hue and cry”
that night (which there was not), this was undoubtedly the last place
they would have looked for me in.

The films were mostly war views--cracking fine things from both the
Russian and French fronts--and other patriotic subjects, but among
them was one of those “blood-and-thunder thrillers” from California. I
don’t recall exactly how the story went, but the thing that set me
thinking was the way the heroine pinched the lights off the automobile
they had kidnapped her in, and afterwards pawned them for enough to
get a ticket home with. What was to prevent my going back and getting
busy on my old “Caterpillar”? I asked myself. The magneto was worth
something like a hundred dollars, and even if I had no chance to sell
it, it was a pity to overlook so easy a bit of “strafing.” I concluded
that my steps had been guided to that “movie” show by my lucky star,
and promptly got up and started back for the road-making camp. On the
way some tipsy villagers passed me singing the “Hymn of Hate,” the air
and most of the words of which I had already picked up, and, out of
sheer happiness at being again (if only for a few hours) at liberty, I
joined in the explosive bursts of the chorus, booming out louder than
any of them on “England!” Evidently, unconsciously, I had done quite
the proper thing, for they raised their voices to match mine, gave a
“Hoch” or two, and passed on without stopping. That also gave me an
idea. During the whole following two weeks of my wanderings in Germany
every man, woman or child that I passed upon the road, in light or in
darkness, might have heard me humming “The Hymn of Hate,” “Die Wacht
am Rhein,” or, after I had mastered it toward the end, “Deutschland
über Alles.”

It was plain that my flight had not been discovered, for I found the
camp as quiet as when I left it three hours before. I could just make
out the figure of the sentry pacing along down the line of tractors
and dump-waggons, but the canvas which had been thrown over the
“Caterpillar” to protect it from possible rain made it easy for me to
escape attracting his attention. Of light I had no need; I knew the
old “65” well enough to work on it in my sleep. A wrench and pair of
nippers, located just where I had left them in their loops in the
cover of the tool-box over the right “track,” were all I needed. First
I cut the insulated copper wires running to the magneto with the
nippers, and then (placing my double-folded handkerchief over them to
prevent noise) unscrewed with the wrench the nuts from the bolts which
held the costly electrical contrivance to the steel frame of the
tractor. Then I cut off with a knife a good-sized square of the canvas
paulin that covered the machine, wrapped the magneto in it, and tied
up the bundle with a piece of the insulated copper wire, leaving a
doubled loop for a handle. Then I threw out some of the more delicate
adjustments, dropped some odds and ends of small tools and bits of
metal down among the gears where they would do the most “good,”
pocketed the knife and nippers, and, with the magneto in one hand and
the biggest wrench I could find in the other, set off for X---- again.
The wrench was my last and greatest inspiration; it was to take the
place of the one the Huns had robbed me of in the trenches. I am glad
to be able to write that I have it by me at the present moment, and
that it is slated to go back to the Front with me--, I hope to do a
bit of the “strafing” that Fate denied the other.

Probably no prisoner of war was ever loose in the interior of Germany
with a clearer idea of what he wanted to do, and how he intended to do
it, than I had at this moment. I knew that my only chance of escaping
capture within the next twenty-four hours was in putting a long way--a
hundred miles or more--between myself and that place by daylight, when
the “alarm” would go out. I knew the only way this could be done was
by train; but I also knew that the quickest way to instant arrest was
to try to enter a station and take a train in the ordinary way. To any
but one who had “hoboed” back and forth across the North American
Continent as I had the game would have seemed a hopeless one.

I was far from despairing, however; in fact, I never felt more equal
to a situation in my life. The whole thing hinged on my getting my
first train. After that I felt I could manage. I had studied German
passenger cars as closely as possible in watching them pass at a
distance, and was certain they offered fairly good “tourist”
accommodation on the “bumpers” or brake beams; but I did not feel that
I yet knew enough of their under-slung “architecture” to board them
when on the move. This meant that I was going to have to start on my
“maiden” trip from a station or siding, where I could find a train at
rest. A siding would, of course, have been vastly preferable, but as I
had none definitely located, and knew that I might easily waste the
rest of the night looking for one, the X---- _bahnhof_ was the only
alternative. Because this was so plainly the _only_ way, I was nerved
to the job far better than if I had had to decide between two or three
lines of action.

Nor was I in any doubt as to how the thing would have to be done. At
the ticket windows, or at the gates to the train shed, I was positive
I would be challenged at once--even if no word had yet gone to the
police of my escape--and held for investigation. Besides, I had not
money enough to take me a quarter the distance I felt that I should
have to go to be reasonably safe. The only way was to follow the
tracks in through the yards and make the best of any opportunity that
offered. The ten or twelve-pound magneto would be a good deal of a
nuisance, but, as the possible sale of it at some distant point
offered an easy way to the money I was sure to need I decided not to
let it go till I had to.

I already knew the general lay of the X---- station, and decided that
it would be best to go to the tracks by crossing a field just outside
of the town. My road crossed the line a half-mile further away, but I
felt sure a bridge over a canal which would have to be passed if I
took to the ties at this point would be guarded by soldiers. A stumble
through a weed-choked ditch, a trudge across a couple of hundred yards
of rye stubble, a climb over the wire fencing of the right-of-way, and
I was once more crushing stone ballasting under my brogans, as I had
done so often before. Ten minutes later I passed unchallenged under
the lights of a switching-tower and was inside the X---- yards. Almost
at the same moment a bright headlight flashed out down the line ahead,
and before I reached the station a long passenger train had pulled in
and stopped. “Just in time,” I muttered to myself; “that’s _my_ train,
wherever it’s going.”

Entering the train-shed, I avoided the platforms and hurried along
between the passenger train and a string of freight cars standing on
the next track. Two or three yard hands brushed by me without a
glance, for there was practically no difference between my greasy
machinist’s rig-out and their own. But as I stopped and began to peer
under one of the _erstige_ coaches I saw, with the tail of my eye, a
brakeman of the freight train pause in his clamber up the end of one
of the cars and crane his head suspiciously in my direction. Scores of
times before (though never with so much at stake) I had faced the same
kind of emergency, and, without an instant’s hesitation and as though
it was the most natural thing in the world to be doing, I started
tapping one of the wheels with my big steel wrench. Heaven only knows
if they test for cracked car wheels that way in Germany! I certainly
have never seen them do it, at any rate. Anyhow, it served my purpose
of making the brakeman think I was there on business, for he climbed
on up on to his train and passed out of sight. Two seconds later I was
snuggled up on the “bumpers” with my wrench and magneto in my lap.

The brake-beams of a German _schlafwagen_ are not quite as roomy as
those of an American Pullman, but they might be much worse. The train
was a fairly fast one, making few stops, and I believe would have
taken me right in to Berlin if I had remained aboard long enough. I
was getting rather cramped and stiff after four or five hours,
however, and not caring to run the risk of being seen riding by
daylight, I dropped off as the train slowed down at a junction on the
outskirts of what appeared, and turned out, to be a large
manufacturing city. The magneto slipped out of my two-fingered hand as
I jumped off, and brought up in the frog of a switch with a jolt that
must have played hob with its delicate insides, but I wasn’t doing any
worrying on that score. Here I was, safe and sound, a good hundred
miles beyond any place they would ever think of looking for me.
Moreover, I had money in my pocket, as well as the possible means of
getting more. I couldn’t have wished for a better start.

There are a number of reasons why it would not be best for me to go
into detail at this time regarding the various ways in which I steered
clear of trouble in getting beyond the German frontiers, not the least
of them being that it might make it harder in the future for some
other poor devil trying to do the same thing. I do not think, however,
there would be one chance in a thousand for a British prisoner less
“heeled for the game”--a man unable to speak the language and to steal
rides on the “brake-beams” of the trains, I mean--than I was to win
through from any great distance from the frontier. But however that
may be, I am not going to make it harder for any one who may get the
chance by telling just how I did it.

Money--to be obtained by selling the magneto of the tractor I had
brought along with me--was the first thing for me to see to after
getting well clear of the country in which I was likely to be searched
for, and it was in going after this that I was nearest to “coming a
cropper.” I made the mistake--in my haste to get rid of the burden of
the heavy thing--of offering it to the first electrical supply shop I
came to. The proprietor wanted the thing very badly, but while he
seemed to accept readily enough my story that I was a returned
German-American working in munition factories, he said that the law
required him to call up the police and ask if anything of the kind had
been reported as stolen. I was not in the least afraid that the
magneto would be reported at a point so distant from the one I had
taken it from, but I did know that I couldn’t “stand up” for two
minutes in any kind of interview with the police. So I told old Fritz
to go ahead and telephone, and as soon as his back was turned grabbed
up the magneto and slipped out to the street as quietly as possible.

Whether the police made any effort to trace me or not I never knew.
There was no evidence of it, anyhow. I headed into the first side
street, and from that into another, and then kept going until I came
to a dirty little secondhand shop with a Jew name over the door.
Luckily the old Sheeny had had some dealing in junk and hardware, and
knew at once the value of the goods I had to offer. As a matter of
fact, indeed, the magneto was a “Bosch,” made in Germany in the first
place, and imported to the U.S. by the makers of the tractor from
which I had taken it. I was a good deal winded from quick walking--I
hadn’t a lot of strength at that time anyhow--and the shrewd old
Hebrew must have felt sure that I had stolen the thing within the
hour. He said no word about ’phoning the police, however, but merely
looked at me slyly out of the corner of one eye and offered me fifty
marks for an instrument that was worth four or five hundred in
ordinary times, and probably half again as much more through war
demands. I could probably have got more out of him, but I was in no
temper for bargaining, and the quick way in which I snapped up his
offer must have confirmed any suspicions the old fox may have had
concerning the way I came by the “goods.” The joint was probably
little more than a “fence”--a thieves’ clearing-house--anyhow, and I
was dead lucky to stumble on to it as I did.

I had two hearty meals that day in cheap restaurants--taking care to
order no bread or anything else I felt there might be a chance of my
needing a “card” for--and that night swung up on to the “rods” of a
passenger train that had slowed down to something like ten miles an
hour at a crossing, and rode for several hours in a direction which I
correctly figured to be that of the Dutch frontier. I spent the
following day moving freely about a good-sized manufacturing city, and
the next night “beat” through to a town on the border of Holland. As
this was not a place where there were any factories, my machinist’s
rig-out didn’t “merge into the landscape” in quite the same way it did
in the places where there was a lot of manufacturing, and I stayed
there only long enough to make sure that the frontier was guarded in a
way that would make the chances very much against my getting across
without some kind of help. Such help I knew that I could get in
Belgium, and therefore, as the whole of the German railway system
seemed to be at my disposal for night excursions, I decided to try my
luck from that direction. I wanted to take a look at Essen and Krupps’
while I was so near, but finally concluded it would not be best to
take a chance in a district where there were sure to be more on the
watch than anywhere else. The distant tops of tall chimneys and a
cloud of smoke in the sky were all that I saw of the “place where the
war was made.”

The Germans boast of a great intelligence system, yet not once--so far
as I could see--was I under suspicion during the several days in which
I made my leisurely way, by more or less indirect route, into Belgium.
As a matter of fact, I did not give them very much to “lay hold of.” I
kept closely to my original plan of steering clear of railway stations
and hotels, and of asking for nothing in shops or restaurants that
might require “tickets.” The weather was good, and most of my sleeping
was done in about the same quiet sort of outdoor nooks as the American
“hobo” seeks out in making his way across the continent. The only
difference was that it was safer, if anything, in Germany, and many
times when, in the States, I would have been greeted by a policeman’s
club on the soles of my boots, I saw, from the tail of my eye, the
“arm of the law” strut by without a second glance at the tired
machinist, with his wrench beside him, dozing under a tree in a park
or by the roadside. I had half a dozen good meals with kind-hearted
peasants, and one night--it was raining, and I was pretty well played
out--I accepted the offer of a bed in a farmhouse, the owner of which
had a son who had a sheep ranch in Montana, near Miles City, a place
where I had run a threshing outfit one season. He said he was very
sorry that the boy had not been as clever as I was in evading the
“Englanders” and getting home to help the Fatherland. He was a kind
old fellow, and I tinkered up his mowing-machine and put a new valve
in his leaking pump to square my account. There were a number of
little incidents of this kind, and the simple kindliness of the old
peasants I met--mostly fathers and mothers and wives with sons or
husbands in the war--was responsible for the fact that I did not feel
quite as harshly against Huns in general when I left their country as
when I entered it. Still, I know very well that their good treatment
of me was only because they thought I was one of themselves, and that
they would probably have given me up to a mob to tear to pieces if
they had suspected for a minute what I really was.

I went through into Belgium on the brake-beams of a fast freight
which, from the way it seemed to have the right-of-way over
passengers, I concluded was carrying munitions urgently needed at the
front. It was slowed down in some kind of a traffic jam at a junction
when I boarded it, but when I left it--when I thought I was as far
into Belgium as I wanted to go--it was hitting up a lively thirty
miles an hour or more, and all my practice at the game could not save
me from a nasty roll. Luckily, I dropped clear of the ties; and as the
fill was of soft earth, with a ditch full of water at the bottom, I
was not much the worse for a fall that would have brained me a dozen
times over on most American lines.

Of how I got out of Belgium into Holland, and finally on to England,
it would not do for me to write anything at all at this time, beyond
saying that it was entirely due to aid that I had from the Belgians
themselves. One of the most interesting chapters of the war will be
the one--not to be published till all is over--telling how Belgian
patriots in Belgium not only kept touch with each other during the
German occupation, but also contrived to send news--and even go and
come themselves--to the outer world. Even the “electric fence” along
the Holland boundary has no terrors for them, and I am giving away no
secret when I say that there are more ways of getting safely under or
over that fence than there are wires in it. It will probably do no
harm for me to say that _I_ crossed this barrier on a very cleverly
made little folding stairway which when not in use, was kept hidden
under a square of sod but a few feet away from the fence itself. The
genial old German sentry who spread it for me--he had, of course, been
liberally bribed, and probably had some regular “working arrangement”
with my Belgian friends--confided to me at parting that, when he had
accumulated enough money to keep him comfortably the rest of his life
in Holland, he intended to climb over that little stairway himself and
never go back. I have often wondered how many other Germans feel the
same about leaving “the sinking ship.”



THE SINGING SOLDIER


I

There was something just a bit ominous in the brooding warmth of the
soft air that was stirring at the base of the towering cliffs of the
Marmolada, where I took the _teleferica_; and the tossing aigrettes of
wind-driven snow at the lip of the pass where the cable-line ended in
the lee of a rock just under the Italian first-line trenches signalled
the reason why. The vanguard of one of those irresponsible mavericks
of mountain storms that so delight to bustle about and take advantage
of the fine weather to make surprise attacks on the Alpine sky-line
outposts was sneaking over from the Austrian side; and somewhere up
there where the tenuous wire of the _teleferica_ fined down and merged
into the amorphous mass of the cliff behind, my little car was going
to run into it.

“A good ten minutes to snug down in, anyhow,” I said to myself. And
after the fashion of the South Sea skipper who shortens sail and
battens down the hatches with his weather eye on the squall roaring
down from windward, I tucked in the loose ends of the rugs about my
feet, rolled up the high fur collar of my _Alpinio_ coat, and buttoned
the tab across my nose.

But things were developing faster than I had calculated. As the little
wire basket glided out of the cut in the forty-foot drift that had
encroached on its aerial right-of-way where the supporting
cables cleared a jutting crag, I saw that it was not only an
open-and-above-board frontal attack that I had to reckon with, but
also a craftily-planned flank movement quite in keeping with the fact
that the whole affair, lock, stock, and barrel, was a “Made in
Austria” product. Swift-driven little shafts of blown snow, that tried
hard to keep their plumes from tossing above the sheltering
rock-pinnacles, were wriggling over between the little peaks on both
sides of the pass and slipping down to launch themselves in flank
attack along the narrowing valley traversed by the _teleferica_ and
the zigzagging trail up to the Italian positions. Even as I watched,
one of them came into position to strike, and straight out over the
ice-cap covering the brow of a cliff shot a clean-lined wedge of
palpable, solid whiteness.

One instant my face was laved in the moist air-current drawing up from
the wooded lower valley, where the warm fingers of the thaw were
pressing close on the hair-poised triggers of the ready-cocked
avalanches; the next I was gasping in a blast of Arctic frigidity as
the points of the blown ice-needles tingled in my protesting lungs
with the sting of hastily-gulped champagne. Through frost-rimmed
eyelashes I had just time to see a score of similar shafts leap out
and go charging down into the bottom of the valley, before the main
front of the storm came roaring along, and heights and hollows were
masked by swishing veils of translucent white. In the space of a few
seconds an amphitheatre of soaring mountain peaks roofed with a vault
of deep purple sky had resolved itself into a gusty gulf of spinning
snow blasts.

My little wire basket swung giddily to one side as the first gust
drove into it, promptly to swing back again, after the manner of a
pendulum, when the air-buffer was undermined by a counter-gust and
fell away; but the deeply grooved wheel was never near to jumping off
the supporting cable, and the even throb of the distant engine coming
down the pulling wire felt like a kindly hand-pat of reassurance.

“Good old _teleferica_!” I said half aloud, raising myself on one
elbow and looking over the side: “you’re as comfy and safe as a
passenger lift and as thrilling as an aeroplane. But”--as the picture
of a line of ant-like figures I had noted toiling up the snowy slope a
few moments before flashed to my mind--“what happens to a man on his
feet--a man not being yanked along out of trouble by an engine on the
end of a nice strong cable--when he’s caught in a maelstrom like that?
What must be happening to those poor Alpini? Whatever can they be
doing?”

And even before the clinging insistence of the warm breeze from the
lower valley had checked the impetuosity of the invader, and diverted
him, a cringing captive, to baiting avalanches with what was left of
his strength, I had my answer; for it was while the ghostly draperies
of the snow-charged wind-gusts still masked the icy slope below that,
through one of those weird tricks of acoustics so common among high
mountain peaks, the flute-like notes of a man singing in a clear tenor
floated up to the ears I was just unmuffling from a furry collar:--

    “Fratelli d’Itali, l’Italia, s’è desta;
    Dell’ elmo di Scipio s’è cinta la testa!”

It was the “Inno di Mameli,” the Song of 1848--the Marseillaise of the
Italians. I recognised it instantly, because, an hour previously my
hosts at luncheon in the officers’ mess below had been playing it on
the gramophone. Clear and silvery, like freshly minted coins made
vocal, the stirring words winged up through the pulsing air till the
“sound chute” by which they had found their way was broken up by the
milling currents of the dying storm. But I knew that the Alpini were
still singing,--that they had been singing all the time, indeed,--and
when the last of the snow-flurries was finally lapped up by the warm
wind, there they were, just as I expected to find them, pressing
onwards and upwards under their burdens of soup-cans, wine-bottles,
stove-wood, blankets, munitions, and the thousand and one other things
that must pass up the life-line of a body of soldiers holding a
mountain pass in midwinter.


II

This befell, as it chanced, during one of my early days on the Alpine
front, and the incident of men singing in a blizzard almost strong
enough to sweep them from their feet made no small impression on me at
the moment. It was my first experience of the kind. A week later I
should have considered it just as astonishing to have encountered,
under any conditions, an Alpino who was _not_ singing; for to him--to
all Italian soldiers, indeed--song furnishes the principal channel of
outward expression of the spirit within him. And what a spirit it is!
He sings as he works, he sings as he plays, he sings as he fights,
and--many a tale is told of how this or that comrade has been seen to
go down with a song on his lips--he sings as he dies. He soothes
himself with song, he beguiles himself with song, he steadies himself
with song, he exalts himself with song. It is not song as the German
knows it, not the ponderous marching chorus that the Prussian Guard
thunders to order in the same way that it thumps through its
goose-step; but rather a simple burst of song that is as natural and
spontaneous as the soaring lark’s greeting to the rising sun.

Discipline of any kind is more or less irksome to the high-spirited
Alpino, but he manages to struggle along under it with tolerable
goodwill so long as it is plain to him that the military exigencies
really demand it. But the one thing that he really chafes under is the
prohibition to sing. This is, of course, quite imperative when he is
on scouting or patrol-work, or engaged in one of the incessant
surprise attacks which form so important a feature of Alpine warfare.
He was wont to sing as he climbed in those distant days when he scaled
mountains for the love of it; and, somehow, a sort of reflex action
seems to have been established between the legs and the vocal chords
that makes it extremely awkward to work the one without the other. If
the truth could be told, indeed, probably not a few half-consummated
_coups de main_ would be found to have been nearly marred by a joyous
burst of “unpremeditated melody” on the part of some spirited Alpino
who succumbed to the force of habit.

I was witness of a rather amusing incident illustrative of the
difficulty that even the officer of Alpini experiences in denying
himself vocal expression, not only when it is strictly against
regulations, but even on occasions when, both by instinct and
experience, he knows that “breaking into song” is really dangerous. It
had to do with passing a certain exposed point in the Cadore at a time
when there was every reason to fear the incidence of heavy avalanches.
Your real Alpino has tremendous respect for the snow-slide, but no
fear. He has--especially since the war--faced death in too many really
disagreeable forms to have any dread of what must seem to him the
grandest and most inspiring finish of the lot--the one end which he
could be depended upon to pick if ever the question of alternatives
were in the balance. In the matter of the avalanche, as in most other
things, he is quite fatalistic. If a certain _valanga_ is meant for
him, what use trying to avoid it? If it is not meant for him, what use
taking precautions? All the precautions will be vain against _your_
avalanche; all of them will be superfluous as regards the ones _not_
for you.

It chances, however, that this comforting Oriental philosophy entered
not into the reckoning of the Italian General Staff when it laid its
plans for minimising unnecessary casualties; and so, among other
precautionary admonitions, the order went out that soldiers passing
certain exposed sections, designated by boards bearing the warning
_Pericoloso di Valanga_, should not raise the voice above a speaking
tone, and, especially, that no singing should be indulged in. This is,
of course, no more than sensible, for a shout, or a high-pitched note
of song, may set going just the vibrations of air needed to start a
movement on the upper slopes of a mountain side which will culminate
in launching a million tons of snow all the way across the lower
valley. The Alpino has observed the rule as best he could,--probably
saving not a few of his numbers thereby,--but the effort is one that
at times tries his stout spirit almost to the breaking point.

On the occasion I have in mind it was necessary for us, in order to
reach a position I especially desired to visit, to climb diagonally
across something like three-quarters of a mile of the swath of one of
the largest and most treacherous slides on the whole Alpine front.
There had been a great avalanche here every year from time out of
mind, usually preceded by a smaller one early in the winter. The
preliminary slide had already occurred at the time of my visit, and,
as the early winter storms had been the heaviest in years, the
accumulated snows made the major avalanche almost inevitable on the
first day of a warm wind. Such a day, unluckily, chanced to be the
only one available for my visit to the position in question. Although
it was in the first week in January, the eaves of the houses in the
little Alpine village where the colonel quartered had been dripping
all night, and even in the early morning the hard-packed snow of the
trail was turning soft and slushy when we left our sledge on the main
road and set out on foot.

We passed two or three sections marked off by the “Pericoloso” signs,
without taking any special precautions; and, even when we came to the
big slide, the young major responsible for seeing the venture through
merely directed that we were to proceed by twos (there were four of
us), with a 300-metre interval between, walking as rapidly as
possible and not doing any unnecessary talking. That was all. There
were no dramatics about it--only the few simple directions that were
calculated to minimise the chances of “total loss” in case the slide
did become restive. How little this young officer had to learn about
the ways of avalanches I did not learn till that evening, when his
colonel told me that he had been buried, with a company or two of his
Alpini, not long previously, and escaped the fate of most of the men
only through having been dug out by his dog.

The major, with the captain from the Comando Supremo who had been
taking me about the front, went on ahead, leaving me to follow, after
five minutes had gone by, with a young lieutenant, a boy so full of
bubbling mountain spirits that he had been dancing all along the way
and warbling “Rigoletto” to the tree-tops. Even as we waited he would
burst into quick snatches of song, each of which was ended with a gulp
as it flashed across his mind that the time had come to clamp on the
safety-valve.

When his wrist-watch told us that it was time to follow on, the lad
clapped his eagle-feather hat firmly on his head, set his jaw, fixed
his eyes grimly on the trail in front of him, and strode off into the
narrow passage that had been cut through the towering bulk of the
slide. From the do-or-die expression on his handsome young face one
might well have imagined that it was the menace of that engulfing mass
of poised snow which was weighing him down, and such, I am sure, would
have been my own impression had this been my first day among the
Alpini. But by now I had seen enough of Italy’s mountain soldiers to
know that this one was as disdainful of the _valanga_ as the _valanga_
was of him: and that the crushing burden on his mind at that moment
was only the problem how to negotiate that next kilometre of beautiful
snow-walled trail without telling the world in one glad burst of song
after another how wonderful it was to be alive and young, and climbing
up nearer at every step to those glistening snow peaks whence his
comrades had driven the enemy headlong but a few months before, and
whence, perchance, they would soon move again to take the next valley
and the peaks beyond it in their turn. If he had been alone, slide or
no slide, orders or no orders, he would have shouted his gladness to
the high heavens, come what might; but as it was, with a more or less
helpless foreigner on his hands, and within hearing of his superior
officer, it was quite another matter.

It was really very interesting going through that awakening
_valanga_,--so my escorting captain told me when we rejoined him and
the major under a sheltering cliff at the farther side--especially in
the opportunity that the cutting through of the trail gave to study a
cross-section of the forest that had been folded down by the sliding
snow. Indeed, they had told me in advance of this strange sight, and I
had really had it in mind to look out for these up-ended and crumpled
pine trees. Moreover, it is quite probable that I did let the corner
of an eye rove over them in a perfunctory sort of way; but the fact
remains that the one outstanding recollection I have of that
thousand-yard-wide pile of hair-poised snow is of the hunched
shoulders and comically set face of my young guide as revealed to me
when he doubled the zigzags of the tortuous trail that penetrated it.

Time and again, as his eyes would wander to where the yellow
light-motes shuttled down through the tree-tops to the snow-cap on the
brow of the cliff toward which we toiled, I would hear the quick catch
of his breath as, involuntarily, he sucked it in to release it in a
ringing whoop of gladness, only--recollecting in time--to expel it
again with a wheezy snort of disgust. For the last two or three
hundred yards, by humming a plaintive little love lilt through his
nose, he hit upon a fairly innocuous compromise which seemed to serve
the desired purpose of releasing the accumulating pressure slowly
without blowing off the safety-valve. When we finally came out on the
unthreatened expanse of the glacial moraine above, he unleashed his
pent-up gladness in a wild peal of exultation that must have sent its
bounding echoes caroming up to the solitary pinnacle of the _massif_
still in the hands of the slipping Austrians.

That afternoon, as it chanced, the _teleferica_ to the summit, after
passing the captain and myself up safely, went on a strike while the
basket containing the young lieutenant was still only at the first
stage of its long crawl, and he had full opportunity to make up,
vocally, for lost time. It was an hour before the cable was running
smoothly again, and by then it was time, and more than time, for us to
descend if we were to reach the lower valley before nightfall. I found
my young friend warbling blithely on the _teleferica_ terrace when I
crawled out at the lower end, apparently no whit upset by the way his
excursion had been curtailed.

“What did you do while you were stuck up there in the basket?” I
hastened to ask him; for being stalled midway on a _teleferica_ cable
at any time in the winter is an experience that may well develop into
something serious. I had already heard recitals--in the quiet
matter-of-fact Alpini way--of the astonishing feats of aerial
acrobatics that had been performed in effecting rescues in such
instances, and, once or twice, grim allusions to the tragic
consequences when the attempted rescues had failed.

“Oh, I just sang for a while,” was the laughing reply in Italian; “and
then, when it began to get cold up there, I dropped over on to the
snow and slid down here to get warm.”

I have not yet been able to learn just how far it was that he had to
drop before he struck the snow; but, whatever the distance, I am
perfectly certain that he kept right on singing all the way.


III

As regards the spirits of the Alpini, song is a barometer; as regards
their health, a thermometer. An experienced officer will judge the
mental or physical condition of one of his men by noting the way he is
singing, or refraining from singing, just as a man determines his
dog’s condition by feeling its nose to see if it is hot or cold. I
remember standing for a half-hour on the wind-swept summit of a lofty
Trentino pass with a distinguished major-general who had taken me out
that afternoon in his little mountain-climbing motor to give me an
idea of how the winter road was kept clear in a blizzard. The wind was
driving through the notch of the pass at fifty miles an hour; the air
was stiff with falling and drifting snow; and it was through the
narrowed holes in our _capuchos_ that we watched a battalion filing by
on its way from the front-line trenches to the plains for a spell of
rest in billets. Packs and cloaks were crusted an inch thick with
frozen snow, eyebrows were frosted, beards and moustaches icicled;
but, man after man (though sometimes, as a wind-blast swallowed the
sound, one could only guess it by the rhythmically moving lips), they
marched singing. Now and then, as the drifts permitted, they marched
in lusty choruses of twos and threes; but for the most part each man
was warbling on his own, many of them probably simply humming
improvisations, giving vocal expression to their thoughts.

Suddenly the general stepped forward and, tapping sharply with his
Alpenstock on the ice-stiff skirt of one of the marchers, brought him
to a halt. The frost-rimmed haloes fringing the puckered apertures in
the two hoods came close together and there was a quick interchange of
question and answer between wind-muffled mouths. Then, with a clumsy
pat of admonition, the general shoved the man back into the passing
line.

“That boy wasn’t singing,” he roared into my ear in response to my
look of interrogation as he stepped back into the drift beside me.
“Knew something was wrong, so stopped him and asked what. Said he got
thirsty--ate raw snow--made throat sore. Told him it served him quite
right--an Arab from Tripoli would know better’n to eat snow.”

Three or four times more in the quarter-hour that elapsed before the
heightening storm drove us to the shelter of a _rifugio_ the general
stopped men whose face or bearing implied that there was no song on
their lips or in their hearts, and in each instance it transpired that
something was wrong. One man confessed to having discarded his flannel
abdominal bandage a couple of days before, and was developing a severe
case of dysentery as a perfectly natural consequence of the chill
which followed; another had just been kicked by a passing mule; and a
third had received word that morning that his newly-born child was
dead and its mother dangerously ill. The two former were shoved none
too gently back into line with what appeared to be the regulation
prescription in such cases: “Serves you right for your carelessness”;
but I thought I saw a note slipped into the third man’s hand as the
general pressed it in sympathy and promised to see that leave should
be arranged for at once.

I was no less struck by the efficacy of this novel system of diagnosis
than by the illuminative example its workings presented of the
paternal attitude of even the highest of the Alpini officers toward
the least of the men under them.

But it is not only the buoyant Alpini who pour out their souls in
song. The Italian soldier, no matter from what part of the country he
comes or on what sector of the front he is stationed, can no more work
or fight without singing than he can without eating. Indeed, a popular
song that is heard all along the front relates how, for some reason or
other, an order went out to the army that there was to be no more
singing in the trenches, and how a soldier, protesting to his officer,
exclaimed, “But, captain, if I cannot sing I shall die of sadness; and
surely it is better that I should die fighting the enemy than that I
should expire of a broken heart!”

On many a drizzly winter morning, motoring past the painted Sicilian
carts which form so important a feature of the Italian transport on
the broken hills of the Isonzo front, I noted with sheer astonishment
that the drivers were far and away likelier to be singing than
swearing at the mules. To one who has driven mules, or even lived in a
country where mules are driven, I shall not need to advance any
further evidence of the Sicilian soldier’s love of song.

And on that stony trench-torn plateau of the Carso, where men live in
caverns under the earth and where the casualties are multiplied two-
or three-fold by the fragments of explosive-shattered rock; even
there, on this deadliest and most repulsive of all the battle-fronts
of Armageddon, the lilting melodies of sunny southern Italy,
punctuated, but never for long interrupted, by the shriek and
detonation of Austrian shells, are heard on every hand.

There was a trio of blithe rock-breakers that furnished me with one of
the most grimly amusing impressions of my visit. It was toward the end
of December, and Captain P----, the indefatigable young officer who
had me in charge, arranged a special treat in the form of a visit to a
magnificent observation-post on the brink of a hill which the Italians
had wrested from the Austrians in one of their late advances. We
picked our way across some miles of this shell-churned and still
uncleared battlefield, and ate our lunch of sandwiches on the parapet
of a trench from which one could follow, with only a few breaks, the
course of the Austrian lines in the hills beyond Gorizia, to where
they melted into the marshes fringing the sea.

“There’s only one objection to this vantage-point,” remarked the
captain, directing his glass along the lower fringe of the clouds that
hung low on the opposite hills. “Unless the weather is fairly thick
one is under the direct observation of the Austrians over there for
close to an hour, both going and coming. It would hardly be pleasant
to come up here if the visibility were really good.”

And at that psychological moment the clouds began to lift, the sun
came out, and, taking advantage of the first good gunnery weather that
had offered for a long time, the artillery of both sides opened up for
as lively a bit of practice as any really sober-minded individual
could care to be mixed up with. I have seen quieter intervals on the
Somme, even during a period when the attack was being sharply pushed.
A hulking “305,” which swooped down and obliterated a spiny pinnacle
of the ridge a few hundred yards farther along, also swept much of the
zest out of the sharpening panorama, and signalled, “Time to go!” A
large-calibre high-explosive shell is a far more fearsome thing when
rending a crater in the rock of the Carso than when tossing the soft
mud of France.

Work was still going on in the half-sheltered _dolinas_ or
“sink-holes” that pock-marked the grisly plateau; but on the remains
of a cart-road which we followed, and which appeared to be the special
object of the Austrians’ diversion, none seemed to be in sight save a
few scattered individuals actively engaged in getting out of sight. It
was an illuminating example of the way most of the “natives” appeared
to feel about the situation, and we did not saunter any the more
leisurely for having had the benefit of it.

We stepped around the riven body of a horse that still steamed from
the dying warmth of the inert flesh, and a little farther on, there
was a red puddle in the middle of the road, a black, lazily smoking
shell-hole close beside it, with a crisply fresh mound of sod and rock
fragment just beyond. A hammer and a dented trench helmet indicated
that the man had been cracking up stone for the road when _his_ had
come.

“One would imagine that they had enough broken stone around here
already,” observed Captain P---- dryly, glancing back over his
shoulder to where a fresh covey of bursting shell was making the
sky-line of the stone wall behind us look like a hedge of pampas
plumes in a high wind. “Hope the rest of these poor fellows have taken
to their holes. A little dose like we’re getting here is only a good
appetiser; to stick it out as a steady diet is quite another matter.”

Half a minute later we rounded a bend in the stone wall we had been
hugging, to come full upon what I have always since thought of as the
Anvil Chorus--three men cracking rock to metal the surface of a
recently filled shell-hole in the road and singing a lusty song to
which they kept time with the rhythmic strokes of their hammers.
Dumped off in a heap at one side of the road was what may have been
the hastily jettisoned cargo of a half-dozen motor-lorries, which had
pussy-footed up there under cover of darkness--several hundred
trench-bombs, containing among them enough explosive to have lifted
the whole mountain-side off into the valley had a shell chanced to
nose-dive into their midst. Two of these stubby little “winged
victories” a couple of the singers had appropriated as work-stools.
The third of them sat on the remains of a “dud 305,” from a broad
crack in which a tiny stream of rain-dissolved high explosive
trickled out to form a gay saffron pool about his feet. This
one was bareheaded, his trench helmet, full of nuts and dried
figs,--evidently from a Christmas package,--lying on the ground within
reach of all three men.

The sharp roar of the quickening Italian artillery, the deeper booms
of the exploding Austrian shells, and the siren-like crescendo of the
flying projectiles so filled the air, that it was not until one was
almost opposite the merry trio that he could catch the fascinating
swing of the iterated refrain.

“A fine song to dance to, that!” remarked Captain P----, stopping and
swinging his shoulders to the time of the air. “You can almost _feel_
the beat of it.”

“It strikes me as being still better as a song to march to,” I
rejoined meaningly, settling down my helmet over the back of my neck
and suiting the action to the word. “It’s undoubtedly a fine song, but
it doesn’t seem to me quite right to tempt a kind Providence by
lingering near this young mountain of trench-bombs any longer than is
strictly necessary. If that Austrian battery ‘lifts’ another notch,
something else is going to lift here, and I’d much rather go down to
the valley on my feet than riding on a trench-bomb.”

The roar of the artillery battle flared up and died down by spells,
but the steady throb of the Anvil Chorus followed us down the wind
for some minutes after another bend in the stone wall cut off our view
of the singers. How often I have wondered which ones of that careless
trio survived that day, or the next, or the one after that; which, if
any, of them is still beating time on the red-brown rocks of the Carso
to the air of that haunting refrain!

I was told that the wounded are sometimes located on the battlefield
by their singing; that they not infrequently sing while being borne in
on stretchers or transported in ambulances. I had no chance to observe
personally instances of this kind, but I did hear, time and time
again, men singing in the hospitals, and they were not all
convalescents or lightly wounded either. One brave little fellow in
that fine British hospital on the Isonzo front, conducted with such
conspicuous success by the British Red Cross, I shall never forget.

An explosive bullet had carried away all four fingers of his right
hand, leaving behind it an infection which had run into gaseous
gangrene. The stump swelled to a hideous mass, about the shape and
size of a ten-pound ham, but the doctors were fighting amputation in
the hope of saving the wrist and thumb, to have something to which
artificial members might be attached. The crisis was over at the time
I visited the hospital, but the whole arm was still so inflamed that
the plucky lad had to close his eyes and set his teeth to keep from
crying out with agony as the matron lifted the stump to show me the
“beautiful healthy red colour” where healing had begun.

The matron had some “splendid” trench-foot cases to show me farther
along, and these, with some interesting experiments in disinfection by
“irrigation,” were engrossing my attention, when a sort of a crooning
hum caused me to turn and look at the patient in the bed behind me. It
was the “gaseous gangrene” boy again. We had worked down the next row
till we were opposite him once more, and in the quarter-hour which had
elapsed his nurse had set a basin of disinfectant on his bed in which
to bathe his wound. Into this she had lifted the hideously swollen
stump and hurried on to her next patient. And there he lay, swaying
the repulsive mass of mortified flesh that was still a part of him
back and forth in the healing liquid, the while he crooned a little
song to it as a mother rocks her child to sleep as she sings a
lullaby.

“He always does that,” said the nurse, stopping for a moment with her
hands full of bandages. “He says it helps him to forget the pain. And
there are five or six others: the worse they feel, the more likely
they are to try to sing as a sort of diversion. That big chap over
there with the beard,--he’s a fisherman from somewhere in the
South,--he says that when the shooting pains begin in his frozen feet
he has to sing to keep from cursing. Says he doesn’t want to curse
before the _forestiere_ if it can possibly be helped.”

       *       *       *       *       *

On one of my last days on the Italian front I climbed to a
shell-splintered peak of the Trentino under the guidance of the son of
a famous general, a Mercury-footed flame of a lad who was aide-de-camp
to the division commander of that sector. Mounting by an interminable
_teleferica_ from just above one of the half-ruined towns left behind
by the retreating Austrians after their drive of last spring, we
threaded a couple of miles of steep zigzagging trail, climbed a
hundred feet of ladder and about the same distance of rocky
toe-holds,--the latter by means of a knotted rope and occasional
friendly iron spikes,--finally to come out on the summit, with nothing
between us and an almost precisely similar Austrian position opposite
but a half-mile of thin air and the overturned, shrapnel-pitted statue
of a saint--doubtless erected in happier days by the pious
inhabitants of ---- as an emblem of peace and goodwill. An Italian
youth who had returned from New York to fight for his country--he had
charge of some kind of mechanical installation in a rock-gallery a few
hundred feet beneath our feet--climbed up with us to act as
interpreter.

To one peering through the crook in the lead-sheathed elbow of the
fallen statue, the roughly squared openings of the rock galleries
which sheltered an enemy battery seemed well within fair revolver
shot; and, indeed, an Alpino sharpshooter had made a careless Austrian
gunner pay the inevitable penalty of carelessness only an hour or two
before. One could make one’s voice carry across without half an
effort.

Just before we started to descend my young guide made a megaphone of
his hands, threw his head back, his chest out, and, directing his
voice across the seemingly bottomless gulf that separated us from the
enemy, sang a few bars of what I took to be a stirring battle-song.

“What is the song the captain sings?” I asked of the New-York-bred
youth, whose head was just disappearing over the edge of the cliff as
he began to lower himself down the rope. “Something from _William
Tell_, isn’t it?”

Young “Mulberry Street” dug hard for a toe-hold, found it, slipped
his right hand up till it closed on a comfortable knot above his head,
and then, with left leg and left arm swinging free over a 200-foot
drop to the terraces below, shouted back,--

“Not on yer life, mista. De capitan he not singa no song. He just
tella de Ostrichun datta Italia, she ready fer him. Datta all.”

I looked down to the valley where line after line of trenches, fronted
with a furry brown fringe that I knew to be rusting barbed wire,
stretched out of sight over the divides on either hand, and where, for
every gray-black geyser of smoke that marked the bursting of an
Austrian shell, a half-dozen vivid flame-spurts, flashing out from
unguessed caverns on the mountain-side, told that the compliment was
being returned with heavy interest.

“Yes, Italy is ready for them,” I thought; and whether she has to hold
here and there--as she may--in defence, or whether she goes forward
all along the line in triumphant offence--whichever it is, the Italian
soldier will go out to the battle with a song on his lips, a song that
no bullet which leaves the blood pulsing through his veins and breath
in his lungs will have power to stop.



BLOWING UP THE CASTELLETTO


It was about the middle of last July that the laconic Italian bulletin
recorded, in effect, that the blowing of the top off a certain
mountain in the Dolomite region had been accomplished with complete
success, and that a considerable extension of line had been possible
as a consequence.

That was about all there was to it, I believe; and yet the wonder
engendered by the superb audacity of the thing had haunted me from the
first. There was no suggestion of a hint of how it was done, or even
why it was done. All that was left to the imagination, and the
result--in my own case at least--was the awakening of a burning
interest in the ways of the warriors who were wont to throw mountain
peaks and fragments of glacier at one another as the everyday
plains-bred soldier throws hand-grenades, which, waxing rather than
waning as the weeks went by, finally impelled me to attempt a visit to
the Austro-Italian Alpine Front at a time of year when the weather
conditions threatened to be all but, if not quite, prohibitive.

“With twenty-five degrees of frost at sea-level in France,” observed a
French officer at Amiens to whom I confided the plan, “what do you
expect to find at 10,000 feet on the Tyrol?”

“A number of things which they don’t do at sea-level in France or
anywhere else,” I replied, “but especially _why_ they blow the tops
off mountain peaks, and _how_ they blow the tops off mountain peaks.”

Even in Rome and Milan (though there were some who claimed social
acquaintance with the Titans who had been conforming Alpine scenery to
tactical exigency), they still spoke vaguely of the thing as
“_fantastico_” and “_incredibile_,” as men might refer to operations
in the Mountains of the Moon.

But once in the Zona di Guerra, with every rift in the lowering
cloud-blanket that so loves to muffle the verdant plain of Venezia in
its moist folds revealing (in the imminent loom of the snowy barrier
rearing itself against the cobalt of the northern sky) evidence that
the “mountain-top” part of the story had at least some foundation of
fact, whether the “blowing off” part did or not, things took on a
different aspect. On my very first day at General Headquarters I met
officers who claimed to have seen with their own eyes a mountain whose
top had been blown off; indeed, they even mentioned the names of the
_montagna mutilati_, showed me where they were on the map, pointed out
the strategical advantages which had already accrued from taking them,
and those which might be expected to accrue later.

They were still there, I was assured, even if their tops had been
blown off. They were still held by the Alpini. Two of the most
important of them were not so far away; indeed, both could be plainly
seen from where we were--if other and nearer mountains did not stand
between, and, of course, if the accursed storm-clouds would only lift.
And so, at last, the names of Castelletto and Col di Lano took
sharpened shape as something more than mystic symbols.

“But can I not go and see them?” I asked. “You have told me _why_ you
blew them up, but not _how_; yet that is the very thing that I came
out to find about at first hand.”

They shook their heads dubiously. “Not while this weather lasts,” one
of them said. “It has snowed in the Alps every day for over a month.
The _valangas_ are coming down everywhere, and (even if you were
willing to risk being buried under one of them) the roads in places
will not be open for weeks. You might wait here a month or so, and
even then be disappointed so far as getting about on the Alpine Front
is concerned. Best see what you can of the Isonzo Front now and come
back for the Alps in the spring.”

That seemed to settle it so far as seeing the Castelletto and Col di
Lano was concerned. Regarding the way in which they were mined,
however, one of the officers at the Ufficio Stampa said that he would
endeavour to arrange to have the Castelletto--much the greater
operation of the two--report put at my disposal, as well as a set of
photographs which had been taken to show the progress of this mighty
work.

“We have never given out any of the photographs before,” he said, “and
only portions of the report; but since you came to Italy on purpose to
learn about the mountain whose top was blown off, the Comando Supremo
may be moved to make a special dispensation in your favour.”

Exclusive permission to make use of both report and photographs was
granted me in due time, and since the former makes clear both the
“why” and the “how” of the unprecedented Castelletto operation, it
will perhaps be best to summarise it first as a sort of drab
background for the more vivid and intimate personal details which a
lucky turn of the fitful weather vane made it possible for me to
obtain later.

The first part of the report, by the Colonel commanding the Alpini
Group, makes plain why the mining of the Castelletto became a _sine
quâ non_ to further progress in this important sector.

“In the month of October, 1915,” he writes, “I was charged with the
carrying out of an attack with two battalions of Alpini against the
positions of Castelletto and Forcella Bois. This was the fourth time,
if I am not mistaken, that an attempt on these positions had been
made. In spite of the fact that the artillery preparation of the
opening day had been excellently performed I discovered, on the
evening of October 17, when I moved with my troops to the attack, that
its work had been absolutely of no avail.

“Having received orders at midnight to proceed to Vervei, where the
two battalions above mentioned were to take part in another operation,
I was forced to abandon the attack. I am convinced, however, that I
would not have succeeded in capturing the Castelletto position.”

“As known,” the report continues, “the Castelletto is a sort of a spur
of the Tofana (about 12,000 feet high), with a balcony shaped like a
horse-shoe, and with a periphery consisting of numerous jagged peaks.
In the rear of the balcony, and within this rocky spur, the enemy had
excavated numerous caverns in which machine-guns and light artillery
pieces, handled by isolated but able gun-crews, furnished an invisible
and almost impregnable position of defence, giving extraordinary
confidence and encouragement to the small forces occupying them.

“Costeana Valley was accordingly at the mercy of the enemy’s offence
and actually cut in two. From Vervei on, all movements of troops had
to be carried on only at night and with great difficulty. The conquest
of the Castelletto was rendered necessary not only for tactical but
for moral reasons as well, since our troops came to regard it as
absolutely imperative that such an obstacle should be overcome. After
completing my observations and researches regarding the Castelletto
position, I reached the conclusion that the only means of dislodging
the enemy therefrom was to blow it up.

“On November 19 I formally presented my plan to Headquarters, and
about the middle of December I was authorised to attempt it. The
unusual enterprise was a most difficult one, not only on account of
its magnitude, but also on account of the particularly unfavourable
conditions of the winter season. Having prepared the necessary
material for construction and excavation work, I began, on January 3,
1916, fortifying the position (entirely unprotected at the time) from
which we would have to work, and completing the construction of the
necessary buildings.

“Second Lieutenant Malvezzi, in his report on the subject, describes
concisely and modestly the development of the work. The accomplishment
of the enterprise, considered by many as chimerical, is due not only
to the technical ability of Lt. Malvezzi, and Lt. Tissi, his
assistant, but to their special military qualifications as well; also
to the courage and goodwill of the Alpini who, in a very short time,
became a _personnel_ of able miners and clever mechanics.

“The vicissitudes during more than six months’ work, at a distance of
only a few metres from the enemy, and under an incessant artillery
fire and shelling by _bombardas_, could well form the subject for a
book devoted to the study of character. Although fully aware of the
attendant dangers, including those of falling rocks due to the
counter-mining of the enemy, the Alpini of the Castelletto, during the
period of more than six months, gave proofs of brilliant valour and
unflinching perseverance. They were calm at all times, and moved only
by the spirit of duty.

“In transmitting to Your Excellency the enclosed copy of the report
compiled exclusively by Lt. Malvezzi (Lt. Tissi is at present lying
wounded in the hospital), I desire to recommend to you these two
officers (both as excellent engineers and brave soldiers), as well as
the Alpini who were co-operating with them. Without any exaggeration,
I consider their achievement as absolutely marvellous, both on account
of the great technical difficulties surmounted and the military
results obtained. The Austrian officers taken prisoner unanimously
confirm the fact that only by springing a mine could the Italians have
taken this position so important to the enemy.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Lt. Malvezzi’s appended report launched at once into the “how” of the
titanic task which was set for him.

“On January 3, 1916,” he writes, “work was begun on the approach to
Castelletto, on the Tofana di Roches slope, levelling the soil and
enabling the construction of lodging quarters for officers and troops.
This work required the cutting of 660 cubic metres of rock. Next the
construction of quarters, and the concealing them was quickly
accomplished. Finally, there was garrisoned at this post the
Castelletto Detachment, commonly called the ‘T.K.,’ consisting of the
necessary _personnel_ for labour and the defence of the position.

“Our first work was to examine and disclose the enemy lines of
communication about the Castelletto and Tofana sides, and to gain full
knowledge of their position in detail. In order to accomplish this,
observation points were established which allowed us to carry out such
investigation and to make topographical sketches of the zone. Being as
we were always in the proximity of the enemy, this was a long and
fatiguing work. After a month, however, we succeeded in constructing a
series of positions at short distances from those of the enemy (from
50 to 150 metres). These were provided with cables and rope ladders to
enable us the more rapidly and easily to study (from all possible
points of vantage) the enemy’s positions and the development of his
works.

“The topographic work was begun by taking as a plan metric base
measurement 116 metres of ground on a four-triangle table, which
method enabled making all other drawings based on it. By basing our
findings on this table, we were able to draw up a series of points of
the enemy’s positions. Using the method of successive intersections,
we thus obtained all points of interest to us, as regards direction,
distance and height.

“In addition to this work, executed with the greatest care and
accuracy, we made two independent drawings of the enemy’s positions by
simpler but less exact methods. The first was made with a topographic
compass and Abney level; the other with a Monticole field-square. By
these means we obtained excellent checks on the base system, and so
grounded our work entirely on the trigonometric table and on the
drawings by intersections.

“From the middle of February to the end of March the tools used for
piercing consisted only of mallets and chisels. Our progress was
necessarily slow, yet it was sufficient in this time to give us,
besides 14 metres of tunnel, room for installing the perforating
machinery. At the end of March, notwithstanding heavy snowstorms, the
machinery--some pieces of it weighed as much as 500 and 600 kilos--for
beginning work was installed. This was all brought up by hand, and
without incident.

“The mechanical work was begun on April 2. We utilised two plant as
follows:

“(1) A complete group of benzo-compressors, consisting of a 30-40
horse-power kerosene motor adjusted to a Sullivan compressor by means
of a belt. This machinery was installed, on a solid base of cement, at
the beginning of the tunnel, in a 5 × 8 metre space dug out in the
side of the mountain for that purpose.

“(2) An Ingersoll compressor mounted on a four-wheel truck.

“Both machines were of American manufacture, and gave complete
satisfaction at all times. Each compressed the air to a density of
about seven atmospheres, injecting it into an air-chamber, whence, by
means of a rigid tube, ending in one of flexible rubber, it was
conveyed to the respective drills.

“Four squads worked at a time, each one consisting of a foreman and
from 25 to 30 miners. Each squad worked six hours without
interruption. This shift, apparently light, was found, on the
contrary, to be very heavy, owing principally to the development of
nitric gases which poisoned the air, and to the dust caused by the
drills.

“At first the only explosive used was military gelatine; later,
dynamite-gelatine. The system of over-charging the holes was always
adopted, in order to reduce the _débris_ to minute particles, easier
to be transported and unloaded. The work was carried on in sections,
varying from 1·80 by 1·80 metres to 2 by 2. The flat stretches of the
tunnel were laid with Decauville rails. All material was carried out
in cars and dumped into a hopper discharging into a large pipe. (The
dump was accumulated at a point beyond the observation of the
Austrians.) The average rate of progress was 5·10 metres per day.”

It may be well to explain here that it was not possible to begin
tunnelling on the same level at which the mine was to be exploded, but
considerably more than 150 feet below that level. The tunnel, had,
therefore, to be driven on a steep gradient. Another point which the
report does not make clear should be borne in mind, viz., that the
tunnel divided in the heart of the Castelletto, the main bore being
driven on to where the mine was to be exploded, while a smaller
branch--referred to below as the “Loop-holed Tunnel”--was run up to a
point where favourable exit could be obtained for charging into and
occupying the crater of the exploded mine. In all 507 metres of tunnel
had to be driven, involving the excavation of 2,200 cubic metres of
rock. The details of this work are given in the report as follows:

(A) Chamber for Sullivan Compressor: Dimensions: 5 × 8 metres; average
height 2·20 metres.

(B) First part of gallery to second dump of material. Length 72
metres; inclination 38·70 per cent.; elevation gained 25·90 metres.

(C) Second dump of material, established in order to free space for
further work and reduce the length of transportation.

(D) Ingersoll Group chamber. Dimensions: 4 × 6·50 metres; average
height 2 metres.

(E) Cut from the gallery of the second dump of material to the
beginning of the ascent to the mining chamber. Length 136 metres;
inclination 4·70 per cent.; elevation gained 6·40 metres.

(F) Ascent to mining chamber. Length 22 metres; inclination 36·30 per
cent.; elevation gained 10·75 metres. (This ascent, in order to
facilitate tamping, was worked by dividing it into three sections of 1
× 1·60 metres, at nearly right angles.)

(G) Mining chamber. Dimensions: 5 × 5·50 metres; average height 2·30
metres.

(H) Loop-holed tunnel. Length 162 metres; inclination 60 per cent.;
elevation gained 83·50 metres in this tunnel itself, or a total of
168·50 from the second dump. This tunnel (the one through which the
men were to pass for the attack after the explosion of the mine) had
to be strictly confined to the rocky stratum between the Tofana and
the Castelletto; its planimetry appears (see map), therefore, rather
uneven due to the constant elevation of the rock.

(I) Line of communication--partly in a natural cavern--measuring about
250 metres in length and giving access from the lodging quarters to
the works.

(J) Tunnel dug out to the extreme south end of the Castelletto, 30
metres long, with two portholes (each 4 metres wide) for two Depfort
guns, with closed cavern for the guns and ammunition.

“It was originally intended to divide the explosive charge between two
chambers, each having a mining line of resistance of 20 metres, with a
16-ton explosive charge of 92 per cent. gelatine. However, owing to
the countermining work carried on by the enemy--we were only a few
metres from one of his positions during the charging of the mine
chamber--we were obliged to confine the entire charge to a single
chamber.

“The enemy meanwhile, with a view to avoiding the effects of our mine
beneath the peaks of the Castelletto, had transferred most of his
shelters to the side of the Tofana and the Selletta. This necessitated
a considerable alteration in the location of the mine as originally
planned, in order that it should act against the enemy shelters on
both the Castelletto and Tofana flanks.

    [Illustration: PLAN OF THE CASTELLETTO MINING OPERATION.
    The worm-like tunnel on the left had to be driven in this way in
    order to avoid fissures in the rock which would have revealed
    what was going on. It was this tunnel through which the Alpini
    were to pass to occupy the crater after the explosion of the
    mine, but this plan was defeated through the presence of gas
    from detonated Austrian asphyxiating bombs.]

“The charge was computed on a basis of minimum resistance of 20
metres, taking into consideration the nature of the rock (which was
fissured) and the existence of numerous splits and caverns. The
co-efficient of overcharge was, therefore, rather high. In order to
obtain the maximum effect under these conditions, only 92 per cent.
explosive nitro-glycerine was used. The total charge was 35 tons.

“The method of priming adopted was suggested by Lieut.-Col. Tatoli, of
the Engineers Corps. This consisted of five priming groups, each of
three friction tubes. One of the groups ran along the central axis of
the chamber, while the other four, parallel with the first, were
disposed symmetrically facing the four corners of the chamber. Each
tube (1-1/4 inches inside diameter by 4·50 metres in length) was
alternately charged with gelatine and gun-cotton and pierced by picric
acid detonating fuse, ending in a gun-cotton cartridge with electric
percussion cap. In the very centre of the charge there were inserted
two cases of gun-cotton, with electric percussion cap and detonating
fuse, with a view to securing a second springing of the mine to follow
the first.

“We thus had in all seventeen electric circuits divided into three
groups, each formed by the circuits of five tubes, connected with the
five groups of friction tubes. Two of these electric groups were
composed of six circuits each, by adding the two circuits of the
above-mentioned cases containing the gun-cotton. Each of these
electric groups ended with a Cantone exploder, placed at about 4·50
metres distance from the mine-chamber.

“The tamping was effected with cement and with sandbags, with heavy
wooden beams between the latter. It was made more effective by
dividing into sections at right angles to each other. The theoretical
length of the tamping was 25 metres.

“The charging of the mine chamber began July 3, 1916, at 5 p.m., and
was completed at 3 p.m. of July 9 this work including tamping,
priming, and laying of electric circuits. The final connections
between the latter and the exploders, by means of wires suspended in
the air, were made on July 10. The mine was sprung on July 11 at 3.30
p.m., and responded fully to our calculations and expectations.

    “(Signed) L. MALVEZZI,
    2nd Lieut. 7th Regiment Alpini.”

       *       *       *       *       *

A week of unspeakable weather went by--an interval the days of which I
spent among the “Cave-men” of the Carso, and the nights of which were
largely devoted to puzzling through the mysteries of the Castelletto
report with the aid of my Italian dictionary--and then the unexpected
miracle happened. Rain and snow ceased, the sky cleared, and a spell
of sparkling days succeeded the interminable months of storm and
lowering clouds. From the high Alps came word that the grip of the
frost had paralysed the avalanches for the moment, and that rapid
progress was being made in opening up the roads for traffic.

“Now is your chance to see the Castelletto,” they told me at
headquarters. “If you start at once you ought to be able to get
through without much trouble; and, if the weather holds good, you may
even be able to get back without long delay, though on that score
you’ll have to take your chances. Doubtless they will be able to get
you out in some way whatever happens.”

And so it chanced that on a diamond-bright morning in early January I
found myself, after a couple of days of strenuous motoring, speeding
in a military car past the old custom-house and up into the heart of
that most weirdly grand of all Alpine regions, the Dolomites. Already
we were well over into what had once been Austrian territory, and the
splintered pinnacles which notched the skyline ahead of us were, as my
escorting officer explained, held in part by both the Italians and
the enemy. As we coasted down into Cortina di Ampezzo--which in its
swarming tourist hotels of motley design rivals St. Moritz or
Chamonix--Capt. P---- pointed to where a clean-lined wall of
snow-capped yellow rock reared itself against the deep purple of the
western sky.

“That high mountain ridge is the Tofana _massif_,” he said, “and that
partly isolated mass of lighter-coloured rock (crowned with towers
like a mediæval stronghold) at its further end is what is left of the
famous Castelletto. It is twenty kilometres or more away, but you can
see even from here how it dominated the valley and road, the latter
the much-pictured Dolomite road, which is also a route of great
military importance.

“Now look at the end of the Castelletto toward the wall of the Tofana.
Do you see where it seems to have been sliced off smoothly at an angle
of about forty-five degrees? Well, that is the part they blew off last
July. Up to then that end, like the other, was crowned with a lofty
spire. That spire, the base from which it sprung, the Austrian
barracks and munition depôts, together with the men stationed
there--all were blown up and destroyed in the explosion.

“Take a good look at it while you have a chance, for the skyline view
is better from a distance than from close at hand, where we shall go
this afternoon if the way is open. To see the effect of the explosion
at its best,” he added, “one should look at it from the Austrian
lines, as it was the blowing out of the other side of the mountain
which undermined and let down the top. If you come back here in the
spring doubtless we will be in occupation of a number of interesting
observation points over there.”

Viewed even from a distance of a dozen miles or more the alteration
wrought in the skyline by the explosion was not difficult to imagine.
It was, indeed, literally true--what I had never been fully able to
make myself believe until that moment--that a mountain peak had been
blown off--hundreds of feet of it, and thousands of tons. My eyes
remained focussed in awed fascination on the unnaturally even profile
of the wound until our snorting car skidded round a bend of the frozen
road and the thick-growing pine forest shut it from sight.

It was not until, after ten miles of precarious climbing and clawing
up the ice-paved, snow-walled road, our car brought up in the midst of
a neat little group of Alpine buildings nestling in the protection of
the last of the timber, that Capt. P---- revealed the surprise that
had been prepared for me.

“Our host here,” he said, “will be Colonel X----, who conceived and
directed the Castelletto project, and at dinner to-night you will
meet, and can talk as long as you like, with Lieutenant Malvezzi, who
did the work. He is still quartered here, and will be glad to tell you
all that he can about Alpine military engineering. We have already
sent him word that you came to Italy expressly to see him.”

After a hasty lunch Capt. P---- and I, accompanied by an officer of
Alpini from the camp, started for the Castelletto. Our powerful
military car, which, in spite of the fact that it had non-skid tyres,
had been giving a good deal of trouble on the ice, was left behind,
and a smaller but heavily-engined machine, with sharp spikes clamped
over the rims to grip the glassy surface of the road, was taken for
the few miles of the latter which were still open. Abandoning this in
a snow-bank at a little advanced camp well up under the towering wall
of the Tofana, we took our alpenstocks and started on the 2,000-foot
climb up to the base of the Castelletto.

The hard-packed snow on the thirty to forty degree slope must have
averaged from ten to twenty feet deep all the way, while, for a
half-mile or so midway, it was humped up in crumpled fold where, a
fortnight before, one of the largest and most terrible slides ever
known in the Alps had plunged down on its sinister mission to the
bottom of the valley. The full story of that avalanche will hardly be
told until after the war.

Slightly softened by the brilliant sun, the snow gave good footing;
but even so it was a stiff pull to the little ice and rock-begirt
barracks at the base of the cliff, and I gained some idea of the
titanic labour involved in getting guns, munitions, machinery, food,
and thirty-five tons of high explosive up there, all by hand, in every
sort of weather, and much of it (to avoid enemy observation and fire)
at night.

Midwinter was not, of course, the time to see anything of the real
effects of the great explosion, for the huge crater torn by the latter
was drifted full of snow, and snow was also responsible for the
complete obliteration of the countless thousands of tons of _débris_
that had been precipitated down the mountain side. A dizzy climb up
the ladder-like stairway, and a crawling clamber through a hundred
yards of the winding tunnel from the rock chambers which had housed
the compressors, revealed about all that was visible at the time of
the preparations and consequences of the mighty work; but a peep from
the observation port of a certain cunningly concealed gun-cavern
discovered a panorama which gave illuminative point to the concluding
words of the artillery officer who, pointing with the shod handle of
an ice-pick, explained the situation to me from that vantage.

“So you see,” he had said, “that the Castelletto in the enemy’s hands
was a stone wall which effectually barred our further progress; while
in our hands it becomes a lever which--whenever we really need to take
them--will pry open for us positions of vital importance. We simply
_had_ to have it; and so we took it in the one way it could be taken.

       *       *       *       *       *

“Save for his Alpini uniform Lieutenant Malvezzi, when I met him at
dinner that evening, might well have passed for the typical musician
of drama or romance. His skin and hair and eyes were dark, and his
long nervous fingers flitted over the paper on which he sketched
various phases of the Castelletto work very much as those of a pianist
flit above his ivory keys. The dreamy, far-away look in his eyes was
also suggestive of the musician, but that I had long come to recognise
as equally characteristic of all great engineers, the men whose
tangible achievements are only the fruition of days and nights of
dreaming.

“Where shall I begin the story?” he had asked as the diners in the
regimental mess began to resolve into little knots of threes and fours
over coffee and cigars; and I had suggested that he take it up where
his report left off. “That stopped just as things began to happen,” I
said. “Now tell what _did_ happen.”

The Tenente laughed a laugh suggestive of rueful reminiscence, and a
smile ran round among those of the officers who had heard and
understood my words. “So far as I am concerned,” he replied, “that
covers about five minutes of activity--five minutes for which we had
been preparing for six months. You understand that we had constructed
a branch tunnel through which our men were to rush and occupy the
crater as soon after the explosion as possible.

“_Ecco._ The men were all massed ready on and under the terrace, and
nothing remained but the making of the connection firing the mine. I
took one long look around and then threw over the electric switch
closing the circuit. Every one seemed to be holding his breath as he
waited. One, two, three seconds passed in a silence so intense that I
heard the sharp ‘ping’ of the water dripping from the roof of the
chamber and striking the pool it had formed below.

“Then, before any other sound was audible, the whole mountain gave a
quick convulsive jerk, strong enough to throw some of the men off
their feet. A heavy grinding rumble in the earth came with a shivering
that followed the jerk, but the real roar of the explosion (from the
outside) was not audible for a second or two later. Only those
watching from a distance of several kilometres saw the right-hand
pinnacle of the Castelletto give a sudden heave, and then sink out of
sight in a cloud of dust and smoke.

“In addition to the honour of firing the mine that of leading my men
into the crater had also been reserved for me, and as soon as I heard
the roar of the explosion I gave the order for them to follow me up
into the tunnel. Well----” he paused and ran his laughing eyes around
the grinning circle of his fellow officers, “that is about as far as
my evidence is good for anything. As I went clambering up the slippery
steps of the tunnel an almost solid wall of choking fumes struck me in
the face, and I--and all of my men except those near or outside of the
portal--dropped coughing in my tracks.”

“Had the mine blown back through the tamping?” I asked.

“Not exactly,” he replied, his rueful smile becoming almost sheepish,
as of one who had allowed himself to become the victim of a prank.
“The Austrians had a big store of asphyxiating bombs on hand to use
against us, and these, exploded by our mine, vented their spite on
friend and foe alike. We were not able to occupy the crater for
twenty-four hours.

“I am glad to say that I spent what would otherwise have been an
intolerably anxious interval unconscious in the hospital. By the time
I had been revived a friendly breeze had thinned the gas sufficiently
to allow our Alpini to move into the crater and reap--in spite
of the delay--every advantage we had at any time counted
upon from the operation. Our most cherished capture was the
‘perforator’--practically intact--with which the Austrians were
driving an almost completed counter-mine directly under us.”

“The nervous tension must have been rather strong toward the end,
wasn’t it?” I asked; “especially when you knew the enemy had at last
got your work definitely located and was rushing his counter-mine?”

The smile of whimsical ruefulness died out of the dark sensitive face,
leaving behind it lines I had not noticed before--lines that only
come on young faces after weeks or months of incessant anxiety. The
backward cast shadows of a time of terrible memory were lurking behind
his eyes as he replied:

“For seven days and nights before the mine was sprung neither I nor
the officers working with me slept or even rested from work.”

That was all he said; but I saw the eyes--brimming with ready
sympathy--of his fellow officers turn to where he sat, and knew the
time for light questionings was past. Not until that moment did a full
appreciation of the travail involved in the blowing up of the
Castelletto sink home to me, and I nodded fervent assent to the words
of the English-educated Captain of Alpini next me when he observed
that “Malvezzi’s little ‘Order of Savoie’ was jolly well earned, eh?”



WONDERS OF THE TELEFERICA


“Jolly good work, I call that, for a ‘basket on a string,’” was the
way a visiting British officer characterised an exploit of the
Italians in the course of which--in lieu of any other way of doing
it--they had shot the end of a cable from a gun across a flooded river
and thus made it possible to rig up a _teleferica_ for rushing over
some badly-needed reinforcements.

The name is not a high-sounding one, but I do not know of any other
which so well describes the wonderful contrivance which played so
important a part in enabling the Italians to hold successfully their
three hundred miles and more of high Alpine front during the first two
years they were in the war. And in this connection it should be borne
well in mind that the Austrians never were able to break through upon
the Alpine front, where--until the _débâcle_ upon the Upper
Isonzo--the Italians, peak by peak, valley by valley, were slowly but
surely pushing the enemy backward all along the line. Nor should it be
forgotten that up to the very last the Alpini had their traditional
foe mastered along all that hundred and fifty miles of sky-line
positions--from the Carnic Alps, through the Dolomites to the
Trentino--which ultimately had to be abandoned only because their rear
was threatened by the Austro-German advance along the Friulian plain
from the Isonzo. The loss of this line under these conditions,
therefore, detracts no whit from the magnificent military skill and
heroism by which they were won and held.

The Italians’ conduct of their Alpine campaign must remain a supreme
classic of mountain warfare--something which has never been approached
in the past and may never be equalled in the future. According to the
most approved pre-war strategy, the proper way to defend mountain
lines was by implanting guns on the heights commanding the main passes
and thus rendering it impossible for an enemy to traverse them. The
fact that these commanding positions were in turn dominated by still
higher ones, and these latter by others, until the loftiest summits of
the Alps were reached, was responsible for the struggle for the
“sky-line” positions which the Austro-Italian war quickly resolved
itself into.

This kind of war would have been a sheer impossibility two decades
ago, from the simple fact that no practicable means of transport
existed capable of carrying men, munitions, guns and food up to
continuous lines of positions from ten thousand to thirteen thousand
feet above sea-level. The one thing that made the feat possible was
the development of the aerial tramway, or the _teleferica_, as the
Italians call it, which gave transport facilities to points where the
foot of man had scarcely trod before. Regular communication with the
highest mountain-top positions would have been absolutely out of the
question without this ingenious device.

As I have said, the “basket-on-a-string” description fits the
_teleferica_ exactly, for the principle is precisely similar to that
of the contrivance by which packages are shunted around in the large
stores and factories. The only points which differentiate it in the
least from the overhead ore-tramways is the fact that--in its latest
and highest development--it is lighter and more dependable. For the
ore-tramway--always built in a more or less protected position--had
only the steady grind of the day’s work to withstand; the _teleferica_
has not only the daily wear and tear racking it to pieces, but is also
in more or less perennial peril of destruction by flood, wind, and
avalanches, to say nothing of the fire of the enemy’s artillery or of
bombs from his aeroplanes. That the Italians have evolved a
contrivance more or less proof against the ravages of these
destructive agents is, perhaps, the best evidence of their genius for
military engineering. Nothing more perfect in its way than the
_teleferica_ has been produced by any of the belligerents.

Theoretically, a _teleferica_ can be of any length, though I think the
longest on the Italian front is one of three or four miles, which
makes a good part of the eight-thousand-foot climb up to the summit of
the Pasubio, in the Trentino, and which--at the time of writing--is
still in Italian hands. The cable may run on a level--as when it spans
some great gorge between two mountain peaks--or it may be strung up to
any incline not too great to make precarious the grip of the grooved
overhead wheels of the basket. I was not able to learn what this limit
is, but I have never seen a cable run at an angle of over forty-five
degrees. Wherever a cable does not form a single great span it has to
be supported at varying intervals by running over steel towers to
prevent its sagging too near the earth.

A _teleferica_ has never more than its two terminal stations. If the
topography of a mountain is such that a continuous cable cannot be run
the whole distance that it is desired to bridge by _teleferica_,
two--or even three or four--separate installations are built. This is
well illustrated in the ascent of the Adamello, the highest position
on the Austro-Italian front. One goes to the lower station of the
first _teleferica_ by motor, if the road is not blocked by slides. At
the upper station of this two-mile-long cableway a tramcar pulled by a
mule is taken for the journey over three or four miles of practically
level narrow-gauge railway. Leaving this, a hundred-yard walk brings
one to another _teleferica_, in the basket of which he is carried to
its upper station, on the brow of a great cliff towering a sheer three
thousand feet above the valley below. Three hundred yards farther up
another _teleferica_ begins, which lands him by the side of the frozen
lake at Rifugio Garibaldi. Three more _telefericas_--with breaks
between each--and a dog-sled journey figure in the remainder of the
climb to the glacier and summit of the Adamello.

The engine of a _teleferica_--its power varies according to the weight
and capacity of its basket and the height and length of the lift--is
always installed at the upper station. The usual provision is for two
baskets, one coming up while the other goes down. As with the
ore-tramways, however, an installation can be made--if sufficient
power is available--to carry two or three or even a greater number of
baskets. As this puts a great strain on the cableway the Italians have
only resorted to it at a few points where the pressure on the
transport is very heavy.

The two greatest enemies of the _teleferica_ are the avalanche and the
wind--the latter because it may blow the baskets off the cable, and
the former because it may carry the whole thing away. As the tracks of
snow-slides--the points at which they are most likely to occur--are
fairly well defined, it is usually possible to make a wide span across
the danger-zone with the cable and thus minimise the chance of
disaster on this score. It is only when the dread _valanga_--as
occasionally happens--is launched at some unexpected point that damage
may be done to an aerial tramway. A great slide--perhaps the worst
which has occurred on the Italian side of the lines during the
war--which came down, a mile wide, from the summit of the Tofana
_massif_ to the Dolomite road in the valley five miles below, carried
away a block of barracks and a battery of mountain guns, in addition
to burying a considerable length of _teleferica_ a hundred feet deep
in snow and _débris_. Visiting this slide in December, 1916, a few
days after it happened, I saw--at a point where a cut had been run in
an endeavour to save some of the several hundred Alpini who had been
buried--the twisted tower of the _teleferica_, inextricably mixed up
with the body of a mule and a gun-carriage and overlaid with a solid
stratum of forest trees, two miles below the point at which it had
formerly stood.

Though the number of disasters of this kind from avalanches may be
counted upon one’s fingers, trouble from high wind is always an
imminent possibility. In the early days of the _teleferica_ accidents
traceable to the blowing off of the baskets were fairly common; in
fact, it was feared for a time that the difficulty from this source
might be so great as materially to limit the usefulness of the
cableway system. The use of more deeply-grooved wheels, however, did
away with this trouble almost entirely, so that now the only menace
from the wind is when it comes from “abeam” and blows hard enough to
swing the baskets into collision when passing each other in mid-air.

Though I have had many a _teleferica_ journey that was distinctly
thrilling--what ride through the air on a swaying wire, with a torrent
or an avalanche below, and perhaps shells hurtling through the clouds
above, would not be thrilling? --I have never figured in anything
approaching an accident, and only once in an experience which might
even be described as “ticklish.” This latter occurred through my
insistence on making an ascent in a _teleferica_ on a day when there
was too much wind to allow it to operate in safety. It was on the
Adamello in the course of an ascent which I endeavoured to make toward
the end of last July.

There was a sinister turban of black clouds wrapped around the summit
of the great peak, and before we were half-way up what had only been a
cold rain in the lower valley was turning into driving sleet and snow.
We ascended by the first _teleferica_--a double one--without
difficulty, but the ominous swaying of the cables warned us that the
next line, which was more exposed, might be quite another matter. This
latter is the one I have mentioned as running from an Alpine meadow to
the brow of a cliff towering three thousand feet above it. It was one
of the longest--if not the longest--unsupported cable-spans on the
whole Alpine front. It was also the steepest of which I had had any
experience. The fact that it was exposed throughout its whole length
to a strong wind which blew down from an upper valley was responsible
for putting it “out of business” during bad weather and thus made it
the weak link in the attenuated chain of the Adamello’s
communications.

As we had feared, we found this _teleferica_ “closed down” upon our
arrival at the lower station, ample reason for which appeared in the
fifteen or twenty-foot sway given to the parallel lines of cable by
the powerful “side-on” wind gusts which assailed it every few moments
from the direction of the glacier. Fortunately, as the storm was only
coming in fitful squalls as yet and had not settled down to a steady
blow, the _tenente_ in charge thought that it might be possible to
send us up in one of the quieter intervals.

“There’s no danger of the baskets blowing off the cable,” he said;
“it’s only a matter of preventing them striking one another in
passing, of which there is always risk when the wires are swaying too
much.”

As there were three of us and the carrying capacity of the basket was
limited to two hundred kilos, it was necessary to attempt two trips.
As the heaviest of the party, it was decided that I should ride alone,
starting after the two others had gone up. Taking advantage of a brief
quiet spell, my companions were started off. There was still a good
deal of sway to the cables, but a look-out above kept the engineer
advised as to conditions as the baskets approached each other, and
the passage was made without incident. When my turn came to start,
however, the storm had settled down to a steady gale, and the
_tenente_ said he did not dare take the responsibility of trying to
send me through. Ordinarily I should have been only too ready to
acquiesce in his ruling, but as my companions had just ’phoned
word that they were going on by the next _teleferica_--a
comparatively-protected one--to the Rifugio Garibaldi, where they
would await me before starting on the following stage of the ascent, I
realised at once that my failure to appear would throw out the whole
itinerary and make the trip (which had to be finished that day or not
at all) a complete failure. It was plainly up to me to get through if
there was any way of doing it, and I accordingly suggested to the
young officer that I would gladly sign a written statement taking the
whole responsibility for an accident on my own shoulders.

“That would not help either you or me very much if things happened to
go wrong,” he said, with a laugh. “If you really must go, you must;
that is all, and we shall simply do our best not to have any trouble.
I shall send one of the linemen along with you to fend off the other
basket in case it swings into yours in passing. There is a returned
American here who ought to be able to do the job and talk to you in
your native tongue at the same time.”

And so it was arranged. I took my place--lying on my back in the
bottom of the basket--as usual, after which Antonio--grinning
delightedly at the prospect of keeping watch and ward over a
“fellow-countryman”--climbed in and knelt between my feet, facing up
the line. Then the “starter” banged three times on the cable to let
the engineer at the top know that all was ready, and presently we were
off along the singing wire.

The ordinary motion of a _teleferica_ is not unlike that of an
aeroplane--though it is not quite so smooth and vastly slower. On this
occasion, however, the swaying of the cable furnished a new sensation
which, while mildly suggestive of the sideslip of an aeroplane on a
steep “bank,” was rather more like the “yawing” of a “sausage”
observation balloon in a heavy wind. The swinging of the basket itself
was also a good deal more violent than I had ever experienced before,
though at no time great enough to make it difficult to keep one’s
place. Both motions were, of course, at their worst out toward the
middle of the span, so that one had an opportunity to get used to
them gradually in the quarter of an hour which elapsed before that
point was reached.

I took the occasion to ask Antonio a question I had been making a
point of putting to every _teleferica_ man I had a chance to talk
with. “Is it really true,” I said, “that no one has been killed since
the war began while riding in a _teleferica_?”

“A large number of men have been injured,” he replied; “but no one has
been killed outright,” and he went on to tell of a friend of his who
had coasted down a thousand feet because the pulling-cable jerked
loose from the place where it was attached to the basket when the
latter had fouled a “down” basket in passing. He was badly injured
from the jolt he received when the basket brought up short at the
bottom, and it had taken three months in the hospital to put him right
again. He would never walk again without a stick, but he was so far
from being killed that he was the engineer of the very _teleferica_ on
which we were riding. He was a very careful man, said Antonio, for he
fully understood the consequences of letting two loaded baskets bump
in mid-air.

A chill current of spray began to enfold us at this juncture, and
Antonio was just in the midst of an explanation of how it was carried
by the wind from a thousand-foot-high quarter-mile-distant waterfall
coming down behind the curtain of the lowering clouds, when I suddenly
saw him bring the point of his alpenstock over the edge of the basket
and, with his eyes fixed intently ahead, hold himself poised in an
attitude of tense readiness. Just above our heads the descending
basket was swaying to and fro in the strong wind. A collision seemed
imminent when, with a quick lunge of his alpenstock, Antonio turned it
aside, and in that fraction of a second we passed it unharmed. It had
been easy this time, explained Antonio, because the engineer at the
top had slowed down the baskets to under half-speed at the moment of
their passing.

All sorts of freight--from ducks and donkeys to shells and
cannon--have been carried by the _teleferica_, and one of the best
stories I heard on the Italian front had to do with a pig--the mascot
of a battalion of Alpini holding a lofty position on a Dolomite
glacier--which found its way up there by means of the cable. He was a
sucking-pig, and was sent up alive to be reared for the major’s
Christmas dinner, when the _teleferica_ basket in which he was
travelling got stuck in a drift which had encroached upon one of the
steel towers. Twelve hours elapsed before it was shovelled free, and
the sucking-pig, when it finally reached the top, was frozen as hard
and stiff as one of his cold-storage brothers. It was only after he
had lain in the hot kitchen for several hours that an indignant grunt
revealed the astonishing fact that his armour of fat had kept
smouldering a spark of life. They reared him on a bottle, and at the
time I saw him he was a hulking porker of two hundred pounds or more,
drawing a regular ration of his own. They called him _Tedesco_--on
account of his face and figure rather than his disposition, they
said--but all the same, I would be willing to wager that, if that
brave battalion of Alpini were able to save anything more than their
rifles and their eagle-plumes in their retreat, he was not allowed to
fall into the hands of his brother _Tedeschi_ from the other side of
the Alps.

But the most noteworthy service of the _teleferica_ is the way in
which it facilitates the handling of the wounded at points where other
ways of transporting them are either too dangerous or too slow. It was
on a sector of the upper Isonzo, where at that time the Austrians had
not yet been pushed across the river. A rather wide local attack was
on at the moment, and to care the more expeditiously for the wounded
a very remarkable little mobile ambulance--the whole equipment of
which could be taken down in the morning, packed upon seven motor
lorries, moved from fifty to a hundred miles, and be set up and ready
for work the same evening--had been pushed up many miles inside the
zone of fire to such protection as the “lee” of a high ridge afforded.

“We have found,” said the chief surgeon, “that many wounds hitherto
regarded as fatal are only so as a consequence of delay in operating
upon them. This little hospital unit, which is so complete in
equipment that it can do a limited amount of every kind of work that
any base hospital can perform, was designed for the express purpose of
giving earlier attention to wounds of this kind, principally those of
the abdomen. From the first we saved a great number of men who would
otherwise never have survived to reach the base hospitals; but even so
we found we were still losing many as a consequence of the delay that
would often arise in transporting them over some badly exposed bit of
road on which it was not deemed safe to risk ambulances or
stretcher-bearers. Then we devised a special basket for wounded, to be
run on the _teleferica_ (as you see here), with the result that we
are now saving practically every man that it is humanly possible to
save.”

While he was speaking the _teleferica_, which ended beside the tent of
the operating theatre, began to click, and presently an oblong box,
almost identical in size and shape with a coffin, appeared against the
sky-line of the ridge and began gently gliding toward us along the
sagging cable. “In that box,” continued the surgeon, “there will be a
man whose life depends upon whether or not his wound can be operated
upon within an hour or so of the time he received it. He was probably
started on his way to us within ten minutes of the time he arrived at
the advanced dressing station, and if he was not left lying out too
long the chances are we will pull him through. All up the other slope
of the ridge he came across ground that is being heavily shelled (as
you can see from the smoke and dust that are rising), but that basket
is so small a mark that the Austrians might fire all day at it without
hitting it. One of them occasionally runs into the ‘pattern’ of a
shrapnel burst (with disastrous results, of course), but the only
danger worth bothering about is of having the _teleferica_ laid up
from a shell on the engine-house or one of the supporting towers.
Although the man is probably unconscious he is coming alone, you see.
No other life, and not even an ambulance, is risked in bringing him
here. Except for the _teleferica_, he could not have been sent over
until after dark, and the delay would have been fatal. We estimate
that from one to three per cent. of the men wounded on a battlefield
which, like this one, lies so exposed that they cannot be sent back at
once by stretchers or ambulance, owe their lives directly to the
_teleferica_.”

When the cover of the basket was lifted off in the station, the body
of a man swathed in a blanket was revealed. He was unable to speak,
but a note pinned to the blanket stated that he had been struck in the
stomach with a shell fragment just outside the engine-house, and that
nothing had been done save to wrap enough gauze around his middle to
hold the riven abdomen together and bundle him into the waiting
_teleferica_ basket. “He must have been wounded not over fifteen
minutes ago, and within less than a mile in an air-line from here,”
commented the chief surgeon. “We might have heard the detonation of
the shell that did it. Five minutes one way or the other in operating
may mean the difference between life and death in a case of this kind,
and the chances are that the _teleferica_ has given us the necessary
margin.”

Before I left the hospital, an hour later, the operation was over, and
the man was resting comfortably, with every hope of recovery.

On several occasions, going up by a _teleferica_, I have passed a
little Red Cross basket going down with a _ferito_, or wounded man
(indeed, the occupant of one of these to whom I endeavoured to shout a
few words of good cheer in Italian reported below that he had been
accosted by an unmistakable _Tedesco_); but by far the queerest
passenger it was my lot to “balance” against was one I encountered
during an attempt I made to get up the Pasubio on a stormy day last
January. It was snowing at the rate of four or five inches an hour,
and the air was thick with the driving flakes, when, as a consequence
(as I learned later) of a drift being piled right up against the cable
where the latter crossed a jutting ledge, the steady “tug-tug” of the
pulling wire ceased and my basket came to a quivering standstill. I
knew that I had been approaching the halfway point, but the first
evidence I had that the “down basket” had stopped near by was a sudden
pulsing blast which cut athwart the besom of the storm and assailed my
ears like the crack o’ doom. Except that it was ten times louder than
any human being could make, it was just such a wail of agony as would
be wrung from the throat of a man who was being stretched on the rack.

Again the throbbing blast came hurtling through the storm, and this
time I noticed that, starting with a raucous bass note, it kept on
rising in a sirenic crescendo until it was suddenly broken short, as
though the air which drove it was cut off rather than exhausted.
Turning down the high collar of my storm coat, I squirmed around and
peered back over my shoulder in the direction of the “Thing of
Terror,” but only an amorphous grey shape in the line of the opposite
cable indicated the position of the other basket. It didn’t seem
possible that a two-feet-wide-by-six-feet-long wire basket could
possibly hold anything large enough to make a sound like that, and yet
the fact that the cable at this point was five hundred feet or more in
the air made it certain that the sound could come from nowhere else.

A brisk shiver was running up and down my spine as I slithered down
again in the bottom of the basket, but I told myself that it was from
the cold and set my wits to work to find a “rational” explanation of
the weird phenomenon. A great bird--perhaps an eagle--roosting on the
cable? Impossible. Nothing on wings since the time of the
“pterodactyl,” or whatever it was called, could have the lungpower
for a wail like that. A fog-horn? Not a hundred miles from the sea.
A--ah, I had it now! I told myself--gas-alarm signal out of order;
Alpino taking it down to have that broken-off note put right--playing
it for his own amusement. “What a fool I had been not to think of it
before!” I said to myself as I settled back with a sigh of relief and
an easy heart to wait for the “train to start.”

When, after a half-hour wait, punctuated at pretty regular intervals
by the wail of the “gas alert,” the gentle “tug-tug” began again, and
the basket started on its way, I pulled myself up on my elbow to give
the indefatigable serenader a hail in passing. Presently the “down”
basket, filled with some sprawling shape, took form in the hard-driven
snow, but it was not until it was almost upon me that I saw that the
nose of a donkey, stretched a foot over the side, threatened to foul
the side of my swaying car in passing. The vigorous punch of my
mittened fist with which I fended it clear set another of those
air-shivering blasts going, and I had just time to see, before the
curtain of the snow dimmed down and swallowed up the fantastic sight,
that the sudden cut-off I noticed at the end was caused by the
swelling windpipe being brought into sharp contact with the side of
the basket as the beast’s neck was stretched out to establish the
proper air columns to form the sirenic higher notes.

The donkey, they told me in the engine-house at the top, had colic
from eating fresh snow on top of the contents of a box of dried figs
he had broached, and they had tied his legs and sent him down on his
way to the “Blue Cross” hospital to be put right. He was a plains
donkey, and didn’t have good “Alpine sense,” else they would have
driven him down by the path on his own legs. If they had known that a
guest was coming up, however, they said, they wouldn’t have sent down
an ass in the _teleferica_. It wasn’t quite safe for either passenger
on account of the way the animal sprawled. The last donkey they had
sent down got his hind legs tangled in a load of firewood that was
coming up, and they had lost a good deal of the precious fuel at a
time when they were at the bottom of their pile, with a storm coming
on. The “up” car always got the worst of a collision, but if they were
only warned that anyone of importance was coming, they took great care
that there shouldn’t be any collision. No one ever got much hurt on a
_teleferica_, anyhow.

It seems to be a plain fact that no man has yet lost his life on the
Italian front as a consequence of riding in a _teleferica_. Many have
been killed in constructing them, and even more in patrolling the
lines and keeping them in repair. Men have fallen or have jumped out
of the baskets, often from considerable heights, and men have been
brought in stiff with cold after two or three hours of exposure to a
blizzard in a stalled car. Stations and engines have been carried away
and buried, with all serving them, a hundred feet beneath an
avalanche; but in these, as well as in all other mishaps connected
with _telefericas_, inquiries which I pursued during the whole time I
spent on the Italian front failed to reveal a single instance in which
an actual passenger had lost his life. Hairbreadth escapes and rescues
I heard of by the score. The story of one of the most remarkable of
the latter was related by no less a personage than the brave and
distinguished Colonel--now General--“Peppino” Garibaldi, grandson of
the Liberator, and hero of the famous capture of the peak of the Coli
di Lano.

While I was staying with Colonel Garibaldi in the Dolomites last
winter the station of a _teleferica_ which I had been expecting to use
on the morrow in going up to the lines on the glacier of the
Marmolada was carried away by an avalanche, which also killed one of
the engineers. It was the receipt of the news of this disaster which
led my host to remark that one of the most spectacularly brave feats
he had ever heard of had been performed by an Alpino the previous
winter in connection with putting right a stalled car on this very
span of cableway which had just been destroyed.

“At this stage of the game,” said Colonel Garibaldi, who is fluent in
American idiom as a consequence of his many revolutionary campaigns in
both North and South America, “they were not grooving the wheels of
the _teleferica_ basket deeply enough, with the result that they were
occasionally blown off the cables by strong winds. So far as we could,
the carrying of passengers was suspended during blizzards, but of
course every now and then an occasion would arise when the chance had
to be taken. That was how it happened that a staff officer from the
Comando Supremo, who had never been on a _teleferica_ before, was in a
basket which was blown from the cable of the first Marmolada span at
the height of a heavy storm last March. The basket was within a couple
of hundred metres of the end of its journey when the derailment of its
two forward wheels occurred--in fact, it was a good deal nearer
‘land’ in that direction than downwards, where there was a clear drop
of three or four hundred metres on to frozen snow.

“If the air is quiet, a basket (going up, of course; the ‘down’ one
runs by gravity) with only one pair of wheels off can usually be
‘nursed’ along the cable by gentle tugs from the engine, and that was
what the engineers tried to do in this instance. The side pressure of
the wind was too strong, however, and within a metre or two the cable
wedged in beside the wheels and jammed hard. If there had not been a
man in the basket, they would simply have sped up the engine and gone
on pulling until either the basket came up or something broke. If the
former, all was well; if the latter, they picked up the pieces as soon
as the weather permitted, rushed their repairs, and started up again.
With a passenger--and especially a staff officer--to reckon with, it
was a different proposition.

“Luckily the chap kept his nerve, and between snow flurries they could
see him working hard trying to get the wheels on again. An expert
_teleferica_ lineman can, with luck, occasionally put a pair of wheels
back on the track alone; but unless one understands exactly how to
take his weight off the basket by hanging over the cable the job is
as hopeless as trying to lift yourself by your boot-straps. This chap
was anything but an expert, and, after fumbling with numbing fingers
for ten or fifteen minutes, he waved his hand with a gesture of
despair and sank back into the bottom of the heeled-over basket.

“The Alpino has lived among blizzards all his life, and is able to
figure pretty closely how much resistance is left in a man exposed to
wind and cold under any given conditions. They knew that a man tucked
in comfortably in a basket on an even keel waiting for engine repairs
is good for several times as long as one hanging on for dear life to
the sides of an apparently hopelessly stalled and half-upset basket.
Most of the men watching from the station gave the poor chap from
fifteen to twenty minutes; it was only the most optimistic who said
half an hour. In any case, there was only one thing to do--to send a
man down to the disabled basket; and a lineman who had shortly before
performed a similar feat successfully when a load of badly needed
shells was stalled on the cable volunteered to do it.

“Suspending the intrepid fellow from the cable in a hastily rigged
harness hung from a spare pair of wheels, they tied a long line round
his waist and let him coast down by gravity to the basket. The line,
paid out slowly, kept him from gaining too much momentum. The
journey--an easy feat for a man with a good head--was made without
mishap. The officer’s mind was still clear and his nerve unbroken,
but, numb with cold and on the verge of physical collapse, he was
unable to lift a finger to save himself. The most he could do was to
maintain his hold, and even that he could not be expected to do for
long.

“For some time the Alpino, still suspended in his harness, put forth
all his strength in an endeavour to lift the basket sufficiently to
allow the displaced wheels to slip back on to the cable, but there was
no way to bring enough force to bear to be of any use, and, after
nearly spilling out the man he was trying to save, he gave it up. Next
he tried to lighten the basket of the weight of the officer by passing
a couple of hitches of the bight of the line around him and tricing
him up to the cable immediately overhead. He succeeded in his
immediate end, but in doing so defeated his ultimate one. The body of
the officer swung clear of the bottom of the basket, but hung in such
a way that the Alpino could not himself get in the proper position to
lift from.

“By now it was evident to the would-be rescuer that nothing could be
accomplished unless the helpless officer were got clear of the car
entirely, and this could be effected only by changing places with him.
How the resolute fellow did it Heaven and the special providence which
always sees the Alpino through only know. They paid him out a couple
of metres more of line when they felt him tugging for it, and then
they had a snow-blurred vision of him scrambling about the tilted car
for three or four busy minutes. Finally they got the short, sharp,
double tug which was the signal he had arranged to give in the event
that he failed in his attempt and wanted to be drawn back.

“Not a little cast down over this development, they began hauling in
from the station, only to feel the more apprehension when they saw it
was a limp and apparently lifeless body that was coming up to them out
of the storm. A reassuring yodel rolled up from the misty depths at
this juncture, however, and the sharpest-eyed of them announced that
he could see his comrade ‘jack-knifed’ over the cable jerking the
basket straight. Even before the body of the swooned officer, with its
wind-blown arms and legs flopping like those of a scarecrow, was swung
on to the landing and released from its harness, the ringing bang of
a steel spanner on the cable gave the familiar signal of ‘Haul away!’

“He came up (so his captain told me later),” concluded Colonel
Garibaldi, “sitting on the rim of the basket with his eagle’s feather
rasping right along the sagging cable all the way, his hobnailed boots
drumming a tattoo on the steel bottom, and singing the Alpini marching
song in a voice that set the echoes ringing above the howling of the
storm.”

The expedient of shooting a _teleferica_ cable across an otherwise
unbridgeable space was not tried for the first time on the occasion
referred to in the opening paragraph of this chapter--when it was
resorted to in running a line across a flood-swollen river. The same
plan had been successfully followed a year previously in carrying
succour to a band of Alpini who, through the destruction of their
_teleferica_ by an avalanche, were left “marooned” on the side of a
glacier with only a few days’ supply of food and munitions. The one
path leading up to their eyrie had also been scoured away by the
slide, so that a month or more of labour would have been required to
open communications in this way. For the same reason even a longer
period would have had to elapse before the _teleferica_ could be
restored; that is, if the cable were to be carried up as when it was
first built. The mountaineering genius of the Alpini would undoubtedly
have been equal to the problem of finding their way back to safety by
letting each other down by ropes, but this would have involved the
abandonment of a position which it was vitally important to hold.

The expedient of shooting the cable up from a gun was the only one of
the many alternatives considered which promised any chance of success.
The first attempt nearly proved a “boomerang,” for the weight of the
cable deflected the chargeless six-inch shell to which it was attached
nearly sixty degrees and sent it crashing through a mule stable,
fortunately empty at the moment. A shell attached to a lighter cable
went almost equally wide of its mark; in fact, all attempts with
high-velocity guns were dismal failures, and it was not until one of
the new long-range trench-mortars was brought up that the experiment
took an encouraging turn, though success was not won until the
cable-line was displaced by a light manila rope. This was fired to its
goal--an eminence half a mile distant and a thousand feet high--at the
first shot, and afterwards served to drag up a light cable which, in
turn, dragged up the heavy one. The single-span _teleferica_ installed
at this time--quite free from the menace which had overwhelmed its
lower predecessor--was still in use when I visited this sector nine
months later.

Perhaps the most spectacular exploit ever carried out from a
_teleferica_ was that by which a troublesome nest of Austrian
machine-gunners were cleared off one of the pinnacles of the great
M---- _massif_ in the fall of 1916. At that time the lofty ridge was
divided between the Italians and Austrians. The latter had access to
one splintered pinnacle which, although there was no room to establish
a permanent position on, offered a splendid vantage from which to
observe all Italian movements in the valley beneath. The situation was
irritating enough for the Italians even when the activities of the
enemy were confined only to observation, but when he took to bringing
up a machine-gun and peppering--almost from its rear--the headquarters
of an Alpini battalion which held an important pass three thousand
feet below, it became well-nigh intolerable. What happened was related
to me some months later, when I asked the major of this battalion how
it chanced that the roof of the officers’ mess, in which we were
dining, was armoured with sheets of steel.

“Against machine-gun bullets,” was the reply; “there was a time of
accursed memory in which the enemy used to bring a gun out on a
little splinter of rock, not fifteen hundred metres from here in an
air line, and spray the whole of our little terrace with ‘dum-dums.’”

“It must have been a bit trying,” I observed. “How did you manage to
stick it?”

“By keeping out of sight as much as possible,” he replied; “that is,
until the day we went after him from the _teleferica_. After that he
left us alone until we had time to get a gun rigged up to make him
keep his distance.”

“Went after him from the _teleferica_!” I repeated, in surprise. “What
do you mean by that?”

“Just what I said,” he answered, with a smile. “We were working day
and night to excavate a gun-cavern, the fire from which would make
that troublesome position untenable for the Austrian machine-gunners.
In the meantime we had to stick it out as best we could, for the least
weakening of our force at this point would have been the signal for an
Austrian attack which might well have left them in possession of the
pass. By doing most of our moving about at night we were getting on
fairly well until, opening up at an unexpectedly early hour one
morning, they killed a good many more of us than I like to think of.

“It was at this juncture that Captain X---- over there, who had had a
bullet through his hat, came to me with a drawing in his hand, and
said that he had just figured out that, between the third and fourth
towers of the _teleferica_, there was a point from which the Austrian
machine-gun position could be enfiladed with deadly effect.

“If our position had not been really serious I should probably never
have listened to such a mad proposal. As it was, I entered into it
heart and soul. We hung the platform of the machine-gun on to the
cable at an angle which would make it easy to elevate and range on the
Austrian position above. Then--as a happy afterthought--we bent a
sheet of bullet-proof steel for a shield on the exposed side, erected
a low platform on which the gun would rest securely, and--the first
and last armoured _teleferica_ was complete. Between X---- and his
helper, the armour and the gun, the weight was about double that which
the _teleferica_ was supposed to carry, but I knew there was a wide
margin of safety allowed for, and had no misgivings on that score.
With X---- and his assistant crouched low on either side of the gun,
and with a black tarpaulin thrown loosely over the whole, she looked
as much like an ordinary load of junk going down for repairs as anyone
could wish.

“The Austrians, who had been busy for an hour peppering the zigzags of
the path up to the trenches at the lip of the pass, took no notice of
the innocent-looking load slipping down the _teleferica_. The relieved
men from above, dodging in quick rushes past the exposed stretches of
the zigzags, offered them far more exciting practice than a load of
old gear. The latter disappeared from our sight at the second tower,
reappeared at the third, and was in full view when X---- ‘unmasked’
and opened up. We could even follow the line of brown dust-spurts on
the face of the cliff as the bullets ranged upward to their mark. The
fire of the two Austrian machine-guns ceased instantly, and never
resumed. Probably the gunners were killed before ever they had a
chance to turn round their guns and reply to the sudden attack from
the air.

“After spraying the pinnacle for five minutes X---- signalled to be
drawn up. He arrived at the station to report his job finished.
Against possible further use for her, we improved our ‘aerial
dreadnought’ considerably in the next day or two, but there was never
occasion to send her into action again. When the Austrians _did_
venture up our big gun was in place, and we scoured them off the top
with high explosive.”



THE GARIBALDI FIGHT AGAIN FOR FREEDOM


Once or twice in every winter a thick, sticky, hot wind from somewhere
on the other side of the Mediterranean breathes upon the snow and
ice-locked Alpine valleys the breath of a false springtime. The Swiss
guides, if I remember correctly, call it by a name which is pronounced
nearly as we do the word “fun”; but the incidence of such a wind means
to them anything but what that signifies in English. To them--to all
in the Alps, indeed--a spell of _fun_ weather means thaw, and thaw
means avalanches; avalanches, too, at a time of the year when there is
so much snow that the slides are under constant temptation to abandon
their beaten tracks and gouge out new and unexpected channels for
themselves. It is only the first-time visitor to the Alps who bridles
under the Judas kiss of the wind called _fun_.

It was on an early January day of one of these treacherous hot winds
that I was motored up from the plain of Venezia to a certain sector
of the Italian Alpine front, a sector almost as important
strategically as it is beautiful scenically. What twelve hours
previously had been a flint-hard ice-paved road had dissolved to a
river of soft slush, and one could sense rather than see the ominous
premonitory twitchings in the lowering snow-banks as the lapping of
the hot moist air relaxed the brake of the frost which had held them
on the precipitous mountain sides. Every stretch where the road curved
to the embrace of cliff or shelving valley wall was a possible ambush,
and we slipped by them with muffled engine and hushed voices.

Toward the middle of the short winter afternoon the gorge we had been
following opened out into a narrow valley, and straight over across
the little lake which the road skirted, reflected in the shimmering
sheet of steaming water that the thaw was throwing out across the ice,
was a vivid white triangle of towering mountain. A true granite Alp
among the splintered Dolomites--a fortress among cathedrals--it was
the outstanding, the dominating feature in a panorama which I knew
from my map was made up of the mountain chain along which wriggled the
interlocked lines of the Austro-Italian battle-front.

“Plainly a peak with a personality,” I said to the officer at my
side. “What is it called?”

“It’s the Col di Lana,” was the reply; “the mountain that Colonel
‘Peppino’ Garibaldi took partially in a first attempt, and afterwards
Gelasio Caetani, the Italo-American mining engineer, blew up and
captured completely. It is one of the most important positions on our
whole front, for whichever side holds it not only effectually blocks
the enemy’s advance, but has also an invaluable sally-port from which
to launch his own. We simply _had_ to have it, and it was taken in
what was probably the only way humanly possible. It’s Colonel
Garibaldi’s headquarters, by the way, where we put up to-night and
to-morrow; perhaps you can get him to tell you the story.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Where his study window looks out on the yellow Tiber winding through
the Rome for which his father had fought so long and so bravely, I had
listened one afternoon, not long previously, to that fiery old
warrior, General Ricciotti Garibaldi, while he spoke of the war and of
Italy’s part in it. “All of my boys are fighting,” he had said, “and
my daughters and my wife are nursing. Two of the boys are gone--killed
in France--but the other five are with the Italian army. They are all
good fighters, I think; but one of them--Peppino, the eldest--is also
an able soldier. Or at least he ought to be, for he has been trained
in the ‘Garibaldi’ school. There hasn’t been a war (save only that
between Russia and Japan) or revolution in any part of the world in
the last twenty years that he hasn’t drawn a sword, carried a rifle,
or swung a machete. You must make a point of seeing him if you are
visiting his part of the front, for he is a good little fellow, is our
Peppino.”

“And you’ll fare well if you put up with Peppino, too,” his little
English mother had added: “He is sure to have a good cook; and then
the dear boy was always so fond of sweets that I can’t imagine his
doing without them. Besides, Sante is with him, and Sante was running
a co-operative creamery when the war broke out. You may be sure that
he has foraged his share of the good things too.”

       *       *       *       *       *

We found the grandson and namesake of the great Giuseppe Garibaldi
quartered in a little string of an Alpine village which occupied the
last bit of ground open enough to enjoy even comparative immunity from
the snow sliding from either flank of the deep valley which the road
followed up to the pass. The “good little fellow” who sprang up from
his map and report-littered desk to bid us welcome turned out to be
six feet of vigorous manhood, with a powerful pair of shoulders, a
face red-bronzed from the sun-glint on the snow, and a grip which
fused my fingers in the galvanic pressure of its friendly clasp. The
high, narrow forehead, the firm line of the mouth, the steady serious
eyes--all were distinctly Garibaldian, recalling to me the words of
his mother: “Ricciotti is my handsomest boy, but Peppino is the one
most like the old General, his grandfather.”

His greeting was warm and hearty, and only in the grave eyes was there
hint of the terrible responsibility accumulating through the fact that
a hot, moist wind was playing upon the heaviest fall of snow the Alps
had known for many winters.

“I have sketched you out a tentative programme for the next
twenty-four hours,” he said, speaking English with an accent which
plainly revealed that it had come to its fluency under American--and
probably Western American--skies “which is as far (and a good deal
farther, in fact) ahead than there is any use in planning while this
accursed weather lasts. There are still a couple of hours of daylight,
so we will begin by taking sledges to the upper valley and making a
survey of our lines from below. To-morrow--God willing!” (he said it
with the same quick fervency with which the pious Mohammedan
interpolates “Imshallah” into any outline of his future plans) “you
and Captain X---- will go to the summit and glacier of the Marmolada,
perhaps the most spectacular position on all our front. That will
depend upon whether or not we can keep the _telefericas_ going.”

As the sledge threaded its way between deep-cut snow-banks up the
narrowing gorge, Colonel Garibaldi spoke briefly of the difficulties
of Alpine transport in midwinter.

“On the ordinary battle front, like those of France and Russia,” he
said, “it requires rather less than one man on the line of
communications to maintain one man in the first-line trenches. For the
whole Italian front the average is something over two men on the
communications to one in the first line; but at points in the Alps (as
on this sector of mine), it may run up to six, or even eight or ten in
bad weather. It isn’t just keeping the roads clear from falling and
drifting snow, it’s the _valangas_, the slides. And with the slides
the worst trouble isn’t just the men you may lose under them (though
that’s terrible enough, Heaven knows), but rather the men who are
holding the lines up beyond the slides that have to be fed and
munitioned whatever happens. By an unkind trick of fate (just as bad
for the enemy as for ourselves, however), the snows of this year have
been among the heaviest ever known. This means that the slides are
also bad beyond all precedent, and especially that they are coming in
unexpected places, places where they have never been known before.
Slides in new places mean--what you saw where that swath was cut
through the lower end of the little village down the valley, and
problems like this!”

We had just come out of a narrowed section of the gorge where, to get
through at all, the road had to run on a sort of trestle built above
the now frozen river, and where the ice-sheathed walls above us
interlocked like the jaws of a wolf-trap. Ahead of us the road was
blocked by a towering barrier of crumpled snow, piled a hundred feet
or more high from wall to wall. Rocks and snapped-off and up-ended
pine trees peppered through the amorphous mass furnished unmistakable
evidence that the avalanche which formed it had come down out of a
“track.”

“We couldn’t go over it, and we couldn’t have shovelled it away in ten
years,” said my companion; “so we simply had to follow the only
alternative left and go through it. Here we go into the tunnel now. My
great worry is as to whether the new slide that the next day or
two--or the next hour or two, for that matter--may bring down upon
this will crush in my little tunnel or only pile up harmlessly above.
Hard-packed as it is, the snow” (I felt him lurch away from me in the
darkness, and heard the soft swish of something brushing against the
side of the tunnel) “is slushy even in under here. I’m rather afraid
that it won’t stand much more weight, even if it doesn’t fall in of
its own. But--ah” (we were out of the tunnel now, and a fluted yellow
cliff of staggering sheerness loomed through the notch ahead),
“there’s the Marmolada! Doesn’t look like an easy place to dislodge
the enemy from, does it? Well, my men--my brother, Major Ricciotti
Garibaldi, leading them--took the most of the 13,000-foot _massif_
from the Austrians with the loss of so few men that I am still being
accused of having thrown my dead in the _crevasses_ of the glacier and
filling their places with smuggled recruits!”

An Alpino passed singing, and the Colonel took up the air as he
returned the salute.

    “O Marmolada, tu es bella, tu es grana
        ina in peo e forta in guerra.”

“It’s a song the men have made,” he said. “The Marmolada was famous
even in peace time, but up to a year or two before the war it had
never been climbed from this side. The Captain of Alpini in the post
at that pass on the left was the first Italian to make the ascent. It
took him two days, and cost him several hundred _lira_ for guides.
Well, it was from this very side that we took it (I can’t tell you
exactly how, as we want to use the same method again), and now we are
sending fuel and food and munitions up there every day. To-morrow, if
the _telefericas_ are still running, you will go up there to that
snow-cap on the top in less than an hour.”

On the way back to the village in the gathering dusk I had an
illuminative example of the famous Garibaldi _sang froid_. The
conversation had turned--as it seemed to persist in doing during all
of my visit--to common friends and haunts in South America, and I
mentioned a meeting with Castro in Venezuela some years previously.
“Just what month was that?” Colonel Garibaldi queried. “March,” I
replied. “Then at that very moment,” said he, “I was chained to a ring
in the wall of the jail at Ciudad Bolivar. A little later,” he
continued, “I and a fellow-_revolutionista_ chained up with me broke
out and started to swim the Orinoco to----”.

At that moment the sledge chanced to be worrying by a long pack train
on the trestle in the bottom of the overhung gorge I have referred to,
and just as my companion reached this point in his story a big icicle,
thawed loose somewhere above, came crashing down on the back of one of
the mules. The pack-load of provisions was riven as by a knife, and
the mule, recoiling from the sudden shock, shied back into the animal
immediately behind him. This one, in turn, backed into the animal next
in line, so that the impulse went back through the train by what I
once heard an old Chilkat packer call “mu-leg-raphy.” The consequence
was that the hundred yards of gorge (in passing through which one was
cautioned even to lower one’s voice for fear of starting vibration
that might break loose one of the thousand or so Damoclean swords
suspended above) was thrown into an uproar that set the echoes
ringing. The temperamental Alpini swore at the mules, and at each
other from the depths of their leather lungs, while the mules simply
did the mulish thing by standing on their forelegs and lashing out
with their hind ones at whatever fell within their reach.

But, unruffled alike by the kinetic energy released below and the
potential energy which menaced from above, the imperturbable scion of
the Garibaldi simply leaned closer to my ear and went on with his
story.

“Poor Y---- never reached the bank. Shark got him, I think. I headed
off into the jungle----” That was about all the story I remember,
except the finish, which had to do with racing a couple of Castro’s
spies for a British steamer lying alongside the quay at La Guayra.
This latter part, however, was related after we had come out from
under the icicles and the heels of the mules to the open road beneath
the awakening stars.

       *       *       *       *       *

There were several interruptions during dinner that evening. Once a
wayfaring Alpino, whose lantern had gone out, and who had turned in to
the nearest house to relight it, appeared at the door. That he
stumbled upon his Colonel’s mess did not appear to disturb him a whit
more than it did the Colonel, who gave the smiling chap a box of
matches and sent him on his way with a cheery “_a rivederci_.” A
little later the door was opened in response to a timid knock, to
reveal a little old lady who wanted to borrow a tin of condensed milk
and five eggs. Her son was coming home on leave on the morrow, she
said, and she was going to make a _pannello_ for his dinner. The
little village shop was out of eggs and milk for the moment, and as
the _Colonello’s_ cook had refused to lend them to her, she had come
straight to the _Colonello_ himself. She had heard he was very kind.

“See that she has all she wants; fill up her basket,” was the order
sent out to the cook. And then, as the grateful little old dame
backed, bowing, out of the door: “Feed him up well, _madre_; a man has
to have something under his belt to fight in these mountains, doesn’t
he?”

“Brother Sante usually looks after callers of this kind for me,” said
my host with a laugh; “but Sante is away for a day or two, and I have
no buffer. You will observe, by the way, that I am not quite at one
with my distinguished grandfather in the matter of rations. What was
it he said to the men who had assembled to follow him in his flight
after the unsuccessful fight for the Roman Republic? ‘I offer neither
pay, quarters nor provisions; I offer hunger, thirst forced marches,
battle, and death.’ Well, I too have plenty of fighting to offer my
men, but no more of the other ‘inducements’ than I can possibly help.
And when they have to die, I like to feel that it’s on a full stomach.

“Perhaps you heard,” he went on, “what a stir it made up here when I
first asked for marmalade for my men. They started out by laughing at
me. ‘Of course,’ they said, ‘we know that your mother is English; but
that is no reason why, much as _you_ may crave it, your _men_ should
need marmalade!’ Then they said that _marmellata_ would cost too much,
and finally tried to prove that it would be bad for the men’s health.
But I had seen what troops had done in South Africa on a generous
marmalade allowance; also what they were doing in France. So I stuck
to it, and--well, we took the Marmolada on _marmellata_, and a good
many Austrians besides.”

We were still laughing over the little joke when the door opened, and
the telephone operator from the room across the hall entered to report
in a low voice some news that had just reached him. The Colonel’s face
changed from gay to grave in an instant; but it was with voice and
manner of quiet restraint that he asked a couple of quick questions
and then gave a brief order, evidently to be transmitted back whence
the news had come.

“It must have been either A---- or B----,” he said musingly, turning
again to the big slice of caramel cake he had just cut for himself
when the interruption occurred. “Oh I beg pardon; but I’ve just had
word that the middle _teleferica_ serving the Marmolada has been
carried away by an avalanche, and that one of the engineers is
killed. I was just speculating as to which one it was. They were both
good men--men I can ill afford to lose. This puts an end, by the way,
to the trip we had planned for you for to-morrow. You will have to go
to the position at the---- instead; providing, of course, _that
teleferica_ doesn’t meet a like fate.”

South American revolution (in vivid reminiscence) had raised its
hydra-head many times before I saw my way clear to turn the
conversation into the channel where I was so interested to direct its
flow.

“Won’t you tell me, Colonel,” I said finally, “something of how the
young Garibaldi have carried on the tradition of the old Garibaldi in
this war? Tell me how it came about that you all foregathered in
France in the early months of the war, what you did there, and what
you have done since; and, especially, tell me how you took the Col di
Lana.”

“That’s (as you Americans say) rather a tall order,” was the laughing
reply; “but I’ll gladly do what I can to fill it.”

He drained his glass of cognac, waited till the occult rite of
lighting his “Virginia” over its little spirit-lamp was complete, and
then began his story (as I had hoped he would) at the beginning. The
narration which follows was punctuated by the steady drip of the eaves
and the not infrequent rumble of a distant avalanche as the hot south
wind called _fun_ breathed its relaxing breath on a half winter’s
accumulation of hanging snow.

       *       *       *       *       *

“My father--and even my grandfather--had foreseen that Europe must
ultimately fight its way to freedom through a great war; that the two
irreconcilable forces (fairly represented by what France, England,
Italy, and the United States stood for, on the one hand, and what
Prussia and its satellites stood for on the other) made no other
alternative possible. The same feelings which led my father and
grandfather to fight for France in 1870 led me and my brothers to
offer ourselves to fight for France and her Allies in 1914.

“As the eldest of seven sons, and the namesake of my grandfather, my
father felt that it was up to me to carry on the Garibaldi tradition,
and when I was scarcely out of my teens he sent me out to train in the
only school that the old General ever recognised--that of practical
experience. ‘Some day you will be needed in Europe,’ he said. ‘Until
then, see that you make yourself ready by taking part in every war
that you can find. Learn how men follow, and then learn how men lead.
If there is any choice between two causes, fight for the one you think
your grandfather would have fought for; but don’t miss a fight because
you can’t make up your mind on that score. The experience is the
thing, and the only way you can get it is in real battles, not sham
ones.’

“Well, I did the best I could, considering the day and age we live in,
to follow out my father’s idea. With what success (so far as a
comprehensive experience was concerned) you may judge from the fact
that, up to the outbreak of the present war, I had--counting
skirmishes--fought on 132 battlefields. That I had not been wounded
was not, I trust, entirely due to not having been exposed to fire.

“The preparation of my brothers had been rather less drastic--less
‘Garibaldian’--than my own. In their cases, it was my father’s idea
that it would be sufficient if they simply knew the world and how to
get on with men; and to this end he encouraged them, as fast as they
became old enough, to seek work abroad, preferably something of an
outdoor character, such as that in connection with engineering
projects. None of us was overburdened with book-learning or technical
training, myself least of all. Indeed, I have often wished I had a
bit more of both.

“So it was that it happened that the outbreak of the war found all but
the two youngest of us scattered to the ends of the earth. I was in
New York (not long before I had gone through the first Mexican
revolution as Chief of Staff to General Madero), and with me was my
second brother, Ricciotti, who had joined me there for a trip to South
America. Menotti was in China, on the engineering staff of the
Canton-Kowloon Railway, and Sante, also an engineer, was working on
the Assuan Dam in Upper Egypt. Bruno was in a sugar ‘central’ in Cuba,
and Costante and Ezia, the two youngest of us, were at their studies
in Italy. My sister, Italia, was organising Red Cross work in Rio de
Janeiro.

“As the war clouds began to gather, my father sent a letter to each of
the five of us abroad, saying that when we received a cable from him
we were to start at once for whatever place was mentioned in it. I
forget what the cables received by Ricciotti and myself were about;
but the rendezvous was Paris, and we were away by the next boat. We
found Ezia and Costante already awaiting us in Paris, and Bruno and
Sante arrived a few days later. Menotti could not arrange to get away
from China until his own country entered the war, some months
subsequently.

“Word had already gone out that an Italian Legion was to be formed to
fight for the Allies, but in what theatre had not yet been decided
upon. All my own training had been for guerilla warfare, and, figuring
that this could be turned to the best use in the Balkans, I was in
hopes that my legion could be landed in Albania, to co-operate with
the Servians and Montenegrans against Austria. This was not to be,
however; indeed, Ezia, who was sent to drive a _camion_ at Salonika
after being wounded on this front a few months ago, has so far been
the only Garibaldi to reach the Balkans. I am sorry, in a way, for I
still think that that would have been my sphere of greatest
usefulness.

“Recruits flocked to us from all over the world, among them being many
men who had fought with me in South and Central America. We were quite
the typical band of soldiers of fortune, and except for the fact that
we were all Italians, there wasn’t a great deal to differentiate us
from the Foreign Legion into which we were incorporated. Side by side
with the several scions of Italian nobility who had joined us marched
men who had ridden as _gauchos_ on the pampas of Argentina or hammered
drills in the mines of Colorado and the Transvaal. Nor was I by any
means the only one who had peered hungrily outward through barred
gratings and was familiar with the clank and tug of the ankle chain.
But whatever we were, and whoever we were, we had come to fight, and
we did fight. Yes, all in all, I think we lived up to the traditions
of the _Légion Étrangère_ quite as well on the score of fighting as we
did on that of pedigree. It isn’t where you come _from_ that counts on
the battle line, but only where you _go to_; and if there was a man in
the Italian Legion who wasn’t ready to fight until he dropped, I can
only say that he did not come under my notice.

“Considering the fact that we began with practically raw material
(though, of course, many of the men had seen previous service), and
that there were no _cadres_ to build upon, I think our work with the
_Legion Italienne_ was about a record for quick training. It was
October before we were well started, and by the end of December we
were not only on the first line, but had already gone through some of
the bloodiest fighting the war has seen. My grandfather used to say
that proper military training was nine-tenths a matter of applied
common sense and one-tenth a matter of drill. Well, I employed what
common sense and experience I had, and made up the rest with drill.
Inside of two months we had 4,000 men at the front, where the French
Higher Command was so well impressed with their quality that it was
but a week or two before they were deemed worthy of the place of
honour in an attack upon the Prussian Guard, which had been pressing
steadily forward in the hope of cutting the communications between
Chalons and Verdun. No regiment ever had a warmer baptism of fire. We
drove back the Guard two and a half kilometres, but lost a thousand
men in the effort.

“I don’t recall anything that was actually said between us on the
subject, but it seemed to be generally understood among us brothers
that the shedding of some Garibaldi blood--or, better still, the
sacrifice of a Garibaldi life--would be calculated to throw a great,
perhaps a decisive, weight into the wavering balance in Italy, where a
growing sympathy for the cause of the Allies only needed a touch to
quicken it to action. Indeed, I am under the impression that my father
said something to that effect to the two younger boys before he sent
them on to France. At any rate, all three of the youngsters behaved
exactly as though their only object in life was to get in the way of
German bullets. Well--Bruno got _his_ in the last week in December,
ten or twelve days ahead of Costante, who fell on January 5. Ezia--the
youngest of the three fire-eaters--though, through no fault of his
own, had to wait and take his bullet from the Austrians on our own
front. (It occurred not far from here, by the way.)

“The attack in which Bruno fell was one of the finest things I have
ever seen. General Gouraud sent for me in person to explain why a
certain system of trenches, which we were ordered to attack, _must_ be
taken and held, no matter what the price. We mustered for mass at
midnight--it was Christmas, or the day after, I believe--and the
memory of that icicle-framed altar in the ruined, roofless church,
with the flickering candles throwing just light enough to silhouette
the tall form of Gouraud, who stood in front of me, will never fade
from my mind.

“We went over the parapet before daybreak, and it was in the first
light of the cold winter dawn that I saw Bruno--plainly
hit--straighten up from his running crouch and topple into the first
of the German trenches, across which the leading wave of our attack
was sweeping. He was up before I could reach him, however (I don’t
think he ever looked to see where he was hit), and I saw him clamber
up the other side, and, running without a hitch or stagger, lead his
men in pursuit of the fleeing enemy. I never saw him again alive.

“They found his body, with six bullet-wounds upon it lying where the
gust from a machine-gun had caught him as he tried to climb out and
lead his men on beyond the last of the trenches we had been ordered to
take and hold. He had charged into the trench, thrown out the enemy,
and made--for whatever it was worth--the first sacrifice of his own
generation of Garibaldi. We sent his body to my father and mother in
Rome, where, as you will doubtless remember, his funeral was made the
occasion of the most remarkable patriotic demonstration Italy has
known in recent years. From that moment the participation of our
country in the war became only a matter of time. Costante’s death a
few days later only gave added impulse to the wave of popular feeling
which was soon to align Italy where she belonged, in the forefront of
the fight for the freedom of Europe.

“Further fighting that fell to the lot of the Legion in the course of
January reduced its numbers to such an extent that it had to be
withdrawn to rest and re-form. Before it was in condition to take the
field again, our country had taken the great decision, and we were
disbanded to go home and fight for Italy. Here--principally because
it was thought best to incorporate the men in the units to which they
(by training or residence) really belonged--it was found impracticable
to maintain the integrity of the fourteen battalions--about 14,000 men
in all--we had formed in France, and, as a consequence, the _Legion
Italienne_ ceased to exist except as a glorious memory. We five
surviving Garibaldi were given commissions in a brigade of Alpini that
is a ‘lineal descendant’ of the famous _cacciatore_ formed by my
grandfather in 1859, and led by him against the Austrians in the war
in which, with the aid of the French, we redeemed Lombardy for Italy.

“In July I was given command of a battalion occupying a position at
the foot of the Col di Lana. Perhaps you saw from the lake as you came
up the commanding position of this mountain. If so, you will
understand its supreme importance to us, whether for defensive or
offensive purposes. Looking straight down the Cordevole Valley toward
the plains of Italy, it not only furnished the Austrians an
incomparable observation post, but also stood as an effectual barrier
against any advance of our own toward the Livinallongo Valley and the
important Pordoi Pass. We needed it imperatively for the safety of any
line we established in this region, and just as imperatively would we
need it when we were ready to push the Austrians back. Since it was
just as important for the Austrians to maintain possession of this
great natural fortress as it was for us to take it away from them, you
will understand how it came about that the struggle for the Col di
Lana was perhaps the bitterest that has yet been waged for any one
point on the Alpine front.

“Early in July, under cover of our guns to the south and east, the
Alpini streamed down from the Cima di Falzarego and Sasso di Stria,
which they had occupied shortly before, and secured what was at first
but a precarious foothold on the stony lower eastern slope of the Col
di Lana. Indeed, it was little more than a toe-hold at first; but the
never-resting Alpini soon dug themselves in and became firmly
established. It was to the command of this battalion of Alpini that I
came on July 12, after being given to understand that my work was to
be the taking of the Col di Lana regardless of cost.

“This was the first time that I--or any other Garibaldi, for that
matter (my grandfather, with his ‘Thousand,’ took Sicily from fifty
times that number of Bourbon soldiers)--had ever had enough (or even
the promise of enough) men to make that ‘regardless of cost’ formula
much more than a hollow mockery. But it is not in a Garibaldi to
sacrifice men for any object whatever if there is any possible way of
avoiding it. The period of indiscriminate frontal attacks had passed
even before I left France, and ways were already being devised--mostly
mining and better artillery protection--to make assaults less costly.
Scientific ‘man-saving,’ in which my country has since made so much
progress, was then in its infancy on the Italian front.

“I found many difficulties in the way of putting into practice on the
Col di Lana the man-saving theories I had seen in process of
development in the Argonne. At that time the Austrians--who had
appreciated the great importance of that mountain from the outset--had
us heavily out-gunned, while mining in the hard rock was too slow to
make it worth while until some single position of crucial value hung
in the balance. So--well, I simply did the best I could under the
circumstances. The most I could do was to give my men as complete
protection as possible while they were not fighting, and this end was
accomplished by establishing them in galleries cut out of the solid
rock. This was, I believe, the first time the ‘gallery-barracks’--now
quite the rule at all exposed points--were used on the Italian front.

“There was no other way in the beginning but to drive the enemy off
the Col di Lana trench by trench, and this was the task I set myself
to toward the end of July. What made the task an almost prohibitive
one was the fact that the Austrian guns from Corte and Cherz--which we
were in no position to reduce to silence--were able to rake us
unmercifully. Every move we made during the next nine months was
carried out under their fire, and there is no use in denying that we
suffered heavily. I used no more men than I could possibly help using,
and the Higher Command was very generous in the matter of reserves,
and even in increasing the strength of the force at my disposal as we
gradually got more room to work in. By the end of October my original
command of a battalion had been increased largely.

“The Austrians made a brave and skilful defence, but the steady
pressure we were bringing to bear on them gradually forced them back
up the mountain. By the first week in November we were in possession
of three sides of the mountain, while the Austrians held the fourth
side and--but most important of all--the summit. The latter presented
a sheer wall of rock, over 200 metres high, to us from any direction
we were able to approach it, and on the crest of this cliff--the only
point exposed to our artillery fire--the enemy had a cunningly
concealed machine-gun post served by fourteen men. Back and behind,
under shelter in a rock gallery, was a reserve of 200 men, who were
expected to remain safely under cover during a bombardment, and then
sally forth to repel any infantry attack that might follow it. The
handful in the machine-gun post, it was calculated, would be
sufficient, and more than sufficient, to keep us from scaling the
cliff before their reserves came up to support them; and so they would
have been if there had been _only_ an infantry attack to reckon with.
It failed to allow sufficiently, however, for the weight of the
artillery we were bringing up, and the skill of our gunners. The
apparent impregnability of the position was really its undoing.

“This cunningly conceived plan of defence I had managed to get a
pretty accurate idea of--no matter how--and I laid my own plans
accordingly. All the guns I could get hold of I had emplaced in
positions most favourable for concentrating on the real key to the
summit--the exposed machine-gun post on the crown of the cliff--with
the idea, if possible, of destroying men and guns completely, or,
failing in that, at least to render it untenable for the reserves who
would try to rally to its defence.

“We had the position ranged to an inch, and so, fortunately, lost no
time in ‘feeling’ for it. This, with the surprise incident to it, was
perhaps the principal factor in our success; for the plan--at least so
far as _taking_ the summit was concerned--worked out quite as
perfectly in action as upon paper. That is the great satisfaction of
working with the Alpin, by the way: he is so sure, so dependable, that
the ‘human fallibility’ element in a plan (always the most uncertain
quantity) is practically eliminated.

“It is almost certain that our sudden gust of concentrated gun-fire
snuffed out the lives of all the men in the machine-gun post before
they had time to send word of our developing infantry attack to the
reserves in the gallery below. At any rate, these latter made no
attempt whatever to swarm up to the defence of the crest, even after
our artillery fire ceased. The consequence was that the 120 Alpini I
sent to scale the cliff reached the top with but three casualties,
these probably caused by rolling rocks or flying rock fragments. The
Austrians in their big ‘funk-hole’ were taken completely by surprise,
and 130 of them fell prisoners to considerably less than that number
of Italians. The rest of 200 escaped or were killed in their flight.

“So far it was so good; but, unfortunately, taking the summit and
holding it were two entirely different matters. No sooner did the
Austrians discover what had happened than they opened on the crest
with all their available artillery. We have since ascertained that the
fire of 120 guns was concentrated upon a space of 100 by 150 metres
which offered the only approach to cover the barren summit afforded.
Fifty of my men, finding some shelter in the lee of rocky ledges,
remained right out on the summit; the others crept over the edge of
the cliff and held on by their fingers and toes. Not a man of them
sought safety by flight, though a retirement would have been quite
justified, considering what a hell the Austrian guns were making of
the place. The enemy counter-attacked at nightfall, but in spite of
superior numbers and the almost complete exhaustion of that little
band of Alpini heroes, were able to retake only a half of the summit.
Here, at a ten-metres-high ridge which roughly bisects the _cima_, the
Alpini held the Austrians, and here, in turn, the latter held the
reinforcements which I was finally able to send to the Alpini’s aid.
There, exposed to the fire of the guns of either side (and so,
comparatively, safe from both), a line was established from which
there seemed little probability that one combatant could drive the
other, at least without a radical change from the methods so far
employed.

“The idea of blowing up positions that cannot be taken otherwise is by
no means a new one. Probably it dates back almost as far as the
invention of gunpowder itself. Doubtless, if we only knew of them,
there have been attempts to mine the Great Wall of China. It was,
therefore, only natural that, when the Austrians had us held up before
a position it was vitally necessary we should have, we should begin to
consider the possibility of mining it as the only alternative. The
conception of the plan did not necessarily originate in the mind of
any one individual, however many have laid claim to it. It was the
inevitable thing if we were not going to abandon striving for our
objective.

“But while there was nothing new in the idea of the mine itself, in
the carrying out an engineering operation of such magnitude at so
great an altitude, and from a position constantly exposed to intense
artillery fire, there were presented many problems quite without
precedent. It was these problems which gave us pause; but finally, in
spite of the prospect of difficulties which we fully realised might at
any time become prohibitive, it was decided to make the attempt to
blow up that portion of the summit of the Col di Lana held by the
enemy.

“The choice of the engineer for the work was a singularly fortunate
one. Gelasio Caetani--he is a son of the Duke of Sermoneta--had
operated as a mining engineer in the American West for a number of
years previous to the war, and the practical experience gained in
California and Alaska was invaluable preparation for the great task
now set for him. His ready resource and great personal courage were
also incalculable assets. (As an instance of the latter, I could tell
you how, to permit him to make certain imperative observations, he
allowed himself to be lowered over the side of a sheer cliff at a
point only partially protected from the enemy’s fire.)

“Well, the tunnel was started about the middle of January, 1916. Some
of my men--Italians who had hurried home to fight for their country
when the war started--had had some previous experience with hand and
machine drills in the mines of Colorado and British Columbia, but the
most of our labour had to gain its experience as the work progressed.
Considering this, as well as the difficulty of bringing up material
(to say nothing of food and munitions), we made very good progress.

“The worst thing about it all was the fact that it had to be done
under the incessant fire of the Austrian artillery. I provided for the
men as best I could by putting them in galleries, where they were at
least able to get their rest in comparative safety. My own
headquarters were in a little shed in the lee of a big rock. When the
enemy finally found out what we were up to they celebrated their
discovery by a steady bombardment which lasted for fourteen days
without interruption. During a certain forty-two hours of that
fortnight there was, by actual count, an average of thirty-eight
shells a minute exploding on our little position. With all the
protection it was possible to provide, the strain became such that I
found it advisable to change the battalion holding our portion of the
summit every week. Did I have any respite myself? Well, hardly; or,
rather, not until I had to.

“We were constantly confronted with new and perplexing
problems--things which no one had ever been called upon to solve
before--most of them in connection with transportation. How we
contrived to surmount one of these I shall never forget. The Austrians
had performed a brave and audacious feat in emplacing one of their
batteries at a certain point, the fire from which threatened to make
our position absolutely untenable. The location of this battery was so
cunningly chosen that not a single one of our guns could reach it, and
yet we _had_ to silence it--and for good--if we were going to go on
with our work. The only point from which we could fire upon these
destructive guns was so exposed that any artillery we might be able to
mount there could only count on the shortest shrift under the fire of
the hundred or more ‘heavies’ that the Austrians would be able to
concentrate upon it. And yet (I figured), well employed, these few
minutes might prove enough to do the work in. As there was no other
alternative, I decided to chance it.

“And then there arose another difficulty. The smallest gun that would
stand a chance of doing the job cut out for it weighed 120
kilos--about 260 pounds; this just for the gun alone, with all
detachable parts removed. But the point where the gun was to be
mounted was so exposed that there was no chance of rigging up a
cable-way, while the incline was so steep and rough that it was out of
the question trying to drag it up with ropes. Just as we were on the
verge of giving up in despair, one of the Alpini--a man of Herculean
frame who had made his living in peace-time by breaking chains on his
chest and performing other feats of strength--came and suggested that
he be allowed to carry the gun up on his shoulder. Grasping at a
straw, I let him indulge in a few ‘practice manœuvres’; but these
only showed that while the young Samson could shoulder and trot off
with the gun without great effort, the task of lifting himself and his
burden from foothold to foothold in the crumbling rock of the seventy
degree slope was too much for him.

“But out of this failure there came a new idea. Why not let my strong
man simply support the weight of the gun on his shoulder--acting as a
sort of ambulant gun-carriage, so to speak--while a line of men pulled
him along with a rope? We rigged up a harness to equalise the pull on
the broad back, and, with the aid of sixteen ordinary men, the feat
was accomplished without a hitch. I am sorry to say, however, that
poor Samson was laid up for a spell with racked muscles.

“The gun--with the necessary parts and munition--was taken up in the
night, and at daybreak it was set up and ready for action. It fired
just forty shots before the Austrian ‘heavies’ blew it--and all but
one or two of its brave crew--to pieces with a rain of high-explosive.
But it had done its work, and done it well. The sacrifice was not in
vain. The troublesome Austrian battery was put so completely out of
action that the enemy never thought it worth while to re-emplace it.

“That is just a sample of the fantastic things we were doing all of
the three months that we drove the tunnel under the summit of the Col
di Lana. The last few weeks were further enlivened by the knowledge
that the Austrians were countermining against us. Once they drove so
near that we could feel the jar of their drills, but they exploded
their mine just a few metres short of where it would have upset us for
good and all. All the time work went on until, on April 17, the mine
was finished, charged, and ‘tamped.’ That night, while every gun we
could bring to bear rained shell upon the Austrian position, it was
exploded. A crater 150 feet in diameter and sixty feet deep engulfed
the ridge the enemy had occupied, and this our waiting Alpini rushed
and firmly held. Feeble Austrian counter-attacks were easily repulsed,
and the Col di Lana was at last completely in Italian hands.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Colonel Garibaldi leaned back in his chair and gazed thoughtfully at
the cracks in the ceiling as one whose tale is finished. The end had
come rather abruptly, I thought, and I was inclined to press for
further details.

“It must have been a grand sight,” I ventured--“that mountain-top
blowing off into the air with hundreds of shells bursting about it.
Where were you at the great moment?”

The grave face grew a shade graver, and a wistful smile softened the
lines of the firm mouth.

“Not in sight of the Col di Lana, I am sorry to say,” was the reply.
“My health broke down a fortnight before the end, and another officer
was in command at the climax. It was one of the greatest
disappointments of my life. I would have given my right hand to have
been the first man into that crater. But never mind,” he concluded,
rising and squaring his broad shoulders; “bigger things than the Col
di Lana are ahead before this war is over, and I feel that I am not
going to miss any more of them. It’s the Garibaldi way, you know, to
be in at the death.”

       *       *       *       *       *

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