Reinhold at the Front
by Paul Alverdes
From Changed Men, by Paul Alverdes, translated
from German to English by Basil Creighton.
Reinhold Oder Die Verwandelten, Munich: Georg Muller
Verlag, 1932, London: Martin Secker Ltd., 1933.
NOT long before his death, Reinhold and some two hundred others who
had volunteered for the war were marching with Corporal Kompes at their
head along the towing path of a canal in Artois which was half
overgrown with coltsfoot and hemlock. They were a draft for a Rhineland
artillery regiment which had stayed where it was ever since the armies
had dug in. It was the end of April, 1915, and the chestnuts were just
in blossom. Corporal Kompes, who had been detailed to conduct the draft
of recruits from the railhead where they arrived fatigued by lack of
sleep after a long journey on bare wooden benches, belonged to this
regiment. Yet he wore a Lancer's tunic, and the striped trousers,
stuffed into down-trodden though highly polished riding boots, would
have gone better with a smart morning coat. On his head at a rakish
angle was a small round cap of faded grey, and he had a bright blue
silk scarf wound round his copper-red neck. It was tied beneath his
chin in a knot the size of a cherry-stone. A peeled willow wand, which
served him as a riding switch, waved aloft from the leg of his left
boot. In this get-up he jogged along on a tubby brown gelding at the
head of the batch of recruits without a word said or a glance behind;
while they hurried and stumbled after him in twos and threes as the
path allowed. Now and again one or other of them was edged down the
slope of the bank towards the brown sluggish water and then, exhausted,
came to a stop in the long grass, not sorry to wait until he could fall
in again at the rear of the column.
Reinhold was in a state of suspense. They had been told that they
were now only a few thousand yards behind the front line. But all
around them was utter silence. Listen as he might, not a shout nor a
shot was to be heard, nor a soldier to be seen. Tall, rank grass of a
deeper green than he ever remembered seeing, luxuriant creeping plants
with stem and tendril tightly and smoothly coiled like snakes over
broken-down hedges or rusted iron railings, fold upon fold of
impenetrable thickets shimmering in a breeze that rose and fell, this
was all that met his eye on every side. Later the ruins of houses were
to be seen lying in disconsolate heaps in the leafy solitude, or the
more extensive wreckage of a factory surmounted by gaunt and jagged
gables and gaping roofs. It looked as though they were in the track of
a great fire, and Reinhold even thought he detected that smell of
singed rags and embers still glowing beneath the spent ash which ever
since his boyhood had always stirred him to roving fancies of hidden
crime and mysterious happenings. He remembered how, with a toy pistol
cocked in his pocket, shaken by fear and yet irresistibly drawn on, he
used anxiously to explore many an uncanny spot in the fields outside
the town when autumn mists hung over them There were forsaken
brickfields and tumble down lime-kilns, or the ruins of a deserted
factory. Rats rustled by and rubbish-heaps ran in little cascades
under their feet. Bvery weed-choked threshold suggested murder and hid
the secret of agonising death. Here it was the same. Where in this
haunted solitude were the guns, he asked himself. Where were the
horse-lines? Where was all the infantry concealed? Perhaps, he
thought, we are bluffing the enemy and are very weak on this part of
the front, and it is high time we came. Or else our fellows are lying
worn out and weary in their hiding-places and we are too late and they
will mock at us. And the Corporal with his tailored trousers, his
Lancer's tunic that flouted military regulations, and the greasy cap
looking as if it were smeared with flour, a cap for a baker and not for
a soldier, in Reinhold's opinion—didn't all this point to hopeless
demoralisation of the troops and rank insubordination?
Reinhold wore a tin helmet with a spread eagle on the front. This
bird, however, went hooded into battle, for he dwelt in the perpetual
darkness of a linen cover. The helmet wobbled on Reinhold's head at
every step, like an inverted basin on a windy gate-post, as though the
eagle struggled in the darkness to take flight for home. For this
reason Reinhold had let down the chin-strap, though it made him hot.
All the same he would have been glad to see no caps at all out there,
and nothing but helmets.
It was getting on for evening when he noticed infantry marching in
column on a road some distance away across the canal—battalion after
battalion. He was horrified to see that they were marching to the rear
with their backs to the enemy; and after them came artillery with all
their guns and baggage train, carts heaped high with all sorts of
utensils and even furniture, as though the war were over as far as they
were concerned and they were off home without a thought for anyone else.
Reinhold could not understand how a movement to the rear could
possibly be permitted at this distance from the enemy, and he began to
have a hideous doubt of the vigilance of those in command. The only
hope was that the retirement was merely apparent and that in reality it
was a turning movement which would enable them after a successful ruse
to fall more disastrously upon the foe. He wished he could go to the
edge of the canal and shout across to them for confirmation of this
hope. But they swung clattering by, black with a golden mist of dust
behind them, and did not seem even to see the newcomers.
All at once Reinhold sprang out from the silently plodding column
and clattered panting up the steep side of the embankment, half blinded
by the rim of his helmet which at the first step had been jerked down
over his nose. He was going to urge Corporal Kompes to hasten onwards.
He very nearly barged into the hindquarters of the horse, for at that
moment Kompes stopped and raising himself in the stirrups leant forward
a little, while his mount straddled its legs and made water copiously.
At this the men fell out along the path and among the poplars;
Reinhold pushed his helmet back from his forehead and, feeling rather
ashamed of himself, followed their example. It began to dawn upon him
that nothing was going to turn out in the least as any of them had
expected or could have imagined.
Döries, another war volunteer, was marching not far from Reinhold.
He was a thoroughly ugly fellow with an undershot jaw and an immensely
wide mouth, and his thin lips, always moist, were encircled by a
colourless strawky down. He wore shooting spectacles, as they were
called—not a very becoming apparatus. The steel hooks were lengthened
by broad bands of grey elastic which were drawn tight and made his
unusually large ears stick out all the more emphatically, so that the
light shone through them in a ruddy glow. Where the steel hooks joined
the lenses there was a small hinge moving on the arc of a circle, and
by this means it was possible to adjust the lenses vertically at any
desired angle to the eyes. If, for example, Döries was lying on his
stomach with his face to the ground and wished to direct his eyes to
the front he had only to adjust his spectacles to the corresponding
angle. He was not a little delighted with this wonderful mechanical
resource and therefore he always had it on his nose, even when the
prospect of having to lie on his stomach and look out to his front was
extremely remote. For in his opinion it gave him the air of being a
picked man to whom the care and employment of a particularly delicate
and dangerous implement of warfare had been entrusted.
In fact, however, he did not even know how to fire a gun and still
less how to hit anything. He was indeed the only one of the batch who,
after a short trial, was not allowed to have any further training in
gunnery. For he was a bit weak in the head and often incapable of
grasping the simplest facts, let alone of retaining them, and it was
said that as a child he had for a long time been considered a mental
defective. He was the son of a very well-to-do father and therefore
had been able to go from school to school and from coach to coach.
Nevertheless when the war broke out the united efforts of all
concerned had not succeeded in getting him above the third form. He
was then twenty years old and as strong as a horse.
But when Lieutenant Wessel told him in the barrack square that
nothing would ever make a gunner of him, for it would only mean
exposing the infantry of Prussia to the risk of extermination, he was
deeply dismayed. He went very red as he brought his heels together and
said: "Very good, sir," and his chin with its fringe of downy hair
began to tremble uncontrollably. He stood by himself for a moment
blinking hard at the tip of his nose through his shooting spectacles,
looking very pitiful—as he always did whenever he tried to think.
Then his eyes filled and he went off to the stables to report for
other duties, as he had been ordered to do.
This, as a matter of fact, was the only time that his fellows had
seen him upset, for Döries was usually of an imperturbable cheerfulness
and always took the merciless chaff of his comrades with a smile and a
sparkle in his eye as though he enjoyed it. This often disarmed even
the most brutal among them and many of the others felt an irresistible
charm in him. The result was that they all got to like him and
everyone had been delighted when his name was called out among the rest
on the draft.
Kranz alone, the beautiful Kranz, or the Bridal Wreath, as he was
called, disliked and even loathed him. Not that he let him see it, but
he avoided him whenever he could, and never spoke a word to him if he
could help it.
Kranz was an art student and meant to be a sculptor. He was the
only one of the batch who was marching in boots of his own, made of red
Russian leather, and in highly polished leggings of the same material.
He had also had his own cover made for his helmet and it fitted
tightly without a crease. This gave him the air of an officer or a
Fähnrich at a distance and Corporal Kompes no sooner set eyes on him in
the railway station than he decided to take it out of him for this
get-up. His face was small and his features delicate; his forehead
clear and wide; his eyes large and of the purest blue. With the boyish
complexion beneath his thick brown hair he might have been called
really good-looking but for his impassive and even frigid expression.
He was well made and his movements had such an air of breeding that
even his garrison uniform—the greasy blue overcoat patched with old
bits of horse cloth, the trousers green with age and the down-trodden
boots of glass-hard leather—looked as though it had been made to
"Idiots are always happy," he would say contemptuously of Döries,
or: "Have you ever seen a loony who didn't grin?" But he himself was
far from gloomy. True, shortly before the draft left, as he sat on the
table in the recruits' barrack-room in a spotless white shirt and well
cut breeches, he showed them a tube containing a whitish powder or
rather, as a closer inspection showed, minute crystals in the form of
tiny bars. He was in the act of sewing it into the lining of his
overcoat together with his first-aid dressing.
"As far as I'm concerned," he said in explanation, as he held it out
once more for inspection, "anyone who likes may stump round later on
without a leg or two. For myself, I don't care about that. One or two
of these crystals on the tongue or just scattered on the wound and it's
all up in a second without your needing even to swallow them." He spoke
with an air of complete indifference and they all looked with envy and
horror at the deadly drug and grudgingly watched it disappear in the
lining of Kranz's coat.
In spite of this, his comrades thought of the beautiful Kranz only
as a favourite of fortune, the darling of women and children, as they
said of him in a phrase which was then much in vogue with them. The
originator of it was a strong man who went the round of the Fairs, a
colossal and hairy monstrosity, and he laid claim to this title on his
bills. His comrades meant by it, however, the mysterious and to them
utterly inexplicable gift that Kranz had of pleasing and charming
without knowing when or how he did it.
One day, for example, the commandant of the garrison, a retired
general, turned up unexpectedly to inspect the recruits. He was as old
as a raven, and as he waddled about on his bow legs he expressed, in a
tearful voice, his dissatisfaction with even the smartest performances
on the horizontal bar and the most astonishing familiarity with the
Morse code. Kranz alone, who could do nothing of all this, held his
attention. He was asked his name, his antecedents and his age. "Very
good, very good indeed," the old boy said for no earthly reason, looked
him up and down once more from head to foot with his blood-shot eyes
and stumped along to the next squad of recruits, who stood glazed with
suspense; but he did not appear even to see them.
It was even more incomprehensible that the old soldiers, who were
held in greater awe than all the generals and sergeant-majors put
together accepted Kranz from the first as one of themselves. They even
allowed him to address them in the second person singular and to go
into their barrack-room at any hour without knocking and pay the homage
due from all recruits to the emblem of their power and dignity. This
was a large sheep's bone stained brown with age and tobacco smoke which
hung by a rusty chain from the roof of their room.
Kranz got whole bunches of letters by every post in envelopes of the
most extravagant shapes. They were often sealed four or five times over
in silver and gold or in iridescent hues and written on paper of
delicate or even startlingly loud colours and nearly all of them had to
do with assignations. Kranz could not always help two or more such
appointments coinciding and this compelled him to take his fellows into
his confidence and to ask their assistance.
Sometimes on such occasions Reinhold gave his coat a careful
brushing, ran his buttons once more through the button-stick, put on
spurs, although they were forbidden, and girded on his sabre. This was
an imposing weapon resurrected from old army stores and stamped with
the year 1813, as broad as a girl's hand, which reached to his arm-pit
when it stood upright on the ground. Thus equipped, he presented
himself at the appointed spot on the old walls or in the public gardens
and there, blushing with confusion, saluted some young lady. He did it
with the utmost reluctance, and only to please Kranz; for very often
she took him for an obviously inexperienced but extremely offensive
little cad and refused even to hear what he had to say. He could only
with great difficulty make himself known as the envoy of his friend
Kranz, who regretted that he would not be off duty until an hour later.
It was his business after that to keep the girl at all costs from the
place where Kranz, in the meanwhile, was occupied with another adorer.
Very often there were three or four others similarly engaged; little
Ziemerer perhaps among them, Ziemerer of the Suebo-Vandalia, of whom
more in another place. It was these multiple concerns with the other
sex that had brought upon Kranz the nickname, Bridal Wreath.
Not all of his affairs, however, were so innocent. One early
morning Kranz sat on his bed, which was next to Reinhold's, examining
his chest and shoulders and sadly shaking his head. He had got back to
barracks on the sly an hour before reveille as he often did; but he
looked as flourishing as usual.
"She'll be the death of me," he said yawning, but putting his hand
before his mouth. "I don't know what she sees in me, but it can't go on
like this. She wants now to hide me in her house and not let me out
till the war's over. She'll go out of her mind, she says, if I go to
the front. It's all one to me and, Lord knows, I can't help it."
They were the marks of kisses, he explained in reply to Reinhold's
anxious question. They looked like rose leaves imprinted by a small
mouth on his bare skin. From this moment Reinhold was more deeply
attached to him than ever. He had a foreboding that he himself would
never reach this goal that defied his imagination and made him tremble
at the mere thought for secret joy and fear. Hence he was proud to be
going to the war in the company of a man like Kranz.
It is true that they all, without excepting Reinhold, frequently
talked in a way that suggested an early and rapturous experience of the
other sex; and the jokes they retailed in this connexion, often in the
open light of day, would have made a harlot blush. In fact, however,
the hundred or two boys who were then marching through Artois to join
their regiment knew little or nothing of these matters from their own
Yet there was one among them who knew something, more indeed than
the Bridal Wreath himself. Or perhaps he, too, knew nothing, but
merely plodded on like a horse and had forgotten all about it long
since. It was Döries; and he was the father of two stout boys, the
children of a servant in his father's house. No one but Kranz, who
lived in the same town, knew about it. And he kept the secret. It was
also the secret, or at least the chief reason, of his dislike of
Döries. For it irked him greatly that he should have so little
advantage in his affairs with women over such a stolid dolt. He could
put down Döries' success to nothing but persistence and physical
importunity; and in this he was right.
Orders to entrain for the front had come through without warning,
and Reinhold kept thinking of that day as he marched behind the
idiotically smiling Döries and Kranz whose silence was profound. The
knife, for example, which he had pushed down the leg of his boot
pressed on his calf and began to hurt him as he walked. He had bought
it, only a few hours before they marched off, from Herr Siebenmühl who
kept a shop where you could buy soldiers' necessaries and articles of
It was a knife with a fixed blade, a small sword indeed, about a
foot long, furnished with a jagged stag's-horn handle which was more
romantic to look at than comfortable to hold. A little tongue of
bright red flannel was impaled on the blade with the object of
preventing damp getting into the leather sheath.
"Look at the shape of the blade, my young hero," Herr Siebenmühl had
said, going on to demonstrate to Reinhold that it might be thought of
as a rhomboid—a form that made the knife particularly appropriate to
hand-to-hand encounters, "for we don't of course want a bread
knife—no, no, not a bread knife."
Reinhold had not known what to reply; he did not welcome the thought
of hand-to-hand encounters, for he had small hope of tackling a grown
man hand-to-hand even with a knife whose blade was rhomboidal in form.
Reinhold was seventeen years old, not very tall and rather
narrow-shouldered. He had had his hair cut so short that it looked
almost white against his thin and serious boy's face. He spoke very
fast and eagerly and this made him stammer and trip over his words. He
had a lively imagination which had tormented him from boyhood with
forebodings of death and pain to come. Hence he was very fond of
talking and often could not help expressing himself in a cheeky and
impudent way; for as long as he was talking he could be merry and that
was what he liked. When the news of war came he was lying in bed and
shamming sick. Then he suddenly had the feeling of lying on his
death-bed and wept for a while from exaltation and self-pity.
Afterwards, however, he could not rest until he got to the regimental
depot of the garrison and was allowed to put on a faded tunic smelling
of sweat and leather and polish which still bore the name of its late
owner sewn into the lining. It was printed on a square linen tab with
a black surround like a death announcement.
And then one day the moment came when they fell in in two ranks
along the interminable corridor of the barracks; and Lieutenant Wessel,
who, owing to an abdominal wound which had never healed properly, was
fit only for garrison duty, inspected them with a ceremonious but very
grave air, wearing a helmet and white gloves. Then he began to read
out from a small blue note-book the names of those who were on the
An immense elation had taken possession of them that day. Instead
of speaking they addressed one another in shouts. Their arms swept the
air like sword blades and their eyes burned too brightly. It was as
though their instinct warned them that their fate was sealed and they
strove against it with all their might. So they gave their voices full
play, perhaps for the last time, and let their eyes glance with all the
joy of life. It was this, too, that made each one leap from the ranks
with a bound as his name was called as if an abyss had to be cleared,
and answer to it with a shout.
This was how it was that little Ziemerer lost his balance and fell
headlong on the boarded floor of the corridor. The boards had been
trodden and scoured by generation after generation of soldiers long
since forgotten, and only the nails that fastened the boards down
maintained the original level, each surrounded by a little mound of
wood. But on this occasion Ziemerer's tumble aroused no laughter. They
were all silent and looked to the front to avoid each other's eyes.
Wessel also, merely gave a fleeting glance, passing it over with an
upward twitch of his left eyebrow, and then his voice broke the silence
as he called out the next man's name. Ziemerer, with the marks of the
nails on his face and some of the sand off the floor round his mouth,
got to his feet looking a little paler than usual, brushed the dust
from his trousers and stepped back into the ranks with lips tightly
Later Reinhold went to his pack and took out of it the box
containing his washing things, also a small looking-glass and a long,
narrow notebook with the word Diary printed on it above the flags of
the allied armies waving in the wind. As, however, they were crossed,
the artist had thought proper to give a separate and opposing wind to
each of the two flapping banners. Reinhold put all these articles back
on the top shelf of his cupboard at home, thinking that he would have
no further use for them. Now he began to regret it and he decided to
send home for them at the first opportunity.
It was a cold night in early spring and the stars climbed up the
sky. Waiting with the rest among the ruins of a small village to be
detailed for service with the different batteries of the regiment was
Ziemerer. They all sat silent in a long row on the ground, sheltered
from the wind by the wreckage of a house. Ziemerer only sat by himself
on the far side of a ditch choked with debris. The collar of his
voluminous grey overcoat was turned up and his helmet pushed down over
his eyes, as though he wished to see nothing. His pack rested on his
knees like a box and he hugged it jealously in his arms.
Ziemerer was not much liked. His body was short and so were his
limbs and he had a long thin neck and a small face like a hare's with
distrustful half-closed eyes. He came from a very poor home and his
youth had been a hard and joyless one. For nine years he had gone to
the grammar-school, where he had a scholarship, in the huge boots and
the old clothes, cut down to fit him, which his elder brother had cast
off. Hence he had become timid and secretly a little too pleased with
himself, although when he raised his nose to sniff the air and glanced
rapidly round with his furtive eyes he seemed to be on the scent of
some concealed merriment at his own expense. Then while he was at the
University he was left some money by an uncle and he decided to join a
smart students' corps. Thus the Suebo-Vandalia became not merely the
emblem but the very essence of his existence. The years he had lost in
poverty receded as though by magic; and they were not really lost for
they warmed and nerved him to sevenfold enjoyment of the passing hour
when he sat at the bare wooden table of the Suebo-Vandalia club-room,
amid the uproarious din and the smoke, and joined in the chorus in his
croaking voice. "Was macht der Herr Papa?" they sang swaying in time.
"Was macht die Frau Mama?" and then: "Was macht der Pi Pa Herr Papa,
was macht die Mi Ma Frau Mama?" or: "Sassa Geschmauset, lasst uns nicht
rappelköpfig sein!" On these occasions Ziemerer, like the rest, wore a
braided jacket of hussar blue with black cording and a small brightly
embroidered cap, and he too, like all the rest, loved everybody all
round the table as he had never in his life loved anybody before.
Every man of them was a Suebo-Vandal. And there he sat and knew no
care except that all this should ever come to an end.
The cap was very small and as light as a feather, and it had to be
worn on the back of the head. This made it necessary to walk with care
even in the street—with a stiff neck and undeviating glance. And they
had got the nickname, in the small university town, of
head-back-balancers. For all that, Ziemerer's happiness lasted only
for one term and then, like all the other Suebo-Vandals, he became a
He had kept his balanced gait, however, and one other peculiarity
that did not make him popular with his fellows. Whenever he had the
chance he slipped out of barracks to some little bar on the outskirts
of the town and drank as much beer as he could hold or pay for. He did
not enjoy it much all by himself, and it did not improve him either.
Nevertheless he went back again and again and sat at the bar window
with his eyes pinched up and drummed the tunes of the old songs with
his fingers on the counter. He came back to barracks looking as white
as a cheese but in fairly good order, balancing the back of his head on
which was perched now a peakless forage-cap of faded blue.
Unfortunately the iron beds were set in pairs one above the other like
bunks, and it often happened that he had no time to climb down or else,
fuddled with beer, forgot where he was in a manner that was thoroughly
distressing for the fellow who was sleeping below.
So one night they all assembled before his bunk with candles and
carpet-beating canes in their hands in order to tell him what they
thought of him for bringing the whole room into disrepute by his
disgusting habits. Ziemerer, his hair tousled, a malicious twinkle in
his green eyes, and the bed clothes pulled up to the tip of his sharp
nose, listened to their angry recriminations. "Now, children," he said
thickly with a contemptuous wave of his hand as he lifted up his
fuddled head, "clear out, all the lot of you. You're only small fry
and poor things and you know nothing about it. No one who hasn't lived
a student's life has lived at all or is worth talking to." But suddenly
his face went an even deeper green and he uttered a cry of anguish like
a wailing child; they scattered hastily in all directions as Ziemerer
in his scanty night-shirt shot from his bunk like lightning and made
for the door.
After this he found every night that his bed had been lifted down
and pushed into the corner behind the door with the pails and brooms.
So there he lay by himself, unable sometimes to sleep for
mortification. He did not consider either his debauches or their
consequences as any dishonour, for it was not as though he drank for
drinking's sake. He was merely holding aloft the banner of the
Suebo-Vandalia in sadness and solitude and the others had no right to
interfere with his ceremonial libations. Yet they most improperly
menaced him with an apparition of the Holy Ghost, as whose ministrants
they wielded carpet-beaters and leather belts, and he had to put up
with it. He decided to demand satisfaction of them all with pistols
after the war—in so far at least as they might by then have acquired
the right to give it.
But what hurt him perhaps most of all was that he now shared no
longer in the talks that were often kept up far into the night, nor in
all the childish fun for which their exuberant youth still found energy
after the hard day's training. For in reality he had remained a child
and would dearly have liked to join in. He seemed to go suddenly deaf
when they all laughed, or he tried to express his bottomless contempt
for the whole world in general, and for all of it that was not
Suebo-Vandalia in particular, by turning down the corners of his mouth
and, when the occasion seemed to warrant it, by a repeated puffing
through his nose.
At last, he scarcely exchanged a word with any of them and lived a
life entirely apart from theirs. More and more frequently he returned
to his corner among the brooms with signs of his ceremonial debauches
on his face, taking care only to keep his head correctly balanced
through the shifting haze of beer.
Now, however, the beautiful Kranz strode abruptly up to him in the
darkness and bent right down to look in his face.
"That you, Ziemerer?" he asked. "Come over to us, man. We shall be
falling in any moment and we want to make sure of all getting to the
Ziemerer got up, pushed back his helmet and without raising his eyes
stared at Kranz's chest. With a sideways gesture of his hands he tried
to express his contempt for this overture. Fortunately, however, the
sleeves of his coat came down over his fingers and so Kranz was not
able to make much of his gesture and perhaps did not wish to.
"Have a smoke, Ziemerer?" he asked under cover of the darkness, and
held out a packet of cigarettes. Ziemerer seemed to have become
"With pleasure. Many thanks," he croaked, making a curt bow and
raising his hand to the rim of his helmet. He trembled so violently
that he knocked the packet out of Kranz's hand. "Oh," he said
helplessly with a foolish laugh, and as both bent down their heads
collided with a crash that sent their helmets rolling in the mud.
Fortunately Reinhold came along. The others had sent him after Kranz,
for every one of the two hundred nursed a burning desire to be sent to
the same battery as the Bridal Wreath. Reinhold gladly unfastened the
superfluously large electric torch which he carried about with him
suspended between the second and fifth button of his tunic. This too
had come from Siebenmühl's shop. Instead of a bulb it had a fine glass
lens with a metal shutter over it painted grey, which could be shut
down half way or three-quarter way or altogether. A second and not
less valuable device made it possible to show a yellow, a green or a
red light and the fortunes of the present war depended very largely, in
Siebenmühl's opinion, on a proper use of these possibilities. The
price of a torch like this was naturally considerable, and so, too, was
its weight, as Reinhold had discovered; for he had worn it on his chest
during the whole march in readiness for use. Now he was glad of an
opportunity to use it. With secret joy he opened the shutter to
three-quarters of its extent and after brief consideration chose the
green light. Unfortunately, however, while they were all three
searching the ground, Corporal Kompes came back with a strange N.C.O.
He had gone off somewhere leading his horse and there had received
orders to take the batch of recruits allotted to his battery up to the
firing position that very night.
"Out with that light, you bloody fools," he said roughly. "Out with
that light, and get ready to move off. You'll see your God soon enough
Ziemerer of the Suebo-Vandalia, however, was from that moment one of
the rest and they kept together until the end.
The four guns of the battery stood in an old bean-field. They were
not dug in, but each was trellised over with laths and wire and bean
stems tightly woven together and almost overgrown with quickly growing
creepers which the gunners had sown. A cloth, painted green, hung by
day in front of the muzzles. It was forbidden to remove it except when
the guns were fired. This was not often in those days. The white
ruins of a small farm were to be seen among some chestnut trees beyond
the bean-field. The cellars at the back were used as dugouts by the
gunners. When the alarm was sounded they rushed out pell mell and ran
crowding on one another's heels round the building and across the open
to the guns. Reinhold was detailed to the first gun under the command
of Corporal Kompes; Ziemerer and the beautiful Kranz to the second,
while Döries, with his shooting spectacles, belonged to the fourth.
The first night did not promise well for Reinhold. Feeling his way
down behind Kompes, he found himself in an underground chamber dimly
illuminated by a smoky stable lantern. There at a table of rough
planks sat a young soldier with a melancholy face and the headpiece of
a telephone fixed over his ears. Now and again he wrote something down
rapidly in a note-book. The forms of sleeping men could be discerned
in the gloom beyond on a row of mattresses. They all lay on one side
in the same position and there was no room between them. Reinhold
greeted the man at the telephone with an embarrassed attempt at
familiarity, and throwing off his pack and belt sat down near him at
the table. But the `other stared back with an almost menacing air;
then shook his head over such effrontery and went on writing in his
He was a reservist called Pünnemann and he had been with the battery
since the outbreak of war. Pünnemann was a model soldier and highly
thought of by his fellows and his superior officers. He had shown that
he could be relied upon on all occasions; at the same time he was not
greatly liked. He lived in the constant expectation of death, and
believed that happiness and enjoyment were the forerunners of fate.
Hence he never laughed. He did not even smoke and never drank,
either, when the others drank. Before the war he had long since
forgotten the God of his youthful belief and never said a prayer. But
after his first engagement his faith came back in full force; and he
believed in a God who was lord and ruler of bullets and shells and had
got into the habit of commending himself to him on every occasion.
"If God wills," he would say, "I will go back to-night and fetch the
post," or: "If God wills I will go to the wagon-lines to-morrow and get
a new pair of boots." Also he spoke in a subdued voice, trod
noiselessly and moved about with caution, for though he called upon God
in deadly earnest he had no desire to stand in need of his protection.
It was only when jokes were made in his presence that he was roused to
anger; and then the offenders were sternly told off. The lousy fools,
he said, who found anything there to laugh at would soon meet with
their reward, but he would teach them not to involve the innocent. And
he had in truth taught them more than once, for he was a big fellow and
as strong as a horse.
Reinhold's cheerful face enraged him at once, for he did not see
that it disguised as much timidity as embarrassment. For the moment he
said nothing and merely looked at him now and again in a threatening
manner; but he regarded it as a proper punishment following upon the
heels of frivolity when Reinhold shortly afterwards tried in vain to
cut himself a slice from the ration loaf, which Kompes had put in front
of him, with Herr Siebenmühl's knife. The rhomboidal shape of the
blade now came out in its true colours. It was impossible to draw it
across the loaf and all that Reinhold could do, while Pünnemann watched
him with growing satisfaction, was to make a few crumbs and an ugly
"Let me look at it," Kompes said after a moment. "A nice thing," he
said as he examined it with envy, "but it's a hog-spear, not a
bread-knife. What do you want with it here?" Reinhold had no idea.
Feeling very foolish he wiped the moist crumbs off it and put it back
in the leg of his boot. He was very hungry, but he could not bring
himself to ask for another knife.
Kompes was very content to leave it at that. He had a knife so sharp
that it went through a fresh army loaf as easily as through butter. He
decided to lend it to the boy next time or to cut the bread for him
himself. But not that night, for it was a fixed notion with Kompes
that young soldiers had first of all to learn to know their God. He
made frequent use of this expression and it embraced a great deal. The
whole war, for example, had no other purpose whatever but to teach
people to know their God. It was a bad sign, however, if they were too
eager about it—a sign of youthful effrontery and pushfulness. For
Kompes himself was no lover of this God; indeed he would have given a
lot never to have been compelled to get to know him. However, there he
was and Kompes had got used to him. He would not have been sorry if
all recruits on their first appearance at the gun-position had received
five-and-twenty on their backsides in the presence of the whole
battery, in order to shorten the process of getting to know their God.
After this preliminary he would have been ready to take charge of them
forthwith like a father, and already he had carried more than one of
them back at the risk of his life, when they were hit. Corporal Kompes
was in the Landwehr and had a wife and seven children at home.
Later Reinhold came upon the others outside against the wall. The
light of the moon was partly veiled in clouds, and for the first time
they saw Very lights in the distance constantly rising and falling. A
confused noise could be heard on all sides, the rumbling of wheels, and
the tramp and clatter of men on the march quite close at hand. From
far and near came calls and shouts, quavering and long-drawn-out, and
now and then bullets whistled overhead. But they, shivering with cold
and fatigue, the breath steaming from their mouths, stood silently
together with their coat-collars turned up and looked anxiously into
the distance. Döries alone was as cheerful as ever. He had made up
his mind that the enemy trenches over there were held by niggers.
"They come over every night with knives," he told them with glee, and
cut the sentries' throats. Then they crawl back taking the heads with
Reinhold gave a start, and had to lean against the wall for a
moment. He felt as though a knife were being drawn across his throat.
I have no luck, he thought as he lay down to sleep later on a
mattress. Kompes had found a place for him between two bearded
Landwehr men who had grunted and grumbled loudly in their sleep when
they were pushed aside. Now he lay there not daring to move in case he
disturbed them. All the same he was proud to lie between such fellows.
He was still trembling and nearly in tears for rage and despair over
The reason was that Reinhold before leaving the garrison had several
times been detailed for sentry duty at the prisoners' hospital which
was housed in a school vacated for that purpose. At that time Negroes
and Arabs, whose wounds were not serious, were sent there. They were
gigantic men, black or brown, with long legs and pink palms to their
hands, and this made it seem as though the skin had been removed, so
that they grasped with the naked flesh. They wore gaudy uniforms and
glaring red headgear on their woolly scalps. When he went the round of
the wards, which smelt like cages, they used to try to frighten him
with wild gestures, and gibed at him in their chattering and clucking
speech. But at night they went rustling and creeping down all the
passages into the courtyard and assembled in the outbuildings where the
closets were. There they held counsel or locked themselves in to
practise their obscenities with one another. When according to orders
he came on his rounds to this building they issued from it screaming
and howling, and tried to entice him in with shameless noises.
Reinhold was afraid of them. He was armed only with his clumsy
sabre on which the date 1813 was stamped. It was as heavy in his
boyish grasp as a two-handed sword, and he had no idea how to use it if
it came to a pinch. So, though he carried out his orders by going
every half hour on his solitary rounds, he left them to do what they
liked and reported nothing either, because he was ashamed of his
helplessness. It was then early spring. Leaning against a tree he
waited many a night with longing for the first note of the blackbird
that began to sing while it was still dark from the gable of the
building and announced the close of night's horrors while the stars
Reinhold lay awake for a long time. He had promised himself to be a
good and brave soldier. But it was hard, and hours of agony went by
before he could reconcile himself to the thought of dying by the hand
of a black man, if so it had to be. At last with his face pressed
against the broad shoulder of the man next him he fell asleep.
In spite of all, however, he often in the days that followed felt an
exhilaration rise within him such as he had never known in his life
before. It was almost like sheer happiness. The round of duty,
certainly, was merciless and those in command seemed to forget that
sleep was as much a human necessity as food; or else they didn't care.
Torn from a sleep of utter exhaustion, Reinhold stumbled off with the
others to the guns or to the appointed fatigue He ached acutely in
every limb, and soul and body were so deeply sunk in sleep that all he
wished was to stop a bullet so that he might sleep on there and then
for all eternity. But then came the compulsion to take hold of
something and to brace his body to the strain of lifting some heavy
load in the darkness that almost hid one man from the next or in the
dim unshadowed light of early dawn.
And then a will to endure even when there seemed no point and no
hope, a strength he had never known before, suddenly sprang to life in
him. It started up almost like the rage of despair; he clenched his
teeth together in an iron grip and his eyes smarted with tears. All the
same the change to a deeper understanding went on and it made him glad.
Often, for example, they had to carry long heavy timbers, required
for construction of all kinds, from one place to another under cover of
darkness. Like huge compass needles they swung to and fro and up and
down on his shoulders trying to force him from his path or throw him to
the ground. But he held on and staggered aching under his load through
the mud and over ditches and on into the darkness. As he went he
uttered meaningless words and whole sentences in time with his
breathing. "In Hindustan," he panted as the unplaned wood grazed his
cheek, "the fun began," or "He sank to rest on his mother's breast."
How the nonsense came into his head he did not know. But they were
words of magic and he repeated them over and over again until he could
throw down his load at the end of the journey. Sometimes he met the
Bridal Wreath there, or little Ziemerer. But they did not wait or set
off again at a leisurely pace. Silently and with long strides they ran
back through the darkness to fetch another load. Then he, too, let the
bit of wood slip quickly from his shoulder and stumbled on breathlessly
behind them as though a great joy awaited him.
Another time a heavy trench-mortar which had got stuck in a
shell-hole to one side of the battery had to be hauled out on long
ropes. A dozen or so gunners pulled on each at the command of a little
officer. "Heave!" he shouted to give the time, bending at the knees
and swaying like a dancer. The grey coil of men in the sallow light of
dawn bowed forward and then tugged in one heave; and the monster of
steel at which they pulled reared itself higher and higher out of its
hole. Reinhold strained on the rope till his ears sang and his veins
threatened to burst. Ziemerer was next to him. His face was as white
as chalk and sweat streamed down under his cap, but he laughed and
screwed up his eyes whenever Reinhold looked at him.
Kranz alone seemed this time to be half-hearted. His face was calm
and his skin dry. He seemed to be sparing himself, or play-acting, as
we used to say in those days when a man took it easy while cleverly
assuming an air of great energy. But later when they sat together
outside the dugout, it was found that the skin of his palms was torn to
ribbons and bleeding.
Reinhold loved his country and believed in the righteousness of its
cause. It is true that he was very little acquainted with it, and knew
no more of it than a boy of his age could. He loved it as a God whom
he had never seen and who had never declared himself to him. Perhaps
that was just why he loved it so much.
He had never forgotten a story with the title "God sees all," in the
reading book of his earliest schooldays. It told of a little boy who
crept into his mother's storeroom to steal some sweetened cream.
Suddenly he felt the eye of God directed upon him, and putting the
bowl of cream back upon the shelf he crept out of the room again. The
notion of a God who had created the world and yet regarded a small boy
in his mother's storeroom had deeply stirred Reinhold, and this God
filled him both with wonder and fear.
Later the time came when he ceased to believe in him, or indeed in
anything else. But at once the fear came upon him, and also a complete
lack of zest over all he set about to do, for he did not know what
would come of him in the end. He could not help thinking again and
again of the end, though he could not imagine how it would be. Listless
and absorbed, he let his last years at school pass by like a dream. He
liked best to stare at the eddying snow-flakes outside the window,
sifted down and passing away, or at the never resting, ever changing
play of the leaves on the trees. But even then the thought of God who
saw all often made him uneasy and filled him sometimes with a secret
Then came the war; and his country was revealed to him as a God who
saw all—even him; and watched how he behaved and bore himself, first
in the barrack square and on the gunnery range, and now in this
bean-field and in the landscape of Artois that extended beyond it. And
sometimes it made him happy to think of it.
How it was with the others, he did not know. But little Ziemerer was
no longer ill-tempered and distrustful. He had become good-humoured
and obliging and often, as though for some reason of his own, smiled to
himself with his screwed-up eyes and twisted lips; and the beautiful
Kranz skinned his hands in the darkness when nobody saw or gave him
credit for it. But they never spoke to one another of all this, and
never to the end said a word of their country and its cause.
In those days the front was very quiet and the enemy sent very few
shells over. Only the long distance batteries sought each other out
and their shells came and went from far behind and far in front,
crossing high in the air. But now and then bursts of shrapnel made a
swirl of smoke right over the camouflaged guns or in front of the grove
of chestnuts. In groups of four or six they burst with sudden
unexpectedness in the vacant sky. A yellow flash quivered earthwards,
then passed in smoke and dispersed almost with an effect of
exhilaration, and then fresh bursts hovered and unfolded above the
deserted fields. The old soldiers in those days cared little for them
and soon the newcomers grew accustomed to this phenomenon too, as they
did to a lot else on the ground and above it.
Gunner Biene alone betrayed an unceasing anxiety. Gunner Biene
belonged to Reinhold's gun and shared the same dugout. He was the
tallest man in the battery even if not the handsomest. His
exaggeratedly long legs were certainly parallel with one another, but
unfortunately, instead of being straight, they had a double curve like
the handles of spoons lying together in a case. They were surmounted
by a short body with a chest thrown into exaggerated prominence by an
arched back. His hair was in tight curls and as red as a fox's and he
had a moustache of the same colour, carefully twirled up into points
above his fleshy lips. His face was snow white as though dusted with
lime. Biene was a painter by trade and had volunteered at the
beginning of the war. In spite of all his efforts he had never got used
to the gun-fire. He had now been nearly six months at the front and
had been often in action without disgracing himself. But he had never
learnt to distinguish between the flight of his own and the enemy's
shells or to foretell whether a shell would pitch near by or far off.
In any case, whether it was due to a defect of hearing or whether he
wished to exclude the possibility of error, he never failed at the
first whisper in the air to throw himself down full length on the
ground and to remain there until the explosion was over. Hence even on
the quietest days he was always in a state of exhaustion.
"I don't like the look of it," Biene said to Reinhold one night,
when the hail of shrapnel had been worse than usual. "I don't like the
look of it. There's something coming. They've got something on. You
wait. Before we know where we are they'll be on us. And then we'll be
written off, all the lot of us. I know what I'm talking about, for
this is how it always starts. You don't suppose they have their eyes
open to notice anything. They've never noticed anything yet." Biene
meant the artillery observation officers and the battery staff, which
were quartered a few hundred yards to one side of the battery and gave
the orders to fire.
Reinhold, too, nursed similar apprehensions. Still as on the first
day he saw a lot happening all round him that he couldn't understand,
for no one thought of explaining to him what it was all about. It was
much the same as the day when he played his first game of football. He
had never even heard the rules, but he did not wish to confess his
ignorance and hoped that he would be able to understand the game by the
light of nature. But the opposite was the case. He ran impetuously
after the ball and gave it a kick whenever he could reach it, but he
was only in the way of the others and got nothing but curses and blows
for his pains.
Nevertheless he saw a lot else that he understood very well and it
made him feel apprehensive and perplexed when he thought of his country
that saw all. Many a night as he lay on his mattress he could not help
imagining what he would do if he were a general or the Kaiser. He
always came to the same conclusion—that he would arrange a great many
things very differently.
And then there came the night when he was destined to bring down the
rage of the whole battery on his head. Perhaps the misfortune had
already begun at roll-call, which took place under the chestnuts behind
the farm. The Commanding Officer had come over from his observation
post for the occasion. He was an earnest man with deepset grey eyes in
a sun-burnt face. His features expressed hard-won resolution, he was a
lieutenant in the reserve and a solicitor in a small Rhineland town.
His men loved him and had the utmost confidence in him, Gunner Biene,
in spite of his many apprehensions, not excepted. They called him a
fine fellow or, in order to give him even higher commendation, a fine
dog. All the same, only the older men had the right to allude to him
thus. Döries, for example, who was eager to repeat what he heard
others saying because he had so little to say of his own, remarked one
evening that he was glad to belong to a battery commanded by such a
fine dog. His remark was not received with the approval he expected.
He was told at once that he would get one in the jaw if he ever again
dared to liken the Lieutenant to a dog. Döries did not understand the
reproof, but was very glad to hold his tongue.
Reinhold had only encountered the Lieutenant once or twice, but
these few occasions were enough to inspire a secret hero-worship. On
this particular occasion the officer had already inspected each gun
section and received the customary reports, when he observed Reinhold's
cap. Reinhold had lately taken to wearing it cocked over his left ear
as he had observed was done in the infantry. He meant to express by
this that he was now to be reckoned among the war-tried veterans.
The Lieutenant, however, was terribly upset that evening. A young
officer on his staff, whom he had loved like a brother, had just been
shot in the stomach by a stray bullet and had bled to death there and
then at his side. Without knowing it, he was ready now to relieve his
feelings upon anyone, innocent or guilty, who came in his way. Hence he
fell suddenly upon Reinhold and told him off because of his cap. They
were the Prussian army, not a troop of gypsies, he said. He forebade
such pantomime once for all. He would never tolerate the least lack of
discipline in his battery. What did he mean by wearing his cap in that
incredible manner? Was it out of defiance? This was a war, a war in
bloody earnest, and not a fancy-dress ball. Hadn't he realized that
yet? Thus he went on for some time, adding to Reinhold's pain by
addressing him cuttingly as sir. The Second Lieutenant, who was that
day in command of the guns, stood behind him meanwhile with his
note-book in his hand and tried in vain to look unconcerned.
Reinhold stood by himself three paces to the front and could not
understand it a bit. I didn't mean it, he thought with smarting eyes.
I meant to be a good soldier, on my word of honour, and not a gypsy.
I take great pains, as everyone admits, but you have never noticed
that. Meanwhile he kept silence, as discipline obliged him to do, and
taking off his cap put it on straight.
Kranz, too, wore his cap at an angle. Everyone now looked in his
direction. He stepped three paces smartly out from the ranks and came
to attention at Reinhold's side.
The Lieutenant stepped back and looked at him from head to foot with
"Oh," he said in a quieter voice, "and what do
What's this tomfoolery?" he then suddenly bellowed. "Get back into the
Kranz made an exemplary right-about-turn and marched back to his
place. The end of it was that Reinhold had to spend that night on
guard at the guns in full marching order, helmet on his head and
bayonet at his side—as a field punishment.
When the men had been dismissed and were crowding round for their
letters outside the dugouts, the Commanding Officer came along again.
He walked backwards and forwards under the trees and wiped the leather
band inside his cap with a white pocket handkerchief. While he did so
he glanced irresolutely across at the men. When the Second Lieutenant
sprang smartly towards him he hastily motioned him away, put on his cap
and went slowly away holding his riding switch by the loop.
The night was dark and starless. From time to time rain came down
in a drizzle. Reinhold went to and fro behind the guns in the sallow,
hovering gleam of the Very lights which alternated with a darkness all
the more intense. He had fastened the chin-strap of his helmet tightly
beneath his chin, and he wore his belt with the heavy revolver in its
leathern holster and his bayonet and canvas haversack over which hung
the water-bottle, according to the regulations at that time for men on
sentry duty. But he did not find that his equipment weighed on him.
Rather, the tight strap round his chin and the loaded belt filled him
with a secret warlike joy. His face was set and now when no one saw
him his step was lighter and more elastic than in broad daylight. And
yet there was another feeling—almost a physical sensation. It seemed
to come more or less from where his heart was and to spread from there
through his whole being. It was not quite unlike the physical effect
of fear and yet it was quite different, for it neither impeded his
movements nor made him tremble as fear would. He felt it without
knowing what it was. It was really the nearness of death and the
consent of his being to take death upon it.
Sometimes Reinhold went beneath the trellised camouflage of one of
the guns. There was a smell of oil and grease there as in a workshop.
He laid his hand on the metal of the breech which seemed to exude a
cold sweat, and felt the leather of the lanyard. Sometimes, too, he
shone Siebenmühl's electric torch along one of the muzzles. They were
inclined slightly upwards and all loaded, as the order was for every
night. There was a confused noise from some distant part of the front.
Otherwise all was so still that Reinhold could hear now and then the
gentle whisper of the rain in the grass and on the leaves.
All at once a machine-gun started up in front and as suddenly
ceased. An isolated report or two followed, and then there was silence
again. Soon after there were four noiseless flashes right in front;
then a hundred times in one moment the flashes from the muzzles of the
enemy's guns quivered a sword's length sheer into the sky in front of
him and as far as he could see to right and left. Instantly hundreds
of Very lights soared and spread their ghastly, quavering illumination
and every rifle and machine-gun opened fire at its utmost rapidity. In
a moment the whole front was in a tumult. It blazed and groaned and
shook with explosions. There was a shrill whistling and a screaming
like the screaming of cats; green lights hung linked in the air and the
ghostly patter of the spent fuses danced on the camouflage.
Reinhold's first feeling was that something must be done at once or
else the golden opportunity would be lost. A phrase from the gunnery
regulations also shot dimly through his head. It said that a good
soldier when left to his own resources must know of himself what to do.
So without the loss of a moment he rushed to the nearest gun and fired
it. Half dazed by the terrific report he staggered from under the
camouflage and went on to the next. When he had fired the last of the
four it occurred to him that according to regulations he ought first to
have given the alarm. Shouting as he ran, he made across the open for
the dugouts. Meanwhile the gunners were already stampeding round the
corner of the ruined farm, scattering fan-wise as each ran to his own
Reinhold glowed with ardour. Perhaps the ghost of a young
Commander-in-Chief or some happy warrior of olden time, awakened from
its long sleep, hovered over the fields of Artois and kindled his
boyish soul. "Come on, boys. Give them hell. There's a scrap on over
there." With this he turned back, as he was in danger of being swept
off his feet, and hurried after them. But they did not hear him. In
the raging din not one of them had been able to recognise the report of
their own guns and, perhaps, half dazed with sleep, they did not even
see he was there.
"Stand to your guns," now roared out Lieutenant Engels who was in
command of the guns that night. He gave the first range and target and
they quickly turned the little wheels of the sights, leaning half over
the handspike in a fever of excitement. Then when the command rang out
they pulled off and pulled yet again, for they thought the striker had
refused to act as had often happened before. Meanwhile instead of the
expected thunderous report they heard only the striker's hollow clack.
At each gun the gunners began to blame each other and to flash their
torches into each other's eyes, and each had a different way of
accounting for the misfire. Besides all this, they were drunk with
sleep and half stunned by the ceaseless flash and thunder of explosions
all round them, and so it went on beneath the camouflage of every gun
for a considerable while until one found out that a barrel was hot,
another opened the breach and a third burnt his hand on the smoking
shell-case that was then at once ejected.
During all this time the Second Lieutenant was kneeling behind the
battery with the telephone receiver clapped over his ears. Engels was
a man with a pointed white beard who had seen years of service. He was
a soldier to the backbone. Long before the war he had put in twelve
years' service with the army as a non-commissioned officer, some of
them under the old Kaiser. Earlier he had been proud of this and on
ceremonial occasions had been glad to display the gilt medal with the
medallion of the old Emperor on the obverse side. Nor had he let
himself be put out of countenance by the jesters who were accustomed to
call this medal the Order of the Orange on account of its reddish gold
colour and the frequency of its occurrence. Since the outbreak of the
war, however, he had not been able to feel the same pride in it; and
indeed he underwent a singular transformation which made him look with
positive pain on his military past. For now though he wore the epaulet
of a lieutenant, he had to make it clear to everyone by a small trefoil
on his collar that he was not the same as a real lieutenant. This
irked him all the more because he held the young war-time officers in
secret contempt and was in fact far superior to them in military
experience and capacity—and yet at the same time there was nothing he
more ardently desired than to wear a collar, minus the trefoil, like
theirs. So he seized every opportunity of showing up and putting the
young officers silently to shame. Opportunities were not lacking, but
somehow he had never yet found any real relief.
Now, as he knelt there, he was always starting up as though to run
to the nearest gun, but he could not leave his post and was compelled
to kneel down again. "Here, sir," he yelled down the telephone, and
then shouted to the gunners: "Why don't you fire? Are you out of your
minds? From the left—first gun—fire, damn you." Then with a curse he
had to be silent for he heard the commanding officer's voice at his ear
who, in turn, was in a fever to know why the battery was not firing,
and promised them all a court martial and incarceration as lunatics
without fail on the following morning.
It was utterly in vain that Reinhold tried to make himself
understood. As white as a corpse and in utter consternation at what he
had done, he went up to the lieutenant time after time. But the old
fellow was bobbing up and down and twirling around in despair, and
though Reinhold stood to attention and shouted: "Excuse me, sir, I have
fired the guns already—all four of them," he was either not heard or
not understood and at last he turned away and tramped off to his gun.
There, meanwhile, the puzzle had been solved, a fresh shell was slid
into the breech and the first discharge thundered out, followed by the
flash and roar of the others. But in the brief pause before the next
round Corporal Kompes had time to rush out from beneath the awning.
With blows and kicks he drove Reinhold away from the heap of shells
piled up behind, where he was trying to be of some use, and threatened
to fell him to the ground if he ever laid a finger on a gun again. It
was the same when Reinhold ran off to the other guns. After every
round they turned on him with abuse and drove him off, threatening him
with the direst penalties if he dared so much as touch their gun or
their ammunition. They called him every name they could lay their
tongues to and asked him again and again what he thought he was doing
What indeed? Girt about with iron, with his helmet pressed down
over his boyish face, he crouched trembling in a shallow ditch behind
his comrades who sprang shouting to and fro; and he was no use to
anyone. The air was rent with the uproar, showers of earth pattered on
his tin helmet, clods hit him between the shoulders like blows of a
fist and took away his breath. At last he was ordered back to his gun
by the lieutenant to carry ammunition. They had had their first
casualty. So up he got and began to lug the heavy shell-baskets along.
They were made of withies and each one contained two shells and the
two cartridges belonging to them. They weighed little less than
Reinhold himself. He bent down and put his arms round them, for he had
not the strength to hoist them on to his shoulder as the older men did.
To prevent the basket bearing him down, he leant his body back and
walked with his knees bent outwards, as you see in a music-hall turn
when a man juggles with heavy iron weights. So he went on till
morning—staggering from a hollow to one side of the battery with a
basket clasped to his chest; when he got to the gun he shook out the
shells and went back with the empty basket to the hollow to fetch
On each journey he passed Gunner Biene, sometimes treading on one of
his hands or kicking him in the face without meaning to. Gunner Biene,
according to his usual practice, had often flung himself down in the
course of the night. Once he must have lain there too long or perhaps
he wished to take a short rest in safety. Anyway, he got the full
charge of a shrapnel shell like a shower-bath of lead as he lay full
length, and was peppered all over. He managed, however, to sit up and
utter one long cry of astonishment and lament, as though this was not
the way he should have been treated. Then he fell forward again on his
face and died.
Not far from him the reservist, Pünnemann, sat hunched on the
ground. His head was tightly pressed to his knees which he embraced
with his arms. He had begged piteously to be left sitting in this
position, because it was not God's will that he should live any longer
if he were moved. A splinter of steel a foot long had hit him between
the shoulder-blades and stuck there like an arrow. No one dared to
touch him and there Pünnemann remained till sunrise. Then he breathed
At last, however, the firing ceased. For a while they all stayed
crouching by the guns in silence, rubbing their eyes. Their faces were
blackened in patches into which the sweat had trickled. Then the order
came to move off. They took the dead with them and laid them down for
the while on the grass, covered with ground sheets, and over these they
put some of the chestnut branches which had been shot from the trees
during the night. Then sentries were posted and the rest turned in to
The next afternoon Reinhold was sitting on the ground against a wall
by himself. He had long since been deserted by that ghost from the
happier wars of times past. The sun was hot and it was so still among
the ruined buildings that nothing might ever have happened. Most of
the gunners slept on as though they would never wake, or, if they had
awoken, they slept again. Others sat and lay about in the grass,
silent and unsociable like himself, reading letters or writing home.
He had spoken to no one and no one seemed to pay any attention to him.
Not far from him Döries knelt in a hole half overgrown with grass
and weeds which had probably been made months ago, perhaps in the
autumn before, by the explosion of a heavy shell. His shooting
spectacles were on his nose and he wore suspended by a leather strap
from the top button of his tunic an iron implement like the key of a
hydrant. In front of him was a shell, painted bright blue with brass
fuse. Beside him on the slope of the shell-hole sat Kranz in an
attitude of careless ease, smoking cigarettes and giving directions
between the puffs without raising his voice. Then Döries bent
zealously over the fuse of the shell with the fuse-key in his hand and
tried to adjust it to the required range and manner of explosion.
Döries, too, had had a bad time of it the night before. A gunner of
his gun was wounded not long after the shelling began. Whereupon
Döries was ordered to take over the adjustment of the fuses. He had
been secretly afraid of this for a long time. The fuse-caps of the
shells were stamped with a number of figures and marks according to
which they could be adjusted in various manners so that the enemy might
get the explosion from the air either forwards or backwards; or, again,
the explosion might be delayed until after the shell had struck the
trench. These various alternatives combined with alterations of the
range were more than Döries found himself able to cope with on the spur
of the moment.
So under cover of the night he began making a few adjustments at
random. In the initial confusion they were unobserved, or, if they
were observed, it was only by the Bavarian infantry who manned the
trenches a few thousand yards in front. Soon, however, Döries proceeded
to shoot only with shrapnel fire. The red mark that indicated this
manner of fire was particularly deeply indented and not easy to miss.
Meanwhile, after a third shot had exploded almost as soon as it left
the muzzle, his eccentric behaviour was discovered and Döries was
forcibly removed from having charge of the fuse-key. The officer in
command of the gun added the threat of handing him over to the Bavarian
infantry next day.
However, at the end of the morning, when everyone except the posts
were asleep Kranz waked him and set himself the task of giving him a
little instruction. He patiently corrected the mistakes that Döries
made again and again, and with apparent indifference kept on repeating
the same command in a sing-song voice till Döries carried it out. In
the intervals while Kranz thought over his next command Döries gazed up
at him in silence. The sun flashed on his glasses; his mouth, as
always, was open; and the spittle ran down over his downy chin. His
face was full of trust and admiration.
Now and then Reinhold raised his eyes and looked absent-mindedly
down at them. Then he fixed his gaze again on a small piece of
paste-board in his hand and turned it this way and that. It was the
photograph of a young girl, who, with face bent, smiled up at the
A baggage-cart had driven up in the quiet of midday and a young
driver with heavy, immobile features had handed over a post-bag to the
man on guard. He had reddish hair and his face was covered all over
with freckles. His name was Dull and he was to take back the dead. He
had already lost two brothers in the same regiment. For this reason he
had been attached to the wagon-lines in a village a good way back. He
had a little workshop near the church and there he made all kinds of
wooden implements for the use of the battery. He was a skilled
carpenter by trade. He made coffins out of unplaned planks and light
crosses of pine wood on which the name of the unit and the year were
ready painted. He always had a good stock in hand when times were
quiet and sent out supplies of them to all the units in the Division.
He lived a somewhat solitary life as on account of his trade none of
the soldiers in the back areas wanted to have anything to do with him.
He felt this deeply, for he was an earnest and industrious young man
who had always had a passionate desire to talk of the subtleties of his
craft; and he had a mastery of it that few even of his fellow-craftsmen
could equal. He now brought the same connoisseurship to all that
concerned the dead, of whom he took scrupulous care, and was always
glad to talk about them, in every aspect, and about the art of the
undertaker as well.
With a professional air he inspected the two who had fallen, and
while he removed the branches that still covered them, he explained
that haste was called for. The warm weather, he said, and a
thunderstorm perhaps on the way too—that was the worst of all. They
could never stand that.
"Look here," he said with ready fluency to Reinhold, who, with
Ziemerer and one or two others, went to give him a hand, "look
here—that's how it is, my friend. You're still young, I see, and have
life still before you. But one day it'll be your turn, if I haven't
shut up shop myself by then."
With that he took the dead Pünnemann carefully below the neck, as
though he was afraid of hurting or startling him, and looked in his
face, shaking his head. "My God, Pünnemann," he said in his Rhineland
speech as he slipped the end of a ground sheet deftly under his head,
"my God, what days to be young in." After this Dull kept silence, and
soon Gunner Biene and Reservist Pünnemann lay face to face under the
tilt between the sideboards of the long cart. But as they were both
tall men, their boots on which the mud of the rainy night was caked to
white chalk stuck out at the back. When the horses set off over the
churned up ground the feet of the dead men began to waggle as though
life had come back to them.
Reinhold had had a letter and he gave a violent start when he
recognised Liselotte's writing on the envelope. Liselotte was a friend
of his sister's and he had secretly loved her ever since he had met her
for the first time at a tea-party in his parents' house. On that
occasion he had peeped through the keyhole, and there was her face so
close that he thought she must have seen him too. Surrounded by a halo
of bright hair, it seemed to shine through in a haze of gold. It was
as though her picture hung on a black wall that went on to infinity on
either side and as though candles, invisible to him, stood lighted in
front of it had transformed it to a shimmering unattainability For a
long time he stood bent to the keyhole with beating heart until the
small, keen draught that blew steadily through the aperture made his
eyes water. Later, he made a habit of leaving the house when she was
coming to visit them, but he always arranged it so that he met her on
the door-step. Also he never failed to make all kinds of dark hints to
his sister about his departure from the house and the way that he would
certainly and infallibly go. Meanwhile Liselotte neither tried to
detain him on the doorstep nor made any enquiry as to his errand, and
so he stood for long hours not far from the house, hidden in the
doorway of Pieper's shop, and kept a look-out on the windows behind
which he knew that the two girls were, and suffered cruel pangs. When
he was older he tried other means of declaring his love. With an
immeasurable arrogance he spoke of the moral inferiority, nay, of the
utter depravity that was woman's natural lot. He culled all this from
various philosophical works, and his heart ached, while, masked by a
scientific frigidity, he gave the two girls an exact account of the
true character of women. He imagined himself to be speaking of the
life of ants or the habits of the nomadic Kurds. He swore, too, that no
woman should ever have power over him. His eyes had been opened in
good time. But Liselotte heard his oath without any sign of regret.
All the same, something like a secret friendship began between them
at this time. They skated on the ice and she took his hand into her
muff; and she peeled apples and cracked nuts for him, looking
mysteriously at him all the time.
Perhaps, after all, it was love. Yes, certainly it was love. He
had never doubted this at the bottom of his soul even though the might
of circumstance ordained that no word and no kiss could then seal the
bond. Or might he count the three kisses imprinted with cool,
half-smiling lips on his cheek in the way his sister kissed him, or the
kiss she gave him when they said good-bye on the platform before he
left? And had that really been a good-bye at all—with everyone
laughing and shouting as the train steamed out and no one having a
doubt of his return? It was no more than if they were leaving to go
into camp. perhaps Gunner Biene and Reservist Pünnemann had one time or
other left for manoeuvres in just the same way.
Certainly he had scarcely ever thought of her since. Only now and
then, when he squeezed himself in between the Landwehrmen, his whole
being blazed up in longing for her. But it lasted only for a moment
while he pressed his head against the broad shoulder of the man next
him. Then sleep came down and swept away past and present in one.
And now he held her letter in his hand, hesitating before he opened
it. The last months had been years, and had not the time come for an
avowal? He murmured over to himself the words that her letter must
surely contain, words of tenderness and warm affection, yes—words of
passion. He almost felt himself repaid by them for the night past and
it was long before he ventured to open the envelope. When he did so he
found that it contained nothing but her photograph. He read once more
the hurried words written on the back: "For dear Reinhold, with an
affectionate greeting from beautiful Remagen. Long life and victory.
Liselotte." And along the side "To-morrow we're off to Rüdesheim."
So there he sat, the dear Reinhold. To-morrow they were off to
Rudesheim. In the air there was still the same sickly odour of
explosives. He could smell it too on the sleeve of his tunic when he
passed it across his face. It was just the very smell of the caps in
the little round pink boxes with the virulent green lids that he used
long ago to shoot off in his toy cannons.
That night had cost him much. He had lost the affection and even
the respect of his fellows, and yet in truth he longed for their love
and to be held in honour among them. And yet who could tell whether,
by opening fire instantly, he had not achieved some result? God knew
it and perhaps, too, his country might know it. But what did this
little goose with her three lines know of all that? How did she know
that he was not already among the dead. She was an insignificant
little creature, and now, unfortunately, she had made it only too
clear. But soon he began upon a secret justification of her behaviour,
and his nostrils started to quiver again and he had to wipe them with
Meanwhile Corporal Kompes came walking towards him. He had taken
off his Hussar tunic on account of the heat and wore a sweater with
blue and white stripes which was stretched tightly over his chest and
had clearly been intended for a boy. Reinhold got to his feet and
stood to attention.
"Young man," said Kompes gently as he laid his hand on his shoulder,
"young man, you're a terror. You want to win the war all by yourself.
However, we'll say no more about it. There are plenty of others out
for the Iron Cross. Go slow, I tell you; that's the way for young
colts. Got a cigarette for an old fellow?"
And now the others came lounging up as though at a pre-arranged
signal, all the old soldiers who had driven him away from their guns
with blows and curses. Absent-mindedly, as they came along quite by
chance, they kicked in front of them the fuses or cartridges that lay
about, or knocked up shell splinters out of the grass with their feet
or kept an eye out for aeroplanes. Many of them, like Corporal Kompes,
wore boys' sweaters which almost burst over their chests. Others had
bright coloured woollen cardigans on, or overalls of faded blue, and
the first gunner of the third gun had his braces on over a gaily
embroidered old-fashioned waistcoat of black velvet with a silver
watchchain dangling from it. Round their necks they wore the grey
collar-slips, [Note] and on their heads the little caps with the coloured cockades
above the middle of their foreheads. Their faces were lean and serious.
A bib worn under the upright collar of the uniform.
"All sorts o' stuff," they muttered and by this they might have
meant the whole war or the events of the past night. Or else they
said: "Meine Herren!"—for this was the form of address they liked best
to use among themselves. They felt, too, that it adequately expressed
their views about the scrap of the night before. For the first time
they treated Reinhold as one of themselves. But some merely stood
there without uttering a word, listening, and looking from one to
another. When they encountered Reinhold's eyes they gave an awkward
laugh under their moustaches and scratched themselves and nodded at
Nevertheless, from this night onwards, Reinhold began to lose the
feeling of happiness and comradeship which he had known in the early
days, and soon quite other feelings arose and tortured him with a
vehemence he had never thought possible.
For a while, certainly, the enemy did not renew the attack and once
more the days passed in comparative peace. The battery seldom fired a
shot, and scarcely a shell fell in its immediate neighbourhood, but now
each one made them nervy, for any single shell from the other side
might announce the imminent renewal of an attack which had only been
temporarily broken off. Hence they all kept quite still whenever the
white or blackish brown puffs of smoke appeared, and listened as though
listening for signs of bad weather; or else they stood in groups with
puckered eyes and tight lips behind cover from which they could see the
front and try to ascertain the exact spot where the shells exploded.
Then they argued with one another about the conclusions that might be
Engels, too, had a report brought to him of every shell that pitched
near by, and instantly appeared each time at the entrance of his
dugout, his cap in his hand, and waited there with a deeply puzzled
look on his face till all was quiet again.
Sometimes even the Commanding Officer came across from the
observation post and had a detailed report made to him. Once he
assembled the whole battery under the chestnut trees and made a speech.
He stood balanced forward on his toes as he spoke, with his elbows
close to his side, incessantly looking from one to another of the half
circle standing round him and twitching his face in quick spasmodic
jerks. He wished, he said, to thank the battery for its magnificent
behaviour. It was an honour to be in command of such men. Then he
praised the dead as gallant and loyal soldiers whose memory the battery
would ever hold in honour. Very probably, however, worse times lay
ahead. They were opposed by a tried and obstinate foe. He asked
therefore of each one of them an implicit obedience and an unflinching
resolution in carrying out his duty "even," he added almost in a shout
as though he brought it out with a great effort, "if it had to be, to
the last man. You all know," he said in conclusion, in a calmer and
almost embarrassed voice, "that you can count on no less from me." With
this he took off his cap and began, according to his usual custom, to
wipe the inner leather band with a white handkerchief.
"Aye, aye, sir," the gunners shouted in chorus. Döries shouted
louder than them all, for the speech, like almost everything else that
happened, pleased him greatly. Reinhold, however, had not opened his
lips. It seemed to him that the address had been aimed exclusively at
him, and that the Commanding Officer had read his inmost soul.
It was some days now since Reinhold had begun to be afraid. Often
he had to fight an almost insuperable longing to leave his post at his
gun and run to the rear, back and back as far as his legs would carry
him. He dreamt, too, in a half sleep, with intense longing of hiding
himself in his father's garden till the war was over. He wanted to dig
himself a hole behind the raspberry canes and sleep there till
everything became a dream. It came over him like the onset of an
illness and when it was over his torture was all the greater. For he
had seen that in his inmost heart he was ready to pay any price, even
the most dastardly, in order to get out of it. Then he felt shame in
the sight of his country of which he no longer dared to think, and
shame in the eyes of his comrades, all of whom he had secretly
betrayed. The sight of their unmoved faces could not at once restore
his confidence, but gradually he glowed again with the hope that his
fear would not return. But it did.
Sometimes he thought of telling them about it, for he believed that
then it would cease of itself. But he shrank from doing so as soon as
he saw Kranz's unruffled face and heard him talk of all that occurred
in the same tone as he did of clouds or rain. His only complaint was
the dirt, which he found demoralising, and with an apologetic air he
would show his grease-marked and weather-stained tunic which, unlike
the rest, he never discarded except in the dugout. This seemed to be
all he took exception to or thought worthy of mention.
For Döries, on the other hand, it was exactly the same out there as
if he were in a picture-house or rather at the so-called
Kaiser-panorama, which he preferred because as a rule he could make
very little of a film. But he visited the panorama with passion
whenever he had the chance. It was a kind of giant peepshow and behind
the peepholes beautifully illuminated and motionless pictures of all
sorts went past. Often he looked on with an ever increasing rapture at
the same series three or four times in succession without knowing it.
It was the same out there; he scarcely gave a thought to anything.
Enough that over and over again astonishing things happened which he
could watch and take part in. He forgot them all the moment they were
over, but his delight remained.
Apparently, too, there was no use trying to confide in Ziemerer of
the Suebo-Vandalia. One night, when he was on battery telephone duty
with him in the little dugout specially assigned to this purpose, he
made a few cautious attempts to hint at his trouble. But Ziemerer was
beforehand with him. Would Reinhold allow him to ask, he said suddenly
in a ceremonious and embarrassed manner, whether he had come to any
final conclusions about his future career at the university? When
Reinhold said that he had not, a gleam came into the little face like a
hare's surmounted by the cap which here, too, he always wore lightly
balanced on his head, and his little green eyes began to sparkle with a
cordial affection. With a real benignity he described this
circumstance as being quite in order—a favourite expression of
his—and then confessed, raising his hand to the rim of his cap in a
partly humorous and partly ceremonious salute, that he had formerly
misjudged Reinhold. He had, to put it plainly, thought him a little
bumptious and a bit soft. In fact, however, he was a stout fellow who
never turned a hair. Reinhold tried to protest, but Ziemerer would not
allow him to speak. He was paying no compliments, he assured him
warmly; the others, too, recognised it, and he himself had heard Engels
and Kompes talking about it. Therefore he would think himself lucky to
have the honour of introducing Reinhold one day to the Suebo-Vandalian
club-room. Reinhold blinked and could no longer bring himself to speak
of his fear; and the end of it was that Ziemerer formally "notched" him
for the Suebo-Vandalia —that is to say, he took his solemn promise to
join that students' Corps when the war was over. "Let's drink to it,"
said Ziemerer in conclusion, and he filled the tin mugs on the table in
front of him with rum from his ration.
Encouraged by this success he went on to win Kranz over too.
Cautiously and, indeed with deference in every word, he attempted to
talk him out of sculpture and to suggest the delights of studying law,
say; if he could not reconcile himself to this he might in any case
study the history of art and this would equally qualify him to become
one of the Suebo-Vandalians. But he did not meet with a sympathetic
response to his overtures from Kranz.
On the other hand, he could not persuade himself to make the same
offer to Döries. True, he would certainly have made a lusty and
probably invincible duellist for the Suebo-Vandalia. But it was
extremely doubtful whether he would ever in his life attain his
"maturity." Ziemerer meant by this—pass his matriculation. Actually,
however, one could only talk of maturity when the arrival at this stage
was signalised by the immediate entry into a smart students' Corps.
Otherwise a man was not, properly speaking, mature.
In the nick of time, however, Ziemerer hit upon another marvellous
plan. One day the Commanding Officer pulled out his watch when
Ziemerer was near. It was adorned with a brightly coloured ribbon of
about a finger's length, attached to it by small silver rivets, and
Ziemerer since that day cherished the belief that he had recognised the
colours of his club. He did not indeed venture to address the
Commanding Officer on the subject, but he at once made enquiries at
home by letter to which so far there had been no reply. Whereupon he
decided to bring it on himself. "To bring a thing on one" was at that
time a very common expression. Usually one brought a thing on one in a
bad sense and then it was connected with a punishment. But it could
also happen in a good sense and this was what Ziemerer intended. His
idea was to introduce himself to the Commanding Officer's notice.
Profiting by the opportunity, he would then mention that he was a
member of the Suebo-Vandalia, and perhaps make the claim to
brotherhood. His plan hung together with a phenomenon called the
London night express, which was the cause of the first onset of panic
that Reinhold experienced.
On quiet days the battery was frequently put through gunnery
practice in a methodical fashion. This was according to orders from a
higher staff, and even the older and experienced men had to take part
in it. Exactly as on the garrison gunnery range the gunners crouched
and kneeled behind their guns and directed the muzzles upon imaginary
targets and adjusted the fuses to the required ranges and explosions as
even Döries, thanks to Kranz's private instruction, had meanwhile
learnt to do without mistake. He put on a knowing face as he did so,
like a connoisseur of wine who opens a selected bottle, and perhaps he
was the only man in the whole battery who put his whole heart into it.
For Engels, who took charge of the practices, was chiefly concerned in
being able to enter up on the prescribed report at night that the
entire battery had been through the one or two hours of gunnery drill
in a proper manner. For this reason he was always glad when he could
say that the battery had for the moment exceeded its allowance of
ammunition, or that enemy fliers just above the gun position made a
cessation of fire imperative.
During these pauses the gunners often amused themselves by calling
out from one gun to the next to ask Corporal Kompes the exact time.
Kompes had sent home for a phosphorescent alarm watch through an
advertisement in a newspaper. According to the advertisement it was a
miracle of the watch-maker's art; and Kompes believed it; for he could
not, in spite of many jocular remarks from his fellows, persuade
himself that anything printed in a newspaper could be untrue. The
watch was indeed illumined by night like a glow worm, and at first went
beautifully. This caused Kompes to boast of it immoderately. Soon,
however, the watch began to sound its alarm at the wrong time, and not
long after it stopped for indefinite periods in a quite unforeseeable
manner and then suddenly ticked on again as though nothing had
happened. Kompes at first kept this a secret, but as he had made such
a point of always having the exact time the defect could not be
concealed for long. From that moment it became a joke which never
failed of its effect to ask Kompes for the exact or Division time.
Kompes had devised an appropriate answer—namely that it was the exact
time for the enquirer to lick his arse. This answer, familiar as it
became, was equally certain to arouse the unbounded delight of all
hearers. It was not, however, so appropriate when the lieutenant
himself asked the question in the presence of all the other men.
Kompes then went purple with rage and, pretending to be deaf, muttered
savage curses into the gun-shield in front of him.
This watch, too, came from Herr Siebenmühl's store. It would have
gone ill with Herr Siebenmühl if he had shown himself on the bean-field
in Artois at that time. However, he did not show himself there. He
went on selling watches with luminous dials, knives with blades of
rhomboidal form, and pocket-torches with shutters and a three-coloured
light long after all those who asked Corporal Kompes the time were dead
and when Kompes himself would have been unable to make them any answer.
One day late in the evening this little entertainment was once again
in progress when the London night express unexpectedly passed on its
way over the battery. On that part of the front the London night
express meant a gun of extremely heavy calibre which usually fired on
the German lines in the evening when the sun was just behind it. It
was supposed that it must be an English naval gun in a concrete
emplacement, though so far it had not been possible to locate its exact
position. It fired shells the size of a man, and the sound of their
passage through the air on a flat trajectory and at no great velocity
was not unlike the thunderous rumble of a train going by. For this
reason the phenomenon was named the London night express.
It had not occurred for some while. This time it came so low over
the battery that every voice ceased and all stared at one another with
blanched faces. The night express reached its terminus. Instantly a
huge inverted cone of brown earth shot up from a low ridge a few
hundred yards behind, just where a whole crowd of infantry laughing and
shouting were engaged on some fatigue or other. Then it reared itself
up in a swirling column of smoke as high as a church tower. There it
stood for a moment while the earth pattered and rattled down far
around, even as far as the battery. Then it cleared off, swaying like
a falling tree, and disappeared. All this time there was complete
silence. But suddenly, from over there, came a confused and long-drawn
wailing and howling of men. The sound was still to be heard when next
a few figures emerged from the fresh brown of the churned up earth and
began to run with a strange exaggerated motion. They ran as one runs
in dreams with knees wildly thrown up without being able to advance an
inch. They were mortally wounded and they started to run as though
they could in some miraculous way outrun the past and undo what had
been done. But soon their knees gave and they collapsed and were lost
to sight. All the time the crying and wailing went on. And now the
gunners, glued to the spot with their faces all turned to the rear,
began to groan or to break out into wild cries and curses in voices
that shook. Then they shouted for spades and stretchers and some of
them started forward to go to the help of the wounded and to dig out
those who were buried. But Engels stood in their path. "Not a man
stirs," he shouted wildly. "Not a man leaves this spot. You'll soon
see why." The men went grumbling back to their guns. In a short while
a column of men became visible on the left shoulder of the ridge. Led
by a thin-legged officer, they marched slowly in parade step, carrying
spades and stretchers, towards the fresh shell-crater. Everything was
now still; the party vanished into the shell-hole and only the
officer's voice rang out as he gave orders. At this moment the night
express passed low over the battery once more. The gunners shouted,
while Engels began waving his cap above his head and running on his old
stumps towards the ridge. But already the fountain of earth went up in
spray exactly on the old spot, the cloud of smoke ascended and in it
for a few moments the figure of the officer could be recognised as he
whirled aloft. It could distinctly be seen that he held a spade in his
hand. After that all was still and continued to be still. The night
express, too, did not come again.
Ziemerer's plan was nothing less than to discover the position of
this gun. It was a somewhat fantastic plan, for only a fluke could
bring it off; yet he found a helpmate in Bette, a N.C.O. who belonged
to the same gun as he.
Bette was a young fellow with a pale, good-natured face. The
corners of his mouth were always turned down and his arched eyebrows
lifted with an air of reflection above the small, very blue eyes; and
this gave him a worried expression. Bette was the son of Westphalian
peasants and had passed into the regular army with non-commissioned
rank at the end of his military service. He had only been a short time
with the battery, transferred, it was said, from another regiment. In
reality he had been released from a military prison before completing
his sentence. He had spent half a year there, always haunted by the
look of consternation in the face of Gunner Zeck whom he had shot.
He had been sitting at the table with his fellows in their billet in
Belgium in the first weeks of the war, handling his revolver which he
was going to clean. Suddenly a cartridge, which he must have
forgotten, went off. A profound silence followed. All sat dazed, and
Bette was already hoping that the bullet had passed harmlessly through
the open window into the garden. But then a thin trickle of blood ran
down little Zeck's cheek and Bette heard him ask in a plaintive voice
whether he had been hit. Immediately afterwards his face went grey, his
head fell on the table and his body turned sideways and sank from the
chair to the ground, and there he lay dead.
Whatever they might say, Bette could not feel that he was clear of
guilt or regard as pardonable the negligence which had cost Zeck his
life. It was not in him, he said, to take things lightly; and his
father and mother were the same. It was hard on him, but many
Westphalians were like that.
Consequently, when he was allowed to return to active service, he
looked for an opportunity of redeeming his guilt and in his hard,
unsparing fashion he had silently made up his mind to pay for it with
his life—which now could never be any pleasure to him.
After some consideration, he told Ziemerer that he would support him
in his enterprise and put the experience and resources of a N.C.O. at
his service. The night express sometimes came over by night as well as
in the evenings. When this might happen could not, of course, be
foreseen, nor indeed whether it would happen at all. It was,
therefore, a question of patience to lie in wait for its muzzle flash,
and then of accuracy in plotting from various points the exact spot
whence it came.
The two were out on the job many a night when there were no
working-parties and all but the sentries slept. Bette was glad enough
to sacrifice his sleep, for he was afraid of the faces that tormented
him in his dreams; and Ziemerer appeared to be untireable, and whistled
and croaked to himself in eager anticipation of addressing the
Commanding Officer as his club-brother. They took with them all kinds
of surveyor's instruments and maps in yellow cases; also the torch with
the three-coloured light which Ziemerer had begged Reinhold to lend
him. Often they returned, with heavy, blood-shot eyes and drawn
mud-stained faces, only when the infantry was on the move.
For always at dawn before the sun was above the horizon and only a
faint suspicion of light loomed over the landscape the infantry was on
the move. The grass was still grey, the whole world was grey, when the
first figures appeared among the ruins of the farm on the bare ridge in
front of the battery. Their wide coats flapped and waved, for the
belts were unfastened, and their necks and often their faces, too, with
little caps on top or helmets with ill-fitting and tattered covers,
were enveloped in woollen comforters. In silence and haste one behind
another in a long line and at wide intervals they tramped along from
the trenches and on to the rear. Now and then there was a muffled
stretcher on the shoulders of four men. The stretchers swayed to and
fro, now up, now down, according to the inequalities of the ground, and
behind them, muddy and sunken-eyed, came stumbling figures—their coats
hanging from their shoulders with empty, flapping sleeves, and round
their heads or within their unbuttoned tunics as the staring white of
fresh bandages. Others came two by two along the track, holding each
other round the waist or shoulders, as lovers do or affectionate
friends. But they had no eyes for one another. They stared in front
of them with craning heads, straining on towards an invisible goal and
tottering sometimes like drunken men.
Others again pushed two-wheeled carts in front of them, like
costers' barrows. They were jolted at all angles, but the completely
muffled figures who lay on them did not stir. Sometimes a pair of
boots projected from the ground sheet, or a bent and stiffened arm. On
many of them could be seen as well a half upright form propped behind
by the arms, the nodding head with its sightless eyes sunk low on the
breast. Single figures again brought up the rear, carrying rifles and
bandoliers and hung about with clusters of empty dixies, or laden with
an assortment of buckets and sacks.
All of them were in a hurry as though flying before a storm coming
up behind, and from time to time they quickened their pace to a short,
stumbling trot. But another procession of men came to meet them who
seemed to be in no less of a hurry than they. And these, too, were
encumbered with all kinds of loads, picks and shovels, poles and
stakes, and the folded stretchers steeply slanted on their shoulders
like great rolls of cloth. They earned also the wooden crosses as tall
as man which Driver Dull made in his workshop. For just behind the
front line in a shallow depression there was a small burial-ground
where the infantry buried many of their dead forthwith. Although in
that forward position it might not be a burial-ground for long, they
were very scrupulous in seeing that even there all the dead had crosses
to their mounds. They did not exactly think of Jesus Christ to whose
memory this sign was dedicated; but they did not wish to withhold from
a comrade what by an unwritten law was as much his proper due as his
ration, his pay and his leave. Therefore it did not scandalise them
that Driver Dull kept a stock in hand of the crosses required, and they
filled in the gaps he left with paint-brush and paint from the company
Many a time at dawn Reinhold stood shivering in the wet grass after
a night on guard—his coat-collar turned up, his hands plunged in his
trouser-pocket—and looked across at them. The blackbirds were singing
already in the chestnut trees, and the starlings chattering among the
ruins, Now and again, however, a report like the snapping of a tightly
stretched wire broke ominously on the ear, or a sharp whisper passed
over, as though for the fraction of a second a jet of steam was forced
through a narrow vent. A hollow explosion was heard aloft that turned
into a shrill singing sound and the shrapnel bullets pattered among the
branches, or whipped through the grass, or went crashing and smacking
against the walls. Then everything was still. Cautiously and
tentatively the blackbird began to sing again, and the tramping and
coughing which had been lost for a moment reached his ears once more
through the sharp morning air. Reinhold was appalled. He could not
understand where all the dead and wounded came from every morning, even
when there had been no fighting. If this went on there would soon
surely be no one left in the trenches. And even so he tried in vain to
picture to himself how it would all ever come to an end.
The old soldiers in the battery, too, watched with an ever closer
concern the daily procession which they had so often watched before.
The dead, Kompes declared, drew more dead after them, and to show what
he meant he told them again how his father had died and after three
days had pulled his mother after him, though, as Kompes said, she was
still frisky enough. Hence when he had the opportunity he used to
count the dead as they were brought back and the crosses carried
forward, and he was inwardly contented when the figure thus arrived at
did not exceed a certain number that in his experience was permissible.
"Look here, my boy," he said to Reinhold, "I'll tell you how it is
with the infantry. It's the same with them as with ants. When you only
see a few and they aren't in a hurry, then it's all right. But when
there are many and they run about, then we learn to know our God again."
It was very soon seen that he was right. The nights became
breezier, the crackie of rifle-fire in the trenches always more
insistent, the artillery sought out their targets with less and less
disguise. And the last casualties were hurried from the trenches to
the rear when the concealing grey was already becoming coloured, when
the foliage became green, the stones white and the earth brown. Behind
the gun position, too, large dumps of shells were collected and stowed
in the pits excavated for the purpose. Reinhold did not relish the
sound of the ammunition column coming up, and was disconcerted when he
saw the unmistakable signs of zealous energy on every hand.
One night Ziemerer was lying out with Bette on a little knoll not
far from the battery; for Engels had forbidden them to go far away on
account of orders to be in instant readiness in ease of an alarm. This
knoll was just high enough to permit of observation over the flat
country behind the enemy's lines, but it was visible to the enemy as
well, and so no one dared show himself there by day. They lay in
silence behind the rotting stump of a poplar waiting for the great
muzzle to flash. It quivered out more frequently now than before.
Perhaps Ziemerer was too free with his three-coloured light on the map
which lay open on the ground in front of him, for a shell swished over
just after midnight and shattered both his legs. It must, as Bette
said later, have been fired from a quick firing gun just behind the
enemy front line. Ziemerer felt a pang as though iron jaws mauled his
knees, and he could not restrain a long-drawn cry. It sounded like the
tremulous scream of a wounded hare. But he did not lose consciousness,
much as he would have liked to, and he regained his self-control. He
remembered what was due to the Suebo-Vandalia. But the Suebo-Vandalia
would never know how one of its members had conducted himself. That
was a pity and he was sorry.
Bette was uninjured. He wished to complain of his luck, but he
could not succeed. A thin trickle of joy percolated through when the
shock was over and mingled with the pity he felt for Ziemerer. When he
came back with Stubbe, the Medical Corps sergeant, Ziemerer was lying
still but for an occasional tremor and grinding of his teeth. Stubbe
had a moustache and a genial rubicund face. He at once bound the legs
above the wounds with the rubber rings he had brought with him in his
large wallet, saying all the while in a sing-song voice: "Steady now,
steady," though Ziemerer was perfectly quiet and no one else made a
sound. But when they set about carrying him down off the knoll, the
iron jaw made another grab and Ziemerer uttered his cry once more in an
unexpectedly piercing scream.
They had better leave him there, he then suggested, leaning against
the tree stump, perhaps. And then tears rolled down his face. If they
left him there he would not yell any more, he promised, It had only
taken him like that for a moment. So they propped him up there for the
time as he asked, and Bette silently sat beside him. After a while
Stubbe came back again. "Now then—just a moment," he said gently,
unbuttoning coat and tunic in order to inject a narcotic into his
chest. Bette held the torch. Beneath his green woollen shirt next his
skin Ziemerer wore a silk ribbon. It was the colours of the
An amazing sense of well-being at once took possession of Ziemerer.
Perhaps he had lost too much blood, or else Stubbe had exceeded the
proper dose. In any case the drug instead of having the effect of a
narcotic raced through his empty veins with a soft rush of elation. It
was exactly as though he were drunk. And as a drunken man suddenly
finds life no longer hopeless and forgets grief and pain, so Ziemerer,
too, felt his agony no more and thought no more of death. In a frail
voice he began to sing a song. It was a song they had often sung in
Frau Thienemann's Beer-garden when their heads began to go round. He
was there again now, although he sat on the ground in the grass.
"Oh, when Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday's here,
And I am with my own Laurentia!
The Laurentia of the chorus had to be sung in a wistful and
seductive tone, long drawn out. He sang it over and over, even after
he had not strength left for the rest of the song. Now and again he
raised his hand to his cap in a ceremonious salute, as though in
recognition of some mark of attention. Bette, however, could not see
whom he saluted or to whom he signified his recognition, though he sat
beside him and supported him and held his other hand in his own. With
their backs to the enemy they sat together until Ziemerer died. This
he did quite unobserved at early dawn.
This same night Reinhold was alone on night duty in the Battery
telephone dugout. He heard Ziemerer's cries and was told later by
Stubbe how seriously wounded he was and that there was no hope for him.
Stubbe was laden with all sorts of wooden contrivances, some of
which he left in Reinhold's charge. They were small ladders with
straight or curved steps, or wooden rails, attached to one another in
pairs by bosses wound about with straw, over which was arched a tunnel
formed by a series of wire hoops. They were almost like rat-traps to
look at, and Reinhold took them to be rat-traps when he first saw them.
They were really splints and casings for broken and shattered limbs
which Stubbe used to make in his spare time. Usually they hung on the
walls of the aid-post dugout, or were leant up near the entrance. But
sometimes Stubbe had premonitions and prophesied a raid or an attack.
How he did so he was unable to explain, but he had often been proved
right in the event. It was just a feeling, he said with a lofty air,
waving his hairy hand to and fro before his eyes, as though the seat of
his mysterious gift lay there or somewhere in space in front of them.
He was afraid on these occasions that a direct hit on the
first-aid-post might bring all his forethought to nothing at one blow,
and therefore he liked to have his stock dispersed beforehand among the
different dugouts. He was not welcomed on these occasions, but Engels
openly commended his foresight; and so the others put up with the sight
of his ill-omened apparatus. When everything was over, or if his
premonitions had deceived him, Stubbe collected all his implements
Stubbe had not been gone long when Reinhold heard Ziemerer singing.
He trembled as he stared at the small flame of the tallow candle on
the table in front of him and did not move. He had a horror of the
sight of Stubbe's wooden contraptions. Later, however, the sound of
Ziemerer's "Laurentia—Laurentia!" came to him more and more like the
high sing-song of a drowsy child, and he began to wait for it when it
was silent for a while, for it told him that Ziemerer was still in the
land of the living. When he heard it again he was glad and hoped that
he would still, be in time to get to him after he had been relieved.
But the voice came with ever longer pauses and seemed, too, to grow
weaker and weaker. Meanwhile the warning buzz of the telephone rasped
on his ears and he replied with the prescribed reports.
Suddenly everything around him was still as though he were submerged
in water. Then he heard the murmuring and clucking of a stream. He
was sitting in a meadow in front of a beech wood with dark foliage and
tall grey trunks, he lay sunk in a heap of fragrant hay, dreaming that
he was in the war and as he dreamed gently on he felt already an
immeasurable joy at the thought of waking up and finding that nothing
of it all was true and yet had been true. But little Ziemerer had lost
himself in the wood behind. He was wandering to and fro and calling
out Laurentia and listening to the echo which answered him from one
direction after another with a hollow reverberation. But suddenly the
wood grew tempestuous with a cold blast of wind and Reinhold felt
himself seized and caught up into the air. Kranz stood in front of him;
he had his helmet on and his revolver in his belt. His eyes were on
fire with impatience and anger.
"Get off with you, man," he ordered him peremptorily. "Get off.
How could you fall asleep here?" He pushed Reinhold aside, threw his
helmet on the table, pushed the head-piece over his ears and began
calling through to test the connexion. "Off with you," he repeated
impatiently while Reinhold hurriedly got himself ready. "The infantry
have gone by. There's something up. The ration party's gone long ago.
Leg it for all you are worth. I'll stay here for you. You've never
even waked your relief."
Reinhold stammered out his thanks. Then he thrust the empty sandbag
that hung on the door through his belt, seized the two tin buckets
which stood beneath it and ran past the chestnut trees across the open.
It was his job that morning to fetch the ration for his gun from the
field-kitchen. Just before dawn he had to wake his relief and then get
off. But he had fallen asleep while Ziemerer sang and called out
Man—Kranz had called him. Reinhold had never heard this word from
him before. He ran as though for his life. The buckets knocked
against his legs and he had to brandish them in the air with
outstretched arms like wings. Strange that Kranz had had his helmet on
in the middle of the night. But it was night no longer. Day was
dawning, and in the east a sulphur-coloured slit was opening between
earth and sky. It was like an ambushed, hostile eye. He ran straight
Before he had even reached the little village, he met Döries and the
rest of the ration party coming back. Döries stared at him with
startled eyes and put down the steaming buckets he was carrying. But
Reinhold rattled past without hearing what Döries shouted after him.
He ran on down the long street of the shell-shot village, hoping to
see the field-kitchen; but it had gone. Soldiers with rifles and packs
were sitting all about among the wreckage of the houses. They said
nothing and scarcely turned their heads. All wore helmets and were
waiting for orders to move on.
Reinhold went on—down into the hollow with the apple orchards
behind the village and past the little wayside chapel; and then he
climbed the hill beyond with panting breath. There at last he saw the
field-kitchen on ahead. The horses trotted slowly along and brown
smoke curled up from the stovepipe. He stopped and putting down his
buckets shouted after them through his hollowed hands, but the two men
on the seat paid no heed. He ran on and shouted again till at last
they pulled up. But the two kept on staring to their front without
turning round and did not move till he got up to them.
Every morning, when the infantry moved up, the field-kitchens of the
several batteries drove up too from far in the rear and made a halt of
perhaps half an hour behind the gun positions. There the cooks met the
ration parties from each gun and dished out the rations for the day.
Then they drove off again without delay, for they had no desire to
make a long halt among the front line soldiers whose looks and ways
made an unpleasant and disturbing impression on them.
"You've turned up then?" said one of the two, a round-about fellow
in a dirty tunic, as he lowered himself painfully from the seat. He
was thoroughly annoyed, as he had hoped to do a deal with the remains
of the rations, and now there would be nothing in it.
"There's not much left," he lied after a look into the copper.
"It's all been dished out. How were we to know there was anyone else
Then he filled Reinhold's buckets half full —cocoa and milk in one;
meat and beans in the other. Without a word Reinhold held out his
empty sack and the man dropped a loaf into it and a few bags of biscuit
and sugar. With some reluctance he produced them from under a netting
which was stretched over the top of the cart behind his seat.
"You'll have to make that do for to-day," he said as he pressed a
thumb into his pipe and looked intently under the belly of one of the
horses. Then he clambered up again and drove off.
Reinhold hung the sack over his shoulder in dismay, picked up the
buckets and set off on his return journey. He was sorely afraid of
confronting his comrades, for he had got scarcely half their rations.
Very few of the men at that time were regular soldiers or knew what
soldiering meant. What they were called upon to experience was so
entirely different from anything they had ever known that they
sometimes scarcely knew whether they were still on the earth. Hence
when they were eating they felt a secret assurance of having returned
to it once more. They sliced their bread with deliberation and spread
it with fat or laid bacon on it and chewed silently. Their faces were
sunk over their plates; they blew on the hot soup as they relished
spoonful after spoonful with lowered eyes as though they could not bear
to be interrupted. Or they glanced aside into the distance with a lost
expression that was never seen at any other time in their lean and
earnest faces. They were back again for the moment in the days of
peace from which they had all come. At that time the provisioning of
the German army was still fairly good and the men had not yet to put up
with starvation rations.
When Reinhold got back to the gun position there was silence
everywhere. They were eating in every dugout. Usually this was the
principal meal of the day, for the food was still fresh and sometimes
even hot. Before going to his own dugout he went with his buckets to
those of the other guns and asked whether they would spare him a little
to help him out; he had been late, he said, and there hadn't been
enough left. But he was refused each time and he could expect nothing
else. No, he was told without compunction, they couldn't do that.
They couldn't ask that of the men, for who could say when they would
get another meal. There was a change in the weather, they said,
pointing at the sky where the usual sounds of rifle fire far and wide
had increased to an incessant screaming and whistling. But perhaps,
they added, there might be a bit over, and then they would bring it
Shame and remorse prevented Reinhold uttering a single word when he
went in to his fellows. But they said nothing and scarcely looked at
him. They were sitting at the table and eating off their tin plates a
meal that Corporal Kompes had meanwhile cooked for them over a little
stove. It was biscuit fried in fat. He had scattered some of the
coarse brown sugar over it which served also as horse-fodder. As they
chewed away they looked into one another's faces with enforced
"Here you are," said Kompes with a look at Reinhold as though he
wished to remind him of a secret understanding between them. "Here you
are with what's to follow. Just what I thought. The brethren have
done the dirty on you." It was his custom to describe as brethren all
those who were abhorrent to his soul. It was the strongest term of
abuse he could lay his tongue to.
There was a secret, too—but only from Reinhold. Kompes had
extracted a solemn promise from the men not to come down on the little
man, as he called him ever since that eventful night, for his lapse.
"It might happen to any one of you," he said, and they could not help
admitting it—though the admission cost them something, for the lapse
came hard on them. But it was one which would meet with a severe
punishment if disciplinary measures had to be taken. Nothing in the
last resort could have inclined them more profoundly to leniency. All
the same, what had happened only the other day? A raw recruit had come
along and tried to give himself airs. They had punished him for it.
It was only right.
But when Kompes had divided out all that Reinhold had brought among
the bowls held out to him and when they smelt the inviting fragrance of
pork and large beans, they could scarcely restrain themselves any
longer. They gobbled it up and stared at the bottom of their bowls
which they saw only too soon.
"I wish the brethren would bring us a proper ration for once," one
of them began savagely, and then remembering the compact he ended his
remark with a compunctious shake of the head. "They can do what they
like with us," a second said angrily. "but they must at least put
something in our guts. We've the right to ask that."
This met with unanimous agreement. So, too, did a third speaker who
now turned sarcastically to Reinhold. He was a lively young fellow, a
carpenter by trade, and Reinhold was fond of him. They called him the
Hamburger. With his fingers extended he held out his well licked spoon
in front of him as though he toyed with the long stalk of a rose.
"Your dear father," he then said to Reinhold in a highly polished
tone on purpose to wound him, "must surely have plenty of cigars in his
cupboard to spare for the dear Hamburger and the dear No. 1 gun."
At this they all laughed, Kompes as well, and looked at the
Hamburger with great admiration.
Reinhold sat silent. He was tired out. He did not touch the
biscuit nor the pork and beans which Kompes had helped him to along
with the others. An indefinable feeling of love took possession of him.
But he did not know how to express it. When he was getting up to go
and find out at last how little Ziemerer was, the alarm rang out. Like
a thunderclap the noise of battle broke out again with greater fury
than before. Without a word they all rushed out to their guns. The
sun had just risen in full glory over the green, luxuriant earth.
Until nearly midday Reinhold worked the handspike of his gun. It
projected, with the trail of the gun-carriage, a little way beyond the
camouflage and Reinhold could see what went on round him. On the knoll
in front of the gun position a small figure lay motionless in the
grass, covered by a yellow horse blanket with a black edge. Bette was
now kneeling at the telephone behind the guns and near him Engels stood
or walked to and fro upright in the hail of shrapnel bullets.
For the first time Reinhold really saw the infantry. There were
many and they were running, as Kompes had foretold. Bent low they
sprang forward in groups and in whole swarms on the left of the gun
position where Ziemerer was lying, and on over the open grass. They
carried their rifles at the trail and he saw distinctly that the straps
hung in a loop to the ground. He was surprised to see that the fixed
bayonets really flashed in the sunlight, as he had often read. They
were running towards the scattered ruins of the farm where he had first
seen them as they came out of the line in the grey light of dawn. They
stood there for a moment under cover, lit up by the sunshine. They now
had their rifles slung from the shoulder. All took a pull at their
water-bottles, glancing uneasily round. Then they vanished one after
another into a sunken road leading forward.
Sometimes they came in thin waves, officers and N.C.O.s in front,
right through the firing battery. Sweat streamed down their red and
freckled faces from beneath the tilted helmets and their eyes, glancing
uneasily to and fro, gleamed with a feverish brilliance, or else were
as black as coal. They looked half curiously, half enviously at the
gunners, lingering a moment, and then on they had to go. But often one
of the older N.C.O.s left the advancing line and ran up to Engels.
They all seemed to know him, for they shook him by the hand and talked
to him, and gave him pocket-books, rings and purses to keep for them
until they returned. Then they shook hands again in farewell, and ran
with long strides after their men, holding their swords in their hands
to prevent them knocking against their legs. Their bearded faces were
serious and preoccupied.
The sun was already high when the enemy who had taken the front line
reached the high ground on the left where the farm was. A machine-gun
opened fire at once and Kranz was hit with the very first burst. He
was occupied that morning mending the telephone wires which connected
the battery with the observation post. They were always being broken
by the shell-fire. It was not far from where the London night express
had found its target twice in succession. He was on his knees, bending
over the wire, a knife, which he had been using, between his teeth.
Suddenly Reinhold saw him shoot straight up into the air and then
disappear in one of the freshly churned-up shell holes. After a
moment, however, his helmet moved to and fro above the edge of the
shallow depression to show that he was still alive and needed help.
Immediately afterwards he was lost to sight again in the jets of dust
whipped up by bullets striking the ground all round him, and Stubbe,
who was already on the way to him with his large wallet suddenly
stopped and hesitated, biting his thumb and turning back for the
moment. But now the helmet appeared again for a few seconds. Then it
suddenly flew eddying up into the air. It had been shot out of Kranz's
Now Döries set out, in a pause while the guns ceased fire for a
moment. The smile had left his face. It was tense, not with fear but
excitement, and he looked straight down at the ground in front of him
under his spectacles. Perhaps it was his excitement, too, that gave his
steady tramp its impressive inevitability. He walked on just as he did
when he was told in the barrack yard to go at a slow march for two
hundred paces to the stables and back again. He had done it with
cheerful obedience, as though a great distinction had been conferred on
Bullets whistled past him, but he reached the shell-hole without
being hit and jumped down into it. The gunners who were watching him
with feverish excitement slapped their knees and shouted to each other
with delight. They all thought that Döries would now bandage the
wounded man and give first aid and then keep in cover until they could
both come out with safety. To their horror, however, he emerged again
immediately. They shouted and waved, but he was not going to be put
off. He held Kranz against his chest in his arms. Kranz had clearly
lost consciousness, for his head hung low and nodded loosely at each
Döries made straight for the dressing-station dugout, for he could
think of nothing else to do with the wounded man He did not, however,
get far. Once or twice he staggered, stopped irresolutely and looked
about him and then plodded on. But suddenly his knees gave. He lifted
the wounded man higher in his arms in order to save him as long as
possible from the fall. Then he could do no more. Bending his head
backwards and lifting his load on his outstretched arms so close to his
face that he lost his cap and spectacles, he fell forward to the ground
and lay motionless with his arms extended and his face resting on
Kranz's chest. Kranz, too, moved no more.
Towards midday Reinhold was hit with a bullet through the left
breast. It felt as though an invisible hand had struck him with an
iron bar and smitten him to earth. However, he jumped up again
immediately, and it was found that the bullet coming from the side had
penetrated above the breast bone and passing through the muscles over
the ribs had gone out again on the left side.
"Not even touched the lung," Stubbe said exultingly when Reinhold
sat in his dugout, while he carefully bandaged him. "There you are,"
he said at last, buttoning up the tunic again, "and now you're off home
and don't you ever come back, for this is no place for you."
Kompes, too, who came in, expressed his delight.
"Well, Reinhold," he said without a trace of envy, "you're well out
of it." This was the first time he had called him by his Christian
name. "We shan't be here much longer ourselves," he went on. "They've
got us taped and they're making short work of it." Just as he was about
to go back to his gun he stopped again in the doorway. "Perhaps," he
said with embarrassment, "you'd leave me that fine knife of yours. You
won't need that any more." Reinhold gladly gave him the knife and
Kompes drew it at once from its leather sheath. The blade was getting
rusty. It looked like the belly of a trout, silver with red spots.
Soon after, the order came through that all walking wounded were to
make their own way to the rear, and Reinhold set out. The infantry had
counter-attacked and pushed the enemy back a bit, and there was a
momentary lull. Reinhold's head teemed with thoughts, but he could not
keep hold of any of them. He tried to think of the dead, but he was
surprised to feel no grief for them. He felt as though they still lived
or as though, living or dead, he had not lost them. Then again a
distant future flashed out and was gone. Sometimes he laughed to
himself and quickened his pace. His wound had long since ceased to
When he reached the hollow with the apple trees he came on a crowd
of wounded from the infantry. They sat and lay about beside the little
wayside chapel and they warned him not to go on over the hill. There
was a heavy barrage on the further slope. So Reinhold decided to wait
there too, and rest himself. He felt suddenly tired and fell asleep.
When he awoke, he was alone. Evening was coming on, but there was
still a glassy brilliance in the atmosphere. He was a little cold.
Slowly he began to recall all that had happened, but all his joy had
left him. He undid his tunic and touched his breast. The bandages
were dry and the wounds did not hurt. He took a deep breath, bent his
knees and moved his arms to and fro. When he realised what he had
resolved upon it gave him a shock at first. But the resolution became
stronger and stronger. He wandered up and down among the apple trees
carrying the little white canvas bag which contained all his
belongings. It held his washing things which he had had sent after
him, also the notebook with the flags on the cover in which he had
never written a word, and a small copy of Goethe's Faust bound
in leather, a book which many of the volunteers of those days had in
their packs, though they never found time to read it. He wandered up
and down and knew that the eye of his country, which saw everything,
was on him.
After a while he heard the sound of wheels approaching. It was the
field-kitchen of a neighbouring battery. He stepped out into the road
and held up his hand and asked for a lift. "We're going up the line,"
they said in reply. "That's why," said Reinhold, and got on to the
step of the cooker.
"Do you belong to the 4th Battery?" one of the two called back to
him. "Things look bad there, they say."
Outside the village the vehicle suddenly stopped and the two drivers
bent low on their seats. "Heads down," they shouted for they heard
bullets whistle over them. Reinhold jumped down. He must have jumped
clumsily. A piercing pain went through his chest and took his breath
away. It was almost as though he had been hit again, and he had to
sink on his knees and stay where he was, one arm round the trunk of a
tree and his face pressed to the bark, till the giddiness passed over.
Half dazed, he could still hear the horses' feet and the heavy thump
and rattle of the wheels till they were lost in the distance. After a
while, however, he was able to take a deep breath and get up and go on;
but he was careful not to have a look at the bandages.
It was dark when he found himself under the chestnut trees. He
looked across to where the gun awnings used to be, but they were not to
be seen—only the guns were there and the sharp edges of the
gun-shields showed up black against the greenish sky in which the first
lights went up. There was a smell of burning. What appeared to be
flattened hay-cocks lay about here and there over the bean field. They
were the dead, as Reinhold now saw, but he did not recognise any of
them. A faint light shone out to the rear from the dugouts. A man who
now came by was Corporal Kompes.
"Kompes," said Reinhold and stopped still. He suddenly felt very
"Hamburger," shouted Kompes, running up to Reinhold, "Hamburger!
here—we've got a visitor."
He put one arm round Reinhold and lowered him gently to the ground.
"What's up Reinhold?" he asked. "Are you bad? Did you get another?
Didn't you get through?"
"Got through fine—fine," said Reinhold. His throat and mouth got
hot suddenly and he had to cough and spit.
"Stretcher-bearers!" Kompes shouted. "Stubbe! Here!" The Hamburger
came up and clapped Reinhold on the back—not knowing what else to do.
"Old man," he brought out with difficulty, "listen to me. You can
still hear me, eh? Well, listen—no offence meant about this morning
early. That was just—you understand?"
Stubbe now came up and began to undo Reinhold's tunic, and Engels
came too and could be seen by his white pointed beard, and Bette and
all the others. All—no, very far from all. It was only a thin circle
standing round him. Engels bent down. "But what are you still here
for?" he said almost sternly. "You've no business here."
Reinhold looked round the circle of faces and said nothing. Then he
turned aside and held his hands up to his mouth.
Stubbe let him sink into the grass.
"All up," he said in a low voice to the others, and motioned them
away. "Steady now, steady," he said to Reinhold, as his habit was.
But Reinhold was no longer there.