One Man's Initiation, 1917
by John Dos Passos
ONE MAN'S INITIATION1917
JOHN DOS PASSOS
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
WITH WHOM I SAW ROCKETS IN THE SKY A
CERTAIN EVENING AT SUNSET ON THE ROAD
FROM ERIZE-LA-PETITE TO ERIZE-LA-GRANDE.
One Man's Initiation1917
In the huge shed of the wharf, piled with crates and baggage, broken
by gang-planks leading up to ships on either side, a band plays a
tinselly Hawaiian tune; people are dancing in and out among the piles
of trunks and boxes. There is a scattering of khaki uniforms, and many
young men stand in groups laughing and talking in voices pitched shrill
with crates excitement. In the brown light of the wharf, full of rows
of yellow and barrels and sacks, full of racket of cranes, among which
winds in and out the trivial lilt of the Hawaiian tune, there is a
flutter of gay dresses and coloured hats of women, and white
The booming reverberation of the ship's whistle drowns all other
After it the noise of farewells rises shrill. White handkerchiefs
are agitated in the brown light of the shed. Ropes crack in pulleys as
the gang-planks are raised.
Again, at the pierhead, white handkerchiefs and cheering and a
flutter of coloured dresses. On the wharf building a flag spreads
exultingly against the azure afternoon sky.
Rosy yellow and drab purple, the buildings of New York slide
together into a pyramid above brown smudges of smoke standing out in
the water, linked to the land by the dark curves of the bridges.
In the fresh harbour wind comes now and then a salt-wafting breath
off the sea.
Martin Howe stands in the stern that trembles with the vibrating
push of the screw. A boy standing beside him turns and asks in a
tremulous voice, This your first time across?
Yes.... I never used to think that at nineteen I'd be crossing the
Atlantic to go to a war in France. The boy caught himself up suddenly
and blushed. Then swallowing a lump in his throat he said, It ought to
be time to eat.
God help Kaiser Bill!
O-o-o old Uncle Sam.
He's got the cavalry,
He's got the infantry
He's got the artillery;
And then by God we'll all go to Germany!
God help Kaiser Bill!
The iron covers are clamped on the smoking-room windows, for no
lights must show. So the air is dense with tobacco smoke and the reek
of beer and champagne. In one corner they are playing poker with their
coats off. All the chairs are full of sprawling young men who stamp
their feet to the time, and bang their fists down so that the bottles
dance on the tables.
God help Kaiser Bill.
Sky and sea are opal grey. Martin is stretched on the deck in the
bow of the boat with an unopened book beside him. He has never been so
happy in his life. The future is nothing to him, the past is nothing to
him. All his life is effaced in the grey languor of the sea, in the
soft surge of the water about the ship's bow as she ploughs through the
long swell, eastward. The tepid moisture of the Gulf Stream makes his
clothes feel damp and his hair stick together into curls that straggle
over his forehead. There are porpoises about, lazily tumbling in the
swell, and flying-fish skim from one grey wave to another, and the bow
rises and falls gently in rhythm with the surging sing-song of the
Martin has been asleep. As through infinite mists of greyness he
looks back on the sharp hatreds and wringing desires of his life. Now a
leaf seems to have been turned and a new white page spread before him,
clean and unwritten on. At last things have come to pass.
And very faintly, like music heard across the water in the evening,
blurred into strange harmonies, his old watchwords echo a little in his
mind. Like the red flame of the sunset setting fire to opal sea and
sky, the old exaltation, the old flame that would consume to ashes all
the lies in the world, the trumpet-blast under which the walls of
Jericho would fall down, stirs and broods in the womb of his grey
lassitude. The bow rises and falls gently in rhythm with the surging
sing-song of the broken water, as the steamer ploughs through the long
swell of the Gulf Stream, eastward.
See that guy, the feller with the straw hat; he lost five hundred
dollars at craps last night.
It is almost dark. Sea and sky are glowing claret colour, darkened
to a cold bluish-green to westward. In a corner of the deck a number of
men are crowded in a circle, while one shakes the dice in his hand with
a strange nervous quiver that ends in a snap of the fingers as the
white dice roll on the deck.
From the smoking-room comes a sound of singing and glasses banged on
Oh, we're bound for the Hamburg show,
To see the elephant and the wild kangaroo,
An' we'll all stick together
In fair or foul weather,
For we're going to see the damn show through!
On the settee a sallow young man is shaking the ice in a
whisky-and-soda into a nervous tinkle as he talks:
There's nothing they can do against this new gas.... It just
corrodes the lungs as if they were rotten in a dead body. In the
hospitals they just stand the poor devils up against a wall and let
them die. They say their skin turns green and that it takes from five
to seven days to diefive to seven days of slow choking.
* * * * *
Oh, but I think it's so splendid of youshe bared all her teeth,
white and regular as those in a dentist's show-case, in a smile as she
spoketo come over this way to help France.
Perhaps it's only curiosity, muttered Martin.
Oh no.... You're too modest.... What I mean is that it's so
splendid to have understood the issues.... That's how I feel. I just
told dad I'd have to come and do my bit, as the English say.
What are you going to do?
Something in Paris. I don't know just what, but I'll certainly make
myself useful somehow. She beamed at him provocatively. Oh, if only I
was a man, I'd have shouldered my gun the first day; indeed I would.
But the issues were hardly ... defined then, ventured Martin.
They didn't need to be. I hate those brutes. I've always hated the
Germans, their language, their country, everything about them. And now
that they've done such frightful things ...
I wonder if it's all true ...
True! Oh, of course it's all true; and lots more that it hasn't
been possible to print, that people have been ashamed to tell.
They've gone pretty far, said Martin, laughing.
If there are any left alive after the war they ought to be
chloroformed.... And really I don't think it's patriotic or humane to
take the atrocities so lightly.... But really, you must excuse me if
you think me rude; I do get so excited and wrought up when I think of
those frightful things.... I get quite beside myself; I'm sure you do
too, in your heart.... Any red-blooded person would.
Only I doubt ...
But you're just playing into their hands if you do that.... Oh,
dear, I'm quite beside myself, just thinking of it. She raised a small
gloved hand to her pink cheek in a gesture of horror, and settled
herself comfortably in her deck chair. Really, I oughtn't to talk
about it. I lose all self-control when I do. I hate them so it makes me
quite ill.... The curs! The Huns! Let me tell you just one story.... I
know it'll make your blood boil. It's absolutely authentic, too. I
heard it before I left New York from a girl who's really the best
friend I have on earth. She got it from a friend of hers who had got it
directly from a little Belgian girl, poor little thing, who was in the
convent at the time.... Oh, I don't see why they ever take any
prisoners; I'd kill them all like mad dogs.
What's the story?
Oh, I can't tell it. It upsets me too much.... No, that's silly,
I've got to begin facing realities.... It was just when the Germans
were taking Bruges, the Uhlans broke into this convent.... But I think
it was in Louvain, not Bruges.... I have a wretched memory for
names.... Well, they broke in, and took all those poor defenceless
little girls ...
There's the dinner-bell.
Oh, so it is. I must run and dress. I'll have to tell you
Through half-closed eyes, Martin watched the fluttering dress and
the backs of the neat little white shoes go jauntily down the deck.
* * * * *
The smoking-room again. Clink of glasses and chatter of confident
voices. Two men talking over their glasses.
They tell me that Paris is some city.
The most immoral place in the world, before the war. Why, there are
houses there where ... his voice sank into a whisper. The other man
burst into loud guffaws.
But the war's put an end to all that. They tell me that French
people are regenerated, positively regenerated.
They say the lack of food's something awful, that you can't get a
square meal. They even eat horse.
Did you hear what those fellows were saying about that new gas?
Sounds frightful, don't it? I don't care a thing about bullets, but
that kind o' gives me cold feet.... I don't give a damn about bullets,
but that gas ...
That's why so many shoot their friends when they're gassed....
Say, you two, how about a hand of poker?
A champagne cork pops.
Jiminy, don't spill it all over me.
Where we goin', boys?
Oh we're going to the Hamburg show
To see the elephant and the wild kangaroo,
And we'll all stick together
In fair or foul weather,
For we're going to see the damn show through!
Before going to bed Martin had seen the lighthouses winking at the
mouth of the Gironde, and had filled his lungs with the new,
indefinably scented wind coming off the land. The sound of screaming
whistles of tug-boats awoke him. Feet were tramping on the deck above
his head. The shrill whine of a crane sounded in his ears and the
throaty cry of men lifting something in unison.
Through his port-hole in the yet colourless dawn he saw the reddish
water of a river with black-hulled sailing-boats on it and a few lanky
little steamers of a pattern he had never seen before. Again he
breathed deep of the new indefinable smell off the land.
Once on deck in the cold air, he saw through the faint light a row
of houses beyond the low wharf buildings, grey mellow houses of four
storeys with tiled roofs and intricate ironwork balconies, with
balconies in which the ironwork had been carefully twisted by artisans
long ago dead into gracefully modulated curves and spirals.
Some in uniform, some not, the ambulance men marched to the station,
through the grey streets of Bordeaux. Once a woman opened a window and
crying, Vive l'Amérique, threw out a bunch of roses and daisies. As
they were rounding a corner, a man with a frockcoat on ran up and put
his own hat on the head of one of the Americans who had none. In front
of the station, waiting for the train, they sat at the little tables of
cafés, lolling comfortably in the early morning sunlight, and drank
beer and cognac.
Small railway carriages into which they were crowded so that their
knees were pressed tight togetherand outside, slipping by, blue-green
fields, and poplars stalking out of the morning mist, and long drifts
of poppies. Scarlet poppies, and cornflowers, and white daisies, and
the red-tiled roofs and white walls of cottages, all against a
background of glaucous green fields and hedges. Tours, Poitiers,
Orleans. In the names of the stations rose old wars, until the floods
of scarlet poppies seemed the blood of fighting men slaughtered through
all time. At last, in the gloaming, Paris, and, in crossing a bridge
over the Seine, a glimpse of the two linked towers of Notre-Dame, rosy
grey in the grey mist up the river.
* * * * *
Say, these women here get my goat.
How do you mean?
Well, I was at the Olympia with Johnson and that crowd. They just
pester the life out of you there. I'd heard that Paris was immoral, but
nothing like this.
It's the war.
But the Jane I went with ...
Gee, these Frenchwomen are immoral. They say the war does it.
Can't be that. Nothing is more purifying than sacrifice.
A feller has to be mighty careful, they say.
Looks like every woman you saw walking on the street was a whore.
They certainly are good-lookers though.
King and his gang are all being sent back to the States.
I'll be darned! They sure have been drunk ever since they got off
Raised hell in Maxim's last night. They tried to clean up the place
and the police came. They were all soused to the gills and tried to
make everybody there sing the 'Star Spangled Banner.'
Damn fool business.
* * * * *
Martin Howe sat at a table on the sidewalk under the brown awning of
a restaurant. Opposite in the last topaz-clear rays of the sun, the
foliage of the Jardin du Luxembourg shone bright green above deep
alleys of bluish shadow. From the pavements in front of the
mauve-coloured houses rose little kiosks with advertisements in bright
orange and vermilion and blue. In the middle of the triangle formed by
the streets and the garden was a round pool of jade water. Martin
leaned back in his chair looking dreamily out through half-closed eyes,
breathing deep now and then of the musty scent of Paris, that mingled
with the melting freshness of the wild strawberries on the plate before
As he stared in front of him two figures crossed his field of
vision. A woman swathed in black crepe veils was helping a soldier to a
seat at the next table. He found himself staring in a face, a face that
still had some of the chubbiness of boyhood. Between the pale-brown
frightened eyes, where the nose should have been, was a triangular
black patch that ended in some mechanical contrivance with shiny little
black metal rods that took the place of the jaw. He could not take his
eyes from the soldier's eyes, that were like those of a hurt animal,
full of meek dismay. Someone plucked at Martin's arm, and he turned
A bent old woman was offering him flowers with a jerky curtsey.
Just a rose, for good luck?
No, thank you.
It will bring you happiness.
He took a couple of the reddest of the roses.
Do you understand the language of flowers?
I shall teach you.... Thank you so much.... Thank you so much.
She added a few large daisies to the red roses in his hand.
These will bring you love.... But another time I shall teach you
the language of flowers, the language of love.
She curtseyed again, and began making her way jerkily down the
sidewalk, jingling his silver in her hand.
He stuck the roses and daisies in the belt of his uniform and sat
with the green flame of Chartreuse in a little glass before him,
staring into the gardens, where the foliage was becoming blue and
lavender with evening, and the shadows darkened to grey-purple and
black. Now and then he glanced furtively, with shame, at the man at the
next table. When the restaurant closed he wandered through the
unlighted streets towards the river, listening to the laughs and
conversations that bubbled like the sparkle in Burgundy through the
purple summer night.
But wherever he looked in the comradely faces of young men, in the
beckoning eyes of women, he saw the brown hurt eyes of the soldier, and
the triangular black patch where the nose should have been.
At Epernay the station was wrecked; the corrugated tin of the roof
hung in strips over the crumbled brick walls.
They say the Boches came over last night. They killed a lot of
That river's the Marne.
Gosh, is it? Let me get to the winder.
The third-class car, joggling along on a flat wheel, was full of the
smell of sweat and sour wine. Outside, yellow-green and blue-green,
crossed by long processions of poplars, aflame with vermilion and
carmine of poppies, the countryside slipped by. At a station where the
train stopped on a siding, they could hear a faint hollow sound in the
* * * * *
Croix de Guerre had been given out that day at the automobile park
at Chalons. There was an unusually big dinner at the wooden tables in
the narrow portable barracks, and during the last course the General
passed through and drank a glass of champagne to the health of all
present. Everybody had on his best uniform and sweated hugely in the
narrow, airless building, from the wine and the champagne and the thick
stew, thickly seasoned, that made the dinner's main course.
We are all one large family, said the General from the end of the
barracks ... to France.
That night the wail of a siren woke Martin suddenly and made him sit
up in his bunk trembling, wondering where he was. Like the shriek of a
woman in a nightmare, the wail of the siren rose and rose and then
dropped in pitch and faded throbbingly out.
Don't flash a light there. It's Boche planes.
Outside the night was cold, with a little light from a waned moon.
See the shrapnel! someone cried.
The Boche has a Mercedes motor, said someone else. You can tell
by the sound of it.
They say one of their planes chased an ambulance ten miles along a
straight road the other day, trying to get it with a machine-gun. The
man who was driving got away, but he had shell-shock afterwards.
Did he really?
Oh, I'm goin' to turn in. God, these French nights are cold!
* * * * *
The rain pattered hard with unfaltering determination on the roof of
the little arbour. Martin lolled over the rough board table, resting
his chin on his clasped hands, looking through the tinkling bead
curtains of the rain towards the other end of the weed-grown garden,
where, under a canvas shelter, the cooks were moving about in front of
two black steaming cauldrons. Through the fresh scent of rain-beaten
leaves came a greasy smell of soup. He was thinking of the jolly
wedding-parties that must have drunk and danced in this garden before
the war, of the lovers who must have sat in that very arbour, pressing
sunburned cheek against sunburned cheek, twining hands callous with
work in the fields. A man broke suddenly into the arbour behind Martin
and stood flicking the water off his uniform with his cap. His
sand-coloured hair was wet and was plastered in little spikes to his
broad forehead, a forehead that was the entablature of a determined
Hello, said Martin, twisting his head to look at the newcomer.
You section twenty-four?
Yes.... Ever read 'Alice in Wonderland'? asked the wet man,
sitting down abruptly at the table.
Doesn't this remind you of it?
This war business. Why, I keep thinking I'm going to meet the
rabbit who put butter in his watch round every corner.
It was the best butter.
That's the hell of it.
When's your section leaving here? asked Martin, picking up the
conversation after a pause during which they'd both stared out into the
rain. They could hear almost constantly the grinding roar of camions on
the road behind the café and the slither of their wheels through the
mud-puddles where the road turned into the village.
How the devil should I know?
Somebody had dope this morning that we'd leave here for Soissons
to-morrow. Martin's words tailed off into a convictionless mumble.
It surely is different than you'd pictured it, isn't it, now?
They sat looking at each other while the big drops from the leaky
roof smacked on the table or splashed cold in their faces.
What do you think of all this, anyway? said the wet man suddenly,
lowering his voice stealthily.
I don't know. I never did expect it to be what we were taught to
believe.... Things aren't.
But you can't have guessed that it was like this ... like Alice in
Wonderland, like an ill-intentioned Drury Lane pantomime, like all the
dusty futility of Barnum and Bailey's Circus.
No, I thought it would be hair-raising, said Martin.
Think, man, think of all the oceans of lies through all the ages
that must have been necessary to make this possible! Think of this new
particular vintage of lies that has been so industriously pumped out of
the press and the pulpit. Doesn't it stagger you?
Why, lies are like a sticky juice overspreading the world, a
living, growing flypaper to catch and gum the wings of every human
soul.... And the little helpless buzzings of honest, liberal, kindly
people, aren't they like the thin little noise flies make when they're
I agree with you that the little thin noise is very silly, said
* * * * *
Martin slammed down the hood of the car and stood upright. A cold
stream of rain ran down the sleeves of his slicker and dripped from his
Infantry tramped by, the rain spattering with a cold glitter on grey
helmets, on gun-barrels, on the straps of equipment. Red sweating
faces, drooping under the hard rims of helmets, turned to the ground
with the struggle with the weight of equipment; rows and patches of
faces were the only warmth in the desolation of putty-coloured mud and
bowed mud-coloured bodies and dripping mud-coloured sky. In the cold
colourlessness they were delicate and feeble as the faces of children,
rosy and soft under the splattering of mud and the shagginess of
Martin rubbed the back of his hand against his face. His skin was
like that, too, soft as the petals of flowers, soft and warm amid all
this dead mud, amid all this hard mud-covered steel.
He leant against the side of the car, his ears full of the heavy
shuffle, of the jingle of equipment, of the splashing in puddles of
water-soaked boots, and watched the endless rosy patches of faces
moving by, the faces that drooped towards the dripping boots that rose
and fell, churning into froth the soupy, putty-coloured mud of the
* * * * *
The schoolmaster's garden was full of late roses and marigolds, all
parched and bleached by the thick layer of dust that was over them.
Next to the vine-covered trellis that cut the garden off from the road
stood a green table and a few cane chairs. The schoolmaster, something
charmingly eighteenth-century about the cut of his breeches and the
calves of his legs in their thick woollen golf-stockings, led the way,
a brown pitcher of wine in his hand. Martin Howe and the black-haired,
brown-faced boy from New Orleans who was his car-mate followed him.
Then came a little grey woman in a pink knitted shawl, carrying a tray
In the Verdunois our wine is not very good, said the schoolmaster,
bowing them into chairs. It is thin and cold like the climate. To your
And down with the Boches.
In the pale yellow light that came from among the dark clouds that
passed over the sky, the wine had the chilly gleam of yellow diamonds.
Ah, you should have seen that road in 1916, said the schoolmaster,
drawing a hand over his watery blue eyes. That, you know, is the Voie
Sacrée, the sacred way that saved Verdun. All day, all day, a double
line of camions went up, full of ammunition and ravitaillement and
Oh, the poor boys, we saw so many go up, came the voice, dry as
the rustling of the wind in the vine-leaves, of the grey old woman who
stood leaning against the schoolmaster's chair, looking out through a
gap in the trellis at the rutted road so thick with dust, and never
have we seen one of them come back.
It was for France.
But this was a nice village before the war. From Verdun to
Bar-le-Duc, the Courrier des Postes used to tell us, there was no such
village, so clean and with such fine orchards. The old woman leaned
over the schoolmaster's shoulder, joining eagerly in the conversation.
Even now the fruit is very fine, said Martin.
But you soldiers, you steal it all, said the old woman, throwing
out her arms. You leave us nothing, nothing.
We don't begrudge it, said the schoolmaster, all we have is our
We shall starve then....
As she spoke the glasses on the table shook. With a roar of heavy
wheels and a grind of gears a camion went by.
O good God! The old woman looked out on to the road with terror in
her face, blinking her eyes in the thick dust.
Roaring with heavy wheels, grinding with gears, throbbing with
motors, camion after camion went by, slowly, stridently. The men packed
into the camions had broken through the canvas covers and leaned out,
waving their arms and shouting.
Oh, the poor children, said the old woman, wringing her hands, her
voice lost in the roar and the shouting.
They should not destroy property that way, said the
schoolmaster.... Last year it was dreadful. There were mutinies.
Martin sat, his chair tilted back, his hands trembling, staring with
compressed lips at the men who jolted by on the strident, throbbing
camions. A word formed in his mind: tumbrils.
In some trucks the men were drunk and singing, waving their bidons
in the air, shouting at people along the road, crying out all sorts of
things: Get to the front! Into the trenches with them! Down with
the war! In others they sat quiet, faces corpse-like with dust.
Through the gap in the trellis Martin stared at them, noting
intelligent faces, beautiful faces, faces brutally gay, miserable faces
like those of sobbing drunkards.
At last the convoy passed and the dust settled again on the rutted
Oh, the poor children! said the old woman. They know they are
going to death.
They tried to hide their agitation. The schoolmaster poured out more
Yes, said Martin, there are fine orchards on the hills round
You should be here when the plums are ripe, said the schoolmaster.
A tall bearded man, covered with dust to the eyelashes, in the
uniform of a commandant, stepped into the garden.
My dear friends! He shook hands with the schoolmaster and the old
woman and saluted the two Americans. I could not pass without stopping
a moment. We are going up to an attack. We have the honour to take the
You will have a glass of wine, won't you?
With great pleasure.
Julie, fetch a bottle, you know which.... How is the morale?
I thought they looked a little discontented.
No.... It's always like that.... They were yelling at some
gendarmes. If they strung up a couple it would serve them right, dirty
You soldiers are all one against the gendarmes.
Yes. We fight the enemy but we hate the gendarmes. The commandant
rubbed his hands, drank his wine and laughed.
Hah! There's the next convoy. I must go.
The commandant shrugged his shoulders, clicked his heels together at
the garden gate, saluted, smiling, and was gone.
Again the village street was full of the grinding roar and throb of
camions, full of a frenzy of wheels and drunken shouting.
Give us a drink, you.
We're the train de luxe, we are.
Down with the war!
And the old grey woman wrung her hands and said:
Oh, the poor children, they know they are going to death!
Martin, rolled up in his bedroll on the floor of the empty hayloft,
woke with a start.
Say, Howe! Tom Randolph, who lay next him, was pressing his hand.
I think I heard a shell go over.
As he spoke there came a shrill, loudening whine, and an explosion
that shook the barn. A little dirt fell down on Martin's face.
Say, fellers, that was damn near, came a voice from the floor of
We'd better go over to the quarry.
Oh, hell, I was sound asleep!
A vicious shriek overhead and a shaking snort of explosion.
Gee, that was in the house behind us....
I smell gas.
Ye damn fool, it's carbide.
One of the Frenchmen said it was gas.
All right, fellers, put on your masks.
Outside there was a sickly rough smell in the air that mingled
strangely with the perfume of the cool night, musical with the gurgling
of the stream through the little valley where their barn was. They
crouched in a quarry by the roadside, a straggling, half-naked group,
and watched the flashes in the sky northward, where artillery along the
lines kept up a continuous hammering drumbeat. Over their heads shells
shrieked at two-minute intervals, to explode with a rattling ripping
sound in the village on the other side of the valley.
Damn foolishness, muttered Tom Randolph in his rich Southern
voice. Why don't those damn gunners go to sleep and let us go to
sleep?... They must be tired like we are.
A shell burst in a house on the crest of the hill opposite, so that
they saw the flash against the starry night sky. In the silence that
followed, the moaning shriek of a man came faintly across the valley.
* * * * *
Martin sat on the steps of the dugout, looking up the shattered
shaft of a tree, from the top of which a few ribbons of bark fluttered
against the mauve evening sky. In the quiet he could hear the voices of
men chatting in the dark below him, and a sound of someone whistling as
he worked. Now and then, like some ungainly bird, a high calibre shell
trundled through the air overhead; after its noise had completely died
away would come the thud of the explosion. It was like battledore and
shuttlecock, these huge masses whirling through the evening far above
his head, now from one side, now from the other. It gave him somehow a
cosy feeling of safety, as if he were under some sort of a bridge over
which freight-cars were shunted madly to and fro.
The doctor in charge of the post came up and sat beside Martin. He
was a small brown man with slim black moustaches that curved like the
horns of a long-horn steer. He stood on tip-toe on the top step and
peered about in every direction with an air of ownership, then sat down
again and began talking briskly.
We are exactly four hundred and five mètres from the Boche.... Five
hundred mètres from here they are drinking beer and saying, 'Hoch der
About as much as we're saying 'Vive la République', I should say.
Who knows? But it is quiet here, isn't it? It's quieter here than
The sky is very beautiful to-night.
They say they're shelling the Etat-Major to-day. Damned embusqués;
it'll do them good to get a bit of their own medicine.
Martin did not answer. He was crossing in his mind the four hundred
and five mètres to the first Boche listening-post. Next beyond the
abris was the latrine from which a puff of wind brought now and then a
nauseous stench. Then there was the tin roof, crumpled as if by a hand,
that had been a cook shack. That was just behind the second line
trenches that zig-zagged in and out of great abscesses of wet, upturned
clay along the crest of a little hill. The other day he had been there,
and had clambered up the oily clay where the boyau had caved in, and
from the level of the ground had looked for an anxious minute or two at
the tangle of trenches and pitted gangrened soil in the direction of
the German outposts. And all along these random gashes in the mucky
clay were men, feet and legs huge from clotting after clotting of clay,
men with greyish-green faces scarred by lines of strain and fear and
boredom as the hillside was scarred out of all semblance by the
trenches and the shell-holes.
We are well off here, said the doctor again. I have not had a
serious case all day.
Up in the front line there's a place where they've planted
rhubarb.... You know, where the hillside is beginning to get rocky.
It was the Boche who did that.... We took that slope from them two
months ago.... How does it grow?
They say the gas makes the leaves shrivel, said Martin, laughing.
He looked long at the little ranks of clouds that had begun to fill
the sky, like ruffles on a woman's dress. Might not it really be, he
kept asking himself, that the sky was a beneficent goddess who would
stoop gently out of the infinite spaces and lift him to her breast,
where he could lie amid the amber-fringed ruffles of cloud and look
curiously down at the spinning ball of the earth? It might have beauty
if he were far enough away to clear his nostrils of the stench of pain.
It is funny, said the little doctor suddenly, to think how much
nearer we are, in state of mind, in everything, to the Germans than to
You mean that the soldiers in the trenches are all further from the
people at home than from each other, no matter what side they are on.
The little doctor nodded.
God, it's so stupid! Why can't we go over and talk to them?
Nobody's fighting about anything.... God, it's so hideously stupid!
cried Martin, suddenly carried away, helpless in the flood of his
Life is stupid, said the little doctor sententiously.
Suddenly from the lines came a splutter of machine-guns.
Evensong! cried the little doctor. Ah, but here's business. You'd
better get your car ready, my friend.
The brancardiers set the stretcher down at the top of the steps that
led to the door of the dugout, so that Martin found himself looking
into the lean, sensitive face, stained a little with blood about the
mouth, of the wounded man. His eyes followed along the shapeless
bundles of blood-flecked uniform till they suddenly turned away. Where
the middle of the man had been, where had been the curved belly and the
genitals, where the thighs had joined with a strong swerving of muscles
to the trunk, was a depression, a hollow pool of blood, that glinted a
little in the cold diffusion of grey light from the west.
* * * * *
The rain beat hard on the window-panes of the little room and hissed
down the chimney into the smouldering fire that sent up thick green
smoke. At a plain oak table before the fireplace sat Martin Howe and
Tom Randolph, Tom Randolph with his sunburned hands with their dirty
nails spread flat and his head resting on the table between them, so
that Martin could see the stiff black hair on top of his head and the
dark nape of his neck going into shadow under the collar of the flannel
Oh, God, it's too damned absurd! An arrangement for mutual suicide
and no damned other thing, said Randolph, raising his head.
A certain jolly asinine grotesqueness, though. I mean, if you were
God and could look at it like that ... Oh, Randy, why do they enjoy
A question of taste ... as the lady said when she kissed the cow.
But it isn't. It isn't natural for people to hate that way, it
can't be. It even disgusts the perfectly stupid damn-fool people, like
Higgins, who believes that the Bible was written in God's own
handwriting and that the newspapers tell the truth.
It makes me sick at ma stomach, Howe, to talk to one of those
hun-hatin' women, if they're male or female.
It is a stupid affair, la vie, as the doctor at P.1. said
They sat silent, watching the rain beat on the window, and run down
in sparkling finger-like streams.
What I can't get over is these Frenchwomen. Randolph threw back
his head and laughed. They're so bloody frank. Did I tell you about
what happened to me at that last village on the Verdun road?
I was lyin' down for a nap under a plum-tree, a wonderfully nice
place near a li'l brook an' all, an' suddenly that crazy Jane ... You
know the one that used to throw stones at us out of that broken-down
house at the corner of the road.... Anyway, she comes up to me with a
funny look in her eyes an' starts makin' love to me. I had a regular
wrastlin' match gettin' away from her.
Funny position for you to be in, getting away from a woman.
But doesn't that strike you funny? Why down where I come from a
drunken mulatto woman wouldn't act like that. They all keep up a fake
of not wantin' your attentions. His black eyes sparkled, and he
laughed his deep ringing laugh, that made the withered woman smile as
she set an omelette before them.
Voilà, messieurs, she said with a grand air, as if it were a
boar's head that she was serving.
Three French infantrymen came into the café, shaking the rain off
Nothing to drink but champagne at four francs fifty, shouted Howe.
Dirty night out, isn't it?
We'll drink that, then!
Howe and Randolph moved up and they all sat at the same table.
Fortune of war?
Oh, the war, what do you think of the war? cried Martin.
What do you think of the peste? You think about saving your skin.
What's amusing about us is that we three have all saved our skins
together, said one of the Frenchmen.
Yes. We are of the same class, said another, holding up his thumb.
Mobilised same day. He held up his first finger. Same company. He
held up a second finger. Wounded by the same shell.... Evacuated to
the same hospital. Convalescence at same time.... Réformé to the same
depôt behind the lines.
Didn't all marry the same girl, did you, to make it complete?
They all shouted with laughter until the glasses along the bar rang.
You must be Athos, Porthos, and d'Artagnan.
We are, they shouted.
Some more champagne, madame, for the three musketeers, sang
Randolph in a sort of operatic yodle.
All I have left is this, said the withered woman, setting a bottle
down on the table.
Is that poison?
It's cognac, it's very good cognac, said the old woman seriously.
C'est du cognac! Vive le roi cognac! everybody shouted.
Au plein de mon cognac
Qu'il fait bon, fait bon, fait bon,
Au plein de mon cognac
Qu'il fait bon dormir.
Down with the war! Who can sing the 'Internationale'?
Not so much noise, I beg you, gentlemen, came the withered woman's
whining voice. It's after hours. Last week I was fined. Next time I'll
be closed up.
The night was black when Martin and Randolph, after lengthy and
elaborate farewells, started down the muddy road towards the hospital.
They staggered along the slippery footpath beside the road, splashed
every instant with mud by camions, huge and dark, that roared
grindingly by. They ran and skipped arm-in-arm and shouted at the top
of their lungs:
Auprès de ma blonde,
Qu'il fait bon, fait bon, fait bon,
Auprès de ma blonde,
Qu'il fait bon dormir.
A stench of sweat and filth and formaldehyde caught them by the
throat as they went into the hospital tent, gave them a sense of
feverish bodies of men stretched all about them, stirring in pain.
* * * * *
A car for la Bassée, Ambulance 4, said the orderly.
Howe got himself up off the hospital stretcher, shoving his flannel
shirt back into his breeches, put on his coat and belt and felt his way
to the door, stumbling over the legs of sleeping brancardiers as he
went. Men swore in their sleep and turned over heavily. At the door he
waited a minute, then shouted:
Too damn sleepy, came Randolph's voice from under a blanket.
I've got cigarettes, Tom. I'll smoke 'em all up if you don't come.
All right, I'll come.
Less noise, name of God! cried a man, sitting up on his stretcher.
After the hospital, smelling of chloride and blankets and reeking
clothes, the night air was unbelievably sweet. Like a gilt fringe on a
dark shawl, a little band of brightness had appeared in the east.
Some dawn, Howe, ain't it?
As they were going off, their motor chugging regularly, an orderly
It's a special case. Go for orders to the commandant.
Colours formed gradually out of chaotic grey as the day brightened.
At the dressing-station an attendant ran up to the car.
Oh, you're for the special case? Have you anything to tie a man
It's nothing. He just tried to stab the sergeant-major.
The attendant raised a fist and tapped on his head as if knocking on
a door. It's nothing. He's quieter now.
What caused it?
Who knows? There is so much.... He says he must kill everyone....
Are you ready?
A lieutenant of the medical corps came to the door and looked out.
He smiled reassuringly at Martin Howe. He's not violent any more. And
we'll send two guardians.
A sergeant came out with a little packet which he handed to Martin.
That's his. Will you give it to them at the hospital at Fourreaux?
And here's his knife. They can give it back to him when he gets better.
He has an idea he ought to kill everyone he sees.... Funny idea.
The sun had risen and shone gold across the broad rolling lands, so
that the hedges and the poplar-rows cast long blue shadows over the
fields. The man, with a guardian on either side of him who cast nervous
glances to the right and to the left, came placidly, eyes straight in
front of him, out of the dark interior of the dressing-station. He was
a small man with moustaches and small, good-natured lips puffed into an
o-shape. At the car he turned and saluted.
Good-bye, my lieutenant. Thank you for your kindness, he said.
Good-bye, old chap, said the lieutenant.
The little man stood up in the car, looking about him anxiously.
I've lost my knife. Where's my knife?
The guards got in behind him with a nervous, sheepish air. They
answered reassuringly, The driver's got it. The American's got it.
The orderly jumped on the seat with the two Americans to show the
way. He whispered in Martin's ear:
He's crazy. He says that to stop the war you must kill everybody,
* * * * *
In an open valley that sloped between hills covered with
beech-woods, stood the tall abbey, a Gothic nave and apse with
beautifully traced windows, with the ruin of a very ancient chapel on
one side, and crossing the back, a well-proportioned Renaissance
building that had been a dormitory. The first time that Martin saw the
abbey, it towered in ghostly perfection above a low veil of mist that
made the valley seem a lake in the shining moonlight. The lines were
perfectly quiet, and when he stopped the motor of his ambulance, he
could hear the wind rustling among the beech-woods. Except for the
dirty smell of huddled soldiers that came now and then in drifts along
with the cool wood-scents, there might have been no war at all. In the
soft moonlight the great traceried windows and the buttresses and the
high-pitched roof seemed as gorgeously untroubled by decay as if the
carvings on the cusps and arches had just come from under the careful
chisels of the Gothic workmen.
And you say we've progressed, he whispered to Tom Randolph.
God, it is fine.
They wandered up and down the road a long time, silently, looking at
the tall apse of the abbey, breathing the cool night air, moist with
mist, in which now and then was the huddled, troubling smell of
soldiers. At last the moon, huge and swollen with gold, set behind the
wooded hills, and they went back to the car, where they rolled up in
their blankets and went to sleep.
Behind the square lantern that rose over the crossing, there was a
trap door in the broken tile roof, from which you could climb to the
observation post in the lantern. Here, half on the roof and half on the
platform behind the trap-door, Martin would spend the long summer
afternoons when there was no call for the ambulance, looking at the
Gothic windows of the lantern and the blue sky beyond, where huge soft
clouds passed slowly over, darkening the green of the woods and of the
weed-grown fields of the valley with their moving shadows.
There was almost no activity on that part of the front. A couple of
times a day a few snapping discharges would come from the seventy-fives
of the battery behind the Abbey, and the woods would resound like a
shaken harp as the shells passed over to explode on the crest of the
hill that blocked the end of the valley where the Boches were.
Martin would sit and dream of the quiet lives the monks must have
passed in their beautiful abbey so far away in the Forest of the
Argonne, digging and planting in the rich lands of the valley, making
flowers bloom in the garden, of which traces remained in the huge beds
of sunflowers and orange marigolds that bloomed along the walls of the
dormitory. In a room in the top of the house he had found a few torn
remnants of books; there must have been a library in the old days, rows
and rows of musty-smelling volumes in rich brown calf worn by use to a
velvet softness, and in cream-coloured parchment where the finger-marks
of generations showed brown; huge psalters with notes and chants
illuminated in green and ultramarine and gold; manuscripts out of the
Middle Ages with strange script and pictures in pure vivid colours;
lives of saints, thoughts polished by years of quiet meditation of old
divines; old romances of chivalry; tales of blood and death and love
where the crude agony of life was seen through a dawn-like mist of
God! if there were somewhere nowadays where you could flee from all
this stupidity, from all this cant of governments, and this hideous
reiteration of hatred, this strangling hatred ... he would say to
himself, and see himself working in the fields, copying parchments in
quaint letterings, drowsing his feverish desires to calm in the
deep-throated passionate chanting of the endless offices of the Church.
One afternoon towards evening as he lay on the tiled roof with his
shirt open so that the sun warmed his throat and chest, half asleep in
the beauty of the building and of the woods and the clouds that drifted
overhead, he heard a strain from the organ in the church: a few deep
notes in broken rhythm that filled him with wonder, as if he had
suddenly been transported back to the quiet days of the monks. The
rhythm changed in an instant, and through the squeakiness of shattered
pipes came a swirl of fake-oriental ragtime that resounded like mocking
laughter in the old vaults and arches. He went down into the church and
found Tom Randolph playing on the little organ, pumping desperately
with his feet.
Hello! Impiety I call it; putting your lustful tunes into that
pious old organ.
I bet the ole monks had a merry time, lecherous ole devils, said
Tom, playing away.
If there were monasteries nowadays, said Martin, I think I'd go
But there are. I'll end up in one, most like, if they don't put me
in jail first. I reckon every living soul would be a candidate for
either one if it'd get them out of this God-damned war.
There was a shriek overhead that reverberated strangely in the
vaults of the church and made the swallows nesting there fly in and out
through the glassless windows. Tom Randolph stopped on a wild chord.
Guess they don't like me playin'.
That one didn't explode though.
That one did, by gorry, said Randolph, getting up off the floor,
where he had thrown himself automatically. A shower of tiles came
rattling off the roof, and through the noise could be heard the
frightened squeaking of the swallows.
I am afraid that winged somebody.
They must have got wind of the ammunition dump in the cellar.
Hell of a place to put a dressing-stationover an ammunition
The whitewashed room used as a dressing-station had a smell of blood
stronger than the chloride. A doctor was leaning over a stretcher on
which Martin caught a glimpse of two naked legs with flecks of blood on
the white skin, as he passed through on his way to the car.
Three stretcher-cases for Les Islettes. Very softly, said the
attendant, handing him the papers.
Jolting over the shell-pitted road, the car wound slowly through
unploughed weed-grown fields. At every jolt came a rasping groan from
the wounded men.
As they came back towards the front posts again, they found all the
batteries along the road firing. The air was a chaos of explosions that
jabbed viciously into their ears, above the reassuring purr of the
motor. Nearly to the abbey a soldier stopped them.
Put the car behind the trees and get into a dugout. They're
shelling the abbey.
As he spoke a whining shriek grew suddenly loud over their heads.
The soldier threw himself flat in the muddy road. The explosion brought
gravel about their ears and made a curious smell of almonds.
Crowded in the door of the dugout in the hill opposite they watched
the abbey as shell after shell tore through the roof or exploded in the
strong buttresses of the apse. Dust rose high above the roof and filled
the air with an odour of damp tiles and plaster. The woods resounded in
a jangling tremor, with the batteries that started firing one after the
God, I hate them for that! said Randolph between his teeth.
What do you want? It's an observation post.
I know, but damn it!
There was a series of explosions; a shell fragment whizzed past
It's not safe there. You'd better come in all the way, someone
shouted from within the dugout.
I want to see; damn it.... I'm goin' to stay and see it out, Howe.
That place meant a hell of a lot to me. Randolph blushed as he spoke.
Another bunch of shells crashing so near together they did not hear
the scream. When the cloud of dust blew away, they saw that the lantern
had fallen in on the roof of the apse, leaving only one wall and the
tracery of a window, of which the shattered carving stood out
cream-white against the reddish evening sky.
There was a lull in the firing. A few swallows still wheeled about
the walls, giving shrill little cries.
They saw the flash of a shell against the sky as it exploded in the
part of the tall roof that still remained. The roof crumpled and fell
in, and again dust hid the abbey.
Oh, I hate this! said Tom Randolph. But the question is, what's
happened to our grub? The popote is buried four feet deep in Gothic
art.... Damn fool idea, putting a dressing-station over an ammunition
Is the car hit? The orderly came up to them.
Don't think so.
Good. Four stretcher-cases for 42 at once.
* * * * *
At night in a dugout. Five men playing cards about a lamp-flame that
blows from one side to the other in the gusty wind that puffs every now
and then down the mouth of the dugout and whirls round it like
something alive trying to beat a way out.
Each time the lamp blows the shadows of the five heads writhe upon
the corrugated tin ceiling. In the distance, like kettle-drums beaten
for a dance, a constant reverberation of guns.
Martin Howe, stretched out in the straw of one of the bunks, watches
their faces in the flickering shadows. He wishes he had the patience to
play too. No, perhaps it is better to look on; it would be so silly to
be killed in the middle of one of those grand gestures one makes in
slamming the card down that takes the trick. Suddenly he thinks of all
the lives that must, in these last three years, have ended in that
grand gesture. It is too silly. He seems to see their poor lacerated
souls, clutching their greasy dog-eared cards, climb to a squalid
Valhalla, and there, in tobacco-stinking, sweat-stinking rooms, like
those of the little cafés behind the lines, sit in groups of five,
shuffling, dealing, taking tricks, always with the same slam of the
cards on the table, pausing now and then to scratch their louse-eaten
At this moment, how many men, in all the long Golgotha that
stretches from Belfort to the sea, must be trying to cheat their
boredom and their misery with that grand gesture of slamming the cards
down to take a trick, while in their ears, like tom-toms, pounds the
death-dance of the guns.
Martin lies on his back looking up at the curved corrugated ceiling
of the dugout, where the shadows of the five heads writhe in fantastic
shapes. Is it death they are playing, that they are so merry when they
take a trick?
The three planes gleamed like mica in the intense blue of the sky.
Round about the shrapnel burst in little puffs like cotton-wool. A
shout went up from the soldiers who stood in groups in the street of
the ruined town. A whistle split the air, followed by a rending snort
that tailed off into the moaning of a wounded man.
By damn, they're nervy. They dropped a bomb.
I should say they did.
The dirty bastards, to get a fellow who's going on permission. Now
if they beaded you on the way back you wouldn't care.
In the sky an escadrille of French planes had appeared and the three
German specks had vanished, followed by a trail of little puffs of
shrapnel. The indigo dome of the afternoon sky was full of a distant
snoring of motors.
The train screamed outside the station and the permissionaires ran
for the platform, their packed musettes bouncing at their hips.
* * * * *
The dark boulevards, with here and there a blue lamp lighting up a
bench and a few tree-trunks, or a faint glow from inside a closed café
where a boy in shirt-sleeves is sweeping the floor. Crowds of soldiers,
Belgians, Americans, Canadians, civilians with canes and straw hats and
well-dressed women on their arms, shop-girls in twos and threes
laughing with shrill, merry voices; and everywhere girls of the street,
giggling alluringly in hoarse, dissipated tones, clutching the arms of
drunken soldiers, tilting themselves temptingly in men's way as they
walk along. Cigarettes and cigars make spots of reddish light, and now
and then a match lighted makes a man's face stand out in yellow relief
and glints red in the eyes of people round about.
Drunk with their freedom, with the jangle of voices, with the rustle
of trees in the faint light, with the scents of women's hair and cheap
perfumes, Howe and Randolph stroll along slowly, down one side to the
shadowy columns of the Madeleine, where a few flower-women still offer
roses, scenting the darkness, then back again past the Opéra towards
the Porte St. Martin, lingering to look in the offered faces of women,
to listen to snatches of talk, to chatter laughingly with girls who
squeeze their arms with impatience.
I'm goin' to find the prettiest girl in Paris, and then you'll see
the dust fly, Howe, old man.
* * * * *
The hors d'oeuvre came on a circular three-tiered stand; red strips
of herrings and silver anchovies, salads where green peas and bits of
carrot lurked under golden layers of sauce, sliced tomatoes, potato
salad green-specked with parsley, hard-boiled eggs barely visible under
thickness of vermilion-tinged dressing, olives, radishes, discs of
sausage of many different forms and colours, complicated bundles of
spiced salt fish, and, forming the apex, a fat terra-cotta jar of paté
de foie gras. Howe poured out pale-coloured Chablis.
I used to think that down home was the only place they knew how to
live, but oh, boy ... said Tom Randolph, breaking a little loaf of
bread that made a merry crackling sound.
It's worth starving to death on singe and pinard for four months.
After the hors d'oeuvre had been taken away, leaving them
Rabelaisianly gay, with a joyous sense of orgy, came sole hidden in a
cream-coloured sauce with mussels in it.
After the war, Howe, ole man, let's riot all over Europe; I'm
getting a taste for this sort of livin'.
You can play the fiddle, can't you, Tom?
Enough to scrape out Auprès de ma blonde on a bet.
Then we'll wander about and you can support me.... Or else I'll
dress as a monkey and you can fiddle and I'll gather the pennies.
By gum, that'd be great sport.
Look, we must have some red wine with the veal.
Let's have Macon.
All the same to me as long as there's plenty of it.
Their round table with its white cloth and its bottles of wine and
its piles of ravished artichoke leaves was the centre of a noisy,
fantastic world. Ever since the orgy of the hors d'oeuvres things had
been evolving to grotesqueness, faces, whites of eyes, twisted red of
lips, crow-like forms of waiters, colours of hats and uniforms, all
involved and jumbled in the mélee of talk and clink and clatter.
The red hand of the waiter pouring the Chartreuse, green like a
stormy sunset, into small glasses before them broke into the vivid
imaginings that had been unfolding in their talk through dinner. No,
they had been saying, it could not go on; some day amid the rending
crash of shells and the whine of shrapnel fragments, people everywhere,
in all uniforms, in trenches, packed in camions, in stretchers, in
hospitals, crowded behind guns, involved in telephone apparatus,
generals at their dinner-tables, colonels sipping liqueurs, majors
developing photographs, would jump to their feet and burst out laughing
at the solemn inanity, at the stupid, vicious pomposity of what they
were doing. Laughter would untune the sky. It would be a new progress
of Bacchus. Drunk with laughter at the sudden vision of the silliness
of the world, officers and soldiers, prisoners working on the roads,
deserters being driven towards the trenches would throw down their guns
and their spades and their heavy packs, and start marching, or driving
in artillery waggons or in camions, staff cars, private trains, towards
their capitals, where they would laugh the deputies, the senators, the
congressmen, the M.P.'s out of their chairs, laugh the presidents and
the prime ministers, and kaisers and dictators out of their
plush-carpeted offices; the sun would wear a broad grin and would
whisper the joke to the moon, who would giggle and ripple with it all
night long.... The red hand of the waiter, with thick nails and
work-swollen knuckles, poured Chartreuse into the small glasses before
That, said Tom Randolph, when he had half finished his liqueur,
is the girl for me.
But, Tom, she's with a French officer.
They're fighting like cats and dogs. You can see that, can't you?
Yes, agreed Howe vaguely.
Pay the bill. I'll meet you at the corner of the boulevard. Tom
Randolph was out of the door. The girl, who had a little of the aspect
of a pierrot, with dark skin and bright lips and gold-yellow hat and
dress, and the sour-looking officer who was with her, were getting up
At the corner of the Boulevard Howe heard a woman's voice joining
with Randolph's rich laugh.
What did I tell you? They split at the door and here we are,
Howe.... Mademoiselle Montreil, let me introduce a friend. Look, before
it's too late, we must have a drink.
At the café table next them an Englishman was seated with his head
sunk on his chest.
Oh, I say, you woke me up.
No harm. Jolly good thing.
They invited him over to their table. There was a moist look about
his eyes and a thickness to his voice that denoted alcohol.
You mustn't mind me. I'm forgetting.... I've been doing it for a
week. This is the first leave I've had in eighteen months. You
No. Ambulance service; Americans.
New at the game then. You're lucky.... Before I left the front I
saw a man tuck a hand-grenade under the pillow of a poor devil of a
German prisoner. The prisoner said, 'Thank you.' The grenade blew him
to hell! God! Know anywhere you can get whisky in this bloody town?
We'll have to hurry; it's near closing-time.
They started off, Randolph and the girl talking intimately, their
heads close together, Martin supporting the Englishman.
I need a bit o' whisky to put me on my pins.
They tumbled into the seats round a table at an American bar.
The Englishman felt in his pocket.
Oh, I say, he cried, I've got a ticket to the theatre. It's a
box.... We can all get in. Come along; let's hurry.
They walked a long while, blundering through the dark streets, and
at last stopped at a blue-lighted door.
Here it is; push in.
But there are two gentlemen and a lady already in the box,
No matter, there'll be room. The Englishman waved the ticket in
The little round man with a round red face who was taking the
tickets stuttered in bad English and then dropped into French.
Meanwhile, the whole party had filed in, leaving the Englishman, who
kept waving the ticket in the little man's face.
Two gendarmes, the theatre guards, came up menacingly; the
Englishman's face wreathed itself in smiles; he linked an arm in each
of the gendarmes', and pushed them towards the bar.
Come drink to the Entente Cordiale.... Vive la France!
In the box were two Australians and a woman who leaned her head on
the chest of one and then the other alternately, laughing so that you
could see the gold caps in her black teeth.
They were annoyed at the intrusion that packed the box insupportably
tight, so that the woman had to sit on the men's laps, but the air soon
cleared in laughter that caused people in the orchestra to stare
angrily at the box full of noisy men in khaki. At last the Englishman
came, squeezing himself in with a finger mysteriously on his lips. He
plucked at Martin's arm, a serious set look coming suddenly over his
grey eyes. It was like thishis breath laden with whisky was like a
halo round Martin's headthe Hun was a nice little chap, couldn't 'a'
been more than eighteen; had a shoulder broken and he thought that my
pal was fixing the pillow. He said 'Thank you' with a funny German
accent.... Mind you, he said 'Thank you'; that's what hurt. And the man
laughed. God damn him, he laughed when the poor devil said 'Thank you.'
And the grenade blew him to hell.
The stage was a glare of light in Martin's eyes; he felt as he had
when at home he had leaned over and looked straight into the headlight
of an auto drawn up to the side of the road. Screening him from the
glare were the backs of people's heads: Tom Randolph's head and his
girl's, side by side, their cheeks touching, the pointed red chin of
one of the Australians and the frizzy hair of the other woman.
In the entr'acte they all stood at the bar, where it was very hot
and an orchestra was playing and there were many men in khaki in all
stages of drunkenness, being led about by women who threw jokes at each
other behind the men's backs.
Here's to mud, said one of the Australians. The war'll end when
everybody is drowned in mud.
The orchestra began playing the Madelon and everyone roared
out the marching song that, worn threadbare as it was, still had a
roistering verve to it that caught people's blood.
People had gone back for the last act. The two Australians, the
Englishman, and the two Americans still stood talking.
Mind you, I'm not what you'd call susceptible. I'm not soft. I got
over all that long ago. The Englishman was addressing the company in
general. But the poor beggar said 'Thank you.'
What's he saying? asked a woman, plucking at Martin's arm.
He's telling about a German atrocity.
Oh, the dirty Germans! What things they've done! the woman
Somehow, during the entr'acte, the Australians had collected another
woman; and a strange fat woman with lips painted very small, and very
large bulging eyes, had attached herself to Martin. He suffered her
because every time he looked at her she burst out laughing.
The bar was closing. They had a drink of champagne all round that
made the fat woman give little shrieks of delight. They drifted towards
the door, and stood, a formless, irresolute group, in the dark street
in front of the theatre.
Randolph came up to Martin.
Look. We're goin'. I wonder if I ought to leave my money with you
I doubt if I'm a safe person to-night ...
All right. I'll take it along. Look ... let's meet for breakfast.
At the Café de la Paix.
All right. If she is nice I'll bring her.
She looks charming.
Tom Randolph pressed Martin's hand and was off. There was a sound of
a kiss in the darkness.
I say, I've got to have something to eat, said the Englishman. I
didn't have a bit of dinner. I saymangai, mangai. He made gestures
of putting things into his mouth in the direction of the fat woman.
The three women put their heads together. One of them knew a place,
but it was a dreadful place. Really, they mustn't think that ... She
only knew it because when she was very young a man had taken her there
who wanted to seduce her.
At that everyone laughed and the voices of the women rose shrill.
All right, don't talk; let's go there, said one of the
Australians. We'll attend to the seducing.
A thick woman, a tall comb in the back of her high-piled black hair,
and an immovable face with jaw muscled like a prize-fighter's, served
them with cold chicken and ham and champagne in a room with mouldering
greenish wall-paper lighted by a red-shaded lamp.
The Australians ate and sang and made love to their women. The
Englishman went to sleep with his head on the table.
Martin leaned back out of the circle of light, keeping up a
desultory conversation with the woman beside him, listening to the
sounds of the men's voices down corridors, of the front door being
opened and slammed again and again, and of forced, shrill giggles of
Unfortunately, I have an engagement to-night, said Martin to the
woman beside him, whose large spherical breasts heaved as she talked,
and who rolled herself nearer to him invitingly, seeming with her round
pop-eyes and her round cheeks to be made up entirely of small spheres
and large soft ones.
Oh, but it is too late. You can break it.
It's at four o'clock.
Then we have time, ducky.
It's something really romantic, you see.
The young are always lucky. She rolled her eyes in sympathetic
admiration. This will be the fourth night this week that I have not
made a sou.... I'll chuck myself into the river soon.
Martin felt himself softening towards her. He slipped a twenty-franc
note in her hand.
Oh, you are too good. You are really galant homme, you.
Martin buried his face in his hands, dreaming of the woman he would
like to love to-night. She should be very dark, with red lips and
stained cheeks, like Randolph's girl; she should have small breasts and
slender, dark, dancer's thighs, and in her arms he could forget
everything but the madness and the mystery and the intricate life of
Paris about them. He thought of Montmartre, and Louise in the opera
standing at her window singing the madness of Paris....
One of the Australians had gone away with a little woman in a pink
negligée. The other Australian and the Englishman were standing
unsteadily near the table, each supported by a sleepy-looking girl.
Leaving the fat woman sadly finishing the remains of the chicken, large
tears rolling from her eyes, they left the house and walked for a long
time down dark streets, three men and two women, the Englishman being
supported in the middle, singing in a desultory fashion.
They stopped under a broken sign of black letters on greyish glass,
within which one feeble electric light bulb made a red glow. The
pavement was wet, and glimmered where it slanted up to the lamp-post at
the next corner.
Here we are. Come along, Janey, cried the Australian in a brisk
The door opened and slammed again. Martin and the other girl stood
on the pavement facing each other. The Englishman collapsed on the
doorstep, and began to snore.
Well, there's only you and me, she said.
Oh, if you were only a person, instead of being a member of a
profession said Martin softly.
Come, she said.
No, dearie. I must go, said Martin.
As you will. I'll take care of your friend. She yawned.
He kissed her and strode down the dark street, his nostrils full of
the smell of the rouge on her lips.
He walked a long while with his hat off, breathing deep of the sharp
night air. The streets were black and silent. Intemperate desires
prowled like cats in the darkness.
* * * * *
He woke up and stretched himself stiffly, smelling grass and damp
earth. A pearly lavender mist was all about him, through which loomed
the square towers of Notre Dame and the row of kings across the façade
and the sculpture about the darkness of the doorways. He had lain down
on his back on the little grass plot of the Parvis Notre Dame to look
at the stars, and had fallen asleep.
It must be nearly dawn. Words were droning importunately in his
head. The poor beggar said 'Thank you' with a funny German accent and
the grenade blew him to hell. He remembered the man he had once helped
to pick up in whose pocket a grenade had exploded. Before that he had
not realised that torn flesh was such a black-red, like sausage meat.
Get up, you can't lie there, cried a gendarme.
Notre Dame is beautiful in the morning, said Martin, stepping
across the low rail on to the pavement.
Ah, yes; it is beautiful.
Martin Howe sat on the rail of the bridge and looked. Before him,
with nothing distinct yet to be seen, were two square towers and the
tracery between them and the row of kings on the façade, and the long
series of flying buttresses of the flank, gleaming through the mist,
and, barely visible, the dark, slender spire soaring above the
crossing. So had the abbey in the forest gleamed tall in the misty
moonlight; like mist, only drab and dense, the dust had risen above the
tall apse as the shells tore it to pieces.
* * * * *
Amid a smell of new-roasted coffee he sat at a table and watched
people pass briskly through the ruddy sunlight. Waiters in
shirt-sleeves were rubbing off the other tables and putting out the
chairs. He sat sipping coffee, feeling languid and nerveless. After a
while Tom Randolph, looking very young and brown with his hat a little
on one side, came along. With him, plainly dressed in blue serge, was
the girl. They sat down and she dropped her head on his shoulder,
covering her eyes with her dark lashes.
Oh, I am so tired.
Poor child! You must go home and go back to bed.
But I've got to go to work.
Poor thing. They kissed each other tenderly and languidly.
The waiter came with coffee and hot milk and little crisp loaves of
Oh, Paris is wonderful in the early morning! said Martin.
Indeed it is.... Good-bye, little girl, if you must go. We'll see
each other again.
You must call me Yvonne. She pouted a little.
All right, Yvonne. He got to his feet and pressed her two hands.
Well, what sort of a time did you have, Howe?
Curious. I lost our friends one by one, left two women and slept a
little while on the grass in front of Notre Dame. That was my real love
of the night.
My girl was charming.... Honestly, I'd marry her in a minute. He
laughed a merry laugh.
Let's take a cab somewhere.
They climbed into a victoria and told the driver to go to the
Look, before I do anything else I must go to the hotel.
Of course; you'd better go at once.
The cab rattled merrily along the streets where the early sunshine
cast rusty patches on the grey houses and on the thronged fantastic
chimney-pots that rose in clusters and hedges from the mansard roofs.
The lamp in the hut of the road control casts an oblong of light on
the white wall opposite. The patch of light is constantly crossed and
scalloped and obscured by shadows of rifles and helmets and packs of
men passing. Now and then the shadow of a single man, a nose and a chin
under a helmet, a head bent forward with the weight of the pack, or a
pack alone beside which slants a rifle, shows up huge and fantastic
with its loaf of bread and its pair of shoes and its pots and pans.
Then with a jingle of harness and clank of steel, train after train
of artillery comes up out of the darkness of the road, is thrown by the
lamp into vivid relief and is swallowed again by the blackness of the
village street, short bodies of seventy-fives sticking like ducks'
tails from between their large wheels; caisson after caisson of
ammunition, huge waggons hooded and unhooded, filled with a chaos of
equipment that catches fantastic lights and throws huge muddled shadows
on the white wall of the house.
Put that light out. Name of God, do you want to have them start
chucking shells into here? comes a voice shrill with anger. The brisk
trot of the officer's horse is lost in the clangour.
The door of the hut slams to and only a thin ray of orange light
penetrates into the blackness of the road, where with jingle of harness
and clatter of iron and tramp of hoofs, gun after gun, caisson after
caisson, waggon after waggon files by. Now and then the passing stops
entirely and matches flare where men light pipes and cigarettes. Coming
from the other direction with throbbing of motors, a convoy of camions,
huge black oblongs, grinds down the other side of the road. Horses rear
and there are shouts and curses and clacking of reins in the darkness.
Far away where the lowering clouds meet the hills beyond the village
a white glare grows and fades again at intervals: star-shells.
* * * * *
There's a most tremendous concentration of sanitary sections.
You bet; two American sections and a French one in this village;
three more down the road. Something's up.
There's goin' to be an attack at St. Mihiel, a Frenchman told me.
I heard that the Germans were concentrating for an offensive in the
Four de Paris.
Anyway, this is the third week we've been in this bloody hole with
our feet in the mud.
They've got us quartered in a barn with a regular brook flowing
through the middle of it.
The main thing about this damned war is ennuijust plain boredom.
Not forgetting the mud.
Three ambulance drivers in slickers were on the front seat of a car.
The rain fell in perpendicular sheets, pattering on the roof of the car
and on the puddles that filled the village street. Streaming with
water, blackened walls of ruined houses rose opposite them above a rank
growth of weeds. Beyond were rain-veiled hills. Every little while,
slithering through the rain, splashing mud to the right and left, a
convoy of camions went by and disappeared, truck after truck, in the
white streaming rain.
Inside the car Tom Randolph was playing an accordion, letting
strange nostalgic little songs filter out amid the hard patter of the
Oh, I's been workin' on de railroad
All de livelong day;
I's been workin' on de railroad
Jus' to pass de time away.
The men on the front seat leaned back and shook the water off their
knees and hummed the song.
The accordion had stopped. Tom Randolph was lying on his back on the
floor of the car with his arm over his eyes. The rain fell endlessly,
rattling on the roof of the car, dancing silver in the coffee-coloured
puddles of the road. Their boredom fell into the rhythm of crooning
self-pity of the old coon song:
I's been workin' on de railroad
All de livelong day;
I's been workin' on de railroad
Jus' to pass de time away.
Oh, God, something's got to happen soon.
Lost in rubber boots, and a huge gleaming slicker and hood, the
section leader splashed across the road.
All cars must be ready to leave at six to-night.
Yay. Where we goin'?
Orders haven't come yet. We're to be in readiness to leave at six
I tell you, fellers, there's goin' to be an attack. This
concentration of sanitary sections means something. You can't tell me
* * * * *
They say they have beer, said the aspirant behind Martin in the
long line of men who waited in the hot sun for the copé to open, while
the dust the staff cars and camions raised as they whirred by on the
road settled in a blanket over the village.
Of course not, said the aspirant, laughing so that all the
brilliant ivory teeth showed behind his red lips. It'll be detestable.
I'm getting it because it's rare, for sentimental reasons.
Martin laughed, looking in the man's brown face, a face in which all
past expressions seemed to linger in the fine lines about the mouth and
eyes and in the modelling of the cheeks and temples.
You don't understand that, said the aspirant again.
Indeed I do.
Later they sat on the edge of the stone wellhead in the courtyard
behind the store, drinking warm beer out of tin cups blackened by wine,
and staring at a tall barn that had crumpled at one end so that it
looked, with its two frightened little square windows, like a cow
Is it true that the ninety-second's going up to the lines
Yes, we're going up to make a little attack. Probably I'll come
back in your little omnibus.
I hope you won't.
I'd be very glad to. A lucky wound! But I'll probably be killed.
This is the first time I've gone up to the front that I didn't expect
to be killed. So it'll probably happen.
Martin Howe could not help looking at him suddenly. The aspirant sat
at ease on the stone margin of the well, leaning against the wrought
iron support for the bucket, one knee clasped in his strong,
heavily-veined hands. Dead he would be different. Martin's mind could
hardly grasp the connection between this man full of latent energies,
full of thoughts and desires, this man whose shoulder he would have
liked to have put his arm round from friendliness, with whom he would
have liked to go for long walks, with whom he would have liked to sit
long into the night drinking and talkingand those huddled, pulpy
masses of blue uniform half-buried in the mud of ditches.
Have you ever seen a herd of cattle being driven to abattoir on a
fine May morning? asked the aspirant in a scornful, jaunty tone, as if
he had guessed Martin's thoughts.
I wonder what they think of it.
It's not that I'm resigned.... Don't think that. Resignation is too
easy. That's why the herd can be driven by a boy of six ... or a prime
Martin was sitting with his arms crossed. The fingers of one hand
were squeezing the muscle of his forearm. It gave him pleasure to feel
the smooth, firm modelling of his arm through his sleeve. And how would
that feel when it was dead, when a steel splinter had slithered through
it? A momentary stench of putrefaction filled his nostrils, making his
stomach contract with nausea.
I'm not resigned either, he shouted in a laugh. I am going to do
something some day, but first I must see. I want to be initiated in all
the circles of hell.
I'd play the part of Virgil pretty well, said the aspirant, but I
suppose Virgil was a staff officer.
I must go, said Martin. My name's Martin Howe, S.S.U. 84.
Oh yes, you are quartered in the square. My name is Merrier. You'll
probably carry me back in your little omnibus.
* * * * *
When Howe got back to where the cars were packed in a row in the
village square, Randolph came up to him and whispered in his ear:
The attack. It's to-morrow at three in the morning; instructions
are going to be given out to-night.
A detonation behind them was like a blow on the head, making their
ear-drums ring. The glass in the headlight of one of the cars tinkled
to the ground.
The 410 behind the church, that was. Pretty near knocks the wind
out of you.
Say, Randolph, have you heard the new orders?
A tall, fair-haired man came out from the front of his car where he
had been working on the motor, holding his grease-covered hands away
It's put off, he said, lowering his voice mysteriously. D.J.'s
not till day after to-morrow at four-twenty. But to-morrow we're going
up to relieve the section that's coming out and take over the posts.
They say it's hell up there. The Germans have a new gas that you can't
smell at all. The other section's got about five men gassed, and a
bunch of them have broken down. The posts are shelled all the time.
Great, said Tom Randolph. We'll see the real thing this time.
There was a whistling shriek overhead and all three of them fell in
a heap on the ground in front of the car. There was a crash that echoed
amid the house-walls, and a pillar of black smoke stood like a cypress
tree at the other end of the village street.
Talk about the real thing! said Martin.
Ole 410 evidently woke 'em up some.
* * * * *
It was the fifth time that day that Martin's car had passed the
cross-roads where the calvary was. Someone had propped up the fallen
crucifix so that it tilted dark despairing arms against the sunset sky
where the sun gleamed like a huge copper kettle lost in its own steam.
The rain made bright yellowish stripes across the sky and dripped from
the cracked feet of the old wooden Christ, whose gaunt, scarred figure
hung out from the tilted cross, swaying a little under the beating of
the rain. Martin was wiping the mud from his hands after changing a
wheel. He stared curiously at the fallen jowl and the cavernous eyes
that had meant for some country sculptor ages ago the utterest agony of
pain. Suddenly he noticed that where the crown of thorns had been about
the forehead of the Christ someone had wound barbed wire. He smiled,
and asked the swaying figure in his mind:
And You, what do You think of it?
For an instant he could feel wire barbs ripping through his own
He leaned over to crank the car.
The road was filled suddenly with the tramp and splash of troops
marching, their wet helmets and their rifles gleaming in the coppery
sunset. Even through the clean rain came the smell of filth and sweat
and misery of troops marching. The faces under the helmets were
strained and colourless and cadaverous from the weight of the equipment
on their necks and their backs and their thighs. The faces drooped
under the helmets, tilted to one side or the other, distorted and
wooden like the face of the figure that dangled from the cross.
Above the splash of feet through mud and the jingle of equipment,
came occasionally the ping, ping of shrapnel bursting at the next
cross-roads at the edge of the woods.
Martin sat in the car with the motor racing, waiting for the end of
One of the stragglers who floundered along through the churned mud
of the road after the regular ranks had passed stopped still and looked
up at the tilted cross. From the next cross-roads came, at intervals,
the sharp twanging ping of shrapnel bursting.
The straggler suddenly began kicking feebly at the prop of the cross
with his foot, and then dragged himself off after the column. The cross
fell forward with a dull splintering splash into the mud of the road.
* * * * *
The road went down the hill in long zig-zags, through a village at
the bottom where out of the mist that steamed from the little river a
spire with a bent weathercock rose above the broken roof of the church,
then up the hill again into the woods. In the woods the road stretched
green and gold in the first horizontal sunlight. Among the thick trees,
roofs covered with branches, were rows of long portable barracks with
doors decorated with rustic work. At one place a sign announced in
letters made of wattled sticks, Camp des Pommiers.
A few birds sang in the woods, and at a pump they passed a lot of
men stripped to the waist who were leaning over washing, laughing and
splashing in the sunlight. Every now and then, distant, metallic, the
pong, pong, pong of a battery of seventy-fives resounded through the
Looks like a camp meetin' ground in Georgia, said Tom Randolph,
blowing his whistle to make two men carrying a large steaming pot on a
pole between them get out of the way.
The road became muddier as they went deeper into the woods, and,
turning into a cross-road, the car began slithering, skidding a little
at the turns, through thick soupy mud. On either side the woods became
broken and jagged, stumps and split boughs littering the ground, trees
snapped off halfway up. In the air there was a scent of newly-split
timber and of turned-up woodland earth, and among them a sweetish rough
Covered with greenish mud, splashing the mud right and left with
their great flat wheels, camions began passing them returning from the
direction of the lines.
At last at a small red cross flag they stopped and ran the car into
a grove of tall chestnuts, where they parked it beside another car of
their section and lay down among the crisp leaves, listening to
occasional shells whining far overhead. All through the wood was a
continuous ping, pong, ping of batteries, with the crash of a big gun
coming now and then like the growl of a bull-frog among the sing-song
of small toads in a pond at night.
Through the trees from where they lay they could see the
close-packed wooden crosses of a cemetery from which came a sound of
spaded earth, and where, preceded by a priest in a muddy cassock,
little two-wheeled carts piled with shapeless things in sacks kept
being brought up and unloaded and dragged away again.
* * * * *
Showing alternately dark and light in the sun and shadow of the
woodland road, a cook waggon, short chimney giving out blue smoke, and
cauldrons steaming, clatters ahead of Martin and Randolph; the backs of
two men in heavy blue coats, their helmets showing above the narrow
driver's seat. On either side of the road short yellow flames keep
spitting up, slanting from hidden guns amid a pandemonium of noise.
Up the road a sudden column of black smoke rises among falling
trees. A louder explosion and the cook waggon in front of them vanishes
in a new whirl of thick smoke. Accelerator pressed down, the car
plunges along the rutted road, tips, and a wheel sinks in the new
shell-hole. The hind wheels spin for a moment, spattering gravel about,
and just as another roar comes behind them, bite into the road again
and the car goes on, speeding through the alternate sun and shadow of
the woods. Martin remembers the beating legs of a mule rolling on its
back on the side of the road and, steaming in the fresh morning air,
the purple and yellow and red of its ripped belly.
Did you get the smell of almonds? I sort of like it, says
Randolph, drawing a long breath as the car slowed down again.
* * * * *
The woods at night, fantastic blackness full of noise and yellow
leaping flames from the mouths of guns. Now and then the sulphurous
flash of a shell explosion and the sound of trees falling and shell
fragments swishing through the air. At intervals over a little knoll in
the direction of the trenches, a white star-shell falls slowly, making
the trees and the guns among their tangle of hiding branches cast long
green-black shadows, drowning the wood in a strange glare of
Where the devil's the abri?
Everything drowned in the detonations of three guns, one after the
other, so near as to puff hot air in their faces in the midst of the
Look, Tom, this is foolish; the abri's right here.
I haven't got it in my pocket, Howe. Damn those guns.
Again everything is crushed in the concussion of the guns.
They throw themselves on the ground as a shell shrieks and explodes.
There is a moment's pause, and gravel and bits of bark tumble about
We've got to find that abri. I wish I hadn't lost my flashlight.
Here it is! No, that stinks too much. Must be the latrine.
Damn, I ran into a tree. I found it.
All right. Coming.
Martin held out his hand until Randolph bumped into it; then they
stumbled together down the rough wooden steps, pulled aside the blanket
that served to keep the light in, and found themselves blinking in the
low tunnel of the abri.
Brancardiers were asleep in the two tiers of bunks that filled up
the sides, and at the table at the end a lieutenant of the medical
corps was writing by the light of a smoky lamp.
They are landing some round here to-night, he said, pointing out
two unoccupied bunks. I'll call you when we need a car.
As he spoke, in succession the three big guns went off. The
concussion put the lamp out.
Damn, said Tom Randolph.
The lieutenant swore and struck a match.
The red light of the poste de secours is out, too, said Martin.
No use lighting it again with those unholy mortars.... It's idiotic
to put a poste de secours in the middle of a battery like this.
The Americans lay down to try to sleep. Shell after shell exploded
round the dugout, but regularly every few minutes came the hammer blows
of the mortars, half the time putting the light out.
A shell explosion seemed to split the dugout and a piece of éclat
whizzed through the blanket that curtained off the door. Someone tried
to pick it up as it lay half-buried in the board floor, and pulled his
fingers away quickly, blowing on them. The men turned over in the bunks
and laughed, and a smile came over the drawn green face of a wounded
man who sat very quiet behind the lieutenant, staring at the smoky
flame of the lamp.
The curtain was pulled aside and a man staggered in holding with the
other hand a limp arm twisted in a mud-covered sleeve, from which blood
and mud dripped on to the floor.
Hello, old chap, said the doctor quietly. A smell of disinfectant
stole through the dugout.
Faint above the incessant throbbing of explosions, the sound of a
Ha, gas, said the doctor. Put on your masks, children. A man
went along the dugout waking those who were asleep and giving out fresh
masks. Someone stood in the doorway blowing a shrill whistle, then
there was again the clamour of a claxon near at hand.
The band of the gas mask was tight about Martin's forehead, biting
into the skin.
He and Randolph sat side by side on the edge of the bunk, looking
out through the crinkled isinglass eyepieces at the men in the dugout,
most of whom had gone to sleep again.
God, I envy a man who can snore through a gas-mask, said Randolph.
Men's heads had a ghoulish look, strange large eyes and grey
oilcloth flaps instead of faces.
Outside the constant explosions had given place to a series of
swishing whistles, merging together into a sound as of water falling,
only less regular, more sibilant. Occasionally there was the rending
burst of a shell, and at intervals came the swinging detonations of the
three guns. In the dugout, except for two men who snored loudly,
raspingly, everyone was quiet.
Several stretchers with wounded men on them were brought in and laid
in the end of the dugout.
Gradually, as the bombardment continued, men began sliding into the
dugout, crowding together, touching each other for company, speaking in
low voices through their masks.
A mask, in the name of God, a mask! a voice shouted, breaking into
a squeal, and an unshaven man, with mud caked in his hair and beard,
burst through the curtain. His eyelids kept up a continual trembling
and the water streamed down both sides of his nose.
O God, he kept talking in a rasping whisper, O God, they're all
killed. There were six mules on my waggon and a shell killed them all
and threw me into the ditch. You can't find the road any more. They're
An orderly was wiping his face as if it were a child's.
They're all killed and I lost my mask.... O God, this gas ...
The doctor, a short man, looking like a gnome in his mask with its
wheezing rubber nosepiece, was walking up and down with short, slow
Suddenly, as three soldiers came in, drawing the curtain aside, he
shouted in a shrill, high-pitched voice:
Keep the curtain closed! Do you want to asphyxiate us?
He strode up to the newcomers, his voice strident like an angry
woman's. What are you doing here? This is the poste de secours. Are
But, my lieutenant, we can't stay outside ...
Where's your own cantonment? You can't stay here; you can't stay
here, he shrieked.
But, my lieutenant, our dugout's been hit.
You can't stay here. You can't stay here. There's not enough room
for the wounded. Name of God!
But, my lieutenant ...
Get the hell out of here, d'you hear?
The men began stumbling out into the darkness, tightening the
adjustments of their masks behind their heads.
The guns had stopped firing. There was nothing but the constant
swishing and whistling of gas-shells, like endless pails of dirty water
being thrown on gravel.
We've been at it three hours, whispered Martin to Tom Randolph.
God, suppose these masks need changing.
The sweat from Martin's face steamed in the eyepieces, blinding him.
Any more masks? he asked.
A brancardier handed him one. There aren't any more in the abri.
I have some more in the car, said Martin.
I'll get one, cried Randolph, getting to his feet.
They started out of the door together. In the light that streamed
out as they drew the flap aside they saw a tree opposite them. A shell
exploded, it seemed, right on top of them; the tree rose and bowed
towards them and fell.
Are you all there, Tom? whispered Martin, his ears ringing.
Bet your life.
Someone pulled them back into the abri. Here; we've found another.
Martin lay down on the bunk again, drawing with difficulty each
breath. His lips had a wet, decomposed feeling.
At the wrist of the arm he rested his head on, the watch ticked
He began to think how ridiculous it would be if he, Martin Howe,
should be extinguished like this. The gas-mask might be defective.
God, it would be silly.
Outside the gas-shells were still coming in. The lamp showed through
a faint bluish haze. Everyone was still waiting.
Martin began to recite to himself the only thing he could remember,
over and over again in time to the ticking of his watch.
Ah, sunflower, weary of time.
Ah, sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun;
Ah, sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest ...
One, two, three, four, he counted the shells outside exploding at
There were periods of absolute silence, when he could hear batteries
pong, pong, pong in the distance.
He began again.
Ah, sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun
In search of that far golden clime
Where the traveller's journey is done.
Where the youth pined away with desire
And the pale virgin shrouded in snow
Arise from their graves and aspire
Where my sunflower wishes to go.
Whang, whang, whang; the battery alongside began again, sending out
the light. Someone pulled the blanket aside. A little leprous greyness
filtered into the dugout.
Ah, it's getting light.
The doctor went out and they could hear his steps climbing up to the
level of the ground.
Howe saw a man take his mask off and spit.
Oh, God, a cigarette! Tom Randolph cried, pulling his mask off.
The air of the woods was fresh and cool outside. Everything was lost in
mist that filled the shell-holes as with water and wreathed itself
fantastically about the shattered trunks of trees. Here and there was
still a little greenish haze of gas. It cut their throats and made
their eyes run as they breathed in the cool air of the dawn.
* * * * *
Dawn in a wilderness of jagged stumps and ploughed earth; against
the yellow sky, the yellow glare of guns that squat like toads in a
tangle of wire and piles of brass shell-cases and split wooden boxes.
Long rutted roads littered with shell-cases stretching through the
wrecked woods in the yellow light; strung alongside of them, tangled
masses of telephone wires. Torn camouflage fluttering greenish-grey
against the ardent yellow sky, and twining among the fantastic black
leafless trees, the greenish wraiths of gas. Along the roads camions
overturned, dead mules tangled in their traces beside shattered
caissons, huddled bodies in long blue coats half buried in the mud of
We've got to pass.... We've got five very bad cases.
We've got to pass.... Sacred name of God!
But it is impossible. Two camions are blocked across the road and
there are three batteries of seventy-fives waiting to get up the road.
Long lines of men on horseback with gas-masks on, a rearing of
frightened horses and jingle of harness.
Talk to 'em, Howe, for God's sake; we've got to get past.
I'm doing the best I can, Tom.
Well, make 'em look lively. Damn this gas!
Put your masks on again; you can't breathe without them in this
Hay! ye God-damn sons of bitches, get out of the way.
But they can't.
Oh, hell, I'll go talk to 'em. You take the wheel.
No, sit still and don't get excited.
You're the one's getting excited.
Damn this gas.
My lieutenant, I beg you to move the horses to the side of the
road. I have five very badly wounded men. They will die in this gas.
I've got to get by.
God damn him, tell him to hurry.
Shut up, Tom, for God's sake.
They're moving. I can't see a thing in this mask.
Hah, that did for the two back horses.
Halt! Is there any room in the ambulance? One of my men's just got
his thigh ripped up.
No room, no room.
He'll have to go to a poste de secours.
The fresh air blowing hard in their faces and the woods getting
greener on either side, full of ferns and small plants that half cover
the strands of barbed wire and the rows of shells.
At the end of the woods the sun rises golden into a cloudless sky,
and on the grassy slope of the valley sheep and a herd of little
donkeys are feeding, looking up with quietly moving jaws as the
ambulance, smelling of blood and filthy sweat-soaked clothes, rattles
* * * * *
Black night. All through the woods along the road squatting mortars
spit yellow flame. Constant throbbing of detonations.
Martin, inside the ambulance, is holding together a broken
stretcher, while the car jolts slowly along. It is pitch dark in the
car, except when the glare of a gun from near the road gives him a
momentary view of the man's head, a mass of bandages from the middle of
which a little bit of blood-soaked beard sticks out, and of his lean
body tossing on the stretcher with every jolt of the car. Martin is
kneeling on the floor of the car, his knees bruised by the jolting,
holding the man on the stretcher, with his chest pressed on the man's
chest and one arm stretched down to keep the limp bandaged leg still.
The man's breath comes with a bubbling sound, now and then mingling
with an articulate groan.
Softly.... Oh, softly, ohohoh!
Slow as you can, Tom, old man, Martin calls out above the
pandemonium of firing on both sides of the road, tightening the muscles
of his arm in a desperate effort to keep the limp leg from bouncing.
The smell of blood and filth is misery in his nostrils.
Softly.... Softly.... Ohohoh! The groan is barely heard amid
the bubbling breath.
Pitch dark in the car. Martin, his every muscle taut with the agony
of the man's pain, is on his knees, pressing his chest on the man's
chest, trying with an arm stretched along the man's leg to keep him
from bouncing in the broken stretcher.
Needn't have troubled to have brought him, said the hospital
orderly, as blood dripped fast from the stretcher, black in the light
of the lantern. He's pretty near dead now. He won't last long.
So you like it, Will? You like this sort of thing?
Martin Howe was stretched on the grass of a hillside a little above
a cross-roads. Beside him squatted a ruddy-faced youth with a smudge of
grease on his faintly-hooked nose. A champagne bottle rested against
Yes. I've never been happier in my life. It's a coarse boozing sort
of a life, but I like it.
They looked over the landscape of greyish rolling hills scarred
everywhere by new roads and ranks of wooden shacks. Along the road
beneath them crawled like beetles convoy after convoy of motor-trucks.
The wind came to them full of a stench of latrines and of the exhaust
The last time I saw you, said Martin, after a pause, was early
one morning on the Cambridge bridge. I was walking out from Boston, and
we talked of the Eroica they'd played at the Symphony, and you said it
was silly to have a great musician try to play soldier. D'you
No. That was in another incarnation. Have some fizz.
He poured from the bottle into a battered tin cup.
But talking about playing soldier, Howe, I must tell you about how
our lieutenant got the Croix de Guerre.... Somebody ought to write a
book called Heroisms of the Great War....
I am sure that many people have, and will. You probably'll do it
yourself, Will. But go on.
The sun burst from the huddled clouds for a moment, mottling the
hills and the scarred valleys with light. The shadow of an aeroplane
flying low passed across the field, and the snoring of its motors cut
out all other sound.
Well, our louie's name's Duval, but he spells it with a small 'd'
and a big 'V.' He's been wanting a Croix de Guerre for a hell of a time
because lots of fellows in the section have been getting 'em. He tried
giving dinners to the General Staff and everything, but that didn't
seem to work. So there was nothing to it but to get wounded. So he took
to going to the front posts; but the trouble was that it was a hell of
a quiet sector and no shells ever came within a mile of it. At last
somebody made a mistake and a little Austrian eighty-eight came
tumbling in and popped about fifty yards from his staff car. He showed
the most marvellous presence of mind, 'cause he clapped his hand over
his eye and sank back in the seat with a groan. The doctor asked what
was the matter, but old Duval just kept his hand tight over his eye and
said, 'Nothing, nothing; just a scratch,' and went off to inspect the
posts. Of course the posts didn't need inspecting. And he rode round
all day with a handkerchief over one eye and a look of heroism in the
other. But never would he let the doctor even peep at it. Next morning
he came out with a bandage round his head as big as a sheik's turban.
He went to see headquarters in that get-up and lunched with the
staff-officers. Well, he got his Croix de Guerre all rightcited for
assuring the evacuation of the wounded under fire and all the rest of
Some bird. He'll probably get to be a general before the war's
Howe poured out the last of the champagne, and threw the bottle
listlessly off into the grass, where it struck an empty shell-case and
But, Will, you can't like this, he said. It's all so like an
ash-heap, a huge garbage-dump of men and equipment.
I suppose it is ... said the ruddy-faced youth, discovering the
grease on his nose and rubbing it off with the back of his hand. Damn
those dirty Fords. They get grease all over you! I suppose it is that
life was so dull in America that anything seems better. I worked a year
in an office before leaving home. Give me the garbage-dump.
Look, said Martin, shading his eyes with his hand and staring
straight up into the sky. There are two planes fighting.
They both screwed up their eyes to stare into the sky, where two
bits of mica were circling. Below them, like wads of cotton-wool, some
white and others black, were rows of the smoke-puffs of shrapnel from
The two boys watched the specks in silence. At last one began to
grow larger, seemed to be falling in wide spirals. The other had
vanished. The falling aeroplane started rising again into the middle
sky, then stopped suddenly, burst into flames, and fluttered down
behind the hills, leaving an irregular trail of smoke.
More garbage, said the ruddy-faced youth, as he rose to his feet.
* * * * *
Shrapnel. What a funny place to shoot shrapnel!
They must have got the bead on that bunch of material the genie's
There was an explosion and a vicious whine of shrapnel bullets among
the trees. On the road a staff-car turned round hastily and speeded
Martin got up from where he was lying on the grass under a pine
tree, looking at the sky, and put his helmet on; as he did so there was
another sharp bang overhead and a little reddish-brown cloud that
suddenly spread and drifted away among the quiet tree-tops. He took off
his helmet and examined it quizzically.
Tom, I've got a dent in the helmet.
Tom Randolph made a grab for the little piece of jagged iron that
had rebounded from the helmet and lay at his feet.
God damn, it's hot, he cried, dropping it; anyway, finding's
keepings. He put his foot on the shrapnel splinter.
That ought to be mine, I swear, Tom.
You've got the dent, Howe; what more do you want?
Martin sat on the top step of the dugout, diving down whenever he
heard a shell-shriek loudening in the distance. Beside him was a tall
man with the crossed cannon of the artillery in his helmet, and a
shrunken brown face with crimson-veined cheeks and very long silky
A dirty business, he said. It's idiotic.... Name of a dog!
Grabbing each other's arms, they tumbled down the steps together as
a shell passed overhead to burst in a tree down the road.
Now look at that. The man held up his musette to Howe. I've
broken the bottle of Bordeaux I had in my musette. It's idiotic.
Been on permission?
Don't I look it?
They sat at the top of the steps again; the man took out bits of wet
glass dripping red wine from his little bag, swearing all the while.
I was bringing it to the little captain. He's a nice little old
chap, the little captain, and he loves good wine.
Can't you smell it? It's Medoc, 1900, from my own vines.... Look,
taste it, there's still a little. He held up the neck of the bottle
and Martin took a sip.
The artilleryman drank the rest of it, twisted his long moustaches
and heaved a deep sigh.
Go there, my poor good old wine. He threw the remnants of the
bottle into the underbrush. Shrapnel burst a little down the road. Oh,
this is a dirty business! I am a Gascon.... I like to live. He put a
dirty brown hand on Martin's arm.
How old do you think I am?
I am twenty-four. Look at the picture. From a tattered black
note-book held together by an elastic band he pulled a snapshot of a
jolly-looking young man with a fleshy face and his hands tucked into
the top of a wide, tightly-wound sash. He looked at the picture,
smiling and tugging at one of his long moustaches. Then I was twenty.
It's the war. He shrugged his shoulders and put the picture carefully
back into his inside pocket. Oh, it's idiotic!
You must have had a tough time.
It's just that people aren't meant for this sort of thing, said
the artilleryman quietly. You don't get accustomed. The more you see
the worse it is. Then you end by going crazy. Oh, it's idiotic!
How did you find things at home?
Oh, at home! Oh, what do I care about that now? They get on without
you.... But we used to know how to live, we Gascons. We worked so hard
on the vines and on the fruit-trees, and we kept a horse and carriage.
I had the best-looking rig in the department. Sunday it was fun; we'd
play bowls and I'd ride about with my wife. Oh, she was nice in those
days! She was young and fat and laughed all the time. She was something
a man could put his arms around, she was. We'd go out in my rig. It was
click-clack of the whip in the air and off we were in the broad
road.... Sacred name of a pig, that one was close.... And the Marquis
of Montmarieul had a rig, too, but not so good as mine, and my horse
would always pass his in the road. Oh, it was funny, and he'd look so
sour to have common people like us pass him in the road.... Boom,
there's another.... And the Marquis now is nicely embusqué in the
automobile service. He is stationed at Versailles.... And look at
me.... But what do I care about all that now?
But after the war ...
After the war? He spat savagely on the first step of the dugout.
They learn to get on without you.
But we'll be free to do as we please.
We'll never forget.
I shall go to Spain ... A piece of shrapnel ripped past Martin's
ear, cutting off the sentence.
Name of God! It's getting hot.... Spain: I know Spain. The
artilleryman jumped up and began dancing, Spanish fashion, snapping his
fingers, his big moustaches swaying and trembling. Several shells burst
down the road in quick succession, filling the air with a whine of
A cook waggon got it! the artilleryman shouted, dancing on.
Tra-la la la-la-la-la, la-la la, he sang, snapping his fingers.
He stopped and spat again.
What do I care? he said. Well, so long, old chap. I must go....
Say, let's change knivesa little souvenir.
The artilleryman strode off through the woods, past the portable
fence that surrounded the huddled wooden crosses of the graveyard.
* * * * *
Against the red glare of the dawn the wilderness of shattered trees
stands out purple, hidden by grey mist in the hollows, looped and
draped fantastically with strands of telephone wire and barbed wire,
tangled like leafless creepers, that hang in clots against the red sky.
Here and there guns squat among piles of shells covered with mottled
green cheese-cloth, and spit long tongues of yellow flame against the
sky. The ambulance waits by the side of the rutted road littered with
tin cans and brass shell-cases, while a doctor and two
stretcher-bearers bend over a man on a stretcher laid among the
underbrush. The man groans and there is a sound of ripping bandages. On
the other side of the road a fallen mule feebly wags its head from side
to side, a mass of purple froth hanging from its mouth and
wide-stretched scarlet nostrils.
There is a new smell in the wind, a smell unutterably sordid, like
the smell of the poor immigrants landing at Ellis Island. Martin Howe
glances round and sees advancing down the road ranks and ranks of
strange grey men whose mushroom-shaped helmets give an eerie look as of
men from the moon in a fairy tale.
Why, they're Germans, he says to himself; I'd quite forgotten
Ah, they're prisoners. The doctor gets to his feet and glances
down the road and then turns to his work again.
The tramp of feet marching in unison on the rough shell-pitted road,
and piles and piles of grey men clotted with dried mud, from whom comes
the new smell, the sordid, miserable smell of the enemy.
Things going well? Martin asks a guard, a man with ashen face and
eyes that burn out of black sockets.
How should I know?
How should I know?
* * * * *
The captain and the aumonier are taking their breakfast, each
sitting on a packing-box with their tin cups and tin plates ranged on
the board propped up between them. All round red clay, out of which the
abri was excavated. A smell of antiseptics from the door of the
dressing-station and of lime and latrines mingling with the greasy
smell of the movable kitchen not far away. They are eating dessert,
slices of pineapple speared with a knife out of a can. In their manner
there is something that makes Martin see vividly two gentlemen in
frock-coats dining at a table under the awning of a café on the
boulevards. It has a leisurely ceremoniousness, an ease that could
exist nowhere else.
No, my friend, the doctor is saying, I do not think that an
apprehension of religion existed in the mind of palæolithic man.
But, my captain, don't you think that you scientific people
sometimes lose a little of the significance of things, insisting always
on their scientific, in this case on their anthropological, aspect?
Not in the least; it is the only way to look at them.
There are other ways, says the aumonier, smiling.
One moment.... From under the packing-box the captain produced a
small bottle of anisette. You'll have a little glass, won't you?
With the greatest pleasure. What a rarity here, anisette.
But, as I was about to say, take our life here, for an example.
... A shell shrieks overhead and crashes hollowly in the woods behind
the dugout. Another follows it, exploding nearer. The captain picks a
few bits of gravel off the table, reaches for his helmet and continues.
For example, our life here, which is, as was the life of palæolithic
man, taken up only with the bare struggle for existence against
overwhelming odds. You know yourself that it is not conducive to
religion or any emotion except that of preservation.
I hardly admit that.... Ah, I saved it, the aumonier announces,
catching the bottle of anisette as it is about to fall off the table.
An exploding shell rends the air about them. There is a pause, and a
shower of earth and gravel tumbles about their ears.
I must go and see if anyone was hurt, says the aumonier,
clambering up the clay bank to the level of the ground; but you will
admit, my captain, that the sentiment of preservation is at least akin
to the fundamental feelings of religion.
My dear friend, I admit nothing.... Till this evening, good-bye.
He waves his hand and goes into the dugout.
* * * * *
Martin and two French soldiers drinking sour wine in the doorway of
a deserted house. It was raining outside and now and then a dripping
camion passed along the road, slithering through the mud.
This is the last summer of the war.... It must be, said the little
man with large brown eyes and a childish, chubby brown face, who sat on
Oh, I don't know. Everyone feels like that.
I don't see, said Martin, why it shouldn't last for ten or twenty
years. Wars have before....
How long have you been at the front?
Six months, off and on.
After another six months you'll know why it can't go on.
I don't know; it suits me all right, said the man on the other
side of Martin, a man with a jovial red rabbit-like face. Of course, I
don't like being dirty and smelling and all that, but one gets
accustomed to it.
But you are an Alsatian; you don't care.
I was a baker. They're going to send me to Dijon soon to bake army
bread. It'll be a change. There'll be wine and lots of little girls.
Good God, how drunk I'll be; and, old chap, you just watch me with the
I should just like to get home and not be ordered about, said the
first man. I've been lucky, though, he went on; I've been kept most
of the time in reserve. I only had to use my bayonet once.
When was that? asked Martin.
Near Mont Cornélien, last year. We put them to the bayonet and I
was running and a man threw his arms up just in front of me saying,
'Mon ami, mon ami,' in French. I ran on because I couldn't stop, and I
heard my bayonet grind as it went through his chest. I tripped over
something and fell down.
You were scared, said the Alsatian.
Of course I was scared. I was trembling all over like an old dog in
a thunderstorm. When I got up, he was lying on his side with his mouth
open and blood running out, my bayonet still sticking into him. You
know you have to put your foot against a man and pull hard to get the
And if you're good at it, cried the Alsatian, you ought to yank
it out as your Boche falls and be ready for the next one. The time they
gave me the Croix de Guerre I got three in succession, just like at
Oh, I was so sorry I had killed him, went on the other Frenchman.
When I went through his pockets I found a post-card. Here it is; I
have it. He pulled out a cracked and worn leather wallet, from which
he took a photograph and a bunch of pictures. Look, this photograph
was there, too. It hurt my heart. You see, it's a woman and two little
girls. They look so nice.... It's strange, but I have two children,
too, only one's a boy. I lay down on the ground beside himI was all
inand listened to the machine-guns tapping put, put, put, put, put,
all round. I wished I'd let him kill me instead. That was funny, wasn't
It's idiotic to feel like that. Put them to the bayonet, all of
them, the dirty Boches. Why, the only money I've had since the war
began, except my five sous, was fifty francs I found on a German
officer. I wonder where he got it, the old corpse-stripper.
Oh, it's shameful! I am ashamed of being a man. Oh, the shame, the
shame ... The other man buried his face in his hands.
I wish they were serving out gniolle for an attack right now, said
the Alsatian, or the gniolle without the attack 'd be better yet.
Wait here, said Martin, I'll go round to the copé and get a
bottle of fizzy. We'll drink to peace or war, as you like. Damn this
* * * * *
It's a shame to bury those boots, said the sergeant of the
From the long roll of blanket on the ground beside the hastily-dug
grave protruded a pair of high boots, new and well polished as if for
parade. All about the earth was scarred with turned clay like raw
wounds, and the tilting arms of little wooden crosses huddled together,
with here and there a bent wreath or a faded bunch of flowers.
Overhead in the stripped trees a bird was singing.
Shall we take them off? It's a shame to bury a pair of boots like
So many poor devils need boots.
Boots cost so dear.
Already two men were lowering the long bundle into the grave.
Wait a minute; we've got a coffin for him.
A white board coffin was brought.
The boots thumped against the bottom as they put the big bundle in.
An officer strode into the enclosure of the graveyard, flicking his
knees with a twig.
Is this Lieutenant Dupont? he asked of the sergeant.
Yes, my lieutenant.
Can you see his face? The officer stooped and pulled apart the
blanket where the head was.
Poor René, he said. Thank you. Good-bye, and strode out of the
The yellowish clay fell in clots on the boards of the coffin. The
sergeant bared his head and the aumonier came up, opening his book with
a vaguely professional air.
It was a shame to bury those boots. Boots are so dear nowadays,
said the sergeant, mumbling to himself as he walked back towards the
little broad shanty they used as a morgue.
* * * * *
Of the house, a little pale salmon-coloured villa, only a shell
remained, but the garden was quite untouched; fall roses and bunches of
white and pink and violet phlox bloomed there among the long grass and
the intruding nettles. In the centre the round concrete fountain was no
longer full of water, but a few brownish-green toads still inhabited
it. The place smelt of box and sweetbriar and yew, and when you lay
down on the grass where it grew short under the old yew tree by the
fountain, you could see nothing but placid sky and waving green leaves.
Martin Howe and Tom Randolph would spend there the quiet afternoons
when they were off duty, sleeping in the languid sunlight, or chatting
lazily, pointing out to each other tiny things, the pattern of
snail-shells, the glitter of insects' wings, colours, fragrances that
made vivid for them suddenly beauty and life, all that the shells that
shrieked overhead, to explode on the road behind them, threatened to
One afternoon Russell joined them, a tall young man with thin face
and aquiline nose and unexpectedly light hair.
Chef says we may go en repos in three days, he said, throwing
himself on the ground beside the other two.
We've heard that before, said Tom Randolph. Division hasn't
started out yet, ole boy; an' we're the last of the division.
God, I'll be glad to go.... I'm dead, said Russell.
I was up all last night with dysentery.
So was I.... It was not funny; first it'd be vomiting, and then
diarrhoea, and then the shells'd start coming in. Gave me a merry time
They say it's the gas, said Martin.
God, the gas! Turns me sick to think of it, said Russell, stroking
his forehead with his hand. Did I tell you about what happened to me
the night after the attack, up in the woods?
Well, I was bringing a load of wounded down from P.J. Right and I'd
got just beyond the corner where the little muddy hill isyou know,
where they're always shellingwhen I found the road blocked. It was so
God-damned black you couldn't see your hand in front of you. A camion'd
gone off the road and another had run into it, and everything was
littered with boxes of shells spilt about.
Must have been real nice, said Randolph.
The devilish part of it was that I was all alone. Coney was too
sick with diarrhoea to be any use, so I left him up at the post,
running out at both ends like he'd die. Well ... I yelled and shouted
like hell in my bad French and blew my whistle and sweated, and the
damned wounded inside moaned and groaned. And the shells were coming in
so thick I thought my number'd turn up any time. An' I couldn't get
anybody. So I just climbed up in the second camion and backed it off
into the bushes.... God, I bet it'll take a wrecking crew to get it
That was one good job.
But there I was with another square in the road and no chance to
pass that I could see in that darkness. Then what I was going to tell
you about happened. I saw a little bit of light in a ditch beside a big
car that seemed to be laying on its side, and I went down to it and
there was a bunch of camion drivers, sitting round a lantern drinking.
'Hello, have a drink!' they called out to me, and one of them got
up, waving his arms, ravin' drunk, and threw his arms around me and
kissed me on the mouth. His hair and beard were full of wet mud....
Then he dragged me into the crowd.
'Ha, here's a copain come to die with us,' he cried.
I gave him a shove and he fell down. But another one got up and
handed me a tin cup full of that God-damned gniolle, that I drank not
to make 'em sore. Then they all shouted, and stood about me, sayin',
'American's goin' to die with us. He's goin' to drink with us. He's
goin' to die with us.' And the shells comin' in all the while. God, I
'I want to get a camion moved to the side of the road....
Good-bye,' I said. There didn't seem any use talkin' to them.
'But you've come to stay with us,' they said, and made me drink
some more booze. 'You've come to die with us. Remember you said so.'
The sweat was running into my eyes so's I could hardly see. I told
'em I'd be right back and slipped away into the dark. Then I thought
I'd never get the second camion cranked. At last I managed it and put
it so I could squeeze past, but they saw me and jumped up on the
running-board of the ambulance, tried to stop the car, all yellin' at
once, 'It's no use, the road's blocked both ways. You can't pass. You'd
better stay and die with us. Caput.'
Well, I put my foot on the accelerator and hit one of them so hard
with the mudguard he fell into the lantern and put it out. Then I got
away. An' how I got past the stuff in that road afterwards was just
luck. I couldn't see a God-damn thing; it was so black and I was so
nerved up. God, I'll never forget these chaps' shoutin', 'Here's a
feller come to die with us.'
Whew! That's some story, said Randolph.
That'll make a letter home, won't it? said Russell, smiling.
Guess my girl'll think I'm heroic enough after that.
Martin's eyes were watching a big dragonfly with brown body and
cream and rainbow wings that hovered over the empty fountain and the
three boys stretched on the grass, and was gone against the azure sky.
* * * * *
The prisoner had grey flesh, so grimed with mud that you could not
tell if he were young or old. His uniform hung in a formless clot of
mud about a slender frame. They had treated him at the dressing-station
for a gash in his upper arm, and he was being used to help the
stretcher-bearers. Martin sat in the front seat of the ambulance,
watching him listlessly as he walked down the rutted road under the
torn shreds of camouflage that fluttered a little in the wind. Martin
wondered what he was thinking. Did he accept all this stench and filth
and degradation of slavery as part of the divine order of things? Or
did he too burn with loathing and revolt?
And all those men beyond the hill and the wood, what were they
thinking? But how could they think? The lies they were drunk on would
keep them eternally from thinking. They had never had any chance to
think until they were hurried into the jaws of it, where was no room
but for laughter and misery and the smell of blood.
The rutted road was empty now. Most of the batteries were quiet.
Overhead in the brilliant sky aeroplanes snored monotonously.
The woods all about him were a vast rubbish-heap; the jagged,
splintered boles of leafless trees rose in every direction from heaps
of brass shell-cases, of tin cans, of bits of uniform and equipment.
The wind came in puffs laden with an odour as of dead rats in an attic.
And this was what all the centuries of civilisation had struggled for.
For this had generations worn away their lives in mines and factories
and forges, in fields and workshops, toiling, screwing higher and
higher the tension of their minds and muscles, polishing brighter and
brighter the mirror of their intelligence. For this!
The German prisoner and another man had appeared in the road again,
carrying a stretcher between them, walking with the slow, meticulous
steps of great fatigue. A series of shells came in, like three cracks
of a whip along the road. Martin followed the stretcher-bearers into
The prisoner wiped the sweat from his grime-streaked forehead, and
started up the step of the dugout again, a closed stretcher on his
shoulder. Something made Martin look after him as he strolled down the
rutted road. He wished he knew German so that he might call after the
man and ask him what manner of a man he was.
Again, like snapping of a whip, three shells flashed yellow as they
exploded in the brilliant sunlight of the road. The slender figure of
the prisoner bent suddenly double, like a pocket-knife closing, and lay
still. Martin ran out, stumbling in the hard ruts. In a soft child's
voice the prisoner was babbling endlessly, contentedly. Martin kneeled
beside him and tried to lift him, clasping him round the chest under
the arms. He was very hard to lift, for his legs dragged limply in
their soaked trousers, where the blood was beginning to saturate the
muddy cloth, stickily. Sweat dripped from Martin's face, on the man's
face, and he felt the arm-muscles and the ribs pressed against his body
as he clutched the wounded man tightly to him in the effort of carrying
him towards the dugout. The effort gave Martin a strange contentment.
It was as if his body were taking part in the agony of this man's body.
At last they were washed out, all the hatreds, all the lies, in blood
and sweat. Nothing was left but the quiet friendliness of beings alike
in every part, eternally alike.
Two men with a stretcher came from the dugout, and Martin laid the
man's body, fast growing limper, less animated, down very carefully.
As he stood by the car, wiping the blood off his hands with an oily
rag, he could still feel the man's ribs and the muscles of the man's
arm against his side. It made him strangely happy.
* * * * *
At the end of the dugout a man was drawing short, hard breath as if
he'd been running. There was the accustomed smell of blood and chloride
and bandages and filthy miserable flesh. Howe lay on a stretcher
wrapped in his blanket, with his coat over him, trying to sleep. There
was very little light from a smoky lamp down at the end where the
wounded were. The French batteries were fairly quiet, but the German
shells were combing through the woods, coming in series of three and
four, gradually nearing the dugout and edging away again. Howe saw the
woods as a gambling table on which, throw after throw, scattered the
random dice of death.
He pulled his blanket up round his head. He must sleep. How silly to
think about it. It was luck. If a shell had his number on it he'd be
gone before the words were out of his mouth. How silly that he might be
dead any minute! What right had a nasty little piece of tinware to go
tearing through his rich, feeling flesh, extinguishing it?
Like the sound of a mosquito in his ear, only louder, more vicious,
a shell-shriek shrilled to the crash.
Damn! How foolish, how supremely silly that tired men somewhere away
in the woods the other side of the lines should be shoving a shell into
the breach of a gun to kill him, Martin Howe!
Like dice thrown on a table, shells burst about the dugout, now one
side, now the other.
Seem to have taken a fancy to us this evenin', Howe heard Tom
Randolph's voice from the bunk opposite.
One, muttered Martin to himself, as he lay frozen with fear, flat
on his back, biting his trembling lips, two.... God, that was near!
A dragging instant of suspense, and the shriek growing loud out of
This is us. He clutched the sides of the stretcher.
A snorting roar rocked the dugout. Dirt fell in his face. He looked
about, dazed. The lamp was still burning. One of the wounded men, with
a bandage like an Arab's turban about his head, sat up in his stretcher
with wide, terrified eyes.
God watches over drunkards and the feeble-minded. Don't let's
worry, Howe, shouted Randolph from his bunk.
That probably bitched car No. 4 for evermore, he answered, turning
on his stretcher, relieved for some reason from the icy suspense.
We should worry! We'll foot it home, that's all.
The casting of the dice began again, farther away this time.
We won that throw, thought Martin.
Ducks quacking woke Martin. For a moment he could not think where he
was; then he remembered. The rafters of the loft of the farmhouse over
his head were hung with bunches of herbs drying. He lay a long while on
his back looking at them, sniffing the sweetened air, while farmyard
sounds occupied his ears, hens cackling, the grunting of pigs, the
rou-cou-cou-cou, rou-cou-cou-cou of pigeons under the eaves. He
stretched himself and looked about him. He was alone except for Tom
Randolph, who slept in a pile of blankets next to the wall, his head,
with its close-cropped black hair, pillowed on his bare arm. Martin
slipped off the canvas cot he had slept on and went to the window of
the loft, a little square open at the level of the floor, through which
came a dazzle of blue and gold and green. He looked out. Stables and
hay-barns filled two sides of the farmyard below him. Behind them was a
mass of rustling oak-trees. On the lichen-greened tile roofs pigeons
strutted about, putting their coral feet daintily one before the other,
puffing out their glittering breasts. He breathed deep of the smell of
hay and manure and cows and of unpolluted farms.
From the yard came a riotous cackling of chickens and quacking of
ducks, mingled with the peeping of the little broods. In the middle a
girl in blue gingham, sleeves rolled up as far as possible on her brown
arms, a girl with a mass of dark hair loosely coiled above the nape of
her neck, was throwing to the fowls handfuls of grain with a wide
And to think that only yesterday ... said Martin to himself. He
listened carefully for some time. Wonderful! You can't even hear the
The evening was pearl-grey when they left the village; in their
nostrils was the smell of the leisurely death of the year, of leaves
drying and falling, of ripened fruit and bursting seed-pods.
The fall's a maddening sort o' time for me, said Tom Randolph. It
makes me itch to get up on ma hind legs an' do things, go places.
I suppose it's that the earth has such a feel of accomplishment,
You do feel as if Nature had pulled off her part of the job and was
They stopped a second and looked about them, breathing deep. On one
side of the road were woods where in long alleys the mists deepened
into purple darkness.
There's the moon.
God! it looks like a pumpkin.
I wish those guns'd shut up 'way off there to the north.
They're sort of irrelevant, aren't they?
They walked on, silent, listening to the guns throbbing far away,
like muffled drums beaten in nervous haste.
Sounds almost like a barrage.
Martin for some reason was thinking of the last verses of Shelley's
Hellas. He wished he knew them so that he could recite them.
Faiths and empires gleam
Like wrecks in a dissolving dream.
The purple trunks of saplings passed slowly across the broad face of
the moon as they walked along. How beautiful the world was!
Look, Tom. Martin put his arm about Randolph's shoulder and nodded
towards the moon. It might be a ship with puffed-out pumpkin-coloured
sails, the way the trees make it look now.
Wouldn't it be great to go to sea? said Randolph, looking straight
into the moon, an' get out of this slaughter-house. It's nice to see
the war, but I have no intention of taking up butchery as a
profession.... There is too much else to do in the world.
They walked slowly along the road talking of the sea, and Martin
told how when he was a little kid he'd had an uncle who used to tell
him about the Vikings and the Swan Path, and how one of the great
moments of his life had been when he and a friend had looked out of
their window in a little inn on Cape Cod one morning and seen the sea
and the swaying gold path of the sun on it, stretching away, beyond the
Poor old life, he said. I'd expected to do so much with you. And
they both laughed, a little bitterly.
They were strolling past a large farmhouse that stood like a hen
among chicks in a crowd of little outbuildings. A man in the road lit a
cigarette and Martin recognised him in the orange glare of the match.
Monsieur Merrier! He held out his hand. It was the aspirant he had
drunk beer with weeks ago at Brocourt.
Hah! It's you!
So you are en repos here, too?
Yes, indeed. But you two come in and see us; we are dying of the
We'd love to stop in for a second.
A fire smouldered in the big hearth of the farmhouse kitchen,
sending a little irregular fringe of red light out over the tiled
floor. At the end of the room towards the door three men were seated
round a table, smoking. A candle threw their huge and grotesque shadows
on the floor and on the whitewashed walls, and lit up the dark beams of
that part of the ceiling. The three men got up and everyone shook
hands, filling the room with swaying giant shadows. Champagne was
brought and tin cups and more candles, and the Americans were given the
two most comfortable chairs.
It's such a find to have Americans who speak French, said a
bearded man with unusually large brilliant eyes. He had been introduced
as André Dubois, a very terrible person, had added Merrier, laughing.
The cork popped out of the bottle he had been struggling with.
You see, we never can find out what you think about things.... All
we can do is to be sympathetically inane, and vive les braves alliés
and that sort of stuff.
I doubt if we Americans do think, said Martin.
Cigarettes, who wants some cigarettes? cried Lully, a small man
with a very brown oval face to which long eyelashes and a little bit of
silky black moustache gave almost a winsomeness. When he laughed he
showed brilliant, very regular teeth. As he handed the cigarettes about
he looked searchingly at Martin with eyes disconcertingly intense.
Merrier has told us about you, he said. You seem to be the first
American we've met who agreed with us.
About the war, of course.
Yes, took up the fourth man, a blonde Norman with an impressive,
rather majestic face, we were very interested. You see, we bore each
other, talking always among ourselves.... I hope you won't be offended
if I agree with you in saying that Americans never think. I've been in
Texas, you see.
Yes, I went to a Jesuit College in Dallas. I was preparing to enter
the Society of Jesus.
How long have you been in the war? asked André Dubois, passing his
hand across his beard.
We've both been in the same length of timeabout six months.
Do you like it?
I don't have a bad time.... But the people in Boccaccio managed to
enjoy themselves while the plague was at Florence. That seems to me the
only way to take the war.
We have no villa to take refuge in, though, said Dubois, and we
have forgotten all our amusing stories.
And in Americathey like the war?
They don't know what it is. They are like children. They believe
everything they are told, you see; they have had no experience in
international affairs, like you Europeans. To me our entrance into the
war is a tragedy.
It's sort of goin' back on our only excuse for existing, put in
In exchange for all the quiet and the civilisation and the beauty
of ordered lives that Europeans gave up in going to the new world we
gave them opportunity to earn luxury, and, infinitely more important,
freedom from the past, that gangrened ghost of the past that is killing
Europe to-day with its infection of hate and greed of murder.
America has turned traitor to all that, you see; that's the way we
look at it. Now we're a military nation, an organised pirate like
France and England and Germany.
But American idealism? The speeches, the notes? cried Lully,
catching the edge of the table with his two brown hands.
Camouflage, said Martin.
You mean it's insincere?
The best camouflage is always sincere. Dubois ran his hands
through his hair.
Of course, why should there be any difference? he said.
Oh, we're all dupes, we're all dupes. Look, Lully, old man, fill up
the Americans' glasses.
And I used to believe in liberty, said Martin. He raised his
tumbler and looked at the candle through the pale yellow champagne. On
the wall behind him, his arm and hand and the tumbler were shadowed
huge in dusky lavender blue. He noticed that his was the only tumbler.
I am honoured, he said; mine is the only glass.
And that's looted, said Merrier.
It's funny ... Martin suddenly felt himself filled with a desire
to talk. All my life I've struggled for my own liberty in my small
way. Now I hardly know if the thing exists.
Exists? Of course it does, or people wouldn't hate it so, cried
I used to think, went on Martin, that it was my family I must
escape from to be free; I mean all the conventional ties, the worship
of success and the respectabilities that is drummed into you when
I suppose everyone has thought that....
How stupid we were before the war, how we prated of small revolts,
how we sniggered over little jokes at religion and government. And all
the while, in the infinite greed, in the infinite stupidity of men,
this was being prepared. André Dubois was speaking, puffing nervously
at a cigarette between phrases, now and then pulling at his beard with
a long, sinewy hand.
What terrifies me rather is their power to enslave our minds,
Martin went on, his voice growing louder and surer as his idea carried
him along. I shall never forget the flags, the menacing, exultant
flags along all the streets before we went to war, the gradual unbaring
of teeth, gradual lulling to sleep of people's humanity and sense by
the phrases, the phrases.... America, as you know, is ruled by the
press. And the press is ruled by whom? Who shall ever know what dark
forces bought and bought until we should be ready to go blinded and
gagged to war?... People seem to so love to be fooled. Intellect used
to mean freedom, a light struggling against darkness. Now the darkness
is using the light for its own purposes.... We are slaves of bought
intellect, willing slaves.
But, Howe, the minute you see that and laugh at it, you're not a
slave. Laugh and be individually as decent as you can, and don't worry
your head about the rest of the world; and have a good time in spite of
the God-damned scoundrels, broke out Randolph in English. No use
worrying yourself into the grave over a thing you can't help.
There is one solution and one only, my friends, said the blonde
Norman; the Church.... He sat up straight in his chair, speaking
slowly with expressionless face. People are too weak and too kindly to
shift for themselves. Government of some sort there must be. Lay
Government has proved through all the tragic years of history to be
merely a ruse of the strong to oppress the weak, of the wicked to fool
the confiding. There remains only religion. In the organisation of
religion lies the natural and suitable arrangement for the happiness of
man. The Church will govern not through physical force but through
The force of fear. Lully jumped to his feet impatiently, making
the bottles sway on the table.
The force of love.... I once thought as you do, my friend, said
the Norman, pulling Lully back into his chair with a smile.
Lully drank a glass of champagne greedily and undid the buttons of
his blue jacket.
Go on, he said; it's madness.
All the evil of the Church, went on the Norman's even voice,
comes from her struggles to attain supremacy. Once assured of triumph,
established as the rule of the world, it becomes the natural channel
through which the wise rule and direct the stupid, not for their own
interest, not for ambition for worldly things, but for the love that is
in them. The freedom the Church offers is the only true freedom. It
denies the world, and the slaveries and rewards of it. It gives the
love of God as the only aim of life.
But think of the Church to-day, the cardinals at Rome, the Church
turned everywhere to the worship of tribal gods....
Yes, but admit that that can be changed. The Church has been
supreme in the past; can it not again be supreme? All the evil comes
from the struggle, from the compromise. Picture to yourself for a
moment a world conquered by the Church, ruled through the soul and
mind, where force will not exist, where instead of all the
multitudinous tyrannies man has choked his life with in organising
against other men, will exist the one supreme thing, the Church of God.
Instead of many hatreds, one love. Instead of many slaveries, one
A single tyranny, instead of a million. What's the choice? cried
But you are both violent, my children. Merrier got to his feet and
smilingly filled the glasses all round. You go at the matter too much
from the heroic point of view. All this sermonising does no good. We
are very simple people who want to live quietly and have plenty to eat
and have no one worry us or hurt us in the little span of sunlight
before we die. All we have now is the same war between the classes:
those that exploit and those that are exploited. The cunning,
unscrupulous people control the humane, kindly people. This war that
has smashed our little European world in which order was so painfully
taking the place of chaos, seems to me merely a gigantic battle fought
over the plunder of the world by the pirates who have grown fat to the
point of madness on the work of their own people, on the work of the
millions in Africa, in India, in America, who have come directly or
indirectly under the yoke of the insane greed of the white races. Well,
our edifice is ruined. Let's think no more of it. Ours is now the duty
of rebuilding, reorganising. I have not faith enough in human nature to
be an anarchist.... We are too like sheep; we must go in flocks, and a
flock to live must organise. There is plenty for everyone, even with
the huge growth in population all over the world. What we want is
organisation from the bottom, organisation by the ungreedy, by the
humane, by the uncunning, socialism of the masses that shall spring
from the natural need of men to help one another; not socialism from
the top to the ends of the governors, that they may clamp us tighter in
their fetters. We must stop the economic war, the war for existence of
man against man. That will be the first step in the long climb to
civilisation. They must co-operate, they must learn that it is saner
and more advantageous to help one another than to hinder one another in
the great war against nature. And the tyranny of the feudal money
lords, the unspeakable misery of this war is driving men closer
together into fraternity, co-operation. It is the lower classes,
therefore, that the new world must be founded on. The rich must be
extinguished; with them wars will die. First between rich and poor,
between the exploiter and the exploited....
They have one thing in common, interrupted the blonde Norman,
Humanity.... That is, feebleness, cowardice.
No, indeed. All through the world's history there has been one law
for the lord and another for the slave, one humanity for the lord and
another humanity for the slave. What we must strive for is a true
True, cried Lully, but why take the longest, the most difficult
road? You say that people are sheep; they must be driven. I say that
you and I and our American friends here are not sheep. We are capable
of standing alone, of judging all for ourselves, and we are just
ordinary people like anyone else.
Oh, but look at us, Lully! interrupted Merrier. We are too weak
and too cowardly ...
An example, said Martin, excitedly leaning across the table. We
none of us believe that war is right or useful or anything but a
hideous method of mutual suicide. Have we the courage of our own
As I said, Merrier took up again, I have too little faith to be
an anarchist, but I have too much to believe in religion. His tin cup
rapped sharply on the table as he set it down.
No, Lully continued, after a pause, it is better for man to
worship God, his image on the clouds, the creation of his fancy, than
to worship the vulgar apparatus of organised life, government. Better
sacrifice his children to Moloch than to that society for the
propagation and protection of commerce, the nation. Oh, think of the
cost of government in all the ages since men stopped living in
marauding tribes! Think of the great men martyred. Think of the thought
trodden into the dust.... Give man a chance for once. Government should
be purely utilitarian, like the electric light wires in a house. It is
a method for attaining peace and comforta bad one, I think, at that;
not a thing to be worshipped as God. The one reason for it is the
protection of property. Why should we have property? That is the
central evil of the world.... That is the cancer that has made life a
hell of misery until now; the inflated greed of it has spurred on our
nations of the West to throw themselves back, for ever, perhaps, into
the depths of savagery.... Oh, if people would only trust their own
fundamental kindliness, the fraternity, the love that is the strongest
thing in life. Abolish property, and the disease of the desire for it,
the desire to grasp and have, and you'll need no government to protect
you. The vividness and resiliency of the life of man is being fast
crushed under organisation, tabulation. Over-organisation is death. It
is disorganisation, not organisation, that is the aim of life.
I grant that what all of you say is true, but why say it over and
over again? André Dubois talked, striding back and forth beside the
table, his arms gesticulating. His compound shadow thrown by the
candles on the white wall followed him back and forth, mocking him with
huge blurred gestures. The Greek philosophers said it and the Indian
sages. Our descendants thousands of years from now will say it and
wring their hands as we do. Has not someone on earth the courage to
act?... The men at the table turned towards him, watching his tall
figure move back and forth.
We are slaves. We are blind. We are deaf. Why should we argue, we
who have no experience of different things to go on? It has always been
the same: man the slave of property or religion, of his own shadow....
First we must burst our bonds, open our eyes, clear our ears. Now we
know nothing but what we are told by the rulers. Oh, the lies, the
lies, the lies, the lies that life is smothered in! We must strike once
more for freedom, for the sake of the dignity of man. Hopelessly,
cynically, ruthlessly we must rise and show at least that we are not
taken in; that we are slaves but not willing slaves. Oh, they have
deceived us so many times. We have been such dupes, we have been such
You are right, said the blonde Norman sullenly; we have all been
A sudden self-consciousness chilled them all to silence for a while.
Without wanting to, they strained their ears to hear the guns. There
they were, throbbing loud, unceasing, towards the north, like hasty
Cease; drain not to its dregs the wine,
Of bitter Prophecy.
The world is weary of its past.
Oh, might it die or rest at last.
All through the talk snatches from Hellas had been running
through Howe's head.
After a long pause he turned to Merrier and asked him how he had
fared in the attack.
Oh, not so badly. I brought my skin back, said Merrier, laughing.
It was a dull business. After waiting eight hours under gas
bombardment we got orders to advance, and so over we went with the
barrage way ahead of us. There was no resistance where we were. We took
a lot of prisoners and blew up some dugouts and I had the good luck to
find a lot of German chocolate. It came in handy, I can tell you, as no
ravitaillement came for two days. We just had biscuits and I toasted
the biscuits and chocolate together and had quite good meals, though I
nearly died of thirst afterwards.... We lost heavily, though, when they
An' no one of you were touched?
Luck.... But we lost many dear friends. Oh, it's always like that.
Look what I brought backa German gun, said André Dubois, going
to the corner of the room.
That's some souvenir, said Tom Randolph, sitting up suddenly,
shaking himself out of the reverie he had been sunk in all through the
talk of the evening.
And I have three hundred rounds. They'll come in handy some day.
In the revolutionafter the war.
That's the stuff I like to hear, cried Randolph, getting to his
feet. Why wait for the war to end?
Why? Because we have not the courage.... But it is impossible until
after the war.
And then you think it is possible?
Will it accomplish anything?
One last bottle of champagne, cried Merrier.
They seated themselves round the table again. Martin took in at a
glance the eager sunburned faces, the eyes burning with hope, with
determination, and a sudden joy flared through him.
Oh, there is hope, he said, drinking down his glass. We are too
young, too needed to fail. We must find a way, find the first step of a
way to freedom, or life is a hollow mockery.
To Revolution, to Anarchy, to the Socialist state, they all cried,
drinking down the last of the champagne. All the candles but one had
guttered out. Their shadows swayed and darted in long arms and
changing, grotesque limbs about the room.
But first there must be peace, said the Norman, Jean Chenier,
twisting his mouth into a faintly bitter smile.
Oh, indeed, there must be peace.
Of all slaveries, the slavery of war, of armies, is the bitterest,
the most hopeless slavery. Lully was speaking, his smooth brown face
in a grimace of excitement and loathing. War is our first enemy.
But oh, my friend, said Merrier, we will win in the end. All the
people in all the armies of the world believe as we do. In all the
minds the seed is sprouting.
Before long the day will come. The tocsin will ring.
Do you really believe that? cried Martin. Have we the courage,
have we the energy, have we the power? Are we the men our ancestors
No, said Dubois, crashing down on the table with his fist; we are
merely intellectuals. We cling to a mummified world. But they have the
power and the nerve.
The stupid average working-people.
We only can combat the lies, said Lully; they are so easily
duped. After the war that is what we must do.
Oh, but we are all such dupes, cried Dubois. First we must fight
the lies. It is the lies that choke us.
* * * * *
It was very late. Howe and Tom Randolph were walking home under a
cold white moon already well sunk in the west; northward was a little
flickering glare above the tops of the low hills and a sound of firing
as of muffled drums beaten hastily.
With people like that we needn't despair of civilisation, said
With people who are young and aren't scared you can do lots.
We must come over and see those fellows again. It's such a relief
to be able to talk.
And they give you the idea that something's really going on in the
world, don't they?
Oh, it's wonderful! Think that the awakening may come soon.
We might wake up to-morrow and ...
It's too important to joke about; don't be an ass, Tom.
They rolled up in their blankets in the silent barn and listened to
the drum-fire in the distance. Martin saw again, as he lay on his side
with his eyes closed, the group of men in blue uniforms, men with eager
brown faces and eyes gleaming with hope, and saw their full red lips
moving as they talked.
The candle threw the shadows of their heads, huge, fantastic, and of
their gesticulating arms on the white walls of the kitchen. And it
seemed to Martin Howe that all his friends were gathered in that room.
They say you sell shoe-laces, said Martin, his eyes blinking in
the faint candlelight.
Crouched in the end of the dugout was a man with a brown skin like
wrinkled leather, and white eyebrows and moustaches. All about him were
piles of old boots, rotten with wear and mud, holding fantastically the
imprints of the toes and ankle-bones of the feet that had worn them.
The candle cast flitting shadows over them so that they seemed to move
back and forth faintly, as do the feet of wounded men laid out on the
floor of the dressing-station.
I'm a cobbler by profession, said the man. He made a gesture with
the blade of his knife in the direction of a huge bundle of leather
laces that hung from a beam above his head. I've done all those since
yesterday. I cut up old boots into laces.
Helps out the five sous a bit, said Martin, laughing.
This post is convenient for my trade, went on the cobbler, as he
picked out another boot to be cut into laces, and started hacking the
upper part off the worn sole. At the little hut, where they pile up
the stiffs before they bury themyou know, just to the left outside
the abrithey leave lots of their boots around. I can pick up any
number I want. With a clasp-knife he was cutting the leather in a
spiral, paring off a thin lace. He contracted his bushy eyebrows as he
bent over his work. The candlelight glinted on the knife blade as he
twisted it about dexterously.
Yes, many a good copain of mine has had his poor feet in those
boots. What of it? Some day another fellow will be making laces out of
mine, eh? He gave a wheezy, coughing laugh.
I guess I'll take a pair. How much are they?
The coins glinted in the light of the candle as they clinked in the
man's leather-blackened palm.
Good-bye, said Martin. He walked past men sleeping in the bunks on
either side as he went towards the steps.
At the end of the dugout the man crouched on his pile of old
leather, with his knife that glinted in the candlelight dexterously
carving laces out of the boots of those who no longer needed them.
There is no sound in the poste de secours. A faint greenish light
filters down from the quiet woods outside. Martin is kneeling beside a
stretcher where lies a mass of torn blue uniform crossed in several
places by strips of white bandages clotted with dark blood. The massive
face, grimed with mud, is very waxy and grey. The light hair hangs in
clots about the forehead. The nose is sharp, but there is a faint smile
about the lips made thin by pain.
Is there anything I can get you? asks Martin softly.
Nothing. Slowly the blue eyelids uncover hazel eyes that burn
But you haven't told me yet, how's Merrier?
A shell ... dead ... poor chap.
And the anarchist, Lully?
Why ask? came the faint rustling voice peevishly. Everybody's
dead. You're dead, aren't you?
No, I'm alive, and you. A little courage.... We must be cheerful.
It's not for long. To-morrow, the next day.... The blue eyelids
slip back over the crazy burning eyes and the face takes on again the
waxen look of death.
PRINTED BY THE ANCHOR PRESS, LTD., TIPTREE, ESSEX, ENGLAND