Part 2 out of 3
sad, with frightened eyes. He stood like that only the fraction of a
second, then he lost his balance, reeled, and fell down, and was lost
from the captain's circle of vision. Their glances scarcely had time to
cross, the pallid face had merely flitted by. And yet it stood there,
remained fixed in the air, with a mild, soft, plaintive expression about
the narrow lips, an unforgettable air of gentle anxious resignation.
"He is suffering!" flashed through Marschner. "He is suffering!"--it
exulted him. And a glow suffused his pallor. His fingers, sticky with
blood, seemed to caress the air, until his head sank backward, and his
The first soldiers who penetrated the towering mound of earth to where
he lay found him dead. But in spite of his ghastly wound, a contented,
almost happy smile hovered about his lips.
On the big square before the old courthouse, which now served as
regimental headquarters and bore the magic letters A.O.K. as a sort of
cabalistic sign on its front, a military band played every afternoon
from three to four at command of His Excellency. This little diversion
was meant to compensate the civilian population for the many
inconveniences that the quartering of several hundreds of staff officers
and a number of lesser officers inevitably brought upon them. Then, too,
according to His Excellency, such an institution helped considerably to
promote the popularity of the army and inspire patriotism in school
children and the masses. In the interest of the right conduct of the war
the strict commander deemed it highly essential to foster a right
attitude in the public and to encourage friendly relations between
military and civilian authorities--while fully preserving his own
privileges. It was essential to a successful continuation of the war.
Incidentally, the fact that the staff officers, with His Excellency at
their head, usually took their black coffee at just about this time had
helped a good deal to bring about these afternoon concerts.
It was indeed delightful to sit in the shade of the centenarian plane-
trees, whose intertwining branches overarched the entire square like the
nave of a cathedral. The autumn sun cast a dull glow on the walls of the
houses round about, and shed golden rings through the thick foliage on
the small round tables arrayed in long rows in front of the coffeehouse.
There was a reserved row for the staff officers set in snowy linens,
with little flower vases and fresh crisp cakes, which the sergeant of
the commissary brought punctually at three o'clock every day from the
field bakery, where they had been baked with particular care under the
personal supervision of the chef especially for His Excellency and
It was a beautiful gay picture of lively, varied metropolitan life that
surged about the music pavilion. Every one seemed as joyous and carefree
as on the Graben in Vienna on a sunny spring Sunday in times of
undisturbed peace. The children crowded around the orchestra, beat the
measure, and applauded enthusiastically after every piece. The streets
leading into the square were filled with giggling girls and students
wearing bright caps; while the _haute-volee_, the wives of the
resident officials and merchants, sat in the confectioner's shop on the
square, eagerly awaiting an opportunity to show their righteous
indignation at the daring millinery, transparent hose, and little more
than knee-length skirts of a certain class of women who had forced their
way into the town and, despite all protests and orders, were shamelessly
plying their trade in broad daylight.
But the chief tone was given by the transient officers. Whether on
furlough or on their way back to the front, they all had to pass through
this town, and enjoyed in deep draughts this first or last day of
freedom. Besides, if anything was needed at the front--horse-shoe nails,
saddle-soap, sanitary appliances, or bottled beer--this first little
"big town" was the quickest, most convenient place to buy it in. An
unlucky or an unpopular man merely received a commendation for his
bravery, and that settled him. But the man who enjoyed his commanding
officer's favor was given the preference to do the shopping here as a
reward. And an amazing ingenuity developed in discovering immediate
necessities. A secret arithmetical relation undeniably existed between
the consumption of charcoal, axle grease, etc., by individual troop
divisions and the distance of their outposts from this favorite
Of course, the pleasure did not last long. There was just enough time
for a hot tub-bath, for showing off one's best newly-pressed uniform
once or twice on the main streets, for taking two meals at a table
spread with a tablecloth, and for spending a short night in a
comfortable bed--with, or, if the man could not help it, without
caresses--and then off again, depressed and irritable, off to the
maddeningly overcrowded railroad station, back to the front, into the
damp trench or the sunbaked block house.
The greed of life in these young officers, who promenaded, hungry-eyed,
through the town, the racing of their blood, like a diver who fills his
lungs full in one second, had gradually infected the entire, boresome
little place. It tingled, it foamed, it enriched itself and became
frivolous; it could not get enough sensations, now that it stood in the
center of world activities and had a claim upon real events.
Close-packed, the crowd surged past the music in holiday attire and
holiday mood on this ordinary week-day, quivering to the rhythm of the
Blue Danube Waltz, which the orchestra was playing catchingly, with a
roll of drums and a clash of cymbals. The whole spectacle brought to
mind the goings-on behind the scenes in a huge playhouse during the
performance of a tragedy with choruses and mob scenes. Nothing was seen
or heard here of the sanguinary piece being enacted at the front. The
features of the actors relaxed, they rested, or threw themselves into
the gay hubbub, heartily glad not to know how the tragedy was
progressing; exactly as real actors behind the scenes fall back into
their unprofessional selves until they get their next cue.
Sitting in the shade of the old trees, over coffee and cigars,
comfortably watching these doings, one might easily be deluded into
thinking that the drama taking place at the front was nothing but a
jolly spectacular play. From this point of view the whole war showed up
like a life-giving stream that washes orchestras ashore, brings wealth
and gaiety to the people, is navigated by promenading officers, and
directed by portly, comfortable generals. No suggestion of its bloody
side, no roar of artillery reaching your ears, no wounded soldier
dragging in his personal wretchedness and so striking a false note in
the general jollification.
Of course, it had not always been like that. In the first days, when the
daily concert still had the charm of novelty, all the regular, emergency
and reserve hospitals in the neighborhood had poured their vast number
of convalescents and slightly wounded men into the square. But that
lasted only two days. Then His Excellency summoned the head army
physician to a short interview and in sharp terms made it clear to the
crushed culprit what an unfavorable influence such a sight would have
upon the public, and expressed the hope that men wearing bandages, or
maimed men, or any men who might have a depressing effect on the general
war enthusiasm, should henceforth remain in the hospitals.
He was not defrauded of his hope. No disagreeable sight ever again
marred his pleasure when, with his favorite Havana between his teeth, he
gazed past the long row of his subordinates out on the street. No one
ever went by without casting a shy, deferential side-glance at the
omnipotent director of battles, who sat there like any other ordinary
human being, sipping his coffee, although he was the celebrated General
X, unlimited master of hundreds of thousands of human lives, the man the
papers liked to call the "Victor of ----." There was not a human being
in the town whose fate he could not have changed with one stroke of his
pen. There was nothing he could not promote or destroy as he saw fit.
His good will meant orders for army supplies and wealth, or distinction
and advancement; his ill will meant no prospects at all, or an order to
march along the way that led to certain death.
Leaning back comfortably in the large wicker chair, a chair destined in
all likelihood some day to become an object of historic interest, the
Powerful One jested gaily with the wife of his adjutant. He pointed to
the street, where the crowds surged in the brilliant sunshine, and said
with a sort of satisfied, triumphant delight in his tone:
"Just look! I should like to show this picture to our pacifists, who
always act as though war were nothing but a hideous carnage. You should
have seen this hole in peace times. It was enough to put you to sleep.
Why, the porter at the corner is earning more to-day than the biggest
merchant used to earn before the war. And have you noticed the young
fellows who come back from the front? Sunburnt, healthy and happy! Most
of them before the war were employed in offices. They held themselves
badly and were dissipated and looked cheesy. I assure you, the world has
never been so healthy as it is now. But if you look at your newspapers,
you read about a world-catastrophe, about a blood-drained Europe, and a
whole lot of other stuff."
He raised his bushy white eyebrows until they reached the middle of his
bulging forehead, and his small, piercing black eyes skimmed observantly
over the faces of those present.
His Excellency's pronouncement was a suggestion to the others and was
immediately taken up. At every table the conversation grew animated, the
benefits of the war were told over, and the wits cracked jokes at the
expense of the pacifists. There was not a single man in the whole
assemblage who did not owe at least two blessings to the war: financial
independence and such munificence of living as only much-envied money
magnates have allotted to them in times of peace. Among this circle of
people the war wore the mask of a Santa Claus with a bag full of
wonderful gifts on his back and assignments for brilliant careers in his
hand. To be sure here and there a gentleman was to be seen wearing a
crepe-band on his sleeve for a brother or a brother-in-law who, as
officer, had seen that other aspect of the war, the Gorgon's face.
Yet the Gorgon's face was so far away, more than sixty miles in a bee-
line, and an occasional excursion in its vicinity was an exciting little
adventure, a brief titillation of the nerves. Inside an hour the
automobile raced back to safety, back to the bath-tub, and you
promenaded asphalt streets again in shining pumps. So, who would refrain
from joining in the hymn of praise to His Excellency?
The mighty man contentedly listened a while longer to the babel of
voices aroused by what he had said, then gradually sank back into his
reflections, and gazed ahead of him seriously. He saw the sunbeams
sifting through the thick foliage and glittering on the crosses and
stars that covered the left half of his chest in three close rows. It
was a magnificent and complete collection of every decoration that the
rulers of four great empires had to bestow upon a man for heroism,
contempt of death, and high merit. There was no honor left for the
Victor of ---- still to aspire to. And only eleven short months of war
had cast all that at his feet. It was the harvest of but a single year
of war. Thirty-nine years of his life had previously gone in the service
in tedious monotony, in an eternal struggle with sordid everyday cares.
He had worn himself out over all the exigencies of a petty bourgeois
existence, like a poor man ashamed of his poverty, making pathetic
efforts to conceal a tear in his clothes and always seeing the telltale
hole staring out from under the covering. For thirty-nine years he had
never swerved from disciplining himself to abstemiousness, and there was
much gold on his uniform, but very little in his pocket. As a matter of
fact, he had been quite ready for some time to quit. He was thoroughly
tired of the cheap pleasure of tyrannizing over the young officers on
the drill ground.
But then the miracle occurred! Over night the grouchy, obscure old
gentleman changed into a sort of national hero, a European celebrity. He
was "the Victor of ----!" It was like in a fairy tale, when the good
fairy appears and frees the enchanted prince from his hideous disguise,
and he emerges in his glowing youth, surrounded by knights and lackeys,
and enters his magnificent castle.
To he sure the miracle had not brought the general the glow of youth.
But it put elasticity into him. The eventful year had given him a
shaking up, and his veins pulsed with the joy of life and the energy for
work of a man in his prime. It was as a sovereign that he sat there in
the shadow of the plane-trees, with good fortune sparkling on his chest
and a city lying at his feet. Nothing, not a single thing, was lacking
to make the fairy tale perfect.
In front of the coffee-house, guarded by two sturdy corporals, rested
the great grey beast, with the lungs of a hundred horses in its chest,
awaiting the cranking-up to rush its master off to his castle high above
town and valley. Where were the days when, with his general's stripes on
his trousers, he took the street-car to his home, befitting his station
in life, a six-room apartment that was really a five-room apartment plus
a closet? Where was all that? Centuries had given their noblest powers,
generations had expended their artistic skill in filling the castle
requisitioned for His Excellency, the Commander-in-Chief of the ----th
Army, with the choicest treasure. Sun and time had done their best to
mellow the dazzle of the accumulated wealth till it shone in subdued
grandeur as through a delicate veil. Any man master in that house, who
mounted those broad steps and shouted his wishes in those aristocratic
rooms, necessarily felt like a king and could not take the war in any
other way than as a glorious fairy tale.
Indeed, was there ever a royal household that approached the miraculous
more closely? In the kitchen reigned a master of the culinary art, the
chef of the best hotel in the country, who in other circumstances would
not have been satisfied with double the wages of a general and was now
getting only a dollar a day. Yet he was using every bit of his skill. He
had never been so eager to please the palate of him whom he served. The
roast he prepared was the finest piece of meat to be selected from among
the two hundred oxen that daily gave up their lives to the army for the
fatherland. The men who served the roast on silver platters, wrought by
pupils of Benvenuto for the ancestors of the house, were generals of
their trade, who in peace times had had their clothes built in London,
and stood about tremblingly awaiting each sign from their master. And
this entire retinue, this whole princely household, functioned quite
automatically, and--entirely without cost! The master for whom every
one slaved never once had to perform that inevitable nuisance of putting
his hand in his pocket to draw out his purse. The gasoline circulated
inexhaustibly through the veins of the three motor cars, which lounged
day and night on the marble flagging of the courtyard. As by magic
everything flowed in that eye and palate could desire.
No servant asked for wages, everything seemed to be there of itself, as
in fairy castles where it is enough to wish for a thing in order to have
But that was not all. It was not the whole of the miracle that the table
spread itself every day of the month and the store-rooms filled
themselves with provisions. When the first of the month came round,
bank-notes instead of bills came fluttering into the house.
No worry, no disputing, no stinting of one's self to be borne with a
sigh. With an air of boredom one stuffed his pockets with greenbacks,
which were really quite superfluous in this lazy man's paradise that the
war had opened up to its vassals.
One single lowering cloud now and then streaked the shining firmament of
this wonderland and cast its shadow on the brow of His Excellency.
Sometimes his pure joy was disturbed by the thought that the fairy tale
might give way to reality and he might be awakened from the glorious
dream. It was not peace that His Excellency dreaded. He never even
thought of peace. But what if the wall so artfully constructed out of
human bodies should begin to totter some day? What if the enemy were to
penetrate all the fortifications, and discipline were to give way to
panic, and the mighty wall should dissolve into its component parts,
human beings fleeing madly to save their lives? Then the "Victor of ----,"
the almighty fairy tale king, would sink back again into the sordid
commonplace of old. He would have to eke out his existence in some
obscure corner, crowd his trophies into some modest apartment, and
content himself, like other discharged officers, with being a
coffeehouse king. Were he to suffer a single defeat, the world would
instantly forget its enthusiasm. Another general would assume the reign,
another sovereign would fly through the town in a motor car, and the
vast retinue of servants would reverently bow before their new ruler.
The old one would be nothing but a past episode, a scarecrow revealed,
which any sparrow impudently besmirches.
The general's pudgy hand involuntarily clenched itself, and the dreaded
frown, the "storm-signal" that his own soldiers, as well as the enemy,
had learned to fear, appeared for a moment on his prominent forehead.
Then his face cleared again, and His Excellency looked around proudly.
No! The Victor of ---- was not afraid. His wall stood firm and swayed
not. For three months every report that emissaries brought to camp had
told of the enormous preparations being made by the enemy. For three
months they had been storing up ammunition and gathering together their
forces for the tremendous offensive. And the offensive had begun the
night before. The general knew that the crowd gaily thronging in the sun
would not read in the newspaper till the next morning that out at the
front a fierce battle had been raging for the past twenty hours, and
hardly sixty miles from the promenade shells were bursting without
cease, and a heavy rain of hot iron was pouring down upon his soldiers.
Three infantry attacks had already been reported as repulsed, and now
the artillery was hammering with frenzied fury, a prologue to fresh
conflicts during the night.
Well, let them come!
With a jerk, His Excellency sat up, and while his fingers beat on the
table in tune to the Blue Danube, a tense expression came into his face,
as though he could hear the terrific drumfire raging at the front like a
hurricane. His preparations had been made: the human reservoir had been
filled to overflowing. Two hundred thousand strong young lads of the
very right age lay behind the lines ready at the proper moment to be
thrown in front of the steam-roller until it caught and stuck in a marsh
of blood and bones. Just let them come! The more, the merrier! The
Victor of ---- was prepared to add another branch to his laurels, and
his eyes sparkled like the medals on his breast.
His adjutant got up from the table next to his, approached hesitatingly,
and whispered a few words in His Excellency's ear.
The great man shook his head, waving the adjutant off.
"It is an important foreign newspaper, Your Excellency," the adjutant
urged; and when his commander still waved him aside, he added
significantly: "The gentleman has brought a letter of recommendation
from headquarters, Your Excellency."
At this the general finally gave in, arose with a sigh, and said, half
in jest, half in annoyance to the lady beside him:
"A drumfire would be more welcome!" Then he followed his adjutant and
shook hands jovially with the bald civilian, who popped up from his seat
and bent at the middle like a penknife snapping shut. His Excellency
invited him to be seated.
The war correspondent stammered a few words of admiration, and opened
his note-book expectantly, a whole string of questions on his lips. But
His Excellency did not let him speak. In the course of time he had
constructed for occasions like this a speech in which every point was
well thought out and which made a simple impression. He delivered it
now, speaking with emphasis and pausing occasionally to recall what came
To begin with he spoke of his brave soldiers, praising their courage,
their contempt of death, their wonderful deeds of valor. Then he
expressed regret at the impossibility of rewarding each soldier
according to his merits, and--this in a raised voice--invoked the
fatherland's eternal gratitude for such loyalty and self-abnegation even
unto death. Pointing to the heavy crop of medals on his chest, he
explained that the distinctions awarded him were really an honor done to
his men. Finally he wove in a few well-chosen remarks complimenting the
enemy's fighting ability and cautious leadership, and concluded with an
expression of his unshakable confidence in ultimate victory.
The newspaper man listened respectfully and occasionally jotted down a
note. The main thing, of course, was to observe the Great One's
appearance, his manner of speech, his gestures, and to sum up his
personality in a few striking phrases.
His Excellency now discarded his military role, and changed himself from
the Victor of ---- into the man of the world.
"You are going to the front now?" he asked with a courteous smile, and
responded to the correspondent's enthusiastic "Yes" with a deep,
"How fortunate you are! I envy you. You see, the tragedy in the life of
the general of to-day is that he cannot lead his men personally into the
fray. He spends his whole life preparing for war, he is a soldier in
body and soul, and yet he knows the excitement of battle only from
The correspondent was delighted with this subjective utterance which he
had managed to evoke. Now he could show the commander in the sympathetic
role of one who renounces, one who cannot always do as he would. He bent
over his note-book for an instant. When he looked up again he found to
his astonishment that His Excellency's face had completely changed. His
brow was furrowed, his eyes stared wide-open with an anxiously expectant
look in them at something back of the correspondent.
The correspondent turned and saw a pale, emaciated infantry captain
making straight toward His Excellency. The man was grinning and he had a
peculiar shambling walk. He came closer and closer, and stared with
glassy, glaring eyes, and laughed an ugly idiotic laugh. The adjutant
started up from his seat frightened. The veins on His Excellency's
forehead swelled up like ropes. The correspondent saw an assassination
coming and turned pale. The uncanny captain swayed to within a foot or
two of the general and his adjutant, then stood still, giggled
foolishly, and snatched at the orders on His Excellency's chest like a
child snatching at a beam of light.
"Beautiful--shines beautifully--" he gurgled in a thick voice. Then he
pointed his frightfully thin, trembling forefinger up at the sun and
shrieked, "Sun!" Next he snatched at the medals again and said, "Shines
beautifully." And all the while his restless glance wandered hither and
thither as if looking for something, and his ugly, bestial laugh
repeated itself after each word.
His Excellency's right fist was up in the air ready for a blow at the
fellow's chest for approaching him so disrespectfully, but, instead, he
laid his hand soothingly on the poor idiot's shoulder.
"I suppose you have come from the hospital to listen to the music,
Captain?" he said, winking to his adjutant. "It's a long ride to the
hospital in the street-car. Take my automobile. It's quicker."
"Auto--quicker," echoed the lunatic with his hideous laugh. He patiently
let himself be taken by the arm and led away. He turned round once with
a grin at the glittering medals, but the adjutant pulled him along.
The general followed them with his eyes until they entered the machine.
The "storm-signal" was hoisted ominously between his eyebrows. He was
boiling with rage at such carelessness in allowing a creature like that
to walk abroad freely. But in the nick of time he remembered the
civilian at his side, and controlled himself, and said with a shrug of
"Yes, these are some of the sad aspects of the war. You see, it is just
because of such things that the leader must stay behind, where nothing
appeals to his heart. No general could ever summon the necessary
severity to direct a war if he had to witness all the misery at the
"Very interesting," the correspondent breathed gratefully, and closed
his book. "I fear I have already taken up too much of Your Excellency's
valuable time, but may I be permitted one more question? When does Your
Excellency hope for peace?"
The general started, bit his underlip, and glanced aside with a look
that would have made every staff officer of the ----th Army shake in his
boots. With a visible effort he put on his polite smile and pointed
across the square to the open portals of the old cathedral.
"The only advice I can give is for you to go over there and ask our
Heavenly Father. He is the only one who can answer that question."
A friendly nod, a hearty handshake, then His Excellency strode to his
office across the square amid the respectful salutations of the crowd.
When he entered the building the dreaded furrow cleaving his brow was
deeper than ever. An orderly tremblingly conducted him to the office of
the head army physician. For several minutes the entire house held its
breath while the voice of the Mighty One thundered through the
corridors. He ordered the fine old physician to come to his table as if
he were his secretary, and dictated a decree forbidding all the inmates
of the hospitals, without distinction or exception, whether sick or
wounded, to leave the hospital premises. "For"--the decree concluded--
"if a man is ill, he belongs in bed, and if he feels strong enough to go
to town and sit in the coffee-house, he should report at the front,
where his duty calls him."
This pacing to and fro with clinking spurs and this thundering at the
cowering old doctor calmed his anger. The storm had about blown over
when unfortunately the general's notice was drawn to the report from the
brigade that was being most heavily beset by the enemy and had suffered
desperate losses and was holding its post only in order to make the
enterprise as costly as possible to the advancing enemy. Behind it the
mines had already been laid, and a whole new division was already in
wait in subterranean hiding ready to prepare a little surprise for the
enemy after the doomed brigade had gone to its destruction. Of course,
the general had not considered it necessary to inform the brigadier that
he was holding a lost post and all he was to do was to sell his hide as
dearly as possible. The longer the struggle raged the better! And men
fight so much more stubbornly if they hope for relief until the very
All this His Excellency himself had ordained, and he was really greatly
rejoiced that the brigade was still holding out after three overwhelming
infantry charges. But now a report lay before him which went against all
military tradition; and it brought back the storm that had been about to
The major-general (His Excellency made careful note of his name)
described the frightful effect of the drumfire in a nervous, talkative
way that was most unmilitary. Instead of confining himself to a
statement of numbers, he explained at length how his brigade had been
decimated and his men's power of resistance was gone. He concluded his
report by begging for reinforcements, else it would be impossible for
the remnant of his company to withstand the attack to take place that
"Impossible? Impossible?" His Excellency blared like a trumpet into the
ears of the gentlemen standing motionless around him. "Impossible? Since
when is the commander instructed by his subordinates as to what is
possible and what is not?"
Blue in the face with rage he took a pen and wrote this single sentence
in answer to the report: "The sector is to be held." Underneath he
signed his name in the perpendicular scrawl that every school child knew
from the picture card of the "Victor of ----." He himself put the
envelope into the motor-cyclist's hand for it to be taken to the
wireless station as the telephone wires of the brigade had long since
been shot into the ground. Then he blustered like a storm cloud from
room to room, stayed half an hour in the card room, had a short
interview with the chief of the staff, and asked to have the evening
reports sent to the castle. When his rumbling "Good night, gentlemen!"
at last resounded in the large hall under the dome, every one heaved a
sigh of relief. The guard stood at attention, the chauffeur started the
motor, and the big machine plunged into the street with a bellow like a
wild beast's. Panting and tooting, it darted its way through the narrow
streets out into the open, where the castle like a fairy palace looked
down into the misty valley below with its pearly rows of illuminated
With his coat collar turned up, His Excellency sat in the car and
reflected as he usually did at this time on the things that had happened
during the day. The correspondent came to his mind and the man's stupid
question, "When does Your Excellency hope for peace?" Hope? Was it
credible that a man who must have some standing in his profession, else
he never would have received a letter of recommendation from
headquarters, had so little suspicion of how contrary that was to every
soldierly feeling? Hope for peace? What good was a general to expect
from peace? Could this civilian not comprehend that a commanding general
really commanded, was really a general, just in times of war, while in
times of peace he was like a strict teacher in galloons, an old duffer
who occasionally shouted himself hoarse out of pure ennui? Was he to
long for that dreary treadmill existence again? Was he to hope for the
time--to please the gentlemen civilians--when he, the victorious leader
of the ----th Army, would be used again merely for reviews? Was he to
await impatiently going back to that other hopeless struggle between a
meager salary and a life polished for show, a struggle in which the lack
of money always came out triumphant?
The general leaned back on the cushioned seat in annoyance.
Suddenly the car stopped with a jerk right in the middle of the road.
The general started up in surprise and was about to question the
chauffeur, when the first big drops of rain fell on his helmet. It was
the same storm that earlier in the afternoon had given the men at the
front a short respite.
The two corporals jumped out and quickly put up the top. His Excellency
sat stark upright, leaned his ear to the wind, and listened attentively.
Mingled with the rushing sound of the wind he caught quite clearly, but
very--very faintly a dull growling, a hollow, scarcely audible
pounding, like the distant echo of trees being chopped down in the
His Excellency's eyes brightened. A gleam of inner satisfaction passed
over his face so recently clouded with vexation.
Thank God! There still was war!
This world war has given me a comrade, too. You couldn't find a better
It is exactly fourteen months ago that I met him for the first time in a
small piece of woods near the road to Goerz. Since then he has never
left my side for a single moment. We sat up together hundreds of nights
through, and still he walks beside me steadfastly.
Not that he intrudes himself upon me. On the contrary. He
conscientiously keeps the distance that separates him, the common
soldier, from the officer that he must respect in me. Strictly according
to regulations he stands three paces off in some corner or behind some
column and only dares to cast his shy glances at me.
He simply wants to be near me. That's all he asks for, just for me to
let him be in my presence.
Sometimes I close my eyes to be by myself again, quite by myself for a
few moments, as I used to be before the war. Then he fixes his gaze upon
me so firmly and penetratingly and with such obstinate, reproachful
insistence that it burns into my back, settles under my eyelids, and so
steeps my being with the picture of him that I look round, if a little
tune has passed without his reminding me of his presence.
He has gnawed his way into me, he has taken up his abode within me. He
sits inside of me like the mysterious magician at moving-picture shows
who turns the crank inside of the black booth above the heads of the
spectators. He casts his picture through my eyes upon every wall, every
curtain, every flat surface that my eyes fall on.
But even when there is no background for his picture, even when I
frantically look out of the window and stare into the distance so as to
be rid of him for a short while, even then he is there, hovering in
front of me as though impaled upon the lance of my gaze, like a banner
swaying at the head of a parade. If X-rays could penetrate the skull,
one would find his picture woven into my brain in vague outline, like
the figures in old tapestries.
I remember a trip I took before the war from Munich to Vienna on the
Oriental Express. I looked out upon the autumnal mellowness of the
country around the Bavarian lakes and the golden glow of the Wiener
Wald. But across all this glory that I drank in leaning back on the
comfortable seat in luxurious contentment, there steadily ran an ugly
black spot--a flaw in the window-pane. That is the way my obstinate
comrade flits across woods and walls, stands still when I stand still,
dances over the faces of passers-by, over the asphalt paving wet from
the rain, over everything my eyes happen to fall upon. He interposes
himself between me and the world, just like that flaw in the window-
pane, which degraded everything I saw to the quality of the background
that it made.
The physicians, of course, know better. They do not believe that He
lives in me and stays by me like a sworn comrade. From the standpoint of
science it rests with me not to drag him round any longer, but to give
him his dismissal, precisely as I might have freed myself from the
annoying spot by angrily smashing the window-pane. The physicians do not
believe that one human being can unite himself at death with another
human being and continue to live on in him with obstinate persistence.
It is their opinion that a man standing at a window should see the house
opposite but never the wall of the room behind his back.
The physicians only believe in things that _are_. Such
superstitions as that a man can carry dead men within him and see them
standing in front of him so distinctly that they hide a picture behind
them from his sight, do not come within the range of the gentlemen's
reasoning. In their lives death plays no part. A patient who dies ceases
to be a patient. And what does the day know of the night, though the one
forever succeeds the other?
But I know it is not I who forcibly drag the dead comrade through my
life. I know that the dead man's life within me is stronger than my own
life. It may be that the shapes I see flitting across the wall papers,
cowering in corners and staring into the lighted room from dark
balconies, and knocking so hard on the windows that the panes rattle,
are only visions and nothing more. Where do they come from? _My_
brain furnishes the picture, _my_ eyes provide the projection, but
it is the dead man that sits at the crank. He tends to the film. The
show begins when it suits Him and does not stop as long as He turns the
crank. How can I help seeing what He shows me? If I close my eyes the
picture falls upon the inside of my lids, and the drama plays inside of
me instead of dancing far away over doors and walls.
I should be the stronger of the two, they say. But you cannot kill a
dead man, the physicians should know that.
Are not the paintings by Titian and Michael Angelo still hanging in the
museums centuries after Titian and Michael Angelo lived? And the
pictures that a dying man chiseled into my brain fourteen months ago
with the prodigious strength of his final agony--are they supposed to
disappear simply because the man that created them is lying in his
Who, when he reads or hears the word "woods," does not see some woods he
has once walked through or looked out on from a train window? Or when a
man speaks of his dead father does he not see the face that has long
been rotting in the grave appear again, now stern, now gentle, now in
the rigidity of the last moments? What would our whole existence be
without these visions which, each at its own word, rise up for moments
out of oblivion as if in the glare of a flashlight?
Sick? Of course. The world is sore, and will have no words or pictures
that do not have reference to the wholesale graves. Not for a moment can
the comrade within me join the rest of the dead, because everything that
happens is as a flashlight falling upon him. There's the newspaper each
morning to begin with: "Ships sunk," "Attacks repulsed." And immediately
the film reels off a whirl of gasping, struggling men, fingers rising
out of mountainous waves grasping for life once more, faces disfigured
by pain and fury. Every conversation that one overhears, every shop
window, every breath that is drawn is a reminder of the wholesale
carnage. Even the silence of the night is a reminder. Does not each tick
of the second-hand mark the death rattle of thousands of men? In order
to hear the hell raging yonder on the other side of the thick wall of
air, is it not enough to know of chins blown off, throats cut open, and
corpses locked in a death embrace?
If a man were lying comfortably in bed and then found out for certain
that some one next door was being murdered, would you say he was sick if
he jumped up out of bed with his heart pounding? And are we anything but
next door to the places where thousands duck down in frantic terror,
where the earth spits mangled fragments of bodies up into the sky, and
the sky hammers down on the earth with fists of iron? Can a man live at
a distance from his crucified self when the whole world resounds with
reminders of these horrors?
It is the others that are sick. They are sick who gloat over news of
victories and see conquered miles of territory rise resplendent above
mounds of corpses. They are sick who stretch a wall of flags between
themselves and their humanity so as not to know what crimes are being
committed against their brothers in the beyond that they call "the
front." Every man is sick who still can think, talk, discuss, sleep,
knowing that other men holding their own entrails in their hands are
crawling like half-crushed worms across the furrows in the fields and
before they reach the stations for the wounded are dying off like
animals, while somewhere, far away, a woman with passionate longing is
dreaming beside an empty bed. All those are sick who can fail to hear
the moaning, the gnashing of teeth, the howling, the crashing and
bursting, the wailing and cursing and agonizing in death, because the
murmur of everyday affairs is around them or the blissful silence of
It is the deaf and the blind that are sick, not I!
It is the dull ones that are sick, those whose souls sing neither
compassion for others nor their own anger. All those numerous people are
sick who, like a violin without strings, merely echo every sound. Or
would you say that the man whose memory is like a photographic plate on
which the light has fallen and which cannot record any more impressions,
is the healthy man? Is not memory the very highest possession of every
human being? It is the treasure that animals do not own, because they
are incapable of holding the past and reviving it.
Am I to be cured of my memory as from an illness? Why, without my memory
I would not be myself, because every man is built up of his memories and
really lives only as long as he goes through life like a loaded camera.
Supposing I could not tell where I lived in my childhood, what color my
father's eyes and my mother's hair were, and supposing at any moment
that I were called upon to give an account, I could not turn the leaves
of the past and point to the right picture, how quick they would be to
diagnose my case as feeblemindedness, or imbecility. Then, to be
considered mentally normal, must one treat one's brain like a slate to
be sponged off and be able at command to tear out pictures that have
burned the most hideous misery into the soul, and throw them away as one
does leaves from an album of photographs?
One man died before my eyes, he died hard, torn asunder after a
frightful struggle between the two Titans, Life and Death. Am I sick,
then, if I experience all over again all the phases of his agonizing--
preserved in my brain like snapshots--as long as every happening
inexorably opens the pages of this series? And the other people, are
they well, those, I mean, who skip the pages as though they were blank
that record the dismemberment, the mutilation, the crushing of their
brothers, the slow writhing to death of men caught in barbed wire
Tell me, my dear doctors, at just what point am I to begin to forget?
Am I to forget I was in the war? Am I to forget the moment in the smoky
railway station when I leaned out of the car window and saw my boy ashen
white, with compressed lips, standing beside his mother, and I made a
poor show of cheerfulness and talked of seeing them soon again, while my
eyes greedily searched the features of my wife and child, and my soul
drank in the picture of them like parched lips after a many days' march
drinking in the water so madly longed for? Am I to forget the choking
and the bitterness in my mouth when the train began to move and the
distance swallowed up my child, my wife, my world?
And the whole ride to death, when I was the only military traveler in a
car full of happy family men off for a summer Sunday in the country--am
I to tear it out of my memory like so much cumbersome waste paper? Am I
to forget how I felt when it grew quieter at each station, as though
life were crumbling away, bit by bit, until at midnight only one or two
sleepy soldiers remained in my coach and an ashen young face drawn with
sorrow hovered about the flickering lamplight? Must one actually be sick
if it is like an incurable wound always to feel that leave-taking of
home and warmth, that riding away with hatred and danger awaiting one at
the end of the trip? Is there anything harder to understand--when have
men done anything madder--than this: to race through the night at sixty
miles an hour, to run away from all love, all security, to leave the
train and take another train because it is the only one that goes to
where invisible machines belch red-hot pieces, of iron and Death casts
out a finely meshed net of steel and lead to capture men? Who will
obliterate from my soul the picture of that small dirty junction, the
shivering, sleepy soldiers without any intoxication or music in their
blood, looking wistfully after the civilian's train and its brightly
lighted windows as it disappeared behind the trees with a jolly blow of
its whistle? Who will obliterate the picture of that exchanging for
Death in the drab light of early dawn?
And supposing I could cross out that first endless night as something
settled and done with, would not the next morning remain, when our train
stopped at a switch in the middle of a wide, dewy meadow, and we were
told that we had to wait to let hospital trains go by? How shall I ever
banish the memory of those thick exhalations of lysol and blood blown
upon the happy fields from a dragon's nostrils? Won't I forever see
those endless serpents creeping up so indolently, as though surfeited
with mangled human flesh? From hundreds of windows white bandages
gleamed and dull, glassy eyes stared out. Lying, crouching, on top of
each other, body to body, they even hung on to the running-boards like
bloody bunches of grapes, an overflowing abundance of distress and
agony. And those wretched remains of strength and youth, those bruised
and battered men, looked with pity, yes, _with pity_, at our train.
Am I really sick because those glances of warm compassion from bleeding
cripples to sound, strapping young fellows burn in my soul with a fire
never to be extinguished? An apprehension sent a chill through our whole
train, the foreboding of a hell that one would rather run away from
wrapped in bloody bandages than go to meet whole and strong. And when
this shudder of apprehension has turned into reality, into experience
and memory, is it to be shaken off as long as such trains still meet
every day? A casual remark about the transfer of troops, news of fresh
battles inevitably recall this first actual contact with the war, just
as a certain note when struck will produce a certain tone, and I see the
tracks and ties and stones spattered with blood, shining in the early
morning light of a summer day--signposts pointing to the front.
Am _I_ really the sick person because I cannot utter that word or
write it down without my tongue growing coated from the intense hatred I
feel? Axe not the others mad who look upon this wholesale cripple-and-
corpse-factory with a mixture of religious devotion, romantic longing
and shy sympathy? Would it not be wiser once for a change to examine
those others for the state of their mind? Must _I_ disclose it to
my wise physicians, who watch over me so compassionately, that all this
mischief is the work of a few words that have been let loose upon
humanity like a pack of mad dogs?
Front--Enemy--Hero's death--Victory--the curs rage through the world
with frothing mouth and rolling eyes. Millions who have been carefully
inoculated against smallpox, cholera and typhoid fever are chased into
madness. Millions, on either side, are packed into cars--ride, singing,
to meet each other at the front--hack, stab, shoot at each other, blow
each other into bits, give their flesh and their bones for the bloody
hash out of which the dish of peace is to be cooked for those fortunate
ones who give the flesh of their calves and oxen to their fatherland for
a hundred per cent profit, instead of carrying their own flesh to market
for fifty cents a day.
Suppose the word "war" had never been invented and had never been
hallowed through the ages and decked with gay trappings. Who would dare
to supplement the deficient phrase, "declaration of war," by the
"After long, fruitless negotiations our emissary to the government of X
left to-day. From the window of his parlor car he raised his silk hat to
the gentlemen who had escorted him to the station, and he will not meet
them with a friendly smile again until _you_ have made corpses of
many hundreds of thousands of men in the country of X. Up then! Squeeze
yourself into box-cars meant for six horses or twenty-eight men! Ride to
meet them, those other men. Knock them dead, hack off their heads, live
like wild beasts in damp excavations, in neglect, in filth, overrun with
lice, until we shall deem the time has come again for our emissary to
take a seat in a parlor car and lift his silk hat, and in ornate rooms
politely and aristocratically dispute over the advantages which our big
merchants and manufacturers are to derive from the slaughter. Then as
many of you as are not rotting under the ground or hobbling on crutches
and begging from door to door may return to your half-starved families,
and may--nay must!--take up your work again with redoubled energy, more
indefatigably and yet with fewer demands than before, so as to be able
to pay in sweat and privation for the shoes that you wore out in
hundreds of marches and the clothes that decayed on your bodies."
A fool he who would sue for a following in such terms! But _no_
fools they who are the victims, who freeze, starve, kill, and let
themselves be killed, just because they have learned to believe that
this must be so, once the mad dog War has burst his chains and bitten
Is this what the wars were like from which the word "war" has come down
to us? Did not war use to guarantee booty? Were not the mercenaries led
on by hopes of a gay, lawless life--women and ducats and gold-
caparisoned steeds? Is this cowering under iron discipline, this holding
out of your head to be chopped off, this passive play with monsters that
spill their hellish cauldron on you from out of the blue distance still
"war"? War was the collision of the superfluous forces, the ruffians of
all nations. Youth, for whom the town had grown too small and the
doublet too tight, ventured out, intoxicated by the play of its own
muscles. And now shall the same word hold good when men already anchored
to house and home are torn away and whipped into the ranks and laid out
before the enemy, and made to wait, defenseless, in dull resignation,
like supers in this duel of the munition industries?
Is it right to misuse the word "war" as a standard when it is not
courage and strength that count, but explosive bombs and the length of
range of the guns and the speed with which women and children turn out
shells? We used to speak with horror of the tyrants of dark ages, who
threw helpless men and women to the lions and tigers; but now is there
one of us who would not mention them with respect in comparison with the
rulers who are at present directing the struggle between men and
machines, as though it were a puppet show at the end of telegraph wires,
and who are animated by the delightful hope that our supply of human
flesh may outlast the enemy's supply of steel and iron?
No! All words coined before this carnage began are too beautiful and too
honest, like the word "front," which I have learned to abhor. Are you
"facing" the enemy when their artillery is hidden behind mountains and
sends death over a distance of a day's journey, and when their sappers
come creeping up thirty feet below the surface? And your "front" is a
terminal station, a little house all shot up, behind which the tracks
have been torn up because the trains turn back here after unloading
their cargo of fresh, sunburned men, to call for them again when they
have emerged from the machines with torn limbs and faces covered with
It was towards evening when I got off the train at this terminal. A
bearded soldier with his right arm in a sling was sitting on the ground
leaning against the iron railing around the platform. When he saw me
pass by, quite spick and span, he stroked his right arm tenderly with
his left hand and threw me an ugly look of hatred and called out through
"Yes, Lieutenant, here's the place for man salad."
Am I to forget the wicked grin that widened his mouth, already distorted
by pain? Am I sick because each time I hear the word "front" an echo,
"man salad," inevitably croaks in my ears? Or are the others sick who do
not hear "man salad," but swallow down the cowardly stuff written by our
war bards, who try like industrious salesmen to make the brand "world
war" famous, because in reward they will have the privilege of dashing
about in automobiles like commanding generals instead of being forced to
face death in muddy ditches and be bossed by a little corporal?
Are there really human beings of flesh and blood who can still take a
newspaper in their hands and not foam at the mouth with rage? Can one
carry in one's brain the picture of wounded men lying exposed on slimy
fields in the pouring rain, slowly, dumbly bleeding to death, and yet
quietly read the vile stuff written about "perfect hospital service,"
"smoothly running ambulances," and "elegantly papered trenches," with
which these fellows poetize themselves free from military service?
Men come home with motionless, astonished eyes, still reflecting death.
They walk about shyly, like somnambulists in brightly lighted streets.
In their ears there still resound the bestial howls of fury that they
themselves bellowed into the hurricane of the drumfire so as to keep
from bursting from inner stress. They come loaded down, like beasts of
burden, with horrors, the astonished looks of bayoneted, dying foes on
their conscience--and they don't dare open their mouths because
everybody, wife and child included, grinds out the same tune, a flow of
curious questions about shells, gas bombs and bayonet attacks. So the
days of the furlough expire, one by one, and the return to death is
almost a deliverance from the shame of being a coward in disguise among
the friends at home, to whom dying and killing have become mere
So be it, my dear doctors! It is an honor to be charged with madness if
those villains are not called mad who, to save their own necks, have so
gloriously hardened the people's hearts and abolished pity and implanted
pride in the enemy's suffering, instead of acting as the one
intermediary between distress and power and arousing the conscience of
the world by going to the most frequented places and shouting _"Man
Sal-ad"_ through a megaphone so loud and so long that at length all
those whose fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, have gone to the corpse-
factory will be seized with terror and all the throats in the world will
be _one_ echo to "Man Sal-ad!"
If you were here right now, dear doctors, I could show you my comrade,
summoned to this room in the very body by the flames of hate against
news from the front and against the indifference of the hinterland. I
feel him standing behind my back, but his face is lying on the white
sheet in front of me, like a faint water-mark, and my pen races
frantically so as to cover his eyes at least with letters and hide their
Large, widening, hideously distorted, his face, slowly swelling, rises
from the paper like the face of Jesus of the handkerchief.
It was just like this that the three war correspondents saw him lying at
the edge of the woods on that midsummer morning and--turned away
involuntarily with almost the military exactness of soldiers at a "right
about face." Their visit was meant for _me_! I was to furnish them
with carriage and horses because the automobile that was to have darted
them through the danger zone was lying on the road to Goerz with a
Charming gentlemen, in wonderfully well-cut breeches and traveling caps,
looking as if they had stepped out of a Sherlock Holmes motion picture.
They offered to carry letters back and deliver messages, and they found
everything on my place perfectly fascinating, and laughed heartily at my
mattress of willow twigs--and were particularly grateful when the
carriage stood ready to carry them off before the daily bombardment of
the Italians began.
On driving out of the woods they had to pass the wounded man again with
the hideously disfigured face. He was crouching on the meadow. But this
time they did not see him. As if at command they turned their heads the
other way and with animated gestures viewed the damage done by an air
raid the day before, as though they were already sitting over a table in
I lost my breath, as though I had run a long distance up-hill. The place
where I stood suddenly seemed strange and altered. Was that the same
piece of woods into which shells had so often come crashing, which the
huge Caproni planes had circled about with wide-spread wings like
vultures, shedding bombs, while our machine guns lashed the leaves with
a hailstorm of shot? Was it out of _this_ piece of woods that three
men had just driven off, healthy, unscathed, gaily waving their caps?
Where was the wall that held us others imprisoned under the cracking
branches? Was there not a door that opened only to let out pale, sunken
cheeks, feverish eyes, or mangled limbs?
The carriage rolled lightly over the field, trampled down brown, and the
one thing missing to make it the perfect picture of a pleasure trip was
the brilliant red of a Baedeker.
Those men were riding back home.
To wife and child, perhaps?
A painful pulling and tugging, as though my eyes were caught to the
carriage wheels. Then my body rebounded--as if torn off--back into
emptiness, and--at that moment, just when my soul was as if ploughed up
by the carriage and laid bare and defenseless by yearning--at that
moment the experience sprang upon me--with one dreadful leap, one single
bite--incurable for the rest of my life.
Unsuspecting, I crossed over to the wounded man upon whom the three had
so unceremoniously turned their backs, as though he did not also belong
to the interesting museum of shell holes that they had come to inspect.
He was cowering near the dirty ragged little Red Cross flag, with his
head between his knees, and did not hear me come up. Behind him lay the
brown spot which stood out from the green still left on the field like a
circus ring. The wounded soldiers who gathered here every morning at
dawn to be driven to the field hospital in the wagons that brought us
ammunition had rubbed this spot in like a favorite corner of a sofa.
How many I had seen crouching there like that, for ten--often twelve
hours, when the wagons had left too early, or had been overcrowded, or,
after violent fighting, had stood waiting in line at the munitions depot
behind the lines. Happy fellows, some of them, with broken arms or legs,
the war slang, "a thousand-dollar shot," on their pale, yet laughing
lips--enviously ogled by the men with slight wounds or the men sick with
typhoid fever, who would all gladly have sacrificed a thousand dollars
and a limb into the bargain for the same certainty of not having to
return to the front again. How many I had seen rolling on the ground,
biting into the earth in their agony--how many in the pouring rain, half
buried already in the mud, their bodies ripped open, groaning and
whimpering and outbellowing the storm.
This man seemed to be only slightly hurt in the right leg. The blood had
oozed out on one spot through the hastily made bandage, so I offered him
my first-aid package, besides cognac and cigarettes. But he did not
move. It was not until I laid my hand on his shoulder that he raised his
head--and the face he showed me threw me back like a blow on the chest.
His mouth and nose had come apart, and crept like a thick vine up his
right cheek--which was no longer a cheek. A chunk of bluish red flesh
swelled up there, covered by skin stretched to bursting and shining from
being drawn so tight. The whole right side of his face seemed more like
an exotic fruit than a human countenance, while from the left side, from
out of grey twitching misery, a sad, frightened eye looked up at me.
Violent terror slung itself round my neck like a lasso.
What was it? Such a frightful thing as that even this field, this
waiting-room to the Beyond, had never witnessed before. Even the awful
recollection of another wounded man who had stood at this same spot a
few days before, his hands looking as though they were modeling
something, while in actuality they were carefully holding his own
entrails--even that hideous recollection faded before the sight of this
Janus head, all peace, all gentle humanity on one side; all war, all
distorted, puffed-up image of fiendish hatred on the other side.
"Shrapnel?" I stammered timidly.
The answer was confused. All I could get out of it was that a dumdum
bullet had smashed his right shinbone. But what was that he kept
mumbling about a hook each time his hand trembled up to his glowing
I could not understand him; for the thing he had gone through still
seethed in his veins so violently that he spoke as though it were just
then happening and I were witnessing it. His peasant's mind could not
comprehend that there were people who had not seen or heard of the
tremendous misery of the last hours he had gone through. So it was more
by guess-work that I gradually pieced together his story from unfinished
sentences, coarse oaths, and groans.
For a whole night, after a repulsed attack on the enemy's trench, he had
lain with a broken leg, unconscious, near our own wire entanglements. At
dawn they threw out the iron grappling hook for him, with which they
pull over into the trench the corpses of friend and foe so as to be able
to bury them unceremoniously before the sun of Goerz has a chance to do
its work. With this hook, dipped in hundreds of corpses, a dunce--"God
damn him!"--had torn his cheek open before a more skilful hand caught
hold of it and got him over safely. And now he asked humbly to be taken
away to the hospital quickly, because he was worried--about his leg and
being a crippled beggar the rest of his life.
I ran off as though mad dogs were at my heels, over rocks and roots,
through the woods to the next detachment. In vain! In the whole woods
there was not a single vehicle to be found. I had given up the last one
to those three war correspondents.
Why had I not asked them to take the one wounded man lying on the field
along with them and leave him at the hospital that they would pass? Why
had they themselves not thought of doing their human duty? Why?
I clenched my fists in impotent fury and caught myself reaching for my
revolver as though I could still shoot those gay sparks in their
Breathless, overheated from the long race, I tottered back, my knees
trembling the whole way. I felt utterly broken, as though I were
carrying on my shoulders a picture, weighing a ton, of men who for sport
angle for human carrion.
An odd choking and tickling came into my throat--a sensation I had not
known since childhood--when, back at my post again, I had to listen to
the low whimpering of the helpless man.
He was no longer alone. In my absence a little band of slightly wounded
men had joined him. Peering between the tree trunks I saw them sitting
in a circle on the field, while the man who had been hooked was hopping
about holding on to his injured leg and tossing his head from one
shoulder to the other.
Towards noon I sent my corporals in search of a vehicle, promising them
a princely reward, while I ran to the field again with my whisky flask.
He was no longer dancing about. He was kneeling in the center of the
circle of wounded men, his body bent over, rolling his head on the
ground as though it were a thing apart from himself. Suddenly he jumped
up with such a yell of fury that a frightened murmur came even from the
line of wounded men, who had been sitting there indifferent, sunk in
their own suffering.
That was no longer anything human. The man's skin could not stand any
more stretching and had burst. The broad splits ran apart like the lines
of a compass and in the middle the raw flesh glowed and gushed out.
And he yelled! He hammered with his fist on the enormous purplish lump,
until he fell to his knees again moaning under the blows of his own
It was dark already when--at last!--they came and carted him away. And
when the night slowly wove its web of mist in the woods and I lay
wrapped in a mound of blankets, the only one who was still awake in the
throng of black tree-trunks that moved closer together in the darkness--
there he was back again, standing up stiff in the moonlight, his
tortured cheek, huge as a pumpkin, shining blue against the black
shadows of the trees. It glimmered like a will-o'-the-wisp, now here,
now there. Night after night. It shone into every dream, so that I
forced my eyelids open with my fingers--until, after ten frightful
nights, my body broke down and was carried, a shrieking, convulsed heap,
to the same hospital in which He had succumbed to blood-poisoning.
And now I am a madman! You can read it, black on white, on the placard
at the head of my bed. They pat me on the back soothingly, like a shying
horse, when I flare up and ask to be let out of this place in which
_the others_ should be shut up.
But the others are free! From my window I can look over the garden wall
into the street, and see them hurrying along, raising their hats,
shaking hands, and crowding in front of the latest bulletin. I see women
and girls, dressed coquettishly, tripping along with pride shining in
their eyes, beside men whom a cross on the breast brands as murderers. I
see widows in long black veils--still patient. I see lads with flowers
stuck in their helmets ready to leave for the war. And not one of them
rebels! Not one of them sees bruised, mangled men cowering in dark
corners, men ripped apart by grappling hooks, men with their entrails
gushing out, and men with blue shining cheeks.
They go by under my window, gesticulating, enthusiastic; because the
enthusiastic phrases arrive coined fresh every day from the mint, and
each person feels sheltered and enveloped in a warmth of assent if the
phrases ring clear from his lips. I know that they keep quiet even when
they would like to speak, to cry out, to scream. I know that they hunt
down "slackers," and have no word of abuse for those who are a thousand
times worse cowards, those who clearly recognise the utter senselessness
of this butchery of millions, yet will not open their mouths for fear of
the censure of the thoughtless crowd.
From my window I can see the whole globe spinning round like a crazy
whirligig, whipped on by haughty lords in cunning calculation and by
venal servants in sneaking submissiveness.
I see the whole pack! The bawlers who are too empty and too lazy to
develop their own selves and want to puff themselves with the glittering
praise meant for their herd. The scoundrels who are protected by the
masses, carried by them and fed by them, and who look up sanctimoniously
to a bogy of their own invention, and hammer that bogy into the
conscience of millions of good men, until the mass has been forged that
has neither heart nor brain, but only fury and blind faith. I see the
whole game proceeding madly in blood and agony. I see the spectators
going by indifferently, and I am called a madman when I raise the window
to call down to them that the sons they have born and bred, the men they
have loved are being chased like wild animals, are being butchered like
Those fools down there, who for the sake of respectable condolence
calls, for a neighbor's eyes raised heavenward in sympathy, sacrificed
the splendor and warmth of their lives, who threw their flesh and blood
into the barbed wire entanglements, to rot as carrion on the fields or
be hooked in with grappling hooks, who have no other consolation than
that the "enemy" have had the same done to them--those fools remain
free; and in their despicable vanity and wicked patience they may daily
shove fresh hecatombs out to the cannons. But I must stay here impotent
--left alone with the relentless comrade that my conscience gives birth
to over again every day.
I stand at my window and between me and the street lie piled high the
bodies of the many I saw bleeding. And I stand here powerless--because
the revolver that was given me to shoot down poor homesick devils,
forced into a uniform by iron necessity, has been taken from me, out of
fear that I might dislodge a few mass murderers from their security and
send them as a warning example down to their victims.
So I must stay here, as a seer over the blind--behind iron gratings. And
all I can do is consign these leaves to the wind--every day write it all
down again and keep scattering the pages out on the street.
I will write indefatigably. I will sow the whole world with my pages.
Until the seed shall sprout in every heart, until every bedroom will be
entered by a blue apparition--a dear dead one showing his wounds; and at
last, at last, the glorious song of the world's redemption will resound
under my window, the wrathful cry shouted by a million throats:
A HERO'S DEATH
The staff physician had not understood. He shook his head, vexed, and
looked questioningly over the rims of his glasses at his assistant.
But his assistant had not understood either, and was embarrassed, and
stood stiffly without saying anything.
The only one who seemed to have any clue at all to the man's ravings was
his orderly. For two tears glistened on the upturned ends of his waxed
mustache. But the orderly spoke nothing but Hungarian, and the staff
physician turned away with a muttered "blooming idiot". Followed by his
flaxen-haired assistant, he made his way toward the operating room,
panting and perspiring.
The huge ball of cotton, inside of which, according to the placard
hanging at the top of the bed, was hidden the head of First Lieutenant
of the Reserves, Otto Kadar, of the ----th Regiment of Field Artillery,
sank back on the pillow, and Miska seated himself again on his knapsack,
snuffed up his tears, put his head between his big unwashed hands, and
speculated despairingly about his future.
For it was plain that his Lieutenant could not last much longer. Miska
knew what was hidden in the huge cotton ball. He had seen the crushed
skull and the horrible grey mess under the bloody splinters which were
the brains of his poor Lieutenant, who had been such a good man and kind
superior. Miska could not hope for such wonderful luck a second time.
You didn't come across such a kind-hearted master twice in your life.
The many, many slices of salami that the Lieutenant always had given him
from his own store of provisions, the gentle, cordial words that Miska
had heard him whisper to every wounded man--all the memories of the
long, bloody months he had gone through dully beside his master almost
like a comrade, rose to his mind. He felt dreadfully sorry for himself,
the good fellow did, in his infinite defenselessness against the huge
war machine into which he would now be thrown again without the sure
support of his kind Lieutenant next to him.
His broad peasant's head between his hands, he crouched like a dog at
the feet of his dying master, and the tears rolled gently down his
cheeks and stuck one by one on the ends of his mustache glued with dust
It was not quite clear to Miska either just why the poor Lieutenant kept
clamoring so frightfully for his talking-machine. All he knew was that
the officers had been sitting under cover, listening to the Rakoczy
March on the phonograph, when suddenly that accursed shell burst upon
them and everything disappeared in smoke and earth. He himself had been
knocked unconscious by a heavy board which came out of a clear sky and
hit him on the back. He had fallen flat and it was an eternity before he
got his breath back again.
Then--then--Miska's recollections of things after this were a bit hazy--
then he remembered an indescribable heap of splintered boards and fallen
beams, a hash of rags, cement, earth, human limbs, and quantities of
blood. And then--then he remembered--young Meltzar. Meltzar was still
sitting upright with his back against the remains of the wall, and the
record that had just played the Rakoczy March and had miraculously
remained whole was perched on the place where his head belonged. But his
head was not there. It was gone--completely gone, while the black record
remained, also leaning against the wall, directly on top of the
bloodsoaked collar. It was awful. Not one of the soldiers had dared
touch the upright body with the record exactly like a head on its neck.
Brrr! A cold shiver ran down Miska's back at the recollection, and his
heart stopped beating in fright when just at that moment the Lieutenant
again began to scream:
"Phonograph! Only a phonograph!"
Miska jumped up and saw the huge ball of cotton lift itself with an
effort from the pillow, and his officer's one remaining eye fix greedily
upon some invisible object. He stood there ashamed, as though guilty of
a crime, when indignant glances were darted at him from the other beds
in the ward.
"This is unbearable!" cried a Major, who had been severely wounded, from
the other end of the long ward. "Carry the man out."
But the Major spoke German, and Miska was more than ever at sea. He
wiped the sweat of anguish from his brow and explained to a lieutenant
in the next bed, since his master could not hear what he said anyhow,
that the phonograph had been broken--broken into a thousand pieces, else
he would never have left it there, but would surely have brought it
along as he had brought everything else belonging to his Lieutenant that
he had managed to find.
No one answered him. As at a word of command, each one of the officers
the whole length of the ward stuck his head under his pillow and pulled
the covers over his ears so as not to hear that horrible gurgling laugh
which changed into a howl or into infuriated cries for the phonograph.
The old Major even wrapped his blood-stained cloak around his head like
"Lieutenant! I beg pardon, Lieutenant----" Miska begged, and very, very
gently stroked his master's quivering knees with his big hard palms.
But Lieutenant Kadar heard him not. Neither did he feel the heavy hand
resting on his knees. For, opposite him, young Meltzar was still sitting
with a flat, black, round head on his neck on which the Rakoczy March
was ingraved in spirals. And all at once the officer realized that for
the past six months he had done poor Meltzar a grievous injustice. How
could the poor fellow help his stupidity, how could he help his silly,
high-flown patriotic talk? How could he possibly have had sensible ideas
with a record for a head? Poor Meltzar!
Lieutenant Kadar simply could not understand why it was that six months
before, right away, when young Meltzar announced his entrance into the
battery, he had not guessed what they had done to the boy in the
They had given him a different head. They had unscrewed the handsome
fair young head of a lad of eighteen and in its place put a black,
scratched-up disc, which could do nothing but squeak the Rakoczy March.
That had now been proved! How the boy must have suffered whenever his
superior officer, his senior by twenty years, inflicted long sermons on
him about humanity! With the flat, round disc that they had put on him
he of course could not comprehend that the Italian soldiers being led
past the battery, reeking with blood and in rags, would also much rather
have stayed at home, if a bulletin on the street corner had not forced
them to leave their homes immediately, just as the mobilization in
Hungary had forced the Hungarian gunners to leave their homes.
Now for the first time Lieutenant Kadar comprehended the young man's
unbending resistance to him. Now at last he realized why this boy, who
could have been his son, had so completely ignored his wisest, kindest
admonitions and explanations, and had always responded by whistling the
Rakoczy March through clenched teeth and hissing the stereotyped
fulmination, "The dogs ought to be shot to pieces."
So then it was not because of his being young and stupid that Meltzar
had behaved as he did; not because he had come direct from the military
academy to the trenches. The phonograph record was to blame, the
Lieutenant Kadar felt his veins swell up like ropes and his blood pound
on his temples like blows on an anvil, so great was his wrath against
the wrongdoers who had treacherously unscrewed poor Meltzar's lovely
young head from his body.
And--this was the most gruesome--as he now thought of his subordinates
and fellow-officers, he saw them all going about exactly like poor
Meltzar, without heads on their bodies. He shut his eyes and tried to
recall the looks of his gunners--in vain! Not a single face rose before
his mind's eye. He had spent months and months among those men and had
not discovered until that moment that not one of them had a head on his
shoulders. Otherwise he would surely have remembered whether his gunner
had a mustache or not and whether the artillery captain was light or
dark. No! Nothing stuck in his mind--nothing but phonograph records,
hideous, black, round plates lying on bloody blouses.
The whole region of the Isonzo suddenly lay spread out way below him
like a huge map such as he had often seen in illustrated papers. The
silver ribbon of the river wound in and out among hills and coppices,
and Lieutenant Kadar soared high above the welter down below without
motor or aeroplane, but borne along merely by his own outspread arms.
And everywhere he looked, on every hill and in every hollow, he saw the
horns of innumerable talking-machines growing out of the ground.
Thousands upon thousands of those familiar cornucopias of bright lacquer
with gilt edges pointed their open mouths up at him. And each one was
the center of a swarming ant-hill of busy gunners carrying shot and
And now Lieutenant Kadar saw it very distinctly: all the men had records
on their necks like young Meltzar. Not a single one carried his own
head. But when the shells burst with a howl from the lacquered horns and
flew straight into an ant-hill, then the flat, black discs broke apart
and at the very same instant changed back into real heads. From his
height Lieutenant Kadar saw the brains gush out of the shattered discs
and the evenly-marked surfaces turn on the second into ashen, agonized
Everything seemed to be revealed now in one stroke to the dying
lieutenant--all the secrets of the war, all the problems he had brooded
over for many months past. So he had the key to the riddle. These people
evidently did not get their heads back until they were about to die.
Somewhere--somewhere--far back--far back of the lines, their heads had
been unscrewed and replaced by records that could do nothing but play
the Rakoczy March. Prepared in this fashion, they had been jammed into
the trains and sent to the front, like poor Meltzar, like himself, like
all of them.
In a fury of anger, the ball of cotton tossed itself up again with a
jerk. Lieutenant Kadar wanted to jump out of bed and reveal the secret
to his men, and urge them to insist upon having their heads back again.
He wanted to whisper the secret to each individual along the entire
front, from Plava all the way down to the sea. He wanted to tell it to
each gunner, each soldier in the infantry and even to the Italians over
there! He even wanted to tell it to the Italians. The Italians, too, had
had records screwed on to their necks. And they should go back home,
too, back to Verona, to Venice, to Naples, where their heads lay piled
up in the store-houses for safekeeping until the war was over.
Lieutenant Kadar wanted to run from one man to another, so as to help
each individual to recover his head, whether friend or foe.
But all at once he noticed he could not walk. And he wasn't soaring any
more either. Heavy iron weights clamped his feet down to the bed to keep
him from revealing the great secret.
Well, then, he would shout it out in a roar, in a voice supernaturally
loud that would sound above the bursting of the shells and the blare of
trumpets on the Day of Judgment, and proclaim the truth from Plava to
Trieste, even into the Tyrol. He would shout as no man had ever shouted
"Phonograph!--Bring the heads!--Phonograph!--"
Here his voice suddenly broke with a gurgling sound of agony right in
the midst of his message of salvation. It hurt too much. He could not
shout. He felt as though at each word a sharp needle went deep into his
Of course! How could he have forgotten it? His head had been screwed
off, too. He wore a record on his neck, too, like all the others. When
he tried to say something, the needle stuck itself into his skull and
ran mercilessly along all the coils of his brain.
No! He could not bear it! He'd rather keep quiet--keep the secret to
himself. Only not to feel that pain--that maddening pain in his head!
But the machine ran on. Lieutenant Kadar grabbed his head with both
hands and dug his nails deep into his temples. If he didn't stop that
thing in time from going round and round, then his revolving head would
certainly break his neck in a few seconds.
Icy drops of anguish flowed from all his pores. "Miska!" he yelled in
the extreme of his distress.
But Miska did not know what to do.
The record kept on revolving and joyously thrummed the Rakoczy March.
All the sinews in the Lieutenant's body grew tense. Again and again he
felt his head slip from between his hands--his spine was already rising
before his eyes! With a last, frantic effort he tried once more to get
his hands inside the bandages and press his head forward. Then one more
dreadful gnashing of his teeth and one more horrible groan and--the long
ward was at length as silent as an empty church.
When the flaxen-haired assistant returned from the operating-room
Miska's whining informed him from afar that another cot in the officers'
division was now vacant. The impatient old Major quite needlessly
beckoned him to his side and announced in a loud voice so that all the
gentlemen could hear:
"The poor devil there has at last come to the end of his sufferings."
Then he added in a voice vibrating with respect: "He died like a true
Hungarian--singing the Rakoczy March."
At last the lake gleamed through the leaves, and the familiar grey chalk
mountains emerged into view, reaching out across the railroad embankment
as with threatening fingers deep down into the water. There, beyond the
smoky black opening of the short tunnel, the church steeple and a corner
of the castle peeped for an instant above the grove.
John Bogdan leaned way out of the train window and looked at everything
with greedy eyes, like a man going over the inventory of his
possessions, all tense and distrustful, for fear something may have been
lost in his absence. As each group of trees for which he waited darted
by, he gave a satisfied nod, measuring the correctness of the landscape
by the picture of it that he carried fairly seared in his memory.
Everything agreed. Every milestone on the highroad, now running parallel
to the railroad tracks, stood on the right spot. There! The flash of the
flaming red copper beech, at which the horses always shied and once came
within an ace of upsetting the carriage.
John Bogdan drew a deep, heavy sigh, fished a small mirror out of his
pocket, and gave his face a final scrutiny before leaving the train. At
each station his face seemed to grow uglier. The right side was not so
bad. A bit of his mustache still remained, and his right cheek was
fairly smooth except for the gash at the corner of his mouth, which had
not healed properly. But the left side! He had let those damned city
folk tell him a whole lot of nonsense about the left side of his face. A
bunch of damned scoundrels they were, bent upon making fools of poor
peasants, in wartime just the same as in peacetime--all of them, the
great doctor as well as the fine ladies in their dazzling white gowns
and with their silly affected talk. Heaven knows it was no great trick
to bamboozle a simple coachman, who had managed with only the greatest
pains to learn a bit of reading and writing. They had smiled and
simpered at him and were so nice and had promised him such a paradise.
And now, here he was helpless, left all alone to himself, a lost man.
With a furious curse, he tore off his hat and threw it on the seat.
Was that the face of a human being? Was it permitted to do such a thing
to a man? His nose looked like a patchwork of small dice of different
colors. His mouth was awry, and the whole left cheek was like a piece of
bloated raw meat, red and criss-crossed with deep scars. Ugh! How ugly!
A fright! And besides, instead of a cheekbone, he had a long hollow,
deep enough to hold a man's finger. And it was for this he had let
himself be tortured so? For this he had let himself be enticed seventeen
times, like a patient sheep, into that confounded room with the glass
walls and the shining instruments? A shudder ran down his back at the
recollection of the tortures he had gone through with clenched teeth,
just to look like a human being again and be able to go back home to his
And now he _was_ home.
The train pulled out of the tunnel, the whistle blew, and the dwarf
acacias in front of the station-master's hut sent a greeting through the
window. Grimly John Bogdan dragged his heavy bag through the train
corridor, descended the steps hesitatingly, and stood there at a loss,
looking around for help as the train rolled on behind his back.
He took out his large flowered handkerchief and wiped off the heavy
beads of perspiration from his forehead. What was he to do now? Why had
he come here at all? Now that he had finally set foot again on the home
soil for which he had yearned so ardently, a great longing came over him
for the hospital, which he had left that very morning, only a few hours
before, full of rejoicing. He thought of the long ward with all those
men wrapped in bandages who limped and hobbled, lame, blind or
disfigured. There nobody was revolted by the sight of his mutilated
face, no indeed. On the contrary, most of them envied him. He was at
least capable of going back to work, his arms and legs were sound, and
his right eye was perfect. Many would have been ready to exchange places
with him. Some had begrudged him his lot and said it was wrong for the
government to have granted him a pension on account of losing his left
eye. One eye and a face a little scratched up--what was that compared
with a wooden leg, a crippled arm, or a perforated lung, which wheezed
and rattled like a poor machine at the slightest exertion?
Among the many cripples in the hospital John Bogdan was looked upon as a
lucky devil, a celebrity. Everybody knew his story. The visitors to the
hospital wanted first of all to see the man who had had himself operated
on seventeen times and the skin cut away in bands from his back, his
chest, and his thighs. After each operation, as soon as the bandages
were removed, the door to his ward never remained shut, a hundred
opinions were pronounced, and every newcomer was given a detailed
description of how terrible his face had been before. The few men who
had shared Bogdan's room with him from the start described the former
awfulness of his face with a sort of pride, as though they had taken
part in the successful operations.
Thus John Bogdan had gradually become almost vain of his shocking
mutilation and the progress of the beautifying process. And when he left
the hospital, it was with the expectation of being admired as a
sensation in his village.
Alone in the world, with no relatives to go to, with nothing but his
knapsack and his little trunk, the brilliant sunlight of the Hungarian
plain country flooding down on him, and the village stretching away to a
distance before him, John Bogdan suddenly felt himself a prey to
timidity, to a terror that he had not known amid the bursting of the
shells, the most violent charges, the most ferocious hand-to-hand
encounters. His inert peasant intellect, his nature crudely compounded
of wilfulness and vanity, had always been a stranger to deep-going
reflections. Yet an instinctive misgiving, the sense of distrust and
hostility that overwhelmed him, told him plainly enough that he was
about to face disillusionment and mortification such as he had not
dreamed of in the hospital.
He lifted his luggage to his back dejectedly and walked toward the exit
with hesitating steps. There, in the shadow of the dusty acacias that he
had seen grow up and that had seen him grow up, he felt himself
confronted with his former self, with the handsome John Bogdan who was
known in the village as the smart coachman of the manor. A lot of good
were all the operations and patchwork now. The thing now was the painful
contrast between the high-spirited, forward lad, who on this spot had
sung out a last hoarse farewell to his sweetheart, Marcsa, on the first
day of mobilization, and the disfigured creature who was standing in
front of the same railroad station with one eye gone, a shattered
cheekbone, a patched-up cheek, and half a nose, embittered and cast
down, as if it were only that morning that he had met with the
At the small grille gate stood the wife of the station-guard, Kovacs--
since the beginning of the war Kovacs himself had been somewhere on the
Russian front--talking and holding the ticket-puncher, impatiently
waiting for the last passenger to pass through. John Bogdan saw her, and
his heart began to beat so violently that he involuntarily lingered at
each step. Would she recognize him, or would she not? His knee joints
gave way as if they had suddenly decayed, and his hand trembled as he
held out the ticket.
She took the ticket and let him pass through--without a word!
Poor John Bogdan's breath stopped short.
But he pulled himself together with all his might, looked her firmly in
the face with his one eye and said, with a painful effort to steady his
"How do you do?"
"How do you do?" the woman rejoined. He encountered her eyes, saw them
widen into a stare, saw them grope over his mangled face, and then
quickly turn in another direction, as if she could not bear the sight.
He wanted to stop, but he noticed her lips quiver and heard a murmured
"Jesus, son of Mary," as if he were the devil incarnate. And he tottered
on, deeply wounded.
"She did not recognize me!" the blood hammered in his ears. "She did not
recognize me--did not recognize me!" He dragged himself to the bench
opposite the station, threw his luggage to the ground and sank down on
She did not recognize him! The wife of Kovacs, the station-guard, did
not recognize John Bogdan. The house of her parents stood next to the
house of his parents. She and he had gone to school together, they had
been confirmed together. He had held her in his arms and kissed and
kissed her, heaven knows how many times, before Kovacs came to the
village to woo her. And _she_ had not recognized him! Not even by
his voice, so great was the change.
He glanced over at her again involuntarily, and saw her talking eagerly
with the station-master. From her gestures, he guessed she was telling
of the horrible sight she had just seen, the stranger soldier so
hideously disfigured. He uttered a short croaking sound, an abortive
curse, and then his head fell on his chest, and he sobbed like a
What was he to do? Go up to the castle, open the door to the servants'
quarters, and call out a saucy "Hello, Marcsa" to the astonished girl?
That was the way he had always thought of it. The devil knows how often
he had painted the picture to the dot--the maids' screaming, Marcsa's
cry of delight, her flinging her arms about his neck, and the thousand
questions that would come pouring down on him, while he would sit there
with Marcsa on his knees, and now and then throw out a casual reply to
his awed, attentive listeners.
But now--how about it now? Go to Marcsa? He? With that face, the face
that had made Julia, the station-guard's wife, cross herself in fright?
Wasn't Marcsa famed throughout the county for her sharp tongue and
haughty ways? She had snubbed the men by the score, laughed at them,
made fools of them all, until she finally fell in love with him.
John Bogdan thrust his fist into his mouth and dug his teeth into the
flesh, until the pain of it at length helped him subdue his sobbing.
Then he buried his head in his hands and tried to think.
Never in his life had anything gone amiss with him. He had always been
liked, at school, in the castle, and even in the barracks. He had gone
through life whistling contentedly, a good-looking alert lad, an
excellent jockey, and a coachman who drove with style and loved his
horses, as his horses loved him. When he deigned to toss a kiss to the
women as he dashed by, he was accustomed to see a flattered smile come
to their faces. Only with Marcsa did it take a little longer. But she
was famous for her beauty far and wide. Even John's master, the lord of
the castle, had patted him on the shoulder almost enviously when Marcsa
and he had become engaged.
"A handsome couple," the pastor had said.
John Bogdan groped again for the little mirror in his pocket and then
sat with drooping body, oppressed by a profound melancholy. That thing
in the glass was to be the bridegroom of the beautiful Marcsa? What did
that ape's face, that piece of patchwork, that checkerboard which the
damned quack, the impostor, whom they called a distinguished medical
authority, a celebrated doctor, had basted together--what did it have to
do with _that_ John Bogdan whom Marcsa had promised to marry and
whom she had accompanied to the station crying when he had gone off to
the war? For Marcsa there was only _one_ John Bogdan, the one that
was coachman to the lord of the castle and the handsomest man in the
village. Was he still coachman? The lord would take care not to disgrace
his magnificent pair with such a scarecrow or drive to the county seat
with such a monstrosity on the box. Haying--that's what they would put
him to--cleaning out the dung from the stables. And Marcsa, the
beautiful Marcsa whom all the men were vying for, would she be the wife
of a miserable day laborer?
No, of this John Bogdan was certain, the man sitting on the bench there
was no longer John Bogdan to Marcsa. She would not have him now--no more
than the lord would have him on the coachman's box. A cripple is a
cripple, and Marcsa had engaged herself to John Bogdan, not to the
fright that he was bringing back home to her.
His melancholy gradually gave way to an ungovernable fury against those
people in the city who had given him all that buncombe and talked him
into heaven knows what. Marcsa should be proud because he had been
disfigured in the service of his fatherland. Proud? Ha-ha!
He laughed scornfully, and his fingers tightened convulsively about the
cursed mirror, until the glass broke into bits and cut his hand. The
blood trickled slowly down his sleeves without his noticing it, so great
was his rage against that bunch of aristocratic ladies in the hospital
whose twaddle had deprived him of his reason. They probably thought that
a man with one eye and half a nose was good enough for a peasant girl?
Fatherland? Would Marcsa go to the altar with the fatherland? Could she
show off the fatherland to the women when she would see them looking at
her pityingly? Did the fatherland drive through the village with ribbons
flying from its hat? Ridiculous! Sitting on the bench opposite the
station, with the sign of the village in view, a short name, a single
word, which comprised his whole life, all his memories, hopes and
experiences, John Bogdan suddenly thought of one of the village
characters, Peter the cripple, who had lived in the tumbledown hut
behind the mill many years before, when John was still a child. John saw
him quite distinctly, standing there with his noisy wooden leg and his
sad, starved, emaciated face. He, too, had sacrificed a part of himself,
his leg, "for the fatherland," in Bosnia during the occupation; and then
he had had to live in the old hovel all alone, made fun of by the
children, who imitated his walk, and grumblingly tolerated by the
peasants, who resented the imposition of this burden upon the community.
"In the service of the fatherland." Never had the "fatherland" been
mentioned when Peter the cripple went by. They called him contemptuously
the village pauper, and that was all there was to it.
John Bogdan gnashed his teeth in a rage that he had not thought of Peter
the cripple in the hospital. Then he would have given those city people
a piece of his mind. He would have told them what he thought of their
silly, prattling humbug about the fatherland and about the great honor
it was to return home to Marcsa looking like a monkey. If he had the
doctor in his clutches now! The fakir had photographed him, not once,
but a dozen times, from all sides, after each butchery, as though he had
accomplished a miracle, had turned out a wonderful masterpiece. And here
Julia, even Julia, his playmate, his neighbor, had not recognized him.
So deep was John Bogdan sunk in his misery, so engulfed in grim plans of
vengeance, that he did not notice a man who had been standing in front
of him for several minutes, eyeing him curiously from every angle.
Suddenly a voice woke him up out of his brooding, and a hot wave surged
into his face, and his heart stood still with delighted terror, as he
heard some one say:
"Is that you, Bogdan?"
He raised himself, happy at having been recognized after all. But the
next moment he knitted his brows in complete disappointment. It was
Mihaly the humpback.
There was no other man in the whole village, even in the whole county,
whose hand John Bogdan would not at that moment have grasped cordially
in a surge of gratitude. But this humpback--he never had wanted to have
anything to do with him, and now certainly not. The fellow might imagine
he had found a comrade, and was probably glad that he was no longer the
only disfigured person in the place.
"Yes, it's I. Well?"
The humpback's small, piercing eyes searched Bogdan's scarred face
curiously, and he shook his head in pity.
"Well, well, the Russians certainly have done you up."
Bogdan snarled at him like a vicious cur.
"It's none of your business. What right have you to talk? If I had come
into the world like you, with my belly on my back, the Russians couldn't
have done anything to me."
The humpback seated himself quietly beside John without showing the
least sign of being insulted.
"The war hasn't made you any politer, I can see that," he remarked
drily. "You're not exactly in a happy frame of mind, which does not
surprise me. Yes, that's the way it is. The poor people must give up
their sound flesh and bone so that the enemy should not deprive the rich
of their superfluity. You may bless your stars you came out of it as
well as you did."
"I do," Bogdan growled with a glance of hatred. "The shells don't ask if
you are rich or poor. Counts and barons are lying out there, rotting in
the sun like dead beasts. Any man that God has not smitten in his cradle
so that he's not fit to be either a man or a woman is out in the
battlefield now, whether he's as poor as a church mouse or used to
eating from golden plates."
The humpback cleared his throat and shrugged his shoulders.
"There are all sorts of people," he observed, and was about to add
something else, but bethought himself and remained silent.
This Bogdan always had had the soul of a flunkey, proud of being allowed
to serve the high and mighty and feeling solid with his oppressors
because he was allowed to contribute to their pomp in gold-laced livery
and silver buttons. His masters had sicked him on to face the cannons in
defense of their own wealth, and now the man sat there disfigured, with
only one eye, and still would not permit any criticism of his gracious
employers. Against such stupidity there was nothing to be done. There
was no use wasting a single word on him.
The two remained sitting for a while in silence. Bogdan filled his pipe
carefully and deliberately, and Mihaly watched him with interest.
"Are you going to the castle?" the humpback asked cautiously, when the
pipe was at last lit.
John Bogdan was well aware just what the hateful creature was aiming at.
He knew him. A Socialist--that's what he was, one of those good-for-
nothings who take the bread out of poor people's mouths by dinning a lot
of nonsense into their ears, just like a mean dog who snaps at the hand
that feeds him. He had made a good living as foreman in the brickyard,
and as thanks he had incited all the workmen against the owner, Bogdan's
master, until they demanded twice as much wages, and were ready to set
fire to the castle on all four corners. Once Mihaly had tried his luck
with him, too. He had wanted to make his master out a bad man. But this
time he had bucked up against the right person. A box on his right ear
and a box on his left ear, and then a good sound kick--that was the
answer to keep him from ever again trying to make a Socialist of John
Bogdan, one of those low fellows who know no God or fatherland.
Mihaly moved on the bench uneasily, every now and then scrutinizing his
neighbor from the side. At last he plucked up courage and said suddenly:
"They'll probably be glad up there that you are back. Your arms are
still whole, and they need people in the factory."
Bogdan turned up his nose.
"In the brickyard?" he asked disdainfully.
The humpback burst out laughing.
"Brickyard? Brickyard is good. Who needs bricks in war? The brickyard's
gone long ago, man. Do you see those trucks over there? They are all
loaded up with shells. Every Saturday a whole train of shells leaves
Bogdan listened eagerly. That was news. A change on the estate of which
he had not yet heard.
"You see, there is such a nice division," Mihaly continued, smiling
sarcastically. "One goes away and lets his head be blown off. The other
remains comfortably at home and manufactures shells and decorates his
castle with thousand-dollar bills. Well, I'm satisfied."
"What are we to do, eh, shoot with peas or with air? You can't carry on
a war without shells. Shells are needed just as much as soldiers."
"Exactly. And because the rich have the choice of being soldiers or
making shells, they choose to make the shells and send _you_ off to
have your head blown off. What are you getting for your eye? Twenty-five
dollars a year? Or perhaps as much as fifty? And the others whom the
ravens are feeding on don't get even that out of the war. But the
gentleman up in the castle is making his five hundred a day and doesn't
risk even his little finger doing it. I'd be a patriot on those terms
myself. I am telling you the truth. At first, of course, they said he
was going to war, and he did actually ride off in great state, but three
weeks later he was back here again with machines and all the equipment,
and now he delivers fine orations in the townhouse and sends other men
off to die--and on top of it is gallant to the wives left behind. He
stuffs his pockets and fools with every girl in the factory. He's the
cock of the whole district."
Bogdan, his brows knit in annoyance, let the man talk on. But the last
part struck him with a shock. He pricked up his ears and grew uneasy and
for a while struggled heroically against asking a question that burned
on his lips. But in the end he could not restrain himself and blurted
"Is--is Marcsa working in the factory, too?"
The humpback's eyes flashed.
"Marcsa, the beautiful Marcsa! I should say so! She's been made a
forelady, though they say she's never had a shell in her hands, but, to
make up, the lord's hands have--"
With a short, hoarse growl John Bogdan flew at the humpback's throat,
squeezed in his Adam's apple, pressing it into his neck, and held him in
a merciless clutch. The man beat about with his arms, his eyes popped
from his head in fright, his throat gurgled, and his face turned livid.
Then John Bogdan released his hold, and Mihaly fell to the ground and
lay there gasping. Bogdan quickly gathered up his things and strode off,
taking long, quick steps, as if afraid of arriving too late for
something in the castle.
He gave not another look back at Mihaly the humpback, never turned
around once, but quietly went his way and for a long while felt the warm
throat in his hand.
What was a man who lay gasping on the road to him? One man more or less.
In the rhythmic regularity of the marching column, he had passed by
thousands like him, and it had never occurred to his mind, dulled by
weariness, that the grey spots thickly strewn over the fields, the heaps
lining the roadway like piles of dung in the spring, were human beings
struck down by death. He and his comrades had waded in the dead, there
at Kielce, when they made a dash across the fields, and earthy grey
hands rose out of every furrow pawing the air, and trousers drenched in
blood and distorted faces grew out of the ground, as if all the dead
were scrambling from their graves for the Last Judgment. They had
stepped and stumbled over corpses. Once the fat little officer of
reserves, to the great amusement of his company, had gotten deathly sick
at his stomach because he had inadvertently stepped on the chest of a
half-decayed Russian, and the body had given way under him, and he had
scarcely been able to withdraw his foot from the foul hole. John Bogdan
smiled as he recalled the wicked jokes the men had cracked at the
officer's expense, how the officer had gone all white and leaned against
a tree and carried on like a man who has much more than quenched his
The road glowed in the mid-day sun. The village clock struck twelve.
From the hill yonder came, like an answer, the deep bellow of the
factory whistle, and a little white cloud rose over the tops of the
trees. Bogdan quickened his pace, running rather than walking, heedless
of the drops of sweat that ran down and tickled his neck. For almost a
year he had breathed nothing but the hospital atmosphere, had smelled
nothing but iodoform and lysol and seen nothing but roofs and walls. His
lungs drew in the aroma of the blossoming meadows with deep
satisfaction, and the soles of his boots tramped the ground sturdily, as
if he were again marching in regular order.
This was the first walk he had taken since he was wounded, the first
road he had seen since those wild marches on Russian soil. At moments he
seemed to hear the cannons roaring. The short struggle with the humpback
had set his blood coursing, and his memories of the war, for a time
stifled as it were beneath a layer of dust by the dreary monotony of the
hospital life, suddenly came whirling back to him.
He almost regretted having let that damned blackguard go so soon. One
moment more, and he would never have opened his blasphemous mouth again.
His head would have fallen back exhausted to one side, he would once
again have embraced the air longingly with outspread fingers, and then
in a flash would have shrunk together, exactly like the fat, messy
Russian with the large blue eyes who was the first man to present
himself to St. Peter with a greeting from John Bogdan. Bogdan had not
let _him_ loose until he had altogether quit squirming. He had
choked him dead as a doornail. And still he was a comical fellow, not
nearly so disgusting as that rascally humpback. But he was the first
enemy soldier whom he had got into his grasp, his very first Russian. A
magnificent array of others had followed, though the fat man was the
only one Bogdan had choked to death. He had smashed scores with the
butt-end of his gun and run his bayonet through scores of others. He had
even squashed with his boots the wretch who had struck down his dearest
comrade before his very eyes. But never again did he choke a man to
death. That was why the little fat fellow stuck in his memory. He had no
recollection of the others whatever. All he saw now in his mind was a
tangle of greyish-green uniforms. And as he thought of his heroic deeds,
the gnashing, the stamping, the gasping, and the cursing of the hand-to-
hand encounters resounded in his ears. How many, he wondered, had he
sent to the other world? God alone may have counted them. He himself had
had enough to do trying to save his own skin. Had a man stopped to look
around, he would have carried his curiosity to the next world.
And yet--there was another face that remained fixed in his memory. A
great big thin fellow, as tall as a beanpole, with enormous yellow
tusks, which he gnashed like a boar. Yes, he had as clear a picture of
him as if it had been yesterday. He saw him half-backed up against the
wall already, swinging his gun over his head. One second more, and the
butt-end would have come whizzing down. But a sleepy Russian was never
the man to get the better of John Bogdan. Before he had the chance to
bring down his gun, Bogdan's bayonet was in between his ribs, and the
Russian fell over on his own gun. The bayonet pierced him through and
through, and even went into the wall behind him, and came mighty near
But the same thing never happened to Bogdan again. It had happened that
once because he had thrust too hard, with clenched teeth, gripping the
rod in a tight clutch, as if it were iron that he had to cleave. The
fact was, he had not yet discovered that it really isn't so difficult to
mow down a human being. He had been prepared for any amount of
resistance, and his bayonet had glided into the fellow's body like
butter. His mouth had remained wide open in astonishment--he recalled it
to the dot. A man who has never tried a bayonet thrust thinks a human
being is made up all of bones, and he fetches out for a good hard
stroke. Then he's in a pickle to free his weapon again before one of the
messy-looking devils takes advantage of his defenselessness. The way to
do was to go at it very lightly, with a short jerky thrust. Then the
blade ran in of itself, like a good horse--you actually had trouble
holding it back. The most important thing was, not to take your eye off
your enemy. You mustn't look at your bayonet, or the spot you intend to
pierce. You must always watch your enemy so as to guess his move in
time. It's from your enemy's face that you must read the right moment
for stepping backward. They all behaved the same way--exactly like the
first tall wild fellow who gnashed his tusks. All of a sudden their
faces turned absolutely smooth, as if the cold iron in their body had
chilled their fury, their eyes opened wide in astonishment and looked at
their enemy as if to ask in reproach, "What are you doing?" Then they
usually clutched at the bayonet and needlessly cut their fingers, too,
before they fell over dead. If you didn't know exactly what to do and
didn't hold your weapon back in time and withdraw it quickly from the
wound, just when you saw the man's eyes growing large, you would be
carried along down with him or would get hit on the head by the butt-end
of another enemy's gun long before you could draw your bayonet out.
These were all things that John Bogdan had often discussed with his
comrades after severe frays when they criticized the men who had fallen
for behaving stupidly and who had had to pay with their lives for their
As he strode along in haste up the familiar road to the castle, he was
fairly lost in recollections. His legs moved of themselves, like horses
on the homeward way. He passed through the open grille gateway and was
already walking on the gravel path, his head bowed on his chest, without
noticing that he had reached home.
The neighing of horses woke him up from his thoughts with a start. He