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Title: A Soldier of the Legion
Author: Morlae, Edward
Language: English
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A SOLDIER OF THE LEGION

[Illustration: E. Morlae.]



A SOLDIER OF THE LEGION


BY

EDWARD MORLAE


BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
1916

COPYRIGHT, 1916, BY THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1916, BY HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

_Published June 1916_



PREFACE


When Sergeant Morlae turned up at the _Atlantic_ office and, with
his head cocked on one side, remarked ingratiatingly, "I'm told this
is the highest-toned office in the United States," there was nothing
to do but to assure him he was right and to make him quite comfortable
while he told his wonderful story. That story, however, was not told
consecutively, but in chapters as his crowding recollections responded
to the questions of his interlocutor. It was a story, too, which could
not be told at a sitting, and it was not until the evening of the
second day that Sergeant Morlae recounted the exploit which won the
Croix de Guerre pinned to his chest--a cross which he said, with the
sole touch of personal pride noticed in three days passed largely in
his company, had above it not the copper but the silver clasp.

Sergeant Morlae is a Dirk Hatteraick of a man to look at, and the
education of that beloved pirate was no more rugged than his own. His
father was a Frenchman born who had seen service in '70 and won a
captain's commission in the "Terrible Year." After the war, Morlae,
senior, settled in this country and his son was born in California. As
young Morlae grew up, finding the family business of contracting on a
small scale somewhat circumscribed, he sought more hazardous
employment in active service in the Philippines and in more than one
civilian "scrap" in Mexico. It was good training. August, 1914, found
him again in Los Angeles. For two days his French blood mounted as he
read the newspapers, and on the morning of August 3 he packed his grip
and started for Paris to enlist in the Legion. Since he had already
seen service, he was soon made a corporal and later a sergeant.
Morlae, says a letter from a Harvard graduate who served under him in
those days, was "an excellent soldier," "a strong, efficient,
ambitious man," though, as the reader of this and letters from other
Legionaries may infer, he was neither sentimental in his methods nor
supersensitive with his men. Maintaining discipline in so motley a
crew as the Legion is rather a rasping process, and Sergeant Morlae
was born disqualified for diplomatic service. Future reunions of La
Légion are likely to lack the sweet placidity which wraps the Grand
Army of the Republic on the anniversaries of Chancellorsville and
Gettysburg.

But to the story. The things that war is are not often told except in
generalization or in words of fanciful rhetoric. It would be hard to
find elsewhere, crammed into a brief narrative, so much of the sense
of actuality--that realism made perfect which even readers who have
known no such experience feel instinctively is true. Yet the story is
not made of horror. The essence of its life is the spirit that
delights in peril. The "Soldier of the Legion" has in it that spinal
thrill which has electrified great tales of battle since blood was
first let and ink spilled to celebrate it.

    ELLERY SEDGWICK.



ILLUSTRATIONS


THE SOLDIER                                        _Frontispiece_

AS THEY SWUNG INTO COLUMN THE NIGHT BEFORE
THE 25TH OF SEPTEMBER                                         18

AMERICANS IN THE FOREIGN LEGION SHOWING
TYPE OF HAND-GRENADES                                         38

AMERICANS IN THE FOREIGN LEGION RECEIVING
NEWS FROM HOME                                               100



A SOLDIER OF THE LEGION



I


One day during the latter part of August, 1915, my regiment, the 2me
Étranger (Foreign Legion), passed in review before the President of
the French Republic and the commander-in-chief of her armies, General
Joffre. On that day, after twelve months of fighting, the regiment was
presented by President Poincaré with a battle-flag. The occasion
marked the admission of the Légion Étrangère to equal footing with
the regiments of the line. Two months later--it was October 28--the
remnants of this regiment were paraded through the streets of Paris,
and, with all military honors, this same battle-flag was taken across
the Seine to the Hôtel des Invalides. There it was decorated with the
cross of the Legion of Honor, and, with reverent ceremony, was placed
between the flag of the cuirassiers who died at Reichshofen and the
equally famous standard which the Garibaldians bore in 1870-71. The
flag lives on. The regiment has ceased to exist.

On the battlefield of La Champagne, from Souain to the Ferme Navarin,
from Somme Py to the Butte de Souain, the ground is thickly studded
with low wooden crosses and plain pine boards marked with the
Mohammedan crescent and star. Beside the crosses you see bayonets
thrust into the ground, and dangling from their cross-bars little
metal disks which months ago served their purpose in identifying the
dead and now mark their graves. Many mounds bear no mark at all. On
others again you see a dozen helmets laid in rows, to mark the
companionship of the dead below in a common grave. It is there you
will find the Legion.

Of the Legion I can tell you at first-hand. It is a story of
adventurers, of criminals, of fugitives from justice. Some of them are
drunkards, some thieves, and some with the mark of Cain upon them find
others to keep them company. They are men I know the worst of. And yet
I am proud of them--proud of having been one of them; very proud of
having commanded some of them.

It is all natural enough. Most men who had come to know them as I have
would feel as I do. You must reckon the good with the evil. You must
remember their comradeship, their _esprit de corps_, their pathetic
eagerness to serve France, the sole country which has offered them
asylum, the country which has shown them confidence, mothered them,
and placed them on an equal footing with her own sons. These things
mean something to a man who has led the life of an outcast, and the
Légionnaires have proved their loyalty many times over. At Arras there
are more than four hundred kilometres of trench-line which they have
restored to France. The Legion has always boasted that it never shows
its back, and the Legion has made good.

In my own section there were men of all races and all nationalities.
There were Russians and Turks, an Annamite and a Hindu. There were
Frenchmen from God knows where. There was a German, God only knows
why. There were Bulgars, Serbs, Greeks, negroes, an Italian, and a
Fiji Islander fresh from an Oxford education,--a silent man of whom it
was whispered that he had once been an archbishop,--three Arabians,
and a handful of Americans who cared little for the quiet life. As
Bur-bekkar, the Arabian bugler, used to say in his bad French, "Ceux
sont le ra-ta international"--"They're the international stew."

Many of the men I came to know well. The Italian, Conti, had been a
professional bicycle-thief who had slipped quietly into the Legion
when things got too hot for him. When he was killed in Champagne he
was serving his second enlistment. Doumergue, a Frenchman who was a
particularly good type of soldier, had absconded from Paris with his
employer's money and had found life in the Legion necessary to his
comfort. A striking figure with a black complexion was Voronoff, a
Russian prince whose precise antecedents were unknown to his mates.
Pala was a Parisian "Apache" and looked the part. Every man had left a
past behind him. But the Americans in the Legion were of a different
type. Some of us who volunteered for the war loved fighting, and some
of us loved France. I was fond of both.

But even the Americans were not all of one stripe. J. J. Casey had
been a newspaper artist, and Bob Scanlon, a burly negro, an artist
with his fist in the squared ring. Alan Seeger had something of the
poet in him. Dennis Dowd was a lawyer; Edwin Bouligny a lovable
adventurer. There was D. W. King, the sprig of a well-known family.
William Thaw, of Pittsburg, started with us, though he joined the
Flying Corps later on. Then there were James Bach, of New York; B. S.
Hall, who hailed from Kentucky; Professor Ohlinger, of Columbia;
Phelizot, who had shot enough big game in Africa to feed the regiment.
There were Delpeuch, and Capdeveille, and little Tinkard, from New
York. Bob Soubiron came, I imagine, from the United States in general,
for he had been a professional automobile racer. The Rockwell
brothers, journalists, signed on from Georgia; and last, though far
from least, was Friedrich Wilhelm Zinn, from Battle Creek, Michigan.

The rest of the section were old-time Légionnaires, most of them
serving their second enlistment of five years, and some their third.
All these were seasoned soldiers, veterans of many battles in Algiers
and Morocco. My section--complete--numbered sixty. Twelve of us
survive, and of these there are several still in the hospital
recovering from wounds. Zinn and Tinkard lie there with bullets in
their breasts; Dowd, with his right arm nearly severed; Soubiron, shot
in the leg; Bouligny, with a ball in his stomach. But Bouligny, like
many another, is an old hand in the hospital. He has been there twice
before with metal to be cut out. Several others lie totally
incapacitated from wounds, and more than half of the section rests
quietly along the route of the regiment. Seven of them are buried at
Craonne; two more at Ferme Alger, near Rheims. Eighteen of them I saw
buried myself in Champagne.

That is the record of the first section of Company I. Section III, on
the night of the first day's fighting in Champagne, mustered eight men
out of the forty-two who had fallen into line that morning. Section IV
lost that day more than half of its effectives. Section II lost
seventeen out of thirty-eight. War did its work thoroughly with the
Legion. We had the place of honor in the attack, and we paid for it.



II


Two days before the forward movement began, we were informed by our
captain of the day and hour set for the attack. We were told the exact
number of field-pieces and heavy guns which would support us and the
number of shells to be fired by each piece. Our artillery had orders
to place four shells per metre per minute along the length of the
German lines. Our captain gave us also very exact information
regarding the number of German batteries opposed to us. He even told
us the regimental numbers of the Prussian and Saxon regiments which
were opposite our line. From him we learned also that along the whole
length of our first row of trenches steps had been cut into the front
bank in order to enable us to mount it without delay, and that our own
barbed-wire entanglements, which were immediately in front of this
trench, had been pierced by lanes cut through every two metres, so
that we might advance without the slightest hindrance.

On the night of September 23, the commissioned officers, including the
colonel of the regiment, entered the front lines of trenches, and with
stakes marked the front to be occupied by our regiment during the
attack. It was like an arrangement for a race. Starting from the road
leading from Souain to Vouziers, the officers, after marking the spot
with a big stake, paced fifteen hundred metres to the eastward and
there marked the extreme right of the regiment's position by a second
stake. Midway between these two a third was placed. From the road to
the stake, the seven hundred and fifty metres marked the terrain for
Battalion C. The other seven hundred and fifty metres bearing to the
left were assigned to Battalion D. Just one hundred metres behind
these two battalions a line was designated for Battalion E, which was
to move up in support.

My own company formed the front line of the extreme left flank of the
regiment. Our left was to rest on the highroad and our front was to
run from that to a stake marking a precise frontage of two hundred
metres. From these stakes, which marked the ends of our line, we were
ordered to take a course due north, sighting our direction by trees
and natural objects several kilometres in the rear of the German
lines. These were to serve us for guides during the advance. After all
these matters had been explained to us at length, other details were
taken up with the engineers, who were shown piles of bridging, ready
made in sections of planking so that they might be readily placed over
the German trenches and thus permit our guns and supply-wagons to
cross quickly in the wake of our advance.

The detail was infinite, but everything was foreseen. Twelve men from
each company were furnished with long knives and grenades. Upon these
"trench-cleaners," as we called them, fell the task of entering the
German trenches and caves and bomb-proofs, and disposing of such of
the enemy as were still hidden therein after we had stormed the trench
and passed on to the other side. All extra shoes, all clothing and
blankets were turned in to the quartermaster, and each man was
provided with a second canteen of water, two days of "iron rations,"
and one hundred and thirty rounds additional, making two hundred and
fifty cartridges per man. The gas-masks and mouth-pads were ready;
emergency dressings were inspected, and each man ordered to put on
clean underwear and shirts to prevent possible infection of the
wounds.

One hour before the time set for the advance, we passed the final
inspection and deposited our last letters with the regimental
postmaster. Those letters meant a good deal to all of us and they were
in our minds during the long wait that followed. One man suddenly
began to intone the "Marseillaise." Soon every man joined in singing.
It was a very Anthem of Victory. We were ready, eager, and confident:
for us to-morrow held but one chance--Victory.



III


Slowly the column swung out of camp, and slowly and silently, without
a spoken word of command, it changed its direction to the right and
straightened out its length upon the road leading to the trenches. It
was 10 P.M. precisely by my watch. The night was quite clear, and we
could see, to right and to left, moving columns marching parallel to
ours. One, though there was not quite light enough to tell which, was
our sister regiment, the 1er Régiment Étranger. The other, as I knew,
was the 8me Zouaves. The three columns marched at the same gait. It
was like a funeral march, slow and very quiet. There was no singing
and shouting; none of the usual badinage. Even the officers were
silent. They were all on foot, marching like the rest of us. We knew
there would be no use for horses to-morrow.

[Illustration: AS THEY SWUNG INTO COLUMN THE NIGHT BEFORE THE 25th OF
SEPTEMBER]

To-morrow was the day fixed for the grand attack. There was not a man
in the ranks who did not know that to-morrow, at 9.15, was the time
set. Every man, I suppose, wondered whether he would do or whether he
would die. I wondered myself.

I did not really think I should die. Yet I had arranged my earthly
affairs. "One can never tell," as the French soldier says with a
shrug. I had written to my friends at home. I had named the men in my
company to whom I wished to leave my personal belongings. Sergeant
Velte was to have my Parabellum pistol; Casey my prismatics; Birchler
my money-belt and its contents; while Sergeant Jovert was booked for
my watch and compass. Yet, in the back of my mind, I smiled at my own
forethought. I _knew_ that I should come out alive. I recalled to
myself the numerous times that I had been in imminent peril: in the
Philippines, in Mexico, and during the thirteen months of this war. I
could remember time and again when men were killed on each side of me
and I escaped unscratched. Take the affair of Papoin, Joly, and Bob
Scanlon. We were standing together so near that we could have clasped
hands. Papoin was killed, Joly was severely wounded, and Scanlon was
hit in the ankle--all by the same shell. The fragments which killed
and wounded the first two passed on one side of me, while the piece of
iron that hit Bob went close by my other side. Yet I was untouched!
Again, take the last patrol. When I was out of cover, the Germans shot
at me from a range of ten metres--and missed! I felt certain that my
day was not to-morrow.

Just the same, I was glad that my affairs were arranged, and it gave
me a sense of conscious satisfaction to think that my comrades would
have something to remember me by. There is always the chance of
something unforeseen happening.

The pace was accelerating. The strain was beginning to wear off. From
right and left there came a steady murmur of low talk. In our own
column men were beginning to chaff each other. I could distinctly hear
Soubiron describing in picturesque detail to Capdeveille how he,
Capdeveille, would look, gracefully draped over the German barbed
wire; and I could hear Capdeveille's heated response that he would
live long enough to spit upon Soubiron's grave; and I smiled to
myself. The moment of depression and self-communication had passed.
The men had found themselves and were beginning their usual chaffing.
And yet, in all their chatter there seemed to be an unusually sharp
note. The jokes all had an edge to them. References to one another's
death were common, and good wishes for one another's partial
dismemberment excited only laughter. Just behind me I heard King
express the hope that if he lost an arm or a leg he would at least get
the _médaille militaire_ in exchange. By way of comfort, his chum,
Dowd, remarked that, whether he got the medal or not, he was very sure
of getting a permit to beg on the street-corners.

From personal bickerings we passed on to a discussion of the Germans
and German methods of making war. We talked on the finer points of
hand-grenades, poison gas, flame-projectors, vitriol bombs, and
explosive bullets. Everybody seemed to take particular pleasure in
describing the horrible wounds caused by the different weapons. Each
man embroidered upon the tales the others told.

We were marching into hell. If you judged them by their conversation,
these men must have been brutes at heart, worse than any "Apache"; and
yet of those around me several were university graduates; one was a
lawyer; two were clerks; one a poet of standing; one an actor; and
there were several men of leisure, Americans almost all of them.

The talk finally settled upon the Germans. Many and ingenious were the
forms of torture invented upon the spur of the moment for the benefit
of the "Boches." "Hanging is too good for them," said Scanlon. After a
long discussion, scalping alive seemed the most satisfactory to the
crowd.

It had come to be 11 P.M. We were at the mouth of the communicating
trench and entering it, one by one. Every so often, short transverse
trenches opened up to right and left, each one crammed full of
soldiers. Talking and laughing stopped. We continued marching along
the trench, kilometre after kilometre, in utter silence. As we moved
forward, the lateral trenches became more numerous. Every fifteen to
eighteen feet we came to one running from right to left, and each was
filled with troops, their arms grounded. As we filed slowly by, they
looked at us enviously. It was amusing to see how curious they looked,
and to watch their whispering as we passed. Why should we precede them
in attack?

"Who are you?" several men asked.

"La Légion."

"A-a-ah, la Légion! That explains it."

Our right to the front rank seemed to be acknowledged. It did every
man of us good.

We debouched from the trench into the street of a village. It was
Souain. Houses, or ghosts of houses, walled us in on each side.
Through the windows and the irregular shell-holes in the walls, the
stars twinkled; while through a huge gap in the upper story of one of
the houses I caught a glimpse of the moon, over my right shoulder.
Lucky omen! "I'll come through all right," I repeated to myself, and
rapped with my knuckle upon the rifle-stock, lest the luck break.

Not one house in the village was left standing--only bare walls. Near
the end of the street, in the midst of chaos, we passed a windmill.
The gaunt steel frame still stood. I could see the black rents in the
mill and the great arms where the shrapnel had done its work; but
still the wheel turned, slowly, creaking round and round, with its
shrill metal scream.

The column turned to the left and again disappeared in a trench. After
a short distance we turned to the right, then once more to the left,
then on, and finally, not unwillingly, we came to a rest. We did not
have to be told that we were now in the front line, for through the
rifle-ports we could see the French shells bursting ahead of us like
Fourth-of-July rockets.

The artillery had the range perfectly, and the shells, little and big,
plumped with pleasing regularity into the German trenches. The din was
indescribable--almost intolerable. Forty, even fifty, shells per
minute were falling into a space about a single kilometre square. The
explosions sounded almost continuous, and the return fire of the
Germans seemed almost continuous. Only the great ten-inch long-range
Teuton guns continued to respond effectively.

We looked at the show for a while, and then lay down in the trench.
Every man used his knapsack for a pillow and tried to snatch a few
hours' sleep. It was not a particularly good place for a nervous
sleeper, but we were healthy and pretty tired.

The next morning, at 8 A.M., hot coffee was passed round, and we
breakfasted on sardines, cheese, and bread, with the coffee to wash it
down. At 9 the command passed down the line, "Every man ready!" Up
went the knapsack on every man's back, and, rifle in hand, we filed
along the trench.

The cannonading seemed to increase in intensity. From the low places
in the parapet we caught glimpses of barbed wire which would glisten
in occasional flashes of light. Our own we could plainly see, and a
little farther beyond was the German wire.

Suddenly, at the sound of a whistle, we halted. The command,
"Baïonnette au canon!" passed down the section. A drawn-out rattle
followed, and the bayonets were fixed. Then the whistle sounded again.
This time twice. We adjusted our straps. Each man took a look at his
neighbor's equipment. I turned and shook hands with the fellows next
to me. They were grinning, and I felt my own nerves a-quiver as we
waited for the signal.

Waiting seemed an eternity. As we stood there a shell burst close to
our left. A moment later it was whispered along the line that an
adjutant and five men had gone down.

What were we waiting for? I glanced at my watch. It was 9.15 exactly.
The Germans evidently had the range. Two more shells burst close to
the same place. We inquired curiously who was hit this time. Our
response was two whistles. That was our signal. I felt my jaws
clenching, and the man next to me looked white. It was only for a
second. Then every one of us rushed at the trench wall, each and every
man struggling to be the first out of the trench. In a moment we had
clambered up and out. We slid over the parapet, wormed our way through
gaps in the wire, formed in line, and, at the command, moved forward
at march-step straight toward the German wire.

The world became a roaring hell. Shell after shell burst near us,
sometimes right among us; and, as we moved forward at the
double-quick, men fell right and left. We could hear the subdued
rattling of the mitrailleuses and the roar of volley fire, but, above
it all, I could hear with almost startling distinctness the words of
the captain, shouting in his clear, high voice, "En avant! Vive la
France!"



IV


As we marched forward toward our goal, huge geysers of dust spouted
into the air, rising behind our backs from the rows of "75's"
supporting us. In front the fire-curtain outlined the whole length of
the enemy's line with a neatness and accuracy that struck me with
wonder, as the flames burst through the pall of smoke and dust around
us. Above, all was blackness, but at its lower edge the curtain was
fringed with red and green flames, marking the explosion of the shells
directly over the ditch and parapet in front of us. The low-flying
clouds mingled with the smoke-curtain, so that the whole brightness of
the day was obscured. Out of the blackness fell a trickling rain of
pieces of metal, lumps of earth, knapsacks, rifles, cartridges, and
fragments of human flesh. We went on steadily, nearer and nearer. Now
we seemed very close to the wall of shells streaming from our own
guns, curving just above us, and dropping into the trenches in front.
The effect was terrific. I almost braced myself against the rocking of
the earth, like a sailor's instinctive gait in stormy weather.

In a single spot immediately in front of us, not over ten metres in
length, I counted twelve shells bursting so fast that I could not
count them without missing other explosions. The scene was horrible
and terrifying. Across the wall of our own fire poured shell after
shell from the enemy, tearing through our ranks. From overhead the
shrapnel seemed to come down in sheets, and from behind the stinking,
blinding curtain came volleys of steel-jacketed bullets, their whine
unheard and their effect almost unnoticed.

I think we moved forward simply from habit. With me it was like a
dream as we went on, ever on. Here and there men dropped, the ranks
closing automatically. Of a sudden our own fire-curtain lifted. In a
moment it had ceased to bar our way and jumped like a living thing to
the next line of the enemy. We could see the trenches in front of us
now, quite clear of fire, but flattened almost beyond recognition. The
defenders were either killed or demoralized. Calmly, almost stupidly,
we parried or thrust with the bayonet at those who barred our way.
Without a backward glance we leaped the ditch and went on straight
forward toward the next trench, marked in glowing outline by our fire.
I remember now how the men looked. Their eyes had a wild, unseeing
look in them. Everybody was gazing ahead, trying to pierce the awful
curtain which cut us off from all sight of the enemy. Always the black
pall smoking and burning appeared ahead--just ahead of us--hiding
everything we wanted to see.

The drama was played again and again. Each time, as we approached so
close that fragments of our own shells occasionally struck a leading
file, the curtain lifted as by magic, jumped the intervening metres,
and descended upon the enemy's trench farther on. The ranges were
perfect. We followed blindly--sometimes at a walk, sometimes at a
dog-trot, and, when close to our goal, on the dead run. You could not
hear a word in that pandemonium. All commands were given by example or
by gesture. When our captain lay down, we knew our orders were to be
down too. When he waved to the right, to the right we swerved; if to
the left, we turned to the left. A sweeping gesture, with an arm
extended, first up, then down meant, "Halt! Lie down!" From down up,
it meant, "Rise!" When his hand was thrust swiftly forward, we knew he
was shouting, "En avant!" and when he waved his hand in a circle above
his head, we broke into the double-quick.

Three times on our way to the second trench, the captain dropped and
we after him. Then three short, quick rushes by the companies and a
final dash as the curtain of shells lifted and dropped farther away.
Then a hand-to-hand struggle, short and very bloody, some using their
bayonets, others clubbing their rifles and grenades. A minute or two,
and the trench was ours. The earthen fortress, so strong that the
Germans had boasted that it could be held by a janitor and two
washerwomen, was in the hands of the Legion.

As we swept on, the trench-cleaners entered the trench behind and
began setting things to rights. Far down, six to eight metres below
the surface, they found an underground city. Long tunnels, with
chambers opening to right and left; bedrooms, furnished with
bedsteads, washstands, tables, and chairs; elaborate mess-rooms, some
fitted with pianos and phonographs. There were kitchens, too, and even
bathrooms. So complex was the labyrinth that three days after the
attack Germans were found stowed away in the lateral galleries. The
passages were choked with dead. Hundreds of Germans who had survived
the bombardment were torn to pieces deep beneath the ground by French
hand-grenades, and buried where they lay. In rifles, munitions, and
equipment the booty was immense.

We left the subterranean combat raging underneath us and continued on.
As we passed over the main trench, we were enfiladed by cannon placed
in armored turrets at the end of each section of trench. The danger
was formidable, but it, too, had been foreseen. In a few moments these
guns were silenced by hand-grenades shoved point-blank through the
gun-ports. Just then, I remember, I looked back and saw Pala down on
his hands and knees. I turned and ran over to help him up. He was
quite dead, killed in the act of rising from the ground. His grotesque
posture struck me at the time as funny, and I could not help smiling.
I suppose I was nervous.

[Illustration: AMERICANS IN THE FOREIGN LEGION

Showing type of hand-grenades]

Our line was wearing thin. Halfway to the third trench we were
reinforced by Battalion E coming from behind. The ground in our rear
was covered with our men.

All at once came a change. The German artillery in front ceased
firing, and the next second we saw the reason why. In the trench
ahead, the German troops in black masses were pouring out and
advancing toward us at a trot. Was it a counter-attack? "Tant mieux,"
said a man near me; another, of a different race, said, "We'll show
them!" Then as suddenly our own artillery ceased firing, and the
mystery became plain. The Germans were approaching in columns of
fours, officers to the front, hands held in the air, and, as they came
closer, we could distinguish the steady cry, "Kameraden! Kameraden!"

They were surrendering. How we went at our work! Out flew our knives,
and, in less time than it takes to tell it, we had mingled among the
prisoners, slicing off their trousers buttons, cutting off suspenders,
and hacking through belts. All the war shoes had their laces cut,
according to the regulations laid down in the last French "Manual,"
and thus, slopping along, hands helplessly in their breeches pockets
to keep their trousers from falling round their ankles, shuffling
their feet to keep their boots on, the huge column of prisoners was
sent to the rear with a few soldiers to direct rather than to guard
them. There was no fight left in them now. A terror-stricken group;
some of them, temporarily at least, half insane.

As the Germans left the trenches, their artillery had paused, thinking
it a counter-attack. Now, as file after file was escorted to the rear
and it became apparent to their rear lines that the men had
surrendered, the German artillery saw its mistake and opened up again
furiously at the dark masses of defenseless prisoners. We, too, were
subjected to a terrific fire. Six shells landed at the same instant in
almost the same place, and within a few minutes Section III of our
company had almost disappeared. I lost two of my own section, Casey
and Leguen, both severely wounded in the leg. I counted fourteen men
of my command still on their feet. The company seemed to have shrunk
two thirds. A few minutes later, we entered the trench lately
evacuated by the Prussians and left it by a very deep communication
trench which we knew led to our destination, Ferme Navarin. Just at
the entrance we passed signboards, marked in big letters with black
paint, SCHÜTZENGRABEN SPANDAU.

This trench ran zigzag, in the general direction north and south. In
many places it was filled level with dirt and rocks kicked in by our
big shells. From the mass of débris hands and legs were sticking
stiffly out at grotesque angles. In one place, the heads of two men
showed above the loose brown earth. Here and there, men were sitting,
their backs against the wall of the trench, quite dead, with not a
wound showing. In one deep crater, excavated by our 320-millimetres,
lay five Saxons, side by side, in the pit where they had sought
refuge, killed by the bursting of a single shell. One, a man of about
twenty-three years of age, lay on his back, his legs tensely doubled,
elbows thrust back into the ground, and fingers dug into the palms;
eyes staring in terror and mouth wide open. I could not help carrying
the picture of fear away with me, and I thought to myself, That man
died a coward. Just alongside of him, resting on his left side, lay a
blond giant stretched out easily, almost graceful in death. His two
hands were laid together, palm to palm, in prayer. Between them was a
photograph. The look upon his face was calm and peaceful. The contrast
of his figure with his neighbor's struck me. I noticed that a paper
protruded from his partly opened blouse, and, picking it up, I read
the heading, "Ein' Feste Burg ist Unser Gott." It was a two-leaved
tract. I drew a blanket over him and followed my section.

The trench we marched in wound along in the shelter of a little ridge
crowned with scrubby pines. Here the German shells bothered us but
little. We were out of sight of their observation posts, and,
consequently, their fire was uncontrolled and no longer effective. On
we went. At every other step our feet pressed down upon soldiers'
corpses, lying indiscriminately one on top of the other, sometimes
almost filling the trench. I brushed against one who sat braced
against the side of the trench, the chin resting upon folded arms
naturally--yet quite dead. It was through this trench that the Germans
had tried to rush reinforcements into the threatened position, and
here the men were slaughtered, without a chance to go back or forward.
Hemmed in by shells in both front and rear, many hundreds had climbed
into the open and tried to escape over the fields toward the pine
forest, only to be mown down as they ran. For hundreds of metres
continuously my feet, as I trudged along, did not touch the ground. In
many of the bodies life was not yet extinct, but we had to leave them
for the Red Cross men. We had our orders. No delay was possible, and,
at any rate, our minds were clogged with our own work ahead.

Making such time as we could, we finally arrived at the summit of the
little ridge. Then we left the cover of the trench, formed in Indian
file, fifty metres between sections, and, at the signal, moved forward
swiftly and in order.

It was a pretty bit of tactics and executed with a dispatch and
neatness hardly equalled on the drill-ground. The first files of the
sections were abreast, while the men fell in, one close behind the
other; and so we crossed the ridge, offering the smallest possible
target to the enemy's guns. Before us and a little to our left was the
Ferme Navarin, our goal. As we descended the slope, we were greeted by
a new hail of iron. Shells upon shells, fired singly, by pairs, by
salvos, from six-gun batteries, crashed and exploded around us.

We increased the pace to a run and arrived out of breath abreast of
immense pits dynamited out of the ground by prodigious explosions.
Embedded in them we could see three enemy howitzers, but not a living
German was left. All had disappeared.

We entered the pits and rested for a space. After a moment we crawled
up the side of the pit and peeked over the edge. There I could see
Doumergue stretched on the ground. He was lying on his back, his
shoulders and head supported by his knapsack. His right leg was
doubled under him, and I could see that he had been struck down in the
act of running. As I watched, he strained weakly to roll himself
sideways and free his leg. Slowly, spasmodically, his leg moved. Very,
very slowly the foot dragged itself along the ground, and finally the
limb was stretched alongside the other. Then I saw his rough, wan face
assume a look of satisfaction. His eyes closed. A sigh passed between
his lips, and Doumergue had gone with the rest.

As we waited there, the mood of the men seemed to change. Their
spirits began to rise. One jest started another, and soon we were all
laughing at the memory of the German prisoners marching to the rear,
holding up their trousers with both hands. Some of the men had taken
the welcome opportunity of searching the prisoners while cutting their
suspenders, and most of them were now puffing German cigarettes. One
of them, Haeffle, offered me a piece of K.K. bread,[1] black as ink. I
declined with thanks, for I didn't like the looks of it. In the
relaxation of the moment, nobody paid any attention to the shells
falling outside the little open shelter, until Capdeveille proposed to
crawl inside one of the German howitzers for security. Alas, he was
too fat, and stuck! I myself hoped rather strongly that no shell would
enter one of these pits in which the company had found shelter,
because I knew there were several thousand rounds of ammunition piled
near each piece hidden under the dirt, and an explosion might make it
hot for us.

          [1] _Kriegs Kartoffel Brot_.

As we sat there, smoking and chatting, Delpeuch, the _homme des
liaisons_, as he is called, of the company, slid over the edge of the
hollow and brought with him the order to leave the pit in single file
and to descend to the bottom of the incline, in line with some trees
which he pointed out to us. There we were to deploy in open order and
dig shelter-trenches for ourselves--though I can tell the reader that
"shelter" is a poor word to use in such a connection. It seems we had
to wait for artillery before making the attack on Navarin itself. The
trench "Spandau," so Delpeuch told me, was being put into shape by the
engineers and was already partially filled with troops who were coming
up to our support. The same message had been carried to the other
section. As we filed out of our pit, we saw them leaving theirs. In
somewhat loose formation, we ran full-tilt down the hill, and, at the
assigned position, flung ourselves on the ground and began digging
like mad. We had made the last stretch without losing a man.

The Ferme Navarin was two hundred metres from where we lay. From it
came a heavy rifle and mitrailleuse fire, but we did not respond. We
had something else to do. Every man had his shovel, and every man made
the dirt fly. In what seemed half a minute we had formed a continuous
parapet, twelve to fourteen inches in height, and with our knapsacks
placed to keep the dirt in position, we felt quite safe against
infantry and machine-gun fire. Next, each man proceeded to dig his
little individual niche in the ground, about a yard deep, twenty
inches wide, and long enough to lie down in with comfort. Between each
two men there remained a partition wall of dirt, from ten to fifteen
inches thick, the usefulness of which was immediately demonstrated by
a shell which fell into Blondino's niche, blowing him to pieces
without injuring either of his companions to the right or the left.

We were comfortable and able to take pot shots at the Germans and to
indulge again in the old trench game of sticking a helmet on a
bayonet, pushing it a little above the dirt, and thus coaxing the
Germans into a shot and immediately responding with four or five
rifles. I looked at my watch. It said 10.45--just an hour and a half
since we had left our trenches and started on our charge; an hour and
a half in which I had lived days and years.

I was pretty well tired out and would have given the world for a few
hours' sleep. I called to Merrick to toss me Blondino's canteen. Mine
was empty, and Blondino had left his behind when he departed with the
105-millimetre. Haeffle remarked that Blondino was always making a
noise anyway.

The artillery fire died down gradually and only one German battery was
still sweeping us now. Our long-range pieces thundered behind us, and
we could hear shells "swooshing" overhead in a constant stream on
their way to the German target. Our fire was evidently beating down
the German artillery fire excepting the single battery which devoted
its attention to us. The guns were hidden, and our artillery did not
seem able to locate them. Our aeroplanes, long hovering overhead,
began to swoop dangerously low. A swift Morane plane swept by at a
height of two hundred metres over the pine forest where the German
guns were hidden. We watched him as he returned safe to our lines.

Soon the order came down the line to deepen the trenches. It seemed we
were to stay there until night.

The charge was over.



V


Time passed very slowly. I raised my arm to listen to my wrist-watch,
but couldn't hear it. Too many shells!

I knelt cautiously in my hole, and, looking over the edge, counted my
section. There were but eighteen men. The Collettes, both corporals,
were on the extreme left. Next came Capdeveille, Dowd, Zinn, Seeger,
Scanlon, King, Soubiron, Dubois, Corporal Mettayer, Haeffle,
Saint-Hilaire, Schneli, De Sumera, Corporal Denis, Bur-bekkar, and
Birchler. On my left, two paces in the rear of the section, were
Neumayer, Corporal Fourrier, and Sergeant Fourrier. Both these were
supernumeraries. The second sergeant was over with Section II. I began
now to realize our losses. Fully two thirds of my section were killed
or wounded.

I wanted information from Corporal Denis regarding the men of his
squad. Throwing a lump of dirt at him to attract his attention, I
motioned to him to roll over to the side of his hole and make a place
for me. Then, with two quick jumps I landed alongside him. As I
dropped we noticed spurts of dust rising from the dirt-pile in front
of the hole and smiled. The Germans were too slow that time. Putting
my lips to his ears, I shouted my questions and got my information.

This hole was quite large enough to accommodate both of us, so I
decided to stay with him awhile. Corporal Denis still had bread and
cheese and shared it with me. We lunched in comfort.

Having finished, we rolled cigarettes. I had no matches, and as he
reached his cigarette to me to light mine, he jumped almost to his
feet, rolled on his face, and with both hands clasped to his face,
tried to rise, but couldn't. I've seen men who were knocked out in the
squared ring do the same thing. With heads resting on the floor, they
try to get up. They get up on their knees and seem to try to lift
their heads, but can't. Denis tugged and tugged, without avail. I
knelt alongside him and forced his hands from his face. He was covered
with blood spurting out of a three-inch gash running from the left eye
down to the corner of the mouth. A steel splinter had entered there
and passed under the left ear. He must stay in the trench until
nightfall.

I reached for his emergency dressing and as I made the motion felt a
blow in the right shoulder. As soon as I had got Denis tied up and
quiet, I unbuttoned my coat and shirt and picked a rifle-ball out of
my own shoulder. The wound was not at all serious and bled but little.
I congratulated myself, but wondered why the ball did not penetrate;
and then I caught sight of Denis's rifle lying over the parapet and
showing a hole in the woodwork. The ball seemed to have passed through
the magazine of the rifle, knocked out one cartridge, and then hit me.

When I was ready to return to my own hole, I rose a little too high
and the Germans turned loose with a machine gun, but too high. I got
back safely and lay down. It was getting very monotonous. To pass the
time, I dug my hole deeper and larger, placing the loose dirt in front
in a quarter-circle, until I felt perfectly safe against anything
except a direct hit by a shell. There is but one chance in a thousand
of that happening.

The day passed slowly and without mishap to my section. As night fell,
one half of the section stayed on the alert four hours, while the
other half slept. The second sergeant had returned and relieved me at
twelve, midnight. I pulled several handfuls of grass, and with that
and two overcoats I had stripped from dead Germans during the night, I
made a comfortable bed and lay down to sleep. The bank was not
uncomfortable. I was very tired, and dozed off immediately.

Suddenly I awoke in darkness. Everything was still, and I could hear
my watch ticking, but over every part of me there was an immense
leaden weight. I tried to rise, and couldn't move. Something was
holding me and choking me at the same time. There was no air to
breathe. I set my muscles and tried to give a strong heave. As I drew
in my breath, my mouth filled with dirt. I was buried alive!

It is curious what a man thinks about when he is in trouble. Into my
mind shot memories of feats of strength performed. Why, I was the
strongest man in the section. Surely I could lift myself out, I
thought to myself, and my confidence began to return. I worked the
dirt out of my mouth with the tip of my tongue and prepared myself
mentally for the sudden heave that would free me. A quick inhalation,
and my mouth filled again with dirt. I could not move a muscle under
my skin. And then I seemed to be two people. The "I" who was thinking
seemed to be at a distance from the body lying there.

My God! Am I going to die stretched out in a hole like this? I
thought.

Through my mind flashed a picture of the way I had always hoped to
die--the way I had a right to die: face to the enemy and running
toward him. Why, that was part of a soldier's wages. I tried to shout
for help, and more dirt entered my mouth! I could feel it gritting way
down in my throat. My tongue was locked so I could not move it. I
watched the whole picture. I was standing a little way off and could
hear myself gurgle. My throat was rattling, and I said to myself,
"That's the finish!" Then I grew calm. It wasn't hurting so much, and
somehow or other I seemed to realize that a soldier had taken a
soldier's chance and lost. It wasn't his fault. He had done the best
he could. Then the pain all left me and the world went black. It was
death.

Then somebody yelled, "Hell! He bit my finger." I could hear him.

"That's nothing," said a voice I knew as Collette's. "Get the dirt out
of his mouth."

Again a finger entered my throat, and I coughed spasmodically.

Some one was working my arms backward, and my right shoulder hurt me.
I struggled up, but sank to my knees and began coughing up dirt.

"Here," says Soubiron, "turn round and spit that dirt on your parapet.
It all helps." The remark made me smile.

I was quite all right now, and Soubiron, Collette, Joe, and Marcel
returned to their holes. The Red Cross men were picking something out
of the hole made by a 250-millimetre, they told me. It was the remnant
of Corporal and Sergeant Fourrier, who had their trench to my left. It
seems that a ten-inch shell had entered the ground at the edge of my
hole, exploded a depth of two metres, tearing the corporal and the
sergeant to pieces, and kicking several cubic metres of dirt into and
on top of me. Soubiron and the Collettes saw what had happened, and
immediately started digging me out. They had been just in time. It
wasn't long before my strength began to come back. Two
stretcher-bearers came up to carry me to the rear, but I declined
their services. There was too much going on. I dug out the German
overcoats, recovered some grass, and, bedding myself down in the
crater made by the shell, began to feel quite safe again. Lightning
never strikes twice in the same spot.

However, that wasn't much like the old-fashioned lightning. The enemy
seemed to have picked upon my section. The shells were falling thicker
and closer. Everybody was broad awake now, and all of us seemed to be
waiting for a shell to drop into our holes. It was only a question of
time before we should be wiped out. Haeffle called my attention to a
little trench we all had noticed during the daytime, about forty
metres in front of us. No fire had come from there, and it was
evidently quite abandoned.

I took Haeffle and Saint-Hilaire with me and quietly crawled over to
the trench, round the end of it, and started to enter at about the
middle.

Then all of a sudden a wild yell came out of the darkness in front of
us.

"Franzosen! Die Franzosen!"

We couldn't see anything, nor they either. There might have been a
regiment of us, or of them for that matter. I screeched out in German,
"Hände hoch!" and jumped into the trench followed by my two
companions. As we crouched in the bottom, I yelled again, "Hände hoch
oder wir schiessen!"

The response was the familiar "Kameraden! Kameraden!" Haeffle gave an
audible chuckle.

Calling again on my German, I ordered the men to step out of the
trench with hands held high, and to march toward our line. I assured
the poor devils we wouldn't hurt them. They thought there was a
division of us, more or less, and I don't know how much confidence
they put in my assurance. Anyhow, as they scrambled over the parapet,
I counted six of them prisoners to the three of us. Haeffle and
Saint-Hilaire escorted them back and also took word to the second
sergeant to let the section crawl, one after the other, up this trench
to where I was.

One by one the men came on, crawling in single file, and I put them to
work, carefully and noiselessly reversing the parapet. This German
trench was very deep, with niches cut into the bank at intervals of
one metre, permitting the men to lie down comfortably.

It was then that I happened to feel of my belt. One of the straps had
been cut clean through and my wallet, which had held two hundred and
sixty-five francs, had been neatly removed. Some one of my men, who
had risked his life for mine with a self-devotion that could scarcely
be surpassed, had felt that his need was greater than mine. Whoever he
was, I bear him no grudge. Poor chap, if he lived he needed the
money--and that day he surely did me a good turn. Besides, he was a
member of the Legion.

I placed sentries, took care to find a good place for myself, and was
just dropping off to sleep as Haeffle and Saint-Hilaire returned and
communicated to me the captain's compliments and the assurance of a
"_citation_."

I composed myself to sleep and dropped off quite content.



VI


It seemed but a few minutes when I was awakened by Collette and
Marcel, who offered me a steaming cup of coffee, half a loaf of bread,
and some Swiss cheese. This food had been brought from the rear while
I was lying asleep. My appetite was splendid, and when Sergeant
Malvoisin offered me a drink of rum in a canteen that he took off a
dead German, I accepted gratefully. Just then the _agent de
liaison_ appeared, with the order to assemble the section, and in
single file, second section at thirty-metre interval, to return the
way we had come.

It was almost daylight and things were visible at two to three metres.
The bombardment had died down and the quiet was hardly disturbed by
occasional shots. Our captain marched ahead of the second section,
swinging a cane and contentedly puffing on his pipe. Nearly everybody
was smoking. As we marched along we noticed that new trenches had been
dug during the night, from sixty to a hundred metres in the rear of
the position we had held, and these trenches were filled by the
Twenty-ninth Chasseurs Regiment, which replaced us.

Very cunningly these trenches were arranged. They were deep and
narrow, fully seven feet deep and barely a yard wide. At every
favorable point, on every little rise in the ground, a salient had
been constructed, projecting out from the main trench ten to fifteen
metres, protected by heavy logs, corrugated steel sheets, and two to
three feet of dirt. Each side of the salients bristled with machine
guns. Any attack upon this position would be bound to fail, owing to
the intense volume of fire that could be brought to bear upon the
flanks of the enemy.

To make assurance doubly sure, the Engineer Corps had dug rows of
cup-shaped bowls, two feet in diameter, two feet deep, leaving but a
narrow wedge of dirt between each two; and in the center of each bowl
was placed a six-pointed twisted steel "porcupine." This instrument,
no matter how placed, always presents a sharp point right at you. Five
rows of these man-traps I counted, separated by a thin wall of dirt,
not strong enough to maintain the weight of a man, so that any one who
attempted to rush past would be thrown against the "porcupine" and be
spitted like a pigeon. As an additional precaution a mass of barbed
wire lay in rolls, ready to be placed in front of this _ouvrage_, to
make it safe against any surprise.

We marched along, talking and chatting, discussing this and that,
without a care in the world. Every one hoped we were going to the rear
to recuperate and enjoy a good square meal and a good night's rest.
Seeger wanted a good wash, he said. He was rather dirty, and so was I.
My puttees dangled in pieces round my calves. It seems I had torn them
going through the German wire the day before. I told Haeffle to keep
his eyes open for a good pair on some dead man. He said he would.

The company marched round the hill we descended so swiftly yesterday
and, describing a semicircle, entered again the _Schützengraben
Spandau_ and marched back in the direction we had come from. The
trench, however, presented a different appearance. The bad places had
been repaired, the loose dirt had been shoveled out, and the dead had
disappeared. On the east side of the trench an extremely high parapet
had been built. In this parapet even loopholes appeared--rather
funny-looking loopholes, I thought; and when I looked closer, I saw
that they were framed in by boots! I reached my hand into several of
them as we walked along, and touched the limbs of dead men. The
engineer, it seems, in need of material, had placed the dead Germans
on top of the ground, feet flush with the inside of the ditch, leaving
from six to seven inches between two bodies, and laying another body
crosswise on top of the two, spanning the gap between them. Then they
had shoveled the dirt on top of them, thus killing two birds with one
stone.

The discovery created a riot of excitement among the men. Curses
intermingled with laughter came from ahead of us. Everybody was
tickled by the ingenuity of our _génie_. "They are marvelous!" we
thought. Dowd's face showed consternation, yet he could not help
smiling. Little King was pale around the mouth, yet his lips were
twisted in a grin. It was horribly amusing.

Every two hundred metres we passed groups of soldiers of the one
Hundred and Seventieth Regiment on duty in the trench. The front line,
they told us, was twelve hundred metres farther east, and this trench
formed the second line for their regiment. We entered the third-line
trench of the Germans, from which they ran yesterday to surrender, and
continued marching in the same direction--always east. Here we had a
chance to investigate the erstwhile German habitations.

Exactly forty paces apart doorways opened into the dirt bank, and from
each of them fourteen steps descended at about forty-five degrees into
a cellar-like room. The stairs were built of wood and the sides of the
stairways and the chambers below were lined with one-inch pine boards.
These domiciles must have been quite comfortable and safe, but now
they were choked with bodies. As we continued our leisurely way, we
met some of our trench-cleaners and they recited their experiences
with gusto. The Germans, they told us, pointing down into the
charnel-houses, refused to come and give up, and even fired at them
when summoned to surrender. "Then what did you do?" I asked. "Very
simple," answered one. "We stood on the top of the ground right above
the door and hurled grenade after grenade through the doorway until
all noise gradually ceased down below. Then we went to the next hole
and did the same thing. It wasn't at all dangerous," he added, "and
very effective."

We moved but slowly along the trench, and every once in a while there
was a halt while some of the men investigated promising "prospects,"
where the holes packed with dead Germans held out some promise of
loot. Owing to the order of march, the first company was the last one
in line, and my section at the very end. The head of the column was
the fourth company, then the third, the second; and then we. By the
time my section came to any hole holding out hopes of souvenirs, there
was nothing left for us. Yet I did find a German officer with a new
pair of leg-bands, and, hastily unwinding them, I discarded my own and
put on the new ones. As I bound them on I noticed the name on the
tag--"Hindenburg." I suppose the name stands for quality with the
Boches.

We left the trench and swung into another communication trench, going
to the left, still in an easterly direction, straight on toward the
Butte de Souain. That point we knew was still in the hands of the
Germans, and very quickly they welcomed us. Shells came shrieking
down--one hundred and five millimetres, one hundred and fifty, two
hundred and ten, and two hundred and fifty. It's very easy to tell
when you are close to them, even though you can't see a thing. When a
big shell passes high, it sounds like a white-hot piece of iron
suddenly doused in cold water; but when it gets close, the _sw-i-ish_
suddenly rises in a high crescendo, a shriek punctuated by a horrible
roar. The uniformity of movement as the men ducked was beautiful!--and
they all did it. One moment there was a line of gray helmets bobbing
up and down the trenches as the line plodded on; and the next instant
one could see only a line of black canvas close to the ground, as
every man ducked and shifted his shoulder-sack over his neck. My sack
had been blown to pieces when I was buried, and I felt uncomfortably
handicapped with only my _musette_ for protection against steel
splinters.

About a mile from where we entered this _boyau_, we came to a
temporary halt, then went on once more. The fourth company had come to
a halt, and we squeezed past them as we marched along. Every man of
them had his shovel out and had commenced digging a niche for himself.
We passed the fourth company, then the third, then the second, and
finally the first, second, and third sections of our own company. Just
beyond, we ourselves came to a halt and, lining up one man per metre,
started to organize the trench for defensive purposes. From the other
side of a slight ridge, east of us, and about six hundred metres away,
came the sound of machine guns. Between us and the ridge the Germans
were executing a very lively _feu de barrage_, a screen of fire,
prohibiting any idea of sending reinforcements over to the front line.

Attached for rations to my section were the commandant of the
battalion, a captain, and three sergeants of the État-Major. Two of
the sergeants were at the trench telephone, and I could hear them
report the news to the officers. "The Germans," they reported, "are
penned in on three sides and are prevented from retreating by our
artillery." Twice they had tried to pierce our line between them and
the Butte de Souain, and twice they were driven back. Good news for
us!

At 10 A.M. we sent three men from each section to the rear for the
soup. At about eleven they reappeared with steaming _marmites_ of
soup, stew, and coffee, and buckets of wine. The food was very good,
and disappeared to the last morsel.

After we had eaten, the captain granted me permission to walk along
the ditch back to the fourth company. The trench being too crowded for
comfort, I walked alongside to the second company, and searched for my
friend Sergeant Velte. Finally I found him lying in a shell-hole, side
by side with his adjutant and Sergeant Morin. All three were dead,
torn to pieces by one shell shortly after we had passed them in the
morning. At the third company they reported that Second Lieutenant
Sweeny had been shot through the chest by a lost ball that morning.
Hard luck for Sweeny![2] The poor devil had just been nominated
_sous-lieutenant_ at the request of the French Embassy in Washington,
and when he was attached as supernumerary to the third company we all
had hopes that he would have a chance to prove his merit.

          [2] Lieutenant Sweeny has returned to America.

In the fourth company also the losses were severe. The part of the
trench occupied by the three companies was directly enfiladed by the
German batteries on the Butte de Souain, and every little while a
shell would fall square into the ditch and take toll from the
occupants. Our company was fully a thousand metres nearer to these
batteries, but the trenches we occupied presented a three-quarters
face to the fire, and consequently were ever so much harder to hit.
Even then, when I got back I found four men _hors de combat_ in
the fourth section. In my section two niches were demolished without
any one being hit.

Time dragged slowly until four in the afternoon, when we had soup
again. Many of the men built little fires and with the _Erbsenwurst_
they had found on dead Germans prepared a very palatable soup by way
of extra rations.

At four o'clock sentries were posted and everybody fell asleep. A
steady rain was falling, and to keep dry we hooked one edge of our
tent-sheet on the ground above the niche and placed dirt on top of it
to hold. Then we pushed cartridges through the button-holes of the
tent, pinning them into the side of the trench and forming a good
cover for the occupant of the hole. Thus we rested until the new day
broke, bringing a clear sky and sunshine. This day, the 27th,--the
third of the battle,--passed without mishap to my section. We spent
our time eating and sleeping, mildly distracted by an intermittent
bombardment.



VII


Another night spent in the same cramped quarters! We were getting
weary of inactivity, and it was rather hard work to keep the men in
the ditch. They sneaked off singly and in pairs, always heading back
to the German dugouts, all bent on turning things upside down in the
hope of finding something of value to carry as a keepsake.

Haeffle came back once with three automatic pistols but no cartridges.
From another trip he returned with an officer's helmet, and the third
time he brought triumphantly back a string three feet long of dried
sausages. Haeffle always did have a healthy appetite and it transpired
that on the way back he had eaten a dozen sausages, more or less. The
dried meat had made him thirsty and he had drunk half a canteen of
water on top of it. The result was, he swelled up like a poisoned pup,
and for a time he was surely a sick man.

Zinn found two shiny German bayonets, a long thin one and one short
and heavy, and swore he'd carry them for a year if he had to. Zinn
hailed from Battle Creek and wanted to use them as brush-knives on
camping trips in the Michigan woods; but alas, in the sequel they got
too heavy and were dropped along the road. One man found a German pipe
with a three-foot soft-rubber stem, which he intended sending to his
brother as a souvenir. Man and pipe are buried on the slopes of the
Butte de Souain. He died that same evening.

At the usual time, 4 P.M., we had soup, and immediately after came the
order to get ready. Looking over the trench, we watched the fourth
company form in the open back of the ditch and, marching past us in an
oblique direction, disappear round a spur of wooded hill. The third
company followed at four hundred metres' distance, then the second,
and as they passed out of sight around the hill, we jumped out and,
forming in line, sections at thirty-metre intervals, each company four
hundred metres in the rear of the one ahead, we followed, _arme à la
bretelle_.

We were quite unobserved by the enemy, and marched the length of the
hill for three fourths of a kilometre, keeping just below the crest.
Above us sailed four big French battle-planes and some small aero
scouts, on the lookout for enemy aircraft. For a while it seemed as if
we should not be discovered, and the command was given to lie down.
From where we lay we could observe clearly the ensuing scrap in the
air, and it was worth watching. Several German planes had approached
close to our lines, but were discovered by the swift-flying scouts.
Immediately the little fellows returned with the news to the big
planes, and we watched the monster biplanes mount to the combat. In
a wide circle they swung, climbing, climbing higher and higher, and
then headed in a beeline straight toward the German _tauben_. As
they approached within range of each other, we saw little clouds
appear close to the German planes, some in front, some over them,
and others behind; and then, after an interval, the report of the
thirty-two-millimetre guns mounted on our battle-planes floated down
to us, immediately followed like an echo by the crack of the bursting
shell. Long before the Germans could get within effective range for
their machine guns, they were peppered by our planes and ignominiously
forced to beat a retreat. One "albatross" seemed to be hit. He
staggered from one side to the other, then dipped forward, and,
standing straight on his nose, dropped like a stone out of sight
behind the forest crowning the hill.

Again we moved on, and shortly arrived at the southern spur of the
hill. Here the company made a quarter turn to the left, and in the
same formation began the ascent of the hill. The second company was
just disappearing into the scrubby pine forest on top. We entered
also, continued on to the top, and halted just below the crest. The
captain called the officers and sergeants and, following him, we
crawled on our stomachs up to the highest point and looked over.

Never shall I forget the panorama that spread before us! The four thin
ranks of the second company seemed to stagger drunkenly through a sea
of green fire and smoke. One moment gaps showed in the lines, only to
be closed again as the rear files spurted. Undoubtedly they ran at top
speed, but to us watchers they seemed to crawl, and at times almost to
stop. Mixed in with the dark green of the grass covering the valley
were rows of lighter color, telling of the men who fell in that mad
sprint. The continuous bombardment sounded like a giant drum beating
an incredibly swift _rata-plan_. Along the whole length of our hill
this curtain of shells was dropping, leveling the forest and seemingly
beating off the very face of the hill itself, clean down to the bottom
of the valley. Owing to the proximity of our troops to the enemy's
batteries we received hardly any support from our own big guns, and
the rôle of the combatants was entirely reversed. The Germans had
their innings then and full well they worked.

As the company descended into the valley the pace became slower, and
at the beginning of the opposite slope they halted and faced back.
Owing to the height of the Butte de Souain, they were safe, and they
considered that it was their turn to act as spectators.

As our captain rose we followed and took our places in front of our
sections. Again I impressed upon the minds of my men the importance of
following in a straight line and as close behind one another as
possible. "Arme à la main!" came the order, and slowly we moved to the
crest and then immediately broke into a dog-trot. Instantly we were
enveloped in flames and smoke. Hell kissed us welcome! Closely I
watched the captain for the sign to increase our speed. I could have
run a mile in record time, but he plugged steadily along, one, two,
three, four, one, two, three, four, at a tempo of a hundred and eighty
steps per minute, three to the second,--the regulation tempo. Inwardly
I cursed his insistence upon having things _réglementaires_.

As I looked at the middle of his back, longing for him to hurry, I
caught sight, on my right, of a shell exploding directly in the center
of the third section. Out of the tail of my eye I saw the upper part
of Corporal Keraudy's body rise slowly into the air. The legs had
disappeared, and with arms outstretched the trunk sank down upon the
corpse of Varma, the Hindu, who had marched behind him. Instinctively,
I almost stopped in my tracks--Keraudy was a friend of mine--but at
the instant Corporal Mettayer, running behind me, bumped into my back,
and shoved me again into life and action.

We were out of the woods then, and running down the bare slope of the
hill. A puff of smoke, red-hot, smote me in the face, and at the same
moment intense pain shot up my jaw. I did not think I was hit
seriously, since I was able to run all right. Some one in the second
section intoned the regimental march, "Allons, Giron." Others took it
up; and there in that scene of death and hell, this song portraying
the lusts and vices of the Légion Étrangère became a very pæan of
enthusiasm and courage.

Glancing to the right, I saw that we were getting too close to the
second section, so I gave the signal for a left oblique. We bore away
from them until once again at our thirty paces' distance. All at once
my feet tangled up in something and I almost fell. It was long grass!
Just then it seemed to grow upon my mind that we were down in the
valley and out of range of the enemy. Then I glanced ahead, and not
over a hundred metres away I saw the second company lying in the grass
and watching us coming. As we neared, they shouted little pleasantries
at us and congratulated us upon our speed.

"Why this unseemly haste?" one wants to know.

"You go to the devil!" answers Haeffle.

"Merci, mon ami!" retorts the first; "I have just come through his
back kitchen."

Counting my section, I missed Dubois, Saint-Hilaire, and Schneli.
Collette, Joe told me, was left on the hill.

The company had lost two sergeants, one corporal, and thirteen men,
coming down that short stretch! We mustered but forty-five men, all
told. One, Sergeant Terisien, had for four months commanded my
section, the "American Section," but was transferred to the fourth
section. From where we rested we could see him slowly descending the
hill, bareheaded and with his right hand clasping his left shoulder.
He had been severely wounded in the head, and his left arm was nearly
torn off at the shoulder. Poor devil! He was a good comrade and a good
soldier. Just before the war broke out he had finished his third
enlistment in the Legion, and was in line for a discharge and pension
when he died.

Looking up the awful slope we had just descended, we could see the
bodies of our comrades, torn and mangled and again and again kicked up
into the air by the shells. For two days and nights the hellish hail
continued to beat upon that blood-soaked slope, until we finally
captured the Butte de Souain and forced an entire regiment of Saxons
to the left of the butte to capitulate.

Again we assembled in column of fours, and this time began the climb
uphill. Just then I happened to think of the blow I had received under
the jaw, and feeling of the spot, discovered a slight wound under my
left jaw-bone. Handing my rifle to a man, I pressed slightly upon the
sore spot and pulled a steel splinter out of the wound. A very thin,
long sliver of steel it was, half the diameter of a dime and not more
than a dime's thickness, but an inch and a half long. The metal was
still hot to the touch. The scratch continued bleeding freely, and I
did not bandage it at the time because I felt sure of needing my
emergency dressing farther along.

Up near the crest of the hill we halted in an angle of the woods and
lay down alongside the One Hundred and Seventy-second Regiment of
infantry. They had made the attack in this direction on the
twenty-fifth, but had been severely checked at this point. Infantry
and machine-gun fire sounded very close, and lost bullets by the
hundreds flicked through the branches overhead. The One Hundred and
Seventy-second informed us that a battalion of the Premier Étranger
had entered the forest and was at that moment storming a position to
our immediate left. Through the trees showed lights, brighter than
day, cast from hundreds of German magnesium candles shot into the air.

Our officers were grouped with those of the other regiment, and after
a very long conference they separated, each to his command. Our
captain called the officers and subalterns of the company together,
and in terse sentences explained to us our positions and the object of
the coming assault. It was to be a purely local affair, it seemed, and
the point was the clearing of the enemy from the hill we were on. On a
map drawn to scale he pointed out the lay of the land.

It looked to me like a hard proposition. Imagine to yourself a
toothbrush about a mile long and three eighths to one half mile wide.
The back is formed by the summit of the hill, densely wooded, and the
bristles are represented by four little ridges rising from the valley
we had just crossed, each one crowned with strips of forest and
uniting with the main ridges at right angles. Between each two lines
of bristles are open spaces, from one hundred to one hundred and fifty
metres wide. We of the second regiment were to deliver the assault
parallel with the bristles and stretching from the crest down to the
valley.

The other column was to make a demonstration from our left, running a
general course at right angles to ours. The time set was eight o'clock
at night.

Returning to our places, we informed the men of what they were in for.
While we were talking we noticed a group of men come from the edge of
the woods and form into company formation, and we could hear them
answer to the roll-call. I went over and peered at them. On their
coat-collars I saw the gilt "No. 1." It was the Premier Étranger.

As the roll-call proceeded, I wondered. The sergeant was deciphering
with difficulty the names from his little _carnet_, and response after
response was, "Mort." Once in a while the answer changed to, "Mort sur
le champ d'honneur," or a brief "Tombé." There were twenty-two men in
line, not counting the sergeant and a corporal, who in rear of the
line supported himself precariously on two rifles which served him as
crutches. Two more groups appeared back of this one, and the same
proceeding was repeated. As I stood near the second group I could just
catch the responses of the survivors. "Duvivier": "Présent."--"Selonti":
"Présent."--"Boismort": "Tombé."--"Herkis": "Mort."--"Carney":
"Mort."--"MacDonald": "Présent."--"Farnsworth": "Mort sur le champ
d'honneur," responded MacDonald. Several of the men I had known,
Farnsworth among them. One officer, a second-lieutenant, commanded
the remains of the battalion. Seven hundred and fifty men, he informed
me, had gone in an hour ago, and less than two hundred came back.

[Illustration: AMERICANS IN THE FOREIGN LEGION RECEIVING NEWS FROM
HOME]

"Ah, mon ami," he told me, "c'est bien chaud dans le bois."

Quietly they turned into column of fours and disappeared in the
darkness. Their attack had failed. Owing to the protection afforded by
the trees, our aerial scouts had failed to gather definite information
of the defenses constructed in the forest, and owing also to the same
cause, our previous bombardment had been ineffective.

It was our job to remedy this. One battalion of the One Hundred and
Seventy-second was detached and placed in line with us, and at 8 P.M.
sharp the commandant's whistle sounded, echoed by that of our captain.

Quietly we lined up at the edge of the forest, shoulder to shoulder,
bayonets fixed. Quietly each corporal examined the rifles of his men,
inspected the magazines, and saw that each chamber also held a
cartridge with firing-pin down. As silently as possible we entered
between the trees and carefully kept in touch with each other. It was
dark in there, and we had moved along some little distance before our
eyes were used to the blackness. As I picked my steps I prepared
myself for the shock every man experiences at the first sound of a
volley. Twice I fell down into shell-holes and cursed my clumsiness
and that of some other fellows to my right. "The 'Dutch' must be
asleep," I thought, "or else they beat it." Hopefully, the latter!

We were approaching the farther edge of the "toothbrush bristles," and
breathlessly we halted at the edge of the little open space before us.
About eighty metres across loomed the black line of another "row of
bristles." I wondered.

The captain and second section to our right moved on and we kept in
line, still slowly and cautiously, carefully putting one foot before
the other. Suddenly from the darkness in front of us came four or five
heavy reports like the noise of a shotgun, followed by a long hiss.
Into the air streamed trails of sparks. Above our heads the hiss ended
with a sharp crack, and everything stood revealed as though it were
broad daylight.

At the first crash, the major, the captains--everybody, it seemed to
me--yelled at the same time, "En avant! Pas de charge!"--and in full
run, with fixed bayonets, we flew across the meadow. As we neared
the woods we were met by solid sheets of steel balls. Roar upon roar
came from the forest; the volleys came too fast, it shot into my mind,
to be well aimed. Then something hit me on the chest and I fell
sprawling. Barbed wire! Everybody seemed to be on the ground at once,
crawling, pushing, struggling through. My rifle was lost and I grasped
my _parabellum_. It was a German weapon, German charges, German
cartridges. This time the Germans were to get a taste of their own
medicine, I thought. Lying on my back, I wormed through the wire,
butting into the men in front of me and getting kicked in the head by
Mettayer. As I crawled I could hear the _ping_, _ping_, of balls
striking the wire, and the shrill moan as they glanced off and
continued on their flight.

Putting out my hand, I felt loose dirt, and, lying flat, peered over
the parapet. "Nobody home," I thought; and then I saw one of the
Collette brothers in the trench come running toward me and ahead of
him a burly Boche. I saw Joe make a one-handed lunge with the rifle,
and saw the bayonet show fully a foot in front of the German's chest.

Re-forming, we advanced toward the farther fringe of the little
forest. Half-way through the trees we lay down flat on our stomachs,
rifle in right hand, and slowly, very slowly, wormed our way past the
trees into the opening between us and our goal. Every man had left his
knapsack in front or else hanging on the barbed wire, and we were in
good shape for the work that lay ahead. But the sections and companies
were inextricably mixed. On one side of me crawled a lieutenant of the
One Hundred and Seventy-second, and on the other a private I had never
seen before. Still we were all in line, and when some one shouted,
"Feu de quatre cartouches!" we fired four rounds, and after the
command all crawled again a few paces nearer.

Several times we halted to fire, aiming at the sheets of flame
spurting toward us. Over the Germans floated several parachute
magnesium rockets, sent up by our own men, giving a vivid light and
enabling us to shoot with fair accuracy. I think now that the German
fire was too high. Anyway, I did not notice any one in my immediate
vicinity getting hit. Though our progress was slow, we finally arrived
at the main wire entanglement.

All corporals in the French army carry wire-nippers, and it was our
corporal's business to open a way through the entanglement. Several
men to my right, I could see one,--he looked like Mettayer,--lying
flat on his back and, nippers in hand, snipping away at the wire
overhead, while all of us behind kept up a murderous and constant fire
at the enemy. Mingled with the roar of the rifles came the stuttering
rattle of the machine guns, at moments drowned by the crash of
hand-grenades. Our grenadiers had rather poor success with their
missiles, however, most of them hitting trees in front of the trench.
The lieutenant on my left had four grenades. I could see him plainly.
With one in his hand, he crawled close to the wire, rolled on his
back, rested an instant with arms extended, both hands grasping the
grenade, then suddenly he doubled forward and back and sent the bomb
flying over his head. For two--three seconds,--it seemed longer at the
time,--we listened, and then came the roar of the explosion. He smiled
and nodded to me, and again went through the same manoeuvre.

In the mean time I kept my _parabellum_ going. I had nine magazines
loaded with dum-dum balls I had taken from some dead Germans, and I
distributed the balls impartially between three _créneaux_ in front of
me. On my right, men were surging through several breaks in the wire.
Swiftly I rolled over and over toward the free lane and went through
with a rush. The combat had degenerated into a hand-grenade affair.
Our grenadiers crawled alongside the parapet and every so often tossed
one of their missiles into it, while the others, shooting over their
heads, potted the Germans as they ran to rear.

Suddenly the fusillade ceased, and with a crash, it seemed, silence
and darkness descended upon us. The sudden cessation of the terrific
rifle firing and of the constant rattling of the machine guns struck
one like a blow. Sergeant Altoffer brought me some information about
one of my men, and almost angrily I asked him not to shout! "I'm not
deaf yet," I assured him. "Mon vieux," he raged, "it's you who are
shouting!"

I realized my fault and apologized and in return accepted a drink of
wine from his canteen.

Finding the captain, we received the order to assemble the men and
maintain the trench, and after much searching I found a few men of the
section. The little scrap had cost the first section three more men.
Soubiron, Dowd, and Zinn were wounded and sent to the rear. The One
Hundred and Seventy-second sent a patrol toward the farthest, the
last, bristle of the toothbrush, with the order to reconnoiter
thoroughly. An hour passed and they had not returned. Twenty minutes
more went by and still no patrol. Rather curious, we thought. No
rifle-shots had come from that direction nor any noise such as would
be heard during a combat with the bayonet. The commandant's patience
gave way and our captain received the order to send another patrol. He
picked me and I chose King, Delpeuch, and Birchler. All three had
automatics, King a _parabellum_, Delpeuch and Birchler, Brownings.
They left their rifles, bayonets, and cartridge-boxes behind and in
Indian file followed me at a full run in an oblique direction past the
front of the company and, when halfway across the clearing, following
my example, fell flat on the ground. We rested awhile to regain our
wind and then began to slide on our stomachs at right angles to our
first course.

We were extremely careful to remain silent. Every little branch and
twig we moved carefully out of our way; with one hand extended we felt
of the ground before us as we hitched ourselves along. So silent was
our progress that several times I felt in doubt about any one being
behind me and rested motionless until I felt the touch of Delpeuch's
hand upon my foot. After what seemed twenty minutes, we again changed
direction, this time straight toward the trees looming close to us. We
arrived abreast of the first row of trees, and, lying still as death,
listened for sounds of the enemy. All was absolutely quiet; only the
branches rustled overhead in a light breeze. A long time we lay there
but heard no sound. We began to feel somewhat creepy, and I was
tempted to pull my pistol and let nine shots rip into the damnable
stillness before us. However, I refrained, and, touching my neighbor,
started crawling along the edge of the wood. Extreme care was
necessary, owing to the numberless branches littering the ground. The
sweat was rolling down my face.

Again we listened, and again we were baffled by that silence. I was
angry then and started to crawl between the trees. A tiny sound of
metal scratching upon metal and I almost sank into the ground! Quickly
I felt reassured. It was my helmet touching a strand of barbed wire.
Still no sound!

Boldly we rose and, standing behind trees, scanned the darkness. Over
to our right we saw a glimmer of light, and, walking this time,
putting one foot carefully before the other, we moved in that
direction. When opposite we halted and--I swore. From the supposed
trench of the enemy came the hoarse sound of an apparently drunken man
singing the _chanson_ "La Riviera." Another voice offered a toast
to "La Légion."

Carelessly we made our way through the barbed wire, crawling under and
stepping over the strands, jumped over a ditch and looked down into
what seemed to be an underground palace. There they were--the six men
of the One Hundred and Seventy-second--three of them lying stiff and
stark on benches, utterly drunk. Two were standing up disputing, and
the singer sat in an armchair, holding a long-stemmed glass in his
hand. Close by him were several unopened bottles of champagne upon the
table. Many empty bottles littered the floor. The singer welcomed us
with a shout and an open hand, to which we, however, did not
immediately respond. The heartbreaking work while approaching this
place rankled in our mind. The sergeant and corporal were too drunk to
be of any help, while two of the men were crying, locked in each
others' arms. Another was asleep, and our friend the singer absolutely
refused to budge. So, after I had stowed two bottles inside my shirt
(an example punctiliously followed by the others), we returned.

Leaving Birchler at the wire, I placed King in the middle of the
clearing and Delpeuch near the edge of the wood held by us, and then
reported. The captain passed the word along to the major, and on the
instant we were ordered to fall in, and in column of two marched over
to the abandoned trench, following the line marked by my men.

As we entered and disposed ourselves therein, I noticed all the
officers, one after the other, disappear in the palace. Another patrol
was sent out by our company, and, after ranging the country in our
front, it returned safely. That night it happened to be the second
company's turn to mount outposts, and we could see six groups of men,
one corporal and five men in each, march out into the night, and
somewhere, each in some favorable spot, they placed themselves at a
distance of about one hundred metres away, to watch, while we slept
the sleep of the just.



VIII


Day came, and with it the _corvée_ carrying hot coffee and bread.
After breakfast another _corvée_ was sent after picks and shovels, and
the men were set to work remodeling the trench, shifting the parapet
to the other side, building little outpost trenches and setting barbed
wire. The latter job was done in a wonderfully short time, thanks to
German thoroughness, since for the stakes to which the wire is tied
the Boches had substituted soft iron rods, three quarters of an inch
thick, twisted five times in the shape of a great corkscrew. This
screw twisted into the ground exactly like a cork-puller into a cork.
The straight part of the rod, being twisted upon itself down and up
again every ten inches, formed six or seven small round loops in a
height of about five feet. Into these eyes the barbed wire was laid
and solidly secured with short lengths of tying wire. First cutting
the tying wire, we lifted the barbed wire out of the eyes, shoved a
small stick through one and, turning the rod with the leverage of the
stick, unscrewed it out of the ground and then reversing the process
screwed it in again. The advantage of this rod is obvious. When a
shell falls amidst this wire protection, the rods are bent and
twisted, but unless broken off short they always support the wire, and
even after a severe bombardment present a serious obstacle to the
assaulters. In such cases wooden posts are blown to smithereens by the
shells, and when broken off let the wire fall flat to the ground.

As I was walking up and down, watching the work, I noticed a large
box, resting bottom up, in a deep hole opening from the trench.
Dragging the box out and turning it over, I experienced a sudden
flutter of the heart. There, before my astonished eyes, resting upon a
little platform of boards, stood a neat little centrifugal pump
painted green and on the base of it in raised iron letters I read the
words "Byron Jackson, San Francisco." I felt queer at the stomach for
an instant. San Francisco! my home town! Before my eyes passed
pictures of Market Street and the "Park." In fancy I was one of the
Sunday crowd at the Cliff House. How could this pump have got so far
from home? Many times I had passed the very place where it was made.
How, I wonder, did the Boche get this pump? Before the war or through
Holland? A California-built pump to clean water out of German
trenches, in France! It was astonishing! With something like reverence
I put the pump back again and, going to my place in the trench, dug
out one of my bottles of champagne and stood treat to the crowd.
Somehow, I felt almost happy.

As I continued my rounds I came upon a man sitting on the edge of the
ditch surrounded by naked branches, busy cutting them into two-foot
lengths and tying them together in the shape of a "cross." I asked him
how many he was making, and he told me that he expected to work all
day to supply the crosses needed along one battalion front. French and
German were treated alike, he assured me. There was absolutely no
difference in the size of the crosses.

As we worked, soup arrived, and when that was disposed of, the men
rested for some hours. We were absolutely unmolested except by our
officers.

But at one o'clock that night we were again assembled in marching rig,
each man carrying an extra pick or shovel, and we marched along
parallel with our trench to the summit of the butte. There we
installed ourselves in the main line out of which the Germans were
driven by the One Hundred and Seventy-second. Things came easy now.
There was no work of any kind to be done, and quickly we found some
dry wood, built small fires and with the material found in dugouts
brewed some really delightful beverages. Mine was a mixture of wine
and water out of Haeffle's canteen, judiciously blended with
chocolate.

The weather was delightful and we spent the afternoon lying in sunny
spots, shifting once in a while out of the encroaching shade into the
warm rays. We had no idea where the Germans were,--somewhere in front,
of course, but just how far or how near mattered little to us. Anyway,
the One Hundred and Seventy-second were fully forty metres nearer to
them than we were, and we could see and hear the first-line troops
picking and shoveling their way into the ground.

Little King was, as usual, making the round of the company, trying to
find some one to build a fire and get water if he, King, would furnish
the chocolate. He found no takers and soon he laid himself down,
muttering about the laziness of the outfit.

Just as we were dozing deliciously, an agonized yell brought every
soldier to his feet. Rushing toward the cry, I found a man sitting on
the ground, holding his leg below the knee with both hands and moaning
as he rocked back and forth. "Je suis blessé! Je suis blessé!"
Brushing his hands aside I examined his limb. There was no blood. I
took off the leg-band, rolled up his trousers, and discovered no sign
of a wound. I asked the man again where the wound was, and he passed
his hand over a small red spot on his shin. Just then another man
picked up a small piece of shell, and then the explanation dawned upon
me. The Germans were shooting at our planes straight above us; a bit
of shell had come down and hit our sleeper on the shin-bone. Amid a
gale of laughter he limped away to a more sympathetic audience.
Several more pieces of iron fell near us. Some fragments were no
joking matter, being the entire rear end of three-inch shells
weighing, I should think, fully seven pounds.

At 4 P.M. the soup _corvée_ arrived. Besides the usual soup we had
roast mutton, one small slice per man, and a mixture of white beans,
rice, and string beans. There was coffee, and one cup of wine per man,
and, best of all, tobacco. As we munched our food our attention was
attracted to the sky above by an intense cannonade directed against
several of our aeroplanes sailing east. As we looked, more and more of
our war-birds appeared. Whipping out my glasses, I counted fifty-two
machines. Another man counted sixty. Haeffle had it a hundred. The
official report next day stated fifty-nine. They were flying very high
and in very open formation, winging due east. The shells were breaking
ahead of them and between them. The heaven was studded with hundreds
upon hundreds of beautiful little round grayish clouds, each one the
nimbus of a bursting shell. With my prismatics glued to my eyes I
watched closely for one falling bird. Though it seemed incredible at
the moment, not one faltered or turned back. Due east they steered,
into the red painted sky. For several minutes after they had sailed
out of my sight I could still hear the roar of the guns. Only one
machine, the official report said, was shot down, and that one fell on
the return trip.

Just before night fell, we all set to work cutting pine branches, and
with the tips prepared soft beds for ourselves. Sentries were placed,
one man per section, and we laid ourselves down to sleep. The night
passed quietly; again the day started with the usual hot coffee and
bread. Soup and stew at 10 A.M., and the same again at 4 P.M. One more
quiet night and again the following day. We were becoming somewhat
restless with the monotony but were cheered by the captain. That
night, he told us, we should return to Suippes and there we should
re-form the regiment and rest. The programme sounded good, but I felt
very doubtful, so many times we had heard the same tale and so many
times we had been disappointed. Each day the _corvées_ had brought
the same news from the kitchen. At least twenty times different
telephonists and _agents de liaison_ had brought the familiar
story. The soup _corvées_ assured us that the drivers of the rolling
kitchens had orders to hitch up and pull out toward Souain and
Suippes. The telephonists had listened to the order transmitted over
the wires. The _agents de liaison_ had overheard the commandant
telling other officers that he had received marching orders and, "_Ma
foi_! each time each one was wrong!" So after all, I was not much
disappointed when the order came to unmake the sacks.

We stayed that night and all that day, and when the order to march the
following evening came, all of us were surprised, including the
captain. I was with the One Hundred and Seventy-second at the time,
having some fun with a little Belgian. I had come upon him in the dark
and had watched him in growing wonder at his actions. There the little
fellow was, stamping up and down, every so often stopping, shaking
clenched fists in the air, and spouting curses. I asked him what was
the matter. "Rien, mon sergent," he replied. "Je m'excite." "Pourquoi?"
I demanded. "Ah," he told me, "look,"--pointing out toward the German
line,--"out there lies my friend, dead, with three pounds of my
chocolate in his _musette_, and when I'm good and mad, I'm going out
to get it!" I hope he got it!

That night at seven o'clock we left the hill, marched through Souain
four miles to Suippes and sixteen miles farther on, at Saint-Hilaire,
we camped. A total of twenty-six miles.

At Suippes the regiment passed in parade march before some officer of
the État-Major, and we were counted:--eight hundred and fifty-two in
the entire regiment, out of thirty-two hundred who entered the attack
on the 25th of September.


    THE END



    The Riverside Press
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    HOUGHTON          BOSTON
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Transcriber's Note:

Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note.

Irregularities and inconsistencies in the text have been retained as
printed.

Words printed in italics are marked with underlines: _italics_.





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