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    Ch. 5: In Alsace

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    Chapter 5
    Previous Chapter
    August 13th, 1915.

    My trip to the east began by a dash toward the north. Near Rheims is
    a little town--hardly more than a village, but in English we have no
    intermediate terms such as "bourg" and "petit bourg"--where one of
    the new Red Cross sanitary motor units was to be seen "in action."
    The inspection over, we climbed to a vineyard above the town and
    looked down at a river valley traversed by a double line of trees.
    The first line marked the canal, which is held by the French, who
    have gun-boats on it. Behind this ran the high-road, with the
    first-line French trenches, and just above, on the opposite slope,
    were the German lines. The soil being chalky, the German positions
    were clearly marked by two parallel white scorings across the brown
    hill-front; and while we watched we heard desultory firing, and saw,
    here and there along the ridge, the smoke-puff of an exploding
    shell. It was incredibly strange to stand there, among the vines
    humming with summer insects, and to look out over a peaceful country
    heavy with the coming vintage, knowing that the trees at our feet
    hid a line of gun-boats that were crashing death into those two
    white scorings on the hill.

    Rheims itself brings one nearer to the war by its look of deathlike
    desolation. The paralysis of the bombarded towns is one of the most
    tragic results of the invasion. One's soul revolts at this senseless
    disorganizing of innumerable useful activities. Compared with the
    towns of the north, Rheims is relatively unharmed; but for that very
    reason the arrest of life seems the more futile and cruel. The
    Cathedral square was deserted, all the houses around it were closed.
    And there, before us, rose the Cathedral--_a_ cathedral, rather, for
    it was not the one we had always known. It was, in fact, not like
    any cathedral on earth. When the German bombardment began, the west
    front of Rheims was covered with scaffolding: the shells set it on
    fire, and the whole church was wrapped in flames. Now the
    scaffolding is gone, and in the dull provincial square there stands
    a structure so strange and beautiful that one must search the
    Inferno, or some tale of Eastern magic, for words to picture the
    luminous unearthly vision. The lower part of the front has been
    warmed to deep tints of umber and burnt siena. This rich burnishing
    passes, higher up, through yellowish-pink and carmine, to a sulphur
    whitening to ivory; and the recesses of the portals and the hollows
    behind the statues are lined with a black denser and more velvety
    than any effect of shadow to be obtained by sculptured relief. The
    interweaving of colour over the whole blunted bruised surface
    recalls the metallic tints, the peacock-and-pigeon iridescences, the
    incredible mingling of red, blue, umber and yellow of the rocks
    along the Gulf of AEgina. And the wonder of the impression is
    increased by the sense of its evanescence; the knowledge that this
    is the beauty of disease and death, that every one of the
    transfigured statues must crumble under the autumn rains, that every
    one of the pink or golden stones is already eaten away to the core,
    that the Cathedral of Rheims is glowing and dying before us like a
    sunset...

    August 14th.

    A stone and brick chateau in a flat park with a stream running
    through it. Pampas-grass, geraniums, rustic bridges, winding paths:
    how _bourgeois_ and sleepy it would all seem but for the sentinel
    challenging our motor at the gate!

    Before the door a collie dozing in the sun, and a group of
    staff-officers waiting for luncheon. Indoors, a room with handsome
    tapestries, some good furniture and a table spread with the usual
    military maps and aeroplane-photographs. At luncheon, the General,
    the chiefs of the staff--a dozen in all--an officer from the General
    Head-quarters. The usual atmosphere of _camaraderie_, confidence,
    good-humour, and a kind of cheerful seriousness that I have come to
    regard as characteristic of the men immersed in the actual facts of
    the war. I set down this impression as typical of many such luncheon
    hours along the front...

    August 15th.

    This morning we set out for reconquered Alsace. For reasons
    unexplained to the civilian this corner of old-new France has
    hitherto been inaccessible, even to highly placed French officials;
    and there was a special sense of excitement in taking the road that
    led to it.

    We slipped through a valley or two, passed some placid villages with
    vine-covered gables, and noticed that most of the signs over the
    shops were German. We had crossed the old frontier unawares, and
    were presently in the charming town of Massevaux. It was the Feast
    of the Assumption, and mass was just over when we reached the square
    before the church. The streets were full of holiday people,
    well-dressed, smiling, seemingly unconscious of the war. Down the
    church-steps, guided by fond mammas, came little girls in white
    dresses, with white wreaths in their hair, and carrying, in baskets
    slung over their shoulders, woolly lambs or blue and white Virgins.
    Groups of cavalry officers stood chatting with civilians in their
    Sunday best, and through the windows of the Golden Eagle we saw
    active preparations for a crowded mid-day dinner. It was all as
    happy and parochial as a "Hansi" picture, and the fine old gabled
    houses and clean cobblestone streets made the traditional setting
    for an Alsacian holiday.

    At the Golden Eagle we laid in a store of provisions, and started
    out across the mountains in the direction of Thann. The Vosges, at
    this season, are in their short midsummer beauty, rustling with
    streams, dripping with showers, balmy with the smell of firs and
    braken, and of purple thyme on hot banks. We reached the top of a
    ridge, and, hiding the motor behind a skirt of trees, went out into
    the open to lunch on a sunny slope. Facing us across the valley was
    a tall conical hill clothed with forest. That hill was
    Hartmannswillerkopf, the centre of a long contest in which the
    French have lately been victorious; and all about us stood other
    crests and ridges from which German guns still look down on the
    valley of Thann.

    Thann itself is at the valley-head, in a neck between hills; a
    handsome old town, with the air of prosperous stability so oddly
    characteristic of this tormented region. As we drove through the
    main street the pall of war-sadness fell on us again, darkening the
    light and chilling the summer air. Thann is raked by the German
    lines, and its windows are mostly shuttered and its streets
    deserted. One or two houses in the Cathedral square have been
    gutted, but the somewhat over-pinnacled and statued cathedral which
    is the pride of Thann is almost untouched, and when we entered it
    vespers were being sung, and a few people--mostly in black--knelt in
    the nave.

    No greater contrast could be imagined to the happy feast-day scene
    we had left, a few miles off, at Massevaux; but Thann, in spite of
    its empty streets, is not a deserted city. A vigorous life beats in
    it, ready to break forth as soon as the German guns are silenced.
    The French administration, working on the best of terms with the
    population, are keeping up the civil activities of the town as the
    Canons of the Cathedral are continuing the rites of the Church. Many
    inhabitants still remain behind their closed shutters and dive down
    into their cellars when the shells begin to crash; and the schools,
    transferred to a neighbouring village, number over two thousand
    pupils. We walked through the town, visited a vast catacomb of a
    wine-cellar fitted up partly as an ambulance and partly as a shelter
    for the cellarless, and saw the lamentable remains of the industrial
    quarter along the river, which has been the special target of the
    German guns. Thann has been industrially ruined, all its mills are
    wrecked; but unlike the towns of the north it has had the good
    fortune to preserve its outline, its civic personality, a face that
    its children, when they come back, can recognize and take comfort
    in.

    After our visit to the ruins, a diversion was suggested by the
    amiable administrators of Thann who had guided our sight-seeing.
    They were just off for a military tournament which the --th dragoons
    were giving that afternoon in a neighboring valley, and we were
    invited to go with them.

    The scene of the entertainment was a meadow enclosed in an
    amphitheatre of rocks, with grassy ledges projecting from the cliff
    like tiers of opera-boxes. These points of vantage were partly
    occupied by interested spectators and partly by ruminating cattle;
    on the lowest slope, the rank and fashion of the neighbourhood was
    ranged on a semi-circle of chairs, and below, in the meadow, a
    lively steeple-chase was going on. The riding was extremely pretty,
    as French military riding always is. Few of the mounts were
    thoroughbreds--the greater number, in fact, being local cart-horses
    barely broken to the saddle--but their agility and dash did the
    greater credit to their riders. The lancers, in particular, executed
    an effective "musical ride" about a central pennon, to the immense
    satisfaction of the fashionable public in the foreground and of the
    gallery on the rocks.

    The audience was even more interesting than the artists. Chatting
    with the ladies in the front row were the General of division and
    his staff, groups of officers invited from the adjoining
    Head-quarters, and most of the civil and military administrators of
    the restored "Departement du Haut Rhin." All classes had turned out
    in honour of the fete, and every one was in a holiday mood.
    The people among whom we sat were mostly Alsatian property-owners,
    many of them industrials of Thann. Some had been driven from their
    homes, others had seen their mills destroyed, all had been living
    for a year on the perilous edge of war, under the menace of
    reprisals too hideous to picture; yet the humour prevailing was that
    of any group of merry-makers in a peaceful garrison town. I have
    seen nothing, in my wanderings along the front, more indicative of
    the good-breeding of the French than the spirit of the ladies and
    gentlemen who sat chatting with the officers on that grassy slope of
    Alsace.

    The display of _haute ecole_ was to be followed by an exhibition of
    "transportation throughout the ages," headed by a Gaulish chariot
    driven by a trooper with a long horsehair moustache and mistletoe
    wreath, and ending in a motor of which the engine had been taken out
    and replaced by a large placid white horse. Unluckily a heavy rain
    began while this instructive "number" awaited its turn, and we had
    to leave before Vercingetorix had led his warriors into the ring...

    August 16th.

    Up and up into the mountains. We started early, taking our way along
    a narrow interminable valley that sloped up gradually toward the
    east. The road was encumbered with a stream of hooded supply vans
    drawn by mules, for we were on the way to one of the main positions
    in the Vosges, and this train of provisions is kept up day and
    night. Finally we reached a mountain village under fir-clad slopes,
    with a cold stream rushing down from the hills. On one side of the
    road was a rustic inn, on the other, among the firs, a chalet
    occupied by the brigade Head-quarters. Everywhere about us swarmed
    the little "chasseurs Alpins" in blue Tam o'Shanters and leather
    gaiters. For a year we had been reading of these heroes of the
    hills, and here we were among them, looking into their thin
    weather-beaten faces and meeting the twinkle of their friendly eyes.
    Very friendly they all were, and yet, for Frenchmen, inarticulate
    and shy. All over the world, no doubt, the mountain silences breed
    this kind of reserve, this shrinking from the glibness of the
    valleys. Yet one had fancied that French fluency must soar as high
    as Mont Blanc.

    Mules were brought, and we started on a long ride up the mountain.
    The way led first over open ledges, with deep views into valleys
    blue with distance, then through miles of forest, first of beech and
    fir, and finally all of fir. Above the road the wooded slopes rose
    interminably and here and there we came on tiers of mules, three or
    four hundred together, stabled under the trees, in stalls dug out of
    different levels of the slope. Near by were shelters for the men,
    and perhaps at the next bend a village of "trappers' huts," as the
    officers call the log-cabins they build in this region. These
    colonies are always bustling with life: men busy cleaning their
    arms, hauling material for new cabins, washing or mending their
    clothes, or carrying down the mountain from the camp-kitchen the
    two-handled pails full of steaming soup. The kitchen is always in
    the most protected quarter of the camp, and generally at some
    distance in the rear. Other soldiers, their job over, are lolling
    about in groups, smoking, gossiping or writing home, the "Soldiers'
    Letter-pad" propped on a patched blue knee, a scarred fist
    laboriously driving the fountain pen received in hospital. Some are
    leaning over the shoulder of a pal who has just received a Paris
    paper, others chuckling together at the jokes of their own French
    journal--the "Echo du Ravin," the "Journal des Poilus," or the
    "Diable Bleu": little papers ground out in purplish script on
    foolscap, and adorned with comic-sketches and a wealth of local
    humour.

    Higher up, under a fir-belt, at the edge of a meadow, the officer
    who rode ahead signed to us to dismount and scramble after him. We
    plunged under the trees, into what seemed a thicker thicket, and
    found it to be a thatch of branches woven to screen the muzzles of a
    battery. The big guns were all about us, crouched in these sylvan
    lairs like wild beasts waiting to spring; and near each gun hovered
    its attendant gunner, proud, possessive, important as a bridegroom
    with his bride.

    We climbed and climbed again, reaching at last a sun-and-wind-burnt
    common which forms the top of one of the highest mountains in the
    region. The forest was left below us and only a belt of dwarf firs
    ran along the edge of the great grassy shoulder. We dismounted, the
    mules were tethered among the trees, and our guide led us to an
    insignificant looking stone in the grass. On one face of the stone
    was cut the letter F., on the other was a D.; we stood on what, till
    a year ago, was the boundary line between Republic and Empire. Since
    then, in certain places, the line has been bent back a long way; but
    where we stood we were still under German guns, and we had to creep
    along in the shelter of the squat firs to reach the outlook on the
    edge of the plateau. From there, under a sky of racing clouds, we
    saw outstretched below us the Promised Land of Alsace. On one
    horizon, far off in the plain, gleamed the roofs and spires of
    Colmar, on the other rose the purplish heights beyond the Rhine.
    Near by stood a ring of bare hills, those closest to us scarred by
    ridges of upheaved earth, as if giant moles had been zigzagging over
    them; and just under us, in a little green valley, lay the roofs of
    a peaceful village. The earth-ridges and the peaceful village were
    still German; but the French positions went down the mountain,
    almost to the valley's edge; and one dark peak on the right was
    already French.

    We stopped at a gap in the firs and walked to the brink of the
    plateau. Just under us lay a rock-rimmed lake. More zig-zag
    earthworks surmounted it on all sides, and on the nearest shore was
    the branched roofing of another great mule-shelter. We were looking
    down at the spot to which the night-caravans of the Chasseurs Alpins
    descend to distribute supplies to the fighting line.

    "Who goes there? Attention! You're in sight of the lines!" a voice
    called out from the firs, and our companion signed to us to move
    back. We had been rather too conspicuously facing the German
    batteries on the opposite slope, and our presence might have drawn
    their fire on an artillery observation post installed near by. We
    retreated hurriedly and unpacked our luncheon-basket on the more
    sheltered side of the ridge. As we sat there in the grass, swept by
    a great mountain breeze full of the scent of thyme and myrtle, while
    the flutter of birds, the hum of insects, the still and busy life of
    the hills went on all about us in the sunshine, the pressure of the
    encircling line of death grew more intolerably real. It is not in
    the mud and jokes and every-day activities of the trenches that one
    most feels the damnable insanity of war; it is where it lurks like a
    mythical monster in scenes to which the mind has always turned for
    rest.

    We had not yet made the whole tour of the mountain-top; and after
    luncheon we rode over to a point where a long narrow yoke connects
    it with a spur projecting directly above the German lines. We left
    our mules in hiding and walked along the yoke, a mere knife-edge of
    rock rimmed with dwarf vegetation. Suddenly we heard an explosion
    behind us: one of the batteries we had passed on the way up was
    giving tongue. The German lines roared back and for twenty minutes
    the exchange of invective thundered on. The firing was almost
    incessant; it seemed as if a great arch of steel were being built up
    above us in the crystal air. And we could follow each curve of sound
    from its incipience to its final crash in the trenches. There were
    four distinct phases: the sharp bang from the cannon, the long
    furious howl overhead, the dispersed and spreading noise of the
    shell's explosion, and then the roll of its reverberation from cliff
    to cliff. This is what we heard as we crouched in the lee of the
    firs: what we saw when we looked out between them was only an
    occasional burst of white smoke and red flame from one hillside, and
    on the opposite one, a minute later, a brown geyser of dust.

    Presently a deluge of rain descended on us, driving us back to our
    mules, and down the nearest mountain-trail through rivers of mud. It
    rained all the way: rained in such floods and cataracts that the
    very rocks of the mountain seemed to dissolve and turn into mud. As
    we slid down through it we met strings of Chasseurs Alpins coming
    up, splashed to the waist with wet red clay, and leading pack-mules
    so coated with it that they looked like studio models from which the
    sculptor has just pulled off the dripping sheet. Lower down we came
    on more "trapper" settlements, so saturated and reeking with wet
    that they gave us a glimpse of what the winter months on the front
    must be. No more cheerful polishing of fire-arms, hauling of
    faggots, chatting and smoking in sociable groups: everybody had
    crept under the doubtful shelter of branches and tarpaulins; the
    whole army was back in its burrows.

    August 17th.

    Sunshine again for our arrival at Belfort. The invincible city lies
    unpretentiously behind its green glacis and escutcheoned gates; but
    the guardian Lion under the Citadel--well, the Lion is figuratively
    as well as literally _a la hauteur._ With the sunset flush
    on him, as he crouched aloft in his red lair below the fort, he
    might almost have claimed kin with his mighty prototypes of the
    Assarbanipal frieze. One wondered a little, seeing whose work he
    was; but probably it is easier for an artist to symbolize an heroic
    town than the abstract and elusive divinity who sheds light on the
    world from New York harbour.

    From Belfort back into reconquered Alsace the road runs through a
    gentle landscape of fields and orchards. We were bound for
    Dannemarie, one of the towns of the plain, and a centre of the new
    administration. It is the usual "gros bourg" of Alsace, with
    comfortable old houses in espaliered gardens: dull, well-to-do,
    contented; not in the least the kind of setting demanded by the
    patriotism which has to be fed on pictures of little girls singing
    the Marseillaise in Alsatian head-dresses and old men with operatic
    waistcoats tottering forward to kiss the flag. What we saw at
    Dannemarie was less conspicuous to the eye but much more nourishing
    to the imagination. The military and civil administrators had the
    kindness and patience to explain their work and show us something of
    its results; and the visit left one with the impression of a slow
    and quiet process of adaptation wisely planned and fruitfully
    carried out. We _did_, in fact, hear the school-girls of Dannemarie
    sing the Marseillaise--and the boys too--but, what was far more
    interesting, we saw them studying under the direction of the
    teachers who had always had them in charge, and found that
    everywhere it had been the aim of the French officials to let the
    routine of the village policy go on undisturbed. The German signs
    remain over the shop-fronts except where the shop-keepers have
    chosen to paint them out; as is happening more and more frequently.
    When a functionary has to be replaced he is chosen from the same
    town or the same district, and even the _personnel_ of the civil and
    military administration is mainly composed of officers and civilians
    of Alsatian stock. The heads of both these departments, who
    accompanied us on our rounds, could talk to the children and old
    people in German as well as in their local dialect; and, as far as a
    passing observer could discern, it seemed as though everything had
    been done to reduce to a minimum the sense of strangeness and
    friction which is inevitable in the transition from one rule to
    another. The interesting point was that this exercise of tact and
    tolerance seemed to proceed not from any pressure of expediency but
    from a sympathetic understanding of the point of view of this people
    of the border. I heard in Dannemarie not a syllable of lyrical
    patriotism or post-card sentimentality, but only a kindly and
    impartial estimate of facts as they were and must be dealt with.

    August 18th.

    Today again we started early for the mountains. Our road ran more to
    the westward, through the heart of the Vosges, and up to a fold of
    the hills near the borders of Lorraine. We stopped at a
    Head-quarters where a young officer of dragoons was to join us, and
    learned from him that we were to be allowed to visit some of the
    first-line trenches which we had looked out on from a high-perched
    observation post on our former visit to the Vosges. Violent fighting
    was going on in that particular region, and after a climb of an hour
    or two we had to leave the motor at a sheltered angle of the road
    and strike across the hills on foot. Our path lay through the
    forest, and every now and then we caught a glimpse of the high-road
    running below us in full view of the German batteries. Presently we
    reached a point where the road was screened by a thick growth of
    trees behind which an observation post had been set up. We scrambled
    down and looked through the peephole. Just below us lay a valley
    with a village in its centre, and to the left and right of the
    village were two hills, the one scored with French, the other with
    German trenches. The village, at first sight, looked as normal as
    those through which we had been passing; but a closer inspection
    showed that its steeple was shattered and that some of its houses
    were unroofed. Part of it was held by German, part by French troops.
    The cemetery adjoining the church, and a quarry just under it,
    belonged to the Germans; but a line of French trenches ran from the
    farther side of the church up to the French batteries on the right
    hand hill. Parallel with this line, but starting from the other side
    of the village, was a hollow lane leading up to a single tree. This
    lane was a German trench, protected by the guns of the left hand
    hill; and between the two lay perhaps fifty yards of ground. All
    this was close under us; and closer still was a slope of open ground
    leading up to the village and traversed by a rough cart-track. Along
    this track in the hot sunshine little French soldiers, the size of
    tin toys, were scrambling up with bags and loads of faggots, their
    ant-like activity as orderly and untroubled as if the two armies had
    not lain trench to trench a few yards away. It was one of those
    strange and contradictory scenes of war that bring home to the
    bewildered looker-on the utter impossibility of picturing how the
    thing _really happens._

    While we stood watching we heard the sudden scream of a battery
    close above us. The crest of the hill we were climbing was alive
    with "Seventy-fives," and the piercing noise seemed to burst out at
    our very backs. It was the most terrible war-shriek I had heard: a
    kind of wolfish baying that called up an image of all the dogs of
    war simultaneously tugging at their leashes. There is a dreadful
    majesty in the sound of a distant cannonade; but these yelps and
    hisses roused only thoughts of horror. And there, on the opposite
    slope, the black and brown geysers were beginning to spout up from
    the German trenches; and from the batteries above them came the puff
    and roar of retaliation. Below us, along the cart-track, the little
    French soldiers continued to scramble up peacefully to the
    dilapidated village; and presently a group of officers of dragoons,
    emerging from the wood, came down to welcome us to their
    Head-quarters.

    We continued to climb through the forest, the cannonade still
    whistling overhead, till we reached the most elaborate trapper
    colony we had yet seen. Half underground, walled with logs, and
    deeply roofed by sods tufted with ferns and moss, the cabins were
    scattered under the trees and connected with each other by paths
    bordered with white stones. Before the Colonel's cabin the soldiers
    had made a banked-up flower-bed sown with annuals; and farther up
    the slope stood a log chapel, a mere gable with a wooden altar under
    it, all tapestried with ivy and holly. Near by was the chaplain's
    subterranean dwelling. It was reached by a deep cutting with
    ivy-covered sides, and ivy and fir-boughs masked the front. This
    sylvan retreat had just been completed, and the officers, the
    chaplain, and the soldiers loitering near by, were all equally eager
    to have it seen and hear it praised.

    The commanding officer, having done the honours of the camp, led us
    about a quarter of a mile down the hillside to an open cutting which
    marked the beginning of the trenches. From the cutting we passed
    into a long tortuous burrow walled and roofed with carefully fitted
    logs. The earth floor was covered by a sort of wooden lattice. The
    only light entering this tunnel was a faint ray from an occasional
    narrow slit screened by branches; and beside each of these
    peep-holes hung a shield-shaped metal shutter to be pushed over it
    in case of emergency.

    The passage wound down the hill, almost doubling on itself, in order
    to give a view of all the surrounding lines. Presently the roof
    became much higher, and we saw on one side a curtained niche about
    five feet above the floor. One of the officers pulled the curtain
    back, and there, on a narrow shelf, a gun between his knees, sat a
    dragoon, his eyes on a peep-hole. The curtain was hastily drawn
    again behind his motionless figure, lest the faint light at his back
    should betray him. We passed by several of these helmeted watchers,
    and now and then we came to a deeper recess in which a mitrailleuse
    squatted, its black nose thrust through a net of branches. Sometimes
    the roof of the tunnel was so low that we had to bend nearly double;
    and at intervals we came to heavy doors, made of logs and sheeted
    with iron, which shut off one section from another. It is hard to
    guess the distance one covers in creeping through an unlit passage
    with different levels and countless turnings; but we must have
    descended the hillside for at least a mile before we came out into a
    half-ruined farmhouse. This building, which had kept nothing but its
    outer walls and one or two partitions between the rooms, had been
    transformed into an observation post. In each of its corners a
    ladder led up to a little shelf on the level of what was once the
    second story, and on the shelf sat a dragoon at his peep-hole.
    Below, in the dilapidated rooms, the usual life of a camp was going
    on. Some of the soldiers were playing cards at a kitchen table,
    others mending their clothes, or writing letters or chuckling
    together (not too loud) over a comic newspaper. It might have been a
    scene anywhere along the second-line trenches but for the lowered
    voices, the suddenness with which I was drawn back from a slit in
    the wall through which I had incautiously peered, and the presence
    of these helmeted watchers overhead.

    We plunged underground again and began to descend through another
    darker and narrower tunnel. In the upper one there had been one or
    two roofless stretches where one could straighten one's back and
    breathe; but here we were in pitch blackness, and saved from
    breaking our necks only by the gleam of the pocket-light which the
    young lieutenant who led the party shed on our path. As he whisked
    it up and down to warn us of sudden steps or sharp corners he
    remarked that at night even this faint glimmer was forbidden, and
    that it was a bad job going back and forth from the last outpost
    till one had learned the turnings.

    The last outpost was a half-ruined farmhouse like the other. A
    telephone connected it with Head-quarters and more dumb dragoons sat
    motionless on their lofty shelves. The house was shut off from the
    tunnel by an armoured door, and the orders were that in case of
    attack that door should be barred from within and the access to the
    tunnel defended to the death by the men in the outpost. We were on
    the extreme verge of the defences, on a slope just above the village
    over which we had heard the artillery roaring a few hours earlier.
    The spot where we stood was raked on all sides by the enemy's lines,
    and the nearest trenches were only a few yards away. But of all this
    nothing was really perceptible or comprehensible to me. As far as my
    own observation went, we might have been a hundred miles from the
    valley we had looked down on, where the French soldiers were walking
    peacefully up the cart-track in the sunshine. I only knew that we
    had come out of a black labyrinth into a gutted house among
    fruit-trees, where soldiers were lounging and smoking, and people
    whispered as they do about a death-bed. Over a break in the walls I
    saw another gutted farmhouse close by in another orchard: it was an
    enemy outpost, and silent watchers in helmets of another shape sat
    there watching on the same high shelves. But all this was infinitely
    less real and terrible than the cannonade above the disputed
    village. The artillery had ceased and the air was full of summer
    murmurs. Close by on a sheltered ledge I saw a patch of vineyard
    with dewy cobwebs hanging to the vines. I could not understand where
    we were, or what it was all about, or why a shell from the enemy
    outpost did not suddenly annihilate us. And then, little by little,
    there came over me the sense of that mute reciprocal watching from
    trench to trench: the interlocked stare of innumerable pairs of
    eyes, stretching on, mile after mile, along the whole sleepless line
    from Dunkerque to Belfort.

    My last vision of the French front which I had traveled from end to
    end was this picture of a shelled house where a few men, who sat
    smoking and playing cards in the sunshine, had orders to hold out to
    the death rather than let their fraction of that front be broken.
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