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Title: Battlewrack
Author: Austin, F. Britten (Frederick Britten)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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BATTLEWRACK

by

F. BRITTEN AUSTIN

Author of "In Action," "The Shaping of Lavinia"



Hodder and Stoughton
London      New York      Toronto



 TO
 CHARLES F. GABB
 IN HIS PRIVATE AFFECTIONS
 THE PATTERN OF STINTLESS FRIENDSHIP
 IN HIS SELFLESS PATRIOTISM
 THE MODEL OF A TRUE ENGLISHMAN
 THESE SKETCHES OF HUMANITY AT STRIFE
 ARE DEDICATED
 IN THE GRATITUDE OF A LONG MEMORY



CONTENTS


                                                     PAGE

 The Battery (1914)                                   1

 Pro Patria                                          27

 Nerves!                                             48

 The Air Scout (1914)                                70

 Kultur (1915)                                       91

 The Magic of Muhammed Din                          101

 The Other Side                                     124

 Na Nos!                                            151

 Per la Più Grande Italia!                          162

 Panzerkraftwagen!                                  188

 Nach Verdun!                                       214

 The Châtelaine of Lysboisée                        243

 They Come Back                                     277



Practically all these stories have appeared in the _Strand Magazine_,
_Pearson's Magazine_, _Pall Mall Magazine_, or _The Sphere_. To the
Editors of these periodicals I tender my acknowledgments.

It is fair to state that some of these stories, in particular "The
Battery," "The Air Scout," "Pro Patria," "Nerves," were written and in
some cases appeared before the present War.



THE BATTERY (1914)


The sun hung in the mists of morning, swollen, blood-red, a symbol of
augury, as the artillery brigade pulled out of the village where it had
been billeted for the night. At the tail of its long line of slowly
moving vehicles marched a compact column of brown-clad infantry. In
front moved a squadron of cavalry. The lieutenant-colonel commanding
the brigade trotted smartly past the batteries with his staff. Fresh
from an interview with the divisional artillery commander, he tried
not to look preoccupied and anxious as he met the searching eyes of
his men. From an unknown distance a dull thud, irregularly repeated,
vibrated through the dense atmosphere. The colonel raised his head
sharply to listen. The men in the column exchanged glances full of
meaning.

The dull concussions continued, but the column did not increase its
pace. The long line of guns and wagons rolled onward at a steady walk,
amid a jangle of chains and harness. The gunners on the limbers smoked
and talked. Occasionally there was a burst of laughter. It seemed that
that ominous thudding was a summons which concerned them not at all.
In the fog which drifted in patches across the road its origin seemed
enormously remote.

The junior subaltern of the third and last battery in the column heard
the sound with less indifference. Each of those muffled shocks came
to him like a knock upon his heart. He listened for them anxiously
and shuddered, in spite of himself, as the air vibrated on his ears.
He needed none to tell him their meaning, novel though the sound was
to him. They were the first long shots of the opening battle. As he
listened, blindfold as it were in that fog, his animal tissues shrunk
at this menace of an untried experience, while at the same time another
part of him, the dominant, grew fretfully anxious lest the battery was
too far in rear, lest they should be too late. The conflict of these
opposing impulses in him made him nervous and fidgety. He wanted to
talk to someone, to discuss the situation, to exchange opinions upon a
host of possibilities. He looked longingly at the No. 1 of the leading
gun of his section as he walked his horse at the side of the leaders
and chatted quietly to the driver. The sergeant appeared so calm, so
strong with already acquired experience. He felt almost irresistibly
impelled to enter into conversation with him--opening phrases kept
coming to his tongue--but a shame at the weakness of his own nerve
restrained him. He braced himself with a thought of his rank and
responsibilities and remained silent. The subaltern was new to war and
new to the battery. He had come straight from the "Shop" with a draft
of men to replace the wastage of the last battle. He was very young
and, until that morning, very proud of himself.

Unexpectedly, the column halted. Why? The subaltern chafed. It was
intolerable to idle there upon the road with that urgent summons
momentarily shaking the air. The concussions followed one another
much more quickly now and came with a sharper sound. They seemed to
run all along a wide arc stretched far to right and left in front of
him. Occasionally they came in heavy salvos that swallowed the noise
of isolated shots. He could see nothing. The fog lay thick upon the
road, a white curtain against which danced black specks as he strained
his eyes at it. The column stood still and silent. Only a jingling
of chains arose as the horses nosed at each other. Presently, as the
passengers in a fog-bound train hear the rumble of the other train for
which they wait, a sound came to him out of the mist and explained the
halt. It was the hollow rhythmic tramp of infantry. The sound increased
and then maintained itself at a uniform pitch. In the distance the
artillery salvos followed one another ever more quickly, peal on peal
of thunder. Still the hollow beat of boots upon the road continued. The
subaltern swore to himself. Were they to wait there while the entire
army passed? At last the hollow sound diminished, died down, ceased. A
sharply uttered order ran down the column. The line of vehicles moved
on again.

For a long time they marched through the fog, drawing ever nearer
to the cannonade. There were no more halts. Nevertheless it seemed
to the subaltern that their progress was wilfully, culpably slow.
As a matter of fact, the column, responding to the magnetism of
battle, had involuntarily quickened pace. The physical anxiety of
the subaltern communicated itself to, and was misinterpreted by, his
brain. He imagined that he was concerned wholly for the fate of the
army if deprived of the valuable support of the brigade to which
he was attached. He conceived enormous disasters hinging on their
non-appearance. Suddenly he noticed, with surprise, that his knees were
trembling against the saddle, his hands shaking as they held the reins.
This discovery startled him. His anxiety for the army was obliterated
by another. Could he be sure of himself? A spasm of alarm shot through
him. Would that calm mysterious higher self in him lose control? He had
a glimpse of himself in a whirlwind of sensations, a maddened animal
dashing to escape. It must not be. He exercised his volition as an
athlete exercises a muscle, testing it. Desperately, he willed himself
to immobility. The tremor in his limbs did not cease. He agonised
lest someone should perceive it. Sweat broke out on his forehead.
Nevertheless his brain was clear. He held fast to that. Never mind
what his body did, at all costs his brain must be kept clear and cool.
Engaged in these introspections he forgot the fog, forgot the lagging
brigade, forgot the ever-swelling uproar in front of him.

Suddenly the mist broke, rolled away from a sunlit landscape. They
were at the summit of a slight elevation. About them was open country,
dotted with trees and farms. In front the road dropped and then
mounted. He looked over the heads of the artillery-men before him
and saw a long column of infantrymen ascending the further hill. It
was for that column that the brigade had waited. The recognition
of the fact reawakened perception through a linked memory. He heard
again the pealing thunder of the guns, to which for some minutes he
had been oblivious. Instantly an intense, anxious curiosity took
possession of him. Where were they fighting? In the fog his mind had
formed a picture of lines of guns coughing out flame and noise at
each other, desperately in conflict, just at the other side of the
curtain drawn before his eyes. Now, the veil dropped, he looked at
reality and only so much of the picture persisted as to puzzle him.
Save for the column marching ahead there was no sign of life in that
open countryside. Yet the air was full of sound. No longer was it a
series of dull concussions. It was one vast, continuous, ringing roar,
broken at intervals by the sound of violent fracture as a puff of wind
came to his cheek. Excitedly, he strained his eyes at the distances,
seeking some point where he could localise the conflict. There was
nothing. Yes! Far ahead of him, beyond the hill which the infantry were
climbing, a faint haze of smoke hung in the air. In that haze tiny
puffs sprang into being and spread lazily. There, then! Encouraged,
his gaze searched the landscape. Far to his left, over a little wood
that closed the view, hung another such haze, and, as his eyes ranged
over the country, he saw a line of smoke-puffs leap from nowhere above
a hill to his right. The line was constantly renewed until the smoke
trailed across the blue sky like a cloud. A thrill ran through him. He
forgot himself, lost all memory of his doubts. He quivered, but it was
with eagerness to rush into the fight. Oh, to mount that hill and see
what was happening! The infantry drew up over it, disappeared beyond
the summit like a snake drawing in its tail. The artillery crawled
onward.

He was calculating the minutes that must elapse before their arrival on
the crest when suddenly his hopes were dashed. The brigade was turning
off along a by-road to the left. Baulked of his desire, he swore
savagely, almost with tears. A man on the limber near him looked up in
sharp surprise. He desisted, clenching his teeth. Inwardly he raged.
As he too swung round the corner, his back to the direction of the
smoke-cloud he had so excitedly watched, it seemed that he was turning
out of the battle. The brigade moved for some distance along that road
and then halted, drawn close in to the hedge. Behind them swelled the
noise of tramping infantry, growing louder. The men who had followed
them were going to pass. They came, swinging along at a good pace,
steadily rhythmic. They passed, endlessly. The subaltern found himself
gazing curiously at the faces of men in the stream. Some were stern and
set, some laughed carelessly, some shouted jokes to the artillery-men,
many were strangely haggard and drawn. He noticed one man who gazed at
nothing with a rapt expression. His lips were moving. He was praying.
They were going into battle. The subaltern was again aware of the
thunder of the guns.

The brigade waited. The tramp of the infantry had long since ceased.
They seemed alone, forgotten, on the road. Suddenly an order was passed
down the column. The subaltern repeated it, almost before he was aware
that he had heard it. "No. 3 Section--Prepare for action!" Instantly
the gun detachments leaped to the ground. The breech and muzzle covers
were removed and strapped to the front of the gun shields. The breech,
the firing mechanism, the ranging gear, the sights were swiftly
examined. The men on the ammunition wagons tested the opening of the
lids, looked to the fuse indicator, saw that the fuses were at safety.
These things done, they resumed their seats. The subaltern's heart beat
fast. Now?

Minute after minute passed. The brigade waited in all readiness to
move. Presently the order came. "Walk!--March!--Trot!" They passed
quickly along the road. The subaltern looked ahead, saw his battery
leader turn through a gate into a broad meadow on the right. The other
batteries were turning into the field further up. He lost sight of one
of them. He arrived at the gate, wheeled into it. "By the left--Form
Battery Column!" The subsections of single guns drew out and up level
with the other gun of the section, each with its following wagon.
The first line or reserve wagons dropped behind. The battery trotted
smartly forward across the field. It was a large meadow, unintersected
by hedge or ditch, rising gently to the ridge whereto their original
road had climbed. At the summit was a small copse. Far in front the
subaltern saw a group of horsemen riding swiftly towards it. He knew
it for the colonel and his staff. Between him and them was a mounted
figure, halted, and, some distance further away, another figure. It was
the battery commander and the sergeant-major marking the position of
the battery and the line of fire. The battery went on. The ridge was
looming up close in front. "By the left--Form Line!" The guns wheeled
into a long line. Their accompanying wagons slackened speed, fell some
forty yards in rear. "Walk!--Halt!--Action Front!" The guns stopped.
The detachments leaped down. Two men seized the gun-trail, unhooked it
from the limber, gave the order "Limber drive on!" The horses trotted
quickly round in a half-circle and went to the rear. The trail was
carried round, reversing the gun. A moment later the attendant wagon
came up, placing itself close on the left, its axle a little in rear
of the gun-axle. About each gun in the line there was a second or two
of busy movement. The No. 1 threw back the traversing lever, laid the
gun approximately in the true direction, noted the level of the wheels.
Others lowered the shield, put on the brakes, fixed the sights. Two
others opened the ammunition wagon and half withdrew a number of rounds
in readiness. The subaltern's horseholder came up. As he surrendered
his mount he felt that he was stepping into the arena.

He looked along the line of guns. The detachments of each were in
position, motionless--No. 1 kneeling on the left side of the trail, 2
on the seat on the right-hand side, 3 on the left, 4 kneeling behind 3,
5 and 6 kneeling in rear of the wagon by the gun. At the right-hand end
of the line was the battery commander. In front of him a wagon-limber
had been placed for his protection. Up the hill-side men were swiftly
paying out a telephone wire. A lieutenant and a couple of look-out men
were cantering up to join the party now halted at the side of the copse.

The subaltern turned to see the captain of the battery at his side. He
smiled and nodded. "How do you feel?" he asked. "Shivery?" The captain
was in command of the first-line wagons in reserve. He stood near the
battery to watch the expenditure of ammunition.

The subaltern placed himself behind the wagon of his gun nearest the
commander, and waited, stiffly erect. He felt himself tingling with
eagerness, yet he could scarcely bring himself to believe that this
was battle. It might have been parade. He forgot the all-swallowing
roar about him, remembered only that he was in command of those two
guns, was responsible that they dealt out death coolly, accurately,
scientifically.

The telephone was complete. A man knelt on the ground near the battery
commander, the receiver to his ear. Almost immediately there was a
sharp order. "Lines of Fire!" From each gun a man ran out quickly
towards the ridge with a couple of black and white posts. He planted
them in line and ran back. The angle of sight was passed down the
battery. The gun-barrels moved slightly, aiming at the invisible
enemy. Despite the ceaseless roar with which the air trembled, a
hush of expectancy seemed to lie over the line of guns. Other orders
came quickly down the battery from the commander. "Angle of sight
1·25´ elevation."--"Collective."--"Corrector 154."--"4100." No. 6 of
each gun called out the fuze. Five set it, passed the shell to 4 who
pushed it into the breech. Two closed the breech and adjusted the
range indicator. Three laid the gun and sat with his hand on the firing
lever. "Ready."

"Fire!" The No. 1 of the first gun repeated the order. Three pulled
the lever sharply upwards. A long tongue of flame spurted out of the
muzzle with a deafening report. The gun-barrel shot violently back
under its hydraulic buffer and was in place again ere the eye could
well note the movement. The other two guns of the right half-battery
fired successively at three seconds' interval. The men at the telephone
received a message. It was transmitted as orders to the battery. "No.
1--30 degrees more right. No. 2--20 degrees more right, No. 3--30
degrees more right." "Left half--30 degrees more right.--Corrector
162.--4300." The three shells already fired had gone too far to the
left. "Fire." The subaltern heard the order of the sergeant on his
right. "No. 4--Fire!" Then his own sergeants, "No. 5--Fire!" "No.
6--Fire!" He thrilled at the loud explosions. He was in action! He
was flattered to find how clear his mind was, how steady his nerve.
He supervised the laying of the guns as the next order came down the
line. "Corrector 158--4350.--One round battery fire." At five seconds'
interval the six guns fired one after the other. There was a wait. Had
they found the range? Yes! "Section Fire--10 seconds." He was engrossed
with his two guns as they were swiftly loaded and fired at the interval
ordered.

Away to his left the other two batteries of the brigade were firing
likewise. The rapid, violent reports of the line of guns overlapped,
merged into one long-drawn-out explosion that intensified spasmodically
as two or more fired at the same instant. The clamour of the general
battle was obscured, forgotten. The subaltern glanced at the bare
hill in front of him, over which the shells from the brigade were
streaming at the rate of one hundred and eight a minute. On what were
they falling, two and a half miles away? A straggling thought in him
found leisure for the question while yet the main forces of his mind
were concentrated on the busy detachments and the guns they served. He
had scarce noted it when an order was passed down the battery. "Stand
fast." Immediately there was silence. Only a faint haze spread and
thinned between the gun-muzzles and the ridge to show that they had
been at work. What of the distant, invisible target? The captain, who
had been standing by the battery commander, passed on his way to the
wagons. The subaltern stopped him.

"What was it?" he asked.

"Battery coming into action--just caught 'em--wiped out," answered the
captain laconically and hurried on.

The subaltern stared--horror-stricken involuntarily. Wiped out! He
tried to imagine the wreckage of that battery overwhelmed in a few
instants by a rain of shells coming from they knew not whence. He
failed. In that meadow, strangely quiet now despite a terrific din that
welled up from over the ridge, he could not picture it. The hill in
front was a wall across his vision.

The brigade waited, but no further orders came. For the moment their
work was done. The guns stretched across the field, their muzzles
elevated, like a row of silent, expectant dogs. The lieutenant
commanding the adjacent section came up and asked the subaltern for a
cigarette. The subaltern gave it, repressing a smile. That lieutenant
never had any cigarettes.

As he relaxed from the strain of those few furious minutes the
subaltern felt suddenly hungry. He remembered that he had filled a
pocket with biscuits and munched at one as he gazed idly along the
battery. Fitfully his mind returned to the brief activity of his guns
and he contemplated the recollection with comfort. Never had he lost
mastery over himself. He was a man tried and proved.

With a vague dull curiosity he watched the group by the wood on the
hill above him. Members of it were moving to and fro. He noticed one
figure standing with both hands up to his face, his elbows sticking
out. He was examining something through his glasses. The subaltern
wondered whether it was the colonel and the thought came to him that on
a word from that man he and his fellows might be hurried to death as if
to execution. Every minute, orderlies rode at speed up to the group.

Presently an order came to the battery. It opened fire again, this time
deliberately, without haste, at 2500 yards and in a slightly different
direction. Again the subaltern appealed to the captain for information.

"Infantry advancing. We've only got a screen there. Sixth Corps coming
into action on our right. We're filling the gap between it and the
Second Corps. Enemy are trying to break through."

"Oh," said the subaltern, "we're in for a hot time, I suppose." He said
it carelessly, without any idea of what was coming.

"We most certainly are," said the captain. The emphasis of the reply
startled the subaltern, made him feel uneasy. He devoted himself to
his guns in an effort to banish the anxiety which threatened him. The
gun-squads were working with unhurried precision. A man kneeling behind
the wagon drew out the long projectile, set the fuze, passed the shell
to his fellow at the gun, the breech was closed, the lever pulled, and
the gun spoke with an exactly equal interval between rounds. They might
have been feeding a machine in a factory, so regular, so unemotional
was the operation. Behind the wagon the ground was littered with the
canvas cartridge clips. Behind the gun the flung-back brass cartridge
cases mounted to a heap. In front the air was blurry with gases.
Away to the right a new series of reports broke out. More batteries
had evidently come into action. Coalescing all individual sounds the
general clamour of the battle swelled in surges of hideous noise from
one deep-toned, continuous roar. The subaltern became habituated to it,
scarcely noticed it.

Happening to look round he saw a howitzer battery coming into the
field. A few minutes later the regular sequence of its detonations told
him it had got to work. It was evident that troops were being hurried
up to meet the threatened attack. Along the hill-side to the right a
line of infantry was strung out, advancing towards the wood. Another
followed it. When he turned again he saw more infantry entering the
field and deploying. He got a glimpse of the road filled with brown
caps that just showed above the hedges. Almost immediately the battery
ceased fire. Only the periodic discharges of the howitzers continued.
The battery commander was kneeling over a map spread upon the ground.
Up by the little wood a heliograph was flashing rapidly. A little
further on a couple of men were flag-wagging with vigour. Some crisis
was approaching. Behind him the infantry commenced to advance. On his
left front a couple of men spurred horses up the flank of the bare
hill-side.

The infantry passed the battery in their advance, the company that had
remained in column to avoid the guns deploying into the line. Another
line of supports followed and behind them another. They went steadily
up the hill, the two scouts from the battery passing through them as
they galloped back. The subaltern thrilled with a sense of imminent
danger. As yet he had seen no shell burst. Now it was going to begin.
The howitzer battery still fired over the heads of the advancing troops.

Up and up went the first line. The subaltern watched it with a
throbbing heart. It opened its files as it went, and, when nearly
to the crest, broke into a steady run. It reached the summit. For
a moment it showed black against the sky. Now? Nothing. The line
disappeared over the hill. The second line mounted, doubled, showed
against the sky and instantly a crowd of smoke-puffs leaped into the
air above it. He saw tiny figures knocked all ways to the ground and
immediately afterwards a run of sharp crashes came to his ears. The
line disappeared over the hill, leaving behind figures that lay still
and figures that tried to crawl out of the way of the third line. He
watched them, fascinated, through his glasses. The third line advanced,
undaunted. The crowd of smoke-puffs broke out again ere it reached the
summit and continued while it passed. When it had gone, the subaltern
noted an increase in the number of prostrate figures. Behind him more
infantry collected in the field but no more advanced. The hostile
shrapnel continued to burst over an empty hill-side. Presently it
ceased. From the other side of the hill arose a furious, feverish
crackling, noticeable even in the general uproar. The battery waited
for it knew not what.

Slightly wounded men began to trickle down the hill-side. One passed
close to the subaltern, lurching unsteadily. He was bleeding profusely
from a wound in the head. He stopped, swaying from side to side, and
looked at the lieutenant with a glare of idiocy. "Hell," he said with
sombre simplicity, "Hell," and then went on without waiting for a
reply. The lieutenant was inexpressibly shocked. It made him feel ill.
He turned and saw the wounded man walking like one blind, hands out,
across the field. The one word, "Hell," rang in his ears. He nibbled at
another biscuit to steady his stomach. "Pretty rotten that," he said
to himself, striving to get rid of the sensation by classifying it.
"Rotten."

Then the orders came. The gun-teams dashed up and in a few moments
the battery was moving at speed to its left across the meadows. Its
route was a diagonal directed on the ridge. It went in all haste. Its
half-depleted wagons had been replaced by full ones from the first
lines. The subaltern felt that he was rushing towards a crisis. He was
strangely exhilarated as he galloped on towards a line of trees that
rose to the ridge at right angles. A gate showed in the line of trees
and beyond the gate a road. The battery slackened speed, dashed through
the gate, vehicle after vehicle, and turned to the right towards the
ridge. The road was narrow, walled with high hedges and overhanging
elms. It mounted to a shrub-filled notch on the height. There the
battery was halted. The half-filled wagons now composing the first
line drew into cover. The battery-commander and several men rode on.
The battery waited, screened by the wooded crest of the hill. From the
unseen landscape in front arose an appalling tumult of sound. It was
like the noise of a colossal conflagration; the roar of flames, and the
crackle of burning woodwork enormously magnified.

Suddenly the battery moved on again. Quickly it mounted the crest and
dipped down on the other side. Again a gate on the right hand and in
a moment the battery was racing at full speed across a stubble-field.
A hundred yards ahead galloped the commander. To their left was open
country, full of sound. Above them, over the ridge upon their right,
a run of sharp explosions broke out. The subaltern heard them without
heeding. He shouted encouragement to his men as they dashed across the
field, though his voice was scarcely audible to himself. He was in a
whirl of excitement. Life hung on every second.

"Halt!" The guns stopped, were unlimbered and reversed in an instant.
The teams raced back to cover. The wagons dashed up beside their guns.
Around them one or two shells burst harmlessly upon the ground, like
the first heavy raindrops which precede the storm. It broke. Overhead
the sky collapsed with a fearful crash. The subaltern saw a myriad
spouts of dust leap up from the stubble, saw his most trusted sergeant
fall like a sack across the gun-trail. There was another riving crash
overhead. The subaltern turned to hear an order megaphoned from the
sergeant-major at the end of the line. "Guns in Action--Just below
Church." He whipped out his glasses, focussed quickly for the church,
saw a row of pin-points of flame flicker along a hedge. A moment later
the air in front of him was shaken by a group of crashes, followed on
the instant by a long, high-pitched drone. In the middle of it he heard
the megaphone. "3350 yards--Corrector 140." The men worked desperately
at the guns, like sailors in a blinding storm. The shrapnel beat down
among them like hail, ringing on the shields. "Section Control." The
subaltern gave the order. "Fire!" The whole battery fired swiftly, his
guns among the first. He watched the distant hedge below the church
through his glasses, saw a crowd of smoke-puffs burst over it even
as the flame-points flickered again. He shouted an alteration of the
corrector and his voice was swallowed by the crash of the hostile
shells. Again the shrapnel droned, flicked up the dust around him. He
heeded it not. He saw a man roll over with a shell in his hands. He
sprang to him, seized the shell, thrust it into the breech without
the loss of a second. Rapidly the guns fired. Away to his right he
heard the quick detonations of the other guns and again the crash
of bursting shrapnel. He gazed again at the distant hedge. It was a
duel between that battery and his. Extinction was the portion of the
one which failed in speed and accuracy. With a savage thrill he saw
a high shaft of flame spout up behind the hedge. A shell--he claimed
it as his--had plumped into an ammunition wagon and exploded. Wrought
to fever-pitch, the artillery-men loaded and fired. A cloud of dust
hung about each gun, obscuring the view, stabbed every few seconds
by a sharp thrust of flame. Down the hill-side the smoke of shrapnel
which had burst too low drifted close to the ground like steam from a
passing locomotive. Away in the distance, along that hedge--the men
in the battery saw only that, were oblivious to all else--a cloud of
smoke gathered, grew thicker every instant. Under it the pin-points of
flame flickered with ever longer intervals between the flashes. Over
the battery on the hill the shrapnel burst with less and less of noise,
less and less of accuracy. The subaltern exulted. They were getting
the upper hand. He yelled stimulation to his men. His two guns fired
faster even than before, raining shells at the hedge. Suddenly he was
aware that the hostile shrapnel had ceased. Behind the hedge he saw a
cloud of dust arise. Their enemy was retiring at speed. He altered the
range, flung shells into the dust-cloud until it disappeared. "Battery
Control--Stand fast." The guns ceased fire.

The subaltern turned to look at what he believed to be the wreckage
of his battery. It was littered with dead and dying men. A wagon lay
on its side, was being righted as he looked at it. Men pulled away
a body from underneath. Every vehicle in the line, guns and wagons,
was pock-marked with splashes of lead. The shield of one gun had
been neatly perforated by a shell and the crew of that gun lay about
it as they had been dispersed by the explosion. Their clothes were
still on fire. The subaltern was staring stupidly at them when the
lieutenant who never carried cigarettes approached. He opened his
mouth to speak--no doubt to ask for another cigarette--when suddenly
his expression changed to a sickly smile and he pitched forward. The
subaltern turned round in a flash of savage anger. This was murder.
They had finished fighting----

"Infantry advancing across stream--1800 yards," came the stentorian
voice of the sergeant-major. The subaltern understood as he ran back
to his guns. It was to repel the infantry that they were there. The
duel with the other battery was merely an episode. He looked down into
the valley below him, saw that it was filled with little grey figures.
A stream bisected the mass. They were advancing quickly, in rushes,
apparently without opposition. Some of the foremost were lying down,
firing at the height. Below him, from origins that were hidden by a
fold of the ground, rose the noise of a fierce and sustained rifle
fire. The battery got to work again. Methodically, evenly, it sprayed
that advancing horde with shrapnel. Other batteries, invisible to them,
were helping, for a larger number of shells burst over the foe than
they accounted for. The vicious little puffs of smoke multiplied. The
subaltern watched their effect with cool, unemotional interest. It was
like striking into a mass of ants. Numbers sprawled; the multitude was
undiminished. He hurled his thunderbolts upon them like a god, himself
serenely unassailable. A half-contemptuous pity for them arose in him
but did not interfere with the exact performance of his duties. The men
at the guns laughed.

Suddenly, without warning, the air above him was riven with a triple
crash. The familiar drone followed, was blotted out by a second
violent detonation. Gusts of smoke blew across the sky. A hail of
shrapnel bullets kicked up the dust, pattered on the guns. His cap was
knocked from his head by an invisible hand. A man at the gun sprang
up, performed a grotesque parody of a dervish-dance, twirled with
outstretched arms, and collapsed. Another sat for a second with both
hands to his head and fell back. For a moment the service of the guns
was suspended. The subaltern ran towards it, shouting. The diminished
crew bent grimly to their task. The overhead crashes of the shrapnel
came down in one continuous detonation. The bullets rained down upon
them in heavy showers. The hostile artillery had got their range
exactly. Where were they? The subaltern searched the distance for
gun-flashes. He saw none. Their enemy was invisible, snugly tucked
away somewhere. It would have profited little to have discovered them.
His orders were to fire at the infantry and at the infantry his two
guns fired, as fast as depleted squads could serve them. The rest of
the battery fired likewise. He did not see how many guns were still in
action, could not spare a moment to look. His attention was held by the
swarm of advancing figures. The hail of shrapnel was an agony at the
back of his consciousness; he ignored it, resolutely.

Suddenly a horse pitched and rolled, kicking violently, at his feet. It
startled him. He had not seen it arrive. A man disengaged himself from
the struggling animal, stood up and shot it dead with his revolver. It
was the captain.

"In--command--at the infantry--section control--carry on," he panted,
and ran to his place at the end of the line.

The battery commander was killed then! The thought flashed across his
mind, was lost in the urgent business of the moment. He shortened
the range, altered the corrector, aiming at the nearer edge of the
approaching infantry. A moment later three or four men arrived at a
sprint and reported themselves. The subaltern heard without emotion
that more had started, would never arrive. He detailed them. The
discharges of the guns followed faster.

How long this phase lasted the subaltern never knew. Ordinary standards
of time could not measure that nightmare where he constantly shortened
the range, hurled unavailing thunders at an inexorably advancing
flood. He remembered the moment of agony when he saw that they were
running out of ammunition, the joyous relief when the first-line
ammunition-wagons raced up and stopped at the right hand of the
guns. Under a pall of smoke from the bursting shells he saw his
gun-crews dwindling, each man doing the work of two, of three. Once
a heavy explosion on the ground attracted his attention. It was the
commencement of a series. Choking fumes, now black, now yellowish,
drifted over him. A howitzer battery had joined their assailants, was
firing high explosive. Exasperated, he searched the distances for a
glimpse of the hostile guns. He saw no sign of them. They were being
overwhelmed, as they themselves had overwhelmed the battery he had not
seen, by foes whose concealment he could not even guess at.

Suddenly--how, he knew not--the word was passed to him: "In command."
He ran to the end of the line, found the sergeant-major crouching
behind the wagon-limber. Blood was running from a diagonal bullet-score
across his face. Close by were the bodies of his predecessors in
command.

"Four guns in action, sir," said the sergeant-major. "Brigade
commander's orders: 'Hold our ground.'"

"How long ago?" queried the subaltern.

"Some time," was the reply. "Not sure--but think the colonel and staff
are killed, sir."

The subaltern looked along the line of guns, frowned at the tiny groups
of gunners.

"Where's the observing party?"

"At the guns, sir."

"Rangetakers? Horseholders?" He had to shout to be heard in the
continuous crashing of the shells.

"At the guns. Every man in action, sir, except with the horses under
cover."

The subaltern took in the situation, glanced at the advancing infantry.
Despite the efforts of the battery the nearer of them had got close,
were now hidden by a fold in the ground. From that fold of ground came
a frenzy of rifle-fire and, he fancied, shouts and cries. With despair
in his heart, he determined to "hold his ground." Veiled in dust and
smoke his four guns fired irregularly but rapidly.

A tumult of noise broke out to his right, almost behind him.

"Outflanked?" he queried at the top of his voice. The sergeant-major
nodded.

At the same moment he saw a swarm of brown infantry come over the fold
of ground in front of him. Disaster followed disaster. A high-explosive
shell swallowed one of his precious guns with an awful explosion of
flame and smoke. A soot-faced man ran up and shouted to him that the
wagon-supply was all but exhausted. Only the gun-limbers remained. The
subaltern glanced at the defeated infantry surging towards them. His
jaw set hard with a fierce resolve.

"Call up the teams," he shouted.

The sergeant-major signalled to the hill. A moment later the limbers
were racing over the shell-swept field. The survivors of the battery
sighed with relief as they fired away their last shells.

       *       *       *       *       *

Far off upon a height the divisional artillery commander was watching
them through his glasses. "Why isn't that battery withdrawn?" he asked
irritably. He turned to give an order, then checked himself. "No, it's
too late," he said. He continued to watch them.

       *       *       *       *       *

The guns were limbered up in a storm of shells. The subaltern threw
himself upon a horse that came handy. The detachments waited for the
order to retire.

"The battery will _advance_--in line!--Gallop!" he yelled.

He spurred his horse straight for the infantry. Behind him his three
guns bumped and leaped over the inequalities of the stubble-field.
Onward they raced. They tore through the approaching infantry as
though they were mere phantoms, regardless of those that fell before
their rush. Overhead the shrapnel burst less frequently. They hurled
themselves down into a depression and up again on the rise of a little
ridge. One or two brown soldiers were lying prone on it and firing
rapidly.

"Halt!--Action front!--At the infantry!--Point blank!" yelled the
subaltern.

In front were the grey-uniformed soldiers, swarms of them, not a
hundred yards away, rushing on them with gleaming bayonets. Working
like madmen, the artillery-men reversed the guns, loaded, aimed,
fired. Again and again the guns spoke. The squads worked like men
doomed, anxious only to take toll for their own lives. The shells, set
to zero, burst almost at the muzzles of the guns. Their bullets tore
through the groups of infantrymen, mowed them down. They seemed to melt
away. Behind him the subaltern heard a loud cheer. The beaten infantry
were being rallied, led again to the attack.

In front of his guns the enemy surged forward, only to be swept away.
Hesitation was manifest among them. Men turned and ran back. The
rearward movement spread. He exulted in their confusion. As his guns
fired their last rounds, a line of brown infantry rushed past them
with a mighty shout, their bayonets levelled at the charge. The grey
infantry broke and fled.

The subaltern looked round, wiping the acrid smoke-grit from his eyes.
Behind him, down the hill-side where his battery had fought, masses of
brown infantry were advancing. The tide had turned.

       *       *       *       *       *

Far away, the divisional artillery commander took his glasses from his
eyes. "By G--d! that chap's saved 'em!" he said. He wrote out an order
and despatched it.

       *       *       *       *       *

The subaltern stood by his line of silent guns, watching the fight
roll away from him. He felt atrociously hungry and thirsty. His
water-bottle was empty. He felt for the biscuits in his pocket.
There was not one. He wiped his hand across his mouth and there
was biscuit-dust upon the back of it. Then he cursed in bitter
disappointment. He could not forgive himself for having eaten those
biscuits, as it were in his sleep.

Presently an order came and he drew the remnant of his battery out of
action.



PRO PATRIA


In the dark of the autumn evening the rearguard drew itself wearily
through the silent village. To a column of infantrymen, dusty,
dejected, haggard, with rifles held indifferently on the shoulder,
at the trail, or tucked under the arm, succeeded a procession of
miscellaneous vehicles--ambulances, army-wagons, brick-carts, gigs,
anything that would roll on wheels it seemed. Some of these vehicles
were loaded high with goods whose nature was hidden by the bulging
tarpaulins stretched tightly over them, but the majority held only
men who sat up listlessly, swaying with every jolt of the vehicle,
dull-eyed, mournful, and silent. The faces of most of them were
partially masked by bandages that passed at varying angles across their
heads. Others nursed an arm in a sling; some were apparently undamaged.
These were the slightly hurt. Here and there in the long train, a head,
swathed like that of an antique corpse, raised itself from the depths
of a wagon and peered over the side, striking a note of suffering
which found no repercussion in the men, fatigued beyond sensibility,
who marched by the wheels. After a longer or shorter space those
heads relapsed again out of sight, sinking without murmur or gesture,
in hopeless resignation. These vehicles bore the wreckage of the
army, swept up by the retreating rearguard which cleared the road of
everything that could afford an indication to the enemy of the nature
of the force in front.

Behind the lugubrious procession a battery moved at the walk. The
animals that drew the guns were lean and spiritless; many were lame,
and the coats of all were dull with dust and sweat. Most of the teams
were short of their proper tale of horses. The guns, limbers, and
wagons were likewise thick with dust, and where this dust was not
it could be seen that they were scored and pock-marked by shrapnel
bullets. A professional eye looking at those guns as they passed would
have remarked that the breech and muzzle covers had been removed, were
strapped to the front of the shields. They were ready for instant
action, yet many of the men who served them swayed in sleep upon their
seats on limber or wagon. The countenances of all were grimed with
dirt, channelled by dried rivulets of sweat and moisture from eyes
irritated by acrid fumes. They looked like men who had been fighting
a conflagration. They passed, guns and wagons, and after them came a
squadron of cavalrymen sitting limply upon wearied horses. Another
long column of infantry followed, and, immediately upon its heels, an
endless cavalcade of horsemen. All, infantry, convoy, artillery, and
cavalry, moved onwards steadily, without hurry and without halts, at a
pace that had evidently long ago become automatic.

The houses between which they passed were silent, deserted, for the
most part boarded up. No face looked out of any window, no light
glimmered in any interior, no smoke came from any chimney. At the door
of the only inn a couple of cavalrymen stood by their horses, sentries
posted to deter the thirsty straggler. Some of the men in the column
looked yearningly at the houses as they passed, imagining the joys
of sleep and food; the majority plodded onwards mechanically in the
failing light. All, perhaps, seeing the village, had dallied with the
idea of bivouac. To their disappointment had succeeded a despair of
ever halting. The officers by the side of their companies urged them
forward with monotonous voices, aware themselves of the uselessness of
their efforts. The infantry was marching at its best pace. Nevertheless
as the column drew out of the village its speed spontaneously
increased. A rumour had spread along it from end to end. They had given
the enemy the slip.

The last cavalrymen, left at the entrance of the village until the
column should have cleared it, passed along the street, turning in
their saddles to look at the empty road behind them. The sentries at
the inn mounted and trotted quickly forward to rejoin their ranks.
The last man passed out of sight. The village street seemed strangely
empty in the absence of the floods of men that had been pouring through
it, with but little interruption, for many hours. Only the rhythmic
tramp of the infantry upon the road, pulsating through the air like
the audible systole and diastole of some mighty heart, and fading with
every moment, remained like a reminiscence of the army. Presently that,
too, ceased. Silence brooded over the houses whose outlines were
rapidly blurring with the oncoming night, a silence broken only by the
melancholy ululations of an owl that ventured to scour the deserted
street.

That owl was baulked of its stoop by a sudden human utterance in a
Cockney voice.

"It's all right, Bill--they've gone."

The figure of a man was dimly defined in the doorway of one of the
cottages. He turned to answer a question.

"Yus. The 'ole bloomin' lot. Rearguard an' all."

The figure in the doorway was joined by another from the dark interior
of the cottage, and the pair slunk cautiously into the street and
looked up and down.

"We've done it, Sam," said the man addressed as Bill.

"Yus," replied Sam, peering around him under a frown from heavy brows.
"Now for that public--me ole Gawd-lummy ain't 'ad nothin' in it fer a
week."

"'Struth!" said Bill, stretching himself. "I ain't 'arf stiff wiv
standin' in that poky little cupboard."

"Not so stiff as those poor blighters 'll be to-night," said Sam, with
a thought of his marching comrades. "Now--right wheel! March! An'
see that you've got a cartridge in yer rifle," he added in a tone of
authority. It was evident that he was the leading spirit.

There was the metallic click of a cartridge inserted into the breech
and then both men crept furtively in the shadow of the cottages towards
the inn. The hanging sign of the house was silhouetted black against
the sky just above their heads, when Sam stopped suddenly, pointing his
rifle into the gloom.

"'Alt! 'Oo goes there?" he cried; under his breath he blasphemed
rapidly, ferociously; the blasphemy of a man whose nerves are chaos,
his speech-centres out of control. A shadowy figure moved in the
darkness. "'Ands up--or I fire!" shouted Sam, the menace rising harshly
out of his muttered vituperation.

A pitiful voice replied from the obscurity. Its panic expressed itself
in a thin rising inflection that became almost a squeal.

"Don't shoot!--don't shoot!"

"Come out into the road," commanded Sam. "Cover 'im, Bill," he added.

The figure obeyed, was now slightly more visible against the light
reflected from the white road.

"What are you doin' 'ere?" asked Sam.

The voice became rapid in nervous explanation.

"I'm lame--got lamed miles back there--I was 'urryin' to rejoin my
regiment----"

"I _don't_ think," said Sam sternly. "You're a bloomin' deserter,
that's wot you are."

"Oh, chuck it, Sam!" said Bill suddenly. "More the merrier! Let's get
into this bloomin' public--I'm fair parched for a drink. Come along,
matey--don't take no notice of 'im. You didn't 'arf give us a scare,
though, my word!" he added, as he moved towards the door of the inn.

The third man, however, persisted in justifying himself in a querulous,
tearful voice.

"I tell yer I got lamed--I ain't no deserter--I just couldn't keep
up--there's a piece of skin off my foot as big as yer 'and--I'll show
it yer if yer don't believe me----"

"Oh, chuck it," said Sam irritably, giving him an uninviting
march-route for his foot. "'Elp us to knock this blighted door in!"

The three of them kicked and shouldered against the inn door without
result. The locks held firm.

"'Ere, stand clear," said Sam, grasping his rifle by the muzzle. He
swung it about his head and brought it down against the door with a
heavy crash. Bill imitated him, swinging his reversed rifle like a
sledgehammer in a manner that bespoke the ex-navvy. The third man's
efforts were swifter if less effective. The noise of their blows
sounded terribly loud in the hush of that dead village, so loud that
once or twice they paused, frightened, their ears alert for answering
sound. None came and they resumed their attack. The door commenced to
splinter and to crack upon its hinges. Collectively they threw their
whole weight against it in sudden impact. It gave way and the three of
them followed it in a heap.

They struggled to their feet, cursing, and someone struck a match. It
was Sam. The others followed the dim illumination into the interior.
There was an exclamation of joyful surprise and then the match went
out. The exclamation was renewed as Sam struck another and lit a
hanging oil-lamp.

"Gawd blimy if they ain't left it for us!"

They were in a small room at the back of the bar. A long table filled
most of the space, and on that table stood a large joint of beef,
several loaves of bread, and one or two pewter tankards. A number of
plates each containing food and crossed at odd angles by knife and fork
told a story that the overturned chairs about the room corroborated.

"Left in a blamed 'urry," said Bill, picking up one of the tankards.
"Fancy leavin' the beer!"

The third man pushed past him eagerly and sprang at the table, clawing
at the food. He almost wept. "Two days--I ain't 'ad nuffink fer two
days, mates," he whimpered between huge mouthfuls. He went on cramming
himself with everything he could reach, uttering the while inarticulate
cries of satisfaction that sounded like sobs.

The others were rivalled but not surpassed in this gastronomical
performance. Less excitedly, they also were eating enormously. For
long minutes the three men sat at the table under the hanging lamp
without uttering a word. They fed like famished animals at a trough.
As their hunger grew less fierce, however, the two comrades looked
up and exchanged appraising glances with their new companion. He was
a little fellow, with a cunning face and an ill-shaped head that
needed no criminologist to class it. Petty rogue was stamped on him.
The metal letters and number on the shoulder-strap of his dirty and
ragged uniform showed that he, like themselves, belonged to a Cockney
battalion. The two comrades were burly fellows of the navvy type,
full-bodied, full-faced, narrow in the brows, powerful in the arms.
Distress, the utter lack of work, had probably forced them into one of
the new regiments. The little man, with equal probability, had enlisted
for similar reasons and had found escape not so easy as he expected.

At last, replete, they desisted from their orgy of victuals. Bill
stretched his legs and looked good-humouredly at his comrade.

"This ain't better than the army, I don't think!" he opined, qualifying
the army by an epithet which in its circumstances was not inappropriate.

"Curse the army!" replied Sam, frowning from under his heavy sandy
brows. He shivered with the commencement of digestion. "Light the fire,
Bill," he commanded brutally. "And you," he added, turning to the
little man, "go an' get some more beer--an' don't drink any or I'll
smash your bloomin' 'ead in!"

Bill, always in awe of his friend, had already commenced to obey, but
the little man was not yet broken to Sam's discipline.

"'Ere!--'Oo are you orderin' about?" he expostulated in his thin,
aggrieved voice. Then he dodged quickly to escape a flying tankard.
With a frightened glance at the burly tyrant, he hastened out, jug in
hand.

When he returned, he deposited several packets of tobacco on the table
and pushed them towards Sam. "Thought per'aps you'd be wantin' some,
mate," he said humbly. "There's a 'ole barrel o' beer in the bar. If
'e'd 'elp me, I could get it in 'ere."

"Go and 'elp 'im, Bill," ordered Sam, pocketing the tobacco.

The two men rolled in the barrel of beer and hoisted it onto the table.
Then, with full tankards handy and their pipes smoking like factory
chimneys, the trio pulled their chairs up to the fire.

"Curse the army, I say!" said Sam in a challenging voice, apropos of
nothing. He had been staring moodily at the crackling logs. "I want to
get back to my wife an' kids."

"'Ear,'ear!" said Bill, raising his tankard before he drained it.
"Curse the----army!"

"Chins!" said the little man. The proposal was drunk unanimously.

"I'm fed up with it," continued Sam, still in his mood of heavy
reflection, "abso-bloomin'-lutely fed up! Marchin' 'ere, marchin'
there, march all day, march all night; w'en you do stop, nothin' to
eat; march back w'ere you come from, then right about face and march
ag'in till you don't know w'ere you are. I joined the bloomin' army to
fight, not to go on a blighted walkin'-tour!"

"Fight!" chimed in the little man. "You ought to 'a' been wiv us the
other day! Talk about fightin'! Our company fought three thousand on
'em for hours an' hours--all alone. We killed 'undreds of 'em, me
an' about a dozen others, till we 'ad to retreat. That's wot I calls
fightin'!"

"Is it?" sneered Sam. "You wos one o' that picket guard wot run away
from a cow, you mean. Fightin'! That ain't fightin'--bein' shot at
by swine you can't see. I ain't 'ad a sight o' one on 'em yet, not
one--an' yesterday forty men of our company was killed w'ere we laid in
a 'tater-field. Ain't that so, Bill?"

"Forty-two," corrected Bill, "an' you couldn't find some of 'em after
the shell 'ad 'it 'em."

"That's it," continued Sam, "shells! Shells plumpin' down and chokin'
yer, shells over'ead as if the sky was breakin' in and droppin' down
in bullets. Shells! That's wot I can't stand--bein' 'it on the back of
the 'ead w'en you're lyin' down an' takin' cover accordin' to orders.
It fair got on my nerves--all day, shells, shells, shells, an' not a
mouthful to eat, an' then, at the end, right about face, quick march,
we're beat. Beat! We'll see if we get beat! No,--it's just bloomin'
silly--they march us orf our feet for a week just to make us a target
for their damn artillery and then tell us we're licked and 'ave got
to march back double-quick. I'm fed up wiv it. I've chucked the blank
army. Chucked it, d'yer 'ear?" he turned savagely on the little man.

"You're right, mate," said the little man, standing up to refill his
tankard at the barrel. "So 've I. W'y should we fight? That's wot I
arsks yer. We're the pore workin'-man--we ain't got no property,"
he developed the manner of a street-corner orator, and thumped his
tankard on the table. "We ain't got no stake in the country. Let
them as 'as got a stake in the country fight for it, says I. Not get
a pore _h_onest workin'-man to go an' do it for 'em. 'Tain't right,
mates. That's w'y I chucked the bloomin' army, I don't mind tellin'
yer--because I felt it wasn't right! I'm a _h_onest workin'-man an' I
don't believe in war."

"'Ear, 'ear," said Bill sleepily.

"Chuck it!" commented Sam unsympathetically, regarding the hands of the
orator. "You a workin'-man! You ain't never done a day's work in yer
life, unless you calls work pickin' pockets at the races. I don't want
no Socialism--an' I don't want no war, neither. I wants to get back to
my missus an' the kids an' a regular job."

"'Ear, 'ear," said Bill. "Wot price the Ole Kent Road on a Saturday
night, Sam?"

"That's wot I was thinkin'. Is to-night Saturday, Bill?"

"Cursed if I know," was the reply. "I've lost count."

Sam sat gloomily looking into the fire. In his brain was a vision of
the great thoroughfare, lined with naphtha flares, thronged with people
who clustered about the stalls, here and there the blaze of lights upon
the white-and-gold façade of a picture-palace, the yellowish radiance
of a public-house. He visualised it now, distant from it, as the
rustic looks back to his village, sentimentally. There the incidents,
commonplace enough, sordid even, which had made his life something
individual to himself, had linked themselves one by one.

"Bill," he said huskily, "if I saw those blank foreigners marchin' up
the Ole Kent Road, I'd go for 'em--if there wasn't a man to 'elp me."

"'Ear, 'ear!" said Bill. "So would I."

"I've got a bit o' skirt meself wot lives just off the Ole Kent Road,"
said the third man in a tone of reminiscence. "Let's 'ave some more
beer. I say," he remarked suddenly, having refilled his mug, "if the
army comes back it'll be a fair cop for us, won't it?"

"I ain't goin' back," said Sam sturdily, still gazing into the fire.
"I'm fed up--and w'en I'm fed up I'm fed up."

Bill had wakened at the suggestion.

"But s'pose they come back, Sam? Wot'll we do?"

The third man interposed.

"'Tain't wot we'll do. It's wot they'll do. They'll shoot us, by
Gawd they will!" Panic came into his sharp little white face. He was
desperately in earnest. "They'll shoot every man of us!"

"_They_ won't come back," said Sam.

"Ho! Won't they? And 'aven't they countermarched before? W'y--I 'eard
an officer say only this afternoon that they'd be 'avin' another go at
'em to-morrow."

"Did yer, really?" asked Bill, now thoroughly frightened.

"'Strue as I stand 'ere!--'We'll march back quick an' catch 'em,' 'e
said," the little man invented rapidly. "An officer in the cavalry, it
was. Staff-officer, shudn't wonder."

"Oh, my Gawd!" cried Bill, his beer-muddled faculties dispersing before
a gale of fear. "'Ere, Sam--I'm orf! Come on! You brought me into this,
yer know--I didn't want to desert. I told yer so, lots o' times--an'
now!--Come on!--I ain't goin' to stop 'ere to get shot!"

"'Arf a mo!" said the little man. "'Tain't no good runnin' orf in that
uniform. Wot we've got to do is to find some togs. Then if they comes
back we're just _h_onest rustics, see?"

Sam stood up. The sudden panic of his companions had communicated
itself to his slower brain. He also trembled at the prospect of
recapture.

"That's the ticket, mate. You've got it. You're a smart little cove.
Wot's yer name?" This, he implied, was condescension.

"Hoswald--Hoswald Smiff--my farver was a toff, a flash cove, 'e was.
Come on, mates--there's sure to be some togs upstairs--shudn't wonder
if they've left some dibs be'ind 'em, too."

"They left the beer, anyway," said Bill. His tone implied that people
who left beer would leave anything.

Rather unsteadily, the trio ascended the steep and narrow stairs of the
inn. Sam carried a lighted candle which Oswald Smith had found in the
kitchen. A disappointment awaited them. In every room the drawers stood
open, empty, their contents carried off. The trio swore in harmony
and in fugues. They cursed with the pointless fluency of drunken men
baulked of an intention. Then they lurched downstairs again.

"Wot'll we do now?" asked Bill, his face pale with fright. "They'll be
on us before morning, sure!"

"Certain!" said Oswald.

"I ain't goin' back," said Sam doggedly. "I'm fed up." He stood and
tried to think, his mind harassed by the necessity for a disguise
which had been suggested to it.

Bill drank deeply from his tankard and, in the middle of the draught,
was visited by a brilliant idea.

"I know," he cried. "Let's cut the letters orf our uniforms. They won't
be able to tell w'ere we come from an' we can make up some yarn--say we
found 'em--'ad our own togs pinched by the soldiers."

The others seized on the suggestion. To their alcoholised brains the
plan seemed more than feasible; it was certain of success. Feverishly
and clumsily they ripped the regimental letters from each other's
uniforms and cast them into the fire. The identification labels,
everything which could point to their connection with the army,
followed. They stood, anonymous it seemed to them, in their stripped
khaki.

"That's done wiv," said Sam, with a heavy sigh. "Let's 'ave some more
beer."

Joyous now, their minds relieved of the fear of recapture, the trio
refilled their tankards and their pipes. They settled themselves again.

"I say, mates," said Oswald, "ever 'eard the yarn of the bloke
'oo----?" He told the story and, ere the noisy laughter which greeted
the end had died away, began another. He revealed himself as a fellow
of rare social qualities. His repertory of anecdotes, many of them
relating shady episodes of his own career, was inexhaustible. On his
own confession he was a sharper or worse; the humour of his experiences
the eternal humour of the sharp-witted clown and the dull policeman.
He diversified his entertainment with comic songs rendered with more
verve than elegance. Bill obliged with others of a sentimental nature.
They drank beer and more beer. They bellowed out choruses whose rhythm
was marked by the heavy beating of tankards upon the table and laughed
and shouted as though they sat at a "free-and-easy" in the Old Kent
Road. The fire blazed up the chimney, fed by chairs demolished one
after another. Such merry men as they could not condescend to the
fetching of fuel. The room was thick with tobacco-smoke. On the floor
little lakes of beer communicated by a rivulet whose source was the
spigot of the barrel. The three men gave themselves up to a roaring
orgy. They forgot entirely the army which was marching away from them,
the other army which approached.

At last, in an atmosphere heavy with debauch, they slumbered, three
worthless soldiers of whom any army was well rid.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sam was awakened from a muddled dream of a tenement near the Old Kent
Road by a rough hand upon his shoulder and the sound of a peremptory
voice.

"All-ri', Bill," he murmured, "revalley 'asn't sounded yet." Then he
opened his eyes, tried to orientate himself in his surroundings. It
was morning. He was in an unfamiliar room and the room was filled with
unfamiliar men, dressed in a strange uniform. His shoulder was again
roughly shaken. The voice, uttering words foreign to him, but whose
meaning was not in doubt, spoke again. A strange stern face was thrust
close to his. Sam got on his feet, still bewildered. Immediately he
felt his arm firmly grasped. His companions were undergoing similar
treatment. At the sight of them, the incidents of the previous night
returned to his memory. Recapture? He was reassured by the foreign
incomprehensible language about him. He would give himself up
comfortable as a prisoner. His dangers were over.

Oswald was in the grasp of two stalwart captors, the frightened eyes
in his cunning little face looking up wildly into their unemotional
countenances. Bill, who had slid with his head under a chair in the
stupor which followed their orgy, was less easy to awaken. The strange
soldiers kicked him liberally, eliciting sleepy curses but scarce a
movement.

Sam could not repress a grin; Bill's morning recall to the sorrows of
this waking world was usually made in this manner.

Then he was pushed on by a firm, unrelenting hand which reminded him
vividly of that of a policeman. As he was propelled through the door he
had a glimpse of Bill being hoisted bodily on to his feet by several of
the strange soldiers. Behind him, Oswald was asking imploring questions
in his thin expostulating voice. They received no reply. The trio were
pushed swiftly, inexorably, into the street.

Outside in the bright sunshine they perceived that the village was
full of cavalrymen garbed in an unfamiliar uniform. Their position
was obvious. They had been captured by the enemy's advance-guard.
Just without the door they were halted and the danger of any movement
was explained to them in dumb show by a soldier who allowed them a
disconcerting view down the muzzle of a rifle.

In front of the inn was a rustic bench and table, occupied at the
moment by a big, fair-moustached man who bent over a map. Around him
a group of officers stood waiting in respectful attitudes. Presently
the fair-moustached man looked up and said a few words to one of
the officers. He had a good-humoured, smiling face, that man. The
trio contemplated it anxiously and drew some comfort from its jovial
appearance.

Sam turned to his companions.

"Mates," he said huskily, "we're copped. But mind, we don't know
nuffink. We ain't goin' to give the boys away, are we?"

"No, Sam," replied Bill, even more huskily. "Wot'll they do to us,
d'yer think?"

"Nuffink," was the answer. "We're soldiers--they don't shoot prisoners."

Oswald drew a long breath of relief at this. Sam looked at him sharply.

"Mind--not a word, you little skunk--or I'll bash yer 'ead in."

"All right, mate," said Oswald. "I ain't goin' to peach."

The good-humoured officer on the bench spoke a couple of sharp words.
Immediately the prisoners were pushed in front of him. A pair of very
blue eyes looked over them, seemed to smile at them, they thought and
hoped.

"What are you?" he asked sharply in English.

"Soldiers, sir," replied Sam quickly. Not very confident of the
discretion of his companions, he was anxious to make himself the
spokesman of the party.

"Indeed? What corps?"

The blue eyes smiled on Sam. He felt them dangerously fascinating.
It was with an effort that he kept himself from a reply and remained
silent. His dull faculties were desperately on the defensive.

"What corps?"

No answer.

The officer drew out a heavy gold watch. He smiled outright at them.

"I give you five minutes. If you do not reply, you will be shot against
that wall."

"We're soldiers--prisoners of war, sir," said Sam. "You can't shoot
prisoners of war."

"Indeed!" The blue eyes above the fair moustache looked innocently
amused. "You call yourselves soldiers--to what corps do you belong? To
what regiment? Where are your shoulder-straps?" He got angry suddenly.
"Tell me at once what regiments--what time they passed here, or you go
against that wall!"

Sam set his teeth and went pale. The consequences of their anonymity
became plain to him. He met the eyes of the quick-witted little Cockney
rogue. The cunning, ill-shaped face was lit with a feverish excitement.

"Don't yer see, mate?" he whispered eagerly. "Our chaps 'ave give 'em
the slip. 'E wants to find out wot corps passed through 'ere----"

"Silence!--Answer, you!"

The fascinating blue eyes looked at Sam, almost mesmerised him.

"We're soldiers--prisoners o' war," he repeated doggedly.

"Soldiers! Soldiers without regiments--without corps! Prove it then, my
man. Quick! I have no time to waste. Where are your shoulder-straps?
Your identification papers?"

The trio remained silent. The officer adopted a more cajoling tone.

"Come, come, my man. You don't want to throw your lives away on a
trifle. I am willing to treat you as prisoners of war if you prove to
me that you are soldiers. Tell me your regiments."

The trio stood in stubborn silence, the ex-navvies rather sheepish, the
Cockney rogue watching the questioner with quick and knowing eyes. "No?
Then you are spies." He turned to his men and uttered a brief order,
pointing to Sam.

On the instant the ex-navvy found himself pushed with his back against
the wall, looking into a grim row of rifle-barrels. The squad that
menaced him stood equably waiting the word of command. The officer
rose, walked across to him and smiled in his face. Once more he drew
out his watch.

"One minute," he said pleasantly. "One minute to prove that you are a
soldier and no spy."

Sam stood as erect as suddenly enfeebled knees would let him. He felt
the bricks of the wall pushing against his back in the instinctive
retreat of his body from the imminent danger. His eyes were fixed on
the officer who stood calmly regarding his watch. He felt sick and
dizzy and very cold. He shivered as in a mantle of ice. His mouth went
dry. The panic-stricken part of his brain began an attempt to count the
seconds without any revolt at the stubborn decision of his directing
self. One, two, three--twenty--thirty--the minute seemed endlessly
long. He moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue, striving
desperately to bring himself to speech in the fraction of time which
remained to him. He succeeded.

His voice came raucously, an agonised appeal.

"Mates!--Remember--the Ole Kent Road!"

The officer uttered a sharp sound and the windows shook with the loud
report of the rifles. In a thin haze of smoke, the prisoners saw Sam
lurch forward, his arms outstretched, swaying on his toes for one
ghastly moment ere he pitched.

The officer calmly replaced his watch and brushed past Oswald. He
seized Bill by the arm.

"You!" he said, with that sudden and disconcerting anger of his. "Will
you speak?"

Bill stood sheepishly staring at him.

"The Ole Kent Road--'Ome!" he mumbled to himself. Relentless hands
pushed him against the wall. At his feet lay Sam, a dark pool forming
under him.

"Will you speak?" vociferated the officer.

"'Ome," mumbled Bill. "'Ome!--Oh, Gawd!"

He ignored the demand--seemed not to hear it.

The officer, exasperated, stamped upon the gravel. Again he uttered the
sharp order, again the windows shook. Bill slid down the wall with his
head on his breast.

The officer turned to the survivor, the petty rogue, nurtured
fatherless in a London slum. "Now, my man," he said cheerfully. "You
see I am not to be trifled with. Come--tell me what corps passed
through here yesterday." He added with a smile of contempt, "These
scruples are absurd in a deserter."

A cunning grin came over Oswald's face.

"Yah!" he said. "Deserter, am I? So I am, but I ain't goin' to peach
on my pals. They've give yer the slip right enough--an' yer knows it.
Yah!" He finished with an ugly grimace.

A moment later, he also stood with his back to the wall.

"Yah!" he cried, and grinned as at some private joke.

The rifles spoke and he spun and fell. In his pocket was the officer's
gold watch.

At the foot of a bullet-marked wall lay three worthless soldiers. Far
away, a beaten army, lost for the nonce in the fog of war, rallied
itself without molestation for another struggle.



NERVES!


A heavy north-east gale was setting with a flowing tide into the River
Ems. Out at sea dark grey rainclouds blew raggedly over a background
but little lighter in colour. The distant sea stretched away, cheerless
and leaden, to a horizon that was whelmed in a grey mist where the
elements met, indistinguishable. The nearer waters broke in a confused
turmoil of white-caps on either hand. A heavy swell rolled dark between
these shoals. Up the estuary a blur of dirty brown smoke, rising from
behind a line of bleak sand-dunes, smudged the sagging sky. It rose
from the little town of Emden, round the corner. A couple of tall
posts, wireless "aerials," stood out black against the smoke.

In the river, just off the low sandy point, lay a long, four-funnelled
cruiser. In the heavy rain-squalls which swallowed her every few
minutes she looked like a thing of mist, so well did the grey of her
hull and superstructure blend with the grey of sea and sky. She pitched
slowly and gently at the taut-stretched cables of her bow anchors, her
nose pointed seawards towards the incoming tide. From her steam-pipes
the white vapour which issued, deafeningly stridulant, was torn
violently away in horizontal pennons. At her peak a small flag blew out
stiffly. At her stern, the ensign--black rectangular cross on white,
centred with the crowned eagle and quartered with a small black cross
upon the national colours, black, white and red--flattened itself out
in the wind with loud claps as the gale half-released it for a second
and then seized upon it again.

To and fro upon her navigating bridge the oilskin-clad officer of the
watch paced restlessly. Under his sou'-wester, anxious, strained eyes
peered from a haggard face whose weather-beaten brow was paled to an
unhealthy yellow. Up and down he went, but never for a moment did he
take those anxious eyes from the dark channel ahead of the ship's bows.
The look-outs, posted at each end of the bridge close behind the canvas
"dodger," gazed with equal fixity towards the sea. On their faces the
same tension, the same evidence of sleepless nights, was visible.
Behind them, in a wheelhouse from which the glass panels had been
removed, stood a couple of quartermasters. Stiffly motionless behind
the steering telemotor they conversed in low nervous voices. The hands
of one of them, a giant of a man, shook continuously as he held them
pendent against his thighs.

A blue-uniformed officer with gold bands across his cuffs appeared upon
the bridge and approached the lieutenant. They saluted each other with
a friendly nod after the formal fingers to the brow.

"Any orders yet, Herr Leutnant?" asked the new-comer. He was a heavily
built man with a bluish nose that bent birdlike from between protruding
eyes. He worried continually with thumb and finger at a ragged grey
moustache. He followed the lieutenant to a position in the centre of
the bridge.

"We start directly," said the navigating lieutenant in a weary voice.
"When the Herr Kapitän returns."

Both stared silently down at the roof of the conning-tower just below
them, and at the two long guns which emerged from the turret in front
of it. The open manhole in the conning-tower vitalised the familiar
objects with a touch of grim expectation.

"Ach!" said the engineer at last gloomily. "It is perhaps better--I
cannot sleep here--I cannot read."

"Sleep!" echoed the lieutenant. "I have not slept for a week. I see
always those cursed destroyers slipping through the mist--I see them
when I close my eyes--I see them when I am on duty--I know no longer
whether I see them or not--and worse than the destroyers----" he broke
off suddenly.

"Ach, ja," said the engineer, "you have had a bad time--but you can at
least see the danger coming--sometimes, down there, I begin to imagine
things--I have not let myself imagine, Herr Leutnant--I have read the
sublime words of Zarathustra--I could always read them--but now I can,
no longer. How long have we been here, Bielefeld?" he finished abruptly.

"Four days."

"Ach so! I thought it was a week--what days!"

"Jawohl!"

The two men fell silent again, staring at the sea. Once the lieutenant
made a quick movement of alarm, whipped out his binoculars, and gazed
into the grey distance. He put them back after some minutes without a
word. On the whole ship was no other sound than the strident rasp of
the escaping steam and the drone of the gale through the wind-tautened
stays.

The engineer spoke again.

"What does Borkum say?"

"Enemy disappeared into the offing--could not keep their stations in
this weather."

"It is our chance, then."

"Yes--perhaps."

"You fear----?"

"Everything--in this rat-trap. The picket-boats are all in. If only we
could start!"

"Jawohl--anything is better than this--besides, the movement of the
engines is soothing--this stillness day after day is unnerving. If only
we had some good Welsh coal! This soft stuff! One burns and burns and
gets no heat!"

"And advertise ourselves to every cursed scout in the North Sea!"

A sailor, heavy in oilskins, drew up and saluted.

"The Herr Kapitän is coming, Herr Leutnant."

The engineer disappeared. His friend went to the starboard rail of the
bridge and looked over. A motor-boat was approaching in a smother of
flying spray.

A boatswain's whistle shrilled loudly. A minute later the captain came
up the ladder onto the bridge, shaking the water from his oilskins like
a wet dog and dabbing at his square reddish beard with a handkerchief.
The lieutenant saluted, searching his commander's face for a hint of
the orders he bore. The captain's eyes were hard, the eyes of a man who
had been contemplating desperate possibilities. His bluish lips cut in
a thin straight line across his beard. He spoke curtly.

"Get the starboard anchor up. Tell the Herr Stabs-Ingenieur I wish to
speak to him."

He went heavily into the wheelhouse and bent over the chart. Outside,
the lieutenant blew his whistle and shouted an order. An instant
later the shrill piping of the boatswain repeated the call. There was
a scurry of men along the deck towards the bows and the clank of a
capstan hauling in the heavy chain.

The staff-engineer stood in conversation with the captain. In
the low murmur of their voices certain words were emphasised by
repetition--"Knots--this coal--revolutions--coal." The captain nodded.

"Do your best," he said briefly.

"We make a dash for it?" queried the engineer. Still he worried at his
ragged moustache and the protruding eyes above his beaklike nose moved
with little quick stares like a frightened bird.

The captain smiled grimly.

"We rejoin the fleet--while we can--those are the orders. We will do
our best and God be with us--do you find that maxim in Zarathustra,
Herr Wollenmetz?"

The engineer shrugged his shoulders.

"Ach! I know no longer, Herr Kapitän--anything is better than
this--anything!"

"We start at once," said the captain and went out onto the bridge
without more words. The ship's bugler saluted and stood stiffly to
attention as he emerged.

"Battle stations!" said the captain.

The howl of the gale in the rigging was lost in the sternly joyous
run of brazen notes, taken up and repeated all over the vessel. For a
minute or two the erstwhile deserted decks swarmed with hurrying men.
They disappeared rapidly into turrets, fighting-tops, fire-control
stations or stood, alert, behind the unprotected anti-torpedo guns.

There was a buzz of excited voices which would not easily be hushed.
At last the never-diminished tension of four long days of inaction was
broken. They were going to move, to do something. No longer were they
to lie there, waiting, waiting, while perhaps at any minute destruction
was creeping stealthily towards them under the surface of the water.
They forgot the wearing vigils of the previous weeks at sea, the
unrelieved strain of watching the horizon for a grey spot in daytime
or a blur closer at hand in the obscurity of the night. They forgot
the awful minutes which dragged out, heavy with their lives, as they
approached an unknown ship, forgot the paralysing uncertainty when the
wireless began on its mysterious message, reporting her. They forgot
the night alarms, the perpetual dodging of the hostile cruisers, the
chases and the escapes and the last fierce pursuit, which had driven
them, all but out of coal, behind the shelter of Borkum Island. The
memory of these things was blotted out by the nerve-sapping suspense
of the past four days, while they waited for a chance to elude the
hostile cruisers watching for them in the offing. Now they experienced
the gladness of a release as from an untangible but none the less
close prison. Nevertheless, all of this emotional and mental strain
was marked in eyes dark-rimmed and faces that had grown thinner. The
alacrity of their movements now was not the alacrity of men who leap,
calm-souled and confident, to test their strength in a crisis; it was
the fussiness of neurotics who are glad to translate their nerve force
into physical action as an escape from the barren travail of their
brains.

Volumes of black smoke rolled heavily from the four funnels of the
cruiser, were blown rapidly by the gale in one thick all-obliterating
mist towards the low shores. An engine-room telegraph clanged harshly
while the port anchor, dripping black mud, came slowly up to the
hawse-hole. Again the telegraph clanged. There was a flurry in the
water astern, and the long grey cruiser commenced to move along the
dark fairway into the stormy grey of the autumn afternoon.

Quickly she got into her stride. On the port bow the island of Borkum
was beginning to loom up just distinguishable through the driving
scud. The wireless was talking with it. Borkum reported with steady
regularity: "No enemy in sight." The cruiser hurried down the eastern
branch of the Ems, meeting a heavy swell that rolled darkly towards
her to be divided into two thin translucent curtains of water poised
like wings on either side of her bows. The shoals to port and starboard
glimmered away into the distance, wide stretches of running, leaping,
jostling white-caps. The water under their lee showed an ugly, dirty
yellow that contrasted with the black waves of the channel. On the
bridge the navigating lieutenant still peered anxiously into the veiled
horizon. Every now and then he glanced back at the welter of black
smoke issuing from their funnels and muttered fluent curses that were
the perverted expression of the prayer in his heart. Behind him stood
the captain and the commander, conversing in the intervals of raising
their binoculars to their eyes.

At every minute a message from the wireless room was brought to the
captain. Borkum was still talking. Suddenly the tenor of its messages
changed. "Two British cruisers passing the minefield in the Western
Ems." A moment later Emden reported three submarines at the fork of
the channel behind. The captain smiled grimly. He could not now go
back, but apparently he had given his warders the slip. He went to
the engine-room telephone and spoke a few words to the chief. In
answer the masses of black smoke from the funnels rolled out even
more densely than before. The curtains of flying water at the bows
rose a little higher and remained at the elevation. Borkum announced:
"Mines evidently swept or damaged--cruisers untouched." In fact, in
slight lulls of the gale, slow dull booms were audible to leeward. The
batteries on the island were firing. The captain turned and laughed
with the commander. The situation could not be more favourable. They
had as good as escaped.

A few long minutes and they had reached the open sea. Borkum was a
grey blur on their port quarter, the land to the east of them passed
into invisibility. Here they felt the full force of the gale. The
cruiser nosed into great waves that leaped green above the bows and
fell with a heavy thud upon the deck. She endeavoured to combine a
steady roll with violent pitching, and the officers on the bridge
clutched at the rail with one hand while with the other they pressed
their glasses hard against their eyes. The veils of driving mist which
swept continuously across the waters might hide a menace that would
loom up at any instant as destruction. Suddenly a telephone bell rang
in the wheelhouse behind them. A man ran out, saluted and reported:

"Submarine right ahead--about 1000 metres."

The message came from an observing station on the foremast. The three
officers on the bridge searched the sea in front of them with their
binoculars. Yes! No! Yes! The navigating lieutenant saw a flitting
patch of foam on the dark sea, a splash in the air as a wave lifted.
He recognised it instantly as a periscope cutting through the water,
coming straight towards them. They must shoot--shoot at once! He turned
to his superiors. The captain had already shouted one order, was now
yelling instructions to the men at the port anti-torpedo guns. The
cruiser turned slightly to starboard. Onward drove the patch of foam,
aiming apparently at their side. The lieutenant felt his left hand
hurt him--it was the intensity of his nervous grip upon the rail.
Behind him he heard a sudden order, followed instantly by the sharp,
splitting report of the light guns. At the same moment the circle of
a conning-tower broke the surface of the sea, followed by a glistening
whale-back. As it emerged he saw it veiled in a sheet of flame, a film
of smoke. He had a glimpse of a great hole in the whale-back and then
the submarine dived nose foremost, kicking up her stern in the air as
she went. For one awful, ghastly second the lieutenant had a view of
the large initial in her conning-tower. It was U--Unterseeboot!--They
had sunk one of their own submarines!

He turned to see the face of his captain fixed in an expression of
horror. Everyone on the bridge was trembling. They had lost command
over themselves, and they knew it. No one spoke. With a fierce effort
of will the lieutenant pressed his glasses to his eyes, scanned
the horizon. What was that? He saw a dark spot rising and falling,
circling against the grey sky like a black gull wheeling in the gale.
It was a seaplane, daringly reconnoitring even in this weather. It
was discovery. Borkum confirmed the fear. "Cruisers turning back to
sea--difficult to range in this weather."

The guns' crews at the anti-torpedo armament had also seen the
aeroplane. A shot cracked out, automatically, without orders. The
captain, losing all control over his nerves after the last shock,
ran along the bridge to the port rail and excitedly ordered them to
continue. "Fire!" he shouted. "Fire! A hundred marks to the crew that
brings it down!" His face worked with an insane hatred, his voice was
the voice of a man out of himself. It seemed that he wished to revenge
his terrible mistake upon the aeroplane. Crack! Crack! Crack! went the
guns, while the men behind the rubber shoulder-pieces swore violent
oaths. The firing had continued for a couple of minutes or more when
the telephone bell rang again.

"The lieutenant in the observing station wishes to know what you are
firing at, Herr Kapitän!"

The captain was about to discharge a volley of oaths upon the man when
a sharp cry from the commander stopped him. The captain looked again
through his glasses. It was suddenly obvious to everybody that the
aeroplane was no aeroplane but in actual fact a wheeling gull.

"Cease fire, you--(objurgatory)--fools!" yelled the captain. In a
nervous rage he bit furiously at the red beard below his lip. "Tell the
Herr Leutnant Feldmann to keep a better look out!" he said savagely to
the messenger.

Eight bells sounded. The navigating lieutenant was relieved. He
descended from the bridge and stood for a moment in a warm spot in
the lee of the forward funnel, trying to achieve a yawn that kept
opening his mouth without filling his lungs. His blood, drugged with
fatigue-toxins, was in urgent need of more oxygen, but his overtaxed
nerves failed to synchronise the action of the muscles. His eyes burned
in his head. He stumbled down the companionway, rubbing at them, and
took off his dripping oilskins outside the wardroom door. His servant
appeared and was ordered to bring him a stiff tumbler of brandy. Then
he entered the empty wardroom and flung himself full length upon
a sofa. He tried to shut his eyes, but found himself obstinately
staring wide awake at a paint-blister on the bulkhead. Disconnected
thoughts--visions, rather, of craft of various types driving through
the gale passed through his brain. Especially the black dot of the
seaplane which was no seaplane danced before his eyes, maddening him
with its refusal to be banished. Behind a door in his consciousness
was the horror of the sunk submarine--he fought hard to keep that door
closed, and caught himself staring into it in intervals of relaxed
vigilance. He could not sleep, try as he would. Even the strong spirits
failed to narcotise him. If anything they spurred his harassed brain
into greater activity. He fretted for a drowsiness that would not come.
At last, with a curse, he rose and walked out of the wardroom.

Outside he stood for a moment, hesitating, craving for companionship
like a sick man who lies awake at night. He ran over the list of his
comrades at their battle stations. Then he made his way down to the
engine-room.

A stifling atmosphere, hot, damp and thick with the smell of oil,
assailed him as he descended the steep iron ladder. The sweat broke
out on his brow as he passed along a gloomy narrow corridor, just wide
enough for a man, between packed boiler-tubes ranged on both sides to
the roof like bottles in a wine merchant's vault. He emerged finally
into a large space, brilliant with electric light. On a platform at one
end stood the staff-engineer with some of his assistants, surrounded
by a formidable array of indicator-dials, telegraphs, telephones,
speaking-tubes, and other fittings of whose use he had but a vague
idea. The engineer still worried at his little grey moustache as he
gazed below him to where the turbines hummed in their casings. It was
comparatively quiet down here. Only a few men were visible, but the
lieutenant knew that a hundred or so were labouring fiercely in the
bowels of this mass of mechanism which gave the ship her life. From
a manhole at the other end of the engine-room a couple of men were
drawing out what seemed to be a corpse, its naked torso black as with
an explosion. It was a stoker who had collapsed. The staff-engineer
frowned as the limp body was carried off to the sick bay. He turned and
snarled irritably at the question of the lieutenant.

"250 revolutions and not a turn more can we get out of this
Gott-verfluchte coal. That is the tenth man in the last quarter of an
hour. There's no use in worrying us. We can do no more. Go and tell
that to the Herr Kapitän and leave us to our work."

"It seems clear in front, but there is a couple of cruisers somewhere
behind," observed the lieutenant in a placatory voice.

"I don't care if Hell's in front of us and the Devil himself behind!"
roared the engineer, losing self-control in the exasperation of his
nerves. "We should at least get something that would give some heat
there. _Gott sei dank!_ Do you know how many tons of this muck we are
burning per hour?" he finished savagely.

The lieutenant waited for the answer.

"Thirty tons per hour--and we are only getting 250 revolutions--go and
tell that to the Herr Kapitän!"

The lieutenant's own irritation was inflamed by this display of temper.

"We didn't supply the coal----"

The engineer overwhelmed him with a roar of curses, and finished with
an angry order to leave his engine-room. His bulging, birdlike eyes
glared with an insane hatred.

The lieutenant returned a bitter retort that had no justification in
fact and climbed up the ladders to the deck. There he stood swaying
for a moment or two, chilled to the bone by the change in temperature,
although he was on the lee side of the superstructure. Raindrops
splashed heavily upon him from above. The ship was plunging and rolling
more than ever, and he noticed the motion after the comparative quiet
below. The gale had evidently freshened. He shivered with cold and
half-turned to go below again. Then he changed his mind and stumbled
forward, slipping at every step on the wet, unstable deck.

In the forward turret was his friend Gunnery Lieutenant Arenschmidt.
He opened the steel door and entered. The narrow metal box into which
the breeches of two 8·2 guns protruded was lit by electric lamps
behind wire guards. It was filled with the crews of the two guns,
seated comfortably on the floor with their backs against the walls. In
the shell-bins at the top of the ammunition-hoists a projectile lay
ready for each gun. The gunnery lieutenant rose as his friend entered
and held out his hand with a smile. He was a jolly young man, this
lieutenant, whose manly beauty, marred though it was by a student
sabre-cut, fluttered many a female heart. He spoke now with all his
usual boisterous good-humour.

"Hallo, Bielefeld! Glad to see you! Giving them the slip after all?"

Despite the buoyancy of his tone the navigating-lieutenant noticed that
his lips trembled and that his eyes were deadly serious.

Ere any reply was possible, a bell rang sharply. The gunnery
lieutenant jumped away from his friend. The indicators from the
forward fire-control station marked a direction, an elevation and
a range. The navigating lieutenant stood back away from the alert
groups behind the breeches. He felt the floor turning with him while
the ship lurched heavily. A moment later he heard a muffled thud and
everything shook. The starboard gun had been fired. He heard the hiss
of the air-blast clearing the fumes from the firing-chamber, and then
the breech was swung open. The hydraulic chain-rammer, jointed like a
foot-rule, pushed another shell into place, followed by its charges.
The hoists rattled as another projectile came up in readiness. The
bell rang again. The crew at the port gun were suddenly busy. There
was another shock. What was happening? What were they firing at? The
navigating-lieutenant dashed out of the turret, closing the door
quickly behind him.

As he ran up the ladder to the bridge, he heard a roar in the air, and
a moment later a great sheet of flame leaped up just in front of the
forward funnel with a colossal detonation. The blast of the explosion
flung him to the deck. He picked himself up, bruised, dazed, but
uninjured, and looked for the enemy. The turret had swung its two guns
over to starboard, and as he followed their direction they discharged
with a couple of almost simultaneous reports. He steadied himself and
gazed hard into the distance. In the mist on the horizon he thought
he distinguished a long, low band of brownish smoke, and at one end
of it a dark spot and a tiny twinkle of flame. A minute later the
roar of heavy projectiles tearing through the air came to his ears.
Instinctively he flung himself flat upon the deck in the shelter of a
gun-turret of the starboard battery. The sharp, splitting report of the
gun in that turret was blotted out on the instant by a fearful upheaval
that leaped from the centre of the ship with such a blast of noise as
seemed to burst his ears. He had a glimpse, he knew not how, of a sheet
of lurid flame and of a mighty upspout of water on the ship's flank. In
the awful silence which ensued--a silence so profound that he wondered
if he were permanently deafened--he staggered to his feet. The turret
in front of him had been burst open, the gun protruded askew at a
curious angle. He gazed at it, motionless, as though rendered imbecile
with the shock. Then a chorus of agonised screams and shrieks came
from the turret and continued. He heard them with a sense of relief,
so terrible was that unbroken silence. Recovering his wits, he looked
about him. The second gun-shield of the starboard battery had also been
destroyed, the bridge was a hanging mass of contorted scrap-iron,
the wireless "aerials" streamed away to leeward in the gale. The two
forward funnels had disappeared and torrents of black smoke were
welling up from the level of the deck, obliterating everything. In
that smoke, tongues of fire licked upwards, whether from the furnaces
or from a conflagration he did not know. Automatically he began to
run towards the conning-tower. Without defining itself, the thought
that the captain should be informed of the state of affairs impelled
him. As he went he heard again the roar of projectiles. Again he flung
himself flat. This time the enemy was not so successful. A shell burst
somewhere on the fore-castle. The rest flung up spouts of water all
around that fell again with a heavy splash. An instant later he was
hammering at the lid of the manhole in the conning-tower.

The lid was unfastened from within. He pushed it aside and slid in,
feet foremost. The round steel box was filled with fumes. Through
them he perceived several bodies stretched out upon the floor. He
stumbled over one of them, and the handkerchief over the man's face
slipped aside. It was the commander. He heard the voice of one of the
gunnery-lieutenants at a telephone communicating with a fire-control
station, followed by rapid orders to the electricians turning the
handles of the range indicators. At another telephone a man was making
frantic but ineffectual efforts to get a reply from the wireless room.
A junior officer at the steering wheel gave him a slow strained grin,
almost like an expression of pain. The captain glared at him with eyes
in which there flamed a Berserk madness.

"Well!" he shouted, sticking his red beard into the lieutenant's face.

The navigating lieutenant gave his information, staggering with the
heavy lurches of the ship. It flashed on his mind while he spoke that
she no longer rose so buoyantly to the waves. The captain listened, his
face twitching insanely, puckering his fierce eyes. When the lieutenant
spoke of the blur of smoke on the horizon he sprang round and peered
out through the narrow slit between the wall and the roof. Then he
turned with a cry of panic.

"They are all round us! Starboard your helm! West-by-north-west!"

The ship came round on her new course with a wallowing roll. The
captain peered again through the observation slit.

Suddenly there was a fearful shock, a deafening roar, and the slit
was vividly illuminated. The conning-tower had been again struck. The
captain toppled backward on his heels, an object of sickening horror.
The top of his head was gone. The gunnery-lieutenant sank quietly to
his knees and slid over sideways. The officer at the helm was leaning
over the wheel, motionless and staring. A splinter had gone through
his brain. Lieutenant Bielefeld sprang to take his place. Three men
beside himself, rangetakers and electricians, were left alive in the
conning-tower. They seemed in a stupor, dazed by the shock.

"Telephone to Lieutenant von Waldkirch that he is now in command!"

An electrician roused himself, attempted to obey, and reported:

"The communications are broken, Herr Leutnant."

"One of you go and fetch him--he is in the after fire-control station."

A man wrenched at the lid of the manhole.

"It will not open, Herr Leutnant--it is jammed."

The lieutenant glanced at the observation slit. The aperture was no
longer regular. In front of him it gaped, behind him it was closed.

"So!--then we will carry on!" His face had gone deathly pale,
but his lips were tight-pressed. "Telephone to such guns as you
can--independent firing!" He himself leaned over to the voice-funnel
from the engine-room. "Wollenmetz!--Wollenmetz!"

The reply came in a gush of fluent curses, evidently roared with full
lung-power at the other end and terminating with: "What is it?"

"Are you all well down there?" shouted the lieutenant.

"All well! We have a shell in the engine-room, the men in the
forward stokeholds are all suffocated--and we have dropped to 100
revolutions--what is happening with you above? Tell me for God's sake!
It is hell here!"

"We carry on--_für Gott und Kaiser_!" yelled the lieutenant in reply.

At the helm, he kept the cruiser steadily on her new course. Every
moment he expected to feel the shock of more hits but none came.
Evidently they were getting out of range. It seemed curious with
the known lessening of the ship's speed, but there was the fact.
Encouraged, he shouted down the tube to the engine-room to get all the
speed they could. "We are running out of danger!" he added cheerfully.
"Find out what has happened to the ship if you can--all communications
are broken." For a long time he waited for a reply, but none came. His
shouts down the tube elicited no response. Thus isolated from the life
of the ship of which he was actually in command he kept on his course,
bearing every now and then a little more to the west in his fear of the
ships towards the north-east. How long he continued thus he could not
tell. Every now and then he glanced at the clock in front of him. It
marked always the same time. It was broken.

Rolling heavily, the cruiser ran onward, unmolested. The three men
began to converse cheerfully. The possibility of escape now seemed to
them a probability. The lieutenant also began to indulge the same hope,
but the whereabouts of the ship which had engaged them worried him.

Suddenly there was a terrific shock, another red illumination of the
slit at the top of the armour-wall, another tremendous roar. Two men
who had been leaning against the wall fell dead without a scratch. The
impact had killed them. The other man had sprung to the lid of the
manhole, was beating against it with his fists and screaming like a
maniac. Presently he sank down and hid his face in his hands, moaning
like a terror-stricken child. The lieutenant ignored him in an agony of
apprehension. Were they overtaken?

Outside, explosion followed explosion. The floor of the conning-tower
listed steeply to starboard, and with every lift and drop of the vessel
the bodies about his feet slid towards the wall. Suddenly, to his
horror, he saw a wisp of smoke issuing from the voice-tube leading to
the engine-room. What had happened? Had they stopped? As the ship dived
down a wave he tuned himself to sensitiveness. He felt the momentary
race of the screws threshing the air, just perceptible. Thank God, they
were still moving! The succession of detonations outside never ceased.
He could only guess at their effect and the direction from which the
projectiles came. Assuming the enemy to be still to starboard, he put
the helm hard over in a last despairing effort to run out of range. The
compass card whirled round in the wrong direction! The steering-gear
had gone.

The ship no longer rose to the seas. She rolled heavily from side
to side in the trough of the waves. The lieutenant looked around
helplessly at the bodies on the floor, at the wrecked indicators, at
the useless wheel, at the man who rocked to and fro with his head in
his hands. His continuous pitiful moaning exasperated the lieutenant
to madness. He drew his revolver and commanded him, with frenzied
vehemence, to be quiet. The man stared wildly at the muzzle of the
revolver, opened his mouth as though about to shriek, and collapsed in
a dead faint.

The lieutenant turned from him and went to the observation slit. As
the ship lifted clumsily sideways on a wave he had a view of a dark
grey cruiser driving through the mist, quite close--on the port side!
This was a new unsuspected enemy. Water was streaming from her decks
as she rose buoyantly on the sea. A string of flags fluttered along a
halyard from her mast. She seemed as normal as a ship on manoeuvres.
Suddenly half a dozen spurts of bright flame broke from her dark sides.
The lieutenant felt the ship under his feet shiver and stagger in a
deafening roar. Then he felt the weight of his body heavy against the
wall of the conning-tower. He was lying almost horizontal against
that wall. Through the slit he looked out upon confused water only,
in the place of sea and sky. A great wave rolled straight towards
him, splashed against the conning-tower, poured through the slit in a
torrent. He sprang back in pitch darkness, fighting with both hands in
a last instinctive struggle for life. The solid floor went from under
him, human hands clutched at his legs, blindly feeling up his trousers.
He kicked--choking--in a rayless night.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hull-down on the horizon a German battle-cruiser was reporting a
strange vessel that had suddenly appeared, challenged and received
her fire, and then run back into the midst of British cruisers which
had immediately sunk her. Emden sent disquieting answers to urgent
enquiries.

The great wireless station at Nauen received the news of another
inexplicable disaster.



THE AIR SCOUT (1914)


A large level meadow bit squarely into the edge of the woodland. The
centre of the space enclosed on three sides by trees as by a wall was
an empty stretch of turf, browned by much traffic and littered with
scraps of paper which are the inevitable deposit of any congregation
of human beings. The left-hand side was occupied by a neat row of
slate-grey motor-lorries. The right showed an equally neat array of
tents and sheds over which hung a faint film of wood-smoke. At regular
intervals along the third side a series of placards was affixed to the
tree-trunks, each exhibiting a conspicuous number like stands at a
cattle-show. The stands, however, were vacant. In front of the sheds
on the right stood a little group of men in khaki, and near them two
men in shirt and trousers were busy at a portable forge whence issued
the film of smoke. The hammer-strokes of those men were visible and
evidently delivered with force, yet, curiously enough, at a little
distance they appeared to fall in silence.

[This description must not be taken as representing the vastly
developed organization of the flying services to-day (1917). The
incident is, of course, quite imaginary. The story was written some
time before the war.]

A vast noise that came from beyond the wood swallowed all other sounds.
The drowsy air of the hot noon trembled with concussions so rapid that
they merged into one deep-throated, deafening roar. The field was the
aeroplane depot of the Army. The roar was the roar of the battle which
that Army was fighting.

Despite the apparent nearness of the strife, there was little of
military spectacle about the depot. At the corner of the wood a
squadron of dismounted troopers stood by their horses. A little further
back, along the rough lane which led into the field, a gun mounted on
a motor-lorry stuck its nose perpendicularly into the air. Three or
four men sat on the lorry in easy attitudes and one stood up, glasses
to his eyes, scanning the blue sky. The group of khaki-clad men paid no
more attention to them than they did to the battle-din which swelled
over the woodland. They were absorbed in contemplation of a large
curious-looking bush which stood a few yards in front of them.

A closer look at that bush revealed that it was artificial. It was,
in fact, a largish shed whose walls and roof were composed of green
boughs. Men were busy within it and a shaft of sunlight that penetrated
the leaves fell in a patch of gold upon some yellow fabric. The object
thus illuminated was the wing of a small, single-seater monoplane.

A little apart from the other members of the group a slightly-built
young fellow, garbed for the ascent, stood in earnest colloquy with
a tall, lean staff-officer. Behind them the others conversed in
tones just loud enough to be heard in the incessant roar. They were
discussing the disaster of the dawn.

The blow of the enemy had been terrible. The Army had been smitten in
its eyes. It was now only a blind giant striking at an adversary whose
vision was unimpaired. The entire air-squadron of the force, rising
from its harbourage at the break of day, had been suddenly assailed by
a superior fleet that dropped out of the clouds upon them. Watchers
from below had seen short lightning flashes stabbing the grey mist, had
heard a sharp outbreak of firing, had seen phantom aeroplanes rising,
circling, swooping, colliding in thin cloud, had seen the machines
one after another tumble and dive, lapped by flames, in a sickening
rush to earth. Not theirs alone now lay, crumpled and contorted masses
of scrap-iron, over the countryside, but of theirs none had escaped.
The rear of their battle-line was a picture that his scouts could
report upon at leisure. What lay at the rear of his? None knew, but
the vehemence of his fire told that he was pressing his advantage. The
presentiment of defeat lay heavy on the little group as they disputed
on the blame to be allotted for the catastrophe.

The staff-officer tugged impatiently at his little grey moustache.
His teeth champed at a bit of grass that was no longer there. In his
anxiety he had not noticed that it had fallen from his mouth.

"I wish those chaps would be quick," he said. "The General is most
anxious to have that flank cleared up."

"They are being quick, sir," replied the aviator, with a smile. His
keen, thoughtful face showed that he was not indifferent to the urgency
of the situation, but his calm mouth told of nerves that nothing
could shake. Within that green bower lay the one hope of the Army--its
lightest and swiftest monoplane, damaged in landing the day before, now
being repaired as fast as skilled hands could do the work.

"You quite understand, don't you?" said the staff-officer, repeating
himself for the tenth time. "The General thinks that a movement is in
progress against our right flank. A screen is extending there which
he cannot penetrate. If they are moving a large force round us he can
detach the Sixth Division to hold them, and with a massed attack he'll
crumple up their left centre which they must have weakened. He'll
repeat Salamanca, that's what he said--I don't know what happened at
Salamanca," he concluded irritably, "but anyway he daren't move a man
till he's sure. I wish your chaps would get finished." He looked up
into the air above him with a circling glance. "How many have they got
now?"

"Four, I make it," replied the aviator equably. "They had ten
yesterday. Five were smashed up this morning. One got winged an hour
ago."

At that moment a dirty and perspiring man came out of the bower and,
approaching them, saluted.

"Ready, sir," he said.

"Right. Get her out, then," said the aviator. "No! Wait!" His gaze had
gone up to the sky. "There he comes again."

"D--n!" said the staff-officer, staring upwards also.

High in the air an aeroplane was coming towards them, parallel with
their own battle-line. In the swollen roar of the conflict, the hum of
its engine was inaudible. It seemed to drift onward leisurely enough,
sinking slightly as it approached but well above effective gun-fire.
Tiny white dots of smoke that sprang into the air below it were a proof
of that. Slowly, as though making a careful examination, it passed
overhead. Suddenly it turned and dropped still lower, coming back
towards them. Something had awakened suspicion in the men up there.
The reason for that artificial bush became apparent. The staff-officer
gazed at the aeroplane, now rapidly enlarging itself in his vision, as
though mesmerised. Anxiety for that precious machine under the leaves
paralysed him.

The aviator had turned to look at the gun on the motor-lorry. The group
about it sat in quiet expectation. Its muzzle moved gently, came a
little out of the perpendicular. The aviator looked up again at the
machine drifting overhead. He heard a sudden heavy detonation on his
left and almost simultaneously he saw a bright flash appear in the
dark body of the aeroplane. The machine lurched, toppled, dived, and,
falling rapidly, turned bottom up in the air. A couple of dark figures
fell out, raced it in its rush to the ground. A long minute later it
struck the centre of the field. Flames burst out of a shapeless wreck.
The aviator did not heed it. He ran towards the bower.

"Quick!" he cried. "Get her out!"

Torn down by twenty pairs of eager hands, the bower fell apart. The
little monoplane was run out, lay like a dragon-fly resting lightly on
the earth.

The aviator climbed into his seat between the wings, sent a glance from
the compass to the map held open in its frame, saw that the message
bags were ready to his hand, tested the strap of the field-glasses
hanging from his neck with a sharp tug. He was ready. In front of him
two soldier mechanics stood holding the long blades of the tractor
screw. Over there, beyond the wood, the uproar of the battle mounted
in violent paroxysms each of which surpassed its predecessor. The tall
staff-officer approached and held out his hand.

"Good-bye--and good luck," he said, "and for Heaven's sake let us
know what's happening on that flank. Don't wait to get back--drop the
message." He looked at his watch. "It's now twelve--if we don't know
something within an hour it's all over with our chance. Can you manage
it?"

"I'll try, sir," said the aviator, checking the hour with a glance at
his own clock.

The staff-officer turned an anxious pair of eyes upward for a swift
look into the sky, seemed about to make a remark and then obviously
refrained. "Good luck!" was all he could trust himself to say.

The aviator smiled and nodded cheerfully. Then he ejaculated a sharp
order to the mechanics. They flung the blades of the tractor into
revolution. The machine, emitting a series of riflelike reports,
commenced to run across the field. The tractor became a blur.

The woodland appeared to rush towards him and then suddenly dropped
away in a diagonal underneath. His eyes on the dial of the barograph,
the aviator warped the machine round and set the planes to an acute
angle of elevation. Confident in the power of his engine he mounted
steeply in a spiral. The record on the dial rose with every second--100
feet--200--400. In two and a half minutes he had risen 1000 feet. He
cast a swift look below him. He was still over the field, had a glimpse
of a group of tiny figures clustered in front of the sheds. The rim of
the horizon came up, the earth fell into a great concavity. It was like
looking down into a vast bowl containing woods and fields and flattened
hills. From the bowl clouds of yellow-grey dust arose like smoke and
out of the dust came a multiplicity of heavy crashes that detached
themselves from a background of unceasing clatter mingled with one long
rolling thunderous roar.

It was but a hasty glance the aviator threw below him. Still mounting,
his eyes searched the blue air on a level with himself, above him. The
enemy's three machines where were they? Far off to his left a dark
speck hung in the sky. He watched it intently as his machine climbed.
It was a biplane. It appeared to be drifting away from him, engaged in
a reconnaissance of their left flank, he decided. At any rate as yet
they seemed not to have perceived him. The others were not visible. He
shot a glance at the barograph--3000 feet. He had been climbing for
five and a half minutes. Almost immediately he saw a trail of smoke
ascending with incredible velocity in the air a little below him to his
right. The trail finished abruptly in a vivid flash, a burst of white
smoke and a violent detonation. The monoplane rocked from side to side
in the sudden disturbance of the air but continued to climb. A second
later a similar trial ended in an explosion at a level with him on his
left. He saw a gash appear suddenly in the fabric of one of his planes,
and the needle of the barograph switch back 50 feet with a jerk. Then
the altitude record mounted again steadily--3250--3500--4000. The noise
of the battle diminished as he rose, dropped to a point where it was
all but obscured by the roar of his own engine. Below him the smoke
trails leaped up at him and burst viciously in vain.

Four thousand five hundred--he glanced at the hostile biplane to his
left and saw that it hung larger in the sky. Even in the moment for
which he watched it it dilated. It was approaching at top speed. He was
discovered, pursued. Instantly he turned off to his right and raced
across the battlefield in the direction of the threatening flank. As he
did so, he perceived another aeroplane rising from the enemy's lines.
It climbed swiftly in bold swoops and then shot off towards him in a
great upward slant. Two! Where was the third? He failed to discover it
and held on his course.

His direction was at an angle across the battlefield which took
him towards the enemy's left flank rather than to their own right.
As he sped over it, he looked down upon a broad miles-long belt of
yellow-grey dust that rose raggedly into the air, and was spotted with
an innumerable multitude of white puffs that renewed themselves as fast
as they were dissipated. In many places these puffs congregated thickly
and, as they broke, linked themselves with others until they floated
like little narrow clouds in the air below him. As he looked down into
the great concavity of the earth he seemed to be over some enormous
smoking fissure in a crater whose circumference was the horizon. The
rumble and roar which ascended from it assisted the illusion. Tiny
sparks of flame darted and flickered in the fumes of that inferno, and
here and there flashed a number of glittering points, the reflection of
the sun from advancing bayonets. To distinguish men was impossible, but
in occasional rifts in the dust curtain he could make out brown patches
of varying size, and, over to his left, on the enemy's side, similar
though darker patches.

He could permit himself no sustained scrutiny of the scene below him
for the management of the machine began to claim all his attention.
Even at that great height above the battle, the air on that windless
day, shaken and riven by the unceasing concussions of the massed
artillery of two armies, was full of flaws. The needle of the barograph
flickered, oscillated violently in leaps to and fro. The monoplane,
tilted dangerously, now on one side, now on the other, in eddies of the
tortured atmosphere, slid downward dizzily ere it could be brought up
to climb a bank of air. It needed strong arms at the controls, a quick
brain and nerves of perfect tone to keep her upon the appointed course.
Glancing back, the aviator saw that the flight of the nearer of the two
hostile machines, the one which had risen from the enemy's lines and
was now approaching him on his left, was similarly erratic.

An overpowering heat, as from a vast open furnace, arose from the
battlefield below. It was the heat from thousands of explosions,
renewed incessantly and sustained over many hours. Stifling gusts
blew on to the aviator's face, carrying with them a peculiar smell of
burning cloth. With these gusts the roar of the battle seemed to leap
up to him. The air was oppressive despite the speed at which he clove
it, highly charged with electricity, heavy with the menace of a storm.
Yet no cloud broke the monotony of the blue sky. The machine raced
onward, was now crossing the battle lines of the enemy's left flank.

Suddenly he heard a faint rattle behind him. The hostile aeroplane,
realising that it had failed to head him off, was firing furiously.
He felt the machine shiver under a quick succession of hard raps.
Instinctively, he pressed upon his accelerator, and, with a touch on
the warping lever, the machine shot forward at terrific speed. The raps
ceased. He turned his head and saw his enemy rapidly diminish in size
behind him, saw that the other aeroplane, the one he had seen first,
had fallen far in rear. A confident smile came on the tight lips of the
aviator. He could outpace them both.

He was now above the enemy's left flank--a little to the right of the
spot that the Commander-in-Chief had designated as the object of his
possible attack. The scout switched off his engine and commenced to
drop along a slant towards the centre of the enemy's position. With the
sudden silencing of his engine the roar of the battle came up at him
in a crash and stayed there. He glanced at the time--12.13--and gave
himself a limit of two minutes in which to reconnoitre. For the moment
he ignored his adversaries in the air. As he gazed down through the
transparent panel between his feet, his glasses to his eyes, the ground
that slid away under him appeared to be subjected to a constantly
increasing magnification. Fields, houses, roads grew momentarily more
distinct. Without taking his gaze from the scene below the aviator
checked the drop of his machine and drove forward. Quickly his trained
eye took in the details of the ground, the position and approximate
numbers of the men that he saw massed in dark patches here and there.
Over a long stretch of the position the enemy's line was obviously
thinner. The country behind it was empty of troops. The General's
intuition was correct. The enemy had weakened his left centre. Point
Number One was settled. Now what had he done with the troops he had
withdrawn?

As the aviator turned his machine to reconnoitre in the new direction,
he was surprised to see the hostile aeroplane between him and his
objective. Absorbed in his scrutiny of the ground, he had all but
forgotten it. It was slightly higher than himself and about half a mile
distant. He could not carry out his reconnaissance without coming into
fatal proximity to its machine-gun, and he could not return directly
over the battle lines without passing between the crossed fires of this
and the other machine now drawing close. Even as the realisation of his
position flashed on him, a narrow slit appeared in one of his planes.
The nearer of his foes was already firing.

Quicker than thought he turned and raced off into the country behind
the battle. A plan, the only one with a possible chance of success,
had sprung into his mind. He had no intention of failing in this
all-important mission of his. But first he must get out of the range
of that deadly machine-gun. He dared not rise across it at barely
half a mile range. At full speed he raced away, inclining his machine
downwards. The hostile aeroplane followed, depressing her course
likewise, to get him into the zone of her fire or to force him to the
ground. The scout's speedometer registered 100 miles an hour. Beneath
his feet he had glimpses of trees and houses and fields flitting past
in a stream where salient features prolonged themselves into long
blurred lines. They looked oddly large after the altitude at which he
had been contemplating them. He threw a glance over his shoulder at his
pursuers. The nearer was now rather more than a mile away. The other
had apparently given up the chase. The clock showed 12.15; in less
than two minutes he distanced his adversary by nearly a mile--he had
therefore a superiority in speed of about twenty-five miles per hour.
He did not consciously deduce this result. His trained mind working
with incomputable swiftness under the stimulant of imminent danger
gave the result like an intuition. His plan presented itself to him
completely formed. At this distance he could risk the danger zone of
the machine-gun for the few moments he would be in it. He swerved his
machine upward and climbed steeply. In a minute the other aeroplane was
level with him; beneath him. The scout rose along a slant, slowing
down his engine until his pace was almost equal to that of the machine
below. Both rose steadily.

The battle din ceased altogether behind him. He flew in the seeming
silence of the roar of his own engine and the deeper bass of the
other machine, just audible, below. He bent forward over his map and
picked out his approximate position. Then he noted a village some
twenty miles in rear of the battle, and drew an imaginary line from it
south-westward to the enemy's left flank. That village was to serve
as turning-point. He should reach it, he calculated, at 12.27. The
barograph indicated 3000 feet and still rising.

12.25--the scout bent his eyes on the ground. A couple of minutes later
a handful of white cottages flitted past as he looked down between his
feet. His enemy could not be seen. The body of the monoplane hid him as
he flew below and slightly in rear, but the roar of his engine, louder
than the scout's own, could just be heard.

Now was the time--the scout turned off abruptly at a tangent along the
line he had marked out for himself and drove his engine at its fastest.
The speedometer needle oscillated over 101 miles an hour. He calculated
that he had approximately twenty miles to go ere he reached the patch
of country he wished to explore. He should reach the commencement of
the enemy's left flank at 12.39, and be able to spend six minutes in
flying over five miles of ground and then have a couple of minutes in
hand. To the trained intellect behind his keen eyes six minutes were
amply sufficient. Having run along the left flank it was simplicity
itself to turn to the right and glide down into his own lines. There
seemed nothing to stop him. The pursuing machine was being quickly left
behind. The slow biplane now far off to his right could not possibly
arrive in time. The sky in front was clear of any menace.

Again he began to draw close to the great belt of dust-cloud which
stretched out to his right and again the din of battle began to
overpower the roar of his engine. Directly ahead was a dark mass of
woodland. It was from thence that the enemy's screen around the right
flank of the scout's army commenced. He swerved slightly to the left,
behind it. The hour was a second or two over 12.38.

Below him was a network of country roads, and from four strands of that
network which ran in an approximately parallel direction, coincident
with his own course, arose long dense clouds of dust. It was the dust
of marching columns. The scout shot a glance back at his pursuer,
assured himself that it was five or six miles in rear, and slowed down
his engine as he entered upon a long, gradual descent over the route of
those marching columns.

For mile after mile on those four roads the dust cloud continued.
The scout checked off the distances by villages on his map. Adding
the length of the four roads together he estimated that about twenty
miles of road was occupied by the marching force. It was a whole army
corps, then, that was endeavouring to turn their flank. In the open
fields between the roads he could distinguish small bodies of cavalry
advancing in the same direction. The mass on the roads was certainly
infantry, broken here and there by long columns of artillery. The low
dense clouds of dust kicked up by the tramp of thousands of feet were
cut into short sections where the guns and wagons of the batteries
rolled onward. From a rough calculation of those intersected clouds
he decided that four brigades of artillery were on the march. He had
descended now to 2000 feet, and he kept at that height as he roared
over the plodding columns. Behind him his pursuer had lessened the
distance between them, was getting dangerously close. The biplane on
his right was also approaching. Nevertheless, the scout held on his way
comfortably. There was nothing to prevent him carrying out his plan.

He was already well beyond the prolongation of his own army's line of
battle when he reached the head of the marching infantry. Contrary to
his expectation, however, they were not wheeling to the right. They
continued straight on, marching away from the battle, it seemed. The
scout was puzzled for a moment. He searched the ground in front of him
for more troops. It was apparently empty. Then, from a fold in the
landscape considerably ahead, he saw another, smaller dust cloud arise.
At his highest speed he raced towards it, overtook it in less than
a minute. Below him a cavalry brigade, accompanied by two batteries
of horse artillery, was trotting sharply forward. What was their
objective? He scanned the country in front of them intently. Some three
miles ahead of the cavalry was a wooded hill. He picked it out on the
map, saw instantly that it commanded the main avenue of retreat of his
army. The enemy's plan was clear. He would occupy it with the cavalry
and the two batteries until the infantry got up. The threatened army,
then attacked in flank and rear, would find its retreat cut off. If
the scout's commander was aiming to repeat Salamanca, the enemy was
endeavouring to repeat Jackson's march at Chancellorsville. The danger
was pressing. The scout reckoned that within half an hour the hostile
cavalry would be in possession of that hill. In an hour the infantry
would begin to come up in support. Where was the Sixth Division that he
had been told would check the flank movement of the enemy? He searched
for it, saw a brown mass about two miles from the wooded hill. Its
cavalry might get there in a quarter of an hour by a rapid dash. He had
then a quarter of an hour to deliver his message and get the division
set in motion. The hour was 12.46.

He wheeled towards his own line and commenced a downward glide at a
gentle angle. Then, taking his hands from the controls, he rapidly
wrote down a clear concise statement of the case in his report book.
Even if he did not reach earth, his message might. He glanced up to
see that his indefatigable pursuer was now swooping down to cut him
off. Moments were precious. He ripped out the page, thrust it into the
weighted message bag and tied it up. Then he started his engine again,
aiming for the brown mass of the Sixth Division.

Something made him look to his left. He was startled to see a large
biplane rushing up at him from the direction of the wooded hill. It
had evidently descended to effect some repairs and had lain hidden
far behind his own line. He recognised it at once. It was by far the
swiftest and most powerful machine possessed by either army. On his
present course a few seconds would bring him within range of its
machine-gun. To his right the other machine was rapidly growing larger.
In front, the slow biplane had sailed over the battle lines, was
heading straight for him. The three machines were converging on him.
The scout saw that he would either be forced away from the battle or
destroyed, his message undelivered in either case.

He swerved his machine and climbed. If only he could get above the
Sixth Division for an instant, he would throw over the message-bag,
chance its being picked up. To do that it was necessary to get higher.
On his present or a lower level he would be riddled with machine-gun
bullets. His adversaries on either hand rose also, but he got the lead
of them.

As they rose in circles he watched for his opportunity when both should
be turned away from him. The moment came. He seized it and dived,
with his engine running at full speed. The earth rushed upwards, its
features enlarging themselves as though they swelled to burst. The
brown mass of the Sixth Division spaced itself out into battalions,
squadrons, below him, in front. They were exactly underneath. He flung
out the message-bag, with something like a prayer in his heart. On
either hand his adversaries were swooping down upon him. He thought
he heard the rattle of their machine-guns, but in the roar of his own
engine he could not be sure.

Down and still down the three machines rushed. Suddenly he noticed the
slow biplane in front--on an even lower level than himself. It was very
close. He saw the pale dot of the face of the man behind the gun. If
he swerved he would be under its fire in a moment. If he kept on his
course he must crash into it. His decision was instant, instinctive. He
held on. One thought dominated him as he dived straight at it. Had his
message been picked up? If not----? He saw the gleaming backs of the
outstretched plane almost under him. He set his teeth for the impact. A
second more--the wide stretch of yellow canvas suddenly jerked to the
left and crumpled in a blinding flash. He had not touched. He swerved
to the right with all his force in the tiniest fraction of a second and
shot past something that fell, flaming.... A shell from below had hit
the biplane at the moment almost of collision.

He had a confused sense of other shells exploding in the air. A battery
was seizing its chance to get the enemy's aircraft in a cluster,
regardless of the danger to him. He continued his rush downward,
feeling rather than knowing that the other two machines were in close
pursuit. If he could only be certain that his message had been picked
up!

He flung a glance back over his shoulder. The powerful biplane that had
risen from behind the wooded hill was close upon him. Why did they not
fire? He felt himself a target, was surprised not to see the gash of
bullets on his machine. The explanation flashed on him. The gun had
jammed. The biplane came at him as though it were itself a projectile.
Its crew had desperately resolved to ram him, to sacrifice themselves
rather than to allow him to bring his precious information to the
ground. They were almost upon him. He swerved and dodged. The biplane
shot past.

Immediately he saw the other machine close upon him, saw a spurt of
fire from the muzzle of its gun. He dived. A belt of trees rushed
up at him, fearfully close. Their dark foliage seemed to break into
puffs of black smoke over his eyes. He swerved instinctively, saw a
meadow burst through the dark smoke, fly skyward in a mist of blood.
With a last desperate effort he banked. His hands slid from the
controls--everything swam. He was vaguely conscious of a heavy impact
from underneath----

Something was burning his throat--he opened his eyes, gazed into a
man's face close to his. Consciousness came back in a rush. He pushed
away the brandy flask that was being pressed against his teeth and
struggled to his feet. Strong arms supported him. Several men were
round him, looking at him. He was close to a road, and along that road
he thought he saw batteries of artillery galloping at full speed.
He was not certain of their reality. They passed like phantoms in
his vision, wavering up and down. He wanted to do something--to ask
something--what was it? He all but fixed the elusive thought--and lost
it. His hand felt for the duplicate report-book in his pocket--his
desire was connected with that. The report-book had gone. Then a
fragment of his intangible preoccupation floated, visible as it were,
in his brain. He clutched at it.

"What--what guns are those?" he asked thickly.

"Divisional artillery--Sixth Division," came the reply. "All right. We
got your message."

The scout put his hand to his brow and then, dropping it, stared at it
stupidly. It was red.

"All right," said the voice. "You're hit--but not seriously. Lie down."

The scout collected all his faculties in an attempt to bring out one
more thought from the obscurity which filled his brain.

"What--what time--now?" he asked.

"Just one o'clock." The voice appeared to recede to an enormous
distance, although he felt the speaker's face close to his. "They're in
time--don't worry. Lie down. The ambulances are coming in a minute or
two."

The scout stood obstinately.

"The--the other--machines?"

"Bagged 'em both. You came down beautifully--like a kite." The voice
sounded from worlds away.

The aviator put his hand to his head.

"In time!" He breathed the words rather than spoke them. They came like
the sigh of a man utterly spent.

The man who had been supporting him turned round with a jump and
focussed his binoculars on the wooded hill. A crowd of white puffs was
breaking out in the air above it.

The scout, left unattended, swayed with hands stretched out like a
blind man. The field whirled round and round suddenly with a fearful
rapidity and then rushed up and struck him.

The man with the binoculars ignored his prone body.

"Beat 'em on the post!" he shouted in joyous excitement. "By the Lord!
Beat 'em on the post!"



KULTUR (1915)


The subaltern commanding this section of the trench sat in a hunched
position in the narrow corridor of earth topped with sandbags. His
knees drawn up to serve as a support for the writing-pad, he wrote
quickly between long pauses when he bit the end of his pencil and
stared reflectively at the brown clay wall some two feet in front of
his nose. At his side a man stood, bent and motionless, peering into
the lower end of a long box, very narrow in proportion to its length,
which he held against the side of the trench so that the other end just
rose above the wall of sandbags. Further view down the trench in that
direction was barred by the traverse--the thick dividing-wall of earth
that would localise the effect of a shell-burst or a bomb. All was
quiet. The subaltern might have imagined that only he and the look-out
at his side remained buried in this flat landscape where once two
armies had flung fire and noise and steel at one another, hidden from
the sight of those who should have come to tell him that the war was
over and the armies stolen away. He did not so imagine. Ever present
to his mind was the parallel line of sandbags, some fifty yards away,
between him and which stretched a tangle of wire overgrown with rank
grasses and tufts of corn. That parallel line was the great permanent
fact in his existence. He knew it in its every aspect better than he
had ever previously known anything on this earth. Not a spot on that
apparently deserted wall might change without his being interested to
the quick. Even as he wrote, the feeling and the knowledge of it were
concrete in his brain, constraining him to this cramped attitude.

Since October this wall of his had fronted the other wall and now it
was June. For nine long months, through snow and rain and sunshine,
from the long nights to the long pitiless days, these two walls had
remained the same, sheltering the same lurking enmities though the
individuals who temporarily incarnated them came and went. Sometimes
ablaze with stabs of darting flame, erupting bombs lobbed with a
deceptive innocent slowness through the air, belching a mass of men
who ran and stumbled and fell in an infinite variety of ways--men who
shouted and who screamed so that their voices pierced the appalling
uproar; sometimes stretching blank across the fields in a deathly
stillness as to-day; their position had never altered. The quagmire
between them, criss-crossed with barbed wire, had grown up into a waste
of grass and nodding poppies that nearly hid what looked like bundles
of weather-stained old clothes whence came a sickening, all-pervading
smell. Behind each wall, hundreds of men had died or been carried
away, maimed and broken, a lifelong burden for some human heart. Not
a sandbag of those piled to make the parapet which sheltered the
subaltern, but might have had a man's name written on it in memoriam
of a life suddenly extinguished. The necrology of the opposing parapet
would have been as full.

In the hush which brooded over so much death--past and to come--a
pause, it would seem, where the overhanging invisible demon of war
reflected on its work--a mood of questioning, of revolt, came over the
subaltern as he scribbled his pencilled lines.

"On a quiet evening like this one cannot help moralising a little,"
he wrote, "wondering what it's all for and what we purchase with our
death. This constant murdering of individuals on both sides who commit
the crime of inadvertently showing an inch of head--how does this help
matters?" The sharp crack of a rifle somewhere along the trench caused
the officer to raise his head, listening with all his faculties at
strain. The look-out at his side did not stir, no report followed the
first, and he bent himself again to his letter. "I don't want to appear
squeamish, fine-stomached in this rough game, but I don't think I shall
ever be able to kill cold-bloodedly. I have been unfitted by long
centuries of culture----"

He was interrupted by the appearance of another officer, who squirmed
himself round the traverse with a pronounced stoop necessitated by his
uncommon tallness. The fair-moustached, boyish face of the new-comer
was radiant with glee.

"I say, Lennard!" he said impetuously. "Ripping luck! We've just bagged
Fritz! You heard the shot just now? Folwell, my sergeant, got him. Been
waiting for him for over an hour, without moving a muscle. Topping
chap, Folwell. All he said was, 'Married life don't seem to 'ave
spoilt my aim, sir.' You remember, he asked for leave to get married?"

Lennard abandoned his letter and lit a cigarette.

"I wonder whether Fritz was married," he said with a little malicious
smile, the ideas recently in possession of him firing a final shot in a
faint rearguard action with the returning everyday occupants.

"Well, that's one more nuisance abated."

"Rather!" said the other, seating himself and likewise lighting a
cigarette. "Fritz must have bagged not less than a dozen of our chaps,"
he calculated, gazing reflectively at the thin spiral of tobacco smoke
which ascended straight in the still evening air. "Well, he's gone,
thank the Lord! and we got Hans yesterday and Karl the day before. I
must have a pot at old Hermann. If we could bag him we might hope for a
quiet life."

Lennard nodded. Each one of the German snipers--if sufficiently lucky
to carry on his profession for a day or two--acquired an individuality
and a name. Hermann was an especially dangerous neighbour who lurked
somewhere in a ruined cottage that lay between the lines where they
bent away slightly from each other. He rarely fired except to kill, and
hid himself so well that not one of the numerous patrols sent out had
succeeded in discovering his lair.

The two subalterns chatted awhile over their cigarettes, while the red
gold of the western sky faded into rose. They talked of the little
incidents of mess and trench, magnified by their isolation from the
main stream of life, and then, harking back, of the things that once
had been so important to them in London town, and were now so dwindled
and remote. A year ago Lennard was a critic who was read, and Wilson,
the tall subaltern, a painter whose first success was hanging on the
line. Both were, or had been, highly polished products of what we
called, proudly, civilisation. As they talked the old scenes came back
to them, obliterating the present. At last Wilson rose, responsive to a
subtle inner sense of time measured, independent of his consciousness.

"Well, so long, old thing," he said, standing up and straightening his
tall form, fatigued with so much bending. The momentary forgetfulness
was fatal. On the instant a rifle cracked and the lanky subaltern
collapsed as though his knees had been knocked from under him.

"My God!" cried Lennard, limb-paralysed by this brutally tragic
reassertion of his environment. Trembling, his heart seeming to stop
and swell within him, he bent down to his friend. He touched mere
clothed flesh, heavy and inert, on which the flies had already settled.
They buzzed away, indignantly asserting their right of pasture. A
madness of anger at this wanton annihilation of a life that was
not just a dull living but an irradiation of the spirit, connoting
civilisation, highly conscious, swept over him. He burst into a torrent
of incoherent wrathful curses.

"That was 'Ermann, sir," said the observer at the periscope. "I spotted
the flash, in among them bricks."

Lennard rose, fiercely vengeful.

"Let me look. Where did you see the flash?"

"Three o'clock from that bit of greenstuff in the middle, sir,"
replied the man, ceding his place at the periscope. "You'll see a dark
spot--that's 'is loophole."

Lennard gazed down into the mirror of the instrument. There was just
light enough for him to pick up the spot indicated.

"Very good." He strode, with bent back, down the trench, muttering to
himself.

It was night when, rifle in hand, he swung himself nimbly over the
parapet. For some minutes he lay flat on the ground at the other side,
not moving an inch. Over his head the crack of rifles and the loud,
rapid hammer taps of the Maxims recommenced their fusillade against the
heap of bricks. From the first shade of dusk he had arranged that a
constant enfilading fire be kept up on the sniper's lurking-place. He
had no intention of letting Hermann slip away--yet.

He raised his head slightly, fixed his bearings in the gloom and then,
still prone, began to nip a way through the wire entanglements. A
German flare went up, dazzling with a ghastly light, too brilliant
for distinct vision. He lay motionless. As it descended and fizzled
out upon the ground he had a clear view of his course. He was aiming
at a point in front of the German wire, whence he could enfilade the
gap between the heap of bricks and the hostile parapet. Over his head
the hard, sharp cracks of his own men's fire followed one another
continuously. They would not cease for nearly fifteen minutes yet.
Meanwhile Hermann would be lying close. He cut and wrenched at the
wire and wriggled forward, grimly disdainful of the barbs that plucked
and tore his clothes.

Again and again a soaring German flare stopped his progress. Clearly,
this incessant fusillade was making the enemy nervous. At each
illumination he lay as if he were one of the bundles of old clothes
that occasionally he pushed against. The British parapet darted with
fire--awoke a sympathetic crackling somewhere to the right.

At last. He settled himself in a comfortable firing position, couched
in the long damp grass. An insect, unaware in its littleness of the
large death that whistled above its world, quitted a pendent blade,
explored his cheek.

Crack--crack--crack! the last British rifles ceased. There was an
instant's stillness, and then yet another flare shot up from the
suspicious German trench. It fell, sizzled--illuminating the ruins that
he watched with all his faculties focussed, all his nerves coming to a
point on his trigger finger--and then the world plunged into blackness.
There was silence and impenetrable darkness.

Minute after minute dragged slowly past in a dead hush. Finger on
trigger, every fibre tense, the prone figure waited. A primeval self
awoke in him--a savage who stalked and could indefinitely maintain his
ambush. His senses were as keen as though hyper-stimulated by some
strange drug. A grim, patient lust to kill reigned in him.

The minutes passed slowly, slowly. He looked to one of them, not yet
arrived, as to a term. When? He felt it approaching, concentrated to
a still acuter degree his attention. The trigger seemed to be pressing
against his finger. What was that? Surely something was moving there in
the gloom--by the ruin. Why did not the flare he had ordered go up? His
whole soul went out in a desperate prayer for it as he held his breath
and strove with baffled eyes against the darkness.

Suddenly the craved-for light shot up. Perception and trigger-pressure
were instantaneous with the flash of its discharge. A running, stooping
figure pitched headforemost before the stab of flame from the rifle.

Immediately a vicious fire from the German parapet answered this
impertinence. The slayer lay still as death, listening with painfully
acute perception to the ugly _phat!_ of bullets in the earth around
him. A bomb fell, burst with a deafening report and a blinding flash of
flame so close that he marvelled at his escape. By an effort of will he
choked down the cough that the fumes provoked.

Rifle-fire at night is infectious. A sporadic and probably harmless
duel sputtered up and down the trenches. At last a gun, way back
somewhere, sent over a shell, and, as though obedient to this protest
from their big brother, the rifles were silenced, one by one. The
opposing trenches again lay in darkness and quiet.

The subaltern, assuring himself that all was still, wriggled forward
to the body of his victim, lay full-length beside it. Quickly he ran
through the dead man's pockets, stuffed a bundle of papers into his
own. Then, a rifle in each hand, he crawled back to his own parapet,
climbed over and lay down. In an instant he was sound asleep.

It was bright morning when he awoke. High up a lark was pouring out
its cheerful song. He sat up, rubbed his eyes, saw the two rifles, and
remembered with a smile. Close by him a man was heating some coffee in
a mess-tin over a methylated flame. He asked for some and drank it with
a pleasant physical sense of his body that was still alive, and could
drink. It warmed him. Then he remembered the papers he had taken from
the unlucky Hermann. Sipping at the coffee, he read a letter that was
among them.

  "Dearest Wife and Sweetheart," it ran, "I don't altogether like the
  hatred of these Englishmen that your letter expresses. They only do
  their duty as we do ours, and they fight well. Would all this killing
  were over and we were friends again! It is in a sacred cause, I
  know--we could not let our culture be stifled--but the sacrifices are
  heavy. I sometimes wonder whether the old days will ever return, and
  I shall once more write songs for you to sing in London and in Paris.
  I can faintly hear a nightingale somewhere, or is it you?--I must
  close now, as I am just ordered off to a dangerous post, and the dawn
  will soon be breaking.

 "All the love of
 Karl."

Lennard, moved by a sudden curiosity, looked at the superscription
of the envelope, ready addressed. Evidently the sniper had put it in
his pocket and forgotten to give it to his comrades before setting
out. The name was familiar. He coupled it, Karl ----. His victim was
a writer of songs that his wife loved to sing and he to hear. He sat
for a moment gazing thoughtfully at the letter, yet without definite
thoughts. Then, with a sigh, he rose.

Instantly a bullet smacked against the sandbags, missing his head by a
couple of inches.

"Bad shot, that," he murmured as he ducked. "Lucky thing I bagged old
Hermann!"



THE MAGIC OF MUHAMMED DIN


The intense heat of the day was already a memory of uneasy sleep,
and the distant hills seen across the plain of grey, sun-baked mud
were soft in a soft sky. Right across the horizon, as seen from the
Political Officer's bungalow, stretched the mountain range, rising
from deep blue at the base through a gradation of fairy amethyst and
turquoise to a delicate pink suffusing the summits. The Political
Officer, his left elbow resting on his writing-table, his fingers
caressing the bowl of the old briar whose stem was gripped between
white teeth, tobacco-smoke wreathing away from him, contemplated it
with bent brows and narrowed eyes. The gaze of that lean face, sallow
with many Indian summers, roved not over the distant prospect, tempting
though were the transitions and flaws of changing colour on crag and
peak to left and right of the point on which his vision was fixed.
His expression was stern, the thrust forward of his clean-cut jaw
predominant. Æsthetic enjoyment of the aspect of the frontier hills
thus perfidiously beautiful in the evening light had no part in his
meditations.

The curtain of the door was plucked aside. A long-robed native,
white-bearded, entered noiselessly, bowed, with arms outstretched from
his sides, stood erect and waited for orders.

The Political Officer responded with a nod to the "_Salaam, Sahib_."
His gaze detached itself from the distant view, ranged keenly over the
tall figure in front of him. Under the swathes of the green _pagari_
that narrowed the brown forehead a pair of dark eyes of strange
intensity met his own. The disturbing effect of their direct gaze was
heightened by the bushy white brows under which they glowed. The big,
beaked nose, thin-bridged, emphasized their power. The long, white
beard spreading over the breast solemnified them with a hint of ancient
wisdom. The eyes of the white sahib and the ascetic _Haj_ (as his green
turban proclaimed him) met unflinchingly.

"The _Sahib_ asked for the fakir Muhammed Din--is it well, _Sahib_?"

"It is well, _Haj_," replied the Political Officer, a twinkle in his
eye and a subtle emphasis on the title.

"Did not the Prophet throw his green mantle over Ali that he might
himself escape from his enemies, O Protector of the Religion?" replied
the fakir, a little piqued.

"_Maloom_" ("It is known"), said the Political Officer, curtly but with
a tone of friendliness. "I called you not to discuss the religion, but
to protect it. I have work for you, Muhammed Din--dangerous work."

"It is well, _Sahib_."

"An emissary of our foes is among the tribes, Muhammed Din, and is
preaching a false gospel to them. War and the woes of war will surely
follow if we do not still his tongue. Listen! You have heard that the
infidel Caliph Willem of the West has falsely proclaimed himself a
follower of the Prophet that he may use the power of true believers to
further his own wicked ends?"

"It is known, _Sahib_."

"He has sent one of his tribe, dressed as a fakir, into the hills to
preach a new Jehad. Already the _mullahs_ (priests) are gathering about
him. This fakir calls himself Abd-ul-Islam, but he is a Feringhi, no
true believer, and no true friend to the religion. Yet he is leading
many astray, for he deludes them with a false magic. You will see for
yourself. You remember the magic pictures you saw at Karachi?"

"I remember, _Sahib_."

"It is such magic as that. There is none but Muhammed Din I might
safely trust to close the mouth of such a rogue; therefore, Muhammed
Din"--the eyes of white _sahib_ and Moslem fakir again looked into
each other--"I am sending you on the mission. I asked you to come as a
fakir because I judged that to be your best disguise. You have come as
a _Haj_, which is even better. I do not want this impostor killed, if
it can be helped. I want him exposed, discredited. I send you, Muhammed
Din." He looked at him with significance as he added:

"You may find an old acquaintance."

The fakir stroked his long beard.

"He shall be brought to you riding backwards upon an ass, and the
women shall mock at him' _Sahib_. I swear it."

The Political Officer smiled.

"None can if you cannot, Muhammed Din. Now I will explain these things
to you more fully."

The Political Officer spread a map across the table and pointed out
the route of the German agent across the Persian frontier and among
the hills. His present abiding-place was fairly accurately known.
The pseudo-fakir attentively considered the ways to it. Then he drew
himself erect.

"It is well, _Sahib_. I will now go."

"You have a plan, Muhammed?"

The fakir smiled grimly.

"This dog has his false magic, _Sahib_, but Muhammed Din knows many
magics that are not false. I have sworn."

"Go, then. Allah be with you!"

"And with you, _Sahib_!"

Muhammed Din salaamed once more, lifted the curtain, and passed out.
The Political Officer watched him go across the compound, and then bent
down to his work again with a little outbreathing of satisfaction. The
Secret Service had no more reliable man than Muhammed Din.

       *       *       *       *       *

The squalid little village high up in a cleft of the brown and barren
hills, that gleamed golden aloft where they cut sharply across the
intense blue of the sky, was filled with an uncommon concourse of
tribesmen. And yet more were arriving. Down the stony paths which led
to the village from the heights, up the boulder-strewn, dried-up
stream-bed which afforded the easiest passage from below, the hillmen
hurried in little groups--a bearded _khan_, a modern rifle on his
shoulder, his cummerbund stuck full of knives, followed by a ragged
rabble of retainers, variously armed. Their weapons were mementoes
of generations of rifle-stealing and gun-running. Lee-Enfields,
Lee-Metfords, Martinis, Sniders--all were represented. Not a few
carried the old-fashioned _jezail_, the long-barrelled gun with inlaid,
curved stock. All had knives.

They swarmed on the rough roadway between the squat stone, windowless
houses whose loopholes were eloquent of their owners' outlook on life.
They clustered round the stone-parapeted well in the centre of the
village, so that the women with the water-pots were richly provided
with an excuse for loitering. The clamour of excited voices resounding
from the walls was re-echoed at a fiercer shout from the steep,
towering hill-sides, stone-terraced near the village into plots of
cultivated land.

This was no ordinary assemblage. From far and near the tribesmen
swarmed in, and men met face to face whose habitual encounter would
have sent both dodging to cover, rifle to the shoulder. The blood-feuds
were laid aside. Families that for months had lived in terror of
their neighbours across the village street, quitting their domiciles
stealthily by the back way when they had occasion to go out, while
the sudden rifle-shot of the concealed marksman added steadily to the
tale of vendetta victims on both sides, mingled now with the throng,
albeit cautiously. Men whose dwellings were a doorless tower which
they entered and left by a basket on a rope, who tilled their fields
with ever a rifle in their hand, strode now down the street, their
dark eyes roving from side to side, and passed their adversaries with
scarce a scowl. Mullahs, Koran in hand, their young disciples at their
skirts, threaded their way through the crowd, giving and receiving
pious salutation, exhorting, preaching, inflaming the fanaticism of
passions naturally fierce. The blood-feuds between man and man, village
and village, were forgotten in the reawakened, never-extinguished feud
between Islam and the infidel. Behind the priests marched men armed
to the teeth, their faces working in a frenzy, their eyes inflamed.
They were _ghazi_--wrought up to the pitch of fervour where their own
life is a predetermined sacrifice, so that they may first slay an
unbeliever, sure of immediate Paradise as their reward.

Above the murmur of voices came the continual drone:

"_La Allah il Allah!_ There is no God but God, and Mohammed is His
Prophet!"

It re-echoed down the valley in sudden shouts.

Into this excited throng strode the green turban, the venerable figure
of Muhammed Din, piously telling his beads. Men jostled one another
out of his way, for this fakir was quite obviously an especially holy
man, one who had made the pilgrimage. Giving and receiving the Moslem
greeting, "May the peace of Allah be with you!" he inquired the house
of the village mullah, and made his way towards it.

He met the priest just on the point of quitting his dwelling. The
mullah had a busy and important look. It was a great day for him.

"The peace of Allah be with you!" said Muhammed Din.

"And with you, O holy man!" replied the mullah. He scented an
application for hospitality. "Blessed is the day that you come to us,
for Allah worketh wonders in my village. Many have come to witness
them. Alas! that you did not come before, O holy one, or my house that
I have already given up to others would be yours!"

"A corner and a crust of bread, O Mullah!"

"Alas! Allah be my witness! Neither remains to me, O holy one--but I
will lodge you with a pious man when the saint whom Allah has sent to
us has finished the wonders he is about to show. I must hurry, O holy
one! for the moment is at hand. The peace of Allah be with you!"

"Allah has guided my footsteps to you, O Mullah, for I have come from
a far land to see these wonders. I will accompany you, for it is His
will."

"Hurry, then!" said the priest irritably, "or Shere Khan's house will
be full. Allah knoweth that I praise Him for thy coming!" he added by
way of afterthought.

The house of Shere Khan, the headman of the village, was besieged by
a turbulent crowd of tribesmen, who jostled one another for entrance.
In view of the limited space within, only those known to be most
influential were admitted. They deposited their weapons as they
entered.

Muhammed Din followed the mullah, who bustled in with an air of
great importance. The largest room of Shere Khan's house, a gloomy,
stone-walled apartment, almost completely dark since the loopholes
high up were stuffed with rags, was set aside for the occasion. More
than two-thirds of it was already filled with tribesmen, who squatted
on the floor. The remaining portion was rigidly kept clear by one or
two of Shere Khan's armed retainers. "Sit farther back, O Yakub Khan!
More space, O Protector of the Poor! Farther back, O Yusuf, lest the
miracles about to be performed by the will of Allah scorch thee! Back,
back, O children of the Prophet! I entreat ye!" The entreaty was
emphasized by sundry kicks which the sentries grinningly delivered with
a sense of the privileges proper to such an occasion.

The wall at the end of the clear space was whitened. High up on the
other wall, behind the tribesmen, was a newly erected box of wood,
large enough to hold a man, supported on pillars of light timber, and
only to be reached by a ladder, of which there was at the moment no
sign. The tribesmen turned their heads curiously towards this unusual
contrivance and nudged and whispered to one another.

"Behold the cage in which the saint keeps the devils over which Allah
and the Prophet have given him power!"

Those who were nearest it stirred uneasily.

"What if it should be the will of Allah that they break out of the
cage!"

"We are God's and unto God shall we return!" replied his neighbour
nervously, quoting the verse of the Koran which gives protection in
time of danger. "May Allah protect us!"

Muhammed Din sat modestly among the throng, telling his beads with bent
head.

"What thinkest thou of these wonders, O holy one from a far land?"
asked the man next to him.

"The wisdom of Allah is inscrutable and much that is hidden shall be
yet revealed," replied Muhammed Din solemnly.

There was a stir of expectation throughout the gloomy apartment.
The mullah entered by a door at the farther end, near the whitened
wall, uttered a sonorous benediction, and sat down, with grave
self-satisfaction, in the front row.

One minute more of tense waiting--and then, amid a low murmur from the
assembly, the curtain at the far door was again lifted. The "Saint"
appeared. For a moment he stood in a dramatic pose, illumined by a ray
of light from without as he held back the curtain. Then, dropping it,
he strode solemnly forward into the cleared space. Every eye gazed
at him with an avid curiosity. The light in the doorway had revealed
him as a youngish man, despite the full beard which lent him dignity.
His stately carriage of the long Moslem robes, dimly perceived in the
gloom, was worthy of his _rôle_.

He stretched out his hands.

"The peace of Allah be with you!" he said in a deep tone that had only
the faintest tinge of a European accent.

In a low deep chant of awed voices the assembly returned the salutation.

"O children of the Prophet! Men of the hills! Greeting! Greeting not
from me but from the greatest Sultan of the world!" He spoke in their
own dialect, but with a strong admixture of Persian words. "Listen! Ye
know already--for his fame has passed the confines of the earth--that
the great Sultan Willem of the Franks was visited by a vision from God,
and that having had truth revealed unto him he turned aside from the
error of his ways and embraced the true faith. Written in great letters
of gold over the Sultan's palace shall ye find the sacred words: 'There
is no God but God and Mohammed is His Prophet!'"

He stopped to allow his words their full effect. A murmur of wonderment
came from his audience. "A-ah! God is great! Unto Him be the praise!"

He resumed.

"And with him turned all his vizirs and mullahs and khans from the
false belief and called on Allah and Mohammed. I--even I, Abd-ul-Islam,
who stand before you--am one of them. The Sultan Willem issued a decree
to all his people that they should believe in the true faith--and lo!
Allah wrought a miracle and they all believed, destroying their false
mosques and building new ones to the glory of the Prophet. Great is
Allah and Mohammed His Prophet that these things should have come to
pass, O children of the Faith! They are hard of belief, for the Franks
ye well know are a stiff-necked race. Yet such it is, and my Lord the
Sultan hath sent me on an embassy to you that I may tell you these
marvellous things. And that ye may more readily believe, Allah in His
great mercy has given me power to show you these wonders with your own
eyes." His tone took on a deeper, more sonorous solemnity. "O Allah!
Allah! In the name of the Prophet, vouchsafe that these thy children
may see the great Sultan Willem as he is at this moment!"

He clapped his hands sharply together.

Instantly a beam of intensely white light shot across the dark
apartment from the "cage" and fell upon the white wall at the other
end. The "Saint" stepped quickly out of the radiance. On the white
surface there suddenly appeared a lifesize portrait of His Imperial
Majesty Kaiser Wilhelm II--_gowned in long robes and coiffed with a
turban_. A gasp of astonishment broke from the peering spectators in
the dark room. Once more the "Saint" clapped his hands. The Imperial
figure walked in stately fashion straight towards the audience--seeming
that in another moment it would be walking out in the air over its
heads--stopped, stretched out its right hand, smiled. The muscles of
its face moved, the mouth opened--in a speech that none heard. "_Aie!
Aie!_" broke from the spellbound tribesmen.

"Alas! that he is so far away that ye cannot hear his words!" lamented
the "Saint." "But I can hear them. He tells you to believe in me, who
am his messenger, by the grace of Allah and the Prophet. O Allah,
vouchsafe that these Thy followers may witness with their own eyes the
conversion of the vizirs to the true faith!" Again a clap of the hands,
and the picture on the wall changed.

The tribesmen gazed at what to a Western eye would have been an
obviously cardboard imitation of an Oriental room with a dais on one
side of it. On that dais stood the figure in Moslem robes. Filling
the remainder of the room was a throng of men in German uniforms,
_pickelhaube_ on their heads. They advanced one by one to the figure
on the dais, knelt, offered up their spiked helmets, and received in
exchange a turban from their graciously smiling lord.

"See, O people, and believe!" cried the "Saint."

"_Aie! Aie!_" came the response. "We see and we believe! God is great!
There is none great but God, and unto Him be all the praise!"

"Listen! O true believers! The Holy Prophet laid a command on the great
Sultan Willem that he should immediately convert all the Frankish
nations to the true faith. And the Sultan Willem gave glory to Allah
that this command was laid upon him. He sent forth his armies in the
great Jehad. The Sultan's armies are the most numerous and bravest
in the whole world--not Timur nor Rustum might have stood against
them--and none may count the number of their victories in the great
war against the infidel Franks. Their triumphs are as the rocks on
the hill-sides, beyond reckoning and eternal. All the nations of the
Franks fled before them, and were slain like dogs as they ran. And
most of all fled before them and were slain the insolent English dogs
that, thinking themselves far away from the power of the Sultan Willem,
are puffed up with a vain pride and tread upon the neck of the true
believer in the land beyond the Indus--nay, who invade your hills and
lay waste your crops, seeking to destroy the one true faith. Is it not
so?"

"Allah knoweth! He speaketh through thy lips, O holy one!" was the
chorused reply from the darkened room. There could be no denial of any
statement from a source of such sanctity.

"Look then upon the battle and the destruction of the English dogs!"
cried Abd-ul-Islam, giving the signal once more.

Immediately another picture appeared upon the wall--a picture of
pseudo-British troops, uniformed so as to be familiar to the tribesmen,
taking up a position for battle.

"Watch! O children of the Prophet!" cried the wonder-worker. "Behold
the djinns which the Sultan Willem has under his command--for to him
has the Prophet given the power of Solomon--behold the djinns that go
before the Sultan's army destroying the English infidels!"

Great founts of black smoke leaped up among the soldiers on the
wall--debris was flung high into the air--bodies lay upon the ground,
visible where the smoke cleared. The soldiers fired quickly from behind
cover, dodged, flung up their arms, and fell smitten by an invisible
foe. The picture, though a "fake," was cleverly done and would have
deceived more sophisticated spectators. The tribesmen did not suppress
their exclamations of awe and wonder.

"Behold!" cried the showman. "The soldiers of the Sultan advance!" A
serried line of German infantry swept across the picture, bayonets
levelled, and the survivors of the defending troops fled before them.
The line changed direction and marched straight towards the spectators,
an irresistibly advancing menace, swelling larger and larger, uncannily
silent.

Shrill cries of alarm broke out from the darkened room. "_Aie! Aie!_
Allah protect us! We are God's and unto God shall we return!"

The line of infantry swelled to a superhuman immensity, seemed on the
point of reaching the spectators--and then there was darkness.

From the gloom came the voice of the German emissary.

"You have beheld, O children of the true Faith, the infidel English ran
like dogs!"

"Like dogs they ran! With our own eyes we have seen it, praise be to
Allah! Death to the infidel!"

"Now see the soldiers of the Prophet, the victorious army of the
Sultan, destroying the Christian mosques in the conquered country!"
announced the showman, in a voice of triumph.

On the wall was thrown the picture of a Belgian village church. German
soldiers were busy about it. Then volumes of smoke began to issue from
the windows, tongues of flame. The roof fell in. The church was reduced
to a ruin.

"Behold! Ye see with your own eyes!"

"We see, we see! God is great! Unto Him be the praise!" came the reply
from the spectators.

"Now see others!" cried the German. "This is the work of the Sultan's
armies--will ye now doubt that he has set his face against the
Christian infidels?"

Picture after picture of ruined and desolated churches followed upon
the wall. The German authorities had evidently prepared a special film
of them. Cries of wild approbation broke from the fanatical tribesmen,
the mullahs loudest.

"Once more, O people, look upon the English prisoners, whose lives
have been spared because they have embraced the true faith, being led
through the Sultan's capital!"

A film of a few British prisoners from Gallipoli being marched through
the streets of Constantinople was then shown, amid shouts of applause.

The picture was taken off, but the beam of light still blazed across
the room. The German placed himself full in it.

"Ye have seen with your own eyes, O warriors of the hills! Praise be
to Allah for His mercies! Ye will no longer doubt. In the name of the
Prophet, the Sultan Willem, the protector of Islam, commands that ye
rise up and sweep beyond the Indus. Everywhere the power of the English
is broken. With your own eyes ye have seen it. Only on your borders do
they still keep up a vain show. Rise up, O children of the Prophet, and
sweep these dogs of infidels into the sea! The rich lands of India and
much loot will be the reward of your valour. Paradise awaits those who
fall in the sacred fight! The green banner of Islam shall wave over the
entire earth, for there is no God but God, Mohammed is His Prophet, and
the Sultan Willem is His chosen instrument!"

Karl Schultz felt an inward glow of triumph at his own histrionic power
as, his words ringing sonorously through the stone apartment, he stood
in the full blaze of light and raised his arm. It evoked loud shouts
of fanatic frenzy from the excited assembly. They clamoured to be led
against the infidel there and now. He kept his arm outstretched as
though to still the tumult, as though his discourse were yet unfinished.

But the cries would not cease. "Great is Allah! Death to the infidel!
Death! Allah! Allah! There is no God but God! Allah! Allah! Allah!
Death to the infidel--death!"

Suddenly there was a new element in the vociferation, a movement among
the assembly far back in the dark room. "Make way for the holy man with
great tidings from India! Make way for the _Haj_! In the name of the
Prophet--make way, dogs that ye are!"

Schultz looked towards the venerable figure of Muhammed Din pressing
through the throng. A sudden doubt leaped up in him, was extinguished
in self-confidence. The strange fakir approached. The wild clamour of
the tribesmen was stilled in curiosity. They fell back in a sudden awe.

Schultz watched the venerable stranger advance solemnly, silently, into
the blaze of light in which he himself stood. Again he was conscious of
an instinctive tremor. "The peace of Allah be with thee, O _Haj_!" he
said, and he found that he had deliberately to control his own voice.
There was something uncannily impressive in the advance of this silent,
dignified old man.

"And with all the faithful!" came the sonorous reply, enigmatic to the
German's ears.

He found himself looking into a pair of strangely disturbing eyes;
heard, with a wild reeling shock of the spirit, his own tongue spoken
in a low, level Oriental voice.

"Move not a finger and make not a sound, Schultz Sahib, or you are a
dead man!" Schultz Sahib's eyes glimpsed the muzzle of a pistol not six
inches from his chest. "_Smile, Sahib!_ or your friends may interrupt
us."

Having once ceded to the menace of the pistol, the German's brain could
not resist the command of the imperative eyes that seemed to be boring
deep into him. He _smiled_--a deathly smile.

"You have forgotten me, Schultz Sahib? It is not so long since we
worked together on the railway. One of us at least learned a great deal
about the other in those days, _Sahib_. _Smile!_--keep smiling!"

A wild revolt surged up in the German, subsided, without exterior
evidence, under the glare of the dominating eyes which held his
fascinated. He tried to turn away his gaze, was checked by the level,
purposeful voice of the fakir.

"Keep your eyes on mine, _Sahib_! Look elsewhere and you are dead
before you have looked!"

He heard the words reverberating through him, endlessly re-echoing in
chambers of his soul magically open to them. He felt himself fixed,
immobile, in a strange paralysis of the faculties. The terrible eyes
looked into his that he could not close--he felt, as it were, waves
of immeasurable strange force flowing from them, rolling over him,
submerging him. And yet still he looked into the eyes of the fakir, his
own eyes an open port to their influence.

A subtle, pervading odour ascended his nostrils, filled his lungs,
mounted to his head. His brain grew dizzy with it. And still the
compelling eyes held him, prevented him from turning his own eyes to
the source of the odour. He lost the sense of his environment, was
oblivious to the awed tribesmen staring silently at the pair in the
blaze of light. He saw nothing but the eyes--lost consciousness of his
own body. He stared--and lost consciousness even of the eyes at which
he stared.

There was vacuity, oblivion, an annihilation of time--and then out of
that vacuity a voice commenced to speak. He heard it with a shock of
the nerves--it crashed through darkness with a mighty power. He seemed
suspended like a lost spirit in everlasting night, fumbling around the
vague yet massive foundations of the world--indefinitely remote from
all that he had ever known. He could not detach himself from those
foundations. They quivered under the booming voice, communicated an
unpleasant thrill to the core of him. An awful unimaginable disaster
seemed to envelop him. The tiny germ of consciousness that was still
his fought for extension, strove to see. All was blackness--blackness.
And still the voice went on relentlessly, driving through darkness,
like a ploughshare thrust forward by the firm grip of a mighty and
inexorable hand. Immeasurable results seemed dependent on its progress.
He listened to it--and as he focused himself on the listening, a dim
perception of his environment came to him. He was vaguely conscious
of a sea of faces, upturned, listening--as he himself listened. Those
faces--they were in some relation to him, there was a link between them
and him--he could not determine it. He listened. The words rang like
sounding brass, the vowels roaringly sonorous, the consonants clashing.
He concentrated himself on their meaning--penetrated to it suddenly as
through veils smitten asunder.

"_Lies and again lies, O children of the Prophet! A mockery of lies!
The Sultan Willem is a servant of Shaitan who feigneth religion that he
may lure true believers to their damnation while they unwittingly serve
the Evil One!_" His perception leaped up, clawing at danger, and then
was dragged down again, engulfed. He felt himself like a man drowning
in black waters at night--down--down--and then, fighting obscurely, he
shot up again, heard the inexorable voice continuing: "_This magic you
have looked upon is a false magic--the magic of unbelievers in league
with Eblis!_" He heard the re-echoing denunciation in a spasm of full
consciousness--was suddenly cognizant of the sea of faces, of fierce
passions exhaling from it--was completely aware of the menace of utter
ruin. A great revulsion surged in him. This must be stopped--stopped!
The necessity for instant protest was an anguish in him. All of
himself that he could summon from the darkness as his own shrieked
the negative, and yet he did not utter a sound--knew that he did not.
"_Climb up into that box some of you, and ye shall find no magic but
a Frank there!_" He strained with all his soul towards the faculty of
speech--felt his powers vanquishing the spell of dumbness--on the verge
of utterance shaped his words of denial. "_Lo! have I not spoken the
truth? Yea, I cannot speak other than the truth, for I am the runaway
servant of Muhammed Din, and his sanctity hath broken the compact
between me and the Evil One!_" In staggering horror he realized--_the
voice was his own_!

He stood fixed, incapable of movement, and saw--like a man that has
dreamed and cannot yet distinguish dream from reality--the mob of
tribesmen surging obscurely in the long stone room, saw the blinding
white eye of the lantern still shining steadfastly upon him--saw it
waver, swing from side to side, and then, with one last blinding flash,
disappear. In the utter darkness he heard shouts and shrieks and fierce
derisive laughter. He heard crash upon crash as heavy objects were
flung from a height at the other end of the room. He heard a piercing
yell, an agonized, appealing utterance of his own name. For a brief
second it shocked him into complete consciousness--_his operator_!
Then, ere he could break his invisible bonds, he felt a pair of cool
hands pressed tightly against his brow, over his eyes, and he relapsed
totally--with a last little gasp--into nothingness.

He awoke again to see the tribesmen surging round him, fiercely
shouting. The room re-echoed with reiterated cries of "_Sharm!
Sharm!_"[1] and a howl that was so unmistakably for blood that it
chilled him to the heart. The room was lighter now--the rags had been
pulled down from the high loopholes in the wall. He saw Muhammed
Din standing before him, fending off his adversaries. He was still
incapable of voluntary movement. A great faintness swept over him. He
reeled back; found himself supported by the angle of the wall. He had
been thrust back there all unconscious of the movement.

Dazed and sick, he heard Muhammed Din speaking.

"O children of the Hills, Allah and His holy Prophet sent me to you to
rescue you from the snare of the Evil One. On me is laid the charge
of vengeance upon this wretch, who was my slave ere he became the
possessed of Shaitan. But this much of vengeance will I grant ye, for
this much is just. He made a mock of you. Make ye a mock of him. Let
him be driven out of the village, face tailwards upon an ass. The women
and children shall cry derision upon the runaway servant who came to
deceive you as a saint with the false magic of Shaitan!"

Staring speechlessly before him, the exposed charlatan heard the howls
of approval of the mob. His faintly working intellect wondered how the
mullah was taking this deception--perhaps even yet---- He saw Muhammed
Din hold up a large bag of money. He recognized it with a last
hopelessness.

"This gold"--Muhammed Din emptied some of it upon his hand--"this gold
hath my servant surely received from Shaitan. It is accursed unless
some holy man receive it. Therefore to you, O Mullah, do I give it."

The mullah snatched at it.

"Great is Allah and for the meanest of His creatures doth He provide!"
he said. "Thou speakest truth, O holy fakir. Praise be to Allah that I
am here to protect the faithful from the accursed magic of this gold.
As to this wretch, accursed of Allah, let him be driven quickly forth
as thou sayest, O holy one! It is meet that thy vengeance should not
have to linger."

There was a rush at the fallen magician. He swooned into their arms.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some little time later, when the last stone had been flung and the last
epithet of mocking insult had ceased to echo from the hills, Schultz
Sahib, his hands bound behind his back, his feet tied under the belly
of his mount, raised his eyes from the ass's tail that he had been
contemplating.

"Thou hast won, O Muhammed Din--but even yet I do not understand. What
happened?"

The fakir smiled.

"Thou hast thy magics, Schultz Sahib--what thinkest thou of the magic
of Muhammed Din? Hurry, O Willem, hurry!" he cried, as his stick
descended with a resounding thwack upon the hind-quarters of the ass.
"Thou art laggard in thy invasion of the territories of the English!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The Political Officer listened to the story, and, embracing hypnotism
in the studies of his exile, made a note of it.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: _Sharm_, a stain of dishonour that can only be obliterated
in blood. The conception that underlies the blood-feud.]



THE OTHER SIDE


A deep silence brooded over No. 3 Ward, Officers. It was late afternoon
in October, but the room was as yet unillumined from within. The two
long lines of windows that confronted one another--the ward was a
temporary hut-building--did so in a contrast of lights, the eastern
windows, backed by grey obscurity, reflecting broken beams of the glory
of gold and purple and fiery red that streamed in from the west. The
two lines of beds, the indistinct greys and whites of the ward, were
delicately touched by the warm glow where they rose into its radiance.
It picked out the short curves of the turned-back sheet, humped with
the recumbent form beneath, in an imponderable caress upon the broken
humanity that lay, desperately finite, under the splendour that knows
no final setting. A mingled odour of disinfectant and anæsthetic hung
in the air, explanatory of the dead quiet, of the heavy breathing that
was part of the silence. This was a ward of the severely wounded,
recently arrived. From the utmost climax of human effort, thunderous to
the ear, dreadful to the eye, maddening to the soul whether it exulted
triumphant over the menace of instant extinction or shrank appalled and
paralysed in the horror of brutal death, from the fierce superiority of
the unscathed killer, from the sudden shock, these men had come, many
of them unconsciously, by train and ship and train and car to the white
and green hospital on the empty moorland, to the hushed screened peace
of the bed-ranked ward.

At the further end of the ward a Medical Officer stood in murmured
conversation with a Sister. He was outlined black against the radiance
of the sunset, but on her the glow fell fully illuminant, rosy upon the
starched whiteness of the coif and apron, touching the pale face into
faint colour. Her large, serious eyes rested upon him, attentive to his
instructions, glanced away to the patient in the end bed as he spoke.

"Number Ten must be very carefully watched, Sister," he said, the
little smile upon his face indicative only of his confidence in the
quiet young woman before him, in no way minimising the gravity of his
words. "I am afraid we are going to have a very hard fight for him. But
we mustn't let him slip through our fingers. We'll keep him on this
side if we can."

She assented with a nod of the head, and a long deep breath that was
clearly a sigh. He scrutinised her sharply.

"You have something on your mind, Sister. No bad news, I hope?" His
voice was very kind. "Captain Hershaw is all right?"

The Sister's engagement was generally known in the hospital.

The large eyes opened, revealing a mute, long-suffered anxiety.

"It is more than a week since I heard from him, Doctor. I am
afraid--horribly afraid," she said in a low voice. "This terrible
fighting----!"

"The post is sometimes held up during active operations, Sister. You
must not be prematurely anxious. A week is not very long. You must
believe in his luck. He has had a charmed life so far," the M.O.'s
kindly smile emphasised his reassuring tone.

"He has--he has. And life always seems so--so vivid in him. I cannot
imagine him"--her voice sank almost to inaudibility--"dead."

"Don't!" He smiled, full of sympathy. "Believe in his star." His tone
changed to the professional. "Would you like to go off duty, Sister? I
will speak to the Matron. A car is going into town. Go and look at the
shops."

"No--no, Doctor, thank you very much. I won't leave my dear boys here.
Poor lads! it does me good to fight for them--almost as if----" she
stopped, turned away.

"Very well, Sister. Send for me if any change occurs in Number Ten."

The M.O. walked down the ward, throwing little glances at the silent
patients, and departed.

For some little time the Sister busied herself noiselessly about the
ward. Then Number Ten stirred uneasily in his bed.

"Sister!" he called in a faint voice.

She was by his side in an instant.

"A drink, please!"

She gave it him, looked down on the young, strongly masculine features
as he drank, with an interest that was subtly, unconsciously more than
professional. From the moment of his arrival in the ward--even in his
silences--Number Ten had been a personality. Though powerless in bed
there was a curious hint of brute force in him.

"Now you must go to sleep again, Captain Lavering," she said, smoothing
his pillow.

"I can't, Sister." His eyes closed and opened again in a spasm of pain.
"I--I want to feel someone near me," his voice was very weak, "to get
hold of life again. Sister, sit beside me--for a moment, please."

She glanced at him irresolutely, smoothed the hair from his hot
forehead with a cool hand, and then acceded to his request, seated
herself on the chair by the bed.

"But you mustn't talk!" she warned him.

"I won't, Sister!" He was quiet for a moment. "Sister! I'm very bad, I
know--but I'm not going to die! I won't die--I won't let myself die!"
Despite his weakness, there was intense will-power in his tone.

"Hush, hush! Of course you are not going to die." Involuntarily,
she laid her hand upon the bed as if to transfuse some of her own
life-force into him.

He reached out a hand, grasped hers, resisted her attempt at withdrawal.

"Please!--please!" he murmured. "I want to hold on to life--there's so
much----" His eyes closed sleepily. "I feel life flowing into me," he
said. The grip on her hand was tight.

For a long time she sat thus, her hand clasped in his. Number
Ten slept, with heavy breathing. It seemed to her that his fever
diminished. She feared to withdraw herself lest she should awaken him.
The long ward was deathly still.

Presently there was a noise of footsteps. An orderly approached,
changing his gait to a clumsy tip-toe in obedience to her gesture.

"A telegram for you, Sister," he said.

She glanced at the patient, essayed to release her hand. It was firmly
held in the sleeper's grasp.

"Open the telegram, Thomson," she said in a whisper.

The orderly obeyed, handed her the drab piece of paper.

She took it, glanced at it, nodded a speechless dismissal to the
orderly.

"_The War Office reports that Ronald is missing believed killed
Hershaw._"

The words branded themselves into her brain as she sat there fixed,
immobile. She could hear them in the wailing cry of the widowed mother
who had written the telegram, but her own voice seemed to her for
ever dumb, never to break this crushing silence. She stared--with dry
eyes--straight before her. The obsequial lights of the departed sun,
framed by the window opposite, were extinguished one after another. She
did not stir, was unconscious that her hand was still in the grasp of
the wounded man. "_The War Office reports_----" It was like staring at
a high, closed door.

An immeasurable time passed before an orderly entered, switched on the
electric light, drew the blinds. She roused herself, found the grip
upon her hand relaxed. She rose--with tight lips and burning eyes, went
about her duties.

That evening it was by an effort of will, sternly administered, that
she sat at table in the Sisters' messroom. She scarcely ate, was deaf
to the feminine chatter around her. One of the sisters, a notorious
flirt, joked her upon her loverlike posture with Number Ten. The
orderly had evidently talked. Sister Braithwaite did not reply. As soon
as possible she fled to her little matchboarded cubicle.

By her bedside was a photograph of a clean-featured young man, with
intellectual eyes, more than ordinarily vivid in their expression. She
kissed it passionately--"Ronald! Ronald!"--the loved name came from the
depths of her. The merciful tears fell fast, her bosom heaved.

She slept with a packet of letters pressed tight against her warm body.

       *       *       *       *       *

She heard her name called: "Mary! Mary!" in a startlingly familiar
voice. She heard herself reply: "Ronald!" It was very dark. Where was
she? Ah, by the stream. It seemed queerly natural that she should be by
that stream. It was not so dark after all--only twilight. Twilight with
dark woods coming down to the stream. Her name was called again: "Mary!
Mary!" her lover's voice impatient. Again she heard herself reply:
"Ronald! Where are you?" "Here, dear! On the other side! You must cross
the stream."

Of course! She must cross the stream--that was quite natural--and there
was a little footbridge, offering passage. She went over, not daring to
look down. On the other side she waited. He was not yet visible. She
wondered what suit he would be wearing, wondered why she wondered. He
came towards her, his clothes curiously more conspicuous than his face.
He was clad in his old tweed suit, and mysteriously it seemed odd to
her. Yet what else should he be wearing? It was the suit he always wore
when out for a walk. She glanced at her own clothes with a subtle sense
of strangeness, yet it was her old summer frock she wore. This little
puzzle about clothes played itself out in cosmic depths of her, receded
or was solved, vanished. Her lover was standing at her side, enfolded
her.

"Mary! I have been so anxious about you!"

She looked up to eyes that seemed like stars in the twilight.

"I, too, Ronald--I have been worrying about you." There was a sense of
something terrible in the background, imminent, and yet she felt it had
been with her for a long time. It ceased. "But everything's all right
now--I have found you."

A little glimmering something in the depths of her asked why she said
that, seemed to repeat doubtfully: "Found you----" in a long, eternally
re-echoing voice. She felt eerie. It was as though her existence was a
duplicate imperfectly combined, like the double vision, half running
into each other, of badly adjusted binoculars.

"I am so glad you are safe, dear," she heard herself say.

"Let us go and hear the nightingales," he said in the voice so
ringingly his own. He drew her along the path in the twilight, his arm
about her waist.

Nightingales? Now? Of course, why not? The season was early June--what
was the silly half-thought submerged beyond the horizon of her mind?

She allowed herself to be impelled by the pressure of his arm. Closely
linked, they followed the tenebrous path by the wood, climbed skirting
its dark edge. Her lover talked copiously and interestingly as he
always did--on a multitude of subjects. He was humorous, satirical,
rhapsodic, earnestly eloquent by turns. How like him it was! She
admired the wide range of his mind. Much more easily than usual--she
realised it in a little glow of self-flattery--she comprehended him all
through a long and intricate disquisition. Yet lurking somewhere in her
dream-consciousness was the feeling that there was an all-important
topic on which he did not touch. A part of her tried to identify that
topic and failed. The failure worried her. He talked of travel, of
a trip into Germany through the Black Forest, across Lake Constance
into Austria and the Tyrol. Of course! That was to be their honeymoon
tour. In the days before--before what?--before something--they had
often talked about it. They were not even officially engaged then--she
remembered how they used to laugh together over these distant projects
that were treated as imminent facts. They had even had a little
quarrel over the choice of two alternative stopping places. She came
back to his voice.

"Listen!" he said. "Listen!"

A nightingale was singing with supernatural power. Loud, thrillingly
resonant under the stars that now powdered the sky, the song welled
out to them. Its burden, mysteriously comprehended by them to esoteric
depths, was sorrow--the sorrow of all the world, here completely
expressed, transmuted into so strange a beauty that the listener held
his breath. The deep sobs, shudderingly repeated, that threw off the
magic runs of crystal sound, pervaded the atmosphere about them with
a mystic spell, evoked an immense pity in them. They could have wept.
Suddenly they were conscious of a perfidy in this magically induced
compassion--a danger, common to both, implied in it, imminent. He flung
his arms about her to protect her, shielding her from it.

"You are mine, dearest!--mine!--only mine!"

His words went ringing through the stars, passed out of hearing,
but were not silenced. She felt kisses of intense fervour upon her
mouth--responded.

"I am!" she cried. Her words also rolled away endlessly, as though
permuted into imperishable brass. "I am yours alone!"

She half-woke in the feeling of a near presence, then sank again into a
sleep that remembers not its dreams.

       *       *       *       *       *

She awoke in the morning obsessed by the baffling sense of an
occurrence she could not recall. Then the memory, the realisation of
her loss flooded in on her--harshly predominant in those first empty
moments as yet unlinked to the distractions of the day. She wept,
uncontrollable tears. "Ronald! Ronald!" she cried in a low voice, her
face buried in the soft pillow. Then she remembered. Her tears were
checked. The details of her dream opened one by one, stirred in her a
curious, subtle fear she felt unworthy of her. The vividness of it woke
an atavistic emotion, the shrinking reaction of primitive humanity from
the influence of those dead to this world. Yet a more recent growth in
her tried to glory in the contact--impelled by an obscure sentiment of
duty. "I do love you, Ronald!" she murmured again to the pillow. "I am
yours alone!" The saying of the words seemed to merge her dream-life
into unison with the actual.

There was much to do in the long, freshly-aerated ward that morning. As
one by one each bed had its sheets turned back, exposing the gashed,
perforated or fractured bodies of men who winced with pain, the crude
other side of war was laid bare. Into strong relief, too, was thrown
the complementary phase of the other side of the vast catastrophe where
the noblest are proudly conscious of the wounds they inflict. With
tender care, the utmost solicitude not to cause one unnecessary pang of
suffering, the khaki-clad doctors, the grey-uniformed, white-coifed and
aproned nurses, laboured to save and heal.

Sister Braithwaite thrust herself utterly into her daily task of
dressing wounds, of soothing pain, of bringing a cheerful smile on to
the face of the sufferer.

So doing, she eluded for quite long periods the obsession which haunted
her.

Number Ten was once more the focus of interest in the ward. His
condition had grown worse during the night. To-day he was in a
dangerous fever. The doctor was grave. Sister Braithwaite watched over
him with unremitting care, found herself passionately fighting off
death. In the early afternoon the crisis passed. He woke from a quiet
sleep, looked up to the Sister standing by his bed.

"You have saved me, Sister," he said in a weak voice. "I could feel
it----"

"Hush, Captain Lavering. Go to sleep. We are all trying to get you
well."

"It was you," he said faintly, as his eyes closed once more.

The silence of the ward was suddenly broken by a merry peal of bells
floating in through the open windows. In the little village church
tucked away in a near-by hollow of the moor a wedding was being
solemnised. Sudden tears, a strange emotion, surged up in Sister
Braithwaite.

A case that had made good progress was removed from the ward, a
newly-arrived, severely-wounded man brought in.

"If only it were Ronald!" The neat, prim figure of the Sister,
supervising the orderlies busy lifting the casualty into the bed, gave
no indication of the desperate agonised prayer.

       *       *       *       *       *

She dreamed.

"----Mine at last, my beloved--really mine!" The familiar voice
thrilled through her, very close, overhead.

"Yours! Always yours!" she heard herself murmur.

She took her head from the darkness that obscured her vision--it was
his coat against which she had been nestling; she saw the little white
touzled-up hairs of the rough tweed ere her gaze stretched to longer
focus. She looked to his face, met his vivid eyes--looked round at her
surroundings.

They were alone in the first-class compartment of a railway train
that rocked and roared. His lips were pressed on hers. "The great
day, dearest!" he said. Her mind leaped to the allusion. Their
wedding-day! They had been married that morning--she could hear still
the joyous peal of bells--were going away on their honeymoon. The
tweed suit he wore was quite new--something like the old. She was in a
travelling-dress that he had already admired. Of course! It all came
back to her as if she had just awakened from a little sleep.

The train rushed on. She lived through all the cinematograph-like
pictures of the journey. A halt and descent--little anxieties about
the luggage--then--after an interlude which was vague--another
train, another long journey--all was a continuous long experience.
She thrilled at a surreptitious squeeze of his hand--ah, yes, there
were other people in the carriage now--rounded her lips at him in a
provoking similitude of a kiss, daringly profiting by the inattention
of their fellow-travellers. A yearning for him--induced by the naughty
little act--filled her breast, persisted. There was bustle, confusion.
They were in a throng of travellers who hurried. Hurry! They must not
lose the boat. It lay there before them, only its upper works seen, its
two great funnels leaning backward, belching black smoke. The black
smoke spread over the sky. It was night. They were on board the boat,
cradled in an easy motion, sensible of the throb of the engines. On
and on they journeyed, linked in a very close communion of eyes that
spoke, of hands that squeezed each other. She tasted a thousand little
kindnesses. How good he was! How loving!

And still the journey went on. Yet more trains. She must have slept.
She woke to a great city, filled with innumerable inhabitants, all
very busy. They spoke a strange language very rapidly to one another.
She could not understand a word. But he, Ronald, understood--conversed
with them in their foreign tongue. How clever he was! There was music
somewhere--from a lighted café that flooded a damp street with radiance.

She was bewildered in a variety of new and strange impressions, leaned
on him, soul and body. He led her, sure of himself. Her love for him
seemed to increase at this revelation of his unfailing self-reliance.
Yet she knew that she loved him with all her being, had always loved
him so.

"And how do you like Brussels, dearest?" his ringing voice asked.
Brussels? Of course! As though a veil had fallen from her eyes she
saw that they were in the middle of the Grand' Place, lights playing,
Rembrandtesque, on the carved stonework of the ancient buildings. She
recognised it at once--how accurate the picture postcards had been!
Brussels--the honeymoon journey! She thrilled with happiness, leaning
on his strong arm.

The dream continued----.

       *       *       *       *       *

All through the next day its vividness haunted her. At times she had
to will herself to live in the actual world. She scarcely spoke. The
Medical Officer in charge of her ward stopped her, asked her if she
were all right, his eyes searching her face. He sympathised with her in
her loss so kindly and gently that she loved him for it.

Number Ten was still the great preoccupation. He claimed incessant
care. But he was in the faint beginnings of good progress. Strangely,
it seemed that when she tended him there was a conflict in some obscure
part of her. There seemed to be an inarticulate voice, immensely
remote, vaguely minatory, not explicit. Captain Lavering insisted that
she was his rescuer, his eyes more eloquent than his words. It made
her feel awkward, curiously shame-faced. His reiteration threw her out
of that smile-armoured impersonal professional relation to the patient
which alone makes continuous hospital work possible. She masked her
face with a gentle severity. When he slept she was unreasonably glad.
But she liked tending him. The contact with actual life, pain-stricken
though it was, obliterated to some extent the haunting memory of that
dream world from which she shrank, vaguely frightened.

She forced herself to live only in the long, quiet, bright ward; in the
chattering society of the Sisters' messroom when off duty.

       *       *       *       *       *

Her dream linked itself onto its predecessor. The honeymoon was
finished. She looked back down a long vista of travel, of happy days.
She had really lived through all those experiences. She picked them one
by one from her memory like rare pieces from a jewel-case, contemplated
them with a smile. Each expanded into a picture. The day they had
walked together down the rugged path of the tiny valley imprisoned in
the wooded hills, a fierce little stream outpacing them as it dashed
against great boulders, and had come upon a sunny meadow where children
garlanded with flowers laughed and danced in a ring; a wonderful blue
lake on whose shores were yellow houses with red roofs and ancient
cypresses on a greensward near the water's edge--the melancholy
reiterated note of a church bell beat like a pulse through the scene;
an old, old town with gabled houses leaning in close confidence, rich
carvings--the grotesque; in all was a pervading peace, rich quiet life
that thrives sleepy with well-being from year to year; over all was the
ecstasy of mutual love through which they had beheld the world.

Another memory came to her--early morning in the Alps, a sea of wild
narcissi all about them and, beyond, the great white peaks glittering
in the sun of a blue sky. They went on and on, up and up. The flowers
were left behind--and she remembered she had regretted leaving them,
had grudged the effort to climb for the sake of climbing--but he had
insisted. They stood at last high up, dazzlingly white snowfields
stretching away on every side, a summer sun beating hot upon them.
The air was rarefied, induced in them a subtle ecstasy as they stood
marvelling at the brilliant austere beauty of the great peaks lifting
themselves into the sky, their robes slipping from their rocky
shoulders in a miracle of purity. He encircled her waist with his arm,
spoke in the voice that stirred mysterious depths in her.

"Dearest," he said. "Not a flower but snow is the true emblem of
love. White as the essential soul, how soon on the lower levels it is
defiled, disappears! But on the heights it endures stainless for ever,
no matter how hot the kiss of the sun."

And she had kissed him, speechlessly.

But all this was past. She was at home now, waiting for him to come
back from his work. Their home, the home they had always planned, was
all around her. The very pieces of furniture they had regarded in shop
windows with longing eyes, had calculated the cost of, were there.
That quaint old table in the centre of the room, half covered with the
embroidered openwork white linen laid for tea--how covetously they
had once looked on it! How depressed they had been at the dealer's
price! But it was there, after all. Ronald had bought it, he who never
rested until he attained his heart's desire. How purposeful he was! How
strong! How loving-kind! She closed her eyes, leaned back in a swimming
ecstasy of love.

There he was! She heard his footstep at the other side of the door.
He entered, was radiant, enfolded her in that wonderful embrace where
she was a surrendered thing. He had a little parcel, handed it to
her. Tremblingly she opened it, certain of delight. It was a framed
enlargement of a photograph they had taken that morning in the high
Alps. With a little happy cry she gazed once more on the long smooth
slopes of snow, stretching up to the dark-patched peaks. Once more his
arm encircled her, his deep voice spoke.

"So shall we live, darling, always--ever upon the heights."

       *       *       *       *       *

She lay awake in her bed, ere it was day, and understood in a great
tremulous awe. In her dreams she and Ronald were living precisely the
life they would have lived had there been no war. The honeymoon--their
home--all would have been accomplished ere this. Had there been no war!
Exactly as she had dreamed they would have travelled together--his arm
would have enfolded her--in long, long happiness they would have lived.
She burst into a passion of tears, stifled in the pillow. Then she
turned her head, wondering, feeling as if her heart had stopped. Would
this dream continue? Was it--in some mysterious way--_real_? Her lips
moved in a prayer, but she scarcely knew what she prayed.

She was glad to escape into the busy actual life of the ward, into the
light of day.

From now onwards her life definitely assumed this double phase.

In the hospital she was the Sister Braithwaite that all had known,
diligent, bravely smiling, conscientious in her duty. Those about her
remarked only that there was sometimes a curious stillness in her mien,
spoke pityingly among themselves of the sad loss of her soldier lover.
But death in a hospital is no rare catastrophe and none lingered on the
topic. There was much to do, a continual stream of new arrivals from
the distant conflict, the doubtful fate of many of those already long
suffering. There were deaths, recoveries, operations of professional
interest.

Number Ten went slowly but steadily towards health. Sister Braithwaite
deliberately avoided all contact with him save the professional.
When she chatted with a patient in the ward it was not with him. His
gaze was reproachful, and she would not see it. Sometimes when she
approached him he would, half-jokingly, reiterate that she had saved
him. She would not hear. A strange sense of insecurity disturbed her
in his presence. She half divined that he nursed a project----. She
fled the glance of the steady, resolute eyes in the strong face.
When at last he had made such progress that he could be removed to a
convalescent ward she was glad at his departure.

At night she passed into another world. There was no war in that
life--never had been war. From dream to dream she lived through a
continuous existence--the wife of Ronald. It was all vividly real. It
was the life they would have led--it played itself out now in what to
her daytime consciousness was a realm of shadows. Not always did she
dream, or rather not always did her consciousness register the events
through which she passed. But later dreams had dream-memories in them
and the record had no gaps. Time passed in that dream-world without
relation to the terrestrial days. In one night she frequently lived
through long periods. He was always kind to her, always loving. She,
too, loved him passionately, with all her soul.

But in the daytime her being shrank from that shadow-life. She was
afraid--mysteriously, primitively afraid. She could not mourn as
she would have liked to mourn. Sometimes she asked herself whether
she was not ceasing to love her dead affianced. She tried to evoke
his image--and often, to her distress, succeeded not. The strongly
masculine features of Number Ten, Captain Lavering, rose before her
mental vision, would not be banished. Then she despised herself
bitterly. In remorse she willed herself forward to the night, bade
herself not shrink, and when the hour came gave herself to the darkness
tremulously, like a slave of the harem who goes into the chamber of
her lord. The portal passed she was happy, completely happy--as happy
as she would have been the wife of Ronald in the dainty little home
that never could be other than the home of her dreams. With strange,
almost terrifying, completeness the shadow-life evolved. The house she
lived in she knew in all its details, had its rooms that she preferred,
views from its windows that she loved or veiled. The presence of her
husband was a reality that filled it. She knew his footsteps, heard
his voice. (It rang often in her ears when her eyes unclosed in the
little matchboarded cubicle suddenly unfamiliar.) They had long, long
conversations together--wonderful little interludes where their always
underlying love blossomed into delicate flower. She saw his face
clearly, saw that it was changing slightly, growing more set, less
boyish. There were difficulties--the difficulties of real life--to be
encountered. An anguished struggle with bills and finances that would
not meet wrung her soul all one night. She pledged herself to such
brave economies! But the difficulties were overcome, the memory of them
lost in the embrace of her lover. Rarely, rarely was she unhappy until
she woke.

And day by day, not keeping pace with her other life, her life of work
in the hospital went on. Week linked into week, month into month. The
great open moors around her changed their hue, were often shrouded in
mist. In December the first frosts glassed the pools. Many were the
patients who had come and gone. The little cemetery under the hill was
fuller. Other sufferers were more fortunate. Captain Lavering was fully
convalescent, nearing his discharge. She saw him often at a distance,
avoided him when he tried to approach her. She could not have explained
why, even to herself. Somewhere deep down in her, the virility of
his aspect set a chord vibrating. She was always extremely, almost
painfully, conscious of his propinquity. For many weeks they had not
exchanged a word.

There came a night wonderful above all others. She thrilled with
a strange new ecstasy, drawn from deep springs. It was the quiet,
speechless ecstasy of some mysterious fulfilment. She was filled with
a great tenderness that welled up and overflowed like a source. There
was something warm against her heart. She looked down and saw that it
was a newborn babe. She was in bed. Then, in a great surge of deeply
flowing joy, she understood. She was a mother--the mother of Ronald's
child! She could have cried for joy that lacked expression. Her fingers
stroked thin silky hair on a tiny head.

Suddenly she was aware that Ronald was looking down on her. She yearned
up to him, but as she did so she was conscious that her allegiance was
divided. Not all of her, as heretofore, reached out to him undividedly
his. There was a dumb insistent claim at her breast. She smiled to
disguise it.

But it seemed that he understood. His face was troubled, the vivid eyes
reproachful. He leaned over her.

"Dearest," he said. "I cannot share you. The child must never be more
than the symbol of our love. You must be mine--always mine. Promise me
that you will always be mine alone!"

His jealousy flattered her. A gush of affection for the strong lover
admitting her power, mingled with the mother-craving for protection for
self and child, was a fresh impulse revivifying the old allegiance:

"Always yours, dearest--always yours!"

He looked at her searchingly, his head seeming like a carven figure of
destiny, strangely significant.

"I could annihilate the thing that comes between us," he said,
and she was a little frightened at his voice. It rolled away big,
superhuman--she harked back, in a flitting thought, to an earlier
dream-memory.

He turned to a picture on the wall, pointed to it. It was the Alpine
scene.

"You and I," he said. "Always together--alone upon the heights."

"Yes! Yes!" she said, only half understanding. "Always--always yours!"

She woke with a start, her own voice ringing in her ears. Night was
still a blackness in the little cubicle. She put out her hand, touched
the matchboard wall to assure herself of her surroundings.

When she woke again it was to look through the window and see the world
white with snow. She remembered with some pleasure that she was off
duty, had the day to herself. She wanted to be alone. Her head was a
whirl of troubled thoughts. The emotions of her dream were still in her
blood. Her arms felt vacant as though an infant had just been taken
from them. A new longing came up in her--a craving for motherhood. She
linked it to her dead lover. "Oh, Ronald!" she murmured. "If only we
had been married before you went to the war----" she left the thought
unfinished. The craving persisted, apart from his memory. She ached
for a real, living affection in this world of men and women. Strange
thoughts haunted her while she dressed.

As soon as possible she escaped from the hospital, went out upon the
moor that stretched in suave contours of dazzling white. A pale
blue sky sank into its mists. A cold wind hurried over it, whirling
up little columns of dusty, frozen snow. She walked far into its
solitudes, she hardly knew whether to escape from her thoughts or to be
alone with them.

At last she turned back. She had climbed out of a little hollow,
was descending a featureless slope when suddenly she perceived the
figure of a man, dark against the snow. He walked towards her quickly.
Simultaneous with her recognition of him was the flush of blood to
her face, a peculiar nervous thrill. It was Captain Lavering. She
half hesitated. Then she strode forward, an insidiously victorious
temptation masquerading as strong will. Why should she not pass him? It
was absurd. He might think----. She hoped that she was not blushing, or
that the keen wind which fluttered her veil would be the self-evident
excuse.

They met. He stopped, made a gesture of salute.

"Good morning, Captain Lavering." She was glad to hear her own voice,
had been afraid that she could not bring it to utterance. What
was there so troubling about this man? She avoided his eyes. "I'm
pleased to see you walking about again." The crisis was successfully
surmounted. She made as if to continue her way.

"I saw you in the distance, Sister," he said bluntly.

She did not find the commonplace remark for which she sought. He
blocked her pathway.

"I have been waiting to speak to you for a long time, Sister," he
continued, as though he knew there was no necessity for a trite
beginning. "Ever since you saved my life. You did--we won't discuss
that." She stared at him, speechless. "But I have waited until I was
sure that I was quite well again. You know what I am going to say. For
a long time you have felt what was in my mind. You must be my wife."

He was strong and real--vividly actual. She felt as she did sometimes
when her eyes opened from a dream into the solid surroundings of her
cubicle. He barred off the other world.

"No--no," she breathed, dodged past him, hurried over the snow.

He was by her side, keeping pace easily with her.

"You can't escape me like that," he said. There was obvious brute
masculinity in his tone. Though she tried to resent it, it did not
displease her, and she was angry with herself that it did not. "Listen.
I am a plain man. There is no fancy romance about me. I don't want
illusions. But I love you." He stated the fact with absolute decision.
"I can offer you a good position and all that, but I know that does not
affect the matter. The vital thing is that from the moment we set eyes
on each other something happened----" for the first time he faltered in
his tone. "We both knew it. There it is. I hate being sentimental. But
I want you--and I know that you want me."

"No--no!" she said again, almost running. A blind desire to escape,
from herself as much as from him, dominated her. "I--I can't."

"Can't? Why not? You are free. I know you were engaged. But he
is--gone. We live in a world of flesh and blood. You can't exist on a
memory. Besides," the words came like a slave-driver's whip--she almost
obeyed it--"you never loved him as you love me!"

She revolted, stung to burning resentment against herself equally as
against this masterful, crude male. She stopped and faced him.

"Captain Lavering, you talk like a sick man." She triumphed in the
steadiness of her words. "You have insulted me in the most uncalled-for
manner. Let that be enough."

His eyes looked into hers, challenged her sincerity, were assured of
it. He went red, looked awkward.

"Forgive me," he mumbled.

She went on without a word, ignored the fact that he accompanied her.
They breasted an upward smooth slope of snow that stretched up to a
crisp, clear outline against the blue sky. He ventured a sidelong
glance at her, a little light of primitive cunning in his eyes.

"Quite Alpine, isn't it?" he said.

As intended--his tone implied a resumption of ordinary commonplace
relationship--the words took her off her guard. But he was ignorant
of their esoteric significance. In a flash, in a deep convulsion of
the soul, she saw the Alpine picture, vivid with symbolism, of her
other life. "--On the heights!" In the full poignancy of the emotion
it unlocked--her own vow of fidelity ringing in her ears from another
world--she found herself struggling in a man's tight grasp, hot
breath upon her face, lips seeking her own. "You must! You shall!" he
muttered, straining forward to her. She stiffened, fought in a frenzy.
"Ronald! Ronald!" she cried.

An icy wind swept down the slope, smote upon them like a breath from
the grave, shudderingly cold. Captain Lavering uttered a little cry,
relaxed his grip, and fell sideways upon the snow.

Sister Braithwaite stared at him in horror. A great fear came upon her,
an awe in the presence of unearthly power. _She knew!_ Her soul slipped
back into its dream-state, confronted the visage of her lover, stern as
destiny. The eyes judged her, forgave. Then, weeping hysterically, she
ran towards the hospital. It was not far distant.

They brought in the dead man.

"H'm," said the Medical Officer, looking at him. "Cerebral hæmorrhage.
This intense cold---- I was always rather afraid of a lesion. A nasty
shock for you, Sister. Well, well, another one finished--very sad, very
sad."

An orderly brought Sister Braithwaite her share of the just arrived
post. There was a letter from Ronald's mother. It enclosed one from the
War Office.

"Dear Madam," it ran. "It is regretted that no further details have
come to hand regarding your son. Officially he is still posted as
'missing, believed killed.'"

Sister Braithwaite shut herself in her cubicle, talked to the
photograph with the vivid eyes, talked to it as primitive woman talks
to the lover who has destroyed his rival. She reached out to the Other
Side.



NA NOS!

(_A study of Serb infantry in battle, 1914_)


There is no moon. In black darkness a long file of men stumbles up a
stony gully. Precipitous rock-walls keep them to the bed of a vanished
stream, where they trip in succession over the same loose boulders.
Their curses are hushed instantly by voices not less authoritative
because they bark in whispers. Wrapped in long sheepskin coats the
figures pass like ghosts of an antique time, whose grimness is
accentuated by the incongruity of modern rifles with fixed bayonets
that glint under the myriad stars. Presently the head of the file halts
in what seems a black pit, the edge of which cuts sharply against
the star-powdered bluish darkness of the sky. Those behind arrive
continuously, collect in the hollow, are formed into ranks by sergeants
who bully _sotto voce_ like angry conspirators. The company commander
is crawling on hands and knees up the wall of the hollow, which is not
so precipitous as it appears in the darkness.

The captain peers cautiously over the crest. He sees only blackness
which rises all around him from an abyss that reflects no ray in its
profundity, and blots out the stars high in the sky with irregular
cones and shapeless masses of inky night. From those mountains a
wind blows chilly on his face. He fixes his gaze upon a point in the
blackness far across the gulf. The point is decided upon after careful
reference to a phosphorescent compass in his hand. He stares at this
blank darkness until it almost seems that he must be staring against
closed lids.

Suddenly in the gloom at which he strains his eyes, he perceives a
pin-point of light. It flickers for an instant and then projects itself
in a ray of intense brilliance widening from the point of origin, right
across the gulf. It falls in a great oval of blinding whiteness upon
the hill-side to his right. Its hard white glare is painful in its
brutality. Everything outside the ray is swallowed in a blackness where
even the stars are lost. The white oval on the hill-side moves slowly.
It brings into vivid relief a long line of loosely piled stones behind
which lie, in many attitudes, the motionless bodies of men. Some,
which have fallen across the heap of stones, throw grotesque shadows,
intensely black. The white oval stays its slow progress, vignettes
them from the night. In the centre of the picture one of these figures
stirs, raises itself upon one elbow and rubs its eyes stupidly like a
man wakened from sleep by the sudden glare.

Instantly a group of sharp reports, multiplied by rapidly reiterated
echoes, breaks from the distant blackness. The figure sinks quickly, a
dark hole visible in the ghastly whiteness of its face. The oval begins
to move again, assuring the men who lurk far back in the night that
this uncompleted shelter-trench is held only by the dead.

Suddenly the light is cut off. The stars reappear in a sky that seems
strangely pallid. The mountain masses silhouette themselves more
definitely than before against their tenebrous background, the outlines
of the high summits, where some snow still lies, picked out in a grey
that has just the faintest tinge of yellow. From the black gulf below
eddies of mist boil up like steam from a mighty cauldron, veiling the
shrinking stars. A wall of fog rolls along the hill-side, blots out the
mountains and the sky.

The captain turns instantly and calls down an order in a carefully
restrained voice. The company in the hollow springs up and over the
crest with the agility of born mountaineers. They follow their captain
at a quick pace into the bank of fog. Behind them is a murmur of
voices. The other companies of the battalion are coming up, deploying
rapidly into line when they reach the crest. The first company has
halted for a moment to allow time for their arrival. Seconds are
precious. At any moment the cloud may roll away, expose them to the
glare of hostile searchlights and a storm of bullets. In two long lines
the battalion moves briskly down the hill, leaving the unfinished
shelter-trench upon its right. Behind, another battalion is coming up
in support.

Some way down the slope the infantry breaks out of the mist. They open
their files and slacken pace, dodging nimbly from one to another of the
boulders which glimmer in the twilight. Overhead the searchlights move
uneasily in long pale bands against the paling sky and fall upon the
fog-belt in white circles as upon a magic-lantern screen. The infantry
is not yet discovered. It works stealthily but quickly forward, aiming
at a lower ridge that rises before them. They seem alone in the narrow
mountain-valley that begins to reveal itself in the dawn, but their
officers know that to right and left of them other battalions are
likewise creeping forward. They reach the ridge, halt and lie down upon
its slope, wisps and wreaths of mist blowing over them.

The searchlights are extinguished--when, it is hard to say. The sky
is now a translucent ultramarine where no stars are left, and against
which the mountain peaks stand out in vivid orange. White fog patches
wander over the dark lower faces of the hills. The infantry creeps
cautiously up to the summit of its ridge and, like one man, peeps
over. In front of them is a mountain-wall that goes back at an angle,
leaving a great gap. Another ridge, parallel to their own, starts from
the mountain-side and drops away to the left. Its foot is lost in a
sea of fog. Between them and that ridge the ground drops into a ravine
and then mounts in a smooth _glacis_ to the further crest. A little
below its summit the loose boulders, which are everywhere sown over
the ground, are disposed in a long regular grey line. The officers of
the battalion give the range to that line--750 yards. The infantrymen
snuggle down behind boulders and inequalities on the crest and adjust
their sights. There is a general loosening of sheepskin coats, a tinkle
of cartridge-clips laid in readiness, and then the line lies still,
waiting, its bayoneted rifles slid back out of view.

Far back the infantry brigade commander is lying upon his stomach upon
the height to the left of the wrecked shelter-trench. The fog-belt has
moved off. He has a clear view from ridge to ridge. Suddenly he takes
his field-glasses from his eyes and picks up a telephone receiver at
the end of a long line trailing over the ground. He speaks a few words
into it, replies shortly to mysterious enquiries that emanate from
the far distance, suggests a number of metres in thousands. Almost
immediately the shriek of a shell passes overhead and the report of a
cannon-shot comes echoing along the valley, arrives in a succession of
distinct shocks to the ear. Ere the echoes have died away another shell
screams past, followed by its series of reverberations. The infantry
brigadier is watching the distant ridge through his binoculars. The
line of boulders is faintly visible. The first shell bursts above it
and beyond; the second bursts short. The bracket is too wide. The
brigadier speaks again through the telephone. Another shell wakes weird
noises from the mountains as an accompaniment to its own shriek. It
bursts just in front of the line of boulders above it. Through his
glasses the brigadier sees the splash of shrapnel bullets upon the
rocks like twinkles in quick whiffs of dust. He speaks two brief words
into the telephone. A flight of shells rushes overhead like a covey
of screaming spirits and with an enormous roll of thunder arrives the
roar of a battery in rapid action. Its reverberations roll and clash
endlessly, surging from side to side of the valley in confused waves of
violent sound. The long line of boulders is suddenly whelmed in a cloud
of dust that renews itself as fast as it drifts into the air. From
one end of that cloud spurt tiny points of flame, and shriek crosses
shriek in the air above, whilst a series of sharp crashes mingles
with the continuous roar. Quick puffs of white smoke appear in groups
against the blue sky. In the unfinished shelter-trench spurts of dust
leap up around the bodies of the dead men who lie behind the boulders.
A battery of guns has been pushed up into the infantry line over there
on the hostile ridge and, unobservant of the menace close at hand, is
spending its fury upon the trench that it wrecked overnight.

The firing line upon the intervening ridge lies quiet in its
concealment. Its officers have no wish to provoke a _rafale_ from a
battery protected by tall stone sangars. Intently they watch the sheets
of dust that spurt up high over the line of boulders like the beat of a
rough sea against a breakwater. They mark where the long thin tongues
of flame shoot out ceaselessly in reply, spitting at a distant target
far behind them. They communicate these observations to the battalion
commander who is smoking a cigarette in an attitude of ease a little
way down the slope. A man close to him commences a series of quick,
jerky gesticulations with a pair of flags held stiffly at arm's length.
No flags wave in reply, but, far back, the brigadier at the telephone
speaks. A great shell rushes overhead with the roar of an express
train. A moment later the officers upon the ridge see a sudden eruption
of flame and rocks in the centre of the line of boulders. They send
another message down to the signaller. Another shell hurtles through
the air, another explosion shoots upward, this time nearer to the
spitting guns. Where the fumes drift off, great holes, in which there
is a scurry of tiny figures, are visible in the shelter trench. Wide
grins open on the faces of the Serbian firing-line as they draw their
rifles close to them and finger the triggers. They understand fully
the value of artillery support. Again and again the volcanic eruptions
spout into the air with an appalling detonation that breaks heavily
into the rolling echoes which fill the valley. Two of them leap up
suddenly from the very midst of the dust-cloud where the battery is at
work. There is a fountain of flying rocks dark in the centre of the
flame, and in the colossal roar of the explosion a brief, acute note of
human agony comes like a high-pitched discord mingled with a thunderous
bass. A moment later the line of guns is revealed, naked to attack. A
few men are seen darting with short movements about them. Three out of
the six eject a tongue of flame at short intervals. While they fire,
a pale gleam flickers along the Serbian ridge as the bayoneted rifles
are thrust forward, and with a long dry crackle a sheet of bullets
leaps out at the wrecked battery. The sun rises over a shoulder of the
mountains and a band of golden light spreads downwards, illuminates the
flying clouds of dust in which figures can just be seen frantically
endeavouring to turn the guns in the new direction. They are picked
off one by one with deadly aim. Above the trench the shrapnel bursts
incessantly, a new shower starting ere its predecessor has reached
earth.

Along the Serbian ridge the sheepskin-clad figures lie in snug
safety and pull trigger with chuckles of satisfaction. There is no
excitement, only a keen savouring of primeval emotions that can now be
given rein. About them dance quick spurts of dust and bright splashes
of nickel appear upon the rocks. An irregular rifle fire is coming from
the hostile ridge. One or two shells burst overhead and then the guns
fall silent, are forgotten. The company on the right starts suddenly to
its feet, dashes over the crest and down the slope. The rifle fire from
the other ridge changes in character, welcomes them with rapid, violent
claps. A couple of machine-guns strike into the din with a continued
rapid and resonant hammering, nerve-racking in its persistency. Men in
the running line throw up their arms or pitch forward here and there,
but the company is lost to sight almost immediately on the rock-strewn
hill-side. The men dart forward from boulder to boulder. Behind them on
their left other companies are descending in quick succession towards
the ravine.

At the other side of the ridge, in rear, the second line of the
battalion is coming up in support, and behind them the other battalions
of the brigade are streaming forward, unhindered as yet by artillery
fire. It is a brief respite, however. In a moment or two a distant,
unseen battery has got their range, flings shell after shell to burst
over their heads and fall in a spreading cone of bullets. The brigade
advances with quick onward dashes by battalions that spring up, race a
hundred yards and disappear for a breathing space among the boulders.
Gradually they draw into the shelter of the intervening ridge, and
battalion after battalion tops it and moves down to the aid of those
in front. A strong firing-line remains on the crest, keeps up a steady
stream of bullets against the long grey line still whelmed in dust by
an unceasing hail of shrapnel. The brigadier ensconces himself in a
rock shelter at the end of this firing-line, the telephone receiver
still ready to his hand.

The first line of the attack has now reached the ravine. The men
seize hold of tiny shrubs that grow out at overhanging angles and
swing themselves down, scrambling over loose stones and sliding sand.
A hail of bullets is beating upon them from the trench above and
from a line of supports that has come into action higher still. The
machine-guns hammer with an appalling energy that knows not fatigue.
Where their aim is directed the sand spouts up as though struck by
an air-blast from a hose. In that ravine the first line is more than
decimated. Men stumble and fall upon their own bayonets. Corpses,
hanging limply, weigh down the shrubs. With fierce shouts the survivors
scramble onward. The second line has caught them up, is mingled with
them. The battle-madness seethes in every head; each bullet that
strikes harmlessly upon the earth is a shock of stimulation to already
hyper-excited nerves. They lose their identity, lose the instinct
of self-preservation in the flood of an older instinct which blinds
them to all but the hazards of the ground, and sweeps them forward
like demented animals frantic to assuage a thirst that consumes
their tissues. A savage cry breaks automatically from every throat;
the blood-congested brains, that permit the action of the muscles,
unconscious of it. They reach the bottom of the ravine, not very deep,
and clamber up in the comparative security of the other side.

At the foot of the smooth slope which reaches to the dust-whelmed
boulder-line, their officers halt them by orders, entreaties. The men
lie down and open a rapid, irregular fire against the trench. More men
arrive behind them, frenzied with excitement. They attempt to rush
upward, are pulled back by officers, or are struck down quickly in the
rain of bullets from the trench. The rifle-fire up there comes now in
one long rolling crackle through the cloud of dust that flurries in
answer to the continuous crashing of the shrapnel. The fire of the
attack increases in sporadic bursts.

On the ridge behind, the brigadier speaks a few brief words into the
telephone. A minute later the shrapnel ceases to burst over the trench.

In the disordered crowd of men that lies at the foot of the slope is
a commotion that defies the efforts of the officers. In vain do they,
knowing what is about to occur, endeavour to form a regular line of
attack up the ravine, as, from those who are still swarming down the
other side, arises one hoarse, savage cry that dominates the crash
of rifle-volleys. It is the battle-cry of a primitive people that
spontaneously clutches its primitive weapon in this awakening of its
oldest instincts, this plunge into the æon-old chaos where man thirsts
for the blood of man. "Na Nos! Na Nos!" comes the cry from a thousand
throats, reiterated endlessly by frenzied men whose faces are deathly
white or inflamed with blood. "Na Nos! Na Nos!" from parched mouths,
from dry, cracked lips the shout issues, overpowering the orders of
the officers. The bloodshot eyes that protrude with wild hatred at
the trench no longer see those officers. It is a savage horde merely,
in which the modern military hierarchy is lost, obliterated by an
intensely individual lust to slay as their ancestors slew. "Na Nos! Na
Nos!" "With the knife! With the knife!" What matters it that the knife
is at the end of a rifle? It is still a knife, the primordial weapon.
With an angry roar, the mass, no longer to be restrained, rushes madly
up the slope.

With an answering crash the rifle-fire from the trench leaps to a
climax. The men up there are firing for their lives. In the horde upon
the slope is an appalling massacre. Heedless of it, blind to it, the
mass surges upward, happily forgetful of the cartridges in their own
rifles, mindful only of the blade that gleams at the muzzle. They see a
line of faces, white behind countless spurts of flame. With one fierce
roar they hurl themselves upon them. Men in grey-blue spring up and
dash away or turn and run at them bayonet to bayonet. The attacking
line howls in the joy of butchery--"_Na Nos!_"



PER LA PIÙ GRANDE ITALIA!


The hot sun of a morning in early summer beat down upon the narrow
street of a little North Italian town. Down the long, confined vista
of colonnaded shopfronts, hung with striped awnings of warm hue,
the air quivered above the cobbles, troubled the view of an arched,
square-turreted gateway which barred the street. The sky above was
a long strip of intense azure. Sharp to the left, near at hand, was
the roughly-paved piazza, white-fronted Venetian-shuttered houses
looking out to the large round basin, the weather-worn Triton, of
the fountain where the pigeons, flashing in the sun, circled down to
drink. A group of girls, bare-armed, black-haired, skirts turned up
over vividly-coloured petticoats, water-jars underneath the gush from
the Triton's mouth, or poised already upon the graceful head, stood
laughing and chattering about the fountain. Their gaze was unanimously
turned towards the large building, the words _Palazzo Municipale_ over
its arcaded front, which occupied one side of the square. Carved on
that front, beneath the clock, defaced but not entirely obliterated,
might yet be made out the double-eagle of Austria--a memento of a
tyranny that had fled before a passionate patriotism, to entrench
itself, not far distant, high on the crag and glacier of the eagles'
haunts, ready to swoop. But not to that did the merry, whispering girls
dart their flirtatious glances. The two grey-uniformed Bersagliere
sentries, strutting up and down before the building, superb under the
drooping cocks' feathers of their grey-covered tilted hats, were for
once immune. A handsome young officer, black-moustached, dark-eyed, who
stood, one foot upon the running-board of a car that hummed ready to
start, in conversation with another officer, was the point of interest.
Both officers, clad in the grey field-service uniform, wore upon
their arm the brassard which indicated that they were of the Staff.
The officer on the point of departure wore the badges of captain; he
who was giving him his final instructions was a _tenente colonello_
(lieutenant-colonel).

"You quite understand what the General wants, don't you, Ricci?" he
said, using the familiar "_tu_," universal between Italian officers.
"As soon as possible after the position is captured, a report on its
possibilities for field artillery if we can advance to the covering
ridge. The General thinks it will command the valley road up from the
railway. You will see. Don't get buried under an avalanche!"

"Very good, colonel. I quite understand." He saluted--a quick movement
of the hand horizontally below the peak of the képi, palm downwards, as
though shading the sight, in the Italian fashion--and jumped into the
car. He pushed to one side a heavy fur coat, settled himself. A moment
later the car was humming out of the square, spinning down the long
colonnaded street.

In front of him loomed the heavy mediæval gateway, square above its
arch. Its ordinarily forbidding gloomy aspect was lost in a generous
decoration of green boughs, a trophy of Italian flags, red, white and
green, above a white-crossed shield, a great inscription--"Per la più
grande Italia!"[2] The battle-cry of Italy's greatest modern poet--the
cry that had rung beseeching, dominating, inspiring, through dithyramb
after dithyramb of the wonderful passionate orations by which he had
wakened the glowing soul of the people into flame, was blazoned here
as everywhere in Italy. Under that gateway thousands of Italy's sons
had marched to conflict with the _Tedeschi_, to the redemption of their
brethren; thousands more would march. And those to come would shout
as those who had gone had shouted: "_Per la più grande Italia! Evviva
Italia!_" The captain, glancing up at it ere the car shot under the
dark arch, carried the inscription marked upon his brain through the
obscurity. Familiar enough, he reperceived its meaning with a thrill.
What mattered the little individual life he was hurrying to risk? "_Per
la più grande Italia!_"

The car sped along a road on the left side of a pleasant valley. In
front, immediately claiming the eye, a range of Alpine peaks, dark
rock-scars breaking their dazzling whiteness, exquisitely delicate and
fine-drawn as perceived through the warm atmosphere, towered in lofty
austerity into the rich unvarying blue of the sky. The road, thick with
dust, climbed towards them in long loops and bold curves. Close upon
its left, dark woodland descended, masking ever and anon the distant
prospect behind a shoulder of the hills. To the right, across the green
valley where the cattle stood hock-deep in flowers, village after
village--yellow-ochre and burnt-red, its slant-roofed campanile high
above the flat houses--clustered itself upon an eminence or nestled
low down to the valley stream. Viewing the scene of quiet bucolic
prosperity it was difficult to imagine that among the silent peaks in
the background lurked the terrors of war; men embattled for mutual
destruction.

Along the road creaked and squealed clumsy country-carts drawn by oxen
with patient heads bowed to the yoke. They hoofed the dust with the
unhurried motion of centuries of tradition in their toil, careless
of the goad of the barefooted _contadina_ crying them to hasten, to
turn aside to allow passage for impatiently hooting motor-lorries.
In strange contrast of locomotion, column after column of lumbering
mechanical transport rushed down from the mountains in a smother of
dust and petrol-fumes. Column after column proceeding upward was
overtaken and passed by the captain's car. Ever in front towered the
range of glittering peaks, in unshakable, eternal calm. Yet from
somewhere among their solitudes came a distant, faint roar that was not
the roar of nature's thunder.

The road had climbed high. The valley was narrower. The orchards
sloping to its stream were white with fruit-blossoms. The air was
rarefied but still hot under the direct rays of the sun. The dark
woods of oak gave place to darker woods of pine. The road swept round
in sharp curves on low-parapeted stone bridges above a rushing torrent.
Bare green slopes, strewn with grey boulders, opened between the woods.
The car overtook a long marching column of Alpini crunching the dust
under heavily nailed boots, pack high upon the shoulders, alpenstock
as well as rifle, sweating profusely yet pressing upwards with quick
step, the eagle's feather in their soft hats still jaunty. It was the
rear battalion of a brigade whose units were successively overtaken and
passed.

The road swung to the right round the head of the valley which here
commenced in a sheer drop. As the car followed it there was a sudden
spurt of flame, a drifting tawny smoke, in the dark depths to the
right. A tremendous, shattering detonation that re-echoed endlessly
down the valley ceased at last, leaving audible the eerie moaning of
a great shell speeding upwards over the mountains, already far away.
Another such flash and detonation followed the first. Looking over the
side of the car, the captain perceived, deep down, the long barrel
of a monster gun nosing upwards, men tiny about it. A second gun was
depressed, a crane-slung shell hovering near its breech. Once more
there was a crash--a series of distracted conflicting echoes that
shattered the Alpine silence as thick glass is starred and fractured.
In the sky above the valley an eagle beat the air with heavy, violent
wings, startled into a vertical climb, and then glided swiftly with
outstretched pinions downwards to its crag.

The road still ascended, left the valley, climbed tortuously a rocky
spur, thinly grassed. The car took the gradient slowly, noisily, on
second speed. In front, struggling on the brow of the spur, a column
of "caterpillar" tractors drawing the component parts of a battery
of heavy howitzers distributed on trucks rattled and detonated like
machine-guns in full action. The battery personnel, harnessed to
long ropes, hauled and strained at the leading piece in an effort to
facilitate the passage of the steep crest. Before the war the boldest
artilleryman would have scouted the possibility of such heavy ordnance
at this height among the mountains. But the battery was only entering
upon the area of its severest toil.

On the crest of the spur the road turned to the left, climbed at an
easier angle. The view, hitherto much masked by closely overhanging
slopes, opened out. To right and left the gaze plunged into blue
depths, fell on miniature woods and thin white strips that were roads.
Far away on either hand the mountain ranges lifted themselves, superb,
into the blue sky. But directly in front the higher peaks were not
seen. A sheer wall of dark rock barred the view as effectually as it
seemed to bar further progress.

At the foot of the precipice was a stationary column of motor-lorries,
tiny by comparison with the towering mountain. The road went straight
up to it. The captain in the car bestirred himself, picked up his
heavy fur coat. Far away and high above was a prolonged rumbling roar
that seemed to re-echo from invisible walls in the upper atmosphere.
Involuntarily the captain raised his eyes. The blue sky was untroubled.

Upon the face of the rock--which leaned back less precipitously than
had appeared--swarmed hundreds of grey-uniformed engineers. They were
laying a pathway of heavy timber, erecting huge sheers, arranging a
complicated tackle of thick rope and large pulleys. Back along the road
the first of the heavy pieces for which this hoisting apparatus was in
preparation lumbered already into sight.

This tackle was not the only feature on the precipice. A little further
along, at the centre of the line of lorries, a light cantilever steel
standard was connected by drooping wire ropes to the summit. Suspended
from those ropes by a running-gear of pulleys a little car was gliding
steadily upwards, another coming down. It was the _Teleferica_--the
famous wire-rope railway, that, many times multiplied, made modern war
possible at these high altitudes.

Ammunition in boxes was being unloaded from the lorries, stacked on the
roadside near the _Teleferica_. The downward-gliding car was seized
by a group of waiting men, steadied, stopped, quickly loaded with the
boxes.

The staff-captain's motor drew up. He descended, walked towards the
_Teleferica_, exchanged a salute with the dapper little ammunition
officer superintending the work.

"_Buon' giorno, signor capitano_," said the little lieutenant. "Are you
going up to see the attack?"

The captain nodded.

"Ah! Some people have all the luck! I never see anything. My battery
never has any casualties--and here am I left supernumerary. I might as
well be mountaineering for my pleasure!" He drew a lugubrious grimace
of comic, half-sincere self-pity.

The captain struggled into his heavy fur coat, apparently superfluous
here in the fierce heat which glowed from the rock in the noonday sun.

"A glass of wine before you ascend, _capitano_!" said the lieutenant.
"Come, I will take no denial!"

He led the way to a little wooden shack close under the lee of the
precipice. Within, the walls were decorated with a number of scathingly
satirical drawings of the _Tedeschi_; some extremely clever studies
of the mountains in their different aspects of light--sunset and
dawn, moonlight. The host, perceiving the captain's glance, made a
deprecatory gesture.

"What I am reduced to, _signor capitano_! And I might be blowing the
Austrians out of their eyries!" He was typical of that new Italy which,
while it cannot cease to be artistic, holds all of small account that
is not war against the Austrian. He filled the glasses, raised his own,
half turned to a portrait of Gabriele d'Annunzio that shared with the
King the honours of the wall. "_Per la più grande Italia!_"

"_Per la più grande Italia!_" Both officers drank the toast. "To-morrow
morning she will be a little greater if the fates are kind," added the
captain.

A few minutes later he was lying full-length in a narrow low-sided
cage, suspended from a pulley on a thick wire-rope, and being hauled
up, with much creaking and strident protest of the pulley-wheel and
vicious jerking of the loose rope, to the summit of the cliff.

There he was again in a scene of activity. Broad-shouldered porters
in frayed and much-worn Territorial uniforms were bearing away the
ammunition boxes that had arrived at the summit, carrying them towards
the next station of the _Teleferica_. The captain followed in their
track.

The wire-rope railway ran in short sections from station to station.
The gaps between the sections--stretches of comparatively level
ground--were filled by the sturdy Alpine porters or, in the case of
longer distances, by pack-mules. It was the line of communications
to the sector of the front immediately ahead--a front that for the
most part of 450 miles is thrust out amid the eternal snows of lofty
mountains, along the edges of deep chasms, upon the knife-ridges of
_arêtes_, across the Arctic desolation of glacier and _neve_. Over it
was transported food and ammunition, light guns, clothing, equipment,
all the necessaries for an army in action. By it descended the wounded
and the sick, the unwanted stores.

Over section after section the staff-captain passed, ascending higher
and ever higher towards his goal. About him rose the great peaks, their
robes of snow dazzling white under the sun, splendidly superior to
the ragged army of stunted pines that sought to climb them, last lost
sentinels straggling half submerged in the snow. Up sheer rock-faces
whence birds of prey darted frightened from their nests, over deep
chasms where he looked down to a dark profundity of pines and rushing
streams, over great empty fields of snow far away beneath him on
which zigzagged long lines of tiny black figures insignificant in the
immensity, bearing burdens, upward and ever upward to the regions where
snow and ice reign in eternal winter, the _Teleferica_ bore him. And
ever between the stations there were throngs of busy men, more and more
thickly clad at each successive height, who marched under heavy loads.

Always there was a thunder rolling among the mountains. From apparently
inaccessible crags dark against the blue, from bare snow ridges, from
bleak white wastes where there seemed nothing to detain the eye,
spurted little darts of flame, drifted faint smoke. Detonations came
in sharp direct cracks, fantastically re-echoed; in a long rumbling
angry mutter from the more distant guns. From steep mountain-sides,
avalanches, loosened by the concussions, rushed downwards in a white
smoke of flying snow, their thunders rivalling the persistent artillery.

The staff-captain dallied not. The bombardment which was to prepare
the way for the attack had already commenced. He hurried over the
intervening spaces between the wire-rope stations, ascended higher and
ever higher in the little dangling cages.

It was afternoon when he reached the limit of the _Teleferica_--a
little snow-covered hut on a desolate ledge. Here, sheeted down from
the weather, stacks of supplies awaited further transportation. It was
the depot of the quartermaster of the battalion holding the sector. An
Alpino soldier, thickly clad, was in waiting to act as guide.

The staff-captain borrowed an alpenstock from the quartermaster and
set out. In front of him stretched a great smooth slope of snow that
ascended until, high above him, it cut--in sharp contrast--across the
blue of the sky. Its whiteness was blinding--the captain fitted on a
pair of darkened spectacles. Far across it, dark dots strung like beads
on an invisible thread, a company of soldiers was marching in a long
single file zigzagged over the snow, climbing to the crest. Nearer at
hand to the right, vivid spurts of yellow flame shot out from mounds of
snow aligned at a little distance from each other. The detonations of
the battery came crisply to the ear, predominant over the rumble and
roll and confused echoes of the general bombardment.

As the captain followed his guide up the vast empty slope he heard a
long plaintive whining in the air, descending a scale of tones. It
had not ceased when over to his right a great fountain of snow leaped
skywards from the field--subsided leaving a smother of dirty smoke.
The whine finished in an ugly rush, a muffled detonation. Another and
another followed, in each case the visible effects of the shell's
explosion preceding the noise of its arrival. The Austrian batteries
were replying.

The echoing thunder of the bombardment continued all through the
dreary fatiguing climb up the slope of snow. The higher peaks began to
throw long blue shadows across its whiteness, their argent heads to be
suffused with gold.

The ridge to which they climbed was not, after all, the summit. There
was another, yet higher, whence splintered crags serrated the sky.
They reached it, stood among rocky pinnacles.

"_Attenzione, signor capitano!_" said the guide. "It is dangerous to
linger!"

Followed by the captain he swung himself round a jut of rock, dropped
into a trench excavated deeply in the snow. As they dropped a couple of
ugly "_phutts!_" just above their heads explained the warning.

The Alpino grinned.

"Tirolese!" he said. "We could have gone round by a safer way, _signor
capitano_, but their snipers do not often hit if one is quick."

The deep trench, in cold blue shadow through the gilded surface of the
snow, descended the ridge at a gentle angle to the summit. It emerged
into another trench that ran roughly parallel to the ridge. This was
filled with soldiers who, well below the high parapet, larked with
one another, threw snowballs, wrestled and laughed. They were keeping
themselves warm during their enforced wait. Every one of them was
garbed in a thick white outer coat, with a hood. This was the main
trench; these were the men who presently were going to attack.

On steps cut in the parapet stood sentries, peering towards the enemy.
The captain ceded to an impulse of curiosity, interrupted his hurried
progress towards the battalion advanced headquarters, mounted to the
side of one of these sentries, looked out.

About him was a sea of mountains, their lower flanks in cold blue
light, their snow-covered peaks orange against the azure sky.
Immediately in front of him were the nearly submerged stakes, the
snow-thickened upper wires, of wide entanglements. Beyond them
stretched the confused, humped and fractured white surface of a high
glacier. On the other side of it was again a snow ridge, and in front
of that ridge could be discerned a belt of wire entanglements--the
enemy's. In the midst of that entanglement, and all up the snow to
the ridge, leaped fountain after fountain of white snow, momentarily
brilliant against the sky, falling back into a persistent cloud of dark
smoke. The noise of the explosions overwhelmed the roar of the guns
behind. The preparatory bombardment was in full swing.

Warfare in the high Alps, with their difficult communications, is
necessarily carried on by comparatively small bodies of men. The
vast masses of the Western and Eastern fronts could not possibly be
maintained among the crags and glaciers of the Italian frontier.
Operations by single battalions have all the importance of a divisional
attack elsewhere. In this case one battalion had been allotted the task
of storming and retaining the enemy's position.

In the little low timber hut sunk beneath the snow-level which was
the battalion headquarters, the captain found the colonel commanding
the regiment in conference with the local commander and the company
leaders. The atmosphere of the cramped interior was thick with
the exhalations of the half-dozen men, warm with the heat of a
petrol-stove. Capitano Ricci saluted the colonel, was received affably.
A pair of keen eyes under level brows appraised him, smiled upon him.
For his benefit the colonel recapitulated.

"The plan is briefly this. The artillery is cutting the wire and
shelling the trenches immediately in front of us. The Austrians of
course will assume that we are going to attack there. They will keep
strong reserves at hand in the vicinity--as strong as they can, for
we know that there is no very large force opposite. The artillery
is making it difficult to bring up the reserves from the rear. All
their communications are under fire. Now, we hope that the enemy will
concentrate on the damaged trench in front of us. The attack is being
made by four companies. One company will advance at 9 p.m., using
every precaution not to be seen, and will cross the glacier at an
angle to its right. It will fall upon the enemy's trench here"--he
indicated a spot on the left of the enemy's position as marked on a
plan spread over the table. "It should effect a surprise as the enemy
will be far from expecting an attack on a part of the line which has
not been bombarded at all. Directly that attack gets into the trench
it will turn to the left and continue to press on as hard as possible.
If it is progressing well it will send up a green rocket. If it is in
difficulties it will send up a red rocket. The second company will
advance to within about a hundred metres of the trench that has been
bombarded. There it will halt. If matters go as I expect them to, the
company on the right will send up a green rocket. Then the Austrians,
realising that they have made a mistake, will rush up their men from
the damaged sector and put up a resistance. The green light will
be followed by a red one which will automatically indicate that the
enemy's reserves are engaged. _Whenever that red light goes up_,
whether preceded by a green one or not, the second company will rush
the trench in front of it. I hope that it will find it thinly held.
The third company will advance, with every precaution, at 9.30 p.m.
in support of the second company. The fourth company I will retain as
general reserve under my command. The men will be served with hot cocoa
at 8.30 p.m. Is that quite clear, gentlemen?"

There was a general murmur of assent. The staff-captain requested
permission to advance with the second company, the one that was
attacking straight ahead. He received it.

The conference was at an end. Officers went out to give final
instructions to their subalterns, came in again, beating powdered snow
from their huge fur coats. One and all looked like Polar explorers.

Presently orderlies entered, put a steaming hot meal upon the
table. Crowded closely together in the confined space, the officers
ate--talking and laughing in high confidence, though in all was the
tension which precedes the moment of action. Occasionally during the
meal they heard the dull thud of an Austrian shell's arrival. They sat
over coffee and smoked.

At last the colonel looked at his watch, stood up.

"It is time to go to your companies, gentlemen. I rely upon all of you
as upon myself. I have promised the general that the trench shall be
taken--and held. _Per la più grande Italia!_ And good luck to all of
you!"

Some time later the staff-captain found himself by the side of the
company commander in the deep trench hewn through the snow. It was
night and in the faint reflected radiance of the white walls he could
just dimly discern the figures of a long line of men, all garbed
in white like himself. Only when their heads moved did they detach
themselves from their surroundings. Overhead, above the crisp line of
the parapet, the sky was a black background for an immense multitude of
strangely brilliant stars. A wind raised little whirls of powdered snow
upon the lip of the parapet, blew down into the trench in chill gusts
that penetrated the clothing. Not a sound broke the intense silence.
It seemed almost that one could hear the crackle of the sparkling
vivid stars. The artillery bombardment had long since ceased. There
was nothing to suggest that a death-dealing enemy was hidden only
eight hundred metres away across the glacier. No sound came from the
company that had already advanced. Along the trench was a murmur of
conversation, stifled laughter. The company commander stood gazing at
the luminous dial of his watch.

9.15! He turned his head, gave a command in a low voice.

"_Avanti!_"

It was repeated in a low murmur to right and left.

In an instant the company commander, the staff-captain at his side,
had sprung up on to the parapet. A bitter wind smote upon them from
the darkness, chilling to the bone. The commander glanced back, saw
his men like a line of ghosts faint in the dim light, already over
the parapet. Then the company commenced to thread its way through the
openings previously cut in their own wire.

Stealthily, with the utmost precautions to avoid any unnecessary sound,
the company stole across the uneven, heaped and riven snow and ice of
the glacier. Under that black night of stars it stretched away white
to a near indistinctness. The black masses of the mountains occulting
the stars near the horizon were too indefinite to indicate direction.
Compass in hand, the commander counted his paces over the snow, his
only means of judging distance. For greater accuracy the staff-captain
counted also. They spoke not a word. From the obscurity came the
whispers of the men as they preserved a rough alignment.

Sliding, stumbling over the inequalities of the frozen surface, they
pressed onwards. Somewhere over to their right, higher on the glacier
in front of them, the other company was advancing also. There was
neither sound nor sign of it. In that dim desolation the staff-captain
might with difficulty see his immediate companions. The remainder of
the company was swallowed up, was noiseless. It seemed that they were
stumbling on alone--on and on, an interminable distance--a few lost
figures struggling through an Arctic night.

Suddenly from the blackness straight ahead a beam of intensely white
light shot out horizontal with the ground, sweeping it. At its first
birth-splutter they flung themselves upon the snow, lay motionless.
The searchlight--a wall of milky radiance to one side of them,
suffusing the snow with a pale reflection--then, as it shone full on
them, a lane of intolerable light from a blindingly violent source,
casting long pitch-black shadows from every hump and hummock of the
ice--swept questingly over the glacier, rested doubtfully here and
there for a moment, passed on again. The Austrians were on the alert.
Cautiously, still repeating to himself the number of paces they had
marched when they dropped, the staff-captain glimpsed to right and left
of him, looking for the company. The nearer figures he saw, immobile,
their white humped backs looking like inequalities of the snow. Those
more distant were utterly indistinguishable. The searchlight ceased
abruptly. The world was annihilated in a profound blackness where the
stars reigned alone.

The two officers rose to their feet, marched onward, resumed their
count of the paces. To right and left of them rose ghostly figures,
stumbling forward. On and on they went, bruising themselves on sudden
obstacles in the black night, the dim uniform whiteness of the snow a
bewilderment to the vision. Far away in the mountains of the Austrian
position a livid flash leaped to the sky. The reverberation of a
gun's discharge rolled heavily and ominously to their ears, the long
hurrying whine of a shell approached them. There was an instant of
suspense. Were they after all discovered? The shell passed overhead to
burst far behind, inaudible. The trench in front was invisible in the
darkness--not a flare, not a rifle-spurt marked its position.

"Seven hundred!" Both officers murmured the number at the same moment.

"_Alt!_" The whispered order was passed to right and left. The line of
ghostly figures sank down, was merged in the ice and snow under the
twinkling stars. "_Baionett' cann!_" There was a faint rustling, a just
audible click and clink of bayonets being fixed. Then again silence.
The company might have ceased to exist.

The company commander and the staff-captain gazed earnestly to their
right front, towards the point where the other company should be
attacking. At any moment now! Their comrades had a quarter of an hour's
start, had a rather longer, more difficult stretch to traverse. But
they should have reached their objective. At this moment stealthy
white-clad figures should be crawling among the stakes of the
entanglements, snipping at the wire. The two officers stared in the
fateful direction--in suspense for the up-flung flare, the shouts and
stabs of flame. They stared at complete obscurity.

The searchlight on the trench in front leaped out again to the night,
its origin startlingly close. This time as it swept over them, it
illumined the short heads of the stakes of the wire entanglement that
cast black shadows on the snow which all but submerged them. They were
very near. In the intense light the white craters of the shell-holes
produced by the afternoon's bombardment, hung with broken wire from
supports all askew, gleamed like craters of the moon seen in uncanny
proximity. Once more the light swept the glacier, searched doubtfully
and was extinguished.

A sudden shot, off to the right front--a swift succession of loud
reports--woke wild echoes from unseen cliffs. High up on the glacier,
to the left of the Austrian position, flare after flare was flung into
the sky, eerily illuminant, plucking strange rock-forms into grotesque
relief. There was a fierce shout that rolled in repeated reverberation,
a wild tumult of voices in a crisis of human lives, confused shots,
isolated and in irregular volleys, the dull thudding explosions of
bombs. The first company was attacking.

The two officers lying in the snow gazed with fixed intensity towards
the distant fight whose tumult swelled louder and louder with every
moment. The wild flares continued to soar into the night, but as yet
no rocket--neither red nor green--had leaped up to tell them of its
fortunes. The searchlight in front shot out again, swept quickly
from side to side. It illumined only the apparently empty, tumbled
desolation of the glacier. But it continued to blaze out into the
night. Both officers cursed it under their breath. From the trenches
they had left, far behind, rifle-shots rang out, the rapid hammering
of a machine-gun. The reserve company was indulging in a little tricky
target-practice at the searchlight. It was successful. The beam of
light vanished.

At the same moment a little spark of trailing fire went rushing
skywards from the tumult of the flank attack. It was watched with
suspended breath--green or red? The rocket burst into an effulgence
of uncanny green light. The cheer which came from under it was like a
ghostly utterance of the cheer repressed on the lips of the men lying
prone and motionless on the glacier. The colonel's forecast was sound.

But now the uproar on the flank increased to a wild intensity.
Incessant were the sharp detonations of the rifles, the dull thuds of
the bombs, mingling with a clamour of voices, shrieks and yells. No
more flares went up from the point of conflict, but from all along the
trench they soared into the air, symptomatic of the nervousness of
the unseen defenders. Machine-guns began to rap out their streams of
bullets in blind hazard across the glacier.

The staff-captain pressed himself close to the snow, overhead cracked
the rapid bullets of the Austrian machine-guns. The wind that blew
over the glacier, ruffling the loose surface snow on to his face, was
intensely cold. He felt himself a heavy leaden thing, frozen stiff.
Over to his right front the savage noises of the contest, weird and
awe-inspiring on this summit of the world that seemed so uncannily near
to the flashing stars, swelled hideously cacophonous. Livid bursts of
flame flickered and were reflected redly on snow surfaces, on black
jagged spires of rock. All along the trench the blindingly white flares
leaped upward, another soaring as its predecessor circled down in a
parabola that illumined the unearthly confusion of the glacier surface.
He seemed a mortal for ever severed from his fellow-men, set down in
a world that was primitive Arctic chaos, a paralysed spectator of a
contest of fierce mountain spirits fighting over spectral issues,
remote from the interests of humanity. A part of his mind harked back
to the warm summer, the green fields, the somnolent little town of
the valley he had left that morning, and it seemed that those things
belonged to another existence. Yet all the time he gazed fixedly to the
point whence the next rocket should shoot up. He awaited it as he would
await the breaking of a spell.

At last! The trailing spark of fire shot upwards, burst into hanging
globes of red light, the snow rosy beneath them. On the instant the
company was erect, rushing forward. Leaping, soaring flares from the
trench revealed them--white moving figures casting black shadows on the
white glacier. Spurts of livid flame, loud quick detonations darted
from the white ridge in front. "_Avanti! Avanti! Italia! Italia!_"
shouted the commander. "_Italia! Italia! Savoia!_" came the fierce
antistrophe from the rushing men flinging aside their alpenstocks,
brandishing their bayoneted rifles.

They were fighting their way through the deep loose snow, the wreck
of the wire entanglements. The staff-captain floundered in a white
shell-crater pitilessly illumined by an overhanging flare. The loose
ends of the barbed wire tore at his clothes, clutched round his legs
like tentacles that would hold him for death to strike. In front the
spurts of flame sprang from a wall of darkness above the white, high
up. Near him was the company commander, extricating himself from the
shell-hole, the last of the wire safely passed. He had a sense of
tensely struggling figures all around him. He, too, got clear of the
wire. He saw the company commander throw up his hands, roll sideways
over the snow, still shouting "_Avanti! Avanti! Italia!_"

He passed him, took up the cry: "_Avanti! Avanti! Italia! La più grande
Italia!_" leading the company that yelled behind him like a pack of
mountain wolves. He topped the snow parapet, saw a fierce face glaring
up at him in a strange light, a rifle-barrel levelled. His revolver
seemed to go off of itself, a sharp autonomous detonation. The face
opened a black mouth, sank out of vision.

He sprang into the trench, shouting like a madman. Behind him came
the Italians, tumbling down in fierce onslaught. One of them struck
him violently on the back as he slid down, knocked him face forward
into the snow. As he went he heard a sudden heavy crash, saw a flare
of lurid light. A bomb! He picked himself up, only half realising his
escape, fired at once into a dark body that wrestled with a white-clad
soldier. There was a confusion of blows, of shots, of ear-splitting
detonations--shouts, cries, shrieks. At one moment he was in close
contact with a panting man, warm breath upon his face, eyes flashing
momentarily in the reflection of a rifle-shot, looking into his--the
next the man was gone, there was space about him. The confusion
cleared--there were bodies underfoot--white-clad men about him shouting
unintelligibly. Further along the trench another flare went up.

The staff-captain turned to his right along the trench.

"_Avanti! Avanti! A destra! Italia! Italia!_"

Behind him followed a rush of fiercely yelling soldiery.

"_Italia! Italia!_"

They were held up by a traverse of snow-covered rock. A shower of bombs
came over it. From a communication trench a mass of dark figures rushed
at them, shouting with guttural voices. There was bitter conflict--an
ebb and flow in the surge of men.

Then another fierce shout: "_Italia! Italia! Savoia!_" It was the third
company flinging itself in the trench to support the attack.

In the midst of the tumult could be distinguished the scream of Italian
shells passing overhead to burst dully on the Austrian avenues of
approach.

Suddenly the angry dominant note of the babel of voices changed.
Accents of supplication rang out amid the jarring reports: "_Kamerad!
Kamerad!_"

The staff-captain made his way along the deep dark gully in the snow
where motionless figures stood with arms stretched up above their
heads, rifles at their feet. Ghostly white figures who had retained
their weapons joked at them in rough _patois_. He met the commander
of the company which had attacked upon the flank. The trench was
completely captured.

There followed a period of fierce toil in the trench. Under the
twinkling stars in the black sky, men delved at the snow of the
parados, cutting fire-steps, building it up into a breastwork. Behind
them little parties of prisoners, stretcher-bearers and slightly
wounded men, stumbled across the broken surface of the glacier. The
toiling men gave no thought to them as they laboured to prepare for
the storm which would surely burst.

It came. An ugly hissing rush heralded the first Austrian shell.
It exploded with re-echoing violence and a great fount of up-flung
snow right on the newly-strengthened breastwork. Another and another
followed in a methodical bombardment directed by calmly judicial
gunners ensconced in little huts far back in the mountains. Amid the
nerve-harrying rush of ever new arrivals, constant explosions, the men
toiled frenziedly. Reserves of ammunition were brought up. Machine-guns
were put in position. Telephone wires were laid. The fourth company
took up a post on the glacier whence it could rush into the trench in a
counter-attack if needed.

Suddenly the bombardment ceased. The Alpini crouched behind the
parapet, fingering their rifles with gloved hands, peered out into the
indistinctness of the snow.

There was a rush of dimly-seen figures from the obscurity, a blaze of
fire from the trench. Near the staff-captain the colonel sat speaking
into the mouth-piece of a telephone. Rush after rush of hurrying shells
passed overhead. Out there on the slope where an Austrian battalion was
surging to the attack, shrapnel after shrapnel lit fierce sudden flares
in the dark sky. There was again a tumult of voices, a re-echoing chaos
of men at strife. It persisted, swelled, died down.

The silence of an Alpine night rested once more over the battleground,
was broken only by the roar of a distant avalanche.

In the twilight of approaching morn an officer made his tour of the
outposts on what had been Austria.

"_Chi va là?_" rang the sharp challenge of a white-garbed sentry almost
indistinguishable against the snow.

"_Italia!_" came the proud response.

The first rays of the sun gilded the surrounding summits in the glory
of a new dawn.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 2: "For Greater Italy!"--the theme of d'Annunzio's discourses
in the doubtful days preceding Italy's intervention.]



PANZERKRAFTWAGEN!


Hauptmann von Waldhofer, Batteriechef of the --th Battery
Fussartillerie, stood, helmeted and with buttoned coat, hastily sipping
a cup of steaming hot coffee in his dug-out. The electric light, fed
from the power-station at Cambrai, miles back, illumined a cosy little
apartment. Portraits of the Kaiser and Hindenburg looked stiffly from
the matchboard walls in the incongruous company of a medley of coloured
pages from _Simplicissimus_, _Jugend_, and, quaintly enough, the _Vie
Parisienne_. One side was fully occupied by an enormous large-scale
map of the Somme area, divided into numbered squares, heavily scored
with blue pencil here and there, across which ran a great curve of red
lines massed in intricate pattern--the enemy trenches, and radiating
pin-supported coloured threads from a point slightly E.S.E. of Flers
fan wise far across the opposing line. The battery-made bed, wiremesh
stretched over a wooden frame, sloping slightly from the head downwards
towards the foot, on which lay blankets in the disarray of recent use,
bulked largely in the apartment. But there was still room for a little
table, on which books and writing material were neatly arranged, and
two comfortable plush-covered armchairs, besides the camp washstand
in which the water yet steamed. A carpet, mudstained but thick and
soft to the tread, covered the floor. In the corner remote from the
bed was a stove whose long pipe bent at right angles below the roof
and followed it until it ascended the steep stairway at the entrance.
The deliberate comfort of the dug-out indicated long residence and
the expectation of an indefinite stay. Only the pick and shovel in
readiness by the door gave a hint of possible cataclysm.

An orderly stood stiffly at attention while his master finished his
coffee. The captain put down the cup.

"What time is it?" he asked sharply.

"A quarter to seven,[3] Herr Hauptmann."

"What sort of morning?"

"Clear, Herr Hauptmann, but very cold."

"Any aeroplanes?"

"None over the battery, Herr Hauptmann."

The captain gave a final glance at himself in the French wall-mirror
which hung over the table, touched lightly with his finger-tips the
black and white ribbon of the Iron Cross upon his breast, as though
flickering away a speck of dust, and turned to go. As he went the
hanging calendar caught his eye. He tore off the top leaf. The date
revealed was September 15th, 1916.

He climbed, with the heavy step of an oldish man, the narrow steep
thirty-tread stairway, and emerged into the blue sky of a clear dawn.
Around him was bare rolling downlike country. About half a mile
directly in front of him the village of Flers huddled itself among thin
trees, its skeletal roofs silhouetted against the blue. Between him
and it, but close at hand in a slight depression of the ground, the
four 105[4] mm. guns of his battery stood spaced and silent under veils
of a gauzelike material tufted with green and brown that blended well
with the terrain. Inconspicuous even to a side view, thus covered they
were invisible from above. Near them were stacks of ammunition also
shrouded. Save for a sentry the guns were deserted. The personnel of
the battery was lined up in two queues, where the smoke of a couple of
field kitchens betokened breakfast.

The battery dug-outs were excavated in the breast of a slight swelling
of the downs, their exits looking N.W., on the flank of the gun
positions. The battery commander stood for a moment surveying his
little community banded for the service of the four veiled idols lying
unhuman and aloof from the domestic needs of men. Then, following
his morning habit, he turned and climbed the little rise of ground.
On his accustomed view-point he stopped and gazed westward. Before
him, clear in the cold early light, the undulating downs gathered
themselves into a long, fairly regular ridge, some two miles distant
at the summit. A maze of communication and support trenches, just
visible, criss-crossed their white lines in the chalk of the hither
slope. On the skyline of the ridge directly west a large clump of bare,
shell-sharpened tree-stumps broke its emptiness. It was the Bois de
Foureaux. Further south a similar group of stumps spiked up into the
sky--the Bois de Delville.[5] That clean-swept landscape mounting to
the desolate skyline was the great dominant fact in his existence. Ever
concrete in his mind, it claimed his first waking vision even as the
weather horizon claims the first heed of the sailor, or Vesuvius the
morning glance of the Neapolitan. This morning it lay cloudless--save
for the towering smoke of an occasional shell-burst in the vicinity
of the Bois de Foureaux--and strangely quiet. The whole wide stretch
would have seemed untenanted by man had it not been for the occasional
primrose twinkle of a field-gun's flash. The reports of such guns came
in isolated slams at varying intervals. To his right an English shell
hurried with a long-drawn whine to burst heavily in Flers. Far back
several enemy aeroplanes, tiny specks in the cold blue sky yellowing
to the dawn, were dodging like midges among a smother of little brown
shell puffs. From overhead came the drone of a German machine. But, by
contrast with the frequent uproar which welled out of this region to
translate itself into long thick smoke along the ridge, the scene was
curiously clear and silent.

Satisfied with his scrutiny, the Captain turned and descended again
to the battery position. He passed along the line of dug-outs in
the flank of the rise until he reached one whose entrance bore the
notice "Fernsprecher und Befehls Unterstand"[6] neatly painted on a
board. The Oberfeldwebel standing at the doorway sprang to a precise,
heel-clicking salute. The officer acknowledged it curtly and dived into
the dug-out.

Here yellow electric light replaced the cool grey dawn and tobacco
smoke floated in long wreaths about the bulb. A young lieutenant,
seated at the telephone instrument on the table, took the pipe out of
his mouth and rose smartly as his superior entered.

"Good morning, Eberstein," said the captain. "Anything fresh?"

"Nothing, Herr Hauptmann," replied the lieutenant respectfully.

"Nothing of this rumoured attack?"

"Nothing."

The captain seated himself heavily at the table and the lieutenant was
at liberty to resume his chair.

"And that frightful bombardment all last night, Eberstein, what do you
make of it?" he asked as he lit himself a cigarette.

The mouth under the fair moustache of the young lieutenant twisted into
a contemptuous smile.

"Bah! the Englanders want to make us nervous or to persuade themselves
that their wonderful 'great push' is not played out."

The captain blew out a long puff of smoke and nodded his head in
dubious thought.

"And you think it is?"

Von Waldhofer, a man of somewhat deliberate mental processes, was never
unwilling to discuss general topics with his subordinate. Eberstein's
cheering, if crude, optimism was a welcome stimulus to him.

"Of course it is," said the lieutenant. "Since the first rush they have
been practically fought to a standstill. Here it is two and a half
months since the offensive began and where are they? Now in one week on
the Donajetz we----"

"Yes, I know, Eberstein," his superior interrupted him. "You did
wonders. But it is the Somme and not the Donajetz that interests us
now." He removed his helmet and passed his hand wearily over a high
semi-bald brow. "I wish I could be as certain as you. These Englanders
do not know when they are beaten----" He stopped, then broke out
again with the over-emphasis of a man wearied with long brooding over
a problem. "The colonel was so positive last night! And he had just
come from the General Staff. At dawn, he said, we might expect it. I
can't make it out. All night that frightful bombardment, obviously
preparation. Then this quiet! I feel something is coming." He shook his
head. "We are much too near in this position."

"If they come, so much the better!" cried Eberstein. "We will
annihilate them. But I do not for a moment believe----"

He was stopped by a heavy distant roar that commenced with the
suddenness of a thunderclap and continued in one never-ending roll.

"There we are!" exclaimed von Waldhofer. He looked at his watch. It
marked 7 o'clock precisely.[7]

A moment later the telephone bell rang in an excavated offshoot of the
main dug-out. The orderly on duty there answered the call. "Message
from the observation officer!" he announced in a loud voice. Eberstein
picked up the receiver lying on the table in front of him.

"Yes?"

"Intense artillery fire all calibres upon entire sector. Whole front
being heavily bombarded. Infantry attack expected momentarily."

Eberstein repeated the message, and ere he had finished the battery
commander had sprung to the door of the dug-out, shouting his orders.
He heard them megaphoned on by the sergeant-major above. Out there in
the first rays of the sun the four squat idols had shaken aside their
veils, lay surrounded by tensely waiting acolytes. The moment for their
dread speech was at hand.

In the electric-lit dug-out the two officers sat silently listening
to the distant storm. It rolled in one unnerving continuous thunder.
Not their duty was it to reply. They were detailed for barrage upon a
particular sector. But near at hand the heavy detonations of guns told
off for counter-battery work followed one another ever more quickly.
Near at hand, too, came the long whine and crash of the English
counter-battery shells hurled in reply.

Again the bell rang and again the telephone orderly called out. "Speak
to battalion commander,[8] please!"

This time von Waldhofer picked up the receiver himself.

"_Ja, ja!_ We are all ready!" he said. "Yes. It is coming this time.
No. No further message. Oh, yes, we are in communication. No? Have
you heard anything definite? No. I wonder if there's any truth in it?
Good-bye." He put down the receiver and turned to Eberstein, stopping
for a moment to listen to the roll of the hostile bombardment.

"That old story again![9] You remember we heard it before the first of
July? Some wonderful invention the Englanders are supposed to have for
annihilating us all. I wonder if there's anything in it?"

The lieutenant laughed mockingly.

"The Englanders invent anything? Not they! Besides, I don't believe
in the possibility of any new invention that can revolutionise war.
Just think! Here have all the nations of the world been fighting for
two years, and what new inventions have we seen? None! There have been
perfections and the rediscovery of old methods--that's all. What is the
Zeppelin but a perfected Montgolfier? It is neither the first nor the
only dirigible even! Poison gas and liquid fire--what are they but the
stinkpots and Greek fire of the middle ages, rediscovered and brought
up to date? There is nothing, can be nothing really new!"

Von Waldhofer shook his head.

"You are very positive in all your ideas, Eberstein. I don't know. The
English do get hold of new things sometimes--it is true that generally
they leave it to us to make use of them. But these rumours are so
persistent! They are vague, I admit. Yet where there is so much smoke
there is generally a fire. We are very close here. Just listen to that
bombardment!"

For a moment or two both officers sat silent again, listening to the
roll of awful menace. Then von Waldhofer shouted an order to the
telephonist.

"Get through to the observation officer!"

Almost immediately the orderly called out:

"Speaking, Herr Hauptmann!"

Von Waldhofer picked up the receiver.

"What is happening?"

"The bombardment is continuing," came the reply. "Much damage is being
done to the trenches. Some sectors are almost obliterated. My wire has
already been cut twice."

"No infantry attack?"

"Not yet. This is evidently preparatory."

"Keep me informed," said von Waldhofer, and put down the receiver. He
turned to Eberstein. "Well, we shall soon see."

"There will be nothing," replied the lieutenant with his contemptuous
laugh. "I should like to bet on it. If there were a patent way of
breaking down trench lines, it would not be the Englanders who invented
it. It would be we Germans!----"

"Hush!" said von Waldhofer. "Listen!"

The roll of the hostile artillery ceased as though controlled by a
single volition, remained silent for a few seconds and then, with one
thunder-surge of sound, recommenced.

"The barrage has lifted!" cried von Waldhofer. He raised his voice to
be heard by the Oberfeldwebel who waited megaphone in hand, his legs
visible halfway down the dug-out steps. "All ready, sergeant-major?"

"All ready, Herr Hauptmann," replied the tranquil voice of the N.C.O.

The telephone bell rang again in the dug-out.

"Message from observation officer!" proclaimed the orderly.

Von Waldhofer snatched up the instrument.

"Yes?"

"_Barrage!_"

"Fire!" shouted von Waldhofer to the Oberfeldwebel.

Eberstein looked at his watch. The hour was 7.20.

As though the commanding officer had pressed an electric firing-button,
the four heavy crashes of his guns followed, merging into each other,
renewed in a never-ending chain of detonations as fast as the crews
could load, relay and fire. A constant stream of 4.2" shells was
rushing from the battery to fall in a narrow area at the predetermined
range. But loud as were the violent concussions of the guns close at
hand, they were but one element in the chaos of frenzied sound that had
leaped from the whole countryside at the moment of their first report.
Every German battery was firing at its maximum intensity. On the
background of the dull continuance of the English guns danced the rapid
reports of the quick-firers at full pressure of urgency, and surged
ponderously the gruff double-roar of the howitzers, and the sharper,
louder crash of the heavies, blended without a moment's interval into
one unceasing peal. The rifle-fire from the trenches was inaudible,
swallowed up.

Von Waldhofer sat with one telephone receiver pressed to his ear.
Eberstein picked up the other. They heard the observation officer's
voice, faintly.

"What?" shouted von Waldhofer into the instrument.

"Something is coming--something strange--I cannot see well,
there is so much smoke--something--slow and crawling--a
machine--firing--more--_schreckliche_----!" The voice ceased abruptly.

Von Waldhofer and his lieutenant looked at one another.

"The wire has gone!" cried Eberstein. He had to shout to be heard in
the din.

"Let us hope it is only that," replied his chief. Both strove
deliberately to ignore the fear in the forefront of their minds. Von
Waldhofer shouted loudly into the telephone: "Kurt! Kurt! Are you
there?"

There was no answer.

Outside the dug-out the battery was still firing furiously, would
continue to do so until it received fresh orders. The general uproar
had abated not at all, had if anything intensified. Into the welter of
sound came a familiar, heart-stopping, hissing rush followed by a loud
crash. Another and another and another swooped down on the heels of
the first. An English 60 pr. battery was searching for their position.
But the two officers, fascinated by the mysterious distant menace that
was crawling into their world, did not hear and gave no thought to
the shells. Once more von Waldhofer shouted into the telephone "Kurt!
Kurt!" Still there came no answer. The eyes of the two men met.

"What can it be?" demanded Eberstein impatiently. "Is he dreaming?"

"Perhaps the wire has been cut close here," said his chief, resolute
like a good soldier to allow no disturbing speculations in this battle
crisis. He shouted an order to the Oberfeldwebel.

The telephone bell rang sharply.

"Order from the battalion commander," announced the telephonist.

Von Waldhofer was already listening.

"Yes?"

"_Feindliche Panzerkraftwagen[10] übersteigen die Schützengräben Punkt
C 32 d 4.1. Sofort Feuer dagegen mit aller Kraft eröffnen!_" ("Enemy
armoured motor-cars are crossing the trenches at point C 32 d 4.1. Open
heaviest possible fire upon them immediately!")

The battery commander sprang to a little table, outspread with a
large-scale map upon which lay protractor and dividers. A second or
two of hasty calculation and he shouted his orders to the Oberfeldwebel.

"Cease fire! All guns 20 degrees more right! With percussion! Left half
at 3150 metres! Right half at 3100 metres! Forty rounds battery fire!"

He heard them repeated in stentorian tones through the Oberfeldwebel's
megaphone. The rapid detonations of the guns ceased. There was a pause,
a few seconds only. Then the voice of the sergeant-major announced.

"All ready!"

"Fire!"

Again the fury of the guns burst forth.

"_Panzerkraftwagen!_" said Eberstein. "But surely armoured cars cannot
cross wire entanglements and trenches! There is a mistake somewhere."

"There is no mistake that something has gone wrong and that we are
without observation," returned von Waldhofer irritably, indisposed to
abstract argument just then. The orderly had once more failed to elicit
any response from the observation officer. "Take a couple of men and
a new instrument, follow the wire along as far as possible, get into
a good position for observing, and open up communication with the
battery. No, wait a moment!" The telephone bell was ringing again.

"Message from battalion commander," said the orderly.

"Yes?" von Waldhofer spoke into the instrument. "I am firing on them
now. No. I am without observation. Five minutes ago. Really? What
are they? Not ordinary cars? Something quite new? Herr Gott, this is
serious! Yes. Yes. I quite understand. I am not to retreat while I
have ammunition. Good. You may rely on us. We shall stand to the last
man. _Für Gott und Kaiser! Lebewohl!_" He put down the receiver and
stood for a moment in deep thought, his hand pressed to his high bald
brow. Then he shook himself alert. He turned to Eberstein. "Hurry!" he
said irritably. "Everything is at stake!" The lieutenant sprang up the
stairway and vanished.

Von Waldhofer put on his helmet and gave a last order to the
telephonist before he followed his subaltern.

"Ring up Captain Pforzheim. Tell him to send up every available round
as quickly as possible. Urgently required!"

Then he also ran up the narrow stairway into the bright morning light.

"Two telephonists, all necessary instruments, with me into flank
observing station at once!" he shouted to the sergeant-major.

He went swiftly towards the battery. The last gun had just finished
its allotted ten rounds. They lay now in their wide-spaced row, smoke
upcurling from their muzzles. Their attendant crews stood, coatless,
mopping the sweat on their brows. Far and near the thunderous uproar
of the battle swelled; it seemed louder than ever now that he had
come from the dug-out into the open air. The English batteries had
lengthened their range. As he walked he glanced at Flers. It was
whelmed in fumes. Explosion upon explosion leaped up among the huddled
houses in the trees, fragments, timbers, earth-clods momentarily poised
upon a dome of dark smoke. White shrapnel puffs sprang incessantly into
existence above the roofs. He heard the hissing rush of an approaching
shell without faltering in his pace, so preoccupied was he with the
urgency of the moment. He saw the quick upspout of smoke; the heavy
metallic crash came to his ears. He noted only that it was well behind
the battery. His eyes were fixed on the officer with the guns.

"Oberleutnant Schwarz!" he called, stopping suddenly some twenty yards
from the battery.

The long-coated, helmeted lieutenant stiffened as though galvanised,
walked smartly up to him, saluted, and waited rigidly for his orders.
Oberleutnant Schwarz, a young freckled-face fellow, set the pattern
for discipline in that battery. The commander noted the punctilious
attitude without his wonted inward smile. The occasion had found the
man.

"Schwarz, communication with the forward officer is interrupted.
Eberstein has gone to re-establish it if possible. I am going into
the flank observing station. Orders will come from there. Put the
Einjähriger into the telephone dug-out. The situation is critical.
Something has gone wrong. A new kind of armoured car has broken through
the trench-line. They must be stopped at all costs. The orders from the
battalion commander are formal. The battery will not retire while it
has ammunition. I have ordered up every available round. The battery
will maintain its position, _whatever happens_, while it has a man and
a shell. Is that clear?"

Oberleutnant Schwarz saluted in precise parade-ground fashion.

"Quite, Herr Hauptmann," he replied unemotionally.

"If I become a casualty the command devolves upon you," continued von
Waldhofer. "Remember these armoured cars are your target, wherever
they can be fired on. Use direct laying if you get the opportunity." A
flight of shells burst in a succession of heavy crashes on the swelling
ground to his right. He glanced at them. "Keep a couple of groundmen
going over the wire to the flank observing station. Here, two of you!"
he shouted suddenly to some mounted N.C.O.'s who at that moment trotted
up to the battery with a string of ammunition limbers. Upon his sign
one of them dismounted. The captain swung himself into the vacated
saddle. Oberleutnant Schwarz saluted once more. Accompanied by the
other N.C.O. the battery commander set off at a hard gallop, up the
rising ground into the welter of dark smoke from the just-burst shells.

The flank observing station was a splinter-proof dug-out on a little
knoll some 500 yards away to the left flank of the battery. It had
been constructed in prevision of the unexpected. Von Waldhofer spurred
towards it now at the top pace of his horse. Despite many shell-bursts,
on the ground and in the air, he reached it safely. Leaping to earth,
he threw the reins to his follower and sent both horses back. Then he
dived into the dug-out.

Both telephonists were there awaiting him. The large-scale map was
pinned out on a board, instruments upon it. The range-finder stood by
the observation-slit. One of the orderlies was testing the telephone
communication to the battery. Von Waldhofer pulled his glasses out of
their case, pressed himself against the observation-slit and looked out.

Directly in front of him the bare ground with many minor undulations
rose steadily to the shattered silhouette of the Bois de Foureaux on
the skyline. But no longer was the view clear as when he last had gazed
on it. Over all lay a haze which the early morning sun was powerless to
penetrate. In the foreground and wide to right and left in the middle
distance spurted and twinkled the primrose flashes of the guns, more
rapidly multiplied than any eye could count. On the ridge the smoke
lay thick, bellying in dark masses over the tree-stumps of the wood,
poised on the horizon in tall, heavy-headed columns like elm trees in
full foliage. In the air long bands of white shrapnel smoke reached out
and clung to each other in a lazy drift, while among them the large
dead-black bursts of heavy high-explosive shrapnel appeared suddenly,
darted a head from the round nucleus and then unfolded themselves
slowly and snakily earthward. Between him and the ridge the whole wide
amphitheatre was being thickly sown with English shells. Near and far
the smoke-columns shot incessantly into the air. Over the road from
Flers to the Bois de Delville, which crossed his view at right angles,
the white shrapnel puffs clustered in ever-renewed groups. Over all,
English aeroplanes in scores flitted to and fro, daringly low yet
apparently unchallenged. No longer did this arena appear untenanted. In
every part there was movement and confusion of Lilliputian figures. Far
away three tiny ammunition wagons raced towards a battery. Closer at
hand, grey-clad infantry dashed in sections along the shell-swept road
from Flers. They tugged low bomb-carts on long hand-ropes. He knew,
subconsciously, that they were going to reinforce the great trench-line
that stretched east and west from Martinpuich to Lesboeufs. Further
afield other bands of grey midgets, scarcely visible, were rushing
forward. Everywhere from the rim of battle-pressure grey figures were
filtering in ragged streams down towards the lower ground. A long way
off, on that rim, his glasses revealed a nodal point of confusion. He
focussed on it. There were tiny grey figures grouped, in quick movement
to and fro. Little smoke-dots were all round them. Then the confusion
cleared. He saw darker figures, running forward, the twinkle of sun on
a distant bayonet. For a moment he held them under view anxiously. Then
with an impatient movement he swept his glasses round. Not there was
the target that he sought.

Suddenly he arrested his sweep. To his left, much closer to him than
he had been looking, a field battery topped a little rise, retiring at
full gallop among a welter of shell-smoke. It passed down below his
vision. His glasses remained steadily focussed on the rise over which
it had come, fascinated by the abnormality, expectant of the cause.

It appeared. Slightly to the right of the course of the retreating
battery, something emerged over the crest--something slow, ponderous,
shapeless--drawing itself up. The silhouette of a gun projecting from
its flank barred the sky. Swiftly he replaced his glasses by the
range-finder. As he twisted the thumbscrews that brought the inverted
vision into juxtaposition with the normal, he saw a group of grey
soldiers surround the monster, hurl little puffs of smoke at it. He saw
the gun slue, spit, saw soldiers who waved white rags tripping over
those already fallen. The double visions met, he read the range. The
thing drew itself up, turned slightly, creeping on its belly, snout
in the air, like an uncouth saurian from the prehistoric slime. It
was moving more quickly than he at first realised. In another instant
he had taken the angle to the aiming post, plotted another, and was
shouting orders to the telephonist.

"All guns 28·3 degrees left! Right half-section No. 1 gun 980 metres,
No. 2 gun 960 metres! With percussion! one round! Fire!"

Through the range-finder he saw the burst of the two shells at the same
moment that the detonations of the guns came to his ears. One fell
full in the midst of the group of grey soldiery, whelmed them in black
smoke. The other burst beyond. The thing paused not nor hurried. At an
even pace it drew its low bulk along, dipped now for the descent.

"Right half-section 970 metres! Left half-section 960 metres! With
percussion! Twenty rounds battery fire! Fire!"

Spout upon spout of black smoke heralded the rapid explosions of
the guns. The monster was blotted out. Feeling like one engaged in a
struggle with a creature born not in our time and space, of another
world, von Waldhofer prayed for a direct hit. The smoke cleared. He
looked for what should be its ripped and stationary bulk. It was not
there. Only the grey bodies of the dead lay under the drifting fumes.
The thing had passed onward, dipped into the hollow, out of sight.

He was suddenly aware that the enemy shell-fire, always heavy, had
increased in intensity. The smoke-spouts shot up more numerously,
grouped themselves more densely. Gradually they extended to new areas,
abandoned those already covered. He realised in a flash that the
monster was moving behind its special barrage, aeroplane directed from
above. He shouted fresh orders, altering the range. Blindly he hurled
his shells into the hollow behind the screen of smoke.

If only he had direct observation! He shouted to the telephonist.

"Ask if communication has been made with Leutnant Eberstein?"

The reply came: "Nothing has been heard of Leutnant Eberstein. Six men
have just been killed in the battery."

Von Waldhofer's exclamation expressed annoyance rather than grief
at the loss of his subordinate. He turned again to look through the
observation slit. There was a blinding crash----

When he came to, he found himself gazing at the blue sky. The deep
breath he drew half-choked him with the fumes of burnt explosive.
Shaking in every limb he struggled to his feet. Before him lay his two
orderlies, dead. The dug-out was wrecked and roofless. The telephone
instrument was strewn in fragments on the floor. He himself was
unwounded.

He listened, with a sudden anxiety, for the detonations of his guns.
The general uproar had diminished not at all, but the familiar crashes
were wanting in the din. How long had he lain there? A wild fear seized
him. Scrambling out of the ruined dug-out he ran breathlessly towards
the battery.

The enemy fire was as intense as ever. The air was filled with the
whine and scream of arriving shells and the heavy crashes of their
explosion. From somewhere behind came the rattle of rifles and
machine-guns and the dull thud of bombs. Grey-clad men in swarms
were running across the open ground athwart his path. He heard them
shouting, saw officers gesticulating, realised as in a dream that they
were running from the battle. But their fear touched him not. He was
enveloped in concern for his beloved battery.

He arrived on the lip of the depression where it lay. In a surge of joy
he saw the four guns lying in the familiar places, saw them strangely
naked, their protective veils ripped and hurled aside, saw barely
sufficient crews standing at their posts, saw the position gashed with
shell-holes and littered with prone grey bodies, shattered limbers and
dead horses. Even as he looked a salvo of shrapnel burst with deafening
cracks above them, and white fleecy clouds floated over the battery.
On the near flank, in the position of command, stood Oberleutnant
Schwarz, rigid and precise as on the parade-ground.

Von Waldhofer ran down the slope towards him.

"Schwarz! Schwarz!" he called.

The Oberleutnant advanced to meet him, and, looking calmly at his chief
as though his smoke-blackened face and torn clothing were in no way out
of the normal, saluted with perfect gravity.

"What has been happening?"

"We have been under heavy fire, Herr Hauptmann. All the wires are
cut in many places. The telephone dug-out has been blown in. We are
absolutely without communications. The battery has fired whenever there
was a chance of a target. Your orders have been obeyed. The battery has
stood its ground. We have only three rounds per gun left. I am waiting
now for an opportunity to fire."

Listening to the cool report of his subordinate, von Waldhofer
recovered his soldierly poise.

"Excellent. You have done well, Schwarz. And the casualties?"

"I regret are heavy." He waved a gloved hand towards the bare dozen
standing by the guns. "All that are left."

There was the loud, hissing, nerve-paralysing rush of a shell at
arrival. Simultaneously with the shattering crash that leaped from
the fountain of black smoke, Oberleutnant Schwarz put his hand to his
breast, performed a sharp half-turn and fell--dead.

The reverberation yet rang when a second rush and crash followed
the first. A third and fourth shook the air almost too quickly for
distinction. The battery commander's brain worked with the timeless
speed of a great crisis or a dream. In an incomputable fraction of a
second he saw the heavy barrage which preceded the slowly crawling
monster, was conscious of an aeroplane overhead, saw his opportunity
and his plan. He ran towards the guns, shouting: "Lie down! Lie down!"
The crews obeyed. Standing among the strewn corpses the guns seemed
manned only by the dead. He flung himself prone on the flank of the
battery.

Shell after shell swooped and burst on the stretch of ground in
front of him. Fed by the constantly spouting black geysers, an
ever-thickening dark mist drifted across, blotted out the distance.
Through it he saw the freshly thrown edges, brown and white, of
unfamiliar shell-craters pocking the undulating ground. The worn,
smooth greensward that he had known was being churned into loose clay
and chalk, mingled haphazard in their fall from the fierce upward
gush. The reiterated crash upon crash of near explosions all but
obliterated the far-flung din of the general battle, but through them
he caught waves of an appalling uproar welling out of Flers. Slowly,
riving, crashing, upspouting its black fountains of smoke and earth,
the barrage marched onward, passing across the battery front. Now?
Through the mist he saw the directing aeroplane sweep down in front of
him, absurdly low, rattling its machine-gun. A group of grey figures
sprang up beneath it, both arms high above the head, tumbling among
the shell-holes as they ran. A temptation flitted across his mind. One
round gun-fire and that aeroplane was blown to fragments. His lips
tightened. He did not move. The battery seemed abandoned by all its
dead.

Age-long seconds passed as he watched, peering through the thinning
mist. Save for one little group of hasty, self-obliterating men, his
immediate front was a deserted waste of churned earth, sloping gently
upwards away from him. Once, over the low near skyline seen from his
prone position, he thought he saw the spurt of a bomb. But he could
not be sure. And a bomb did not necessarily betoken the presence of
the--Thing. Yes! What was that?

Something was lifting itself, slowly and with jerks, beyond that near
skyline. Ponderously, with the efforts of a limbless living thing, it
drew its bulk up, seemed to stop--nosing the air with its blind snout.
Now? Not yet! He had only one chance--certainty. The monster moved on
again, downward now, lurching and wallowing among the shell-holes like
a ship in a heavy sea. He saw the gun swinging in the side-turret as
it rolled, the bright-splashed colouring of its flank. It was passing
diagonally across his front. It must climb to escape. _Now!_

He sprang to his feet, shouting with all his lungs.

"To the guns!" The crews leaped up, resuscitated. "Point blank! At the
devil! With percussion! All guns! Fire!"

But quick as he and his men had been, the monster was quicker. At
his first movement, with a mighty jerk it had slued itself nose-on
to the battery. Ere a hand could clutch a firing lever, a storm of
small violently exploding shells burst right in among the guns, a
hail of whip-cracking machine-gun bullets smote on men and metal. Von
Waldhofer looked towards the monster lurching heavily towards him,
keyed to a frenzy of suspense. To his horror he heard--not four--but
one detonation. The Thing dipped. He saw the shell burst--_over_! He
glanced towards the guns in speechless agony. The last gunner was in
the act of falling lifeless across the trail.

High-nosed, seeming to smell its enemies rather than see them, like
an uncouth blind monster of the rudimentary past, the Thing crept on,
its speed as surprising as a reptile's. Viciously, with unallayed
suspicions, it spat its missiles at the dead battery. Von Waldhofer
stood alone, erect, praying that one might strike him.

Suddenly its fire ceased. He heard the loud clatter of its machinery as
it approached, saw the rolling bands on which it moved. He felt that it
was coming to mark its triumph over his beloved guns, felt its disdain
for him their helpless master. An insane hatred for it gushed up in
him, swept away his conscious self. He whipped out his pistol, ran like
a madman towards it. He fired again and again, desperately seeking the
eye, the brain, like a hunter at bay with a crocodile. But eyeless,
featureless, the great snout slanted upwards above him, impenetrable
steel plates, on which his bullets flattened.

Blindly the Thing rolled on, ponderous, invulnerable. It bulked huge
above him. He heard a shriek. It was his own.

In the bright sunshine of a September morning the strange new monsters
crawled over that bare countryside racked with noise and tortured with
the leaping, eddying smoke of countless explosions. Behind them crowds
of khaki-clad men, hatted with inverted bowls like Samurai, followed
cheering and laughing like boys behind a circus-car. They waved
newspaper posters, obtained Heaven knows whence, that proclaimed in fat
bold type: "Great British Victory!"

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 3: 6.45 German Summer Time, 5.45 English Summer Time, 4.45
Greenwich Time. The Summer Time was used in all the Armies.]

[Footnote 4: The well-known 4·2" gun.]

[Footnote 5: Known to the British Army as High Wood and Devil's Wood
respectively.]

[Footnote 6: Telephone and Command Dug-out.]

[Footnote 7: 6 a.m. English summer time.]

[Footnote 8: German Heavy Artillery is organised in "Bataillons" of
four batteries.]

[Footnote 9: The Germans had apparently heard rumours of the coming of
the "Tanks." It was asserted in the Army on the 16th September, that a
motor-cyclist carrying a definite warning had been killed by one of our
shells in the early morning of the 15th, on his way from H.Q. to the
front line.]

[Footnote 10: Panzerkraftwagen, lit. "armoured power wagons," was and
is the official German designation of the "Tanks." The word is also
applied to armoured cars.]



NACH VERDUN!


In the long luxuriously furnished saloon car of the special train an
officer clad in the field-service uniform of a South-Eastern Power
sat in conversation with a colonel of the German General Staff. The
deference shown to him made it immediately obvious that he was a
distinguished personage representing a neutral whose friendliness was
important. His dark, clever eyes rested thoughtfully upon the groups
of officers with whom the car was overcrowded. All round was a buzz of
talk, of suppressed excitement. The air was thick with cigar smoke.

"_Ja, Excellenz_," said the German colonel, podgy little fingers
drumming the table between them. "The secret is out. You have rightly
guessed our objective." His eyes were those of a rather clumsy and not
too scrupulous diplomat. His smile was deliberate flattery. "Allow
me to congratulate you upon your good fortune. You will see the
machinery of our _Kriegswirtschaftlichkeit_,"[11] he throated the word
impressively, "at the moment when it works at its highest power to
shape for Germany her final victory."

The distinguished neutral smiled also, perfectly courteous. He spoke
with a faint Austrian accent.

"I can understand your desire for the final," he underlined the word
ever so lightly, "victory, Herr Oberst."

The German stared at him, suspicious of the nimbler brain.

"Who would not desire it, Excellenz? This awful slaughter," he waved a
deprecating hand. "It is terrible that our adversaries do not recognise
they are already beaten."

The neutral nodded.

"Bar-le-Duc and the Upper Marne, I suppose--Paris!"

The German colonel's eyes went dead.

"Excellenz, I believe the supreme command reserves to itself the honour
of enlightening you on its plans."

The conversation languished. The train rolled on, heavily comfortable.
The staff officers talked earnestly among themselves, the word
"Majestät" oft repeated. Orderlies, garbed as soldiers but obviously
royal _Kammerdiener_, stole noiselessly in and out of the car, went
frequently into the car beyond. On those occasions the distinguished
neutral had a glimpse of a world-familiar figure, upturned moustaches
on a tired face, a uniform of grey hung with many decorations.

The train rolled into a station, stopped. The blare of a military
band started on the precise instant of its arrival. The platform was
thronged with officers, bright with the red of the General Staff.

The distinguished neutral took little interest in the ceremony outside.
He busied himself with collecting the small articles of his kit.
Through the large windows he glimpsed the salutes of the rigidly-erect
officers. Above the noise of the band he heard the repeated "_Hoch!
Hoch! Hoch!_" of soldiers who cheered as they drilled, exactly
synchronous.

He stepped on to the platform, followed by the Colonel appointed to be
his conductor. "Majestät" had already departed. Officers were thronging
to the exit, laughing and talking, much excited, revealing, despite
the grey and red of the staff uniform, the essential childishness of
the crowd-mind. "_Nach Verdun!_" said one of them, very close to the
distinguished neutral, nudging another in the ribs. "_Nach Verdun!_"
He repeated the just given watchword of victory as a schoolboy repeats
the latest smart expression. The officers around him laughed. The crowd
buzzed with high spirits.

Outside the station the roadway was choked with waiting motor-cars,
lined with soldiers readjusting their helmets after tumultuous
"_Hochs!_" Some cars--those containing the highest personages--had
already departed. One after the other those remaining were filled,
swerved out and sped away. The distinguished neutral and his companion
found a vehicle reserved for them. The colonel led him to it with an
air that suggested: "See how the smallest details are thought out!"
They, too, sped away through the walls of infantry.

Behind the soldiers were a few listless French inhabitants; from the
windows of that French town hung German flags, but no French faces
looked out. The shops were open but their owners stood not at the
doors. The neutral noted these things. The complete apathy of the
population was in contrast to stories his companion had related in
the train. In many of the side-streets long convoys of ammunition
and ration wagons were halted to allow them passage. On one of those
foremost wagons was scrawled in big chalk letters: "Nach Verdun!"

"_Nach Verdun!_" that was the Leitmotiv underlying all the intense
military activity that filled the town and, as they shot out beyond
the houses, the countryside also. Every road was choked with columns
of marching infantry, with endless trains of wagons, of limbers, of
ambulances. Even cavalry was in evidence, riding with tall lances
and saddle-hung rifles on wretched-looking horses. "_Nach Verdun!_"
The German colonel, though he warily gave no information, could talk
of nothing else. Under that grey February sky pulsed and boomed the
distant detonations of artillery. The neutral listened to it with a
professional ear, was puzzled. It was persistent enough, but it was
certainly not the prolonged roar of a preparatory bombardment.

The car swung into the drive of a park. A tunnel of winter-stripped
trees, brown above, green streaking the bark, and then a large château
drew itself across the vista. Thither the other cars had preceded
them. They stood now ranked in a mass. There was a throng of officers
round the great doors, the buzz awakened by the recent passage of the
All-Highest. The neutral was shown to his room, the German colonel
volubly regretting that exigencies of space forced him to share it.

Some hours later the neutral was ushered into a vast, lofty apartment
whose tapestried walls were almost completely rehung with the huge
maps pinned upon them. On easels stood other maps, strange diagrams in
curves and slants of red, green and black ink. On a large table was
a horizontal relief model of hills and woods, a river with tributary
streams, a splash of red in the valley, thin lines of red converging
upon it, passing through, opening out again. On all these maps, on the
splash of red in the relief model, the name "Verdun" was repeated again
and again.

All these things the neutral officer noticed with the corner of his
eye--the large writing-tables behind which sat officers of high rank,
other officers grouped in a corner. His direct gaze was held by the
figure he saluted. Spare, of medium height, in the grey field-service
uniform of a general, gold cord looping across his right breast, a star
upon the left above the Iron Cross, gilt epaulettes, gilt leaves upon
the red gorgets of his collar, the would-be conqueror of the world
stood stiffly erect, graciously acknowledged his salute. The brushed-up
moustache was still dark, though the short hair on the head was grey,
almost white. The face was deeply furrowed with endless anxieties,
but the blue eyes--pouched though were their under lids--gleamed with
excitement. He spoke in a jerky but distinct manner that betrayed a
temperament of long ill-controlled impulses.

"_Guten Abend, Herr General!_ Welcome to Germany's greatest hour! You
shall see our sun mount triumphantly to its zenith, breaking through
the dark clouds of foes who cluster over against us in vain!" The tone
was that of a rhetoric practised until it has become a habit. The right
hand gesticulated with quick motions, the left arm was conspicuously
still. "General!" he turned to one of the officers sitting at the
tables, "be so good as to explain everything to our friend here."

It was to be clearly understood that the All-Highest was flatteringly
gracious.

The neutral officer bowed, expressed his thanks courteously, ventured a
request: "That I may be allowed to admire your War-Machine in all its
work, Majestät--go where I will."

"By all means, General. We have nothing to hide. You will find much
to interest you, much to relate to our well-wishers in your country.
General! see that a pass is given to our friend that will give him the
fullest freedom." The All-Highest answered the neutral's salute in a
manner that terminated the conversation.

Seated at the huge, carved writing-table with the officer to whom he
had been addressed, the neutral found himself looking at a pair of keen
grey eyes that peered through pince-nez under bushy white eyebrows. The
German spread out maps, indicated positions. He drew notice to the fact
that all roads squeezed through a bottle-neck over the river at Verdun,
spread out in a fan on the east bank to a long line of positions that
climbed from the river over the Heights of the Meuse and fell into the
plain of the Woevre across which they bent southward.

"_Die Sache ist äusserst einfach!_"[12] he said with the air of a
man explaining a chess-problem. "The French have three divisions of
Territorials in front of us to hold the entire sector. That force is
not strong enough to defend it and certainly too weak to have kept the
trench-systems in good repair. In fact we know that they have been
allowed to fall into ruin.[13] We have fifteen divisions in front
line, fifteen divisions in reserve. We do not intend to fling those
divisions away. No. Step by step our artillery will blast a passage
for them--see, here are our artillery positions," he showed concentric
lines one within the other on the map, round the doomed sector. "It
is the greatest artillery concentration the world has ever seen. Even
our concentration on the Donajetz last year is surpassed. We shall
obliterate the positions in front of us--other batteries will drench
the only avenues of supplies with shells, they must all go through the
town--our infantry will merely march into the devastated position, wait
for the clearance of the next step. I may tell you that the French
have only one small branch railway line which is safe from our fire.
We have built fourteen new lines, besides those already existing. In
the great problem of supply we have an overwhelming superiority. We
believe we have the advantage of surprise. Certainly the French have no
concentration within easy reach. In four days we shall be in Verdun.
The Western Front will have been broken."

"In four days?" The neutral officer looked at the map as a
chess-player looks at the board. "And--if I might ask the
question--supposing you do not take Verdun in four days? There is said
to be an enormous Allied force somewhere in France."

"We have yet another day," said the German a little wearily, as though
resenting the effort to explain the unnecessary. "We have five clear
days before any reinforcements can be brought up against us--all the
chances have been calculated, you see. If we are not in Verdun by
the evening of the fifth day--well, the battle will continue. But, I
repeat, we shall be in Verdun within four days. The thing is certain!"

"Of course it is, General," said another voice above their heads. Both
officers looked up, rose to their feet. "In four days we shall be in
Verdun. In a fortnight--Paris!"

The speaker was a youngish man, with a long nose in a long face,
somewhat bald upon the brow, a clipped moustache above a long thin
mouth. There was something in his manner which suggested not too
reputable finance doubled with Monte Carlo and the _coulisses_.
He repeated, smacking his hand familiarly upon the back of the
distinguished neutral: "In a fortnight--Paris!" He named the famous
city with a smack of the lips.

"Undoubtedly, Highness," said the German general, his professional
manner replaced by the obsequiousness of the courtier. "The army led by
Your Highness cannot fail to conquer."

"Verdun--Paris! This time it will not fail, General." He walked across
the room, smacking a riding-switch on his tall, patent-leather hussar
boots, and chanting: "_Nach Verdun! Nach Verdun--Paris!_"[14]

       *       *       *       *       *

The morning of the 21st February, 1916, opened damp and bleak. Over
the heavy clay fields of the Woevre plain the mist hung persistently,
enclosing all vision in a few hundred yards. Through the obscurity the
poplars lining the roads loomed up like ghosts, dripping moisture from
each bare twig. In the copses and the larger stretch of woodland known
as the Forêt de Spincourt the conglobulated mist fell like rain. From
either of the high knolls known as the Twins of Ornes, just south-west
of the Forêt de Spincourt, the wooded slopes of the Heights of the
Meuse--Merbebois and the Bois de Wavrille--rose dark and indefinite,
discernible only when a little puff of the raw east wind, coming up the
valley of the Orne, broke a rift in the fog.

The neutral and the German Oberst who was his inseparable companion
stood on the more southerly of the twin heights. About them was a group
of artillery officers. In their immediate front was the deep dug-out,
sod-roofed, where telephonists sat and waited. It was an artillery
observation post. The light was yet dim though the wet fog was white.
It had been quite dark when the two spectators had made their way over
roads deep in mud to this position of vantage.

The journey had been long, for their car had had to squeeze, lurching
and slithering, past endless columns of infantry plodding over the
atrocious roads. In the darkness those thousands of men had been
scarcely more visible than phantoms who sang continuously as they
marched, chorusing to the tune set by picked singers at the head of
each company. Those who were merely the chorus broke off frequently
to shout witticisms at the labouring motor-car. In high spirits, they
wagered that they would be the first, after all, to arrive in Verdun.

On the hill-top of the Twin of Ornes, where the officers clustered, was
tense expectation. The fog did not lift. Only at rare intervals was
there a faint glimpse of the wooded heights towards which all gazed
with thrilling foreknowledge. As yet all was a quiet broken only by
an occasional isolated detonation that rolled heavily down the Orne
valley. It echoed in a dull repercussion from the mist-filled woods
upon the great scarp that was the far-flung rampart of the doomed
city. An officer looked at his watch. The example was infectious. The
seconds, the minutes passed slowly. It was like waiting for the curtain
to go up. The watches marked 8.13 (German time)--8.14--8.15!

There was one simultaneous vast roar that leaped from an arc stretching
from far in the north-west and passing round behind them to the
south. It did not cease. Minute after minute it continued, unabated,
prolonged. In the first sudden shock it appeared one colossal bellow
of sound, evenly maintained. But as the ear became accustomed to it,
instinctively analysed it, it was possible to distinguish spasms of
even fiercer sound than the general welter: the ponderous concussion of
especially heavy ordnance; the frenzied hammering of the quickfiring
field-guns. The sense of hearing was overwrought, but the view changed
not. The mist still hung over the landscape, was a curtain before the
straining eye. Only down below them to the right a howitzer battery,
adventurously pushed forward, rent the fog with stabs of orange-red
flame.

It seemed, in the overpowering blast of the German guns, that the
French artillery was making no general reply. From time to time a shell
came whining over towards them, finished in an ugly rush and a crash
somewhere upon the knoll. They scarcely noticed these occasional djinns
of death, so ineffective were they by contrast to the whirlwind of
destruction that swept the other way. The habituated ear could now pick
out the rumbling tramcar-like progress of the heavy shells overhead,
the fierce rushing drone of the missiles from lighter guns, mingling
interwoven with the uninterrupted sheet of sound.

What was happening over there among the dank, wooded hills? Nothing
could be seen, but the experienced imagination sketched, conscious that
it fell below the reality, fearful havoc distant in the fog. Trees
suddenly blasted, toppling; parapets leaping into the air--horrors
among the spout of earth that had been a sheltered dug-out; trenches
whose walls fell in; men who cowered, fear-paralysed, in a shambles;
overhead a ceaseless cracking that rained down death; shock upon shock;
chaos--such flitted through the minds of those who strained their eyes
at the fog. An artillery observation officer turned to the neutral.

"Five hours of this, Excellenz," he said with a smile, "and then, the
first step to Verdun!"

The Oberst expatiated on the wonderful German system for supplying all
these batteries indefinitely at this intensity of fire. "Who can resist
us?" was the implied corollary to his dissertation. The neutral was
duly impressed, his dark clever eyes serious.

The bombardment continued, became monotonous. The fog thinned somewhat
but permitted no clear vision. The batteries were firing by the map,
according to a prearranged programme. The Oberst suggested to his
distinguished guest that further stay was useless.

"I would like to see your guns at work, Herr Oberst," said the
neutral, and the colonel saw himself forced to put aside his hopes of
returning to Corps Headquarters for _Mittagessen_. He speculated on the
Divisional Messes in their vicinity as he replied:

"By all means, Excellenz."

They scrambled down the rough path of the knoll, through a thin growth
of birch, passed into the denser mist below.

They found themselves suddenly among long ranks of resting infantry
squatting and lying in close proximity to their piled arms. The
feld-grau uniforms merged, were lost in the fog, but there was an
indefinable suggestion of the presence of many thousands. The Oberst
and his guest might walk where they would, the shadowy grey forms
still loomed up out of the mist. All were cheerful and confident. The
officers in little groups smiling as they conversed, bent over a map.
The men grinning. They were waiting for the guns to level the path for
their "promenade."

At last the ranks of infantry ceased. They came upon a field battery
that was firing furiously. The guns were in the open, their upturned
caissons--lid upright to form a shield, exposing the pigeon-holed bases
of the cartridges--close against the left wheel. Grouped behind each
were the busy gunners, in rapid movement of arms and torso, crouching,
labouring with swift concentrated intensity as they passed the long,
gleaming projectile from hand to hand, thrust it into the breech,
closed and fired. Behind them was a heap of brass cartridge-cases, the
flat compartmented baskets that had held three rounds. The watching
officers, helmeted, in long closely-buttoned coats, stood behind their
sections. The battery hurled out its stream of death in absolute
immunity. No enemy shell came to seek it. The fog veiled its target.

Beyond that battery was another, in the open like the first, almost
wheel to wheel with it. And beyond that, another and yet others, an
endless chain of them, all scorning concealment, all firing as fast as
sweating, straining men could load and pull the lever. From behind came
the prolonged, heavy, linked detonations of yet other batteries of more
weighty metal. Overhead the rumble and rush of hurrying shells was as
the sound of heavy traffic.

The neutral and his guide turned eastwards towards the zone of the
great howitzers. Once more they were entangled in waiting masses
of grey-clad infantry. The mist had thinned, permitted quite long
vistas. Everywhere there was infantry, battalion upon battalion,
regiment on regiment, brigade after brigade. The time had passed--by
the neutral, at least, almost unnoticed, so much was there for his
brain to register--it was now almost noon. The infantry was standing
to its ranks, forming into column of route, marching forward with
songs and shouts, their spiked helmets decorated with sprigs of fir.
"_Vorwärts!_" came the sharp, barking commands of the officers. "_Nach
Verdun!_" shouted the excited men, drunk with the prospect of superbly
easy victory.

And ever the indefatigable batteries hammered and crashed, spewing
forth death in volumes that the men they served might live. From behind
every hedge, every hillock; in long lines across the open--so many that
they could afford to neglect the enemy's reply; their tongues of flame
shot out, flickered indefinitely repeated into the distance. Their
infinitely reiterated detonations smote splittingly upon the ear, were
gathered into one overpowering roar.

The dark mass of the Forêt de Spincourt was riven by red flame that
lit and was gone momentarily in every part of its recesses. As the two
officers approached it, they saw a faint film of smoke hanging over
the tree-tops, saw the quick flashes gleaming through the undergrowth
of the verge. They entered its obscurity. The air choked one with
the fumes of burnt explosive, beat against the face in gusts with
the disturbance of the multiplied discharges. The wood was a nest of
howitzer batteries. On platforms of concrete and timber the monsters
squatted, bowed their head to receive yet another shell, raised it
again with slow, determined movement, the great round jaws gaping
upward to the sky, belched with a sudden eructation of vivid flame,
a tremendous shock of which the stunning noise was only part. The
spectator behind the gun, looking upward, saw a black object speeding
high into the air, rapidly diminishing, the while a rain of twigs
pattered down upon his face. As the barrel was lowered again, the
breech opened, slow curling tongues of flame licked round the muzzle.
Behind each weapon were great stacks of shells. Hurrying men, two at a
time, a tray supported on two short poles between them, carried more
food to the iron monster, fed its fuming breech for yet another roar.

Further within the wood were still greater monsters, so huge that
their aliment was trundled to them on light rails, swung into their
maw by overhanging cranes. The earth shook, the trees rocked, with the
vehemence of their discharge.

"Frau Bertha has a most persuasive voice, _nicht wahr_?" said the
Oberst to his guest. The neutral agreed as courteously as was possible
in this chaos of bludgeoning noise. His dark eyes rested a little
contemptuously on the dapper, somewhat podgy colonel whose soul,
even in this crisis of nations, was still essentially the soul of a
commercial traveller. The order to Krupp's was not yet given.

It was one o'clock--noon to the anxious French general far over
there in the terrible distance. As suddenly as it had commenced, the
vast bombardment ceased. There was an uncanny silence. All knew its
significance. The German infantry was advancing to the assault. With
what resistance would it be met? Every ear was at strain--machine-guns?
There was no sound. Suddenly the bombardment opened again, as violent
as before. The German guns were putting a screen of death behind the
doomed positions, barring off all help. Far away huge shells were
crashing down from a curve that was four miles high at its zenith,
making an inferno of a once quiet cathedral town, wrecking the bridges
across a flooded river, blocking every avenue of supply to the
defenders agonising on the plateau.

That night in the Army Headquarters was a night of jubilation. Courtier
soldiers--who none the less laboured into the small hours at the
intricate calculations and orders that would improve the victory on
the morrow--glanced at a youngish, very exalted personage and murmured
platitudes about the pardonable intoxication of success. An even
more exalted personage strode from general to general in the great
tapestried, map-hung apartment and gave instructions that were received
as the inspiration of genius and then merged, lost sight of, nullified
in the mass of orders that emanated from those fiercely toiling brains.

The distinguished guest sat at the table with the keen-eyed,
white-browed general, had everything patiently explained to him.

"All has gone exactly according to schedule," said the German. "The
first line positions are ours. There has been a counter-attack in the
Bois de Caures, but we have stemmed it. Elsewhere there has been no
serious opposition. The first day has been a brilliant success. We
have pierced the line where we intended to pierce it. If the French
maintain their flank positions their disaster is certain. The battle
will be developed to-morrow. We shall drive right through to the
Ornes-Louvemont road. The French defence is dead, was annihilated by
our bombardment. To-morrow disintegration will set in and our progress
will be rapid. On the third day we shall take Fort Douaumont--the key
to Verdun."

"And on the fourth day?" queried the neutral, his dark eyes gazing at
the map in front of him.

"We shall be in Verdun!" said the German.

"_Verdun! Verdun! Nach Verdun--Paris!_" chanted an unsteady voice
across the room, finished in a suspicious resemblance to a hiccup.
There was a moment of tense, awkward silence in the great apartment,
and then a buzz of low voices earnestly discussing technicalities.

       *       *       *       *       *

Day followed day, surcharged with fateful issues. Men who flung
themselves down, utterly wearied, to snatch a brief sleep, woke
from it with an oppression of the breast, a tremor of the nerves.
Their fiercely excited brains begrudged an instant's unconsciousness
where every minute was a vehicle of destiny, once ahead never to be
overtaken. Strenuously, night and day, laboured the Staffs in the Army
Headquarters, in the Corps, Divisions, Artillery Groups--desperately,
for after the second day they were behind their time-table. On that
second day the French defence they had fondly thought annihilated woke
to sternly resisting life. There had been terrific fighting on the
whole front from Brabant to Ornes. Once more a frightful bombardment
had opened with the dawn. Once more the German infantry had advanced
in masses. They found the trenches in front of them weakly held, had
occupied them. But _en route_ a storm of shells had rained down on the
swarming columns, had strewn the ground with dead and dying. Further
advance was barred by sheets of rifle-fire, torrents of machine-gun
bullets. There were ugly rumours as to losses. The day's objective had
not been reached. Counter-attacks had flung the grey infantry out of
positions already conquered.

During the black night of the 22nd-23rd, while the gun-teams of the
German batteries strained and stumbled forward over a shell-torn ground
to new positions, the French left flank had fallen back from Brabant.
The German guns hurled an avalanche of projectiles blindly upon the
new lines of defence, more or less at hazard since no longer did they
have them accurately marked upon the map. Once more the grey masses
swept forward, once more the hail of shells beat them down. The end
of that day saw the centre pushed in with wild confusion, but the
French resistance still alive, determined to perish rather than break.
Once more the objective had not been attained. Douaumont was not even
menaced. The time-table was hopelessly out. That night the French fell
back on both flanks, withdrew from Ornes.

The fourth day dawned--the appointed day for final victory--and still
the struggle continued, fiercer than ever. Slowly, slowly, the German
infantry pressed forward, leaving behind them a sea of helpless
bodies--a grey carpet as perceived from a distance. The artillery fire
swelled and mounted in paroxysms of incredible violence, the German
guns hammering in savage persistence, the French batteries lurking
for their target, overwhelming it in a deluge. On and on pressed the
grey infantry, thrust dangerously as night fell straight at the heart,
towards Fort Douaumont. A fierce conflict--body to body, rifles that
flashed in the face of the victim, bayonets perforce shortened for
the thrust, griping fingers clutching at the throat as men wrestled
and swayed--raved and roared in an indescribable tumult upon the
Ornes-Louvemont road. The defenders had made a supreme rally. The
Germans fought like men who grasp at victory, maddened that it is
withheld. The French fought like heroes, desperately outnumbered,
who know their duty is to die. When night fell the defence was still
intact, but the French had withdrawn to their last line, covering
Douaumont.

"We have still one more day," said the German general to the
distinguished neutral that night in the great map-hung apartment. "We
allowed that margin of time. To-morrow will see our greatest effort,
Douaumont in our hands, Verdun untenable." The dark eyes of the neutral
read a certain nervousness in the German's face, despite the confident
tone.

"It has proved rather more difficult than you expected?"

"The French field-guns have been terrible--terrible," replied the
German. "Without them----" He waved an expressive hand. "But to-morrow
we shall deliver the _coup de grâce_. We have not boasted idly,
Excellenz." His eyes looked searchingly through their pince-nez on the
calmly interested face of the neutral. "When Germany threatens she
performs."

On the morning of the 25th the German guns roared over white fields
of snow, through veils of the softly falling flakes that fluttered
inexhaustibly from the leaden sky. Their thunder swelled louder and
ever louder as the batteries which had changed position, consequently
upon the French withdrawal during the night, got to work, searching
for their target, more or less accurately finding it despite the
difficulty of observation. Not a minute was to be lost. The anxious
German staff knew that the reinforcements of their foes must be
hurrying--hurrying. Some perhaps had already arrived. If night fell
without definite victory, the morrow would surely see fresh masses
against them, reinvigorating the defence. Victory to-day--complete
victory--Douaumont captured, the pursuit pressed into the streets of
Verdun--meant victory indeed. Mighty therefore was the effort. By noon
every German battery was firing at its maximum. Under the leaden sky,
over the white ground, in the still cold of a bitter frost, their
thunder swelled and crashed, roaring in a never-ending frenzy. Eighteen
German divisions were massed to break down all opposition. Already they
had attacked--again and again. Again and again, the rapid detonations
of the French guns had leaped into the din, smiting desperately,
frantically, to stay them. Over there, in the mist-hung gullies of the
plateau, on its bare open spaces between the woods, the snow had ceased
to be white--save where it fell freshly upon the huddled bodies of the
fallen.

In the afternoon the weather cleared somewhat. More distant views
were possible. On the higher of the Twins of Ornes, the knolls just
south-west of the Forêt de Spincourt, stood the figure who more than
any other individual would have to dare the answer for all the agony
rolled out there before him, for all the agony that no eye could
measure, spread over continents, crying to strange stars. Spiked
helmet on his head, long grey cavalry-cloak wrapped about him, his
field-glasses held to his eyes by the right hand only, he gazed upon
the now distant conflict. At his side stood a younger figure, his face
masked also by binoculars. Behind them was a group of dignitaries,
generals of high position, the distinguished neutral and the Oberst who
never quitted him. All gazed to the wooded scarp of the Heights of the
Meuse, their glasses pointing south-south-west.

The great masses of woodland rose dark from the snow of the plain a
long stretch of undulating, climbing tree-tops. Beyond them the bare
bulk of the plateau humped itself yet higher, dirty grey against the
sky. It rose to a culminating knoll--Douaumont! All that bare plateau
was whelmed in a drifting reek, but the highest point was like a
volcano in eruption. Great founts of smoke shot up from it incessantly,
spread in the air in heavy plumes that overhung. It was the objective
of the 3rd Corps (Brandenburgers), attacking under the eye of the
Kaiser so particularly their chief. Their orders were that Douaumont
was to be taken at all costs. On the Twin of Ornes operators from Army
Headquarters had taken over the telephone dug-out. Behind them the line
was clear to Berlin--waiting--waiting for the triumphant announcement
that should thrill the world.

Somewhat impatiently the neutral scanned the lofty distances where the
great drama was being enacted. Innumerable puffs of bursting shells
indicated the conflict but gave no hint of its varying fortunes.
The professional instinct was strong within him, the report to his
Government an ideal to which it strove. To perfect that report he
must see the fight at closer quarters, must describe the effects of
the French fire as a complement to the already written minute on the
German batteries. His keen eye picked out a position of vantage on the
Heights. Then he waited for an opportunity, alert for the moment when
the eye of majesty should rest itself from the distant view, should
fall upon him. The opportunity occurred. The glance of the All-Highest
swept over him, preoccupied. The neutral stepped forward, saluted,
indicated the far-off point.

"_Ich bitte um Erlaubnis, Majestät_,"[15] he said.

A frowning glance rested upon him for an instant, intolerant of aught
save the mighty contest whose issue was the fate of nations.

"_Gestattet_,"[16] was the curt, indifferent reply.

The German Oberst, standing behind the neutral, changed colour. He had
no option but to accompany this damnable foreigner in his mad adventure
into unnecessary danger. He, too, saluted "Majestät," followed the
neutral to the spot where a number of orderlies stood at the heads of
saddled horses. They had been sent forward in case the dignitaries
should require them.

In a few moments the two officers, followed by mounted attendants, were
slithering down the snowy side of the knoll, were cantering across the
valley towards Ornes.

High above them towered the dark Bois de la Chaume as they threaded
the débris-covered street of the wrecked village. It was packed with
Brandenburger infantry waiting to advance. They followed the road
southward, at the foot of the hills, towards Bezonvaux. Everywhere the
infantry stood thick, waiting. The cannonade mounted to a frightful
intensity, appalling even the ears now habituated to it, bewildering
the senses, troubling the sight. French shells came whining, screaming,
rushing, to burst with loud crashes in the woodland rising on their
right hand, on the road and the fields through which it passed. Domes
of dark smoke leaped upward from the earth, preceding the stunning,
metallic detonation. White shrapnel puffs clustered thickly above the
trees. Bezonvaux was a ruin. They turned off from it to the right,
up a rough track that climbed into the woods. The snow on the track
had been trampled into a dirty slush. All about them lay bodies, grey
and blue; weapons pell-mell as they had fallen from a suddenly opened
grasp. Their horses shuddered, whinnied, jerked nervous ears, moved
disconcertingly sideways from red stains soaking deep into the snow.

Just under the edge of the plateau the neutral stopped, dismounted,
threw his reins to an orderly. The Oberst followed his example. His
face was blotchy white, he trembled in every limb.

"We shall see nothing, Excellenz--absolutely nothing," he asseverated
appealingly.

"We can at least try," replied his guest. "Something is happening over
there."

Above them, some distance ahead, was a tremendous uproar, a chaos of
violent thudding slams, splitting crashes, a faint troublous murmur of
human voices. Behind them, up the rough track, a column of infantry
was advancing, overtaking them. They ascended with a steady progress,
splashing through the slush; officers waving swords, shouting; rank
upon rank of tense faces that had lost their humanity in the tremulous
brute; glazed staring eyes under the spiked helmets; singing, singing
like drugged, doomed gladiators marching to the arena. They passed
upward.

The neutral, to whom his conductor had nervelessly surrendered the
initiative, led the way. They left their horses behind them, struck off
at a tangent to the right, through the woods, climbing always. They
emerged upon the plateau, in a clearing. Across the open space, from
a whelm of smoke and noise in the distance, groups of grey men were
running swiftly towards them, shouting inarticulately. Along the edge
of the woods was a line of pickets. Their weapons rose to the shoulder.
Sternly, every fugitive but those wounded was driven again into the
fight. Those who hesitated, screaming under the menace of the rifle,
dropped shot.

The neutral hurried along the verge of the wood, scanning every tall
tree carefully, expectantly. "Ah!" He had found what he sought.
Against the green bark of a lofty beech dangled a rope ladder. It was
an abandoned French artillery observation post. He scrambled up the
ladder, followed by the trembling, shivering Oberst. High up among the
topmost branches was a little platform.

The neutral settled himself, adjusted his binoculars, pushed aside
the twigs. He looked out over an undulating terrain, dark with woods
that ceased raggedly in deep indentations short of a bare hog's back
that gathered itself into a hump. That bare ground was smothered in a
turmoil of smoke that fumed to the grey sky, far to right and left.
But through it, in chance rifts, his glasses revealed a dark mass
upon the highest point. A reek of white smoke drifted away from it as
from burning buildings, mingling with the darker clouds of incessant
explosions. He had a glimpse of a rounded cupola. It was Douaumont!

The snow on the open space between the fort and the woods was grey. It
was moving with crawling life like the festering of a stagnant pool.
Over it burst occasional puffs of shrapnel.

"Ah!" The cry was involuntary from both the watching men. From the
woods emerged masses of running tiny grey figures, running, running
towards the fort. The open space was covered with them. A moment of
tense expectation when the heart seemed to stop--and then, as by a
terrible magic, great fountains of dark smoke and darker objects leaped
up among those running figures, countless explosions. A canopy of
vicious little shrapnel bursts in thousands spread itself over them.
Under it men sprawled in great patches, seemed to be fighting the air
ere they tumbled and fell. A horrid screaming came faint through the
uproar. More masses rushed out, were beaten down. There was a running
to and fro of men bewildered--a headlong flight.

The storm of fire did not cease. It rolled over the plateau towards the
woods, remorselessly following the fugitives. Louder and louder, nearer
and nearer, the crashes, the fountains, the puffs--the great mingled
reek of the inferno--rolled towards the two men in the observation post.

The Oberst clutched the neutral's arm.

"Excellenz!" he shouted stammeringly. "We must go. I insist. I have
superior authority--written authority--my discretion--I insist!" he
almost screamed. His hand groped for a scrap of paper which he waved.
"Arrest!" he cried like a maniac. "Arrest if you do not come!"

The storm of French shells was a very near menace. The neutral
acquiesced with a shrug of his shoulders. Nimbly they descended the
ladder.

On the ground they found themselves among a swarm of slightly wounded,
terror-stricken men. One of them, a tall, bearded Brandenburger, his
clothes torn to rags, was shrieking and laughing in a manner horrible
to hear. His comrades drew away from him as he clutched at them. He was
insane.

"Only I am left!" he cried. "Only I! They are all dead--dead--out
there. They were meant to be dead. They were dead men before we
attacked--all dead men running on--I could see it in their faces--only
I was alive! And now they are still crawling--crawling--dead men!"
His tone emphasised the horror of his words, struck a chill. A sentry
lowered his rifle, irresolutely.

The maniac turned, waved a hand to the westward. The sun, on the point
of setting, showed itself in a rift of the threatening snow clouds,
sank, a great ball of glowing fire, over the rim of the plateau. Its
last rays were lurid on the face of the madman, as he stood, arm
outstretched, his eyes flaming, his tangled beard falling upon his
rags, like some antique prophet of the wilderness.

"Woe! woe!" he shrieked. "_Nach Verdun! Nach
Verdun--Verdunkelung!_"[17] He finished in a scream of maniac
laughter, glorying in the crazy assonance of the words. "_Nach
Verdun--Verdunkelung!_"

The neutral and the Oberst hurried through the woods to their horses.

A rapid ride with the German always in front, and once more they
ascended the Twin of Ornes. As they arrived at the summit they found
themselves among wildly cheering men. "_Douaumont! Douaumont is
taken!_" Far away to the south-south-west, rocket after rocket shot up
into the darkening sky. Already the great news had gone--electrical--to
Berlin.

The crowd of dignitaries descended the steep path in the gloom to where
the motor-cars were ranked in waiting. Along the road passed streams of
wounded who could walk, phantoms half-distinguished in the dim light.
Joyous were the voices of the War-Lords. One, a familiar tone, chanted:
"_Nach Verdun! Nach Verdun--Paris!_"[18]

Out of the darkness came a screamed reply, a burst of insane laughter.

"_Nach Verdun--Verdunkelung! Nach Verdun--Verdunkelung!_"

It was the voice of the crazed Brandenburger. There was a scuffle, the
sound of a man hurried away, resisting.

All through that dark journey as the car bumped and lurched over the
atrocious roads, the words beat in a refrain through the mind of the
neutral. "_Nach Verdun--Verdunkelung!_" He wondered. Eclipse? Was it
the sun of Germany that set on the French position? The Oberst was
loquaciously cheerful.

That night, in the great map-hung apartment, the War-Lords received
the news that their further advance was barred.

Next morning a furious counter-attack surrounded a handful of defenders
in the fort for which they had paid so much. The French reinforcements
had arrived.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 11: War economy.]

[Footnote 12: "The thing is absolutely simple!"]

[Footnote 13: Vide Mr. John Buchan's _History of the War_, Vol. XIII.]

[Footnote 14: "Nach" means "to, towards," and also "after."--"To
Verdun! _After_ Verdun--Paris!"]

[Footnote 15: "I beg permission, Your Majesty."]

[Footnote 16: "Granted."]

[Footnote 17: "To Verdun! _After_ Verdun--Eclipse."]

[Footnote 18: "To Verdun! After Verdun--Paris!"]



THE CHÂTELAINE OF LYSBOISÉE

(AN IDYLL BETWEEN THE TRENCHES, 1914)

  (Note.--This story is founded upon an actual occurrence narrated by
  Paul Grabein, "Im Auto durch Feindesland," Berlin, 1916.)


The sun set while a regiment of Zouaves was marching across the
plateau. The after-glow yet illumined the sky when its leading files
turned obliquely off to the right along a rough track that presently
dropped abruptly into a deep ravine, sculped by one of the streamlet
tributaries of the Oise. Bare for a little way below the lip, save
for some scattered juniper bushes stiffly perpendicular from the
close-cropped slope, the sides of the ravine were dark with a dense
growth of tree and thorn. The road plunged into it.

Down and down went the road in a gloomy tunnel of arching boughs that
scarce left an interstice for the twilight sky. It reached the floor of
the little valley, followed it to the right in a more gentle descent.
On its left a brook fell swiftly through a plantation of silver birch
in a channel that brimmed to the long, rank, water-flattened grass and
anon plashed over boulders in a miniature cascade. Save for the steady
tramp of the marching troops and the occasional squawk of a frightened
jay, there was no sound in the valley.

Mounted upon a magnificent black horse, the colonel rode at the head of
the column. Seen in profile, his face was remarkable--virile, powerful,
and intellectual. When it turned to full face it fascinated. Not the
steel-grey eyes looked for under those level brows, but a pair of full
brown orbs, romantic as those of an Arab, met the gaze. He raised his
hand as the column approached a pair of high ornamental iron gates, set
in a frame of lofty arched stone and surmounted by a carved escutcheon,
on the left side of the road. "Halt!"

Behind him there was a clatter of accoutrements as the long column
broke its ranks, settled itself in seated groups, with piled arms, by
the roadside. In front, the advance-guard, receiving the order from
the connecting files, halted also. The colonel walked his horse to the
gates. The padlocked chain that had held them closed hung broken from
one of the wrought-iron scrolls. The gates had evidently been forced.
He pressed his horse's flank against one of them, slipped through the
opening, and set off at a trot down a long avenue of ancient poplars.
His capitaine-adjutant, cantering up from the leading company, followed
the wave of his hand.

Beyond the clearing of lawn and Cupid-crowned fountain into which he
emerged, lay a long white stone mansion, picturesque but not remarkable
in its seventeenth-century architecture. Every window was shuttered.
Throwing the reins to his companion, he dismounted and, with the stiff
gait from long hours in the saddle, ascended the broad curving steps to
the main entrance.

Only at his second summons on the loud, harshly clanging bell was there
any answering sign of life. One of the great doors opened slightly
until checked by a chain, and a woman's voice asked: "Who is it?"

"French officers, madame. Is the _patronne_ at home?"

"I cannot see you," said the voice, evading the question.

The colonel placed himself so as to be visible through the narrow
aperture. "Attendez!" said the voice. The door closed again.

A minute or two of waiting in the chill, misty air and once more the
door opened, this time fully. "Entrez, monsieur!" said the voice.

He found himself in a large lofty hall, dimly illumined by the candle
held by a little bent old woman. "Par ici, monsieur!" she said.

She led him through salon after salon. In the flickering light he could
only just discern that they were richly furnished. At last she stopped
and tapped at a closed door.

He was admitted into an apartment of costly and tasteful comfort, lit
with warm soft radiance from a shaded pedestal lamp. Pine logs were
burning on the hearth of a high stone fireplace. To one side stood a
grand piano. A great dog, stretched before the hearth, growled surlily.
These were salient details he was scarcely conscious of noting. His
eyes were held by the woman who rose from an arm-chair by the fire.

Tall, gowned simply in a long robe of soft pale green, the lamplight
shimmered on the waved masses of her auburn hair as she moved. Not
vulgarly beautiful--the mouth was large, though well-cut--an oval
ivory-white face looked into his. No longer very young--she was at
least thirty--her instantly felt charm came accentuated by a hint of
incomplete maturity. Those quiet eyes could still look at life with a
questioning scrutiny, receptive of the new experience. They met his
now and a personality leaped into them, communed with him ere yet a
word had been uttered. Outwardly, only, they were still strangers. He
noticed that she wore no jewellery as he bowed courteously, fez in hand.

"Madame, I am the colonel of the --th Regiment of Zouaves. A necessity,
that must be disagreeable to you, forces me to ask your hospitality for
my officers and men."

"For to-night only?" Her voice was singularly deep and rich.

"Perhaps for several, madame."

"You are many?"

"Eleven hundred men and twenty officers."

"A strong battalion!"

"Three battalions, madame," he corrected gently.

The expression of the eyes, which had never left his, changed slightly.
The wordless, languageless message they were exchanging with his own
was interrupted. "Ah," she said in a voice of sympathy. "You come from
the battle? From the Marne?"

"Yes, madame. We were on the Ourcq. Since then, on the Aisne."

Her face lit up.

"But certainly! Who would refuse anything to the brave men who have
saved France! You will excuse the coolness of your reception, Monsieur
le colonel? We have had other guests--less welcome." The colonel
thought of the broken chain on the gate. "Marie!" This to the old woman
who stood by the door, shading the candle in her hand, incongruous
in this luxurious apartment. "Place the large dining-room at the
disposition of _messieurs les officiers_. The kitchen also." She turned
again to the colonel. "I can offer only ten bedrooms to your officers,
Monsieur le colonel, but doubtless they can arrange themselves. The
stables are large, there are three barns and a disused mill, and there
is a loft at the top of the house. I hope you will find room for all
your men. There is plenty of straw in the barns. They may use it
freely. Please consider the house entirely at your disposition." And
all this time the eyes were talking wordlessly. And his, although he
knew it not, were replying.

"You are too kind, madame!"

"It is a happy privilege, Monsieur le colonel!"

His business was finished, yet he felt curiously unwilling to go, much
though awaited him to do. His apology seemed addressed as much to his
own hidden inner self as to her.

"Mille remerciments, madame! You will excuse me if I withdraw? My men
are very tired. Once more, a thousand thanks, madame----?"

She answered his unuttered question, a smile lighting up eyes and face.

"--La comtesse de Beaupré et Lysboisée."

He bowed.

"Le colonel Victor de Montévrault."

She held out a slender hand. Involuntarily, almost, he touched it with
his lips as he took it in his own. She did not stir. He did not see her
face.

"Au revoir, madame, et tous mes remerciments!"

"Au revoir, monsieur," she answered in her rich, deep voice.

He felt her eyes upon him as he turned to follow Marie, candle in hand,
once more through the series of dark apartments.

A little later and the château and its precincts were thronged with the
soldiers of the three war-worn battalions as they installed themselves
for the night. From the great yard between the stables and the barns
came the glow of cooking fires.

But not for all was the hour of rest arrived. In a little room of the
château the colonel, with his three _chefs de bataillon_ of whom one
only was a major, was poring over a large-scale map and indicating the
positions for the lines of sentries, outposts and _grand'gardes_. Up
the opposite side of the ravine to that which they had ascended, well
in advance across the high open ground, and down the valley road he
posted them. On the three battalion commanders the greatest vigilance
was enjoined. Ahead of them there should be French cavalry, but those
were the days of flux and reflux in the meeting tides of war, and all
things were possible.

Later still, the colonel sat at the head of the long lamp-lit table
in the great dining-room. From the walls dim portraits in lustreless
frames looked down upon the backs of the loudly chattering Frenchmen
in the exotic, Oriental uniforms. There was little or no talk of the
bitter, terrible but finally victorious days through which they--it
seemed to each of them miraculously--had lived. Animated discussion
of the future was the rule--a future confidently regarded through the
glow of the so recently victorious past. Bold strategic plans were
elaborated, illustrated with cruet and table-knives. There was much
talk of envelopment, of a rapid dash on Le Cateau, Valenciennes and
Mons that should hurl the Boche, deprived of his communications, into
the tangled thicket of the Ardennes, if indeed he escaped at all. The
colonel took no part in these arguments. He sat silently sipping the
wine which a generous hostess had caused to be placed in ample quantity
upon the table. His large brown eyes were soft, the muscles of his face
relaxed. It is possible that he thought of something quite other than
war.

One of the soldier orderlies flitting behind the chairs touched him on
the shoulder.

"Pardon, mon colonel, but the domestic wishes to speak to you."

He turned in his chair to see the ancient Marie at the door.

"Madame presents her compliments, m'sieu le colonel, and would be
honoured if you would take your coffee with her."

The colonel rose in his chair.

"Bonsoir et bonne nuit, messieurs!"

"Bonsoir, mon colonel," was reiterated from the score of upturned
faces. "Bonne nuit."

In her cosy warm salon the châtelaine sat by the fire, a glow softly
playing over her features. At her side, on a little table, a silver
coffee-service steamed. As the colonel entered she looked up to greet
him with a smile, indicating the corresponding arm-chair on the other
side of the hearth. The large dog at her feet raised his head, wagged
his tail in friendly welcome.

In a few moments they were conversing with the ease of those who
have known each other for long years. Wartime, and particularly the
kaleidoscopic wartime of those early days, is a great ripener of
acquaintance. None might venture to forecast the circumstances of the
morrow, to predict continued life for self or other. The actual moment
must be snatched. The colonel with his quiet assured poise, his alert
intelligence; the countess, polished grande dame and yet something
more, a being of exquisite intuitions, would have set, naturally, to
partners whatever the circumstances of their meeting. Each of the pair
offered interest to the other. He, soldierly, his massive intellectual
head on the broad shoulders, the glowing soft eyes so strangely set
in the cold face, the Oriental Zouave uniform emphasising their hint
of romance, claimed the eye not less than her slender figure, gowned
with the refinement of a consummate civilisation, her supple yet strong
carriage of the auburn glory that crowned the pale oval face, the
flowing, delicate curve from rounded chin to the gently mobile breast.
Her eloquent eyes were long-lashed, downcast towards the fire. He was
asking the reason of her stay here in the danger zone. She turned them
upon him.

"This is my own house--my family's house--the château of Lysboisée.
Since my husband's death three years ago I have always inhabited it for
a great part of the year. I have always loved it. I was a child in this
dark ravine, among the birches of the water-meadows. My own life--that
I have never shared with anyone--is here. I am of the country. All the
peasant people know me, love me. And when the war came I felt that I
must be among them, that I could not leave my house, my own dear house,
alone, unprotected against anything that might happen. So I hurried
here at a time when everybody was hurrying the other way. But the
servants had gone. Only old Marie remained, and she and I have lived
here all these black weeks, only Roland," she patted the dog's head
smilingly, "to watch over us. We have had many visits from the German
cavalry, but no violence. They saw, perhaps, that I was not afraid. Now
the people are beginning to creep back to their homes."

He nodded his head sympathetically, described how the peasants of the
Aisne valley crept back to their farms, continued their field-tasks
close behind the trenches, apparently indifferent to the shrapnel and
the _marmites_.

"Yes," she murmured, gazing thoughtfully into the fire, "amidst so
much death the flame of life burns ever higher, will not, must not be
extinguished."

There was a little pause, during which the colonel sipped his coffee.
Lightly, with the smile of a prima ballerina pirouetting away from
a serious posture into which she would have you believe she fell
unwittingly, the countess commenced to talk of Paris of the days before
the war. With a young enthusiasm she spoke of her morning rides in the
Bois, of restaurants and dinner-parties--mentioning a name here and
there that might lead to the discovery of a mutual acquaintance, of
concerts and the play. The colonel listened, speaking little, seeing
her--though she did not so much as hint at them--circled by a crowd of
admirers.

"And madame," she said innocently, "does she inhabit Paris?"

"Madame----?" He was obviously at a loss.

"You are not married, then?"

"No, madame."

"But," she persisted gently, "you have doubtless friends in Paris? A
man such as you----" she stopped, smiling. "I am indiscreet."

"Madame," he replied in a quiet voice, "I have been in Africa for more
than twenty years. The Paris I knew exists no more."

She turned her gaze full on him. The freshness of the man appeared
suddenly to her. An involuntary little blush suffused her face. She
covered it by a slight withdrawal from the fire.

"Tell me about Africa," she commanded.

He spoke at first depreciatingly of the country, the grave of so many
of France's best, so remote from all that to a Frenchman makes life
worth while. Then as he warmed to his description she saw that he loved
that parched land of immense distances where the pitiless sun consumes
the human soul or heats it to an intense unworldly fervour. He told of
interminable marches over the glowing sands, of forgotten skirmishes
where a wound was worse than death, of fierce razzias, of lonely
outpost nights in the desert underneath a miracle of stars, where under
the naked presence of the infinite one watched, finger on trigger, for
the gleam of a creeping burnous. She found herself seeking to detect a
deliberate elimination of the feminine in his reminiscences. With sure
instinct she felt there was a woman somewhere in the background. How
far back?

"You have suffered much," she said, her deep rich voice all sympathy.

"Who has not suffered who lives?" he replied.

There was again a pause, where the breathing of the couched dog was the
only sound.

"Will you not play something?" he asked, suddenly, looking at the
piano. "My opportunities have been few----"

She rose, went to the piano, and seated herself without a word. She
played, not with the brilliance of the showy amateur nor with the hard
precision of the professional, but as though the notes on which her
light fingers fell re-echoed an intimate music of the soul. Through
the grave breath-restrained emotion of a Chopin Nocturne she led him,
then, with an enigmatic inconsequence, into the flitting, dainty,
Harlequin and Columbine passion of a Chaminade that left a question
poised, smilingly. A moment's interval, and with a deep contralto voice
she commenced to sing a chanson of old France, that followed, simply,
exquisite quiet notes, compact of love and the tragedy of love,
poignantly eloquent in their unadorned statement of the theme. He went
across to the piano, stood over her. She felt his presence very close.
A thrill passed into her voice, magical. She finished and stood up with
a sudden movement. His glowing eyes were full with tears.

"Bonsoir, monsieur," she said abruptly, stretching out her hand. The
voice was not her own.

He took her hand in his, held it tightly. His breath came in deep
halations from a heaving chest.

"Madame," he said in a low intense voice, "you are divine!"

She strove to release her hand.

"_Voyons!_" she said plaintively, almost tearfully, averting her face.
"We met only to-day."

"And to-morrow?--Who knows?"

"No! no! no!" she cried and tore away her hand from his. "Bonsoir,
monsieur!" She ran across the room like a startled fawn, bowed herself
against the stone fireplace, her face hidden. He saw her shoulders
heave.

He followed her, stood irresolute. She turned on him suddenly.

"Oh, isn't there enough suffering in the world," she cried,
"without----?"

"Without love?" He advanced with outstretched arms, laid his hands
upon her shoulders. She stiffened, fending him off. "Without love? If
to love is to suffer," he said in a voice deeply harmonious, "to love
is also to live. And I have waited so long to live! Have waited for
you, my twin soul! We met only to-day? What if we have only to-day to
live----?"

She leaned back, away from him, yet held in his grasp.

"Oh, no, no, no! I mustn't listen!" Her bosom filled. Her eyes closed.
She crumpled suddenly in his arms.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning, mounted upon a fine-bred chestnut mare, a zealous
Zouave at the bridle, she waited in the great courtyard behind the
château. She had offered her knowledge of the locality to the colonel
and gladly he had accepted it. He came towards her now on his noble
black horse, bending down in grave talk with the chef de bataillon
walking by his stirrup. She acknowledged his salutation, and a moment
later they were riding out of the great gate together.

The ravine of Lysboisée lifted its towering further wall of dark
undergrowth immediately behind the château. A narrow path, frequently
stepped, zigzagging through the hanger in steep gradients, made the
ascent of the sheer acclivity possible. Side by side they walked their
horses up, bending often in the saddle to escape the low overhanging
branches. They rode in silence, each in their own thoughts. She glanced
sideways at her companion. It was the face of a soldier, not of a
lover. Obviously he pondered some problem. She sighed. This undisturbed
solitude, the screen of thick woodland arching over them, on the
two pacing animals that nosed each other amicably, awoke primitive
instincts in her. But she kept silence, made no movement.

At last, as though summoned by her thought, he turned his head towards
her.

"You have received bad news, mon ami?" she asked.

"Orders that throw a heavy responsibility upon me," he answered.

Again they relapsed into silence. The ascent continued. Only a few
yards short of the summit did the undergrowth cease.

For a dozen paces the path ran over bare close-cropped grass, then,
sunk in a rough cutting, surmounted the crest.

A little beyond, on the open down, the grand'garde--a weak company of
Zouaves--was digging energetically at shelter-trenches. The colonel
spoke with the officer, rode on.

"Would you please take me to the highest point, chère amie?" he asked.
The countess bowed her head, without a word. A touch of the spur, and
he followed her at an easy, touch-controlled canter, his horse eager to
get abreast the mare. At last she reined up, met his eyes with a smile.

They stood upon a knoll in the downs, wide-spaced horizon all round.
Far to the south and east were the dark masses of the Forêt de Laigue.
From beyond them came a heavy distant roll of artillery. The colonel
listened, searching the panorama with narrowed eyes. At his request
she pointed out localities and the direction of localities. He turned
to look backward, saw the lips of the ravine widening out to the
south-east until the slopes fell into another valley. His face hardened.

"Let us go back, chère amie," he said. "As quickly as possible."

At a swift, swinging gallop--the skirts of her amazon fluttering in the
wind--they hastened back to the grand'garde. The officer came up. The
colonel took out his note-book.

"Have you any spades or farm implements, madame?" he asked.

He nodded to her affirmation, writing the while in his note-book. He
tore out the page, folded it, gave it to the officer. "To be delivered
to the Commandant Legros at the Château. Without delay."

Then he turned his horse and, followed by his companion, rode slowly
along the lip of the ravine. She searched his features, anxiously.

He stopped in a depression of the down, out of sight of the
grand'garde. He turned to her, and her heart fluttered at the
tenderness of his face.

"Pauline," he said gravely, laying his hand upon her arm, "you must not
stay here. Listen! The regiment on our left extends to the head of the
ravine. The orders I received this morning left me to choose on which
side of the ravine I should place my trenches. We advance no further.
We are only a screen, but the screen must be maintained, must not be
risked. I am obliged to choose the other side of the ravine. We shall
almost certainly be attacked. I do not know when--nothing is known.
But you would be in danger. You must leave this afternoon, go right
back--to Amiens, Paris."

She checked an impulse to quick speech, smiled at him.

"Mon ami, I was almost unjust to you----"

"You will go?"

She shook her head.

"No, cher ami, I remain with you."

"But if we are attacked and have to retire to the other side of the
ravine? You cannot remain in the trenches."

"No. I should remain in my house until you advance again." She turned
an appealing, coquettish glance upon him. "Should I be something to
fight for?" She checked his protestations. "No, cher ami, I know all
your arguments. They are useless. What did you say last night?--What if
we have only to-day to live?" Her voice sank, her eyes dropped. "Cher
ami, I want not a moment that your duty claims,--but those others,
those precious little instants, can you not accept me in them? So
little time is ours, _cher_!"

The horses had drawn close together. He put his right arm round her
waist. She leaned back, face upturned. Their eyes met in a long deep
look. Their mouths approached, were one. The flame of life burned high
in them. Their horses' ears quivered to a louder roar of the distant
guns.

Slowly they rode home together, by an easier, more roundabout path she
showed him.

All that day those of the regiment not required for outposts laboured
hard at the new entrenchments on the high, western edge of the
ravine--a long, long line of delving men. Ranges were marked out;
reserves of ammunition, food and water carried up. The energising
source of all this activity, the colonel, laboured also, without haste
and without rest. His brain worked quickly, coolly, definite in its
decisions. She, his companion, unobtrusively at hand when required
for information or material of defence, vanished unnoticed when her
presence might become importunate. She quenched her personality,
transfused, she felt, her life-force into him as he worked, an
emotionless intellect. With his chefs-de-bataillon he elaborated plans
of defence; nothing was left to chance; nothing could be misunderstood.
Personally he supervised, corrected, the siting of the trenches, the
emplacements of the mitrailleuses. In the afternoon he rode over to the
colonel of the adjoining regiment, concerted arrangements. From the
général de brigade he obtained the promise of a battery in support on
the morrow.

But he was uneasy. Patrols sent out had failed to get into touch with
the covering cavalry. The distant artillery roll was nearer. There
had been one inexplicable burst of fire some miles away to the right.
As night fell he ordered the new trenches to be manned with the bulk
of his force, leaving outposts and grand'garde on the plateau above
the ravine and down the valley. One company only he retained near the
château.

That evening he sat again in the salon of his hostess. All was quiet.
The dog snored in front of the hearth. At his request the countess
seated herself at the piano, played dreamily with bowed head. The soft
harmonies that awoke under her fingers seemed only to make the silence
musical.

Suddenly a shot re-echoed loud along the valley; another and another
followed. There was a burst of rapid, irregular fire, indefinitely
prolonged. The colonel rushed to a window, flung it open, listened. The
outposts down the valley were being driven in.

His companion had risen, stood by the piano with tense features. There
was a loud hurried knock on the door. She ran to open it. A Zouave
entered, breathing heavily from swift exertion. Saluting, he handed a
message to the colonel. It was from the commander of the grand'garde on
the edge of the ravine above. He reported that his advanced posts were
in contact with the enemy, were retiring. For one moment the colonel
stood by the window, listening to the rapid clatter of the rifles,
deciding which was the heavier attack.

He wrote an order to the officer above. The messenger disappeared. The
countess was holding out his fez and his revolver. One wild embrace and
he sprang out of the room, dashed through the adjoining salons, out
into the night.

In the courtyard he found the reserve company assembled, awaiting his
orders. He gave them, quickly, succinctly. The company fell into fours,
doubled out of the courtyard into the darkness to form a screen across
the valley behind which the men above could seek safety. From the
widening ravine the rifle fire swelled in intensity, was a continuous
loud re-echoing clatter. Above, sharp definite reports rang out,
were rapidly multiplied. It was the grand'garde--_feu à volonté_.
He glanced to the other wall of the ravine and smiled in a grim
satisfaction. His orders were being obeyed. The long line of trenches
he knew to be there lay in silence and darkness.

Above him there was one fierce paroxysm of fire and then the reports
diminished, sprang from lower levels. He saw quick flashes of light
among the trees. Wounded men limped and hobbled past him in the
darkness. The outpost was retiring into the valley. A bullet cracked
close to him. He turned, suddenly conscious of companionship. The
countess was standing at his side, her pale dress luminous in the
night. The dog growled angrily in front of her.

"Pauline!" His voice was almost a shriek of alarm for her. "Pauline!
For the love of God, come with me--now--there is yet time! I cannot
leave you!"

She grasped his hand, as a friend would.

"No, _cher_--I stay--as a pledge for your victorious return!"

The last men of the outpost were running past them. Overhead the
bullets cracked viciously, phutting against the walls.

"I implore you! There may be heavy fighting!"

"No, mon ami. I stay." Her voice was quite decided. "I have cellars."
She pressed his hand, then, with a quick movement, flung herself into
his arms, was one with him for a brief second. He unloosed her embrace.

"Go, then," he said, his voice trembling. "Quickly. God be with you!"

"And with you, my beloved! Take the dog with you--he will tell me where
you are." She bent down to the animal, whispered to him, pointed to the
colonel. Heavy volleys crashed out of the trees above. She sprang back
into the house.

The dog at his heels, the colonel raced after the last of his men. They
turned to spit livid spurts of flame at the dark wall of the ravine. In
a few moments they were clambering up a steep path through the wood on
the other side.

Half an hour later the Germans felt the long line of trenches on the
lip of the ravine, attacked, and were heavily repulsed.

       *       *       *       *       *

At dawn the colonel reconnoitred the situation from his position on the
height. In front of him the enemy, abandoning the valley in which lay
so many of his dead, had entrenched himself along the opposite edge of
the ravine. Vicious little bursts of rifle fire at scattered parties or
individuals who hazarded themselves for a moment out of cover betokened
the vigilance of both sides, and on both sides the many spadefuls of
earth tossed in the air showed that the work of strengthening the
positions was proceeding feverishly. So far no artillery had entered
into the fray, but at any moment the first shell from one party or the
other might come whining across the gulf. To the right of the Zouaves
another battalion had established contact, was maintaining itself. To
the left, at the head of the ravine, where they joined with the next
regiment, a fierce fight was proceeding--attack and counter-attack
which finally left the positions unchanged. Far to right and left the
crackle of rifle fire swelled and continued. Mingled with it came the
rapid detonations of field-guns, their reports ever nearer. The battle
was developing all along the line. The colonel received positive orders
to maintain himself at all costs, to risk nothing. Upon the maintenance
of this thin screen depended the safety of two armies, forming and in
motion, perhaps the fate of France.

Through his glasses the colonel gazed into the depths of the ravine,
where the white stone château glinted through the dark, thickly
surrounding trees. A wisp of smoke ascended from one of the chimneys
and he had to be content with that assurance that all was well. A
patrol sent out in the first light had failed to reach it. All access
to the château was commanded by spurs from the other side of the
ravine. But apparently it was unoccupied by the enemy. He thought
suddenly of the dog, wondered what had happened to it. In the stress
of the night attack he had lost sight of it, forgotten it. Even as he
searched his memory it came bounding along the trench towards him,
nosed against his leg. There was something fastened to its collar, a
letter.

As he read it, all the passion of his ascetic, sun-parched years,
awakened by the exquisite charm of that slender pale woman lonely
there below him, surged up in him, overmastering, obliterating all
else. The eloquent eyes under the auburn hair were vivid to him, spoke
to his deepest soul. Her letter was a prose lyric of passion wherein
all emotions--longing, tenderness, anxiety, surrender, pride in her
lover, even a flash of the doubt born of swiftly-given love--contended.
It was revelatory of her inmost self as her speech had never been.
She, it seemed, had also waited--waited. Some of the phrases in
it--"The burning sacrament of your kiss"--"linked in an instant for
eternity"--branded themselves upon his brain. In a whirl of cerebral
excitement he tore out a page from his note-book, dashed off a letter
not less ardent, not less than hers the ecstasy of a soul that lives at
last in the consuming fire of love.

He attached it to the dog's collar, pointed away. The animal sprang
over the low parapet, disappeared in the undergrowth below.

An artillery officer came up, reported himself as the observer of the
newly arrived battery. He evinced much professional interest in the
château, seemed eager to make it the target for his guns. The colonel
explained the situation.

All through the multitudinous tasks and responsibilities of the day his
soul yearned out to the lonely woman below. To have risked his life in
an endeavour to see her would have been more than a joy, it would have
been the satisfaction of a need of his being--but his life was pledged
to France. To him his duty was a religion with which his love did not
conflict, nay both, upon the summit of his life, blended and were one.
Yet tempted, he found himself speculating upon the possibility of
creeping down at nightfall.

But night saw the intense glare of three German searchlights shoot out
of the darkness. A storm of shrapnel burst fiercely over the trenches
of the Zouaves. A wild attack of shadowy forms surging up out of the
undergrowth beat against the parapet, ebbed back in an inferno of
noise from the long line of countless stabs of flame, was hurled into
the ravine under the reiterated crashes, the sudden livid flares of
shrapnel from the battery behind.

Down below, at the highest window of the château, the countess stood
looking out into the night, her lover's letter pressed close against
her bosom. High above her flickered and spurted the endless rifle
flashes from _his_ trenches, paling the stars above the dark hill. The
noise of the conflict, the shouts and cries amid the re-echoing din,
was a tribute to his power. She gloried in it, exulted when the attack
subsided, withdrew in a clamour of voices past the château to the hill
behind.

Descending, she wrote yet another letter to him--a proud pæan of love
triumphant. Then suddenly she flung herself, face downward, arms
outstretched, across the table in a passion of irrepressible tears.
She lay thus a long time, until the heaving of her body ceased and she
slept, her cheek upon the letter.

The morning was yet young when she despatched the dog once more upon
his mission to her lover. Save for an occasional shot, the opposing
trenches were quiet. Stretcher parties were at work in the valley.
Waited upon by the ancient Marie--eloquent in her protestations of
terror during the night--she breakfasted, counting the minutes until
the return of her messenger. Roland arrived, pleased with himself,
as his energetic tail testified. Once more with swelling breast and
radiant face she read her lover's letter, passionate as the first. In a
postscript, it begged her to give no information that might imperil her.

During the day the battle woke again between the trenches at the head
of the ravine, continued in fierce spasms hour after hour. In the
afternoon she wrote another letter, despatched it and received an
answer. She was strangely, exaltedly happy. _He_ was holding firm.
No one came to the château. At night she again posted herself at the
window to watch the flashes from his trenches.

The third day dawned. She wrote, assuring him of her safety--of much
else. The reply duly arrived. A false peace brooded over the little
valley. Ceding to an impulse, she went out, tried to get a clearer view
of his position, to see--she would not admit to herself her absurd
hope. Then, regretting her imprudence, she returned hurriedly.

The grey of afternoon already filled the valley when a loud, imperative
knocking upon the great door re-echoed through the house. The countess
stood as if turned to stone; her heart seemed to stop. So soon! The
threat to her exalted, impassioned life of the past days paralysed her.
She could with difficulty cry to Marie to admit.

A German officer entered, a group of soldiers behind him. He saluted
with stiff ceremony.

"Madame, I regret you must leave this house at once!" His French was
painfully correct.

She faced him, tense.

"And if I refuse?"

"Then, madame, you leave me no alternative but to arrest you as a
suspect."

She cried an inarticulate protest. The dog, hitherto standing by her
side as though straining at a leash, sprang forward with an angry growl.

The German regarded the menace coolly, without moving a muscle.

"Schönes Tier!" he murmured. Then, turning to his men, he ordered:
"Secure it, one of you!"

Thunderously growling, with a puzzled look at his mistress standing
like a statue, the dog suffered a cord to be slipped through its
collar. The blood surged into the countess's face.

"Monsieur----!" The sense of outrage choked her.

"Madame," he interrupted calmly, "I need scarcely remind you that time
presses. You will not, I am sure, constrain us to violence."

She met his eyes, was confronted with inexorable necessity. Her hands
twitched.

"You will at least allow me a little time to collect a few clothes and
valuables?"

"A little time, madame."

She ran from the room, hearing as a last sound the dog choking as it
struggled on the leash. In the hall was Marie, haggard, her old body
shaking with excitement. She clutched at her mistress's arm.

"Madame! what is happening?" She lapsed into patois under the stress.

The countess replied also, without noticing it, in the language of her
childhood.

"I am arrested. They are letting me fetch some clothes."

The servant suppressed a cry. "Madame!" The old hands trembled upon
her. "The colonel!--a note to him--he will come--give it to me!"

"But Marie----" They looked deep down into each other's soul. With a
sudden movement of decision the countess ran into an adjoining room,
scribbled "_They are taking me. P._" on a piece of paper, thrust it
into the old woman's hand. "You are sure, Marie?" she asked wildly,
seeking condonation for herself.

"Chère dame!" was the brief, eloquent reply. The old woman disappeared.

The countess ran upstairs to her bedroom, the one word
"Delay!--delay!--delay!--delay!" beating in her brain.

Down in the salon the officer gave a few curt commands to his men,
ordered the dog to be taken into the yard. Left alone, he strolled
round the room examining the pictures, the bibelots, opening the
drawers of the secretaire. The minutes passed. The house was in deep
silence. He began to get impatient, to wonder if some trick----. But he
was sure of the vigilance of his men. A quarter of an hour had elapsed
when he heard a sharp little burst of fire from the German trenches
above. It was not answered. The valley resumed its unwonted quiet.
Exasperated at the delay he began to pace up and down the room, looked
at his watch, gave his prisoner yet another five minutes.

Suddenly his eye was caught by a little piece of folded paper on the
floor under the piano. He picked it up, opened it. It was a letter that
had evidently fallen from the countess's dress when she ran from the
room. He read it through, a gleam in his eyes. "So! meine Gräfin!" he
murmured, and smiled.

The colonel's passionate outpouring awoke no sympathetic thrill of
romance in his breast. The tip of a pink tongue protruding under
his fair moustache, his clever blue eyes alight, he turned it over,
pondering the signature. From many indications he deduced that the
writer was in the trenches on the other side of the ravine, was of
commanding rank. Even as he considered it there was a knock at the door.

"Herein!" A German soldier entered and saluted. He brought a message
from the trenches above. It explained the little burst of fire, warned
him. The officer stood for a moment in thought, then his face lit up
with a malicious pleasure. The clever blue eyes saw a sequence of
events--the messenger from the countess, whose sudden scramble over the
opposing parapet had drawn the German fire, imploring rescue of the
distressed; a French commander, intoxicated with love for a beautiful
woman, catching fire at the news, issuing wild orders, seeing only his
mistress in imminent danger; a reckless avalanche of French soldiery
sweeping down the sides of the ravine in a blind quixotic chivalry. He
saw----"Famos!" he ejaculated, and laughed softly to himself. He wrote
out an answering message, a long one, and handed it to the orderly.

When the countess returned to the room, garbed for departure, she found
him seated at the piano, playing gently with a sentimental touch. He
rose at her entrance, performed a polite bow.

"Madame, you appear to have a very interesting house," he said in his
stiff French; "would you do me the honour of escorting me over it?"

The countess stared at him, dumbfounded. Were her prayers miraculously
answered? Delay!--delay!--delay!

"If you wish, monsieur," she answered in a calm, controlled voice.
Following the twin thought in her brain, her eyes searched the carpet.

He noticed the glance, drew the letter from his pocket.

"I think you dropped this, madame," he said, handing it to her.

She took it from him. Had he read it? The blonde face that met her
questioning gaze was impassive under its smiling courtesy.

For an instant they confronted each other. With a cynical sense of
superiority, pleasant to himself, he read her delight at his unexpected
request, carefully though she tried to disguise it, read her quickly
banished doubt that he had penetrated her scheme, was counter-plotting.
He could almost phrase her thankful prayer to God--begging for a
continuance of the miracle--that the barbarian had thus delivered
himself into the strong hands of her lover. He would surely come! Both
as they stood thus silent were calculating the necessary minutes--but
his calculation was a double one. With the politest of bows, he opened
the door for her.

Together they went through salon after salon, candlelit since he
refused to have the shutters opened. In contrast with his previous
manner, he displayed not the least haste. Leisurely he lingered over
each piece, discussed it, appraised it with real connoisseurship
as though he were merely a cultured guest. She loitered willingly,
her brain on fire, every sense at strain. The precious moments were
accumulating. She found new treasures for his admiration, racked her
memory for rare objects that might hold him yet a little longer. He
handled them, was enthusiastic, with calm audacity regretted this
terrible war which imperilled so many beautiful things. Not once did
he depart from his attitude of studied politeness. And while he spoke
she was listening--listening--for the sudden shout, the quick close
detonations, which should announce her deliverance.

At any moment now! She glanced for the barbarian's weapon, her heart
praying for _his_ safety. Out there beyond the shuttered windows he was
coming in might at the head of his men. She seemed to see him--running
towards her, past the Cupid-crowned fountain. She exulted in the crass
absence of suspicion in the hatefully calm enemy at her side.

Out there in the twilight the precincts of the château were being
lined with grey-clad soldiers, settling themselves in hidden firing
positions. The officer saw them, with experienced second-sight. He
smiled, blandly. His prisoner loitered, desperately prolonging his
happy preoccupation.

When they returned to the salon it was to find another German officer
waiting. Unseen by her, they exchanged a significant look.

There was a sharp, hissing, ugly rush in the air and a loud crash in
the courtyard.

       *       *       *       *       *

By a fortunate chance the colonel was near when the panting Marie
scrambled over the parapet to the accompaniment of a dozen rifle
bullets. On the point of collapse, the old woman sank into his arms,
stammered confused unintelligible words, gave him the scrap of paper.
Consigning her to the care of an orderly, he read the message, then
raised his head, his fingers crushing the paper. He stood motionless,
in intense thought. Slowly his eyes turned, fell upon the old woman
shaking more with fright from the narrowly escaped bullets than from
her exertions. Then his gaze lifted, fixed itself with frowning
concentration upon the clay wall of the trench. He saw only with an
inner vision. Around him no one spoke. His jaw set hard.

He raised himself upon the fire-step, gazed over the parapet through
his glasses. The opposing lip of the ravine, bare of undergrowth
a few yards from the top, lay silent, seemingly deserted. He
called up an officer, handed him his glasses, indicated a point,
ordered an unceasing watch upon it. Then he sent orderlies for his
chefs-de-bataillon and the artillery observation officer in all haste.

They came. The battalion commanders received definite instructions and
departed. The artillery officer remained with him. The ancient Marie
sat upon the fire-step of the trench, trembling but recovering. She
watched the saviour of her mistress with fascinated eyes.

The trench began to fill with soldiers. They crouched in their firing
positions, their heads kept carefully below the parapet. Here and
there little groups were busy about the machine-guns, fitted the long
comb-like strips of cartridges, huddled ready to hoist the weapon into
action. The watching officer called, without moving his head.

"Infantry are slipping into the ravine, mon colonel!"

The colonel, stern, impassive, ordered him to report when the movement
ceased.

The long trench filled with crouching riflemen lay in a hush of intense
expectancy. There was scarce a movement save the quick, involuntary
jerks of nerves at strain. The old woman's eyes began to wander,
puzzled, seeking comprehension. The wild rush forward she had imagined,
would it never come? She waited, breathless, for the inspiring command
of the colonel that should wake the tumultuous Hurrah! The watching
officer reported:

"Movement has ceased, mon colonel. About two hundred men."

The colonel drew his watch from his pocket, glanced at the dial. Beyond
that he made no movement. The old woman's eyes were fixed upon him.
Suddenly she noticed that he wore neither sword nor revolver. In a
flash she understood. She sprang up like a madwoman, crying at the top
of her voice.

"Soldiers! To the rescue! The Boches are taking away my mistress!
Now! Save her! Your colonel--her lover--abandons her! _Abandons her!_
Cowards! Cowards! Do you want an old woman to show you the way?"

She leaped in a frenzy upon the fire-step, tearing aside the soldiers
to make way for her with cat-like hands. There was a stir along the
trench. The soldiers knew her, knew her mistress, their generous
hostess. There was a murmur. The colonel stood like a statue carved in
stone. His face was that of an ascetic at the supreme moment. In his
eyes was the glow of a mystic who beholds a vision.

He turned to the old woman.

"Be quiet!" he commanded. His eyes rather than his voice quelled her.
She sank in a passion of hysterical weeping to the floor of the trench.
He glanced at his watch again, replaced it, waited. Age-long minutes
passed. He turned to the artillery officer.

"Now!" he said. "But be careful! As near to the château as possible
without touching it."

The officer shouted an order to the waiting telephonist. Overhead there
was the rush of a shell, from far behind the sharp crack of a gun.
Leisurely--one--two--three--four--the battery fired. The observation
officer looked over the parapet. The colonel mounted by his side,
watched also.

One--two--three--four--the battery fired again, repeated itself once
more. Down there among the trees was a faint drifting smoke.

The colonel counted the minutes as the well-placed shells dropped
around the château of his dreams. He saw, where none other saw, the
sudden alarm below; the prisoner hurriedly evacuated from her home,
dragged scrambling up through the dark trees into safety on the other
side. One--two--three--four. She should be out of harm's way.

He turned his face to the trench, shouted an order. As he turned his
gaze again swiftly towards the enemy he had a glimpse of something
upon the bare lip of the ravine--something white, quickly moving. He
had miscalculated! In a sudden agony, he shrieked rather than shouted
a countermanding order. Too late! His voice was drowned in one long
smashing detonation of a thousand rifles in an irregular volley
from the trench. From the battery behind came the rapid, multiplied
hammer-slams of the guns firing at their maximum speed.

He had a ghostly vision of an anguished woman's face, denying love.

The ravine was lashed by a tornado of shell and bullets. Caught in its
depths, unseen yet precisely imagined from above, men were clambering
in an agony of desperation to escape from the death that crashed
unceasingly overhead and hailed about them. The white shrapnel puffs
were countless against the dark background of the trees.

For a quarter of an hour the fierce fire continued, was answered in
bitter anger from the opposing trenches. Then on both sides it died
away. The dead in the valley lay in quiet.

The colonel, his face rigid, turned to walk along the trench. Suddenly
a dog trailing a cord leaped over the parapet, dashed at him in a
frenzy of joy. Then, perceiving the old woman, it jumped at her, nosed
around her with vigorously wagging tail.

The old woman shrieked. The colonel looked. There was blood upon the
dog's coat. The old woman drew herself up, held the colonel's eyes.
"_Murderer!_" she cried with the intensity of a curse, and fainted.

The colonel strode on.

       *       *       *       *       *

On a bitter day in December, three months later, the colonel returned
from his morning tour of the trenches for which he was responsible.
They were trenches in another landscape, far from those whose memory
lay like a sear across his soul. At the entrance to the sandbagged,
wrecked farmhouse which served him as a home the soldier-_courrier_
was in the act of extracting letters from his wallet. The colonel took
the bundle destined for him. At the sight of the topmost envelope he
stopped as though he had seen a ghost. With trembling fingers he tore
it open, read:

"My hero! _I understood! I understood!_ Oh, didn't you know I
understood? How grand you are--more than a man! All these weary months
of imprisonment, trial, release and travel, I have been hungering to
tell you this. Home once more, France is more than ever France to me
since you ennobled me in sacrifice. Beloved!----"

The colonel hurried into his quarters to read the letter in solitude.
None might see his face.



THEY COME BACK


Whittingham Street, N., had benefited by the war. The long vista of its
windows flush with the pavement was decent with curtains of a cleanness
unwonted before the cataclysm. There were strange dots of reflected
sunlight from brass door-handles and knockers that were polished. These
things were symbols of the newly realised importance of Whittingham
Street's inhabitants in the scheme of society, an importance which,
swiftly translated into self-esteem, expressed itself with a uniformity
natural to life in a mean street. That house was poor indeed which did
not possess its gramophone. The womenfolk were curiously predominant to
those who remembered the old-time loungers at the corner "pubs," and
that womenfolk, disdainful of the feathers of the long ago, was arrayed
in startlingly smart, well-emphasized, cheap copies of the latest
fashions, oddly incongruous with the tall, smoke-vomiting chimneys of
Messrs. Hathaway's great factory which closed the vista of the street.
The sparseness of the men, immediately remarked, received a solemn
significance from the flag-hung shrine on the wall of the Council
School. The children who played in front of it--paper helmet, tin-can
drum and wooden sword--were vividly cognizant that this was a time of
War.

It was evening, and from the great gates of Messrs. Hathaway's factory
poured a ceaseless stream of women. But not this evening did that
stream flow down the street with its usual swift and uninterrupted
course. There were checks in it--obstacles of groups that talked
excitedly and forgot to progress--while others in eager haste eddied
round them. On the high wall by the gate, a bill-poster was covering a
"War Savings" placard with another of different meaning. A black cloud
of smoke drifted away from the tall chimneys and was not reinforced
other than by faint and lessening wisps.

A young woman, one of those whose urgent haste trifled not with
talk, hurried down the street, stopped before one of the neatest
house-fronts, tremblingly thrust a key into the latch, opened and ran
breathlessly upstairs.

A grey-haired old woman rose from a wooden chair by the side of a
cradle in a clean and modestly furnished room. At the entrance of her
daughter-in-law she laid a finger on her lips and looked warningly to
the infant. Then remarking an obvious distress, she changed colour.

"What's the matter, Ann?" she whispered, shaking with a sudden alarm.
She had to steady herself by the support of the table. "Not--Jim?"

The young woman shook her head, controlled her panting breath.

"Hathaway's!" she brought out. "Closing down!"

The elder stared speechlessly for a moment, then seated herself with
that blank mute resignation of the aged poor, long disillusioned of
any title to good fortune. The fingers of her unshapely hands twined
and untwined themselves tensely in her lap.

"Don't you hear, mother?" said the young woman irritably. "Hathaway's
are closing down!"

"Oh, dear!" the old woman raised a face that was strained with imminent
tears. "I knew it 'ud never last--I knew it 'ud never last!"

"What we shall do, 'Eaven knows!" said Ann, viciously accenting the
sole possible fount of knowledge. "They're all closing down--all of
'em, all round!" Her gesture, as she unpinned her hat and put it, with
an excess of energy, on the table, testified to the completeness of
the closed horizon. She stood looking at the sleeping child, her brows
bent, her mouth troubled. Then suddenly she flung herself on her knees
and buried her head in the old woman's lap, shaking with sobs.

"Oh, I did so want to keep it nice for Jim when 'e comes back! I did! I
did! All we've got together. And now it'll all go--bit by bit! And I've
worked so 'ard--so very 'ard! An' 'e'll never see, never know 'ow nice
it was! Oh--mother!" She could utter no more words, only inarticulate
sounds.

The old woman soothed her, stroking her hair.

"There, dear! there, dear! Don't take on! It'll all come right. I can
go out again an' do a bit of cleanin'. I daresay Mrs. Smith'll take me
on again. I ain't done no work for a long while--sitting 'ere eatin'
your bread--I've 'ad a nice rest, I 'ave--I'm quite strong again now.
We'll both get somethin', you see, dear!"

The young woman raised herself.

"No!--No!--No!--You shan't work any more!" She turned her head wearily.
"I can't make it out. _What's happening?_ Why are they all shutting
down like this?"

The old woman looked at her stupidly. The remote causes which made or
unmade her unimportant existence were beyond her comprehension.

"What's that?" cried Ann, jumping to her feet. "_What's 'e calling?_"

The raucous shout of a newsvendor floated up from the street. Ann
listened for a moment--and then, after a hurried search for a halfpenny
in her purse, dashed out of the door and down the stairs.

She reappeared after a bare minute, brandishing the newspaper,
wild-eyed, panting.

"Mother! Mother!" She could not wait to enter the door before
commencing her news. "It's Peace! _Peace!_" She struggled with the
unfolded paper, crushed it together again, searching eagerly for the
magic headlines. "Here it is! Listen!" The old woman, equally all
trembling eagerness, was standing at her side, pawing vaguely at the
arm which held the newspaper. Ann read out the great news. "'_The wild
rumours current during the past few days have received a startling
confirmation. It is announced that an armistice has been signed on all
the fronts. This undoubtedly means a general Peace. The end of the
war has come._' Mother! it's all over! it's all over--and Jim'll be
coming back! Oh, I can't 'ardly believe it! _It's all over!_ Oh, thank
God--thank God!"

"All over! My Jim! Safe and sound! Oh," the old woman commenced that
sniffling weep common to the aged and the young. "I can't 'elp it,
Ann--I can't 'elp it!--I must cry!"

Ann dashed down the newspaper and flung her arms round the old woman
in a close embrace. "Mother! Mother! I never was so"--and here a sob
checked her speech also--"so 'appy in my life!" Face against face,
the tears of the two women mingled--tears not of grief but of emotion
for which there was no expression. Somewhere down the street church
bells were ringing in joyous peal on peal. It might have been merely a
coincidence of practice, but to the two women whose simple souls beat
close together, in a swoon of intense feeling that obliterated the
sharp outlines of environment, this happy rioting of the bells seemed a
holy blessing on the moment.

"Oh, Ann dear, Ann dear," said the old woman, looking up. "What a
thanksgiving it'll be for all the poor anxious women!"

"Oh, we're very lucky--we're very lucky. Jim'll be coming back. Think
of it, mother!"

They kissed one another as if each were kissing the man who would come
back as son and husband.

"We've got to keep it for 'im," said Ann. "All the little 'ome. An'
'e'll soon be back to work for us an' the baby, an' we shan't never be
parted any more! Oh, mother, think of the poor women who won't 'ave
no one to come back to 'em! When they see 'em marching by! Oh--we're
lucky, we're very lucky!"

The old woman stood staring out of the window in vague thought, her
eye caught by the vivid red of the flags on the War Shrine.

"It'll be a different world, Ann, when they all come back," she said.
"Them what 'ave been left be'ind all through will find lots missing
what they look for. And them what come back won't come back the same.
It'll never be the same again, any of it; let's 'ope it'll be better."

       *       *       *       *       *

_They_ were coming back. The Mother-City of the Empire woke, silent of
traffic, decked for a day that knew no sufficient parallel, the day
when the thousands of her sons--those who had gone in their ones and
twos, their single battalions--should march back from vast adventure in
the full majesty of their corporate soldier-life. The London Divisions
were coming back from the War, were marching for the last time at full
strength. And the London streets were tunnels of gay flags, walled with
black masses of citizens kept clear from the sanded roadways. From
every steeple the bells tossed out their exuberant rejoicing. In every
breast of the millions there congregated was a surge of emotion that
exhaled in one sustained murmur of the gladness for which there are no
words but which fills the eyes and chokes the throat.

They were coming! The thrilling blare of instruments of brass; the
heart-stirring tap and roll and beat of the drums; the intoxicating
rhythmic swinging lilt and crash; the brave gay runs of melody,
sublimely simple, that bring the tears; the solid, even tramp of
thousands who march as one--and the leading files were passing in a
storm of cheers, a madness of waving hands. For the last time they
passed shoulder to shoulder in the familiar ranks, marching as they
had marched for all the years of exile, marching as they had marched
down the fatal roads to Loos and Gommecourt, Guillemont and all those
rubble heaps where the bravest and the dearest of the greatest city of
the world died for the fragment of a village and for England. Rifles
at the slope, bare bayonets asserting the ancient privileges that they
had won, O so dearly, the right to flaunt, the heavy weather-stained
pack on the sturdy shoulders, the steel helmets awry with the tilt
of long-familiar use, the brown strong faces gleaming with their
smiles--so they marched, not any more under the thunder of the guns,
but in a frenzy of voices where the madly rioting bells were lost.

Battalion by battalion--all the glorious names, London's own--the
London Scottish, first in the fray in the long ago, the Queen's
Westminsters, the Kensingtons, the London Rifle Brigade, the H.A.C.,
the numberless battalions of the London Regiment--they came, each
with its aura of the deathless dead. They came from the interminable
purgatory of the endless trenches, terminated at last, from the
unimaginable inferno of Hill 60, from the hopeless dying of May the
Ninth, from the fierce hopes, the bitter strife of Loos, from the
massacre of Gommecourt and the bloody fights of Guillemont, of Vimy
Ridge, of Messines, of a thousand places that were humble and are
henceforth names of splendour. Miraculously strong, happy, pregnant
with vivid life they emerged from that distant whelm of peril. And
the eyes that had looked so long at death in the bare fields pocked
hideously with the disease of war, looked up now at the ranked tall
buildings, so familiar and yet so strange, so impressively permanent
after timeless æons of destruction. Behind those windows--could it
be?--they had sat at desk through months and years. Between them and
that past was a curtain of fire, of emotions that had transformed, of
the intensity of life which has persisted in the face of death. And
rank by rank, battalion after battalion, swinging with powerful stride,
they marched back into the past that had seemed for ever gone.

And those who watched the level ranks flowing in their endless stream,
cheering with throats now incapable of aught but the inarticulate cry,
perceiving them mistily through a blur of tears, saw more than the men
who marched, treading once again the asphalt of the London streets.
They saw the ghosts of ranks, doubling--more than doubling--the ranks
of living men, the ghosts of those who had looked as these looked,
brown-faced, strong-limbed, the incarnation of living will, and were
now no more than the wind blowing over the desolate countrysides where
they had ceased to be. Yet were they present, the men who had died
that England might live. The stir of their souls was in the skirling
pipes, the wail and feverish beat of the fifes and drums, the maddening
purposeful blare and thud of the brass bands. They looked out of the
eyes of those who marched--the soul unconquerable, the living spirit
of the English race. And a divine afflatus swept over the waving,
cheering crowds, swept them to a wilder intoxication. One, whose
faculty of speech was not yet overwhelmed, cried: "Three cheers for the
boys who are left behind! Hurrah! Hurrah!----" and could not finish.
And a woman who stood, tensely pallid, staring at the so-familiar
badges of the troops who passed, stared at utter strangeness, and fell
as dead.

The next battalion followed on, singing, carrying on a tune caught up
far back along the route, the farewell song of Kitchener's Army of
1915, sung now as an instinctive antistrophe to that old chorale when
they had marched to war:

     "Keep the home fires burning,
     While your hearts are yearning,
 Though your lads are far away, they dream of home,
     There's a silver lining
     Through the dark cloud shining,
     Turn your dark clouds inside out
     Till the boys come home."

They passed in a roar of voices that drowned the band.

So the long, long columns of the London Divisions tramped through the
heart of the Mother-City, under the fluttering of countless flags,
under the surge and resurge of joy-bells from every steeple, under
great banners that proclaimed the gratitude of the city. Rank after
rank they lifted their eyes to the laurel-green inscription that
spanned the street at Temple Bar: "SHALL WE FORGET?--NEVER!"

Rank by rank they passed under the promise--the thousands of men welded
in the fires of war to a wondrous miracle of collective soul--passed
onward for the last time as one living unit, ere they should lay down
their arms, _fall out_--and disperse, individuals that were fragments
of a sacred memory, the shreds of a battle-flag distributed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sir Thomas Jackson Hathaway, Kt., Alderman of the City of London,
looked along the masculine faces, spaced with the interstices of the
departed ladies, of the little dinner-party of intimate friends, and
then again to the brown keen visage of his son. He pushed along the
decanter--he was old-fashioned and made a virtue of it--"Fill up,
Harry, my boy--I've been looking after the cellar while you've been
away--there's more of it." He laughed a little at the mirth of his
implied suggestion that there might possibly be a shortage in the
cellars of Sir Thomas Hathaway. And his guests laughed a little in
courtesy.

"We've kept the flag flying here also, my boy," said the big, heavily
jovial host, puffing hugely at his cigar and then taking it from his
mouth to examine it with a superfluously critical eye. "You'll find
things as well--better, than when you left. You don't mind, gentlemen,
this little talk of shop? After all, we're all friends together, and
most of us have some small interest in the little business, ha! ha!"
The guests were, in fact, Sir Thomas Hathaway's co-directors in the
large enterprises he controlled. He continued: "Better I may say, for
we have been very conservative--we've looked to the younger generation
away fighting our battles for us--and we've built up a reserve fund
that a few years ago we shouldn't have dreamed of. You've come back
to a first-class concern, Harry, my boy. Here's to it!" He raised and
drained his glass, setting a followed example to his guests.

Captain Hathaway had been toying with a match on the tablecloth. He
looked up--quiet and thoughtful, his face clean-cut and aristocratic by
contrast with the heavy opulence of his sire.

"You don't anticipate Labour trouble, then, father?"

Sir Thomas Hathaway laughed, a guffaw, and crashed his hand on the
table.

"Labour troubles, my boy! You need have no fear on that score. We're
going to teach Labour a lesson. We haven't built up our reserve for
nothing.--not only ourselves, but all the houses in the trade. For long
enough we've been dictated to by Labour--and now, by God, we're going
to crush it! Do you know what's coming, my boy? Have you thought about
it? There's going to be the biggest flood of Labour chucked on the
market that the world has ever known. All of 'em fightin'--_fightin'_
for jobs! And the trade, Harry, my boy, is going to _lock out_! We're
closed down now, and we shan't open again till our own good time. How
long d'you think the Union funds'll last? _We'll bust 'em_--bust 'em
for ever and a day. And when we open our shops again to Labour--it'll
be on our own terms! Here, fill up, gentlemen, I can vouch for this
wine--cost me a sinful price it did. We'll bust 'em, my lad, so that
never again in our time shall we hear a word of Labour trouble." He
gulped the glassful of his sinfully costly wine.

Captain Hathaway glanced round the table at the somewhat flushed,
semi-senile features of his father's guests and partners. They were one
and all nodding their heads in varying emphasis of approbation. He got
up.

"Well, father, I don't think we'll discuss it now. Suppose we join the
ladies?"

In the high drawing-room, softly lit with diffused radiance from the
ceiling, draped with precious modern hangings that were genuine and
spaced out with expensive antique paintings that were not, furnished
with the luxury of a wealth too utterly complete in its overwhelming
newness to allow imagination its leap across an artistic restraint,
the ladies purred, or cooed in careful falsetto, as they awaited the
entrance of the males. At a grand piano, slightly removed, a young
woman with a delicately refined face played softly to herself--in
a quiet ecstasy of gladness for which this was the only satisfying
expression.

Captain Hathaway, entering with his father's guests, came straight
across to her, and she looked up, smiling, into her husband's face
as though he had come in response to a murmured summoning spell. She
ceased and leaned back her head against him as he stood close behind
her.

"Oh, Harry," she said, "it's so lovely to have you again--for always,
always!" Her eyes half closed and her bosom heaved as she drank in an
intoxicating realization of his definite return, sketched to herself a
delicious little swoon.

"My dear!" he murmured. "It's good! Home--home for always with my
beloved!"

She clutched at his hand, and for a moment, while the loud-voiced
crowd vanished, they were secret lovers, snatched up to dizzy heights,
intensely thrilling with an exquisite community, eyes looking into
eyes and seeing more than human brain can translate of transcendent
vision. She released him and bowed forward suddenly with a little gulp,
striking, with trembling hands, vague chords on the piano.

"Now, Ethel, my dear," came the crass boom of her father-in-law's
voice, "when you've finished your spooning, let's have something jolly.
What about that bit out of 'Not a Word to the Wife!' Tra-la-la-la-la!"
He sketched a hideous caricature of blatant banality. "We're all jolly
to-night--none of your mooning sentiment, but jolly. Eh, ladies and
gentlemen?--properly jolly for Harry's first night back."

Ethel got up from the piano, coupling an allegation of another's
superior capacity with an invitation to perform, an invitation
smirkingly accepted.

The slangy crash and bang alternating with hyper-emphasized
sentimentality of the current tune was a cover under which Ethel
Hathaway retreated to happy intimacy with her husband. Not for long was
she allowed it. The very-consciously best-looking of the co-directors'
wives sidled up and subsided into the adjacent chair. She yearned
up into Captain Hathaway's face, while she cooed deprecation of her
intrusion to his wife.

"But I do so want to hear how Captain Hathaway earned his Military
Cross! Of course, I read all about it in the papers--but then--they're
so bald, aren't they? One misses, what shall I say?--the human touch of
heroism."

Mrs. Hathaway caught her husband's eye and forbade the instant flight.

"Tell Mrs. Jameson all about it, Harry," she commanded coolly. There
was something in the tone which rendered Mrs. Jameson's extorted
confidence quite worthless.

"There's little to tell," said Captain Hathaway. "The fellow who
really earned anything there was to get--and, I'm glad to say, got the
D.C.M.--was one of my men, a chap named Jim Swain. He used to be in our
employment, Ethel, by the way. It was a pretty tight corner and I got
practically left alone--all the other fellows knocked out--and this
chap Swain came up with a bag of bombs--jolly plucky thing, for there
didn't seem a dog's chance--and we chucked the bombs at the Hun till he
didn't dare raise his head. After a bit, some of another company came
up and we consolidated that bit of trench. That's all there was to it."

"Oh, how splendid!" Mrs. Jameson enthused vaguely. "Leadership _is_
everything, isn't it?"

"When you've got something to lead, Mrs. Jameson. One couldn't have
better stuff than my men--they're magnificent. They're the nation--and
now they're coming back they've got to be treated like the men they
are and not like soulless machinery." He wound up on a note of fierce
protest against something not obvious to his hearers.

"Now, Harry," said his wife, "don't inflict your theories on Mrs.
Jameson. We both of us positively refuse to be sympathetic with the
working class, don't we, Mrs. Jameson?" She laughed lightly. "The
working class is just as selfish as any other."

A wave of collective chatter from an approaching group engulfed this
conversation.

Late that night Sir Thomas Hathaway sat alone with his son.

"Now, Harry, my lad," he said. "You're going to take Ethel away for a
three months' holiday. You've jolly well earned it, both of you. And,
when you come back, you'll be head of Hathaway and Company. I've done
my bit and I'm going to rest. My interest in the business is now being
transferred into your name. That's my little present to you, my boy, by
way of showing that I'm proud of you. And I know that you'll keep up
the fine old traditions of the house, eh?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The curtains had disappeared from the windows of Whittingham Street.
The brass of the doors had lost its polish. The women who had tripped
along in an earnest display of finery were replaced by blowsy unkempt
females who stood at the doors and gossiped. Once more the corners
emphasized by the sordid public-houses were the idling-ground of groups
of men, more numerous, shabbier even than of old. But these men had
not the shiftless look of their predecessors. In their faces, thin
and white, was a hardness which was odd in an urban population. In
the eyes which followed the progress of a stranger up the street was
a dangerous glare. The flags of the War Shrine had disappeared; its
gilt-inscribed panel was dingy and splashed with mud. At the far end of
the street the great chimneys of Hathaway's works stuck up, clean of
smoke, into a clear sky. The massive entrance gates were a closed wall
across the vista.

In the little room to which Jim Swain had returned--after the days
unnumbered of life in the open trenches, wet dykes in the winter, and
in summer dusty sunken avenues where death struck suddenly in the
glare; after the countless nights of clear stars rising to a wondrous
infinity of multitude and distance above the dark bank of parapet--Ann
bent over a soap-box cradle where a child whimpered in faint misery.
The room was utterly bare of any furniture save the poor substitutes
of a number of packing-cases of various sizes. The little home which
Jim had established, which Ann had worked so passionately to improve,
was a home no longer. It was merely a squalid shelter for squalid human
animals.

Ann, on her knees by the child, looked up to the three figures in the
centre of the room, her attention suddenly challenged by the clash of
angry voices.

A tall man, fierce, with a shock of untidy hair falling on a narrow
brow, a vivid red tie overwhelming the soft collar which kept it in
place, was pointing a quivering finger at her husband's breast.

"You call yourself the leader of these men," he was saying, in a rage
of scorn, "and you flaunt that scrap of coloured rag--you advertise
your pride that you helped the bourgeois to fight his war! Take it
off, man--fling it down and trample on it! The red on it is the blood
of your fellow-workers!"

"Aye, that's just what it is, Laurence," said the ex-soldier with
equal anger. "And I _am_ proud of it. I'm proud that I did my bit for
England--for England's ours, too, as well as the capitalists', and the
war was our war, the war of the crowd of us--and we went out and risked
our lives while you and your cowardly kind stayed at home and helped
the enemy all you could. That's your patriotism! And now to hear you
talk one would think England was an enemy country! I tell you it's our
country as much as anybody's and our war that we fought for it! The red
on this medal ribbon is the red of the blood of the chaps that died for
it if you like--and I'm mighty proud to wear it. And, by God, Laurence,
while I'm the leader of these poor chaps I won't have any traitor
talk--is that clear?"

"Your country!" the other laughed bitterly. "What right have you got to
a ha'porth of it?--you, who are being chucked out into the street--you,
who haven't even the right to demand work and earn your bread! Bah!
Militarism has rotted the soul of you!"

"It taught me to know a true man when I see him, anyway, Laurence--and
you're none o' that kind! You, poisoning the minds of starving men----"

"And who keeps 'em starving? Who prevents 'em from helping themselves
in the nearest baker's shop----"

"Now, lads--now, lads!" intervened the third man, a thick-set fellow
in black coat and turned-up trousers over yellow boots. A smug
self-confidence was native to his podgy countenance, was the complement
of the cunning, scheming eyes. "There's no use quarrelling. What we've
got to do is to 'elp each other--we working-men. The Union's _bust_,
Jim, an' that's the fact of it--an' if Mr. Laurence's organization 'ere
can't give us a 'and--well, I don't know what'll happen. This last
trick of 'Athaway's, chucking the whole street out o' doors, fairly
puts the lid on it!"

There was silence in the room and Jim glanced round at the haggard
visage of his wife, bending, with tears on her cheeks, over the
whimpering child.

"Yes, look!" said the tall man. "That's what you fought for, my lad!"

Jim did not reply. He pressed his hand to his brow as though his brain
reeled. The Trade Union leader tried to profit by his silence.

"We're properly up against it--there's no dodging it. Mind you, Jim, I
think there's a lot of reason in what Mr. Laurence says."

Ann stood up quickly and faced her husband.

"Jim!" she said, and her voice was firm though her chest heaved with
weakness. "You'll do what's right--whatever 'appens!"

Laurence spoke again.

"We're perfectly ready to help--but this is the last time of offering.
You know the terms. You're responsible for a good many hundreds of
starving families, Swain--they mayn't listen to you much longer, don't
forget----"

He was interrupted by fierce shouts in the street below, the reiterated
blasts of a motor-horn, the crash of broken glass, a whir of machinery
and yet fiercer shouts. All three rushed to the window. Below them a
motor-car was stationary in the midst of a surging mob. The chauffeur
lay senseless amid the debris of a shattered wind-screen. In the rear
seat a youngish man was defending himself vigorously against the rain
of blows showered on him by the mob which clambered on to the vehicle.

"My God! Captain Hathaway!" Even as Jim shouted he had turned to dash
down the stairs.

He flung himself into the fierce mob as once before he had rushed at
the knot of Germans with bombs poised to throw, his captain an imminent
victim. Old instincts surged to supremacy--he fought his way blindly to
the car in a blur of blows. A second later he had dragged a dazed man
into the entrance of the house, had slammed the door.

"Come on, sir--come upstairs and sit down." Jim forgot for the moment
the wretched room to which he invited him. He was living in a memory
of the trench days where he had sometimes dreamed that his beloved
captain might on some incredible occasion sit at tea with them in a
nice little home and tell Ann that her husband had been a good soldier.
Half supporting him, he pushed him into the apartment, pulled a box out
for him to sit on.

"Here you are, sir. Take it easy for a minute. You'll soon be all
right."

Captain Hathaway put his hand to a damp forehead, looked stupidly at
the blood on it, and then, still dazed, stared at his rescuer.

"What?--Swain?" He smiled faintly. "For the second time, eh?"

"Yes, sir--I'm glad to say!"

The tall man picked up his soft hat, glaring from Jim to the employer
he had rescued.

"Come on, Bruxby," he said, in a voice quivering with anger. "There's
nothing more for us here--the man's a d--d scab!"

Jim listened to the heavy feet of the pair of them tramping down the
staircase.

Captain Hathaway looked around him, then took a deep breath and stood
up.

"I'm all right again now. It's all come back to me. Swain," he put his
hand on the man's shoulder, "will you believe me when I say I quite
understand--and that's it a shame, a d--d shame! I've been away. I
couldn't do anything till now." He looked at the woman by the cradle,
held out his hand. "This is Mrs. Swain?" She stood staring at him,
making no responsive movement. "Look here, I want to help--here"--his
hand dived into his pocket, fished up a bundle of notes--"why, you're
starving, woman!" He thrust them into her hand and she let them fall on
the floor.

"I want work, Captain Hathaway--not charity," said Ann, shaking with
temptation resisted.

The ex-officer turned to his man.

"Swain," he said. "I haven't been blind to all this--but, believe me, I
couldn't do anything till now. I want to talk to you. Will you listen
to me?"

It was some time later when Captain Hathaway (who had already seen his
chauffeur into a police ambulance while Jim harangued the crowd into
sullenness) drove his car down to the great gates of Hathaway's works.
Jim Swain, the men's leader, sat by his side.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the long boardroom, with its thick Turkey carpet, its heavy mahogany
furniture, its framed photographs of former directors, the controllers
of Hathaway's and its linked houses sat already at the council-table.
The air was heavy with cigar smoke when Captain Hathaway entered.

"Sorry I'm late, gentlemen--no,--a little accident--I'm quite all
right--nothing at all serious," so he responded to the queries evoked
by his cut forehead as he sat down.

His father rose, pompous, full-cheeked, settling his pince-nez with
one hand, while he gathered together a little sheaf of papers with the
other.

"Gentlemen," he said, "to-day I have to communicate to you officially
what I think all of you know privately--a communication which (hem!)
marks another epoch in the successful history of the house of
Hathaway. I have transferred to my son, Captain Hathaway--who has
not unsuccessfully graduated in the stern business of war--(Hear,
hear!)--my controlling interest in all the enterprises of which
hitherto I have been the head. I propose--and I believe you will second
me in this--that Captain Hathaway be duly elected to the board as
managing director." (It would have been difficult for the audience
to have disputed this had they wished. There was a unanimous "Hear,
hear!") Sir Thomas Hathaway passed a bulky envelope across to his son.
"Here, Harry, I give you all the deeds of transfer, duly executed and
dated as from yesterday. You are now the head of Hathaway and Company!"
There was a faint sketch of a cheer from the fat old gentlemen round
the table.

"Now, gentlemen," continued the retiring chief, "before I sit down,
I should like to give you some account of my stewardship. I think
we all of us perceived in the circumstances of the present time an
opportunity to settle, once and for all, our score with Labour. That
opportunity has not been neglected. All the factories controlled by
us, in agreement with the other houses in the trade--which have most
loyally backed our action--have been shut down. The date of their
reopening has not yet been decided upon, but I may tell you this,
gentlemen, the Trade Union with which we have had so much trouble in
the past is _bankrupt_. We are entitled to industrial peace, on our
own terms--but the terms which we have offered, and which were not
ungenerous in the circumstances after safeguarding our interests, have
been stubbornly rejected by the men's leader--the man Swain. This
left us no alternative but to put on the screw--and we have replied
by serving notices of ejection on all those of our ex-employees who
are behindhand in their rent. I think you will agree with me that in
this we have the fullest justice on our side! (Hear, hear!) And now,
gentlemen, I retire from my managing directorship and make way for my
son, in the fullest confidence that he will maintain and extend the
great and honourable traditions of this business."

Captain Hathaway stood up. His face was strangely pale and set.

"Gentlemen, you have listened to my father's remarks. They represent
accurately the theory of our past relationship between ourselves and
our employees. (Hear, hear!) But, gentlemen, I want to bring home to
you that it is a theory quite impossible to maintain at the present
day! In accepting the leadership of this house, I am fully conscious
of my responsibilities--responsibilities not only to you who have
financial interests in the business, but to those who live by the
employment we offer them and to the State which makes it possible for
them to work and for ourselves to derive profit from that work. From
this day, gentlemen, and for so long as I am head of this firm, our
relations with our employees are on a different basis. The factories
will reopen to-morrow--at the old Trade Union rates, excepting where
the new rates I have offered to the men are more remunerative to them.
The policy of the firm is reversed!"

Captain Hathaway, in all his experience of war, had never felt the need
of all his courage so much as in making this announcement--which, to
himself, sounded brutally bald.

One of the directors rose, banging nervously upon the table with his
fist, and shaking with rage.

"By God!" he said, "I never thought Tom Hathaway's boy would be a
traitor!"

Sir Thomas Hathaway half rose, and sat down again--looking as though he
were going to faint.

Another of the directors stood up.

"Has our new managing director any other harmless little proposals to
make?" he asked, in bitter sarcasm.

"Yes," replied Captain Hathaway, "I propose to take powers to create
a new Deferred Stock which will rank for dividend after the Ordinary
Stock has received eight per cent, but which will in all circumstances
carry a right to vote on the board--and this stock will be vested in
the representatives of our employees, chosen by them."

"It will never be agreed to by the men!" cried a voice.

"It _is_ agreed to already by the men's representatives," replied the
new chief, feeling the coolness of courage return to him as once when
he had faced the mob of Germans.

The wealthiest of the directors, a man associated with other houses in
the trade, rose in his turn.

"I warn you, Hathaway, that I shall dispose of my interests in this
business--and I'm going to fight you to the last shilling! You'll be
broke in a year!" "All of us! All of us!" came a chorus of approval.
"We'll all fight! This is sheer madness!"

"Fight, if you will, gentlemen," said Hathaway calmly. "It won't pay
you. I haven't been idle these three months. I may tell you that I
have contracts in my pocket that will keep us going for many months
to come--more than a year. The whole world is shrieking for goods, and
Germany is supplying them--capturing your markets while you commit
suicide in trying to get the better of Labour. In these last months I
have established agents all over the world--and I've got the orders!
I know what the other houses have got--I know what's open to you--you
_can't_ fight us!--but you'll be taken over by the Government if your
obstinacy continues this unworthy industrial strife."

There was a silence of vague-headed, angry old men who did not quite
know what to say.

"And now, gentlemen," continued Hathaway. "Let me plead for a better
spirit. That great mass of human beings you coldly call Labour fought
for England just as I fought for England, just as thousands and
thousands of our own class fought. We've been together in the trenches
year in year out and we've learnt to know each other, not as hostile
abstractions, but as living men,--good men, the most of us. We learnt
all sorts of things we didn't realize before the war, but most of
all we learnt--and when I say we, _I mean your sons as well_--that
we're all Englishmen and that we all have to play the game and stick
together--officer and man. D'you think I who have watched over the
comfort of my men, taught them, led them into danger and seen them
unafraid, who have hungered with them, thirsted with them, gloried in
them for these last long years--d'you think I can coldly condemn those
men and their wives and children to starvation now? D'you think I can
treat them as an enemy? I can't. And the men who have been proud of
us, their officers,--d'you think they haven't learnt the value of
leadership? They have--but not the leadership of a slave-master. In the
long bitter years of strife those men have won for themselves a freedom
of soul which is the life-force of a free Empire! Class-hatred! It has
vanished as between officer and man. We're all Englishmen together--and
we're going to work, share and share alike, in the new England, that,
share and share alike, we fought for!" He flung open the door behind
him. "Here, gentlemen, is Jim Swain, the leader of your work-people in
their time of trouble. He saved my life twice--once in the trenches
and got a D.C.M. when he ought to have had the V.C.--and again to-day
when he set a seal of comradeship between the managing director and the
employees of Hathaway's. Together, he and I, and those we represent,
are going to make our patch of England worth the lives that were spent
to save it!"

There was a hush in the room, and into that hush came the strains of a
military band playing a regiment to the neighbouring railway station.
It played the familiar marching tune of the old days, and a flaw of
wind brought masculine voices in the uplift of the chorus.

 "... There's a silver lining
 Through the dark clouds shining,
 Turn the dark cloud inside out,
 For the boys are home!"

"They're coming back!" cried Captain Hathaway. "Coming back in their
thousands and their millions--officers and men--your sons at the
head of the men they have learned to love! Comrades that can never
be estranged! We're the new generation, gentlemen--the old order has
gone--never to return--we've come back, Swain and I, from the borders
of death that has taught us how precious life may be."

The heads, bald and florid, of that obese elder generation turned in
a community of curious interest, to gaze at Swain--the man who had
nerved his fellows to withstand an economic pressure they had thought
irresistible and was now hailed as comrade by their own young chief.

The ex-soldier took a step forward.

"I should just like to say this, sirs--we men know what it is to have
good officers--and we've never let 'em down. We've come back, officers
and men, and officers like Captain Hathaway will always find their
men work for them as they used to fight--for officers like him make
us feel the Old Country is worth working for as it was worth fighting
for. We've learnt to play the game--and we'll play it so long as we
have fair play. The British soldier has learnt to die rather than
surrender--and the British soldier is just the British working-man."



 PRINTED BY
 WILLIAM BRENDON AND SON, LTD
 PLYMOUTH, ENGLAND





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