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    Ch. 3: In Lorraine and the Vosges

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    Chapter 3
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    NANCY, May 13th, 1915

    Beside me, on my writing-table, stands a bunch of peonies, the jolly
    round-faced pink peonies of the village garden. They were picked
    this afternoon in the garden of a ruined house at Gerbeviller--a
    house so calcined and convulsed that, for epithets dire enough to
    fit it, one would have to borrow from a Hebrew prophet gloating over
    the fall of a city of idolaters.

    Since leaving Paris yesterday we have passed through streets and
    streets of such murdered houses, through town after town spread out
    in its last writhings; and before the black holes that were homes,
    along the edge of the chasms that were streets, everywhere we have
    seen flowers and vegetables springing up in freshly raked and
    watered gardens. My pink peonies were not introduced to point the
    stale allegory of unconscious Nature veiling Man's havoc: they are
    put on my first page as a symbol of conscious human energy coming
    back to replant and rebuild the wilderness...

    Last March, in the Argonne, the towns we passed through seemed quite
    dead; but yesterday new life was budding everywhere. We were
    following another track of the invasion, one of the huge
    tiger-scratches that the Beast flung over the land last September,
    between Vitry-le-Francois and Bar-le-Duc. Etrepy, Pargny,
    Sermaize-les-Bains, Andernay, are the names of this group of
    victims: Sermaize a pretty watering-place along wooded slopes, the
    others large villages fringed with farms, and all now mere
    scrofulous blotches on the soft spring scene. But in many we heard
    the sound of hammers, and saw brick-layers and masons at work. Even
    in the most mortally stricken there were signs of returning life:
    children playing among the stone heaps, and now and then a cautious
    older face peering out of a shed propped against the ruins. In one
    place an ancient tram-car had been converted into a cafe and
    labelled: "Au Restaurant des Ruines"; and everywhere between the
    calcined walls the carefully combed gardens aligned their radishes
    and lettuce-tops.

    From Bar-le-Duc we turned northeast, and as we entered the forest of
    Commercy we began to hear again the Voice of the Front. It was the
    warmest and stillest of May days, and in the clearing where we
    stopped for luncheon the familiar boom broke with a magnified
    loudness on the noonday hush. In the intervals between the crashes
    there was not a sound but the gnats' hum in the moist sunshine and
    the dryad-call of the cuckoo from greener depths. At the end of the
    lane a few cavalrymen rode by in shabby blue, their horses' flanks
    glinting like ripe chestnuts. They stopped to chat and accept some
    cigarettes, and when they had trotted off again the gnat, the cuckoo
    and the cannon took up their trio...

    The town of Commercy looked so undisturbed that the cannonade
    rocking it might have been some unheeded echo of the hills. These
    frontier towns inured to the clash of war go about their business
    with what one might call stolidity if there were not finer, and
    truer, names for it. In Commercy, to be sure, there is little
    business to go about just now save that connected with the military
    occupation; but the peaceful look of the sunny sleepy streets made
    one doubt if the fighting line was really less than five miles away...
    Yet the French, with an odd perversion of race-vanity, still
    persist in speaking of themselves as a "nervous and impressionable"
    people!

    This afternoon, on the road to Gerbeviller, we were again in the
    track of the September invasion. Over all the slopes now cool with
    spring foliage the battle rocked backward and forward during those
    burning autumn days; and every mile of the struggle has left its
    ghastly traces. The fields are full of wooden crosses which the
    ploughshare makes a circuit to avoid; many of the villages have been
    partly wrecked, and here and there an isolated ruin marks the
    nucleus of a fiercer struggle. But the landscape, in its first sweet
    leafiness, is so alive with ploughing and sowing and all the natural
    tasks of spring, that the war scars seem like traces of a long-past
    woe; and it was not till a bend of the road brought us in sight of
    Gerbeviller that we breathed again the choking air of present
    horror.

    Gerbeviller, stretched out at ease on its slopes above the Meurthe,
    must have been a happy place to live in. The streets slanted up
    between scattered houses in gardens to the great Louis XIV
    chateau above the town and the church that balanced it. So
    much one can reconstruct from the first glimpse across the valley;
    but when one enters the town all perspective is lost in chaos.
    Gerbeviller has taken to herself the title of "the martyr town"; an
    honour to which many sister victims might dispute her claim! But as
    a sensational image of havoc it seems improbable that any can
    surpass her. Her ruins seem to have been simultaneously vomited up
    from the depths and hurled down from the skies, as though she had
    perished in some monstrous clash of earthquake and tornado; and it
    fills one with a cold despair to know that this double destruction
    was no accident of nature but a piously planned and methodically
    executed human deed. From the opposite heights the poor little
    garden-girt town was shelled like a steel fortress; then, when the
    Germans entered, a fire was built in every house, and at the
    nicely-timed right moment one of the explosive tabloids which the
    fearless Teuton carries about for his land-_Lusitanias_ was tossed
    on each hearth. It was all so well done that one wonders--almost
    apologetically for German thoroughness--that any of the human rats
    escaped from their holes; but some did, and were neatly spitted on
    lurking bayonets.

    One old woman, hearing her son's deathcry, rashly looked out of her
    door. A bullet instantly laid her low among her phloxes and lilies;
    and there, in her little garden, her dead body was dishonoured. It
    seemed singularly appropriate, in such a scene, to read above a
    blackened doorway the sign: "Monuments Funebres," and to observe
    that the house the doorway once belonged to had formed the angle of
    a lane called "La Ruelle des Orphelines."

    At one end of the main street of Gerbeviller there once stood a
    charming house, of the sober old Lorraine pattern, with low door,
    deep roof and ample gables: it was in the garden of this house that
    my pink peonies were picked for me by its owner, Mr. Liegeay, a
    former Mayor of Gerbeviller, who witnessed all the horrors of the
    invasion.

    Mr. Liegeay is now living in a neighbour's cellar, his own being
    fully occupied by the debris of his charming house. He told us the
    story of the three days of the German occupation; how he and his
    wife and niece, and the niece's babies, took to their cellar while
    the Germans set the house on fire, and how, peering through a door
    into the stable-yard, they saw that the soldiers suspected they were
    within and were trying to get at them. Luckily the incendiaries had
    heaped wood and straw all round the outside of the house, and the
    blaze was so hot that they could not reach the door. Between the
    arch of the doorway and the door itself was a half-moon opening; and
    Mr. Liegeay and his family, during three days and three nights,
    broke up all the barrels in the cellar and threw the bits out
    through the opening to feed the fire in the yard.

    Finally, on the third day, when they began to be afraid that the
    ruins of the house would fall in on them, they made a dash for
    safety. The house was on the edge of the town, and the women and
    children managed to get away into the country; but Mr. Liegeay was
    surprised in his garden by a German soldier. He made a rush for the
    high wall of the adjoining cemetery, and scrambling over it slipped
    down between the wall and a big granite cross. The cross was covered
    with the hideous wire and glass wreaths dear to French mourners; and
    with these opportune mementoes Mr. Liegeay roofed himself in, lying
    wedged in his narrow hiding-place from three in the afternoon till
    night, and listening to the voices of the soldiers who were hunting
    for him among the grave-stones. Luckily it was their last day at
    Gerbeviller, and the German retreat saved his life.

    Even in Gerbeviller we saw no worse scene of destruction than the
    particular spot in which the ex-mayor stood while he told his story.
    He looked about him at the heaps of blackened brick and contorted
    iron. "This was my dining-room," he said. "There were some good old
    paneling on the walls, and some fine prints that had been a
    wedding-present to my grand-father." He led us into another black
    pit. "This was our sitting-room: you see what a view we had." He
    sighed, and added philosophically: "I suppose we were too well off.
    I even had an electric light out there on the terrace, to read my
    paper by on summer evenings. Yes, we were too well off..." That
    was all.

    Meanwhile all the town had been red with horror--flame and shot and
    tortures unnameable; and at the other end of the long street, a
    woman, a Sister of Charity, had held her own like Soeur Gabrielle at
    Clermont-en-Argonne, gathering her flock of old men and children
    about her and interposing her short stout figure between them and
    the fury of the Germans. We found her in her Hospice, a ruddy,
    indomitable woman who related with a quiet indignation more
    thrilling than invective the hideous details of the bloody three
    days; but that already belongs to the past, and at present she is
    much more concerned with the task of clothing and feeding
    Gerbeviller. For two thirds of the population have already "come
    home"--that is what they call the return to this desert! "You see,"
    Soeur Julie explained, "there are the crops to sow, the gardens to
    tend. They had to come back. The government is building wooden
    shelters for them; and people will surely send us beds and linen."
    (Of course they would, one felt as one listened!) "Heavy boots,
    too--boots for field-labourers. We want them for women as well as
    men--like these." Soeur Julie, smiling, turned up a hob-nailed sole.
    "I have directed all the work on our Hospice farm myself. All the
    women are working in the fields--we must take the place of the men."
    And I seemed to see my pink peonies flowering in the very prints of
    her sturdy boots!

    May 14th.

    Nancy, the most beautiful town in France, has never been as
    beautiful as now. Coming back to it last evening from a round of
    ruins one felt as if the humbler Sisters sacrificed to spare it were
    pleading with one not to forget them in the contemplation of its
    dearly-bought perfection.

    The last time I looked out on the great architectural setting of the
    Place Stanislas was on a hot July evening, the evening of the
    National Fete. The square and the avenues leading to it
    swarmed with people, and as darkness fell the balanced lines of
    arches and palaces sprang out in many coloured light. Garlands of
    lamps looped the arcades leading into the Place de la Carriere,
    peacock-coloured fires flared from the Arch of Triumph, long curves
    of radiance beat like wings over the thickets of the park, the
    sculptures of the fountains, the brown-and-gold foliation of Jean
    Damour's great gates; and under this roofing of light was the murmur
    of a happy crowd carelessly celebrating the tradition of
    half-forgotten victories.

    Now, at sunset, all life ceases in Nancy and veil after veil of
    silence comes down on the deserted Place and its empty perspectives.
    Last night by nine the few lingering lights in the streets had been
    put out, every window was blind, and the moonless night lay over the
    city like a canopy of velvet. Then, from some remote point, the arc
    of a search-light swept the sky, laid a fugitive pallor on darkened
    palace-fronts, a gleam of gold on invisible gates, trembled across
    the black vault and vanished, leaving it still blacker. When we came
    out of the darkened restaurant on the corner of the square, and the
    iron curtain of the entrance had been hastily dropped on us, we
    stood in such complete night that it took a waiter's friendly hand
    to guide us to the curbstone. Then, as we grew used to the darkness,
    we saw it lying still more densely under the colonnade of the Place
    de la Carriere and the clipped trees beyond. The ordered masses of
    architecture became august, the spaces between them immense, and the
    black sky faintly strewn with stars seemed to overarch an enchanted
    city. Not a footstep sounded, not a leaf rustled, not a breath of
    air drew under the arches. And suddenly, through the dumb night, the
    sound of the cannon began.

    May 14th.

    Luncheon with the General Staff in an old bourgeois house of a
    little town as sleepy as "Cranford." In the warm walled gardens
    everything was blooming at once: laburnums, lilacs, red hawthorn,
    Banksia roses and all the pleasant border plants that go with box
    and lavender. Never before did the flowers answer the spring
    roll-call with such a rush! Upstairs, in the Empire bedroom which
    the General has turned into his study, it was amusingly incongruous
    to see the sturdy provincial furniture littered with war-maps,
    trench-plans, aeroplane photographs and all the documentation of
    modern war. Through the windows bees hummed, the garden rustled, and
    one felt, close by, behind the walls of other gardens, the
    untroubled continuance of a placid and orderly bourgeois life.

    We started early for Mousson on the Moselle, the ruined
    hill-fortress that gives its name to the better-known town at its
    foot. Our road ran below the long range of the "Grand Couronne," the
    line of hills curving southeast from Pont-a-Mousson to St.
    Nicolas du Port. All through this pleasant broken country the battle
    shook and swayed last autumn; but few signs of those days are left
    except the wooden crosses in the fields. No troops are visible, and
    the pictures of war that made the Argonne so tragic last March are
    replaced by peaceful rustic scenes. On the way to Mousson the road
    is overhung by an Italian-looking village clustered about a
    hill-top. It marks the exact spot at which, last August, the German
    invasion was finally checked and flung back; and the Muse of History
    points out that on this very hill has long stood a memorial shaft
    inscribed: _Here, in the year 362, Jovinus defeated the Teutonic
    hordes._

    A little way up the ascent to Mousson we left the motor behind a bit
    of rising ground. The road is raked by the German lines, and stray
    pedestrians (unless in a group) are less liable than a motor to have
    a shell spent on them. We climbed under a driving grey sky which
    swept gusts of rain across our road. In the lee of the castle we
    stopped to look down at the valley of the Moselle, the slate roofs
    of Pont-a-Mousson and the broken bridge which once linked
    together the two sides of the town. Nothing but the wreck of the
    bridge showed that we were on the edge of war. The wind was too high
    for firing, and we saw no reason for believing that the wood just
    behind the Hospice roof at our feet was seamed with German trenches
    and bristling with guns, or that from every slope across the valley
    the eye of the cannon sleeplessly glared. But there the Germans
    were, drawing an iron ring about three sides of the watch-tower; and
    as one peered through an embrasure of the ancient walls one
    gradually found one's self re-living the sensations of the little
    mediaeval burgh as it looked out on some earlier circle of
    besiegers. The longer one looked, the more oppressive and menacing
    the invisibility of the foe became. "_There_ they are--and
    _there_--and _there._" We strained our eyes obediently, but saw only
    calm hillsides, dozing farms. It was as if the earth itself were the
    enemy, as if the hordes of evil were in the clods and grass-blades.
    Only one conical hill close by showed an odd artificial patterning,
    like the work of huge ants who had scarred it with criss-cross
    ridges. We were told that these were French trenches, but they
    looked much more like the harmless traces of a prehistoric camp.

    Suddenly an officer, pointing to the west of the trenched hill said:
    "Do you see that farm?" It lay just below, near the river, and so
    close that good eyes could easily have discerned people or animals
    in the farm-yard, if there had been any; but the whole place seemed
    to be sleeping the sleep of bucolic peace. "_They are there_," the
    officer said; and the innocent vignette framed by my field-glass
    suddenly glared back at me like a human mask of hate. The loudest
    cannonade had not made "them" seem as real as that!...

    At this point the military lines and the old political frontier
    everywhere overlap, and in a cleft of the wooded hills that conceal
    the German batteries we saw a dark grey blur on the grey horizon. It
    was Metz, the Promised City, lying there with its fair steeples and
    towers, like the mystic banner that Constantine saw upon the sky...

    Through wet vineyards and orchards we scrambled down the hill to the
    river and entered Pont-a-Mousson. It was by mere
    meteorological good luck that we got there, for if the winds had
    been asleep the guns would have been awake, and when they wake poor
    Pont-a-Mousson is not at home to visitors. One understood why
    as one stood in the riverside garden of the great Premonstratensian
    Monastery which is now the hospital and the general asylum of the
    town. Between the clipped limes and formal borders the German shells
    had scooped out three or four "dreadful hollows," in one of which,
    only last week, a little girl found her death; and the facade of the
    building is pock-marked by shot and disfigured with gaping holes.
    Yet in this precarious shelter Sister Theresia, of the same
    indomitable breed as the Sisters of Clermont and Gerbeviller, has
    gathered a miscellaneous flock of soldiers wounded in the trenches,
    civilians shattered by the bombardment, eclopes, old women and
    children: all the human wreckage of this storm-beaten point of the
    front. Sister Theresia seems in no wise disconcerted by the fact
    that the shells continually play over her roof. The building is
    immense and spreading, and when one wing is damaged she picks up her
    proteges and trots them off, bed and baggage, to another. "_Je
    promene mes malades_," she said calmly, as if boasting of the varied
    accommodation of an ultra-modern hospital, as she led us through
    vaulted and stuccoed galleries where caryatid-saints look down in
    plaster pomp on the rows of brown-blanketed pallets and the long
    tables at which haggard eclopes were enjoying their evening soup.

    May 15th.

    I have seen the happiest being on earth: a man who has found his
    job.

    This afternoon we motored southwest of Nancy to a little place
    called Menil-sur-Belvitte. The name is not yet intimately known to
    history, but there are reasons why it deserves to be, and in one
    man's mind it already is. Menil-sur-Belvitte is a village on the
    edge of the Vosges. It is badly battered, for awful fighting took
    place there in the first month of the war. The houses lie in a
    hollow, and just beyond it the ground rises and spreads into a
    plateau waving with wheat and backed by wooded slopes--the ideal
    "battleground" of the history-books. And here a real above-ground
    battle of the old obsolete kind took place, and the French, driving
    the Germans back victoriously, fell by thousands in the trampled
    wheat.

    The church of Menil is a ruin, but the parsonage still stands--a
    plain little house at the end of the street; and here the cure
    received us, and led us into a room which he has turned into a
    chapel. The chapel is also a war museum, and everything in it has
    something to do with the battle that took place among the
    wheat-fields. The candelabra on the altar are made of "Seventy-five"
    shells, the Virgin's halo is composed of radiating bayonets, the
    walls are intricately adorned with German trophies and French
    relics, and on the ceiling the cure has had painted a kind of
    zodiacal chart of the whole region, in which Menil-sur-Belvitte's
    handful of houses figures as the central orb of the system, and
    Verdun, Nancy, Metz, and Belfort as its humble satellites. But the
    chapel-museum is only a surplus expression of the cure's impassioned
    dedication to the dead. His real work has been done on the
    battle-field, where row after row of graves, marked and listed as
    soon as the struggle was over, have been fenced about, symmetrically
    disposed, planted with flowers and young firs, and marked by the
    names and death-dates of the fallen. As he led us from one of these
    enclosures to another his face was lit with the flame of a gratified
    vocation. This particular man was made to do this particular thing:
    he is a born collector, classifier, and hero-worshipper. In the hall
    of the "presbytere" hangs a case of carefully-mounted butterflies,
    the result, no doubt, of an earlier passion for collecting. His
    "specimens" have changed, that is all: he has passed from
    butterflies to men, from the actual to the visionary Psyche.

    On the way to Menil we stopped at the village of Crevic. The Germans
    were there in August, but the place is untouched--except for one
    house. That house, a large one, standing in a park at one end of the
    village, was the birth-place and home of General Lyautey, one of
    France's best soldiers, and Germany's worst enemy in Africa. It is
    no exaggeration to say that last August General Lyautey, by his
    promptness and audacity, saved Morocco for France. The Germans know
    it, and hate him; and as soon as the first soldiers reached
    Crevic--so obscure and imperceptible a spot that even German
    omniscience might have missed it--the officer in command asked for
    General Lyautey's house, went straight to it, had all the papers,
    portraits, furniture and family relics piled in a bonfire in the
    court, and then burnt down the house. As we sat in the neglected
    park with the plaintive ruin before us we heard from the gardener
    this typical tale of German thoroughness and German chivalry. It is
    corroborated by the fact that not another house in Crevic was
    destroyed.

    May 16th.

    About two miles from the German frontier (_frontier_ just here as
    well as front) an isolated hill rises out of the Lorraine meadows.
    East of it, a ribbon of river winds among poplars, and that ribbon
    is the boundary between Empire and Republic. On such a clear day as
    this the view from the hill is extraordinarily interesting. From its
    grassy top a little aeroplane cannon stares to heaven, watching the
    east for the danger speck; and the circumference of the hill is
    furrowed by a deep trench--a "bowel," rather--winding invisibly from
    one subterranean observation post to another. In each of these
    earthly warrens (ingeniously wattled, roofed and iron-sheeted) stand
    two or three artillery officers with keen quiet faces, directing by
    telephone the fire of batteries nestling somewhere in the woods four
    or five miles away. Interesting as the place was, the men who lived
    there interested me far more. They obviously belonged to different
    classes, and had received a different social education; but their
    mental and moral fraternity was complete. They were all fairly
    young, and their faces had the look that war has given to French
    faces: a look of sharpened intelligence, strengthened will and
    sobered judgment, as if every faculty, trebly vivified, were so bent
    on the one end that personal problems had been pushed back to the
    vanishing point of the great perspective.

    From this vigilant height--one of the intentest eyes open on the
    frontier--we went a short distance down the hillside to a village
    out of range of the guns, where the commanding officer gave us tea
    in a charming old house with a terraced garden full of flowers and
    puppies. Below the terrace, lost Lorraine stretched away to her blue
    heights, a vision of summer peace: and just above us the unsleeping
    hill kept watch, its signal-wires trembling night and day. It was
    one of the intervals of rest and sweetness when the whole horrible
    black business seems to press most intolerably on the nerves.

    Below the village the road wound down to a forest that had formed a
    dark blur in our bird's-eye view of the plain. We passed into the
    forest and halted on the edge of a colony of queer exotic huts. On
    all sides they peeped through the branches, themselves so branched
    and sodded and leafy that they seemed like some transition form
    between tree and house. We were in one of the so-called "villages
    negres" of the second-line trenches, the jolly little settlements to
    which the troops retire after doing their shift under fire. This
    particular colony has been developed to an extreme degree of comfort
    and safety. The houses are partly underground, connected by deep
    winding "bowels" over which light rustic bridges have been thrown,
    and so profoundly roofed with sods that as much of them as shows
    above ground is shell-proof. Yet they are real houses, with real
    doors and windows under their grass-eaves, real furniture inside,
    and real beds of daisies and pansies at their doors. In the
    Colonel's bungalow a big bunch of spring flowers bloomed on the
    table, and everywhere we saw the same neatness and order, the same
    amused pride in the look of things. The men were dining at long
    trestle-tables under the trees; tired, unshaven men in shabby
    uniforms of all cuts and almost every colour. They were off duty,
    relaxed, in a good humour; but every face had the look of the faces
    watching on the hill-top. Wherever I go among these men of the front
    I have the same impression: the impression that the absorbing
    undivided thought of the Defense of France lives in the heart and
    brain of each soldier as intensely as in the heart and brain of
    their chief.

    We walked a dozen yards down the road and came to the edge of the
    forest. A wattled palisade bounded it, and through a gap in the
    palisade we looked out across a field to the roofs of a quiet
    village a mile away. I went out a few steps into the field and was
    abruptly pulled back. "Take care--those are the trenches!" What
    looked like a ridge thrown up by a plough was the enemy's line; and
    in the quiet village French cannon watched. Suddenly, as we stood
    there, they woke, and at the same moment we heard the unmistakable
    Gr-r-r of an aeroplane and saw a Bird of Evil high up against the
    blue. Snap, snap, snap barked the mitrailleuse on the hill, the
    soldiers jumped from their wine and strained their eyes through the
    trees, and the Taube, finding itself the centre of so much
    attention, turned grey tail and swished away to the concealing
    clouds.

    May 17th.

    Today we started with an intenser sense of adventure. Hitherto we
    had always been told beforehand where we were going and how much we
    were to be allowed to see; but now we were being launched into the
    unknown. Beyond a certain point all was conjecture--we knew only
    that what happened after that would depend on the good-will of a
    Colonel of Chasseurs-a-pied whom we were to go a long way to
    find, up into the folds of the mountains on our southeast horizon.

    We picked up a staff-officer at Head-quarters and flew on to a
    battered town on the edge of the hills. From there we wound up
    through a narrowing valley, under wooded cliffs, to a little
    settlement where the Colonel of the Brigade was to be found. There
    was a short conference between the Colonel and our staff-officer,
    and then we annexed a Captain of Chasseurs and spun away again. Our
    road lay through a town so exposed that our companion from
    Head-quarters suggested the advisability of avoiding it; but our
    guide hadn't the heart to inflict such a disappointment on his new
    acquaintances. "Oh, we won't stop the motor--we'll just dash
    through," he said indulgently; and in the excess of his indulgence
    he even permitted us to dash slowly.

    Oh, that poor town--when we reached it, along a road ploughed with
    fresh obus-holes, I didn't want to stop the motor; I wanted to hurry
    on and blot the picture from my memory! It was doubly sad to look at
    because of the fact that it wasn't _quite dead;_ faint spasms of
    life still quivered through it. A few children played in the ravaged
    streets; a few pale mothers watched them from cellar doorways. "They
    oughtn't to be here," our guide explained; "but about a hundred and
    fifty begged so hard to stay that the General gave them leave. The
    officer in command has an eye on them, and whenever he gives the
    signal they dive down into their burrows. He says they are perfectly
    obedient. It was he who asked that they might stay..."

    Up and up into the hills. The vision of human pain and ruin was lost
    in beauty. We were among the firs, and the air was full of balm. The
    mossy banks gave out a scent of rain, and little water-falls from
    the heights set the branches trembling over secret pools. At each
    turn of the road, forest, and always more forest, climbing with us
    as we climbed, and dropped away from us to narrow valleys that
    converged on slate-blue distances. At one of these turns we overtook
    a company of soldiers, spade on shoulder and bags of tools across
    their backs--"trench-workers" swinging up to the heights to which we
    were bound. Life must be a better thing in this crystal air than in
    the mud-welter of the Argonne and the fogs of the North; and these
    men's faces were fresh with wind and weather.

    Higher still ... and presently a halt on a ridge, in another
    "black village," this time almost a town! The soldiers gathered
    round us as the motor stopped--throngs of chasseurs-a-pied in
    faded, trench-stained uniforms--for few visitors climb to this
    point, and their pleasure at the sight of new faces was presently
    expressed in a large "_Vive l'Amerique!_" scrawled on the door of
    the car. _L'Amerique_ was glad and proud to be there, and instantly
    conscious of breathing an air saturated with courage and the dogged
    determination to endure. The men were all reservists: that is to
    say, mostly married, and all beyond the first fighting age. For many
    months there has not been much active work along this front, no
    great adventure to rouse the blood and wing the imagination: it has
    just been month after month of monotonous watching and holding on.
    And the soldiers' faces showed it: there was no light of heady
    enterprise in their eyes, but the look of men who knew their job,
    had thought it over, and were there to hold their bit of France till
    the day of victory or extermination.

    Meanwhile, they had made the best of the situation and turned their
    quarters into a forest colony that would enchant any normal boy.
    Their village architecture was more elaborate than any we had yet
    seen. In the Colonel's "dugout" a long table decked with lilacs and
    tulips was spread for tea. In other cheery catacombs we found neat
    rows of bunks, mess-tables, sizzling sauce-pans over kitchen-fires.
    Everywhere were endless ingenuities in the way of camp-furniture and
    household decoration. Farther down the road a path between
    fir-boughs led to a hidden hospital, a marvel of underground
    compactness. While we chatted with the surgeon a soldier came in
    from the trenches: an elderly, bearded man, with a good average
    civilian face--the kind that one runs against by hundreds in any
    French crowd. He had a scalp-wound which had just been dressed, and
    was very pale. The Colonel stopped to ask a few questions, and then,
    turning to him, said: "Feeling rather better now?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "Good. In a day or two you'll be thinking about going back to the
    trenches, eh?"

    "_I'm going now, sir._" It was said quite simply, and received in
    the same way. "Oh, all right," the Colonel merely rejoined; but he
    laid his hand on the man's shoulder as we went out.

    Our next visit was to a sod-thatched hut, "At the sign of the
    Ambulant Artisans," where two or three soldiers were modelling and
    chiselling all kinds of trinkets from the aluminum of enemy shells.
    One of the ambulant artisans was just finishing a ring with
    beautifully modelled fauns' heads, another offered me a
    "Pickelhaube" small enough for Mustard-seed's wear, but complete in
    every detail, and inlaid with the bronze eagle from an Imperial
    pfennig. There are many such ringsmiths among the privates at the
    front, and the severe, somewhat archaic design of their rings is a
    proof of the sureness of French taste; but the two we visited
    happened to be Paris jewellers, for whom "artisan" was really too
    modest a pseudonym. Officers and men were evidently proud of their
    work, and as they stood hammering away in their cramped smithy, a
    red gleam lighting up the intentness of their faces, they seemed to
    be beating out the cheerful rhythm of "I too will something make,
    and joy in the making."...

    Up the hillside, in deeper shadow, was another little structure; a
    wooden shed with an open gable sheltering an altar with candles and
    flowers. Here mass is said by one of the conscript priests of the
    regiment, while his congregation kneel between the fir-trunks,
    giving life to the old metaphor of the cathedral-forest. Near by was
    the grave-yard, where day by day these quiet elderly men lay their
    comrades, the _peres de famille_ who don't go back. The care of this
    woodland cemetery is left entirely to the soldiers, and they have
    spent treasures of piety on the inscriptions and decorations of the
    graves. Fresh flowers are brought up from the valleys to cover them,
    and when some favourite comrade goes, the men scorning ephemeral
    tributes, club together to buy a monstrous indestructible wreath
    with emblazoned streamers. It was near the end of the afternoon, and
    many soldiers were strolling along the paths between the graves.
    "It's their favourite walk at this hour," the Colonel said. He
    stopped to look down on a grave smothered in beady tokens, the grave
    of the last pal to fall. "He was mentioned in the Order of the Day,"
    the Colonel explained; and the group of soldiers standing near
    looked at us proudly, as if sharing their comrade's honour, and
    wanting to be sure that we understood the reason of their pride...

    "And now," said our Captain of Chasseurs, "that you've seen the
    second-line trenches, what do you say to taking a look at the
    first?"

    We followed him to a point higher up the hill, where we plunged into
    a deep ditch of red earth--the "bowel" leading to the first lines.
    It climbed still higher, under the wet firs, and then, turning,
    dipped over the edge and began to wind in sharp loops down the other
    side of the ridge. Down we scrambled, single file, our chins on a
    level with the top of the passage, the close green covert above us.
    The "bowel" went twisting down more and more sharply into a deep
    ravine; and presently, at a bend, we came to a fir-thatched outlook,
    where a soldier stood with his back to us, his eye glued to a
    peep-hole in the wattled wall. Another turn, and another outlook;
    but here it was the iron-rimmed eye of the mitrailleuse that stared
    across the ravine. By this time we were within a hundred yards or so
    of the German lines, hidden, like ours, on the other side of the
    narrowing hollow; and as we stole down and down, the hush and
    secrecy of the scene, and the sense of that imminent lurking hatred
    only a few branch-lengths away, seemed to fill the silence with
    mysterious pulsations. Suddenly a sharp noise broke on them: the rap
    of a rifle-shot against a tree-trunk a few yards ahead.

    "Ah, the sharp-shooter," said our guide. "No more talking,
    please--he's over there, in a tree somewhere, and whenever he hears
    voices he fires. Some day we shall spot his tree."

    We went on in silence to a point where a few soldiers were sitting
    on a ledge of rock in a widening of the "bowel." They looked as
    quiet as if they had been waiting for their bocks before a Boulevard
    cafe.

    "Not beyond, please," said the officer, holding me back; and I
    stopped.

    Here we were, then, actually and literally in the first lines! The
    knowledge made one's heart tick a little; but, except for another
    shot or two from our arboreal listener, and the motionless
    intentness of the soldier's back at the peep-hole, there was nothing
    to show that we were not a dozen miles away.

    Perhaps the thought occurred to our Captain of Chasseurs; for just
    as I was turning back he said with his friendliest twinkle: "Do you
    want awfully to go a little farther? Well, then, come on."

    We went past the soldiers sitting on the ledge and stole down and
    down, to where the trees ended at the bottom of the ravine. The
    sharp-shooter had stopped firing, and nothing disturbed the leafy
    silence but an intermittent drip of rain. We were at the end of the
    burrow, and the Captain signed to me that I might take a cautious
    peep round its corner. I looked out and saw a strip of intensely
    green meadow just under me, and a wooded cliff rising abruptly on
    its other side. That was all. The wooded cliff swarmed with "them,"
    and a few steps would have carried us across the interval; yet all
    about us was silence, and the peace of the forest. Again, for a
    minute, I had the sense of an all-pervading, invisible power of
    evil, a saturation of the whole landscape with some hidden vitriol
    of hate. Then the reaction of the unbelief set in, and I felt myself
    in a harmless ordinary glen, like a million others on an untroubled
    earth. We turned and began to climb again, loop by loop, up the
    "bowel"--we passed the lolling soldiers, the silent mitrailleuse, we
    came again to the watcher at his peep-hole. He heard us, let the
    officer pass, and turned his head with a little sign of
    understanding.

    "Do you want to look down?"

    He moved a step away from his window. The look-out projected over
    the ravine, raking its depths; and here, with one's eye to the
    leaf-lashed hole, one saw at last ... saw, at the bottom of the
    harmless glen, half way between cliff and cliff, a grey uniform
    huddled in a dead heap. "He's been there for days: they can't fetch
    him away," said the watcher, regluing his eye to the hole; and it
    was almost a relief to find it was after all a tangible enemy hidden
    over there across the meadow...

    The sun had set when we got back to our starting-point in the
    underground village. The chasseurs-a-pied were lounging along
    the roadside and standing in gossiping groups about the motor. It
    was long since they had seen faces from the other life, the life
    they had left nearly a year earlier and had not been allowed to go
    back to for a day; and under all their jokes and good-humour their
    farewell had a tinge of wistfulness. But one felt that this fugitive
    reminder of a world they had put behind them would pass like a
    dream, and their minds revert without effort to the one reality: the
    business of holding their bit of France.

    It is hard to say why this sense of the French soldier's
    single-mindedness is so strong in all who have had even a glimpse of
    the front; perhaps it is gathered less from what the men say than
    from the look in their eyes. Even while they are accepting
    cigarettes and exchanging trench-jokes, the look is there; and when
    one comes on them unaware it is there also. In the dusk of the
    forest that look followed us down the mountain; and as we skirted
    the edge of the ravine between the armies, we felt that on the far
    side of that dividing line were the men who had made the war, and on
    the near side the men who had been made by it.
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    Chapter 3
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