Part 7 out of 8
voice, as there was about his face-something blond, too. It was
distinctly a bland voice, like summer wheatfields, ripe and
waving. Claude sat alone for half an hour or more, tasting a new
kind of happiness, a new kind of sadness. Ruin and new birth; the
shudder of ugly things in the past, the trembling image of
beautiful ones on the horizon; finding and losing; that was life,
When his hostess came back, he moved her chair for her out of the
creeping sunlight. "I didn't know there were any French girls
like you," he said simply, as she sat down.
She smiled. "I do not think there are any French girls left.
There are children and women. I was twenty-one when the war came,
and I had never been anywhere without my mother or my brother or
sister. Within a year I went all over France alone; with
soldiers, with Senegalese, with anybody. Everything is different
with us." She lived at Versailles, she told him, where her father
had been an instructor in the Military School. He had died since
the beginning of the war. Her grandfather was killed in the war
of 1870. Hers was a family of soldiers, but not one of the men
would be left to see the day of victory.
She looked so tired that Clause knew he had no right to stay.
Long shadows were falling in the garden. It was hard to leave;
but an hour more or less wouldn't matter. Two people could hardly
give each other more if they were together for years, he thought.
"Will you tell me where I can come and see you, if we both get
through this war?" he asked as he rose.
He wrote it down in his notebook.
"I shall look for you," she said, giving him her hand.
There was nothing to do but to take his helmet and go. At the
edge of the hill, just before he plunged down the path, he
stopped and glanced back at the garden lying flattened in the
sun; the three stone arches, the dahlias and marigolds, the
glistening boxwood wall. He had left something on the hilltop
which he would never find again.
The next afternoon Claude and his sergeant set off for the front.
They had been told at Headquarters that they could shorten their
route by following the big road to the military cemetery, and
then turning to the left. It was not advisable to go the latter
half of the way before nightfall, so they took their time through
the belt of straggling crops and hayfields.
When they struck the road they came upon a big Highlander sitting
in the end of an empty supply wagon, smoking a pipe and rubbing
the dried mud out of his kilts. The horses were munching in their
nose-bags, and the driver had disappeared. The Americans hadn't
happened to meet with any Highlanders before, and were curious.
This one must be a good fighter, they thought; a brawny giant
with a bulldog jaw, and a face as red and knobby as his knees.
More because he admired the looks of the man than because he
needed information, Hicks went up and asked him if he had noticed
a military cemetery on the road back. The Kilt nodded.
"About how far back would you say it was?"
"I wouldn't say at all. I take no account of their kilometers,"
he replied dryly, rubbing away at his skirt as if he had it in a
"Well, about how long will it take us to walk it?"
"That I couldn't say. A Scotsman would do it in an hour."
"I guess a Yankee can do it as quick as a Scotchman, can't be?"
Hicks asked jovially.
"That I couldn't say. You've been four years gettin' this far, I
know verra well."
Hicks blinked as if he had been hit. "Oh, if that's the way you
"That's the way I do," said the other sourly.
Claude put out a warning hand. "Come on, Hicks. You'll get
nothing by it." They went up the road very much disconcerted.
Hicks kept thinking of things he might have said. When he was
angry, the Sergeant's forehead puffed up and became dark red,
like a young baby's. "What did you call me off for?" he
"I don't see where you'd have come out in an argument, and you
certainly couldn't have licked him."
They turned aside at the cemetery to wait until the sun went
down. It was unfenced, unsodded, and a wagon trail ran through
the middle, bisecting the square. On one side were the French
graves, with white crosses; on the other side the German graves,
with black crosses. Poppies and cornflower ran over them. The
Americans strolled about, reading the names. Here and there the
soldier's photograph was nailed upon his cross, left by some
comrade to perpetuate his memory a little longer.
The birds, that always came to life at dusk and dawn, began to
sing, flying home from somewhere. Claude and Hicks sat down
between the mounds and began to smoke while the sun dropped.
Lines of dead trees marked the red west. This was a dreary
stretch of country, even to boys brought up on the flat prairie.
They smoked in silence, meditating and waiting for night. On a
cross at their feet the inscription read merely: Soldat Inconnu,
Mort pour La France.
A very good epitaph, Claude was thinking. Most of the boys who
fell in this war were unknown, even to themselves. They were too
young. They died and took their secret with them,--what they were
and what they might have been. The name that stood was La France.
How much that name had come to mean to him, since he first saw a
shoulder of land bulk up in the dawn from the deck of the
Anchises. It was a pleasant name to say over in one's mind, where
one could make it as passionately nasal as one pleased and never
Hicks, too, had been lost in his reflections. Now he broke the
silence. "Somehow, Lieutenant, 'mort' seems deader than 'dead.'
It has a coffinish sound. And over there they're all 'tod,' and
it's all the same damned silly thing. Look at them set out here,
black and white, like a checkerboard. The next question is, who
put 'em here, and what's the good of it?"
"Search me," the other murmured absently.
Hicks rolled another cigarette and sat smoking it, his plump face
wrinkled with the gravity and labour of his cerebration. "Well,"
he brought out at last, "we'd better hike. This afterglow will
hang on for an hour,--always does, over here."
"I suppose we had." They rose to go. The white crosses were now
violet, and the black ones had altogether melted in the shadow.
Behind the dead trees in the west, a long smear of red still
burned. To the north, the guns were tuning up with a deep
thunder. "Somebody's getting peppered up there. Do owls always
hoot in graveyards?"
"Just what I was wondering, Lieutenant. It's a peaceful spot,
otherwise. Good-night, boys," said Hicks kindly, as they left the
graves behind them.
They were soon finding their way among shell holes, and jumping
trench-tops in the dark,-beginning to feel cheerful at getting
back to their chums and their own little group. Hicks broke out
and told Claude how he and Dell Able meant to go into business
together when they got home; were going to open a garage and
automobile-repair shop. Under their talk, in the minds of both,
that lonely spot lingered, and the legend: Soldat Inconnu, Mort
pour La France.
After four days' rest in the rear, the Battalion went to the
front again in new country, about ten kilometers east of the
trench they had relieved before. One morning Colonel Scott sent
for Claude and Gerhardt and spread his maps out on the table.
"We are going to clean them out there in F 6 tonight, and
straighten our line. The thing that bothers us is that little
village stuck up on the hill, where the enemy machine guns have a
strong position. I want to get them out of there before the
Battalion goes over. We can't spare too many men, and I don't
like to send out more officers than I can help; it won't do to
reduce the Battalion for the major operation. Do you think you
two boys could manage it with a hundred men? The point is, you
will have to be out and back before our artillery begins at three
Under the hill where the village stood, ran a deep ravine, and
from this ravine a twisting water course wound up the hillside.
By climbing this gully, the raiders should be able to fall on the
machine gunners from the rear and surprise them. But first they
must get across the open stretch, nearly one and a half
kilometers wide, between the American line and the ravine,
without attracting attention. It was raining now, and they could
safely count on a dark night.
The night came on black enough. The Company crossed the open
stretch without provoking fire, and slipped into the ravine to
wait for the hour of attack, A young doctor, a Pennsylvanian,
lately attached to the staff, had volunteered to come with them,
and he arranged a dressing station at the bottom of the ravine,
where the stretchers were left. They were to pick up their
wounded on the way back. Anything left in that area would be
exposed to the artillery fire later on.
At ten o'clock the men began to ascend the water-course, creeping
through pools and little waterfalls, making a continuous spludgy
sound, like pigs rubbing against the sty. Claude, with the head
of the column, was just pulling out of the gully on the hillside
above the village, when a flare went up, and a volley of fire
broke from the brush on the up-hill side of the water-course;
machine guns, opening on the exposed line crawling below. The Hun
had been warned that the Americans were crossing the plain and
had anticipated their way of approach. The men in the gully were
trapped; they could not retaliate with effect, and the bullets
from the Maxims bounded on the rocks about them like hail.
Gerhardt ran along the edge of the line, urging the men not to
fall back and double on themselves, but to break out of the gully
on the downhill side and scatter.
Claude, with his group, started back. "Go into the brush and get
'em! Our fellows have got no chance down there. Grenades while
they last, then bayonets. Pull your plugs and don't hold on too
They were already on the run, charging the brush. The Hun gunners
knew the hill like a book, and when the bombs began bursting
among them, they took to trails and burrows. "Don't follow them
off into the rocks," Claude kept calling. "Straight ahead! Clear
everything to the ravine."
As the German gunners made for cover, the firing into the gully
stopped, and the arrested column poured up the steep defile after
Claude and his party found themselves back at the foot of the
hill, at the edge of the ravine from which they had started.
Heavy firing on the hill above told them the rest of the men had
got through. The quickest way back to the scene of action was by
the same water-course they had climbed before. They dropped into
it and started up. Claude, at the rear, felt the ground rise
under him, and he was swept with a mountain of earth and rock
down into the ravine.
He never knew whether he lost consciousness or not. It seemed to
him that he went on having continuous sensations. The first, was
that of being blown to pieces; of swelling to an enormous size
under intolerable pressure, and then bursting. Next he felt
himself shrink and tingle, like a frost-bitten body thawing out.
Then he swelled again, and burst. This was repeated, he didn't
know how often. He soon realized that he was lying under a great
weight of earth; his body, not his head. He felt rain falling on
his face. His left hand was free, and still attached to his arm.
He moved it cautiously to his face. He seemed to be bleeding from
the nose and ears. Now he began to wonder where he was hurt; he
felt as if he were full of shell splinters. Everything was buried
but his head and left shoulder. A voice was calling from
"Are any of you fellows alive?"
Claude closed his eyes against the rain beating in his face. The
same voice came again, with a note of patient despair.
"If there's anybody left alive in this hole, won't he speak up?
I'm badly hurt myself."
That must be the new doctor; wasn't his dressing station
somewhere down here? Hurt, he said. Claude tried to move his legs
a little. Perhaps, if he could get out from under the dirt, he
might hold together long enough to reach the doctor. He began to
wriggle and pull. The wet earth sucked at him; it was painful
business. He braced himself with his elbows, but kept slipping
"I'm the only one left, then?" said the mournful voice below.
At last Claude worked himself out of his burrow, but he was
unable to stand. Every time he tried to stand, he got faint and
seemed to burst again. Something was the matter with his right
ankle, too--he couldn't bear his weight on it. Perhaps he had
been too near the shell to be hit; he had heard the boys tell of
such cases. It had exploded under his feet and swept him down
into the ravine, but hadn't left any metal in his body. If it had
put anything into him, it would have put so much that he wouldn't
be sitting here speculating. He began to crawl down the slope on
all fours. "Is that the Doctor? Where are you?"
"Here, on a stretcher. They shelled us. Who are you? Our fellows
got up, didn't they?"
"I guess most of them did. What happened back here?"
"I'm afraid it's my fault," the voice said sadly. "I used my
flash light, and that must have given them the range. They put
three or four shells right on top of us. The fellows that got
hurt in the gully kept stringing back here, and I couldn't do
anything in the dark. I had to have a light to do anything. I
just finished putting on a Johnson splint when the first shell
came. I guess they're all done for now."
"How many were there?"
"Fourteen, I think. Some of them weren't much hurt. They'd all be
alive, if I hadn't come out with you." "Who were they? But you
don't know our names yet, do you? You didn't see Lieutenant
Gerhardt among them?"
"Don't think so."
"Nor Sergeant Hicks, the fat fellow?"
"Don't think so."
"Where are you hurt?"
"Abdominal. I can't tell anything without a light. I lost my
flash light. It never occurred to me that it could make trouble;
it's one I use at home, when the babies are sick," the doctor
Claude tried to strike a match, with no success. "Wait a minute,
where's your helmet?" He took off his metal hat, held it over the
doctor, and managed to strike a light underneath it. The wounded
man had already loosened his trousers, and now he pulled up his
bloody shirt. His groin and abdomen were torn on the left side.
The wound, and the stretcher on which he lay, supported a mass of
dark, coagulated blood that looked like a great cow's liver.
"I guess I've got mine," the Doctor murmured as the match went
Claude struck another. "Oh, that can't be! Our fellows will be
back pretty soon, and we can do something for you."
"No use, Lieutenant. Do you suppose you could strip a coat off
one of those poor fellows? I feel the cold terribly in my
intestines. I had a bottle of French brandy, but I suppose it's
Claude stripped off his own coat, which was warm on the inside,
and began feeling about in the mud for the brandy. He wondered
why the poor man wasn't screaming with pain. The firing on the
hill had ceased, except for the occasional click of a Maxim, off
in the rocks somewhere. His watch said 12:10; could anything have
miscarried up there?
Suddenly, voices above, a clatter of boots on the shale. He began
shouting to them.
"Coming, coming!" He knew the voice. Gerhardt and his rifles ran
down into the ravine with a bunch of prisoners. Claude called to
them to be careful. "Don't strike a light! They've been shelling
"All right are you, Wheeler? Where are the wounded?"
"There aren't any but the Doctor and me. Get us out of here
quick. I'm all right, but I can't walk."
They put Claude on a stretcher and sent him ahead. Four big
Germans carried him, and they were prodded to a lope by Hicks and
Dell Able. Four of their own men took up the doctor, and Gerhardt
walked beside him. In spite of their care, the motion started the
blood again and tore away the clots that had formed over his
wounds. He began to vomit blood and to strangle. The men put the
stretcher down. Gerhardt lifted the Doctor's head. "It's over,"
he said presently. "Better make the best time you can."
They picked up their load again. "Them that are carrying him now
won't jolt him," said Oscar, the pious Swede.
B Company lost nineteen men in the raid. Two days later the
Company went off on a ten-day leave. Claude's sprained ankle was
twice its natural size, but to avoid being sent to the hospital
he had to march to the railhead. Sergeant Hicks got him a giant
shoe he found stuck on the barbed wire entanglement. Claude and
Gerhardt were going off on their leave together.
A rainy autumn night; Papa Joubert sat reading his paper. He
heard a heavy pounding on his garden gate. Kicking off his
slippers, he put on the wooden sabots he kept for mud, shuffled
across the dripping garden, and opened the door into the dark
street. Two tall figures with rifles and kits confronted him. In
a moment he began embracing them, calling to his wife:
"Nom de diable, Maman, c'est David, David et Claude, tous les
Sorry-looking soldiers they appeared when they stood in the
candlelight, plastered with clay, their metal hats shining like
copper bowls, their clothes dripping pools of water upon the
flags of the kitchen floor. Mme. Joubert kissed their wet cheeks,
and Monsieur, now that he could see them, embraced them again.
Whence had they come, and how had it fared with them, up there?
Very well, as anybody could see. What did they want
first,--supper, perhaps? Their room was always ready for them; and
the clothes they had left were in the big chest.
David explained that their shirts had not once been dry for four
days; and what they most desired was to be dry and to be clean.
Old Martha, already in bed, was routed out to heat water. M.
Joubert carried the big washtub upstairs. Tomorrow for
conversation, he said; tonight for repose. The boys followed him
and began to peel off their wet uniforms, leaving them in two
sodden piles on the floor. There was one bath for both, and they
threw up a coin to decide which should get into the warm water
first. M. Joubert, seeing Claude's fat ankle strapped up in
adhesive bandages, began to chuckle. "Oh, I see the Boche made
you dance up there!"
When they were clad in clean pyjamas out of the chest, Papa
Joubert carried their shirts and socks down for Martha to wash.
He returned with the big meat platter, on which was an omelette
made of twelve eggs and stuffed with bacon and fried potatoes.
Mme. Joubert brought the three-story earthen coffee-pot to the
door and called, "Bon appetit!" The host poured the coffee and
cut up the loaf with his clasp knife. He sat down to watch them
eat. How had they found things up there, anyway? The Boches
polite and agreeable as usual? Finally, when there was not a
crumb of anything left, he poured for each a little glass of
brandy, "pour cider la digestion," and wished them good-night. He
took the candle with him.
Perfect bliss, Claude reflected, as the chill of the sheets grew
warm around his body, and he sniffed in the pillow the old smell
of lavender. To be so warm, so dry, so clean, so beloved! The
journey down, reviewed from here, seemed beautiful. As soon as
they had got out of the region of martyred trees, they found the
land of France turning gold. All along the river valleys the
poplars and cottonwoods had changed from green to yellow,--evenly
coloured, looking like candle flames in the mist and rain. Across
the fields, along the horizon they ran, like torches passed from
hand to hand, and all the willows by the little streams had
become silver. The vineyards were green still, thickly spotted
with curly, blood-red branches. It all flashed back beside his
pillow in the dark: this beautiful land, this beautiful people,
this beautiful omelette; gold poplars, blue-green vineyards, wet,
scarlet vine leaves, rain dripping into the court, fragrant
darkness . . . sleep, stronger than all.
The woodland path was deep in leaves. Claude and David were lying
on the dry, springy heather among the flint boulders. Gerhardt,
with his Stetson over his eyes, was presumably asleep. They were
having fine weather for their holiday. The forest rose about this
open glade like an amphitheatre, in golden terraces of
horse chestnut and beech. The big nuts dropped velvety and brown,
as if they had been soaked in oil, and disappeared in the dry
leaves below. Little black yew trees, that had not been visible
in the green of summer, stood out among the curly yellow brakes.
Through the grey netting of the beech twigs, stiff holly bushes
It was the Wheeler way to dread false happiness, to feel cowardly
about being fooled. Since he had come back, Claude had more than
once wondered whether he took too much for granted and felt more
at home here than he had any right to feel. The Americans were
prone, he had observed, to make themselves very much at home, to
mistake good manners for good-will. He had no right to doubt the
affection of the Jouberts, however; that was genuine and
personal,--not a smooth surface under which almost any shade of
scorn might lie and laugh . . . was not, in short, the
treacherous "French politeness" by which one must not let oneself
be taken in. Merely having seen the season change in a country
gave one the sense of having been there for a long time. And,
anyway, he wasn't a tourist. He was here on legitimate business.
Claude's sprained ankle was still badly swollen. Madame Joubert
was sure he ought not to move about on it at all, begged him to
sit in the garden all day and nurse it. But the surgeon at the
front had told him that if he once stopped walking, he would have
to go to the hospital. So, with the help of his host's best
holly-wood cane, he limped out into the forest every day. This
afternoon he was tempted to go still farther. Madame Joubert had
told him about some caves at the other end of the wood,
underground chambers where the country people had gone to live in
times of great misery, long ago, in the English wars. The English
wars; he could not remember just how far back they were,--but
long enough to make one feel comfortable. As for him, perhaps he
would never go home at all. Perhaps, when this great affair was
over, he would buy a little farm and stay here for the rest of
his life. That was a project he liked to play with. There was no
chance for the kind of life he wanted at home, where people were
always buying and selling, building and pulling down. He had
begun to believe that the Americans were a people of shallow
emotions. That was the way Gerhardt had put it once; and if it
was true, there was no cure for it. Life was so short that it
meant nothing at all unless it were continually reinforced by
something that endured; unless the shadows of individual
existence came and went against a background that held together.
While he was absorbed in his day dream of farming in France, his
companion stirred and rolled over on his elbow.
"You know we are to join the Battalion at A--. They'll be living
like kings there. Hicks will get so fat he'll drop over on the
march. Headquarters must have something particularly nasty in
mind; the infantry is always fed up before a slaughter. But I've
been thinking; I have some old friends at A--. Suppose we go on
there a day early, and get them to take us in? It's a fine old
place, and I ought to go to see them. The son was a fellow
student of mine at the Conservatoire. He was killed the second
winter of the war. I used to go up there for the holidays with
him; I would like to see his mother and sister again. You've no
Claude did not answer at once. He lay squinting off at the beech
trees, without moving. "You always avoid that subject with me,
don't you?" he said presently.
"Oh, anything to do with the Conservatoire, or your profession."
"I haven't any profession at present. I'll never go back to the
"You mean you couldn't make up for the time you'll lose?"
Gerhardt settled his back against a rock and got out his pipe.
"That would be difficult; but other things would be harder. I've
lost much more than time."
"Couldn't you have got exemption, one way or another?"
"I might have. My friends wanted to take it up and make a test
case of me. But I couldn't stand for it. I didn't feel I was a
good enough violinist to admit that I wasn't a man. I often wish
I had been in Paris that summer when the war broke out; then I
would have gone into the French army on the first impulse, with
the other students, and it would have been better."
David paused and sat puffing at his pipe. Just then a soft
movement stirred the brakes on the hillside. A little barefoot
girl stood there, looking about. She had heard voices, but at
first did not see the uniforms that blended with the yellow and
brown of the wood. Then she saw the sun shining on two heads; one
square, and amber in colour,--the other reddish bronze, long and
narrow. She took their friendliness for granted and came down the
hill, stopping now and again to pick up shiny horse chestnuts and
pop them into a sack she was dragging. David called to her and
asked her whether the nuts were good to eat.
"Oh, non!" she exclaimed, her face expressing the liveliest
terror, "pour les cochons!" These inexperienced Americans might
eat almost anything. The boys laughed and gave her some pennies,
"pour les cochons aussi." She stole about the edge of the wood,
stirring among the leaves for nuts, and watching the two
Gerhardt knocked out his pipe and began to fill it again. "I went
home to see my mother in May, of 1914. I wasn't here when the war
broke out. The Conservatoire closed at once, so I arranged a
concert tour in the States that winter, and did very well. That
was before all the little Russians went over, and the field
wasn't so crowded. I had a second season, and that went well. But
I was getting more nervous all the time; I was only half there."
He smoked thoughtfully, sitting with folded arms, as if he were
going over a succession of events or states of feeling. "When my
number was drawn, I reported to see what I could do about getting
out; I took a look at the other fellows who were trying to
squirm, and chucked it. I've never been sorry. Not long
afterward, my violin was smashed, and my career seemed to go
along with it."
Claude asked him what he meant.
"While I was at Camp Dix, I had to play at one of the
entertainments. My violin, a Stradivarius, was in a vault in New
York. I didn't need it for that concert, any more than I need it
at this minute; yet I went to town and brought it out. I was
taking it up from the station in a military car, and a drunken
taxi driver ran into us. I wasn't hurt, but the violin, lying
across my knees, was smashed into a thousand pieces. I didn't
know what it meant then; but since, I've seen so many beautiful
old things smashed . . . I've become a fatalist."
Claude watched his brooding head against the grey flint rock.
"You ought to have kept out of the whole thing. Any army man
would say so."
David's head went back against the boulder, and he threw one of
the, chestnuts lightly into the air. "Oh, one violinist more or
less doesn't matter! But who is ever going back to anything?
That's what I want to know!"
Claude felt guilty; as if David must have guessed what apostasy
had been going on in his own mind this afternoon. "You don't
believe we are going to get out of this war what we went in for,
do you?" he asked suddenly.
"Absolutely not," the other replied with cool indifference.
"Then I certainly don't see what you're here for!"
"Because in 1917 I was twenty-four years old, and able to bear
arms. The war was put up to our generation. I don't know what
for; the sins of our fathers, probably. Certainly not to make the
world safe for Democracy, or any rhetoric of that sort. When I
was doing stretcher work, I had to tell myself over and over that
nothing would come of it, but that it had to be. Sometimes,
though, I think something must . . . . Nothing we expect, but
something unforeseen." He paused and shut his eyes. "You remember
in the old mythology tales how, when the sons of the gods were
born, the mothers always died in agony? Maybe it's only Semele
I'm thinking of. At any rate, I've sometimes wondered whether the
young men of our time had to die to bring a new idea into the
world . . . something Olympian. I'd like to know. I think I shall
know. Since I've been over here this time, I've come to believe
in immortality. Do you?"
Claude was confused by this quiet question. "I hardly know. I've
never been able to make up my mind."
"Oh, don't bother about it! If it comes to you, it comes. You
don't have to go after it. I arrived at it in quite the same way
I used to get things in art,--knowing them and living on them
before I understood them. Such ideas used to seem childish to
me." Gerhardt sprang up. "Now, have I told you what you want to
know about my case?" He looked down at Claude with a curious
glimmer of amusement and affection. "I'm going to stretch my
legs. It's four o'clock."
He disappeared among the red pine stems, where the sunlight made
a rose-colored lake, as it used to do in the summer . . . as it
would do in all the years to come, when they were not there to
see it, Claude was thinking. He pulled his hat over his eyes and
went to sleep.
The little girl on the edge of the beech wood left her sack and
stole quietly down the hill. Sitting in the heather and drawing
her feet up under her, she stayed still for a long time, and
regarded with curiosity the relaxed, deep breathing body of the
The next day was Claude's twenty-fifth birthday, and in honour of
that event Papa Joubert produced a bottle of old Burgundy from
his cellar, one of a few dozens he had laid in for great
occasions when he was a young man.
During that week of idleness at Madame Joubert's, Claude often
thought that the period of happy "youth," about which his old
friend Mrs. Erlich used to talk, and which he had never
experienced, was being made up to him now. He was having his
youth in France. He knew that nothing like this would ever come
again; the fields and woods would never again be laced over with
this hazy enchantment. As he came up the village street in the
purple evening, the smell of wood-smoke from the chimneys went to
his head like a narcotic, opened the pores of his skin, and
sometimes made the tears come to his eyes. Life had after all
turned out well for him, and everything had a noble significance.
The nervous tension in which he had lived for years now seemed
incredible to him . . . absurd and childish, when he thought of
it at all. He did not torture himself with recollections. He was
beginning over again.
One night he dreamed that he was at home; out in the ploughed
fields, where he could see nothing but the furrowed brown earth,
stretching from horizon to horizon. Up and down it moved a boy,
with a plough and two horses. At first he thought it was his
brother Ralph; but on coming nearer, he saw it was himself,--and
he was full of fear for this boy. Poor Claude, he would never,
never get away; he was going to miss everything! While he was
struggling to speak to Claude, and warn him, he awoke.
In the years when he went to school in Lincoln, he was always
hunting for some one whom he could admire without reservations;
some one he could envy, emulate, wish to be. Now he believed that
even then he must have had some faint image of a man like
Gerhardt in his mind. It was only in war times that their paths
would have been likely to cross; or that they would have had
anything to do together . . . any of the common interests that
make men friends.
Gerhardt and Claude Wheeler alighted from a taxi before the open
gates of a square-roofed, solid-looking house, where all the
shutters on the front were closed, and the tops of many trees
showed above the garden wall. They crossed a paved court and
rang at the door. An old valet admitted the young men, and took
them through a wide hall to the salon, which opened on the
garden. Madame and Mademoiselle would be down very soon. David
went to one of the long windows and looked out. "They have kept
it up, in spite of everything. It was always lovely here."
The garden was spacious,--like a little park. On one side was a
tennis court, on the other a fountain, with a pool and
water-lilies. The north wall was hidden by ancient yews; on the
south two rows of plane trees, cut square, made a long arbour. At
the back of the garden there were fine old lindens. The gravel
walks wound about beds of gorgeous autumn flowers; in the rose
garden, small white roses were still blooming, though the leaves
were already red.
Two ladies entered the drawing-room. The mother was short, plump,
and rosy, with strong, rather masculine features and yellowish
white hair. The tears flashed into her eyes as David bent to kiss
her hand, and she embraced him and touched both his cheeks with
"Et vous, vous aussi!" she murmured, touching the coat of his
uniform with her fingers. There was but a moment of softness. She
gathered herself up like an old general, Claude thought, as he
stood watching the group from the window, drew her daughter
forward, and asked David whether he recognized the little girl
with whom he used to play. Mademoiselle Claire was not at all
like her mother; slender, dark, dressed in a white costume de
tennis and an apple green hat with black ribbons, she looked very
modern and casual and unconcerned. She was already telling David
she was glad he had arrived early, as now they would be able to
have a game of tennis before tea. Maman would bring her knitting
to the garden and watch them. This last suggestion relieved
Claude's apprehension that he might be left alone with his
hostess. When David called him and presented him to the ladies,
Mlle. Claire gave him a quick handshake, and said she would be
very glad to try him out on the court as soon as she had beaten
David. They would find tennis shoes in their room,--a collection
of shoes, for the feet of all nations; her brother's, some that
his Russian friend had forgotten when he hurried off to be
mobilized, and a pair lately left by an English officer who was
quartered on them. She and her mother would wait in the garden.
She rang for the old valet.
The Americans found themselves in a large room upstairs, where
two modern iron beds stood out conspicuous among heavy mahogany
bureaus and desks and dressing-tables, stuffed chairs and velvet
carpets and dull red brocade window hangings. David went at once
into the little dressing-room and began to array himself for the
tennis court. Two suits of flannels and a row of soft shirts hung
there on the wall.
"Aren't you going to change?" he asked, noticing that Claude
stood stiff and unbending by the window, looking down into the
garden. "Why should I?" said Claude scornfully. "I don't play
tennis. I never had a racket in my hand."
"Too bad. She used to play very well, though she was only a
youngster then." Gerhardt was regarding his legs in trousers two
inches too short for him. "How everything has changed, and yet
how everything is still the same! It's like coming back to places
"They don't give you much time to dream, I should say!" Claude
"Explain to the girl that I don't play, will you? I'll be down
"As you like."
Claude stood in the window, watching Gerhardt's bare head and
Mlle. Claire's green hat and long brown arm go bounding about
over the court.
When Gerhardt came to change before tea, he found his fellow
officer standing before his bag, which was open, but not
"What's the matter? Feeling shellshock again?"
"Not exactly." Claude bit his lip. "The fact is, Dave, I don't
feel just comfortable here. Oh, the people are all right But
I'm out of place. I'm going to pull out and get a billet
somewhere else, and let you visit your friends in peace. Why
should I be here? These people don't keep a hotel."
"They very nearly do, from what they've been telling me. They've
had a string of Scotch and English quartered on them. They like
it, too,-or have the good manners to pretend they do. Of course,
you'll do as you like, but you'll hurt their feelings and put me
in an awkward position. To be frank, I don't see how you can go
away without being distinctly rude."
Claude stood looking down at the contents of his bag in an
irresolute attitude. Catching a glimpse of his face in one of the
big mirrors, Gerhardt saw that he looked perplexed and miserable.
His flash of temper died, and he put his hand lightly on his
"Come on, Claude! This is too absurd. You don't even have to
dress, thanks to your uniform,--and you don't have to talk, since
you're not supposed to know the language. I thought you'd like
coming here. These people have had an awfully rough time; can't
you admire their pluck?"
"Oh, yes, I do! It's awkward for me, though." Claude pulled off
his coat and began to brush his hair vigorously. "I guess I've
always been more afraid of the French than of the Germans. It
takes courage to stay, you understand. I want to run."
"But why? What makes you want to?"
"Oh, I don't know! Something in the house, in the atmosphere."
"No. Something agreeable."
David laughed. "Oh, you'll get over that!"
They had tea in the garden, English fashion--English tea, too,
Mlle. Claire informed them, left by the English officers.
At dinner a third member of the family was introduced, a little
boy with a cropped head and big black eyes. He sat on Claude's
left, quiet and shy in his velvet jacket, though he followed the
conversation eagerly, especially when it touched upon his brother
Rene, killed at Verdun in the second winter of the war. The
mother and sister talked about him as if he were living, about
his letters and his plans, and his friends at the Conservatoire
and in the Army. Mlle. Claire told Gerhardt news of all the girl
students he had known in Paris: how this one was singing for the
soldiers; another, when she was nursing in a hospital which was
bombed in an air raid, had carried twenty wounded men out of the
burning building, one after another, on her back, like sacks of
flour. Alice, the dancer, had gone into the English Red Cross and
learned English. Odette had married a New Zealander, an officer
who was said to be a cannibal; it was well known that his tribe
had eaten two Auvergnat missionaries. There was a great deal more
that Claude could not understand, but he got enough to see that
for these women the war was France, the war was life, and
everything that went into it. To be alive, to be conscious and
have one's faculties, was to be in the war.
After dinner, when they went into the salon, Madame Fleury asked
David whether he would like to see Rene's violin again, and
nodded to the little boy. He slipped away and returned carrying
the case, which he placed on the table. He opened it carefully
and took off the velvet cloth, as if this was his peculiar
office, then handed the instrument to Gerhardt.
David turned it over under the candles, telling Madame Fleury
that he would have known it anywhere, Rene's wonderful Amati,
almost too exquisite in tone for the concert hall, like a woman
who is too beautiful for the stage. The family stood round and
listened to his praise with evident satisfaction. Madame Fleury
told him that Lucien was tres serieux with his music, that his
master was well pleased with him, and when his hand was a little
larger he would be allowed to play upon Rene's violin. Claude
watched the little boy as he stood looking at the instrument in
David's hands; in each of his big black eyes a candle flame was
reflected, as if some steady fire were actually burning there.
"What is it, Lucien?" his mother asked.
"If Monsieur David would be so good as to play before I must go
to bed--" he murmured entreatingly.
"But, Lucien, I am a soldier now. I have not worked at all for
two years. The Amati would think it had fallen into the hands of
Lucien smiled. "Oh, no! It is too intelligent for that. A little,
please," and he sat down on a footstool before the sofa in
Mlle. Claire went to the piano. David frowned and began to tune
the violin. Madame Fleury called the old servant and told him to
light the sticks that lay in the fireplace. She took the
arm-chair at the right of the hearth and motioned Claude to a
seat on the left. The little boy kept his stool at the other end
of the room. Mlle. Claire began the orchestral introduction to
the Saint-Saens concerto.
"Oh, not that!" David lifted his chin and looked at her in
She made no reply, but played on, her shoulders bent forward.
Lucien drew his knees up under his chin and shivered. When the
time came, the violin made its entrance. David had put it back
under his chin mechanically, and the instrument broke into that
suppressed, bitter melody.
They played for a long while. At last David stopped and wiped his
forehead. "I'm afraid I can't do anything with the third
"Nor can I. But that was the last thing Rene played on it, the
night before he went away, after his last leave." She began
again, and David followed. Madame Fleury sat with half-closed
eyes, looking into the fire. Claude, his lips compressed, his
hands on his knees, was watching his friend's back. The music was
a part of his own confused emotions. He was torn between generous
admiration, and bitter, bitter envy. What would it mean to be
able to do anything as well as that, to have a hand capable of
delicacy and precision and power? If he had been taught to do
anything at all, he would not be sitting here tonight a wooden
thing amongst living people. He felt that a man might have been
made of him, but nobody had taken the trouble to do it;
tongue-tied, foot-tied, hand-tied. If one were born into this
world like a bear cub or a bull calf, one could only paw and
upset things, break and destroy, all one's life.
Gerhardt wrapped the violin up in its cloth. The little boy
thanked him and carried it away. Madame Fleury and her daughter
wished their guests goodnight.
David said he was warm, and suggested going into the garden to
smoke before they went to bed. He opened one of the long windows
and they stepped out on the terrace. Dry leaves were rustling
down on the walks; the yew trees made a solid wall, blacker than
the darkness. The fountain must have caught the starlight; it was
the only shining thing,--a little clear column of twinkling
silver. The boys strolled in silence to the end of the walk.
"I guess you'll go back to your profession, all right," Claude
remarked, in the unnatural tone in which people sometimes speak
of things they know nothing about.
"Not I. Of course, I had to play for them. Music has always been
like a religion in this house. Listen," he put up his hand; far
away the regular pulsation of the big guns sounded through the
still night. "That's all that matters now. It has killed
"I don't believe it." Claude stopped for a moment by the edge of
the fountain, trying to collect his thoughts. "I don't believe it
has killed anything. It has only scattered things." He glanced
about hurriedly at the sleeping house, the sleeping garden, the
clear, starry sky not very far overhead. "It's men like you that
get the worst of it," he broke out. "But as for me, I never knew
there was anything worth living for, till this war came on.
Before that, the world seemed like a business proposition."
"You'll admit it's a costly way of providing adventure for the
young," said David drily.
"Maybe so; all the same . . ."
Claude pursued the argument to himself long after they were in
their luxurious beds and David was asleep. No battlefield or
shattered country he had seen was as ugly as this world would be
if men like his brother Bayliss controlled it altogether. Until
the war broke out, he had supposed they did control it; his
boyhood had been clouded and enervated by that belief. The
Prussians had believed it, too, apparently. But the event had
shown that there were a great many people left who cared about
The intervals of the distant artillery fire grew shorter, as if
the big guns were tuning up, choking to get something out. Claude
sat up in his bed and listened. The sound of the guns had from
the first been pleasant to him, had given him a feeling of
confidence and safety; tonight he knew why. What they said was,
that men could still die for an idea; and would burn all they had
made to keep their dreams. He knew the future of the world was
safe; the careful planners would never be able to put it into a
strait-jacket,--cunning and prudence would never have it to
themselves. Why, that little boy downstairs, with the candlelight
in his eyes, when it came to the last cry, as they said, could
"carry on" for ever! Ideals were not archaic things, beautiful
and impotent; they were the real sources of power among men. As
long as that was true, and now he knew it was true--he had come
all this way to find out--he had no quarrel with Destiny. Nor did
he envy David. He would give his own adventure for no man's. On
the edge of sleep it seemed to glimmer, like the clear column of
the fountain, like the new moon,--alluring, half-averted, the
bright face of danger.
When Claude and David rejoined their Battalion on the 20th of
September, the end of the war looked as far away as ever. The
collapse of Bulgaria was unknown to the American army, and their
acquaintance with European affairs was so slight that this would
have meant very little to them had they heard of it. The German
army still held the north and east of France, and no one could
say how much vitality was left in that sprawling body.
The Battalion entrained at Arras. Lieutenant Colonel Scott had
orders to proceed to the railhead, and then advance on foot into
The cars were crowded, and the railway journey was long and
fatiguing. They detrained at night, in the rain, at what the men
said seemed to be the jumping off place. There was no town, and
the railway station had been bombed the day before, by an air
fleet out to explode artillery ammunition. A mound of brick, and
holes full of water told where it had been. The Colonel sent
Claude out with a patrol to find some place for the men to sleep.
The patrol came upon a field of straw stacks, and at the end of it
found a black farmhouse.
Claude went up and hammered on the door. Silence. He kept
hammering and calling, "The Americans are here!" A shutter
opened. The farmer stuck his head out and demanded gruffly what
was wanted; "What now?"
Claude explained in his best French that an American battalion
had just come in; might they sleep in his field if they did not
destroy his stacks?
"Sure," replied the farmer, and shut the window.
That one word, coming out of the dark in such an unpromising
place, had a cheering effect upon the patrol, and upon the men,
when it was repeated to them. "Sure, eh?" They kept laughing over
it as they beat about the field and dug into the straw. Those who
couldn't burrow into a stack lay down in the muddy stubble. They
were asleep before they could feel sorry for themselves.
The farmer came out to offer his stable to the officers, and to
beg them not on any account to make a light. They had never been
bothered here by air raids until yesterday, and it must be
because the Americans were coming and were sending in ammunition.
Gerhardt, who was called to talk to him, told the farmer the
Colonel must study his map, and for that the man took them down
into the cellar, where the children were asleep. Before he lay
down on the straw bed his orderly had made for him, the Colonel
kept telling names and kilometers off on his fingers. For
officers like Colonel Scott the names of places constituted one
of the real hardships of the war. His mind worked slowly, but it
was always on his job, and he could go without sleep for more
hours together than any of his officers. Tonight he had scarcely
lain down, when a sentinel brought in a runner with a message.
The Colonel had to go into the cellar again to read it. He was to
meet Colonel Harvey at Prince Joachim farm, as early as possible
tomorrow morning. The runner would act as guide.
The Colonel sat with his eye on his watch, and interrogated the
messenger about the road and the time it would take to get over
the ground. "What's Fritz's temper up here, generally speaking?"
"That's as it happens, sir. Sometimes we nab a night patrol of a
dozen or fifteen and send them to the rear under a one-man guard.
Then, again, a little bunch of Heinies will fight like the devil.
They say it depends on what part of Germany they come from; the
Bavarians and Saxons are the bravest."
Colonel Scott waited for an hour, and then went about, shaking
his sleeping officers.
"Yes, sir." Captain Maxey sprang to his feet as if he had been
caught in a disgraceful act. He called his sergeants, and they
began to beat the men up out of the strawstacks and puddles. In
half an hour they were on the road.
This was the Battalion's first march over really bad roads, where
walking was a question of pulling and balancing. They were soon
warm, at any rate; it kept them sweating. The weight of their
equipment was continually thrown in the wrong place. Their wet
clothing dragged them back, their packs got twisted and cut into
their shoulders Claude and Hicks began wondering to each other
what it must have been like in the real mud, up about Ypres and
Passchendaele, two years ago. Hicks had been training at Arras
last week, where a lot of Tommies were "resting" in the same way,
and he had tales to tell.
The Battalion got to Joachim farm at nine o'clock. Colonel Harvey
had not yet come up, but old Julius Caesar was there with his
engineers, and he had a hot breakfast ready for them. At six
o'clock in the evening they took the road again, marching until
daybreak, with short rests. During the night they captured two
Hun patrols, a bunch of thirty men. At the halt for breakfast,
the prisoners wanted to make themselves useful, but the cook said
they were so filthy the smell of them would make a stew go bad.
They were herded off by themselves, a good distance from the grub
It was Gerhardt, of course, who had to go over and question them.
Claude felt sorry for the prisoners; they were so willing to tell
all they knew, and so anxious to make themselves agreeable; began
talking about their relatives in America, and said brightly that
they themselves were going over at once, after the war--seemed to
have no doubt that everybody would be glad to see them!
They begged Gerhardt to be allowed to do something. Couldn't they
carry the officers' equipment on the march? No, they were too
buggy; they might relieve the sanitary squad. Oh, that they would
gladly do, Herr Offiizier!
The plan was to get to Rupprecht trench and take it before
nightfall. It was easy taking--empty of everything but vermin and
human discards; a dozen crippled and sick, left for the enemy to
dispose of, and several half-witted youths who ought to have been
locked up in some institution. Fritz had known what it meant when
his patrols did not come back. He had evacuated, leaving behind
his hopelessly diseased, and as much filth as possible. The
dugouts were fairly dry, but so crawling with vermin that the
Americans preferred to sleep in the mud, in the open.
After supper the men fell on their packs and began to lighten
them, throwing away all that was not necessary, and much that
was. Many of them abandoned the new overcoats that had been
served out at the railhead; others cut off the skirts and made
the coats into ragged jackets. Captain Maxey was horrified at
these depredations, but the Colonel advised him to shut his eyes.
"They've got hard going before them; let them travel light. If
they'd rather stand the cold, they've got a right to choose."
The Battalion had twenty-four hours' rest at Rupprecht trench,
and then pushed on for four days and nights, stealing trenches,
capturing patrols, with only a few hours' sleep,--snatched by the
roadside while their food was being prepared. They pushed hard
after a retiring foe, and almost outran themselves. They did
outrun their provisions; on the fourth night, when they fell
upon a farm that had been a German Headquarters, the supplies
that were to meet them there had not come up, and they went to
This farmhouse, for some reason called by the prisoners Frau
Hulda farm, was a nest of telephone wires; hundreds of them ran
out through the walls, in all directions. The Colonel cut those
he could find, and then put a guard over the old peasant who had
been left in charge of the house, suspecting that he was in the
pay of the enemy.
At last Colonel Scott got into the Headquarters bed, large and
lumpy,--the first one he had seen since he left Arras. He had not
been asleep more than two hours, when a runner arrived with
orders from the Regimental Colonel. Claude was in a bed in the
loft, between Gerhardt and Bruger. He felt somebody shaking him,
but resolved that he wouldn't be disturbed and went on placidly
sleeping. Then somebody pulled his hair,--so hard that he sat up.
Captain Maxey was standing over the bed.
"Come along, boys. Orders from Regimental Headquarters. The
Battalion is to split here. Our Company is to go on four
kilometers tonight, and take the town of Beaufort."
Claude rose. "The men are pretty well beat out, Captain Maxey,
and they had no supper."
"That can't be helped. Tell them we are to be in Beaufort for
Claude and Gerhardt went out to the barn and roused Hicks and his
pal, Dell Able. The men were asleep in dry straw, for the first
time in ten days. They were completely worn out, lost to time and
place. Many of them were already four thousand miles away,
scattered among little towns and farms on the prairie. They were
a miserable looking lot as they got together, stumbling about in
After the Colonel had gone over the map with Captain Maxey, he
came out and saw the Company assembled. He wasn't going with
them, he told them, but he expected them to give a good account
of themselves. Once in Beaufort, they would have a week's rest;
sleep under cover, and live among people for awhile.
The men took the road, some with their eyes shut, trying to make
believe they were still asleep, trying to have their agreeable
dreams over again, as they marched. They did not really waken up
until the advance challenged a Hun patrol, and sent it back to
the Colonel under a one-man guard. When they had advanced two
kilometers, they found the bridge blown up. Claude and Hicks went
in one direction to look for a ford, Bruger and Dell Able in the
other, and the men lay down by the roadside and slept heavily.
Just at dawn they reached the outskirts of the village, silent
Captain Maxey had no information as to how many Germans might be
left in the town. They had occupied it ever since the beginning
of the war, and had used it as a rest camp. There had never been
any fighting there.
At the first house on the road, the Captain stopped and pounded.
"We are Americans, and must see the people of the house. If you
don't open, we must break the door."
A woman's voice called; "There is nobody here. Go away, please,
and take your men away. I am sick."
The Captain called Gerhardt, who began to explain and reassure
through the door. It opened a little way, and an old woman in a
nightcap peeped out. An old man hovered behind her. She gazed in
astonishment at the officers, not understanding. These were the
first soldiers of the Allies she had ever seen. She had heard the
Germans talk about Americans, but thought it was one of their
lies, she said. Once convinced, she let the officers come in and
replied to their questions.
No, there were no Boches left in her house. They had got orders
to leave day before yesterday, and had blown up the bridge. They
were concentrating somewhere to the east. She didn't know how
many were still in the village, nor where they were, but she
could tell the Captain where they had been. Triumphantly she
brought out a map of the town--lost, she said with a meaning
smile, by a German officer--on which the billets were marked.
With this to guide them, Captain Maxey and his men went on up the
street. They took eight prisoners in one cellar, seventeen in
another. When the villagers saw the prisoners bunched together in
the square, they came out of their houses and gave information.
This cleaning up, Bert Fuller remarked, was like taking fish
from the Platte River when the water was low, simply pailing them
out! There was no sport in it.
At nine o'clock the officers were standing together in the square
before the church, checking off on the map the houses that had
been searched. The men were drinking coffee, and eating fresh
bread from a baker's shop. The square was full of people who had
come out to see for themselves. Some believed that deliverance
had come, and others shook their heads and held back, suspecting
another trick. A crowd of children were running about, making
friends with the soldiers. One little girl with yellow curls and
a clean white dress had attached herself to Hicks, and was eating
chocolate out of his pocket. Gerhardt was bargaining with the
baker for another baking of bread. The sun was shining, for a
change,--everything was looking cheerful. This village seemed to
be swarming with girls; some of them were pretty, and all were
friendly. The men who had looked so haggard and forlorn when dawn
overtook them at the edge of the town, began squaring their
shoulders and throwing out their chests. They were dirty and
mud-plastered, but as Claude remarked to the Captain, they
actually looked like fresh men.
Suddenly a shot rang out above the chatter, and an old woman in a
white cap screamed and tumbled over on the pavement,--rolled
about, kicking indecorously with both hands and feet. A second
crack,--the little girl who stood beside Hicks, eating chocolate,
threw out her hands, ran a few steps, and fell, blood and brains
oozing out in her yellow hair. The people began screaming and
running. The Americans looked this way and that; ready to dash,
but not knowing where to go. Another shot, and Captain Maxey fell
on one knee, blushed furiously and sprang up, only to fall
again,--ashy white, with the leg of his trousers going red.
"There it is, to the left!" Hicks shouted, pointing. They saw
now. From a closed house, some distance down a street off the
square, smoke was coming. It hung before one of the upstairs
windows. The Captain's orderly dragged him into a wineshop.
Claude and David, followed by the men, ran down the street and
broke in the door. The two officers went through the rooms on the
first floor, while Hicks and his lot made straight for an
enclosed stairway at the back of the house. As they reached the
foot of the stairs, they were met by a volley of rifle shots, and
two of the men tumbled over. Four Germans were stationed at the
head of the steps.
The Americans scarcely knew whether their bullets or their
bayonets got to the Huns first; they were not conscious of going
up, till they were there. When Claude and David reached the
landing, the squad were wiping their bayonets, and four grey
bodies were piled in the corner.
Bert Fuller and Dell Able ran down the narrow hallway and threw
open the door into the room on the street. Two shots, and Dell
came back with his jaw shattered and the blood spouting from the
left side of his neck. Gerhardt caught him, and tried to close
the artery with his fingers.
"How many are in there, Bert?" Claude called.
"I couldn't see. Look out, sir! You can't get through that door
more than two at a time!"
The door still stood open, at the end of the corridor. Claude
went down the steps until he could sight along the floor of the
passage, into the front room. The shutters were closed in there,
and the sunlight came through the slats. In the middle of the
floor, between the door and the windows, stood a tall chest of
drawers, with a mirror attached to the top. In the narrow space
between the bottom of this piece of furniture and the floor, he
could see a pair of boots. It was possible there was but one man
in the room, shooting from behind his movable fort,--though there
might be others hidden in the corners.
"There's only one fellow in there, I guess. He's shooting from
behind a big dresser in the middle of the room. Come on, one of
you, we'll have to go in and get him."
Willy Katz, the Austrian boy from the Omaha packing house,
stepped up and stood beside him.
"Now, Willy, we'll both go in at once; you jump to the right, and
I to the left,--and one of us will jab him. He can't shoot both
ways at once. Are you ready? All right--Now!"
Claude thought he was taking the more dangerous position himself,
but the German probably reasoned that the important man would be
on the right. As the two Americans dashed through the door, he
fired. Claude caught him in the back with his bayonet, under the
shoulder blade, but Willy Katz had got the bullet in his brain,
through one of his blue eyes. He fell, and never stirred. The
German officer fired his revolver again as he went down, shouting
in English, English with no foreign accent,
"You swine, go back to Chicago!" Then he began choking with
Sergeant Hicks ran in and shot the dying man through the temples.
Nobody stopped him.
The officer was a tall man, covered with medals and orders; must
have been very handsome. His linen and his hands were as white as
if he were going to a ball. On the dresser were the files and
paste and buffers with which he had kept his nails so pink and
smooth. A ring with a ruby, beautifully cut, was on his little
finger. Bert Fuller screwed it off and offered it to Claude. He
shook his head. That English sentence had unnerved him. Bert held
the ring out to Hicks, but the Sergeant threw down his revolver
and broke out:
"Think I'd touch anything of his? That beautiful little girl, and
my buddy--He's worse than dead, Dell is, worse!" He turned his
back on his comrades so that they wouldn't see him cry.
"Can I keep it myself, sir?" Bert asked.
Claude nodded. David had come in, and was opening the shutters.
This officer, Claude was thinking, was a very different sort of
being from the poor prisoners they had been scooping up like
tadpoles from the cellars. One of the men picked up a gorgeous
silk dressing gown from the bed, another pointed to a
dressing-case full of hammered silver. Gerhardt said it was
Russian silver; this man must have come from the Eastern front.
Bert Fuller and Nifty Jones were going through the officer's
pockets. Claude watched them, and thought they did about right.
They didn't touch his medals; but his gold cigarette case, and
the platinum watch still ticking on his wrist,--he wouldn't have
further need for them. Around his neck, hung by a delicate chain,
was a miniature case, and in it was a painting,--not, as Bert
romantically hoped when he opened it, of a beautiful woman, but
of a young man, pale as snow, with blurred forget-me-not eyes.
Claude studied it, wondering. "It looks like a poet, or
something. Probably a kid brother, killed at the beginning of the
Gerhardt took it and glanced at it with a disdainful expression.
"Probably. There, let him keep it, Bert." He touched Claude on
the shoulder to call his attention to the inlay work on the
handle of the officer's revolver.
Claude noticed that David looked at him as if he were very much
pleased with him,--looked, indeed, as if something pleasant had
happened in this room; where, God knew, nothing had; where, when
they turned round, a swarm of black flies was quivering with
greed and delight over the smears Willy Katz' body had left on
the floor. Claude had often observed that when David had an
interesting idea, or a strong twinge of recollection, it made
him, for the moment, rather heartless. Just now he felt that
Gerhardt's flash of high spirits was in some way connected with
him. Was it because he had gone in with Willy? Had David doubted
When the survivors of Company B are old men, and are telling over
their good days, they will say to each other, "Oh, that week we
spent at Beaufort!" They will close their eyes and see a little
village on a low ridge, lost in the forest, overgrown with oak
and chestnut and black walnut . . . buried in autumn colour, the
streets drifted deep in autumn leaves, great branches interlacing
over the roofs of the houses, wells of cool water that tastes of
moss and tree roots. Up and down those streets they will see
figures passing; themselves, young and brown and clean-limbed;
and comrades, long dead, but still alive in that far-away
village. How they will wish they could tramp again, nights on
days in the mud and rain, to drag sore feet into their old
billets at Beaufort! To sink into those wide feather beds and
sleep the round of the clock while the old women washed and dried
their clothes for them; to eat rabbit stew and pommes frites in
the garden,--rabbit stew made with red wine and chestnuts. Oh,
the days that are no more!
As soon as Captain Maxey and the wounded men had been started on
their long journey to the rear, carried by the prisoners, the
whole company turned in and slept for twelve hours--all but
Sergeant Hicks, who sat in the house off the square, beside the
body of his chum.
The next day the Americans came to life as if they were new men,
just created in a new world. And the people of the town came to
life . . . excitement, change, something to look forward to at
last! A new flag, le drapeau etoile, floated along with the
tricolour in the square. At sunset the soldiers stood in
formation behind it and sang "The Star Spangled Banner" with
uncovered heads. The old people watched them from the doorways.
The Americans were the first to bring "Madelon" to Beaufort. The
fact that the village had never heard this song, that the
children stood round begging for it, "Chantez-vous la Madelon!"
made the soldiers realize how far and how long out of the world
these villagers had been. The German occupation was like a
deafness which nothing pierced but their own arrogant martial
Before Claude was out of bed after his first long sleep, a runner
arrived from Colonel Scott, notifying him that he was in charge
of the Company until further orders. The German prisoners had
buried their own dead and dug graves for the Americans before
they were sent off to the rear. Claude and David were billeted at
the edge of the town, with the woman who had given Captain Maxey
his first information, when they marched in yesterday morning.
Their hostess told them, at their mid-day breakfast, that the old
dame who was shot in the square, and the little girl, were to be
buried this afternoon. Claude decided that the Americans might as
well have their funeral at the same time. He thought he would ask
the priest to say a prayer at the graves, and he and David set
off through the brilliant, rustling autumn sunshine to find the
Cure's house. It was next the church, with a high-walled garden
behind it. Over the bell-pull in the outer wall was a card on
which was written, "Tirez fort."
The priest himself came out to them, an old man who seemed weak
like his doorbell. He stood in his black cap, holding his hands
against his breast to keep them from shaking, and looked very old
indeed,--broken, hopeless, as if he were sick of this world and
done with it. Nowhere in France had Claude seen a face so sad as
his. Yes, he would say a prayer. It was better to have Christian
burial, and they were far from home, poor fellows! David asked
him whether the German rule had been very oppressive, but the old
man did not answer clearly, and his hands began to shake so
uncontrollably over his cassock that they went away to spare him
"He seems a little gone in the head, don't you think?" Claude
"I suppose the war has used him up. How can he celebrate mass
when his hands quiver so?" As they crossed the church steps,
David touched Claude's arm and pointed into the square. "Look,
every doughboy has a girl already! Some of them have trotted out
fatigue caps! I supposed they'd thrown them all away!"
Those who had no caps stood with their helmets under their arms,
in attitudes of exaggerated gallantry, talking to the women,--who
seemed all to have errands abroad. Some of them let the boys
carry their baskets. One soldier was giving a delighted little
girl a ride on his back.
After the funeral every man in the Company found some sympathetic
woman to talk to about his fallen comrades. All the garden
flowers and bead wreaths in Beaufort had been carried out and put
on the American graves. When the squad fired over them and the
bugle sounded, the girls and their mothers wept. Poor Willy Katz,
for instance, could never have had such a funeral in South Omaha.
The next night the soldiers began teaching the girls to dance the
"Pas Seul" and the "Fausse Trot." They had found an old violin in
the town; and Oscar, the Swede, scraped away on it. They danced
every evening. Claude saw that a good deal was going on, and he
lectured his men at parade. But he realized that he might as well
scold at the sparrows. Here was a village with several hundred
women, and only the grandmothers had husbands. All the men were
in the army; hadn't even been home on leave since the Germans
first took the place. The girls had been shut up for four years
with young men who incessantly coveted them, and whom they must
constantly outwit. The situation had been intolerable--and
prolonged. The Americans found themselves in the position of Adam
in the garden.
"Did you know, sir," said Bert Fuller breathlessly as he overtook
Claude in the street after parade, "that these lovely girls had
to go out in the fields and work, raising things for those dirty
pigs to eat? Yes, sir, had to work in the fields, under German
sentinels; marched out in the morning and back at night like
convicts! It's sure up to us to give them a good time now."
One couldn't walk out of an evening without meeting loitering
couples in the dusky streets and lanes. The boys had lost all
their bashfulness about trying to speak French. They declared
they could get along in France with three verbs, and all,
happily, in the first conjugation: manger, aimer, payer,--quite
enough! They called Beaufort "our town," and they were called
"our Americans." They were going to come back after the war, and
marry the girls, and put in waterworks!
"Chez-moi, sir!" Bill Gates called to Claude, saluting with a
bloody hand, as he stood skinning rabbits before the door of his
billet. "Bunny casualties are heavy in town this week!"
"You know, Wheeler," David remarked one morning as they were
shaving, "I think Maxey would come back here on one leg if he
knew about these excursions into the forest after mushrooms."
"Aren't you going to put a stop to them?"
"Not I!" Claude jerked, setting the corners of his mouth grimly.
"If the girls, or their people, make complaint to me, I'll
interfere. Not otherwise. I've thought the matter over."
"Oh, the girls--" David laughed softly. "Well, it's something to
acquire a taste for mushrooms. They don't get them at home, do
When, after eight days, the Americans had orders to march, there
was mourning in every house. On their last night in town, the
officers received pressing invitations to the dance in the
square. Claude went for a few moments, and looked on. David was
dancing every dance, but Hicks was nowhere to be seen. The poor
fellow had been out of everything. Claude went over to the church
to see whether he might be moping in the graveyard.
There, as he walked about, Claude stopped to look at a grave that
stood off by itself, under a privet hedge, with withered leaves
and a little French flag on it. The old woman with whom they
stayed had told them the story of this grave.
The Cure's niece was buried there. She was the prettiest girl in
Beaufort, it seemed, and she had a love affair with a German
officer and disgraced the town. He was a young Bavarian,
quartered with this same old woman who told them the story, and
she said he was a nice boy, handsome and gentle, and used to sit
up half the night in the garden with his head in his
hands--homesick, lovesick. He was always after this Marie Louise;
never pressed her, but was always there, grew up out of the
ground under her feet, the old woman said. The girl hated
Germans, like all the rest, and flouted him. He was sent to the
front. Then he came back, sick and almost deaf, after one of the
slaughters at Verdun, and stayed a long while. That spring a
story got about that some woman met him at night in the German
graveyard. The Germans had taken the land behind the church for
their cemetery, and it joined the wall of the Cure's garden. When
the women went out into the fields to plant the crops, Marie
Louise used to slip away from the others and meet her Bavarian in
the forest. The girls were sure of it now; and they treated her
with disdain. But nobody was brave enough to say anything to the
Cure. One day, when she was with her Bavarian in the wood, she
snatched up his revolver from the ground and shot herself. She
was a Frenchwoman at heart, their hostess said.
"And the Bavarian?" Claude asked David later. The story had
become so complicated he could not follow it.
"He justified her, and promptly. He took the same pistol and shot
himself through the temples. His orderly, stationed at the edge
of the thicket to keep watch, heard the first shot and ran toward
them. He saw the officer take up the smoking pistol and turn it
on himself. But the Kommandant couldn't believe that one of his
officers had so much feeling. He held an enquete, dragged the
girl's mother and uncle into court, and tried to establish that
they were in conspiracy with her to seduce and murder a German
officer. The orderly was made to tell the whole story; how and
where they began to meet. Though he wasn't very delicate about
the details he divulged, he stuck to his statement that he saw
Lieutenant Muller shoot himself with his own hand, and the
Kommandant failed to prove his case. The old Cure had known
nothing of all this until he heard it aired in the military
court. Marie Louise had lived in his house since she was a child,
and was like his daughter. He had a stroke or something, and has
been like this ever since. The girl's friends forgave her, and
when she was buried off alone by the hedge, they began to take
flowers to her grave. The Kommandant put up an affiche on the
hedge, forbidding any one to decorate the grave. Apparently,
nothing during the German occupation stirred up more feeling than
poor Marie Louise."
It would stir anybody, Claude reflected. There was her lonely
little grave, the shadow of the privet hedge falling across it.
There, at the foot of the Cure's garden, was the German cemetery,
with heavy cement crosses,--some of them with long inscriptions;
lines from their poets, and couplets from old hymns. Lieutenant
Muller was there somewhere, probably. Strange, how their story
stood out in a world of suffering. That was a kind of misery he
hadn't happened to think of before; but the same thing must have
occurred again and again in the occupied territory. He would
never forget the Cure's hands, his dim, suffering eyes.
Claude recognized David crossing the pavement in front of the
church, and went back to meet him.
"Hello! I mistook you for Hicks at first. I thought he might be
out here." David sat down on the steps and lit a cigarette.
"So did I. I came out to look for him."
"Oh, I expect he's found some shoulder to cry on. Do you realize,
Claude, you and I are the only men in the Company who haven't got
engaged? Some of the married men have got engaged twice. It's a
good thing we're pulling out, or we'd have banns and a bunch of
christenings to look after." "All the same," murmured Claude, "I
like the women of this country, as far as I've seen them." While
they sat smoking in silence, his mind went back to the quiet
scene he had watched on the steps of that other church, on his
first night in France; the country girl in the moonlight, bending
over her sick soldier.
When they walked back across the square, over the crackling
leaves, the dance was breaking up. Oscar was playing "Home, Sweet
Home," for the last waltz.
"Le dernier baiser," said David. "Well, tomorrow we'll be gone,
and the chances are we won't come back this way."
"With us it's always a feast or a famine," the men groaned, when
they sat down by the road to munch dry biscuit at noon. They had
covered eighteen miles that morning, and had still seven more to
go. They were ordered to do the twenty-five miles in eight hours.
Nobody had fallen out yet, but some of the boys looked pretty
well wilted. Nifty Jones said he was done for. Sergeant Hicks was
expostulating with the faint-hearted. He knew that if one man
fell out, a dozen would.
"If I can do it, you can. It's worse on a fat man like me. This
is no march to make a fuss about. Why, at Arras I talked with a
little Tommy from one of those Pal Battalions that got
slaughtered on the Somme. His battalion marched twenty-five miles
in six hours, in the heat of July, into certain death. They were
all kids out of school, not a man of them over five-foot-three,
called them the 'Bantams.' You've got to hand it to them,
"I'll hand anything to anybody, but I can't go no farther on
these," Jones muttered, nursing his sore feet.
"Oh, you! We're going to heave you onto the only horse in the
Company. The officers, they can walk!"
When they got into Battalion lines there was food ready for them,
but very few wanted it. They drank and lay down in the bushes.
Claude went at once to Headquarters and found Barclay Owens, of
the Engineers, with the Colonel, who was smoking and studying his
maps as usual.
"Glad to see you, Wheeler. Your men ought to be in good shape,
after a week's rest. Let them sleep now. We've got to move out of
here before midnight, to relieve two Texas battalions at Moltke
trench. They've taken the trench with heavy casualties and are
beat out; couldn't hold it in case of counter-attack. As it's an
important point, the enemy will try to recover it. I want to get
into position before daylight, so he won't know fresh troops are
coming in. As ranking officer, you are in charge of the Company."
"Very well, sir. I'll do my best."
"I'm sure you will. Two machine gun teams are going up with us,
and some time tomorrow a Missouri battalion comes up to support.
I'd have had you over here before, but I only got my orders to
relieve yesterday. We may have to advance under shell fire. The
enemy has been putting a lot of big stuff over; he wants to cut
off that trench."
Claude and David got into a fresh shell hole, under the
half-burned scrub, and fell asleep. They were awakened at dusk by
heavy artillery fire from the north.
At ten o'clock the Battalion, after a hot meal, began to advance
through almost impassable country. The guns must have been
pounding away at the same range for a long while; the ground was
worked and kneaded until it was soft as dough, though no rain had
fallen for a week. Barclay Owens and his engineers were throwing
down a plank road to get food and the ammunition wagons across.
Big shells were coming over at intervals of twelve minutes. The
intervals were so regular that it was quite possible to get
forward without damage. While B Company was pulling through the
shell area, Colonel Scott overtook them, on foot, his orderly
leading his horse.
"Know anything about that light over there, Wheeler?" he asked.
"Well, it oughtn't to be there. Come along and see."
The light was a mere match-head down in the ground, Claude hadn't
noticed it before. He followed the Colonel, and when they reached
the spark they found three officers of A Company crouching in a
shell crater, covered with a piece of sheet-iron.
"Put out that light," called the Colonel sharply. "What's the
matter, Captain Brace?"
A young man rose quickly. "I'm waiting for the water, sir. It's
coming up on mules, in petrol cases, and I don't want to get
separated from it. The ground's so bad here the drivers are
likely to get lost."
"Don't wait more than twenty minutes. You must get up and take
your position on time, that's the important thing, water or no
As the Colonel and Claude hurried back to overtake the Company,
five big shells screamed over them in rapid succession. "Run,
sir," the orderly called. "They're getting on to us; they've
shortened the range."
"That light back there was just enough to give them an idea," the
The bad ground continued for about a mile, and then the advance
reached Headquarters, behind the eighth trench of the great
system of trenches. It was an old farmhouse which the Germans had
made over with reinforced concrete, lining it within and without,
until the walls were six feet thick and almost shell-proof, like
a pill-box. The Colonel sent his orderly to enquire about A
Company. A young Lieutenant came to the door of the farmhouse.
"A Company is ready to go into position, sir. I brought them
up." "Where is Captain Brace, Lieutenant?"
"He and both our first lieutenants were killed, Colonel. Back in
that hole. A shell fell on them not five minutes after you were
talking to them."
"That's bad. Any other damage?"
"Yes, sir. There was a cook wagon struck at the same time; the
first one coming along Julius Caesar's new road. The driver was
killed, and we had to shoot the horses. Captain Owens, he near
got scalded with the stew."
The Colonel called in the officers one after another and
discussed their positions with them.
"Wheeler," he said when Claude's turn came, "you know your map?
You've noticed that sharp loop in the front trench, in H 2; the
Boar's Head, I believe they call it. It's a sort of spear point
that reaches out toward the enemy, and it will be a hot place to
hold. If I put your company in there, do you think you can do the
Battalion credit in case of a counter attack?"
Claude said he thought so.
"It's the nastiest bit of the line to hold, and you can tell your
men I pay them a compliment when I put them there."
"All right, sir. They'll appreciate it."
The Colonel bit off the end of a fresh cigar. "They'd better, by
thunder! If they give way and let the Hun bombers in, it will let
down the whole line. I'll give you two teams of Georgia machine
guns to put in that point they call the Boar's Snout. When the
Missourians come up tomorrow, they'll go in to support you, but
until then you'll have to take care of the loop yourselves. I've
got an awful lot of trench to hold, and I can't spare you any
The Texas men whom the Battalion came up to relieve had been
living for sixty hours on their iron rations, and on what they
could pick off the dead Huns. Their supplies had been shelled on
the way, and nothing had got through to them. When the Colonel
took Claude and Gerhardt forward to inspect the loop that B
Company was to hold, they found a wallow, more like a dump heap
than a trench. The men who had taken the position were almost too
weak to stand. All their officers had been killed, and a sergeant
was in command. He apologized for the condition of the loop.
"Sorry to leave such a mess for you to clean up, sir, but we got
it bad in here. He's been shelling us every night since we drove
him out. I couldn't ask the men to do anything but hold on."
"That's all right. You beat it, with your boys, quick! My men
will hand you out some grub as you go back."
The battered defenders of the Boar's Head stumbled past them
through the darkness into the communication. When the last man
had filed out, the Colonel sent for Barclay Owens. Claude and
David tried to feel their way about and get some idea of the
condition the place was in. The stench was the worst they had yet
encountered, but it was less disgusting than the flies; when they
inadvertently touched a dead body, clouds of wet, buzzing flies
flew up into their faces, into their eyes and nostrils. Under
their feet the earth worked and moved as if boa constrictors were
wriggling down there soft bodies, lightly covered. When they had
found their way up to the Snout they came upon a pile of corpses,
a dozen or more, thrown one on top of another like sacks of
flour, faintly discernible in the darkness. While the two
officers stood there, rumbling, squirting sounds began to come
from this heap, first from one body, then from another--gases,
swelling in the liquefying entrails of the dead men. They seemed
to be complaining to one another; glup, glup, glup.
The boys went back to the Colonel, who was standing at the mouth
of the communication, and told him there was nothing much to
report, except that the burying squad was needed badly.
"I expect!" The Colonel shook his head. When Barclay Owens
arrived, he asked him what could be done here before daybreak.
The doughty engineer felt his way about as Claude and Gerhardt
had done; they heard him coughing, and beating off the flies. But
when he came back he seemed rather cheered than discouraged.
"Give me a gang to get the casualties out, and with plenty of
quick-lime and concrete I can make this loop all right in four
hours, sir," he declared.
"I've brought plenty of lime, but where'll you get your
"The Hun left about fifty sacks of it in the cellar, under your
Headquarters. I can do better, of course, if I have a few hours
more for my concrete to dry."
"Go ahead, Captain." The Colonel told Claude and David to bring
their men up to the communication before light, and hold them
ready. "Give Owens' cement a chance, but don't let the enemy put
over any surprise on you."
The shelling began again at daybreak; it was hardest on the rear
trenches and the three-mile area behind. Evidently the enemy felt
sure of what he had in Moltke trench; he wanted to cut off
supplies and possible reinforcements. The Missouri battalion did
not come up that day, but before noon a runner arrived from their
Colonel, with information that they were hiding in the wood. Five
Boche planes had been circling over the wood since dawn,
signalling to the enemy Headquarters back on Dauphin Ridge; the
Missourians were sure they had avoided detection by lying close
in the under-brush. They would come up in the night. Their
linemen were following the runner, and Colonel Scott would be in
telephone communication with them in half an hour.
When B Company moved into the Boar's Head at one o'clock in the
afternoon, they could truthfully say that the prevailing smell
was now that of quick-lime. The parapet was evenly built up, the
firing step had been partly restored, and in the Snout there were
good emplacements for the machine guns. Certain unpleasant
reminders were still to be found if one looked for them. In the
Snout a large fat boot stuck stiffly from the side of the trench.
Captain Ovens explained that the ground sounded hollow in there,
and the boot probably led back into a dugout where a lot of Hun
bodies were entombed together. As he was pressed for time, he had
thought best not to look for trouble. In one of the curves of the
loop, just at the top of the earth wall, under the sand bags, a
dark hand reached out; the five fingers, well apart, looked like
the swollen roots of some noxious weed. Hicks declared that this
object was disgusting, and during the afternoon he made Nifty
Jones and Oscar scrape down some earth and make a hump over the
paw. But there was shelling in the night, and the earth fell
"Look," said Jones when he wakened his Sergeant. "The first thing
I seen when daylight come was his old fingers, wigglin' in the
breeze. He wants air, Heinie does; he won't stay covered."
Hicks got up and re-buried the hand himself, but when he came
around with Claude on inspection, before breakfast, there were
the same five fingers sticking out again. The Sergeant's forehead
puffed up and got red, and he swore that if he found the man who
played dirty jokes, he'd make him eat this one.
The Colonel sent for Claude and Gerhardt to come to breakfast
with him. He had been talking by telephone with the Missouri
officers and had agreed that they should stay back in the bush
for the present. The continual circling of planes over the wood
seemed to indicate that the enemy was concerned about the actual
strength of Moltke trench. It was possible their air scouts had
seen the Texas men going back,--otherwise, why were they holding
While the Colonel and the officers were at breakfast, a corporal
brought in two pigeons he had shot at dawn. One of them carried a
message under its wing. The Colonel unrolled a strip of paper and
handed it to Gerhardt.
"Yes, sir, it's in German, but it's code stuff. It's a German
nursery rhyme. Those reconnoitering planes must have dropped
scouts on our rear, and they are sending in reports. Of course,
they can get more on us than the air men can. Here, do you want
these birds, Dick?"
The boy grinned. "You bet I do, sir! I may get a chance to fry
'em, later on."
After breakfast the Colonel went to inspect B Company in the
Boar's Head. He was especially pleased with the advantageous
placing of the machine guns in the Snout. "I expect you'll have a
quiet day," he said to the men, "but I wouldn't like to promise
you a quiet night. You'll have to be very steady in here; if
Fritz takes this loop, he's got us, you understand."
They had, indeed, a quiet day. Some of the men played cards, and
Oscar read his Bible. The night, too, began well. But at four
fifteen everybody was roused by the gas alarm. Gas shells came
over for exactly half an hour. Then the shrapnel broke loose;
not the long, whizzing scream of solitary shells, but drum-fire,
continuous and deafening. A hundred electrical storms seemed
raging at once, in the air and on the ground. Balls of fire were
rolling all over the place. The range was a little long for the
Boar's Head, they were not getting the worst of it; but thirty
yards back everything was torn to pieces. Claude didn't see how
anybody could be left alive back there. A single twister had
killed six of his men at the rear of the loop, where they were
shovelling to keep the communication clear. Captain Owns' neat
earthworks were being badly pounded.
Claude and Gerhardt were consulting together when the smoke and
darkness began to take on the livid colour that announced the
coming of daybreak. A messenger ran in from the Colonel; the
Missourians had not yet come up, and his telephone communication
with them was cut off. He was afraid they had got lost in the
bombardment. "The Colonel says you are to send two men back to
bring them up; two men who can take charge if they're stampeded."
When the messenger shouted this order, Gerhardt and Hicks looked
at each other quickly, and volunteered to go.
Claude hesitated. Hicks and David waited for no further consent;
they ran down the communication and disappeared.
Claude stood in the smoke that was slowly growing greyer, and
looked after them with the deepest stab of despair he had ever
known. Only a man who was bewildered and unfit to be in command
of other men would have let his best friend and his best officer
take such a risk. He was standing there under shelter, and his
two friends were going back through that curtain of flying steel,
toward the square from which the lost battalion had last
reported. If he knew them, they would not lose time following the
maze of trenches; they were probably even now out on the open,
running straight through the enemy barrage, vaulting trench tops.
Claude turned and went back into the loop. Well, whatever
happened, he had worked with brave men. It was worth having lived
in this world to have known such men. Soldiers, when they were in
a tight place, often made secret propositions to God; and now he
found himself offering terms: If They would see to it that David
came back, They could take the price out of him. He. would pay.
Did They understand?
An hour dragged by. Hard on the nerves, waiting. Up the
communication came a train with ammunition and coffee for the
loop. The men thought Headquarters did pretty well to get hot
food to them through that barrage. A message came up in the
"Be ready when the barrage stops."
Claude took this up and showed it to the machine gunners in the
Snout. Turning back, he ran into Hicks, stripped to his shirt and
trousers, as wet as if he had come out of the river, and splashed
with blood. His hand was wrapped up in a rag. He put his mouth to
Claude's ear and shouted: "We found them. They were lost. They're
coming. Send word to the Colonel."
"He's coming; bringing them up. God, it's stopped!"
The bombardment ceased with a suddenness that was stupefying. The
men in the loop gasped and crouched as if they were falling from
a height. The air, rolling black with smoke and stifling with the
smell of gases and burning powder, was still as death. The
silence was like a heavy anaesthetic.
Claude ran back to the Snout to see that the gun teams were
ready. "Wake up, boys! You know why we're here!"
Bert Fuller, who was up in the look-out, dropped back into the
trench beside him. "They're coming, sir."
Claude gave the signal to the machine guns. Fire opened all along
the loop. In a moment a breeze sprang up, and the heavy smoke
clouds drifted to the rear. Mounting to the firestep, he peered
over. The enemy was coming on eight deep, on the left of the
Boar's Head, in long, waving lines that reached out toward the
main trench. Suddenly the advance was checked. The files of
running men dropped behind a wrinkle in the earth fifty yards
forward and did not instantly re-appear. It struck Claude that
they were waiting for something; he ought to be clever enough to
know for what, but he was not. The Colonel's line man came up to
"Headquarters has a runner from the Missourians. They'll be up in
twenty minutes. The Colonel will put them in here at once. Till
then you must manage to hold."
"We'll hold. Fritz is behaving queerly. I don't understand his
tactics . . . "
While he was speaking, everything was explained. The Boar's Snout
spread apart with an explosion that split the earth, and went up
in a volcano of smoke and flame. Claude and the Colonel's
messenger were thrown on their faces. When they got to their
feet, the Snout was a smoking crater full of dead and dying men.
The Georgia gun teams were gone.
It was for this that the Hun advance had been waiting behind the
ridge. The mine under the Snout had been made long ago, probably,
on a venture, when the Hun held Moltke trench for months without
molestation. During the last twenty-four hours they had been
getting their explosives in, reasoning that the strongest
garrison would be placed there.
Here they were, coming on the run. It was up to the rifles. The
men who had been knocked down by the shock were all on their feet
again. They looked at their officer questioningly, as if the
whole situation had changed. Claude felt they were going soft
under his eyes. In a moment the Hun bombers would be in on them,
and they would break. He ran along the trench, pointing over the
sand bags and shouting, "It's up to you, it's up to you!"
The rifles recovered themselves and began firing, but Claude felt
they were spongy and uncertain, that their minds were already on
the way to the rear. If they did anything, it must be quick, and
their gun-work must be accurate. Nothing but a withering fire
could check . . . . He sprang to the firestep and then out on the
parapet. Something instantaneous happened; he had his men in
"Steady, steady!" He called the range to the rifle teams behind
him, and he could see the fire take effect. All along the Hun
lines men were stumbling and falling. They swerved a little to
the left; he called the rifles to follow, directing them with his
voice and with his hands. It was not only that from here he could
correct the range and direct the fire; the men behind him had
become like rock. That line of faces below; Hicks, Jones, Fuller,
Anderson, Oscar . . . . Their eyes never left him. With these men
he could do anything.
The right of the Hun line swerved out, not more than twenty yards
from the battered Snout, trying to run to shelter under that pile