Under Fire: The Story of a Squad, by Henri Barbusse

Peaceful relations among humans on earth, and peaceful relations between humans and the other life forms on the planet, are imperative for the survival of planet earth as a habitat for life as we know it. Making the achievement of peace an affirmative goal for all humanity is noble and essential.

Re: Under Fire: The Story of a Squad, by Henri Barbusse

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:46 am

9. The Anger of Volpatte

WHEN Volpatte arrived from his sick-leave, after two months' absence, we surrounded him. But he was sullen and silent, and tried to get away.

"Well, what about it? Volpatte, have you nothing to tell us?"

"Tell us all about the hospital and the sick-leave, old cock, from the day when you set off in your bandages, with your snout in parenthesis! You must have seen something of the official shops. Speak then, nome de Dieu!"

"I don't want to say anything at all about it," said Volpatte.

"What's that? What are you talking about?"

"I'm fed up--that's what I am! The people back there, I'm sick of them--they make me spew, and you can tell 'em so!"

"What have they done to you?"

"A lot of sods, they are!" says Volpatte.

There he was, with his head as of yore, his ears "stuck on again" and his Mongolian cheekbones--stubbornly set in the middle of the puzzled circle that besieged him; amid we felt that the mouth fast closed on ominous silence meant high pressure of seething exasperation in the depth of him.

Some words overflowed from him at last. He turned round--facing towards the rear and the bases--and shook his fist at infinite space. "There are too many of them," he said between his teeth, "there are too many!" He seemed to be threatening and repelling a rising sea of phantoms.

A little later, we questioned him again, knowing well that his anger could not thus be retained within, and that the savage silence would explode at the first chance.

It was in a deep communication trench, away back, where we had come together for a meal after a morning spent in digging. Torrential rain was falling. We were muddled and drenched and hustled by the flood, and we ate standing in single file, without shelter, under the dissolving sky. Only by feats of skill could we protect the bread and bully from the spouts that flowed from every point in space; and while we ate we put our hands and faces as much as possible under our cowls. The rain rattled and bounced and streamed on our limp woven armor, and worked with open brutality or sly secrecy into ourselves and our food. Our feet were sinking farther and farther, taking deep root in the stream that flowed along the clayey bottom of the trench. Some faces were laughing, though their mustaches dripped. Others grimaced at the spongy bread and flabby meat, or at the missiles which attacked their skin from all sides at every defect in their heavy and miry armor-plate.

Barque, who was hugging his mess-tin to his heart, bawled at Volpatte: "Well then, a lot of sods, you say, that you've seen down there where you've been?"

"For instance?" cried Blaire, while a redoubled squall shook and scattered his words; "what have you seen in the way of sods?"

"There are----" Volpatte began, "and then--there are too many of them, nom de Dieu! There are----"

He tried to say what was the matter with him, but could only repeat, "There are too many of them!" oppressed and panting. He swallowed a pulpy mouthful of bread as if there went with it the disordered and suffocating mass of his memories.

"Is it the shirkers you want to talk about?"

"By God!" He had thrown the rest of his beef over the parapet, and this cry, this gasp, escaped violently from his mouth as if from a valve.

"Don't worry about the soft-job brigade, old cross-patch," advised Barque, banteringly, but not without some bitterness. "What good does it do?"

Concealed and huddled up under the fragile and unsteady roof of his oiled hood, while the water poured down its shining slopes, and holding his empty mess-tin out for the rain to clean it, Volpatte snarled, "I'm not daft---not a bit of it--and I know very well there've got to be these individuals at the rear. Let them have their dead-heads for all I care--but there's too many of them, and they're all alike, and all rotters, voilà!"

Relieved by this affirmation, which shed a little light on the gloomy farrago of fury he was loosing among us, Volpatte began to speak in fragments across the relentless sheets of rain----

"At the very first village they sent me to, I saw duds, and duds galore, and they began to get on my nerves. All sorts of departments and sub-departments and managements and centers and offices and committees--you're no sooner there than you meet swarms of fools, swam-ms of different services that are only different in name-enough to turn your brain. I tell you, the man that invented the names of all those committees, he was wrong in his head.

"So could I help but be sick of it? Ah, mon vieux," said our comrade, musing, "all those individuals fiddle-faddling and making believe down there, all spruced up with their fine caps and officers' coats and shameful boots, that gulp dainties and can put a dram of best brandy down their gullets whenever they want, and wash themselves oftener twice than once, and go to church, and never stop smoking, and pack themselves up in feathers at night to read the newspaper--and then they say afterwards, 'I've been in the war!'"

One point above all had got hold of Volpatte and emerged from his confused and impassioned vision: "All those soldiers, they haven't to run away with their table-tools and get a bite any old way--they've got to be at their ease--they'd rather go and sit themselves down with some tart in the district, at a special reserved table, and guzzle vegetables, and the fine lady puts their crockery out all square for them on the dining-table, and their pots of jam and every other blasted thing to eat; in short, the advantages of riches and peace in that doubly-damned hell they call the Rear!"

Volpatte's neighbor shook his head under the torrents that fell from heaven and said," So much the better for them."

"I'm not crazy----" Volpatte began again.

"P'raps, but you're not fair."

Volpatte felt himself insulted by the word. He started, and raised his head furiously, and the rain, that was waiting for the chance, took him plump in the face. "Not fair--me? Not fair--to those dung-hills?"

"Exactly, monsieur," the neighbor replied; "I tell you that you play hell with them and yet you'd jolly well like to be in the rotters' place."

"Very likely--but what does that prove, rump-face? To begin with, we, we've been in danger, and it ought to be our turn for the other. But they're always the same, I tell you; and then there's young men there, strong as bulls and poised like wrestlers, and then--there are too many of them! D'you hear? It's always too many, I say, because it is so."

"Too many? What do you know about it, vilain? These departments and committees, do you know what they are?"

"I don't know what they are," Volpatte set off again, "but I know----"

"Don't you think they need a crowd to keep all the army's affairs going?"

"I don't care a damn, but----"

"But you wish it was you, eh?" chaffed the invisible neighbor, who concealed in the depth of the hood on which the reservoirs of space were emptying either a supreme indifference or a cruel desire to take a rise out of Volpatte.

"I can't help it," said the other, simply.

"There's those that can help it for you," interposed the shrill voice of Barque; "I knew one of 'em----"

"I, too, I've seen 'em!" Volpatte yelled with a desperate effort through the storm. "Tiens! not far from the front, don't know where exactly, where there's an ambulance clearing-station and a sous-intendance--I met the reptile there."

The wind, as it passed over us, tossed him the question, "What was it?"

At that moment there was a lull, and the weather allowed Volpatte to talk after a fashion. He said: "He took me round all the jumble of the depot as if it was. a fair, although he was one of the sights of the place. He led me along the passages and into the dining-rooms of houses and supplementary barracks. He half opened doors with labels on them, and said, 'Look here, and here too--look!' I went inspecting with him, but he didn't go back, like I did, to the trenches, don't fret yourself, and he wasn't coming back from them either. don't worry! The reptile, the first time I saw him he was walking nice and leisurely in the yard--'I'm in the Expenses Department,' he says. We talked a bit, and the next day he got an orderly job so as to dodge getting sent away, seeing it was his turn to go since the beginning of the war.

"On the step of the door where he'd laid all night on a feather bed, he was polishing the pumps of his monkey master--beautiful yellow pumps--rubbing 'em with paste, fairly glazing 'em, my boy. I stopped to watch him, and the chap told me all about himself. Mon vieux, I don't remember much more of the stuffing that came out of his crafty skull than I remember of the History of France and the dates we whined at school. Never, I tell you, bad be been sent to the front, although he was Class 1903, [note 1] and a lusty devil at that, he was. Danger and dog-tiredness and all the ugliness of war--not for him, but for the others, oui. He knew damned well that if he set foot in the firing-line, the line would see that the beast got it, so he ran like hell from it, and stopped where he was. He said they'd tried all ways to get him, but he'd given the slip to all the captains, all the colonels, all the majors, and they were all damnably mad with him. He told me about it. How did he work it? He'd sit down all of a sudden, put on a stupid look, do the scrim-shanker stunt, and flop like a bundle of dirty linen. 'I've got a sort of general fatigue,' he'd blubber. They didn't know how to take him, and after a bit they just let him drop--everybody was fit to spew on him. And he changed his tricks according to the circumstances, d'you catch on? Sometimes he had something wrong with his foot--he was damned clever with his feet. And then he contrived things, and he knew one head from another, and how to take his opportunities. He knew what's what, he did. You could see him go and slip in like a pretty poilu among the depot chaps, where the soft jobs were, and stay there; and then he'd put himself out no end to be useful to the pals. He'd get up at three o'clock in the morning to make the juice, go and fetch the water while the others were getting their grub. At last, he'd wormed himself in everywhere, he came to be one of the family, the rotter, the carrion. He did it so he wouldn't have to do it. He seemed to me like an individual that would have earned five quid honestly with the same work and bother that he puts into forging a one-pound note. But there, he'll get his skin out of it all right, he will. At the front he'd be lost sight of in the throng of it, but he's not so stupid. Be damned to them, he says, that take their grub on the ground, and be damned to them still more when they're under it. When we've all done with fighting, he'll go back home and he'll say to his friends and neighbors, 'Here I am safe and sound,' and his pals'll be glad, because be's a good sort, with engaging manners, contemptible creature that he is, and--and this is the most stupid thing of all--but he takes you in and you swallow him whole, the son of a bug.

"And then, those sort of beings, don't you believe there's only one of them. There are barrels of 'em in every depot, that hang on and writhe when their time comes to go, and they say, 'I'm not going,' and they don't go, and they never succeed in driving them as far as the front."

"Nothing new in all that," said Barque, "we know it, we know it!"

"Then there are the offices," Volpatte went on, engrossed in his story of travel; "whole houses and streets and districts. I saw that my little corner in the rear was only a speck, and I had full view of them. Non, I'd never have believed there'd be so many men on chairs while war was going on----"

A hand protruded from the rank and made trial of space-- 'No more sauce falling"--"Then we're going out, bet your life on it." So "March!" was the cry.

The storm held its peace. We filed off in the long narrow swamp stagnating in the bottom of the trench where the moment before it had shaken under slabs of rain. Volpatte's grumbling began again amidst our sorry stroll and the eddies of floundering feet. I listened to him as I watched the shoulders of a poverty-stricken overcoat swaying in front of me, drenched through and through. This time Volpatte was on the track of the police----

"The farther you go from the front the more you see of them."

"Their battlefield is not the same as ours."

Tulacque had an ancient grudge against them. "Look," he said, "how the bobbies spread themselves about to get good lodgings and good food, and then, after the drinking regulations, they dropped on the secret wine-sellers. You saw them lying in wait, with a corner of an eye on the shop-doors, to see if there weren't any poilus slipping quietly out, two-faced that they are, leering to left and to right and licking their mustaches."

"There are good ones among 'em. I knew one in my country, the Côte d'Or, where I---- "

"Shut up!" was Tulacque's peremptory interruption; "they're all alike. There isn't one that can put another right."

"Yes, they're lucky," said Volpatte, "but do you think they're contented? Not a bit; they grouse. At least," he corrected himself, "there was one I met, and he was a grouser. He was devilish bothered by the drill-manual. 'It isn't worth while to learn the drill instruction,' he said, 'they're always changing it. F'r instance, take the department of military police; well, as soon as you've got the gist of it, it's something else. Ah, when will this war be over?' he says."

"They do what they're told to do, those chaps," ventured Eudore.

"Surely. It isn't their fault at all. It doesn't alter the fact that these professional soldiers, pensioned and decorated in the time when we're only civvies, will have made war in a damned funny way."

"That reminds me of a forester that I saw as well," said Volpatte, "who played hell about the fatigues they put him to. 'It's disgusting,' the fellow said to me, 'what they do with us. We're old non-coms., soldiers that have done four years of service at least. We're paid on the higher scale, it's true, but what of that? We are Officials, and yet they humiliate us. At H.Q. they set us to cleaning, and carrying the dung away. The civilians see the treatment they inflict on us, and they look down on us. And if you look like grousing, they'll actually talk about sending you off to the trenches, like foot-soldiers! What's going to become of our prestige? When we go back to the parishes as rangers after the war--if we do come back from it--the people of the villages and forests will say, "Ah, it was you that was sweeping the streets at X----!" To get back our prestige, compromised by human injustice and ingratitude, I know well,' he says, 'that we shall have to make complaints, and make complaints and make 'em with all our might, to the rich and to the influential!' he says."

"I knew a gendarme who was all right," said Lamuse. "'The police are temperate enough in general,' he says, 'but there are always dirty devils everywhere, pas? The civilian is really afraid of the gendarme,' says he, 'and that's a fact; and so, I admit it, there are some who take advantage of it, and those ones--the tag-rag of the gendarmerie--know where to get a glass or two. If I was Chief or Brigadier, I'd screw 'em down; not half I wouldn't,' he says; 'for public opinion,' he says again. 'lays the blame on the whole force when a single one with a grievance makes a complaint.'"

"As for me," says Paradis, "one of the worst days of my life was once when I saluted a gendarme, taking him for a lieutenant, with his white stripes. Fortunately--I don't say it to console myself, but because it's probably true--fortunately, I don't think he saw me."

A silence. "Oui, 'vidently," the men murmured; "but what about it? No need to worry."

* * * * * *

A little later, when we were seated along a wall, with our backs to the stones, and our feet plunged and planted in the ground, Volpatte continued unloading his impressions.

"I went into a big room that was a Depot office--bookkeeping department, I believe. It swarmed with tables, and people in it like in a market. Clouds of talk. All along the walls on each side and in the middle, personages sitting in front of their spread-out goods like waste-paper merchants. I put in a request to be put back into my regiment, and they said to me, 'Take your damned hook, and get busy with it.' I lit on a sergeant, a little chap with airs, spick as a daisy, with a gold-rimmed spy-glass--eye-glasses with a tape on them. He was young, but being a re-enlisted soldier, he had the right not to go to the front. I said to him, 'Sergeant!' But he didn't hear me, being busy slanging a secretary--it's unfortunate, mon garçon,' he was saying; 'I've told you twenty times that you must send one notice of it to be carried out by the Squadron Commander, Provost of the C.A., and one by way of advice, without signature, but making mention of the signature, to the Provost of the Force Publique d'Amiens and of the centers of the district, of which you have the list--in envelopes, of course, of the general commanding the district. It's very simple,' he says.

"I'd drawn back three paces to wait till he'd done with jawing. Five minutes after, I went up to the sergeant. He said to me, 'My dear sir, I have not the time to bother with you; I have many other matters to attend to.' As a matter of fact, he was all in a flummox in front of his typewriter, the chump, because he'd forgotten, he said, to press on the capital-letter lever, and so, instead of underlining the heading of his page, he'd damn well scored a line of 8's in the middle of the top. So he couldn't hear anything, and he played hell with the Americans, seeing the machine came from there.

"After that, he growled against another woolly-leg, because on the memorandum of the distribution of maps they hadn't put the names of the Ration Department, the Cattle Department, and the Administrative Convoy of the 328th D.I.

"Alongside, a fool was obstinately trying to pull more circulars off a jellygraph than it would print, doing his damnedest to produce a lot of ghosts that you could hardly read. Others were talking: 'Where are the Parisian fasteners?' asked a toff. And they don't call things by their proper names: 'Tell me now, if you please, what are the elements quartered at X----?' The elements! What's all that sort of babble?" asked Volpatte.

"At the end of the big table where these fellows were that I've mentioned and that I'd been to, and the sergeant floundering about behind a hillock of papers at the top of it and giving orders, a simpleton was doing nothing but tap on his blotting-pad with his hands. His job, the mug, was the department of leave-papers, and as the big push had begun and all leave was stopped, he hadn't anything to do--'Capital!' he says.

"And all that, that's one table in one room in one department in one depot. I've seen more, and then more, and more and more again. I don't know, but it's enough to drive you off your nut, I tell you."

"Have they got brisques?" [note 2]

"Not many there, but in the department of the second line every one had 'em. You had museums of 'em there--whole Zoological Gardens of stripes."

"Prettiest thing I've seen in the way of stripes," said Tulacque, "was a motorist, dressed in cloth that you'd have said was satin, with new stripes, and the leathers of an English officer, though a second-class soldier as he was. With his finger on his cheek, he leaned with his elbows on that fine carriage adorned with windows that he was the valet de chambre of. He'd have made you sick, the dainty beast. He was just exactly the poilu that you see pictures of in the ladies' papers--the pretty little naughty papers."

Each has now his memories, his tirade on this much-excogitated subject of the shirkers, and all begin to overflow and to talk at once. A hubbub surrounds the foot of the mean wall where we are heaped like bundles, with a gray, muddy, and trampled spectacle lying before us, laid waste by rain.

"----orderly in waiting to the Road Department, then at the Bakery, then cyclist to the Revictualing Department of the Eleventh Battery."

"----every morning he had a note to take to the Service de l'Intendance, to the Gunnery School, to the Bridges Department, and in the evening to the A.D. and the A.T.--that was all."

"----when I was coming back from leave,' said that orderly, 'the women cheered us at all the level-crossing gates that the train passed.' 'They took you for soldiers,' I said."

"----'Ah,' I said, 'you're called up, then, are you?' 'Certainly,' he says to me, 'considering that I've been a round of meetings in America with a Ministerial deputation. P'raps it's not exactly being called up, that? Anyway, mon ami,' he says, 'I don't pay any rent, so I must be called up.' 'And me----'"

"To finish," cries Volpatte, silencing the hum with his authority of a traveler returned from "down there," "to finish, I saw a whole legion of 'em all together at a blow-out. For two days I was a sort of helper in the kitchen of one of the centers of the C.O.A., 'cos they couldn't let me do nothing while waiting for my reply, which didn't hurry, seeing they'd sent another inquiry and a super-inquiry after it, and the reply had too many halts to make in each office, going and coming.

"In short, I was cook in the shop. Once I waited at table, seeing that the head cook had just got back from leave for the fourth time and was tired. I saw and I heard those people every time I went into the dining-room, that was in the Prefecture, and all that hot and illuminated row got into my head. They were only auxiliaries in there, but there were plenty of the armed service among the number, too. They were almost all old men, with a few young ones besides, sitting here and there.

"I'd begun to get about enough of it when one of the broomsticks said, 'The shutters must be closed; it's more prudent.' My boy. they were a lump of a hundred and twenty-five miles from the firing-line, but that pock-marked puppy he wanted to make believe there was danger of bombardment by aircraft----"

"And there's my cousin," said Tulacque, fumbling, "who wrote to me--Look, here's what he says: 'Mon cher Adolphe, here I am definitely settled in Paris as attaché to Guard-Room 60. While you are down there. I must stay in the capital at the mercy of a Taube or a Zeppelin!'"

The phrase sheds a tranquil delight abroad, and we assimilate it like a tit-bit, laughing.

"After that," Volpatte went on, "those layers of soft-jobbers fed me up still more. As a dinner it was all right--cod, seeing it was Friday, but prepared like soles à la Marguerite--I know all about it. But the talk!----"

"They call the bayonet Rosalie, don't they?"

"Yes, the padded luneys. But during dinner these gentlemen talked above all about themselves. Every one, so as to explain why he wasn't somewhere else, as good as said (but all the while saying something else and gorging like an ogre), 'I'm ill, I'm feeble, look at me, ruin that I am. Me, I'm in my dotage.' They were all seeking inside themselves to find diseases to wrap themselves up in--'I wanted to go to the war, but I've a rupture, two ruptures, three ruptures.' Ah, non, that feast!--'The orders that speak of sending everybody away,' explained a funny man, 'they're like the comedies,' he explained, 'there's always a last act to clear up all the jobbery of the others. That third act is this paragraph, "Unless the requirements of the Departments stand in the way."' There was one that told this tale, 'I had three friends that I counted on to give me a lift up. I was going to apply to them; but, one after another, a little before I put my request, they were killed by the enemy; look at that,' he says, 'I've no luck!' Another was explaining to another that, as for him, he would very much have liked to go, but the surgeon-major had taken him round the waist to keep him by force in the depot with the auxiliary. 'Eh bien,' he says, 'I resigned myself. After all, I shall be of greater value in putting my intellect to the service of the country than in carrying a knapsack.' And him that was alongside said, 'Oui,' with his headpiece feathered on top. He'd jolly well consented to go to Bordeaux at the time when the Boches were getting near Paris, and then Bordeaux became the stylish place; but afterwards he returned firmly to the front--to Paris--and said something like this, 'My ability is of value to France; it is absolutely necessary that I guard it for France.'

"They talked about other people that weren't there--of the commandant who was getting an impossible temper, and they explained that the more imbecile he got the harsher he got; and the General that made unexpected inspections with the idea of kicking all the soft-jobbers out, but who'd been laid up for eight days, very ill--'he's certainly going to die; his condition no longer gives rise to any uneasiness,' they said, smoking the cigarettes that Society swells send to the depots for the soldiers at the front. 'D'you know,' they said, 'little Frazy, who is such a nice boy, the cherub, he's at last found an excuse for staying behind. They wanted some cattle slaughterers for the abattoir, and he's enlisted himself in there for protection, although he's got a University degree and in spite of being an attorney's clerk. As for Flandrin's son, he's succeeded in getting himself attached to the roadmenders.--Roadmender, him? Do you think they'll let him stop so?' 'Certain sure,' replies one of the cowardly milksops. 'A road-mender's job is for a long time.'

"Talk about idiots," Marthereau growls.

"And they were all jealous, I don't know why, of a chap called Bourin. Formerly he moved in the best Parisian circles. He lunched and dined in the city. He made eighteen calls a day, and fluttered about the drawing-rooms from afternoon tea till daybreak. He was indefatigable in leading cotillons, organizing festivities, swallowing theatrical shows, without counting the motoring parties, and all the lot running with champagne. Then the war came. So he's no longer capable, the poor boy, of staying on the look-out a bit late at an embrasure, or of cutting wire. He must stay peacefully in the warm. And then, him, a Parisian, to go into the provinces and bury himself in the trenches! Never in this world! 'I realize, too,' replied an individual, 'that at thirty-seven I've arrived at the age when I must take care of myself!' And while the fellow was saying that, I was thinking of Dumont the gamekeeper, who was forty-two, and was done in close to me on Hill 132, so near that after he got the handful of bullets in his head, my body shook with the trembling of his."

"And what were they like with you, these thieves?"

"To hell with me, it was, but they didn't show it too much, only now and again when they couldn't hold themselves in. They looked at me out of the corner of their eyes, and took damn good care not to touch me in passing, for I was still war-mucky.

"It disgusted me a bit to be in the middle of that heap of good-for-nothings, but I said to myself, 'Come, it's only for a bit, Firmin.' There was just one time that I very near broke out with the itch, and that was when one of 'em said, 'Later, when we return, if we do return.'--NO! He had no right to say that. Sayings like that, before you let them out of your gob, you've got to earn them; it's like a decoration. Let them get cushy jobs, if they like, but not play at being men in the open when they've damned well run away. And you hear 'em discussing the battles, for they're in closer touch than you with the big bugs and with the way the war's managed; and afterwards, when you return, if you do return, it's you that'll be wrong in the middle of all that crowd of humbugs, with the poor little truth that you've got.

"Ah, that evening, I tell you, all those heads in the reek of the light, the foolery of those people enjoying life and profiting by peace! It was like a ballet at the theater or the make-believe of a magic lantern. There were--there were--there are a hundred thousand more of them," Volpatte at last concluded in confusion.

But the men who were paying for the safety of the others with their strength and their lives enjoyed the wrath that choked him, that brought him to bay in his corner, and overwhelmed him with the apparitions of shirkers.

"Lucky he doesn't start talking about the factory hands who've served their apprenticeship in the war, and all those who've stayed at home under the excuse of National Defense, that was put on its feet in five secs!" murmured Tirette; "he'd keep us going with them till Doomsday."

"You say there are a hundred thousand of them, flea-bite," chaffed Barque. "Well, in 1914--do you hear me?--Millerand, the War Minister, said to the M.P.'s, 'There are no shirkers.' "

"Millerand!" growled Volpatte. "I tell you, I don't know the man; but if he said that, he's a dirty sloven, sure enough!"

* * * * * *

"One is always," said Bertrand, "a shirker to some one else."

"That's true; no matter what you call yourself, you'll always---always--find worse blackguards and better blackguards than yourself."

"All those that never go up to the trenches, or those who never go into the first line, and even those who only go there now and then, they're shirkers, if you like to call 'em so, and you'd see how many there are if they only gave stripes to the real fighters."

"There are two hundred and fifty to each regiment of two battalions," said Cocon.

"There are the orderlies, and a bit since there were even the servants of the adjutants."--"The cooks and the under-cooks."--"The sergeant-majors, and the quartermaster-sergeants, as often as not."--"The mess corporals and the mess fatigues."--"Some office-props and the guard of the colors."--"The baggage-masters." "The drivers, the laborers, and all the section, with all its non-coms., and even the sappers."--"The cyclists." "Not all of them."--"Nearly all the Red Cross service."--"Not the stretcher-bearers, of course; for they've not only got a devilish rotten job, but they live with the companies, and when attacks are on they charge with their stretchers; but the hospital attendants."

"Nearly all parsons, especially at the rear. For, you know, parsons with knapsacks on, I haven't seen a devil of a lot of 'em, have you?"

"Nor me either. In the papers, but not here."

"There are some, it seems."--"Ah!"

"Anyway, the common soldier's taken something on in this war."

"There are others that are in the open. We're not the only ones."

"We are!" said Tulacque, sharply; "we're almost the only ones!"

He added, "You may say--I know well enough what you'll tell me--that it was the motor lorries and the heavy artillery that brought it off at Verdun. It's true, but they've got a soft job all the same by the side of us. We're always in danger, against their once, and we've got the bullets and the bombs, too, that they haven't. The heavy artillery reared rabbits near their dug-outs, and they've been making themselves omelettes for eighteen months. We are really in danger. Those that only get a bit of it, or only once, aren't in it at all. Otherwise, everybody would be. The nursemaid strolling the streets of Paris would be, too, since there are the Taubes and the Zeppelins, as that pudding-head said that the pal was talking about just now."

"In the first expedition to the Dardanelles, there was actually a chemist wounded by a shell. You don't believe me, but it's true all the same--an officer with green facings, wounded!"

"That's chance, as I wrote to Mangouste, driver of a remount horse for the section, that got wounded--but it was done by a motor lorry."

"That's it, it's like that. After all, a bomb can tumble down on a pavement, in Paris or in Bordeaux."

"Oui, oui; so it's too easy to say, 'Don't let's make distinctions in danger!' Wait a bit. Since the beginning, there are some of those others who've got killed by an unlucky chance; among us there are some that are still alive by a lucky chance. It isn't the same thing, that, seeing that when you're dead, it's for a long time."

"Yes," says Tirette, "but you're getting too venomous with your stories of shirkers. As long as we can't help it, it's time to turn over. I'm thinking of a retired forest-ranger at Cherey, where we were last month, who went about the streets of the town spying everywhere to rout out some civilian of military age, and he smelled out the dodgers like a mastiff. Behold him pulling up in front of a sturdy goodwife that had a mustache, and he only sees her mustache, so he bullyrags her-- 'Why aren't you at the front, you?'"

"For my part," says Pépin, "I don't fret myself about the shirkers or the semi-shirkers, it's wasting one's time; but where they get on my nerves, it's when they swank. I'm of Volpatte's opinion. Let 'em shirk, good, that's human nature; but afterwards they shouldn't say, 'I've been a soldier.' Take the engagés, [note 3] for instance----"

"That depends on the engagés. Those who have offered for the infantry without conditions, I look up to those men as much as to those that have got killed; but the engagés in the departments or special arms, even in the heavy artillery, they begin to get my back up. We know 'em! When they're doing the agreeable in their social circle, they'll say, 'I've offered for the war.'-- 'Ah, what a fine thing you have done; of your own free will you have defied the machine-guns! '--'Well, yes, madame la marquise, I'm built like that!' Eh, get out of it, humbug!"

"Oui, it's always the same tale. They wouldn't be able to say in the drawing-rooms afterwards, 'Tenez, here I am; look at me for a voluntary engagé!'"

"I know a gentleman who enlisted in the aerodromes. He had a fine uniform--he'd have done better to offer for the Opéra-Comique. What am I saying--'he'd have done better?' He'd have done a damn sight better, oui. At least he'd have made other people laugh honestly, instead of making them laugh with the spleen in it."

"They're a lot of cheap china, fresh painted, and plastered with ornaments and all sorts of falderals, but they don't go under fire."

"If there'd only been people like those, the Boches would be at Bayonne."

"When war's on, one must risk his skin, eh, corporal?"

"Yes," said Bertrand, "there are some times when duty and danger are exactly the same thing; when the country, when justice and liberty are in danger, it isn't in taking shelter that you defend them. On the contrary, war means danger of death and sacrifice of life for everybody, for everybody; no one is sacred. One must go for it, upright, right to the end, and not pretend to do it in a fanciful uniform. These services at the bases, and they're necessary, must be automatically guaranteed by the really weak and the really old."

"Besides, there are too many rich and influential people who have shouted, 'Let us save France!--and begin by saving ourselves!' On the declaration of war, there was a big rush to get out of it, that's what there was, and the strongest succeeded. I noticed myself, in my little corner, it was especially those that jawed most about patriotism previously. Anyway, as the others were saying just now, if they get into a funk-hole, the worst filthiness they can do is to make people believe they've run risks. 'Cos those that have really run risks, they deserve the same respect as the dead."

"Well, what then? It's always like that, old man; you can't change human nature."

"It can't be helped. Grouse, complain? Tiens! talking about complaining, did you know Margoulin?"

"Margoulin? The good sort that was with us, that they left to die at le Crassier because they thought he was dead?"

"Well, he wanted to make a complaint. Every day he talked about protesting against all those things to the captain and the commandant. He'd say after breakfast, 'I'll go and say it as sure as that pint of wine's there.' And a minute later, 'If I don't speak, there's never a pint of wine there at all.' And if you were passing later you'd hear him again, 'Tiens! is that a pint of wine there? Well, you'll see if I don't speak! Result--he said nothing at all. You'll say, 'But he got killed.' True, but previously he had God's own time to do it two thousand times if he'd dared."

"All that, it makes me ill," growled Blaire, sullen, but with a flash of fury.

"We others, we've seen nothing--seeing that we don't see anything--but if we did see----!"

"Old chap," Volpatte cried, "those depots--take notice of what I say--you'd have to turn the Seine, the Garonne, the Rhone and the Loire into them to clean them. In the interval, they're living, and they live well, and they go to doze peacefully every night, every night!"

The soldier held his peace. In the distance he saw the night as they would pass it--cramped up, trembling with vigilance in the deep darkness, at the bottom of the listening-hole whose ragged jaws showed in black outline all around whenever a gun hurled its dawn into the sky.

Bitterly said Cocon: "All that, it doesn't give you any desire to die."

"Yes, it does," some one replies tranquilly. "Yes, it does. Don't exaggerate, old kipper-skin."


[note 1:] Thirty or thirty-one years old in 1914.--Tr.

[note 2:] A-shape badges worn on the left arm to indicate the duration of service at the front.--Tr.

[note 3:] Soldiers voluntarily enlisted in ordinary times for three. four, or five years. Those enlisted for four or five year' have the right to choose their arm of the service, subject to conditions.--
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Re: Under Fire: The Story of a Squad, by Henri Barbusse

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:47 am

10. Argoval

THE twilight of evening was coming near from the direction of the country, and a gentle breeze, soft as a whisper, came with it.

In the houses alongside this rural way--a main road, garbed for a few paces like a main street--the rooms whose pallid windows no longer fed them with the limpidity of space found their own light from lamps and candles, so that the evening left them and went outside, and one saw light and darkness gradually changing places.

On the edge of the village, towards the fields, some unladen soldiers were wandering, facing the breeze. We were ending the day in peace, and enjoying that idle ease whose happiness one only realizes when one is really weary. It was fine weather, we were at the beginning of rest, and dreaming about it. Evening seemed to make our faces bigger before it darkened them, and they shone with the serenity of nature.

Sergeant Suilhard came to me, took my arm, and led me away. "Come," he said, "and I'll show you something."

The approaches to the village abounded in rows of tall and tranquil trees, and we followed them along. Under the pressure of the breeze their vast verdure yielded from time to time in slow majestic movements.

Suilhard went in front of me. He led me into a deep lane, which twisted about between high banks; and on each side grew a border of bushes, whose tops met each other. For some moments we walked in a bower of tender green. A last gleam of light, falling aslant across the lane, made points of bright yellow among the foliage, and round as gold coins. "This is pretty," I said.

He said nothing, but looked aside and hard. Then he stopped. "It must be there."

He made me climb up a bit of a track to a field, a great quadrangle within tall trees, and full of the scent of hay.

"Tiens!" I said, looking at the ground, "it's all trampled here; there's been something to do."

"Come," said Suilhard to me. He led me into the field, not far from its gate. There was a group of soldiers there, talking in low voices. My companion stretched out his hand. "It's there," be said.

A very short post, hardly a yard high, was implanted a few paces from the hedge, composed just there of young trees. "It was there," he said, "that they shot a soldier of the 204th this morning. They planted that post in the night. They brought the chap here at dawn, and these are the fellows of his squad who killed him. He tried to dodge the trenches. During relief he stayed behind, and then went quietly off to quarters. He did nothing else; they meant, no doubt, to make an example of him."

We came near to the conversation of the others. "No. no, not at all," said one. "He wasn't a ruffian, he wasn't one of those toughs that we all know. We all enlisted together. He was a decent sort, like ourselves, no more, no less--a bit funky, that's all. He was in the front line from the beginning, he was, and I've never seen him boozed, I haven't."

"Yes, but all must be told. Unfortunately for him, there was a 'previous conviction.' There were two, you know, that did the trick--the other got two years. But Cajard, [note 1] because of the sentence he got in civil life couldn't benefit by extenuating circumstances. He'd done some giddy-goat trick in civil life, when he was drunk."

"You can see a little blood on the ground if you look," said a stooping soldier.

"There was the whole ceremonial," another went on, "from A to Z--the colonel on horseback, the degradation; then they tied him to the little post, the cattle-stoup. He had to be forced to kneel or sit on the ground with a similar post."

"It's past understanding," said a third, after a silence, "if it wasn't for the example the sergeant spoke about."

On the post the soldiers had scrawled inscriptions and protests. A croix de guerre, cut clumsily of wood, was nailed to it, and read: "A. Cajard, mobilized in August, 1914, in gratitude to France."

Returning to quarters I met Volpatte, still surrounded and talking. He was relating some new anecdotes of his journey among the happy ones.


[note 1:] I have altered the name of this soldier as well as that of the village.--H. B.
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Re: Under Fire: The Story of a Squad, by Henri Barbusse

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:47 am

11. The Dog

THE weather was appalling. Water and wind attacked the passers-by; riddled, flooded, and upheaved the roads.

I was returning from fatigue to our quarters at the far end of the village. The landscape that morning showed dirty yellow through the solid rain, and the sky was dark as a slated roof. The downpour flogged the horse-trough as with birchen rods. Along the walls. human shapes went in shrinking files, stooping, abashed, splashing.

In spite of the rain and the cold and bitter wind, a crowd had gathered in front of the door of the barn where we were lodging. All close together and back to back, the men seemed from a distance like a great moving sponge. Those who could see, over shoulders and between heads, opened their eyes wide and said, "He has a nerve, the boy!" Then the inquisitive ones broke away, with red noses and streaming faces, into the down-pour that lashed and the blast that bit, and letting the hands fall that they had upraised in surprise, they plunged them in their pockets.

In the center, and running with rain, abode the cause of the gathering--Fouillade, bare to the waist and washing himself in abundant water. Thin as an insect, working his long slender arms in riotous frenzy, he soaped and splashed his head, neck, and chest, down to the upstanding gridirons of his sides. Over his funnel-shaped cheeks the brisk activity had spread a flaky beard like snow, and piled on the top of his head a greasy fleece that the rain was puncturing with little holes.

By way of a tub, the patient was using three mess-tins which he had filled with water--no one knew how--in a village where there was none; and as there was no clean spot anywhere to put anything down in that universal streaming of earth and sky, he thrust his towel into the waistband of his trousers, while the soap went back into his pocket every time he used it.

They who still remained wondered at this heroic gesticulation in the face of adversity, and said again, as they wagged their heads, "It's a disease of cleanliness he's got."

"You know he's going to be carpeted, they say, for that affair of the shell-hole with Volpatte." And they mixed the two exploits together in a muddled way, that of the shell-hole, and the present, and looked on him as the hero of the moment, while he puffed, sniffled, grunted, spat, and tried to dry himself under the celestial shower-bath with rapid rubbing and as a measure of deception; then at last he resumed his clothes.

* * * * * *

After his wash, Fouillade feels cold. He turns about and stands in the doorway of the barn that shelters us. The arctic blast discolors and disparages his long face, so hollow and sunburned; it draws tears from his eyes, and scatters them on the cheeks once scorched by the mistral; his nose, too, weeps increasingly.

Yielding to the ceaseless bite of the wind that grips his ears in spite of the muffler knotted round his head, and his calves in spite of the yellow puttees with which his cockerel legs are enwound, he reenters the barn, but comes out of it again at once, rolling ferocious eyes, and muttering oaths with the accent one hears in that corner of the land, over six hundred miles from here, whence he was driven by war.

So he stands outside, erect, more truly excited than ever before in these northern scenes. And the wind comes and steals into him, and comes again roughly, shaking and maltreating his scarecrow's slight and flesh-less figure.

Ye gods! It is almost uninhabitable, the barn they have assigned to us to live in during this period of rest. It is a collapsing refuge, gloomy and leaky, confined as a well. One half of it is under water--we see rats swimming in it--and the men are crowded in the other half. The walls, composed of laths stuck together with dried mud, are cracked, sunken, holed in all their circuit, and extensively broken through above. The night we got here--until the morning--we plugged as well as we could the openings within reach, by inserting leafy branches and hurdles. But the higher holes, and those in the roof, still gaped and always. When dawn hovers there, weakling and early, the wind for contrast rushes in and blows round every side with all its strength, and the squad endures the hustling of an everlasting draught.

When we are there, we remain upright in the ruined obscurity, groping, shivering, complaining.

Fouillade, who has come in once more, goaded by the cold, regrets his ablutions. He has pains in his loins and back. He wants something to do, but what?

Sit down? Impossible; it is too dirty inside there. The ground and the paving-stones are plastered with mud; the straw scattered for our sleeping is soaked through, by the water that comes through the holes and by the boots that wipe themselves with it. Besides, if you sit down, you freeze; and if you lie on the straw, you are troubled by the smell of manure, and sickened by the vapors of ammonia. Fouillade contents himself by looking at his place, and yawning wide enough to dislocate his long jaw, further lengthened by a goatee beard where you would see white hairs if the daylight were really daylight.

"The other pals and boys," said Marthereau, "they're no better off than we are. After breakfast I went to see a jail-bird of the 11th on the farm near the hospital. You've to clamber over a wall by a ladder that's too short--talk about a scissor-cut!" says Marthereau, who is short in the leg; "and when once you're in the hen-run and rabbit-hutch you're shoved and poked by everybody and a nuisance to 'em all. You don't know where to put your pasties down. I vamoosed from there, and sharp."

"For my part," says Cocon, "I wanted to go to the blacksmith's when we'd got quit of grubbing, to imbibe something hot, and pay for it. Yesterday he was selling coffee, but some bobbies called there this morning, so the good man's got the shakes, and he's locked his door."

Lamuse has tried to clean his rifle. But one cannot clean his rifle here, even if he squats on the ground near the door, nor even if he takes away the sodden tent-cloth, hard and icy, which hangs across the doorway like a stalactite; it is too dark. "And then, old chap, if you let a screw fall, you may as well hang yourself as try to find it, 'specially when your fists are frozen silly."

"As for me, I ought to be sewing some things, but--what cheer!"

One alternative remains--to stretch oneself on the straw, covering the head with handkerchief or towel to isolate it from the searching stench of fermenting straw, and sleep. Fouillade, master of his time to-day, being on neither guard nor fatigues, decides. He lights a taper to seek among his belongings, and unwinds the coils of his comforter, and we see his emaciated shape, sculptured in black relief, folding and refolding it.

"Potato fatigue, inside there, my little lambs!" a sonorous voice bellows at the door. The hooded shape from which it comes is Sergeant Henriot. He is a malignant sort of simpleton, and though all the while joking in clumsy sympathy he supervises the evacuation of quarters with a sharp eye for the evasive malingerer.

Outside, on the streaming road in the perpetual rain. the second section is scattered, also summoned and driven to work by the adjutant. The two sections mingle together. We climb the street and the hillock of clayey soil where the traveling kitchen is smoking.

"Now then, my lads, get on with it; it isn't a long job when everybody sets to---- Come--what have you got to grumble about, you? That does no good."

Twenty minutes later we return at a trot. As we grope about in the barn, we cannot touch anything but what is sodden and cold, and the sour smell of wet animals is added to the vapor of the liquid manure that our beds contain.

We gather again, standing, around the props that hold the barn up, and around the rills that fall vertically from the holes in the roof--faint columns which rest on vague bases of splashing water. "Here we are again!" we cry.

Two lumps in turn block the doorway, soaked with the rain that drains from them--Lamuse and Barque. who have been in quest of a brasier, and now return from the expedition empty-handed, sullen and vicious. "Not a shadow of a fire-bucket, and what's more, no wood or coal either, not for a fortune." It is impossible to have any fire. "If I can't get any, no one can," says Barque, with a pride which a hundred exploits justify.

We stay motionless, or move slowly in the little space we have, aghast at so much misery. "Whose is the paper?"

"It's mine," says Bécuwe.

"What does it say? Ah, zut, one can't read in this darkness!"

"It says they've done everything necessary now for the soldiers, to keep them warm in the trenches. They've got all they want, and blankets and shirts and brasiers and fire-buckets and bucketsful of coal; and that it's like that in the first-line trenches."

"Ah, damnation!" growl some of the poor prisoners of the barn, and they shake their fists at the emptiness without and at the newspaper itself.

But Fouillade has lost interest in what they say. He has bent his long Don Quixote carcase down in the shadow, and outstretched the lean neck that looks as if it were braided with violin strings. There is something on the ground that attracts him.

It is Labri, the other squad's dog, an uncertain sort of mongrel sheep-dog, with a lopped tail, curled up on a tiny litter of straw-dust. Fouillade looks at Labri, and Labri at him. Bécuwe comes up and says, with the intonation of the Lille district, "He won't eat his food; the dog isn't well. Hey, Labri, what's the matter with you? There's your bread and meat; eat it up; it's good when it's in your bucket. He's poorly. One of these mornings we shall find him dead."

Labri is not happy. The soldier to whom he is entrusted is hard on him, and usually ill-treats him--when he takes any notice of him at all. The animal is tied up all day. He is cold and ill and left to himself. He only exists. From time to time, when there is movement going on around him, he has hopes of going out, rises and stretches himself, and bestirs his tail to incipient demonstration. But he is disillusioned, and lies down again, gazing past his nearly full mess-tin.

He is weary, and disgusted with life. Even if he has escaped the bullet or bomb to which he is as much exposed as we, he will end by dying here. Fouillade puts his thin hand on the dog's head, and it gazes at him again. Their two glances are alike--the only difference is that one comes from above and the other from below.

Fouillade sits down also--the worse for him!--in a corner, his hands covered by the folds of his greatcoat, his long legs doubled up like a folding bed. He is dreaming, his eyes closed under their bluish lids; there is something that he sees again. It is one of those moments when the country from which he is divided assumes in the distance the charms of reality--the perfumes and colors of l'Hérault. the streets of Cette. He sees so plainly and so near that he hears the noise of the shallops in the Canal du Midi, and the unloading at the docks; and their call to him is distinctly clear.

Above the road where the scent of thyme and immortelles is so strong that it is almost a taste in the mouth, in the heart of the sunshine whose winging shafts stir the air into a warmed and scented breeze, on Mont St. Clair, blossoms and flourishes the home of his folks. Up there, one can see with the same glance where the Lake of Thau, which is green like glass, joins hands with the Mediterranean Sea, which is azure; and sometimes one can make out as well, in the depths of the indigo sky, the carven phantoms of the Pyrenees.

There was he born, there he grew up, happy and free. There he played, on the golden or ruddy ground; played--even--at soldiers. The eager joy of wielding a wooden saber flushed the cheeks now sunken and seamed. He opens his eyes, looks about him, shakes his head, and falls upon regret for the days when glory and war to him were pure, lofty, and sunny things.

The man puts his hand over his eyes, to retain the vision within. Nowadays, it is different.

It was up there in the same place, later, that he came to know Clémence. She was just passing, the first time, sumptuous with sunshine, and so fair that the loose sheaf of straw she carried in her arms seemed to him nut-brown by contrast. The second time, she had a friend with her, and they both stopped to watch him. He heard them whispering, and turned towards them. Seeing themselves discovered, the two young women made off, with a sibilance of skirts, and giggles like the cry of a partridge.

And it was there, too, that he and she together set up their home. Over its front travels a vine, which he coddled under a straw hat, whatever the season. By the garden gate stands the rose-tree that he knows so well--it never used its thorns except to try to hold him back a little as he went by.

Will he return again to it all? Ah, he has looked too deeply into the profundity of the past not to see the future in appalling accuracy. He thinks of the regiment, decimated at each shift; of the big knocks and hard he has had and will have, of sickness, and of wear----

He gets up and snorts, as though to shake off what was and what will be. He is back in the middle of the gloom, and is frozen and swept by the wind, among the scattered and dejected men who blindly await the evening. He is back in the present, and he is shivering still.

Two paces of his long legs make him butt into a group that is talking--by way of diversion or consolation--of good cheer.

"At my place," says one, "they make enormous loaves, round ones, big as cart-wheels they are!" And the man amuses himself by opening his eyes wide, so that he can see the loaves of the homeland.

"Where I come from," interposes the poor Southerner, "holiday feasts last so long that the bread that's new at the beginning is stale at the end!"

"There's a jolly wine--it doesn't look much, that little wine where I come from; but if it hasn't fifteen degrees of alcohol it hasn't anything!"

Fouillade speaks then of a red wine which is almost violet, which stands dilution as well as if it had been brought into the world to that end.

"We've got the jurançon wine," said a Béarnais, "the real thing, not what they sell you for jurançon, which comes from Paris; indeed, I know one of the makers."

"If it comes to that," said Fouillade, "in our country we've got muscatels of every sort, all the colors of the rainbow, like patterns of silk stuff. You come home with me some time, and every day you shall taste a nonsuch, my boy."

"Sounds like a wedding feast," said the grateful soldier.

So it comes about that Fouillade is agitated by the vinous memories into which he has plunged, which recall to him as well the dear perfume of garlic on that far-off table. The vapors of the blue wine in big bottles, and the liqueur wines so delicately varied, mount to his head amid the sluggish and mournful storm that fills the barn.

Suddenly he calls to mind that there is settled in the village where they are quartered a tavern-keeper who is a native of Béziers, called Magnac. Magnac had said to him, "Come and see me, mon camarade, one of these mornings, and we'll drink some wine from down there, we will! I've several bottles of it, and you shall tell me what you think of it."

This sudden prospect dazzles Fouillade. Through all his length runs a thrill of delight, as though he had found the way of salvation. Drink the wine of the South--of his own particular South, even--drink much of it--it would be so good to see life rosy again, if only for a day! Ah yes, he wants wine; and he gets drunk in a dream.

But as he goes out he collides at the entry with Corporal Broyer, who is running down the street like a peddler, and shouting at every opening, "Morning parade!"

The company assembles and forms in squares on the sticky mound where the traveling kitchen is sending soot into the rain. "I'll go and have a drink after parade," says Fouillade to himself.

And he listens listlessly, full of his plan, to the reading of the report. But carelessly as he listens, he hears the officer read, "It is absolutely forbidden to leave quarters before 5 p.m. and after 8 p.m.," and he hears the captain, without noticing the murmur that runs round the poilus, add this comment on the order: "This is Divisional Headquarters. However many there are of you, don't show yourselves. Keep under cover. If the General sees you in the street, he will have you put to fatigues at once. He must not see a single soldier. Stay where you are all day in your quarters. Do what you like as long as no one sees you--no one!"

We go back into the barn.

* * * * * *

Two o'clock. It is three hours yet, and then it will be totally dark, before one may risk going outside without being punished.

Shall we sleep while waiting? Fouillade is sleepy no longer; the hope of wine has shaken him up. And then, if one sleeps in the day, he will not sleep at night. No! To lie with your eyes open is worse than a nightmare. The weather gets worse; wind and rain increase, without and within.

Then what? If one may not stand still, nor sit down, nor lie down, nor go for a stroll, nor work--what?

Deepening misery settles on the party of benumbed and tired soldiers. They suffer to the bone, nor know what to do with their bodies. "Nom de Dieu, we're badly off!" is the cry of the derelicts--a lamentation, an appeal for help.

Then by instinct they give themselves up to the only occupation possible to them in there--to walk up and down on the spot, and thus ward off anchylosis.

So they begin to walk quickly to and fro in the scanty place that three strides might compass; they turn about and cross and brush each other, bent forward, hands pocketed--tramp, tramp. These human beings whom the blast cuts even among their straw are like a crowd of the wretched wrecks of cities who await, under the lowering sky of winter, the opening of some charitable institution. But no door will open for them--unless it Le four days hence, one evening at the end of the rest, to return to the trenches.

Alone in a corner, Cocon cowers. He is tormented by lice; but weakened by the cold and wet he has not the pluck to change his linen; and he sits there sullen, unmoving--and devoured.

As five o'clock draws near, in spite of all, Fouillade begins again to intoxicate himself with his dream of wine, and he waits, with its gleam in his soul. What time is it?--A quarter to five.--Five minutes to five.--Now!

He is outside in black night. With great splashing skips he makes his way towards the tavern of Magnac, the generous and communicative Biterrois. Only with great trouble does he find the door in the dark and the inky rain. By God, there is no light! Great God again, it is closed! The gleam of a match that his great lean hand covers like a lamp-shade shows him the fateful notice--"Out of Bounds." Magnac, guilty of some transgression, has been banished into gloom and idleness!

Fouillade turns his back on the tavern that has become the prison of its lonely keeper. He will not give up his dream. He will go somewhere else and have vin ordinaire, and pay for it, that's all. He puts his hand in his pocket to sound his purse; it is there. There ought to be thirty-seven sous in it, which will not run to the wine of Prou, but----

But suddenly he starts, stops dead, and smites himself on the forehead. His long-drawn face is contracted in a frightful grimace, masked by the night. No, he no longer has thirty-seven sous, fool that he is! He has forgotten the tin of sardines that he bought the night before--so disgusting did he find the dark macaroni of the soldiers' mess--and the drinks he stood to the cobbler who put him some nails in his boots.

Misery! There could not be more than thirteen sous left!

To get as elevated as one ought, and to avenge himself on the life of the moment, he would certainly need--damn'ation--a liter and a half, In this place, a liter of red ordinary costs twenty-one sous. It won't go.

His eyes wander around him in the darkness, looking for some one. Perhaps there is a pal somewhere who will lend him money, or stand him a liter.

But who--who? Not Bécuwe, he has only a marraine [note 1:] who sends him tobacco and note-paper every fortnight. Not Barque, who would not toe the line; nor Blaire, the miser--he wouldn't understand. Not Biquet, who seems to have something against him; nor Pépin who himself begs, and never pays, even when he is host. Ah, if Volpatte were there! There is Mesnil André, but he is actually in debt to Fouillade on account of several drinks round. Corporal Bertrand? Following on a remark of Fouillade's, Bertrand told him to go to the devil, and now they look at each other sideways. Farfadet? Fouillade hardly speaks a word to him in the ordinary way. No, he feels that he cannot ask this of Farfadet. And then--a thousand thunders!--what is the use of seeking saviors in one s imagination? Where are they, all these people, at this hour?

Slowly he goes back towards the barn. Then mechanically he turns and goes forward again, with hesitating steps. He will try, all the same. Perhaps he can find convivial comrades. He approaches the central part of the village just when night has buried the earth.

The lighted doors and windows of the taverns shine again in the mud of the main street. There are taverns every twenty paces. One dimly sees the heavy specters of soldiers, mostly in groups, descending the street. When a motor-car comes along, they draw aside to let it pass, dazzled by the head-lights, and bespattered by the liquid mud that the wheels hurl over the whole width of the road.

The taverns are full. Through the steamy windows one can see they are packed with compact clouds of helmeted men. Fouillade goes into one or two, on chance. Once over the threshold, the dram-shop's tepid breath, the light, the smell and the hubbub, affect him with longing. This gathering at tables is at least a fragment of the past in the present.

He looks from table to table, and disturbs the groups as he goes up to scrutinize all the merrymakers in the room. Alas, he knows no one! Elsewhere, it is the same; he has no luck. In vain he has extended his neck and sent his desperate glances in search of a familiar head among the uniformed men who in clumps or couples drink and talk or in solitude write. He has the air of a cadger, and no one pays him heed.

Finding no soul to come to his relief, he decides to invest at least what he has in his pocket. He slips up to the counter. "A pint of wine--and good."


"Eh, oui."

"You, mon garçon, you're from the South," says the landlady, handing him a little full bottle and a glass, and gathering his twelve sous.

He places himself at the corner of a table already overcrowded by four drinkers who are united in a game of cards. He fills the glass to the brim and empties it, then fills it again.

"Hey, good health to you! Don't drink the tumbler!" yelps in his face a man who arrives in the dirty blue jumper of fatigues, and displays a heavy cross-bar of eyebrows across his pale face, a conical head, and half a pound's weight of ears. It is Harlingue, the armorer.

It is not very glorious to be seated alone before a pint in the presence of a comrade who gives signs of thirst. But Fouillade pretends not to understand the requirements of the gentleman who daIlies in front of him with an engaging smile, and he hurriedly empties his glass. The other turns his back, not without grumbling that "they're not very generous, but on the contrary greedy, these Southerners."

Fouillade has put his chin on his fists, and looks unseeing at a corner of the room where the crowded poilus elbow, squeeze, and jostle each other to get by.

It was pretty good, that swig of white wine, but of what use are those few drops in the Sahara of Fouillade? The blues did not far recede, and now they return.

The Southerner rises and goes out, with his two glasses of wine in his stomach and one sou in his pocket. He plucks up courage to visit one more tavern, to plumb it with his eyes, and by way of excuse to mutter, as he leaves the place, "Curse him! He's never there, the animal!"

Then he returns to the barn, which still--as always--whistles with wind and water. Fouillade lights his candle, and by the glimmer of the flame that struggles desperately to take wing and fly away, he sees Labri. He stoops low, with his light over the miserable dog--perhaps it will die first. Labri is sleeping, hut feebly, for he opens an eye at once, and his tail moves.

The Southerner strokes him, and says to him in a low voice, "It can't be helped, it----" He will not say more to sadden him, but the dog signifies appreciation by jerking his head before closing his eyes again. Fouillade rises stiffly, by reason of his rusty joints, and makes for his couch. For only one thing more he is now hoping--to sleep, that the dismal day may die, that wasted day, like so many others that there will be to endure stoically and to overcome, before the last day arrives of the war or of his life.


[note 1:] French soldiers have extensively developed a system of corresponding with French women whom they do not know from Eve and whose acquaintance they usually make through newspaper advertisements. As typical of the latter I copy the following: "Officier artilleur, 30 ans, désire correspondance discrète avec jeune marraine, femme du monde. Ecrire," etc. The "lonely soldier" movement in this country is similar.--Tr.
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Re: Under Fire: The Story of a Squad, by Henri Barbusse

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:48 am

12. The Doorway

"IT's foggy. Would you like to go?"

It is Poterloo who asks, as he turns towards me and shows eyes so blue that they make his fine, fair head seem transparent.

Poterloo comes from Souchez, and now that the Chasseurs have at last retaken it, he wants to see again the village where he lived happily in the days when he was only a man.

It is a pilgrimage of peril; not that we should have far to go--Souchez is just there. For six months we have lived and worked in the trenches almost within hail of the village. We have only to climb straight from here on to the Béthune road along which the trench creeps, the road honeycombed underneath by our shelters, and descend it for four or five hundred yards as it dips down towards Souchez. But all that ground is under regular and terrible attention. Since their recoil, the Germans have constantly sent huge shells into it. Their thunder shakes us in our caverns from time to time, and we see, high above the scarps, now here now there, the great black geysers of earth and rubbish, and the piled columns of smoke, as high as churches. Why do they bombard Souchez? One cannot say why, for there is no longer anybody or anything in the village so often taken and retaken, that we have so fiercely wrested from each other.

But this morning a dense fog enfolds us, and by favor of the great curtain that the sky throws over the earth one might risk it. We are sure at least of not being seen. The fog hermetically closes the perfected retina of the Sausage that must be somewhere up there, enshrouded in the white wadding that raises its vast wall of partition between our lines and those observation posts of Lens and Angres, whence the enemy spies upon us.

"Right you are!" I say to Poterloo.

Adjutant Barthe, informed of our project, wags his head up and down, and lowers his eyelids in token that he does not see.

We hoist ourselves out of the trench, and behold us both, upright, on the Béthune road!

It is the first time I have walked there during the day. I have never seen it, except from afar, the terrible road that we have so often traveled or crossed in leaps, bowed down in the darkness, and under the whistling of missiles.

"Well, are you coming, old man?"

After some paces, Poterloo has stopped in the middle of the road, where the fog like cotton-wool unravels itself into pendent fragments, and there he dilates his sky-blue eyes and half opens his scarlet mouth.

"Ah, la, la! Ah, la, la!" he murmurs. When I turn to him he points to the road, shakes his head and says, "This is it, Bon Dieu, to think this is it! This bit where we are, I know it so well that if I shut my eyes I can see it as it was, exactly. Old chap, it's awful to see it again like that. It was a beautiful road, planted all the way along with big trees.

"And now, what is it? Look at it--a sort of long thing without a soul--sad, sad. Look at these two trenches on each side, alive; this ripped-up paving, bored with funnels; these trees uprooted, split, scorched, broken like faggots, thrown all ways, pierced by bullets--look, this pock-marked pestilence, here! Ah, my boy, my boy, you can't imagine how it is disfigured, this road!" And he goes forward, seeing some new amazement at every step.

It is a fantastic road enough, in truth. On both sides of it are crouching armies, and their missiles have mingled on it for a year and a half. It is a great disheveled highway, traveled only by bullets and by ranks and files of shells, that have furrowed and upheaved it, covered it with the earth of the fields, scooped it and laid bare its bones. It might be under a curse; it is a way of no color, burned and old, sinister and awful to see.

"If you'd only known it--how clean and smooth it was!" says Poterloo. "All sorts of trees were there, and leaves, and colors--like butterflies; and there was always some one passing on it to give good-day to some good woman rocking between two baskets, or people shouting [note 1] to each other in a chaise, with the good wind ballooning their smocks. Ah, how happy life was once on a time!"

He dives down to the banks of the misty stream that follows the roadway towards the land of parapets. Stooping, he stops by some faint swellings of the ground on which crosses are fixed--tombs, recessed at intervals into the wall of fog, like the Stations of the Cross in a church.

I call him--we shall never get there at such a funeral pace. Allons!

We come to a wide depression in the land, I in front and Poterloo lagging behind, his head confused and heavy with thought as he tries in vain to exchange with inanimate things his glances of recognition. Just there the road is lower, a fold secretes it from the side towards the north. On this sheltered ground there is a little traffic.

Along the hazy, filthy, and unwholesome space, where withered grass is embedded in black mud, there are rows of dead. They are carried there when the trenches or the plain are cleared during the night. They are waiting--some of them have waited long--to be taken back to the cemeteries after dark.

We approach them slowly. They are close against each other, and each one indicates with arms or legs some different posture of stiffened agony. There are some with half-moldy faces, the skin rusted, or yellow with dark spots. Of several the faces are black as tar, the lips hugely distended--the heads of negroes blown out in goldbeaters' skin. Between two bodies, protruding uncertainly from one or the other, is a severed wrist, ending with a cluster of strings.

Others are shapeless larvae of pollution, with dubious items of equipment pricking up, or bits of bone. Farther on, a corpse has been brought in in such a state that they have been obliged--so as not to lose it on the way--to pile it on a lattice of wire which was then fastened to the two ends of a stake. Thus was it carried in the hollow of its metal hammock, and laid there. You cannot make out either end of the body; alone, in the heap that it makes, one recognizes the gape of a trouser-pocket. An insect goes in and out of it.

Around the dead flutter letters that have escaped from pockets or cartridge pouches while they were being placed on the ground. Over one of these bits of white paper, whose wings still beat though the mud ensnares them, I stoop slightly and read a sentence--"My dear Henry, what a fine day it is for your birthday!" The man is on his belly; his loins are rent from hip to hip by a deep furrow; his head is half turned round; we see a sunken eye; and on temples, cheek and neck a kind of green moss is growing.

A sickening atmosphere roams with the wind around these dead and the heaped-up debris, that lies about them--tent-cloth or clothing in stained tatters, stiff with dried blood, charred by the scorch of the shell, hardened, earthy and already rotting, quick with swarming and questing things. It troubles us. We look at each other and shake our heads, nor dare admit aloud that the place smells bad. All the same, we go away slowly.

Now come breaking out of the fog the bowed backs of men who are joined together by something they are carrying. They are Territorial stretcher-bearers with a new corpse. They come up with their old wan faces, toiling, sweating, and grimacing with the effort. To carry a dead man in the lateral trenches when they are muddy is a work almost beyond human power. They put down the body, which is dressed in new clothes.

"It's not long since, now, that he was standing," says one of the bearers. "It's two hours since he got his bullet in the head for going to look for a Boche rifle in the plain. He was going on leave on Wednesday and wanted to take a rifle home with him. He is a sergeant of the 405th, Class 1914. A nice lad, too."

He takes away the handkerchief that is over the face. It is quite young, and seems to sleep, except that an eyeball has gone, the cheek looks waxen, and a rosy liquid has run over the nostrils, mouth, and eyes.

The body strikes a note of cleanliness in the charnel-house, this still pliant body that lolls its head aside when it is moved as if to lie better; it gives a childish illusion of being less dead than the others. But being less disfigured, it seems more pathetic, nearer to one, more intimate, as we look. And had we said anything in the presence of all that heap of beings destroyed, it would have been "Poor boy!"

We take the road again, which at this point begins to slope down to the depth where Souchez lies. Under our feet in the whiteness of the fog it appears like a valley of frightful misery. The piles of rubbish, of remains and of filthiness accumulate on the shattered spine of the road's paving and on its miry borders in final confusion. The trees bestrew the ground or have disappeared, torn away, their stumps mangled. The banks of the road are overturned and overthrown by shell-fire. All the way along, on both sides of this highway where only the crosses remain standing, are trenches twenty times blown in and re-hollowed, cavities--some with passages into them--hurdles on quagmires.

The more we go forward, the more is everything turned terribly inside out, full of putrefaction, cataclysmic. We walk on a surface of shell fragments, and the foot trips on them at every step. We go among them as if they were snares, and stumble in the medley of broken weapons or bits of kitchen utensils, of water-bottles, fire-buckets, sewing-machines, among the bundles of electrical wiring, the French and German accouterments all mutilated and encrusted in dried mud, and among the sinister piles of clothing, stuck together with a reddish-brown cement. And one must look out, too, for the unexploded shells, which everywhere protrude their noses or reveal their flanks or their bases, painted red, blue, and tawny brown.

"That's the old Boche trench, that they cleared out of in the end." It is choked up in some places, in others riddled with shell-holes. The sandbags have been torn asunder and gutted; they are crumbled, emptied, scattered to the wind. The wooden props and beams arc splintered, and point all ways. The dug-outs are filled to the brim with earth and with--no one knows what. It is all like the dried bed of a river, smashed, extended, slimy, that both water and men have abandoned. In one place the trench has been simply wiped out by the guns. The wide fosse is blocked, and remains no more than a field of new-turned earth, made of holes symmetrically bored side by side, in length and in breadth.

I point out to Poterloo this extraordinary field, that would seem to have been traversed by a giant plow. But he is absorbed to his very vitals in the metamorphosis of the country's face.

He indicates a space in the plain with his finger, and with a stupefied air, as though he came out of a dream-- "The Red Tavern!" It is a flat field, carpeted with broken bricks.

And what is that, there? A milestone? No, it is not a milestone. It is a head, a black head, tanned and polished. The mouth is all askew, and you can see something of the mustache bristling on each side--the great head of a carbonized cat. The corpse--it is German-- is underneath, buried upright.

"And that?" It is a ghastly collection containing an entirely white skull, and then, six feet away, a pair of boots, and between the two a heap of frayed leather and of rags, cemented by brown mud.

"Come on, there's less fog already. We must hurry."

A hundred yards in front of us, among the more transparent waves of fog that are changing places with us and hide us less and less, a shell whistles and bursts. It has fallen in the spot we are just nearing. We are descending, and the gradient is less steep. We go side by side. My companion says nothing, but looks to right and to left. Then he stops again, as he did at the top of the road. I hear his faltering voice, almost inaudible---"What's this! We're there--this is it----"

In point of fact we have not left the plain, the vast plain, seared and barren--but we are in Souchez!

The village has disappeared, nor have I seen a village go so completely. Ablain-Saint-Nazaire, and Carency. these still retained some shape of a place, with their collapsed and truncated houses, their yards heaped high with plaster and tiles. Here, within the framework of slaughtered trees that surrounds us as a spectral background in the fog, there is no longer any shape. There is not even an end of wall, fence, or porch that remains standing; and it amazes one to discover that there are paving-stones under the tangle of beams, stones, and scrap-iron. This--here--was a street.

It might have been a dirty and boggy waste near a big town, whose rubbish of demolished buildings and its domestic refuse had been shot here for years, till no spot was empty. We plunge into a uniform layer of dung and debris, and make but slow and difficult progress. The bombardment has so changed the face of things that it has diverted the course of the millstream, which now runs haphazard and forms a pond on the remains of the little place where the cross stood.

Here are several shell-holes where swollen horses are rotting; in others the remains of what were once human beings are scattered, distorted by the monstrous injury of shells.

Here, athwart the track we are following, that we ascend as through an avalanche or inundation of ruin, under the unbroken melancholy of the sky, here is a man stretched out as if he slept, but he has that close flattening against the ground which distinguishes a dead man from a sleeper. He is a dinner-fatigue man, with a chaplet of loaves threaded over a belt, and a bunch of his comrades' water-bottles slung on his shoulder by a skein of straps. It must have been only last night that the fragment of a shell caught him in the back. No doubt we are the first to find him, this unknown soldier secretly dead. Perhaps he will be scattered before others find him, so we look for his identity disc--it is stuck in the clotted blood where his right hand stagnates. I copy down the name that is written in letters of blood.

Poterloo lets me do it by myself--he is like a sleepwalker. He looks, and looks in despair, everywhere. He seeks endlessly among those evanished and eviscerated things; through the void he gazes to the haze of the horizon. Then he sits down on a beam, having first sent flying with a kick a saucepan that lay on it, and I sit by his side. A light drizzle is falling. The fog's moisture is resolving in little drops that cover everything with a slight gloss. He murmurs, "Ah, la, la!"

He wipes his forehead and raises imploring eyes to me. He is trying to make out and take in the destruction of all this corner of the earth, and the mournfulness of it. He stammers disjointed remarks and interjections. He takes off his great helmet and his head is smoking. Then he says to me with difficulty, "Old man, you cannot imagine, you cannot, you cannot----"

He whispers: "The Red Tavern, where that--where that Boche's head is, and litters of beastliness all around, that sort of cesspool--it was on the edge of the road, a brick house and two out-buildings alongside--how many times, old man, on the very spot where we stood, how many times, there, the good woman who joked with me on her doorstep, I've given her good-day as I wiped my mouth and looked towards Souchez that I was going back to! And then, after a few steps, I've turned round to shout some nonsense to her! Oh, you cannot imagine! But that, now, that!" He makes an inclusive gesture to indicate all the emptiness that surrounds him.

"We mustn't stay here too long, old chap. The fog's lifting, you know."

He stands up with an effort--"Allons."

The most serious part is yet to come. His house----

He hesitates, turns towards the east, goes. "It's there--no, I've passed it. It's not there. I don't know where it is--or where it was. Ah, misery, misery!" He wrings his hands in despair and staggers in the middle of the medley of plaster and bricks. Then, bewildered by this encumbered plain of lost landmarks, he looks questioningly about in the air, like a thoughtless child, like a madman. He is looking for the intimacy of the bedrooms scattered in infinite space, for their inner form and their twilight now cast upon the winds!

After several goings and comings, he stops at one spot and draws back a little-- "It was there, I'm right. Look--it's that stone there that I knew it by. There was a vent-hole there, you can see the mark of the bar of iron that was over the hole before it disappeared."

Sniffling he reflects, and gently shaking his head as though he could not stop it: "It is when you no longer have anything that you understand how happy you were. Ah, how happy we were!"

He comes up to me and laughs nervously: "It's out of the common, that, eh? I'm sure you've never seen yourself like it--can't find the house where you've always lived since--since always----"

He turns about, and it is he who leads me away:

"Well, let's leg it, since there is nothing. Why spend a whole hour looking at places where things were? Let's be off, old man."

We depart--the only two living beings to be seen in that unreal and miasmal place, that village which bestrews the earth and lies under our feet.

We climb again. The weather is clearing and the fog scattering quickly. My silent comrade, who is making great strides with lowered head, points out a field: "The cemetery," he says; "it was there before it was everywhere, before it laid hold on everything without end, like a plague."

Half-way, we go more slowly, and Poterloo comes close to me-"You know, it's too much, all that. It's wiped out too much--all my life up to now. It makes me afraid--it is so completely wiped out."

"Come; your wife's in good health, you know; your little girl, too."

He looks at me comically: "My wife--I'll tell you something; my wife----"


"Well, old chap, I've seen her again."

"You've seen her? I thought she was in the occupied country?"

"Yes, she's at Lens, with my relations. Well, I've seen her----ah, and then, after all, zut!--I'll tell you all about it. Well, I was at Lens, three weeks ago. It was the eleventh; that's twenty days since."

I look at him, astounded. But he looks like one who is speaking the truth. He talks in sputters at my side. as we walk in the increasing light----

"They told us--you remember, perhaps--but you weren't there, I believe--they told us the wire had got to be strengthened in front of the Billard Trench. You know what that means, eh? They hadn't been able to do it till then. As soon as one gets out of the trench he's on a downward slope, that's got a funny name."

"The Toboggan."

"Yes, that's it; and the place is as bad by night or in fog as in broad daylight, because of the rifles trained on it before hand on trestles, and the machine-guns that they point during the day. When they can't see any more, the Boches sprinkle the lot.

"They took the pioneers of the C.H.R., hut there were some missing, and they replaced 'em with a few poilus. I was one of 'em. Good. We climb out. Not a single rifle-shot! 'What does it mean?' we says, and behold. we see a Boche, two Boches, three Boches, coming out of the ground--the gray devils!--and they make signs to us and shout 'Kamarad!' 'We're Alsatians,' they says. coming more and more out of their communication trench--the International. 'They won't fire on you, up there,' they says; 'don't be afraid, friends. Just let us bury our dead.' And behold us working aside of each other, and even talking together since they were from Alsace. And to tell the truth, they groused about the war and about their officers. Our sergeant knew all right that it was forbidden to talk with the enemy, and they'd even read it out to us that we were only to talk to them with our rifles. But the sergeant he says to himself that this is God's own chance to strengthen the wire, and as long as they were letting us work against them, we'd just got to take advantage of it,

"Then behold one of the Boches that says, 'There isn't perhaps one of you that comes from the invaded country and would like news of his family?'

"Old chap, that was a bit too much for me. Without thinking if I did right or wrong, I went up to him and I said, 'Yes, there's me.' The Boche asks me questions. I tell him my wife's at Lens with her relations, and the little one, to. He asks where she's staying. I explain to him, and he says he can see it from there. 'Listen,' he says, 'I'll take her a letter, and not only that, but I'll bring you an answer.' Then all of a sudden he taps his forehead, the Boche, and comes close to me--'Listen, my friend, to a lot better still. If you like to do what I say, you shall see your wife, and your kids as well, and all the lot, sure as I see you.' He tells me, to do it, I've only got to go with him at a certain time with a Boche greatcoat and a shako that he'll have for me. He'd mix me up in a coal-fatigue in Lens, and we'd go to our house. I could go and have a look on condition that I laid low and didn't show myself, and he'd be responsible for the chaps of the fatigue, but there were non-coms. in the house that he wouldn't answer for--and, old chap, I agreed!"

"That was serious."

"Yes, for sure, it was serious. I decided all at once. without thinking and without wishing to think, seeing I was dazzled with the idea of seeing my people again; and if I got shot afterwards, well, so much the worse-- but give and take. The supply of law and demand they call it, don't they?

"My boy, it all went swimmingly. The only hitch was they had such hard work to find a shako big enough, for, as you know, I'm well off for head. But even that was fixed up. They raked me out in the end a lousebox big enough to hold my head. I've already some Boche boots--those that were Caron's, you know. So, behold us setting off in the Boche trenches--and they're most damnably like ours--with these good sorts of Boche comrades, who told me in very good French--same as I'm speaking--not to fret myself.

"There was no alarm, nothing. Getting there came off all right. Everything went off so sweet and simple that I fancied I must be a defaulting Boche. We got to Lens at nightfall. I remember we passed in front of La Perche and went down the Rue du Quatorze-Juillet. I saw some of the townsfolk walking about in the streets like they do in our quarters. I didn't recognize them because of the evening, nor them me, because of the evening too, and because of the seriousness of things. It was so dark you couldn't put your finger into your eye when I reached my folk's garden.

"My heart was going top speed. I was all trembling from head to foot as if I were only a sort of heart myself. And I had to hold myself back from carrying on aloud, and in French too, I was so happy and upset. The Kamarad says to me, 'You go, pass once, then another time, and look in at the door and the window. Don't look as if you were looking. Be careful.' So I get hold of myself again, and swallow my feelings all at a gulp. Not a bad sort, that devil, seeing he'd have had a hell of a time if I'd got nailed.

"At our place, you know, same as everywhere in the Pas de Calais, the outside doors of the houses are cut in two. At the bottom, it's a sort of barrier, half-way up your body; and above, you might call it a shutter. So you can shut the bottom half and be one-half private.

"The top half was open, and the room, that's the dining-room, and the kitchen as well, of course, was lighted up and I heard voices.

"I went by with my neck twisted sideways. There were heads of men and women with a rosy light on them, round the round table and the lamp. My eyes fell on her, on Clotilde. I saw her plainly. She was sitting between two chaps, non-coms., I believe, and they were talking to her. And what was she doing? Nothing; she was smiling, and her face was prettily bent forward and surrounded with a light little framework of fair hair, and the lamp gave it a bit of a golden look.

"She was smiling. She was contented. She had a look of being well off, by the side of the Boche officer, and the lamp, and the fire that puffed an unfamiliar warmth out on me. I passed, and then 1 turned round, and passed again. I saw her again, and she was always smiling. Not a forced smile, not a debtor's smile, non, a real smile that came from her, that she gave. And during that time of illumination that I passed in two senses, I could see my baby as well, stretching her hands out to a great striped simpleton and trying to climb on his knee; and then, just by, who do you think I recognized? Madeleine Vandaërt, Vandaërt's wife, my pal of the 19th, that was killed at the Maine, at Montyon.

"She knew he'd been killed because she was in mourning. And she, she was having good fun, and laughing outright, I tell you--and she looked at one and the other as much as to say, 'I'm all right here!'

"Ah, my boy, I cleared out of that, and butted into the Kamarads that were waiting to take me back. How I got back I couldn't tell you. I was knocked out. I went stumbling like a man under a curse, and if any-body had said a wrong word to me just then----! I should have shouted out loud; I should have made a row, so as to get killed and be done with this filthy life!

"Do you catch on? She was smiling, my wife, my Clotilde, at this time in the war! And why? Have we only got to be away for a time for us not to count any more? You take your damned hook from home to go to the war, and everything seems finished with; and they worry for a while that you're gone, but bit by bit you become as if you didn't exist, they can do without you to be as happy as they were before, and to smile. Ah, Christ! I'm not talking of the other woman that was laughing, but my Clotilde, mine, who at that chance moment when I saw her, whatever you may say, was getting on damned well without me!

"And then, if she'd been with friends or relations; but no, actually with Boche officers! Tell me, shouldn't I have had good reason to jump into the room, fetch her a couple of swipes, and wring the neck of the other old hen in mourning?

"Yes, yes; I thought of doing it. I know all right I was getting violent, I was getting out of control.

"Mark me. I don't want to say more about it than I have said. She's a good lass, Clotilde. I know her, and I've confidence in her. I'm not far wrong, you know. If I were done in, she'd cry all the tears in her body to begin with. She thinks I'm alive, I admit, but that isn't the point. She can't prevent herself from being; well off, and contented, and letting herself go, when she's a good fire, a good lamp, and company, whether I'm there or not----"

I led Poterloo away: "You exaggerate, old chap; you're getting absurd notions, come." We had walked very slowly and were still at the foot of the hill. The fog was becoming like silver as it prepared for departure. Sunshine was very near.

* * * * * *

Poterloo looked up and said, "We'll go round by the Carency road and go in at the back." We struck off at an angle into the fields. At the end of a few minutes he said to me, "I exaggerate, you think? You say that I exaggerate?" He reflected. "Ah!" Then he added, with the shaking of the head that had hardly left him all the morning, "What about it? All the same, it's a fact----"

We climbed the slope. The cold had become tepidity. Arrived on a little plateau--"Let's sit here again before going in," he proposed. He sat down, heavy with the world of thought that entangled him. His forehead was wrinkled. Then he turned towards me with an awkward air, as if he were going to beg some favor: "Tell me, mate, I'm wondering if I'm right."

But after looking at me, he looked at everything else, as though he would rather consult them than me.

A transformation was taking place in the sky and on the earth. The fog was hardly more than a fancy. Distances revealed themselves. The narrow plain, gloomy and gray, was getting bigger, chasing its shadows away, and assuming color. The light was passing over it from east to west like sails.

And down there at our very feet, by the grace of distance and of light, we saw Souchez among the trees-- the little place arose again before our eyes, new-born in the sunshine!

"Am I right?" repeated Poterloo, more faltering, more dubious.

Before I could speak he replied to himself, at first almost in a whisper, as the light fell on him-- "She's quite young, you know; she's twenty-six. She can't hold her youth in, it's coming out of her all over, and when she's resting in the lamp-light and the warmth, she's got to smile; and even if she burst out laughing, it would just simply be her youth, singing in her throat. It isn't on account of others, if truth were told; it's on account of herself. It's life. She lives. Ah, yes, she lives, and that's all. It isn't her fault if she lives. You wouldn't have her die? Very well, what do you want her to do? Cry all day on account of me and the Boches? Grouse? One can't cry all the time, nor grouse for eighteen months. Can't be done. It's too long, I tell you. That's all there is to it."

He stops speaking to look at the view of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, now wholly illuminated.

"Same with the kid; when she found herself alongside a simpleton that doesn't tell her to go and play with herself, she ends by wanting to get on his knee. Perhaps she'd prefer that it was her uncle or a friend or her father--perhaps--but she tries it on all the same with the only man that's always there, even if it's a great hog in spectacles.

"Ah," he cries, as he gets up and comes gesticulating before me. "There's a good answer one could give me. If I didn't come back from the war, I should say, 'My lad, you've gone to smash, no more Clotilde, no more love! You'll be replaced in her heart sooner or later; no getting round it; your memory, the portrait of you that she carries in her, that'll fade bit by bit and another'll come on top of it, and she'll begin another life again.' Ah, if I didn't come back!"

He laughs heartily. "But I mean to come back. Ah, yes! One must be there. Otherwise--I must be there, look you," he says again more seriously; "otherwise, if you're not there, even if you're dealing with saints and angels, you'll be at fault in the end. That's life. But I am there." He laughs. "Well, I'm a little there, as one might say!"

I get up too, and tap him on the shoulder. "You're right, old pal, it'll all come to an end."

He rubs his hands and goes on talking. "Yes, by God! it'll all finish, don't worry. Oh, I know well there'll be hard graft before it's finished, and still more after. We've got to work, and I don't only mean work with the arms.

"It'll be necessary to make everything over again. Very well, we'll do it. The house? Gone. The garden? Nowhere. All right, we'll rebuild the house, we'll remake the garden. The less there is the more we'll make over again. After all, it's life, and we're made to remake, eh? And we'll remake our life together, and happiness. We'll make the days again; we'll remake the nights.

"And the other side, too. They'll make their world again. Do you know what I say?--perhaps it won't be as long as one thinks----"

"Tiens! I can see Madeleine Vandaërt marrying another chap. She's a widow; but, old man, she's been a widow eighteen months. Do you think it's not a big slice, that, eighteen months? They even leave off wearing mourning, I believe, about that time! People don't remember that when they say 'What a strumpet she is,' and when, in effect, they ask her to commit suicide. But mon vieux, one forgets. One is forced to forget. It isn't the people that make you forget; you do it yourself; it's just forgetfulness, mind you. I find Madeleine again all of a sudden, and to see her frivvling there it broke me up as much as if her husband had been killed yesterday--it's natural. But it's a devil of a long time since he got spiked, poor lad. It's a long time since, it's too long since. People are no longer the same. But, mark you, one must come back, one must be there! We shall be there, and we shall be busy with beginning again!"

On the way, he looks and winks, cheered up by finding a peg on which to hang his ideas. He says-- "I can see it from here, after the war, all the Souchez people setting themselves again to work and to life-- what a business! Tiens, Papa Ponce, for example, the back-number! He was so pernickety that you could see him sweeping the grass in his garden with a horsehair brush, or kneeling on his lawn and trimming the turf with a pair of scissors. Very well, he'll treat himself to that again! And Madame Imaginaire, that lived in one of the last houses towards the Chateau de Carleul, a large woman who seemed to roll along the ground as if she'd got casters under her big circular petticoats. She had a child every year, regular, punctual--a proper machine-gun of kids. Very well, she'll take that occupation up again with all her might."

He stops and ponders, and smiles a very little--almost within himself: "Tiens, I'll tell you; I noticed---it isn't very important, this," he insists, as though suddenly embarrassed by the triviality of this parenthesis---"but I noticed (you notice it in a glance when you're noticing something else) that it was cleaner in our house than in my time----"

We come on some little rails in the ground, climbing almost hidden in the withered grass underfoot. Poterloo points out with his foot this bit of abandoned track, and smiles; ''That, that's our railway. It was a cripple, as you may say; that means something that doesn't move. It didn't work very quickly. A snail could have kept pace with it. We shall remake it. But certainly it won't go any quicker. That can't be allowed!"

When we reached the top of the hill, Poterloo turned round and threw a last look over the slaughtered places that we had just visited. Even more than a minute ago, distance recreated the village across the remains of trees shortened and sliced that now looked like young saplings. Better even than just now, the sun shed on that white and red accumulation of mingled material an appearance of life and even an illusion of meditation. Its very stones seemed to feel the vernal revival. The beauty of sunshine heralded what would be, and revealed the future. The face of the watching soldier, too, shone with a glamour of reincarnation, and the smile on it was born of the springtime and of hope. His rosy cheeks and blue eyes seemed brighter than ever.

We go down into the communication trench and there is sunshine there. The trench is yellow, dry, and resounding. I admire its finely geometrical depth, its shovel-smoothed and shining flanks; and I find it enjoyable to hear the clean sharp sound of our feet on the hard ground or on the caillebotis--little gratings of wood, placed end to end and forming a plankway.

I look at my watch. It tells me that it is nine o'clock, and it shows me, too, a dial of delicate color where the sky is reflected in rose-pink and blue, and the fine fret-work of bushes that are planted there above the marges of the trench.

And Poterloo and I look at each other with a kind of confused delight. We are glad to see each other, as though we were meeting after absence! He speaks to me, and though I am quite familiar with the singsong accent of the North, I discover that he is singing.

We have had bad days and tragic nights in the cold and the rain and the mud. Now, although it is still winter, the first fine morning shows and convinces us that it will soon be spring once more. Already the top of the trench is graced by green young grass, and amid its new-born quivering some flowers are awakening. It means the end of contracted and constricted days. Spring is coming from above and from below. We inhale with joyful hearts; we are uplifted.

Yes, the had days are ending. The war will end, too, que diable! And no doubt it will end in the beautiful season that is coming, that already illumines us, whose zephyrs already caress us.

A whistling sound--tiens, a spent bullet! A bullet? Nonsense--it's a blackbird! Curious how similar the sound was! The blackbirds and the birds of softer song, the countryside and the pageant of the seasons, the intimacy of dwelling-rooms, arrayed in light--Oh! the war will end soon; we shall go back for good to our own; wife, children, or to her who is at once wife and child, and we smile towards them in this young glory that already unites us again.

At the forking of the two trenches, in the open and on the edge, here is something like a doorway. Two posts lean one upon the other, with a confusion of electric wires between them, hanging down like tropical creepers. It looks well. You would say it was a theatrical contrivance or scene. A slender climbing plant twines round one of the posts, and as you follow it with your glance, you see that it already dares to pass from one to the other.

Soon, passing along this trench whose grassy slopes quiver like the flanks of a fine horse, we come out into our own trench on the Béthune road, and here is our place. Our comrades are there, in clusters. They are eating, and enjoying the goodly temperature.

The meal finished, we clean our aluminium mess-tins or plates with a morsel of bread. "Tiens, the sun's going!" It is true; a cloud has passed over and hidden it. "It's going to splash, my little lads," says Lamuse "that's our luck all over! Just as we are going off!"

"A damned country!" says Fouillade. In truth this Northern climate is not worth much. It drizzles and mizzles, reeks and rains. And when there is any sun it soon disappears in the middle of this great damp sky.

Our four days in the trenches are finished, and the relief will commence at nightfall. Leisurely we get ready for leaving. We fill and put aside the knapsacks and bags. We give a rub to the rifles and wrap them up.

It is already four o'clock. Darkness is falling quickly, and we grow indistinct to each other. "Damnation. Here's the rain!" A few drops and then the downpour. Oh, la, la, la! We don our capes and tent-cloths. We go back unto the dug-out, dabbling, and gathering mud on our knees, hands, and elbows, for the bottom of the trench is getting sticky. Once inside, we have hardly time to light a candle, stuck on a bit of stone, and to shiver all round--"Come on, en route!"

We hoist ourselves into the wet and windy darkness outside. I can dimly see Poterloo's powerful shoulders; in the ranks we are always side by side. When we get going I call to him, "Are you there, old chap?"--"Yes, in front of you," he cries to me, turning round. As he turns he gets a buffet in the face from wind and rain, but he laughs. His happy face of the morning abides with him. No downpour shall rob him of the content that he carries in his strong and steadfast heart; no evil night put out the sunshine that I saw possess his thoughts some hours ago.

We march, and jostle each other, and stumble. The rain is continuous, and water runs in the bottom of the trench. The floor-gratings yield as the soil becomes soaked; some of them slope to right or left and we skid on them. In the dark, too, one cannot see them, so we miss them at the turnings and put our feet into holes full of water.

Even in the grayness of the night I will not lose sight of the slaty shine of Poterloo's helmet, which streams like a roof under the torrent, nor of the broad back that is adorned with a square of glistening oilskin. I lock my step in his, and from time to time I question him and he answers me--always in good humor, always serene and strong.

When there are no more of the wooden floor-gratings, we tramp in the thick mud. It is dark now. There is a sudden halt and I am thrown on Poterloo. Up higher we hear half-angry reproaches--"What the devil, will you get on? We shall get broken up!"

"I can't get my trotters unstuck!" replies a pitiful voice.

The engulfed one gets clear at last, and we have to run to overtake the rest of the company. We begin to pant and complain, and bluster against those who are leading. Our feet go down haphazard; we stumble and hold ourselves up by the wails, so that our hands are plastered with mud. The march becomes a stampede, full of the noise of metal things and of oaths.

In redoubled rain there is a second halt; some one has fallen, and the hubbub is general. He picks himself up and we are off again. I exert myself to follow Poterloo's helmet closely that gleams feebly in the night before my eyes, and I shout from time to time, "All right?"--"Yes, yes, all right," he replies, puffing and blowing, and his voice always singsong and resonant.

Our knapsacks, tossed in this rolling race under the assault of the elements, drag and hurt our shoulders.

The trench is blocked by a recent landslide, and we plunge unto it. We have to tear our feet out of the soft and clinging earth, lifting them high at each step. Then, when this crossing is laboriously accomplished, we topple down again into the slippery stream, in the bottom of which are two narrow ruts, boot-worn, which hold one's foot like a vice, and there are pools into which it goes with a great splash. In one place we must stoop very low to pass under a heavy and glutinous bridge that crosses the trench, and we only get through with difficulty. It obliges us to kneel in the mud, to flatten ourselves on the ground, and to crawl on all fours for a few paces. A little farther there are evolutions to perform as we grasp a post that the sinking of the ground has set aslope across the middle of the fairway.

We come to a trench-crossing. "Allons, forward! Look out for yourselves, boys!" says the adjutant, who has flattened himself in a corner to let us pass and to speak to us. "This is a bad spot."

"We're done up," shouts a voice so hoarse that I cannot identify the speaker.

"Damn! I've enough of it, I'm stopping here," groans another, at the end of his wind and his muscle.

"What do you want me to do?" replies the adjutant, "No fault of mine. eh? Allons, get a move on, it's a bad spot--it was shelled at the last relief!"

We go on through the tempest of wind and water. We seem to be going ever down and down, as in a pit. We slip and tumble, butt into the wall of the trench, into which we drive our elbows hard, so as to throw ourselves upright again. Our going is a sort of long slide, on which we keep up just how and where we can. What matters is to stumble only forward, and as straight as possible.

Where are we? I lift my head, in spite of the billows of rain, out of this gulf where we are struggling. Against the hardly discernible background of the buried sky, I can make out the rim of the trench; and there, rising before my eyes all at once and towering over that rim, is something like a sinister doorway, made of two black posts that lean one upon the other, with something hanging from the middle like a torn-off scalp. It is the doorway.

"Forward! Forward!"

I lower my head and see no more; but again I hear the feet that sink in the mud and come out again, the rattle of the bayonets, the heavy exclamations, and the rapid breathing.

Once more there is a violent back-eddy. We pull up sharply, and again I am thrown upon Poterloo and lean on his back, his strong back and solid, like the trunk of a tree, like healthfulness and like hope. He cries to me, "Cheer up, old man, we're there!"

We are standing still. It is necessary to go hack a little--Nom de Dieu!--no, we are moving on again!

Suddenly a fearful explosion falls on us. I tremble to my skull; a metallic reverberation fills my head; a scorching and suffocating smell of sulphur pierces my nostrils. The earth has opened in front of me. I feel myself lifted and hurled aside--doubled up, choked, and half blinded by this lightning and thunder. But still my recollection is clear; and in that moment when I looked wildly and desperately for my comrade-in-arms, I saw his body go up, erect and black, both his arms outstretched to their limit, and a flame in the place of his head!


[note 1:] All these high roads are stone-paved, and traffic is noisy.-- Tr.
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Re: Under Fire: The Story of a Squad, by Henri Barbusse

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:48 am

13. The Big Words

BARQUE notices that I am writing. He comes towards me on all fours through the straw and lifts his intelligent face to me, with its reddish forelock and the little quick eyes over which circumflex accents fold and unfold them-selves. His mouth is twisting in all directions, by reason of a tablet of chocolate that he crunches and chews, while he holds the moist stump of it in his fist.

With his mouth full, and wafting me the odor of a sweetshop, he stammers-- "Tell me, you writing chap, you'll be writing later about soldiers, you'll be speaking of us, eh?"

"Why yes, sonny, I shall talk about you, and about the boys, and about our life."

"Tell me, then"--he indicates with a nod the papers on which I have been making notes. With hovering pencil I watch and listen to him. He has a question to put to me--"Tell me, then, though you needn't if you don't want--there's something I want to ask you. This is it; if you make the common soldiers talk in your book, are you going to make them talk like they do talk, or shall you put it all straight--into pretty talk? It's about the big words that we use. For after all, now, besides falling out sometimes and blackguarding each other, you'll never hear two poilus open their heads for a minute without saying and repeating things that the printers wouldn't much like to print. Then what? If you don't say 'em, your portrait won't be a lifelike one it's as if you were going to paint them and then left out one of the gaudiest colors wherever you found it. All the same, it isn't usually done."

"I shall put the big words in their place, dadda, for they're the truth."

"But tell me, if you put 'em in, won't the people of your sort say you're swine, without worrying about the truth?"

"Very likely, but I shall do it all the same, without worrying about those people."

"Do you want my opinion? Although I know nothing about books, it's brave to do that, because it isn't usually done, and it'll be spicy if you dare do it--but you'll find it hard when it comes to it, you're too polite. That's just one of the faults I've found in you since we've known each other; that, and also that dirty habit you've got, when they're serving brandy out to us, you pretend it'll do you harm, and instead of giving your share to a pal, you go and pour it on your head to wash your scalp."
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Re: Under Fire: The Story of a Squad, by Henri Barbusse

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:49 am

14. Of Burdens

AT the end of the yard of the Muets farm, among the outbuildings, the barn gapes like a cavern. It is always caverns for us, even in houses! When you have crossed the yard, where the manure yields underfoot with a spongy sound or have gone round it instead on the narrow paved path of difficult equilibrium, and when you have arrived at the entrance to the barn, you can see nothing at all.

Then, if you persist, you make out a misty hollow where equally misty and dark lumps are asquat or prone or wandering from one corner to another. At the back, on the right and on the left, the pale gleams of two candles, each with the round halo of a distant moon allow you at last to make out the human shape of these masses, whose mouths emit either steam or thick smoke.

Our hazy retreat, which I allow carefully to swallow me whole, is a scene of excitement this evening. We leave for the trenches to-morrow morning, and the nebulous tenants of the barn are beginning to pack up.

Although darkness falls on my eyes and chokes them as I come in from the pallid evening, I still dodge the snares spread over the ground by water-bottles, mess-tins and weapons, but I butt full into the loaves that are packed together exactly in the middle, like the paving of a yard. I reach my corner. Something alive is there with a huge back, fleecy and rounded, squatting and stooping over a collection of little things that glitter on the ground, and I tap the shoulder upholstered in sheepskin. The being turns round, and by the dull and fitful gleam of a candle which a bayonet stuck in the ground upholds, I see one half of a face, an eye, the end of a mustache, and the corner of a half-open mouth. It growls in a friendly way, and resumes the inspection of its possessions.

"What are you doing there?"

"I'm fixing things, and clearing up."

The quasi-brigand who appears to be checking his booty, is my comrade Volpatte. He has folded his tent-cloth in four and placed it on his bed--that is, on the truss of straw assigned to him--and on this carpet he has emptied and displayed the contents of his pockets.

And it is quite a shop that he broods over with a housewife's solicitous eyes, watchful and jealous, lest some one walks over him. With my eye I tick off his copious exhibition.

Alongside his handkerchief, pipe, tobacco-pouch (which also contains a note-book), knife, purse, and pocket pipe-lighter, which comprise the necessary and indispensable groundwork, here are two leather laces twisted like earthworms round a watch enclosed in a case of transparent celluloid, which has curiously dulled and blanched with age. Then a little round mirror, and another square one; this last, though broken, is of better quality, and bevel-edged. A flask of essence of turpentine, a flask of mineral oil nearly empty, and a third flask, empty. A German belt-plate, bearing the device, "Gott mit uns"; a dragoon's tassel of similar origin; half wrapped in paper, an aviator's arrow in the form of a steel pencil and pointed like a needle; folding scissors and a combined knife and fork of similar pliancy; a stump of pencil and one of candle; a tube of aspirin, also containing opium tablets, and several tin boxes.

Observing that my inspection of his personal possessions is detailed, Volpatte helps me to identify certain items--

"That, that's a leather officer's glove. I cut the fingers off to stop up the mouth of my blunderbuss with; that, that's telephone wire, the only thing to fasten buttons on your greatcoat with if you want 'em to stay there; and here, inside here, d'you know what that is? White thread, good stuff, not what you're put off with when they give you new things, a sort of macaroni au fromage that you pull out with a fork; and there's a set of needles on a post-card. The safety-pins, they're there, separate."

"And here, that's the paper department. Quite a library."

There is indeed a surprising collection of papers among the things disgorged by Volpatte's pockets--the violet packet of writing-paper, whose unworthy printed envelope is out at heels; an Army squad-book, of which the dirty and desiccated binding, like the skin of an old tramp, has perished and shrunk all over: a note-book with a chafed moleskin cover, and packed with papers and photographs, those of his wife and children enthroned in the middle.

Out of this bundle of yellowed and darkened papers Volpatte extracts this photograph and shows it to me once more. I renew acquaintance with Madame Volpatte and her generous bosom, her mild and mellow features; and with the two little boys in white collars, the elder slender, the younger round as a ball.

"I've only got photos of old people," says Biquet, who is twenty years old. He shows us a portrait holding it close to the candle, of two aged people who look at us with the same well-behaved air as Volpatte's children.

"I've got mine with me, too," says another; "I always stick to the photo of the nestlings."

"Course! Every man carries his crowd along," adds another.

"It's funny," Barque declares, "a portrait wears itself out just with being looked at. You haven't got to gape at it too often, or be too long about it; in the long run, I don't know what happens, but the likeness mizzles."

"You're right," says Blaire, "I've found it like that too, exactly.''

"I've got a map of the district as well, among my papers," Volpatte continues. He unfolds it to the light. Illegible and transparent at the creases, it looks like one of those window-blinds made of squares sewn together.

"I've some newspaper too'--he unfolds a newspaper article upon poilus--"and a book"--a twopence-half-penny novel, called Twice a Maid--"Tiens, another newspaper cutting from the Etampes Bee. Don't know why I've kept that, but there must be a reason somewhere. I'll think about it when I have time. And then, my pack of cards, and a set of draughts, with a paper board and the pieces made of sealing-wax."

Barque comes up, regards the scene, and says, "I've a lot more things than that in my pockets." He addresses himself to Volpatte. "Have you got a Boche pay-book, louse-head, some phials of iodine, and a Browning? I've all that, and two knives."

"I've no revolver," says Volpatte, "nor a Boche pay-book, but I could have had two knives or even ten knives; but I only need one."

"That depends," says Barque. "And have you any mechanical buttons, fathead?"

"I haven't any," cries Bécuwe.

"The private can't do without 'em," Lamuse asserts. "Without them, to make your braces stick to your breeches, the game's up."

"And I've always got in my pocket," says Blaire, "so's they're within reach, my case of rings." He brings it cut, wrapped up in a gas-mask bag, and shakes it. The files ring inside, and we hear the jingle of aluminium rings in the rough.

"I've always got string," says Biquet, "that's the useful stuff!"

"Not so useful as nails," says Pépin, and he shows three in his hand, big, little, and average.

One by one the others come to join in the conversation. to chaffer and cadge. We are getting used to the half-darkness. But Corporal Salavert, who has a well-earned reputation for dexterity, makes a banging lamp with a candle and a tray, the latter contrived from a Camembert box and some wire. We light up, and around its illumination each man tells what he has in his pockets, with parental preferences and bias.

"To begin with, how many have we?"

"How many pockets? Eighteen," says some one--Cocon, of course, the man of figures.

"Eighteen pockets! You're codding, rat-nose," says big Lamuse.

"Exactly eighteen," replies Cocon. "Count them, if you're as clever as all that."

Lamuse is willing to be guided by reason in the matter, and putting his two hands near the light so as to count accurately, he tells off his great brick-red fingers: Two pockets in the back of the greatcoat; one for the first-aid packet, which is used for tobacco; two inside the greatcoat in front; two outside it on each side, with flaps; three in the trousers, and even three and a half, counting the little one in front.

"I'll bet a compass on it," says Farfadet.

'And I, my bits of tinder."

"I," says Tirloir, "I'll bet a teeny whistle that my wife sent me when she said, 'If you're wounded in the battle you must whistle, so that your comrades will come and save your life.' "

We laugh at the artless words. Tulacque intervenes, and says indulgently to Tiloir, "They don't know what war is back there; and if you started talking about the rear, it'd be you that'd talk rot."

"We won't count that pocket," says Salavert, "it's too small. That makes ten."

"In the jacket, four. That only makes fourteen after all."

"There are the two cartridge pockets, the two new ones that fasten with straps."

"Sixteen," says Salavert.

"Now, blockhead and son of misery, turn my jacket back. You haven't counted those two pockets. Now then, what more do you want? And yet they're just in the usual place. They're your civilian pockets, where you shoved your nose-rag, your tobacco, and the address where you'd got to deliver your parcel when you were a messenger."

"Eighteen!" says Salavert, as grave as a judge. "There are eighteen, and no mistake; that's done it."

At this point in the conversation, some one makes a series of noisy stumbles on the stones of the threshold with the sound of a horse pawing the ground--and blaspheming. Then, after a silence, the barking of a sonorous and authoritative voice--"Hey, inside there! Getting ready? Everything must be fixed up this evening and packed tight and solid, you know. Going into the first line this time, and we may have a hot time of it."

"Right you are, right you are, mon adjutant." heedless voices answer.

"How do you write 'Arnesse'?" asks Benech, who is on all fours, at work with a pencil and an envelope. While Cocon spells "Ernest" for him and the voice of the vanished adjutant is heard afar repeating his harangue, Blaire picks up the thread, and says--

"You should always, my children--listen to what I'm telling you--put your drinking-cup in your pocket. I've tried to stick it everywhere else, but only the pocket's really practical, you take my word. If you're in marching order, or if you've doffed your kit to navigate the trenches either, you've always got it under your fist when chances come, like when a pal who's got some gargle, and feels good towards you says, 'Lend us your cup,' or a peddling wine-seller, either. My young bucks, listen to what I tell you; you'll always find it good--put your cup in your pocket."

"No fear," says Lamuse, "you won't see me put my cup in my pocket; damned silly idea, no more or less. I'd a sight sooner sling it on a strap with a hook."

"Fasten it on a greatcoat button, like the gas-helmet bag, that's a lot better; for suppose you take off your accouterments and there's any wine passing, you look soft."

"I've got a Boche drinking-cup," says Barque; "it's flat, so it goes into a side pocket if you like, or it goes very well into a cartridge-pouch, once you've fired the damn things off or pitched them into a bag."

"A Boche cup's nothing special," says Pépin; "it won't stand up, it's just lumber."

"You wait and see, maggot-snout," says Tirette, who is something of a psychologist. "If we attack this time, same as the adjutant seemed to hint, perhaps you'll find a Boche cup, and then it'll be something special!"

"The adjutant may have said that," Eudore observes. "but he doesn't know."

"It holds more than a half-pint, the Boche cup," remarks Cocon, "seeing that the exact capacity of the half-pint is marked in the cup three-quarters way up; and it's always good for you to have a big one, for if you've got a cup that only just holds a half-pint, then so that you can get your half-pint of coffee or wine or holy water or what not, it's get to he filled right up, and they don't ever do it at serving-out, and if they do, you spill it."

"I believe you that they don't fill it," says Paradis, exasperated by the recollection of that ceremony. "The quartermaster-sergeant, he pours it with his blasted finger in your cup and gives it two raps on its bottom. Result, you get a third, and your cup's in mourning with three black bands on top of each other."

"Yes," says Barque, "that's true; but you shouldn't have a cup too big either, because the chap that's pouring it out for you, he suspects you, and let's it go in damned drops, and so as not to give you more than your measure he gives you less, and you can whistle for it. with your tureen in your fists."

Volpatte puts back in his pockets, one by one, the items of his display. When he came to the purse, he looked at it with an air of deep compassion.

"He's damnably flat, poor chap!" He counted the contents. "Three francs! My boy, I most set about feathering this nest again or I shall be stony when we get back."

"You're not the only one that's broken-backed in the treasury."

"The soldier spends more than he earns, and don't you forget it. I wonder what'd become of a man that only had his pay?"

Paradis replies with concise simplicity, "He'd kick the bucket."

"And see here, look what I've got in my pocket and never let go of"--Pépin, with merry eyes, shows us some silver table-things. "They belonged," he says, "to the ugly trollop where we were quartered at Grand-Rozoy."

"Perhaps they still belong to her?"

Pépin made an uncertain gesture, in which pride mingled with modesty; then, growing bolder, he smiled and said, "I knew her, the old sneak. Certainly, she'll spend the rest of her life looking in every corner for her silver things."

"For my part," says Volpatte, "I've never been able to rake in more than a pair of scissors. Some people have the luck. I haven't. So naturally I watch 'em close, though I admit I've no use for 'em."

"I've pinched a few bits of things here and there, but what of it? The sappers have always left me behind in the matter of pinching; so what about it?"

"You can do what you like, you're always got at by some one in your turn, eh, my boy? Don't fret about it."

"I keep my wife's letters," says Blaire.

"And I send mine back to her."

"And I keep them, too. Here they are." Eudore exposes a packet of worn and shiny paper, whose grimy condition the twilight modestly veils. "I keep them. Sometimes I read them again. When I'm cold and humpy, I read 'em again. It doesn't actually warm you up, but it seems to."

There must be a deep significance in the curious expression, for several men raise their heads and say, "Yes, that's so."

By fits and starts the conversation goes on in the bosom of this fantastic barn and the great moving shadows that cross it; night is heaped up in its corners, and pointed by a few scattered and sickly candles.

I watch these busy and burdened flitters come and go, outline themselves strangely, then stoop and slide down to the ground; they talk to themselves and to each other. their feet are encumbered by the litter. They are showing their riches to each other. "Tiens, look!"--"Great!" they reply enviously.

What they have not got they want. There are treasures among the squad long coveted by all; the two-liter water-bottle, for instance, preserved by Barque, that a skillful rifle-shot with a blank cartridge has stretched to the capacity of two and a half liters; and Bertrand's famous great knife with the horn handle.

Among the heaving swarm there are sidelong glances that skim these curiosities, and then each man resumes "eyes right," devotes himself to his belongings, and concentrates upon getting it in order.

They are mournful belongings, indeed. Everything made for the soldier is commonplace, ugly, and of bad quality; from his cardboard boots, attached to the uppers by a criss-cross of worthless thread, to his badly cut, badly shaped, and badly sewn clothes, made of shoddy and transparent cloth--blotting-paper--that one day of sunshine fades and an hour of rain wets through, to his emaciated leathers, brittle as shavings and torn by the buckle spikes, to his flannel underwear that is thinner than cotton, to his straw-like tobacco.

Marthereau is beside me, and he points to our comrades: "Look at them, these poor chaps gaping into their bags o' tricks. You'd say it was a mothers' meeting, ogling their kids. Hark to 'em. They're calling for their knick-knacks. Tiens, that one, the times he says 'My knife!' same as if be was calling 'Lon,' or 'Charles,' or 'Dolphus.' And you know it's impossible for them to make their load any less. Can't be did. It isn't that they don't want--our job isn't one that makes us any stronger, eh? But they can't. Too proud of 'em."

The burdens to be borne are formidable, and one knows well enough, parbleu, that every item makes them more severe, each little addition is one bruise more.

For it is not merely a matter of what one buries in his pockets and pouches. To complete the burden there is what one carries on his back. The knapsack is the trunk and even the cupboard; and the old soldier is familiar with the art of enlarging it almost miraculously by the judicious disposal of his household goods and provisions. Besides the regulation and obligatory contents--two tins of pressed beef, a dozen biscuits, two tablets of coffee and two packets of dried soup, the bag of sugar, fatigue smock, and spare boots--we find a way of getting in some pots of jam, tobacco, chocolate, candles, soft-soled shoes; and even soap, a spirit lamp, some solidified spirit, and some woolen things. With the blanket, sheet, tentcloth, trenching-tool, water-bottle, and an item of the field-cooking kit, [note 1] the burden gets heavier and taller and wider, monumental and crushing. And my neighbor says truly that every time he reaches his goal after some miles of highway and communication trenches, the poilu swears hard that the next time he'll leave a heap of things behind and give his shoulders a little relief from the yoke of the knapsack. But every time he is preparing for departure, he assumes again the same overbearing and almost superhuman load; he never lets it go, though he curses it always.

"There are some bad boys," says Lamuse, "among the shirkers, that find a way of keeping something in the company wagon or the medical van. I know one that's got two shirts and a pair of drawers in an adjutant's canteen [note 2] --but, you see, there's two hundred and fifty chaps in the company, and they're all up to the dodge and not many of 'em can profit by it; it's chiefly the non-coms.; the more stripes they've got, the easier it is to plant their luggage, not forgetting that the commandant visits the wagons sometimes without warning and fires your things into the middle of the road if he finds 'em in a horse-box where they've no business--Be off with you!--not to mention the bully-ragging and the clink."

"In the early days it was all right, my boy. There were some chaps--I've seen 'em--who stuck their bags and even their knapsacks in baby-carts and pushed 'em along the road."

"Ah, not half! Those were the good times of the war. But all that's changed."

Volpatte, deaf to all the talk, muffled in his blanket as if in a shawl which makes him look like an old witch, revolves round an object that lies on the ground. "I'm wondering," lie says, addressing no one, "whether to take away this damned tin stove. It's the only one in the squad and I've always carried it. Oui, but it leaks like a cullender." He cannot decide, and makes a really pathetic picture of separation.

Barque watches him obliquely, and makes fun of him. We hear him say, "Senile dodderer!" But he pauses in his chaffing to say, "After all, if we were in his shoes we should be equally fatheaded."

Volpatte postpones his decision till later. "I'll see about it in the morning, when I'm loading the camel's back."

After the inspection and recharging of pockets, it is the turn of the bags, and then of the cartridge-pouches, and Barque holds forth on the way to make the regulation two hundred cartridges go into the three pouches. In the lump it is impossible. They must be unpacked and placed side by side upright, head against foot. Thus can one cram each pouch without leaving any space, and make himself a waistband that weighs over twelve pounds.

Rifles have been cleaned already. One looks to the swathing of the breech and the plugging of the muzzle, precautions which trench-dirt renders indispensable.

How every rifle can easily be recognized is discussed. "I've made some nicks in the sling. See, I've cut into the edge."

"I've twisted a bootlace round the top of the sling, and that way, I can tell it by touch as well as seeing."

"I use a mechanical button. No mistake about that. In the dark I can find it at once and say, 'That's my pea-shooter. Because, you know, there are some boys that don't bother themselves; they just roll around while the pals are cleaning theirs, and then they're devilish quick at putting a quiet fist on a popgun that's been cleaned; and then after they've even the cheek to go and say, 'Mon capitaine, I've got a rifle that's a bit of all right.' I'm not on in that act. It's the D system, my old wonder--a damned dirty dodge, and there are times when I'm fed up with it, and more."

And thus, though their rifles are all alike, they are as different as their handwriting.

* * * * * *

"It's curious and funny," says Marthereau to me "we're going up to the trenches to-morrow, and there's nobody drunk yet, nor that way inclined. Ah, I don't say," he concedes at once, "but what those two there aren't a bit fresh, nor a little elevated; without being absolutely blind, they're somewhat boozed, pr'aps--"

"lt's Poitron and Poilpot, of Broyer's squad."

They are lying down and talking in a low voice. We can make out the round nose of one, which stands out equally with his mouth, close by a candle, and with his hand, whose lifted finger makes little explanatory signs, faithfully followed by the shadow it casts.

"I know how to light a fire, but I don't know how to light it again when it's gone out," declares Poitron.

"Ass!" says Poilpot, "if you know how to light it you know how to relight it, seeing that if you light it, it's because it's gone out, and you might say that you're relighting it when you're lighting it."

"That's all rot. I'm not mathematical, and to hell with the gibberish you talk. I tell you and I tell you again that when it comes to lighting a fire, I'm there, but to light it again when it's gone out, I'm no good. I can't speak any straighter than that."

I do not catch the insistent retort of Poilpot, but-- "But, you damned numskull," gurgles Poitron, "haven't I told you thirty times that I can't? You must have a pig's head, anyway!"

Marthereau confides to me, "I've heard about enough of that." Obviously he spoke too soon just now.

A sort of fever, provoked by farewell libations, prevails in the wretched straw-spread hole where our tribe--some upright and hesitant, others kneeling and hammering like colliers--is mending, stacking, and subduing its provisions, clothes, and tools. There is a wordy growling, a riot of gesture. From the smoky glimmers, rubicund faces start forth in relief, and dark hands move about in the shadows like marionettes. In the barn next to ours, and separated from it only by a wall of a man's height, arise tipsy shouts. Two men in there have fallen upon each other with fierce violence and anger. The air is vibrant with the coarsest expressions the human ear ever hears. But one of the disputants, a stranger from another squad, is ejected by the tenants, and the flow of curses from the other grows feebler and expires.

"Same as us," says Marthereau with a certain pride, "they hold themselves in!"

It is true. Thanks to Bertrand, who is possessed by a hatred of drunkenness, of the fatal poison that gambles with multitudes, our squad is one of the least befouled by wine and brandy.

They are shouting and singing and talking all around. And they laugh endlessly, for in the human mechanism laughter is the sound of wheels that work, of deeds that are done.

One tries to fathom certain faces that show up in provocative relief among this menagerie of shadows, this aviary of reflections. But one cannot. They are visible, but you can see nothing in the depth of them.

* * * * * *

"Ten o'clock already, friends," says Bertrand. "We'll finish the camel's humps off to-morrow. Time for by-by." Each one then slowly retires to rest, but the jabbering hardly pauses. Man takes all things easily when he is under no obligation to hurry. The men go to and fro, each with some object in his hand, and along the wall I watch Eudore's huge shadow gliding, as he passes in front of a candle with two little bags of camphor hanging from the end of his fingers.

Lamuse is throwing himself about in search of a good position; he seems ill at ease. To-day, obviously. and whatever his capacity may be, he has eaten too much.

"Some of us want to sleep! Shut them up, you lot of louts!" cries Mesnil Joseph from his litter.

This entreaty has a subduing effect for a moment, but does not stop the burble of voices nor the passing to and fro.

"We're going up to-morrow, it's true," says Paradis, "and in the evening we shall go into the first line. But nobody's thinking about it. We know it, and that's all."

Gradually each has regained his place. I have stretched myself on the straw, and Marthereau wraps himself up by my side.

Enter an enormous bulk, taking great pains not to make a noise. It is the field-hospital sergeant, a Marist Brother, a huge bearded simpleton in spectacles. When he has taken off his greatcoat and appears in his jacket, you are conscious that he feels awkward about showing his legs. We see that it hurries discreetly, this silhouette of a bearded hippopotamus. He blows, sighs, and mutters.

Marthereau indicates him with a nod of his bead, and says to me, "Look at him. Those chaps have always got to be talking fudge. When we ask him what he does in civil life, he won't say 'I'm a school teacher' he says, leering at you from under his specs with the half of his eyes, 'I'm a professor.' When he gets up very early to go to mass, he says, 'I've got belly-ache, I must go and take a turn round the corner and no mistake.' "

A little farther off, Papa Ramure is talking of his homeland: "Where I live, it's just a bit of a hamlet, no great shakes. There's my old man there, seasoning pipes all day long; whether he's working or resting, he blows his smoke up to the sky or into the smoke of the stove."

I listen to this rural idyll, and it takes suddenly a specialized and technical character: "That's why he makes a paillon. D'you know what a paillon is? You take a stalk of green corn and peel it. You split it in two and then in two again, and you have different sizes. Then with a thread and the four slips of straw, he goes round the stem of his pipe----"

The lesson ceases abruptly, there being no apparent audience.

There are only two candles alight. A wide wing of darkness overspreads the prostrate collection of men.

Private conversation still flickers along the primitive dormitory, and some fragments of it reach my ears. Just now, Papa Ramure is abusing the commandant.

"The commandant, old man, with his four bits of gold string, I've noticed he don't know how to smoke. He sucks all out at his pipes, and he burns 'em. It isn't a mouth he's got in his head, it's a snout. The wood splits and scorches, and instead of being wood, it's coal. Clay pipes, they'll stick it better, but he roasts 'em brown all the same. Talk about a snout! So, old man, mind what I'm telling you, he'll come to what doesn't ever happen often; through being forced to get white-hot and baked to the marrow, his pipe'll explode in his nose before everybody. You'll see."

Little by little, peace, silence, and darkness take possession of the barn and enshroud the hopes and the sighs of its occupants. The lines of identical bundles formed by these beings rolled up side by side in their blankets seem a sort of huge organ, which sends forth diversified snoring.

With his nose already in his blanket, I hear Marthereau talking to me about himself: "I'm a buyer of rags, you know," he says, "or to put it better, a rag merchant. But me, I'm wholesale; I buy from the little rag-and-bone men of the streets, and I have a shop--a warehouse mind you!--which I use as a depot. I deal in all kinds of rags, from linen to jam-pots, but principally brush-handles, sacks, and old shoes; and naturally, I make a specialty of rabbit-skins."

And a little later I still hear him: "As for me, little and queer-shaped as I am, all the same I can carry a bin of two hundred pounds' weight to the warehouse. up the steps, and my feet in sabots. Once I had a to-do with a person----"

"What I can't abide," cries Fouillade, all of a sudden. is the exercises and marches they give us when we're resting. My back's mincemeat, and I can't get a snooze even, I'm that cramped."

There is a metallic noise in Volpatte's direction. He has decided to take the stove, though he chides it constantly for the fatal fault of its perforations.

One who is but half asleep groans, "Oh, la, la! When will this war finish!"

A cry of stubborn and mysterious rebellion bursts forth--"They'd take the very skin off us!"

There follows a single, "Don't fret yourself!" as darkly inconsequent as the cry of revolt.

I wake up a long time afterwards, as two o'clock is striking; and in a pallor of light which doubtless comes from the moon, I see the agitated silhouette of Pinégal. A cock has crowed afar. Pinégal raises himself halfway to a sitting position, and I hear his husky voice: "Well now, it's the middle of the night, and there's a cock loosing his jaw. He's blind drunk, that cock." He laughs, and repeats, "He's blind, that cock," and he twists himself again into the woolens, and resumes his slumber with a gurgle in which snores are mingled with merriment.

Cocon has been wakened by Pinégal. The man of figures therefore thinks aloud, and says: "The squad had seventeen men when it set off for the war. It has seventeen also at present, with the stop-gaps. Each man has already worn out four greatcoats, one of the original blue, and three cigar-smoke blue, two pairs of trousers and six pairs of boots. One must count two rifles to each man, but one can't count the overalls. Our emergency rations have been renewed twenty-three times. Among us seventeen, we've been mentioned fourteen times in Army Orders, of which two were to the Brigade, four to the Division, and one to the Army. Once we stayed sixteen days in the trenches without relief. We've been quartered and lodged in forty-seven different villages up to now. Since the beginning of the campaign, twelve thousand men have passed through the regiment, which consists of two thousand."

A strange lisping noise interrupts him. It comes from Blaire, whose new ivories prevent him from talking as they also prevent him from eating. But he puts them in every evening, and retains them all night with fierce determination, for he was promised that in the end he would grow accustomed to the object they have put into his head.

I raise myself on my elbow, as on a battlefield, and look once more on the beings whom the scenes and happenings of the times have rolled up all together. I look at them all, plunged in the abyss of passive oblivion, some of them seeming still to be absorbed in their pitiful anxieties, their childish instincts, and their slave-like ignorance.

The intoxication of sleep masters me. But I recall what they have done and what they will do; and with that consummate picture of a sorry human night before me, a shroud that fills our cavern with darkness, I dream of some great unknown light.


[note 1] There is a complete set for each squad--stoves, canvas buckets, coffee-mill, pan, etc--and each man carries some item on march.--Tr.

[note 2] Cantine vivres, chest containing two days' rations and cooking utensils for four or five officers.--Tr.
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Re: Under Fire: The Story of a Squad, by Henri Barbusse

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:49 am

15. The Egg

WE were badly off, hungry and thirsty; and in these wretched quarters there was nothing!

Something had gone wrong with the revictualing department and our wants were becoming acute. Where the sorry place surrounded them, with its empty doors, its bones of houses, and its bald-headed telegraph posts. a crowd of hungry men were grinding their teeth and confirming the absence of everything:-- "The juice has sloped and the wine's up the spout, and the bully's zero. Cheese? Nix. Napoo jam, napoo butter on skewers."

"We've nothing, and no error, nothing; and play hell as you like, it doesn't help."

"Talk about rotten quarters! Three houses with nothing inside but draughts and damp."

"No good having any of the filthy here, you might as well have only the skin of a bob in your purse, as long as there's nothing to buy."

"You might be a Rothschild, or even a military tailor, but what use'd your brass be?"

"Yesterday there was a bit of a cat mewing round where the 7th are. I feel sure they've eaten it."

"Yes, there was; you could see its ribs like rocks on the sea-shore."

"There were some chaps," says Blaire, "who bustled about when they got here and managed to find a few bottles of common wine at the bacca-shop at the corner of the street."

"Ah, the swine! Lucky devils to be sliding that down their necks."

"It was muck, all the same, it'd make your cup as black as your baccy-pipe."

"There are some, they say, who've swallowed a fowl."

"Damn," says Fouillade.

"I've hardly had a bite. I had a sardine left, and a little tea in the bottom of a bag that I chewed up with some sugar."

"You can't even have a bit of a drunk--it's off the map."

"And that isn't enough either, even when you're not a big eater and you're got a communication trench as flat as a pancake."

"One meal in two days--a yellow mess, shining like gold, no broth and no meat--everything left behind."

"And worst of all we've nothing to light a pipe with."

"True, and that's misery. I haven't a single match. I had several bits of ends, but they've gone. I've hunted in vain through all the pockets of my flea-case--nix. As for buying them it's hopeless, as you say."

"I've got the head of a match that I'm keeping." It is a real hardship indeed, and the sight is pitiful of the poilus who cannot light pipe or cigarette but put them away in their pockets and stroll in resignation. By good fortune, Tirloir has his petrol pipe-lighter and it still contains a little spirit. Those who are aware of it gather round him, bringing their pipes packed and cold. There is not even any paper to light, and the flame itself must be used until the remaining spirit in its tiny insect's belly is burned.

As for me, I've been lucky, and I see Paradis wandering about, his kindly face to the wind, grumbling and chewing a bit of wood. "Tiens," I say to him, "take this."

"A box of matches!" he exclaims amazed, looking at it as one looks at a jewel. 'Egad! That's capital! Matches!"

A moment later we see him lighting his pipe, his face saucily sideways and splendidly crimsoned by the reflected flame, and everybody shouts, "Paradis' got some matches!"

Towards evening I meet Paradis near the ruined triangle of a house-front at the corner of the two streets of this most miserable among villages.

He beckons to me. "Hist!" He has a curious and rather awkward air.

"I say," be says to me affectionately, but looking at his feet, "a bit since, you chucked me a box of flamers. Well, you're going to get a bit of your own back for it. Here!"

He puts something in my hand. "Be careful!" he whispers, "it's fragile!"

Dazzled by the resplendent purity of his present. hardly even daring to believe my eyes, I see--an egg!
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Re: Under Fire: The Story of a Squad, by Henri Barbusse

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:50 am

16. An Idyll

"REALLY and truly," said Paradis, my neighbor in the ranks, "believe me or not, I'm knocked out--I've never before been so paid on a march as I have been with this one, this evening."

His feet were dragging, and his square shoulders bowed under the burden of the knapsack, whose height and big irregular outline seemed almost fantastic. Twice he tripped and stumbled.

Paradis is tough. But he had been running up and down the trench all night as liaison man while the others were sleeping, so he had good reason to be exhausted and to growl "Quoi? These kilometers must be made of india-rubber, there's no way out of it."

Every three steps he hoisted his knapsack roughly up with a hitch of his hips, and panted under its dragging; and all the heap that he made with his bundles tossed and creaked like an overloaded wagon.

"We're there," said a non-com.

Non-coms. always say that, on every occasion. But--in spite of the non-com.'s declaration--we were really arriving in a twilight village which seemed to be drawn in white chalk and heavy strokes of black upon the blue paper of the sky, where the sable silhouette of the church--a pointed tower flanked by two turrets more slender and more sharp--was that of a tall cypress.

But the soldier, even when he enters the village where he is to be quartered, has not reached the end of his troubles. It rarely happens that either the squad or the section actually lodges in the place assigned to them, and this by reason of misunderstandings and cross purposes which tangle and disentangle themselves on the spot; and it is only after several quarter-hours of tribulation that each man is led to his actual shelter of the moment.

So after the usual wanderings we were admitted to our night's lodging--a roof supported by four posts, and with the four quarters of the compass for its walls. But it was a good roof--an advantage which we could appreciate. It was already sheltering a cart and a plow, and we settled ourselves by them. Paradis, who had fumed and complained without ceasing during the hour we had spent in tramping to and fro, threw down his knapsack and then himself, and stayed there awhile, weary to the utmost, protesting that his limbs were benumbed, that the soles of his feet were painful, and indeed all the rest of him.

But now the house to which our hanging roof was subject, the house which stood just in front of us, was lighted up. Nothing attracts a soldier in the gray monotony of evening so much as a window whence beams the star of a lamp.

"Shall we have a squint?" proposed Volpatte.

"So be it," said Paradis. He gets up gradually, and hobbling with weariness, steers himself towards the golden window that has appeared in the gloom, and then towards the door. Volpatte follows him, and I Volpatte.

We enter, and ask the old man who has let us in and whose twinkling head is as threadbare as an old hat, if he has any wine to sell.

"No," replies the old man, shaking his head, where a little white fluff crops out in places.

"No beer? No coffee? Anything at all--"

"No, mes amis, nothing of anything. We don't belong here; we're refugees, you know."

"Then seeing there's nothing, we'll be off." We right-about face. At least we have enjoyed for a moment the warmth which pervades the house and a sight of the lamp. Already Volpatte has gained the threshold and his back is disappearing in the darkness.

But I espy an old woman, sunk in the depths of a chair in the other corner of the kitchen, who appears to have some busy occupation.

I pinch Paradis' arm. "There's the belle of the house. Shall we pay our addresses to her?"

Paradis makes a gesture of lordly indifference. He has lost interest in women--all those he has seen for a year and a half were not for him; and moreover, even when they would like to be his, he is equally uninterested.

"Young or old--pooh!" he says to me, beginning to yawn. For want of something to do and to lengthen the leaving, he goes up to the goodwife. "Good-evening, gran'ma," he mumbles, finishing his yawn.

"Good-evening, mes enfants," quavers the old dame. So near, we see her in detail. She is shriveled, bent and bowed in her old bones, and the whole of her face is white as the dial of a clock.

And what is she doing? Wedged between her chair and the edge of the table she is trying to clean some boots. It is a heavy task for her infantile hands; their movements are uncertain, and her strokes with the brush sometimes go astray. The boots, too, are very dirty indeed.

Seeing that we are watching her, she whispers to us that she must polish them well, and this evening too, for they are her little girl's boots, who is a dressmaker in the town and goes off first thing in the morning.

Paradis has stooped to look at the boots more closely, and suddenly he puts his hand out towards them. "Drop it, gran'ma; I'll spruce up your lass's trotter-cases for you in three secs."

The old woman lodges an objection by shaking her head and her shoulders. But Paradis takes the boots with authority, while the grandmother, paralyzed by her weakness, argues the question and opposes us with shadowy protest.

Paradis has taken a boot in each hand; he holds them gingerly and looks at them for a moment, and you would even say that he was squeezing them a little.

"Aren't they small!" he says in a voice which is not what we hear in the usual way.

He has secured the brushes as well, and sets himself to wielding them with zealous carefulness. I notice that he is smiling, with his eyes fixed on his work.

Then, when the mud has gone from the boots, he takes some polish on the end of the double-pointed brush and caresses them with it intently.

They are dainty boots--quite those of a stylish young lady; rows of little buttons shine on them.

"Not a single button missing," he whispers to me, and there is pride in his tone.

He is no longer sleepy; he yawns no more. On the contrary, his lips are tightly closed; a gleam of youth and spring-time lights up his face; and he who was on the point of going to sleep seems just to have woke up.

And where the polish has bestowed a beautiful black his fingers move over the body of the boot, which opens widely in the upper part and betrays--ever such a little--the lower curves of the leg. His fingers, so skilled in polishing, are rather awkward all the same as they turn the boots over and turn them again, as he smiles at them and ponders--profoundly and afar--while the old woman lifts her arms in the air and calls me to witness "What a very kind soldier!" he is.

It is finished. The boots are cleaned and finished off in style; they are like mirrors. Nothing is left to do.

He puts them on the edge of the table, very carefully, as if they were saintly relics; then at last his hands let them go. But his eyes do not at once leave them. He looks at them, and then lowering his head, he looks at his own boots. I remember that while he made this comparison the great lad--a hero by destiny, a Bohemian, a monk--smiled once more with all his heart.

The old woman was showing signs of activity in the depths of her chair; she had an idea. "I'll tell her! She shall thank you herself, monsieur! Hey, Josephine!" she cried, turning towards a door.

But Paradis stopped her with an expansive gesture which I thought magnificent. "No, it's not worth while, gran'ma; leave her where she is. We're going. We won't trouble her, allez!"

Such decision sounded in his voice that it carried authority, and the old woman obediently sank into inactivity and held her peace.

We went away to our bed under the wall-less roof, between the arms of the plow that was waiting for us. And then Paradis began again to yawn; but by the light of the candle in our crib, a full minute later, I saw that the happy smile remained yet on his face.
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Re: Under Fire: The Story of a Squad, by Henri Barbusse

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:50 am

17. In the Sap

IN the excitement of a distribution of letters from which the squad were returning--some with the delight of a letter, some with the semi-delight of a postcard, and others with a new load (speedily reassumed) of expectation and hope--a comrade comes with a brandished newspaper to tell us an amazing story--"Tu sais, the weasel-faced ancient at Gauchin?"

"The old boy who was treasure-seeking?"

"Well, he's found it!"


"It's just as I tell you, you great lump! What would you like me to say to you? Mass? Don't know it. Anyway, the yard of his place has been bombed, and a chest full of money was turned up out of the ground near a wall. He got his treasure full on the back. And now the parson's quietly cut in and talks about claiming credit for the miracle"

We listen open-mouthed. "A treasure--well! well! The old bald-head!"

The sudden revelation plunges us in an abyss of reflection. "And to think how damned sick we were of the old cackler when he made such a song about his treasure and dinned it into our ears!"

"We were right enough down there, you remember, when we were saying 'One never knows.' Didn't guess how near we were to being right, either."

"All the same, there are some things you can be sure of," says Farfadet, who as soon as Gauchin was mentioned had remained dreaming and distant, as though a lovely face was smiling on him. "But as for this," he added, "I'd never have believed it either! Shan't I find him stuck up, the old ruin, when I go back there after the war!"

* * * * * *

"They want a willing man to help the sappers with a job," says the big adjutant.

"Not likely!" growl the men, without moving.

"It'll be of use in relieving the boys," the adjutant goes on.

With that the grumbling ceases, and several heads are raised. "Here!" says Lamuse.

"Get into your harness, big 'un, and come with me." Lamuse buckles on his knapsack, rolls up his blanket, and fetters his pouches. Since his seizure of unlucky affection was allayed, he has become more melancholy than before, and although a sort of fatality makes him continually stouter, he has become engrossed and isolated, and rarely speaks.

In the evening something comes along the trench, rising and falling according to the lumps and holes in the ground; a shape that seems in the shadows to be swimming, that outspreads its arms sometimes, as though appealing for help. It is Lamuse.

He is among us again, covered with mold and mud. He trembles and streams with sweat, as one who is afraid. His lips stir, and he gasps, before they can shape a word.

"Well, what is there?" we ask him vainly.

He collapses in a corner among us and prostrates himself. We offer him wine, and he refuses it with a sign. Then he turns towards me and beckons me with a movement of his head.

When I am by him he whispers to me, very low, and as if in church, "I have seen Eudoxie again." He gasps for breath, his chest wheezes, and with his eyeballs fast fixed upon a nightmare, he says, "She was putrid."

"It was the place we'd lost," Lamuse went on, "and that the Colonials took again with the bayonet ten days ago.

"First we made a hole for the sap, and I was in at it. since I was scooping more than the others I found myself in front. The others were widening and making solid behind. But behold I find a jumble of beams. I'd lit on an old trench, caved in, 'vidently; half caved in--there was some space and room. In the middle of those stumps of wood all mixed together that I was lifting away one by one from in front of me, there was something like a big sandbag in height. upright, and something on the top of it hanging down.

"And behold a plank gives way, and the queer sack falls on me, with its weight on top. I was pegged down, and the smell of a corpse filled my throat--on the top of the bundle there was a head, and it was the hair that I'd seen hanging down.

"You understand, one couldn't see very well; but I recognized the hair 'cause there isn't any other like it in the world, and then the rest of the face, all stove in and moldy, the neck pulped, and all the lot dead for a month perhaps. It was Eudoxie, I tell you.

"Yes, it was the woman I could never go near before, you know--that I only saw a long way off and couldn't ever touch, same as diamonds. She used to run about everywhere, you know. She used even to wander in the lines. One day she must have stopped a bullet, and stayed there, dead and lost, until the chance of this sap.

"You clinch the position? I was forced to hold her up with one arm as well as I could, and work with the other. She was trying to fall on me with all her weight. Old man, she wanted to kiss me, and I didn't want-- it was terrible. She seemed to be saying to me, 'You wanted to kiss me, well then, come, come now!' She had on her--she had there, fastened on, the remains of a bunch of flowers, and that was rotten, too, and the posy stank in my nose like the corpse of some little beast. "I had to take her in my arms, in both of them, and turn gently round so that I could put her down on the other side. The place was so narrow and pinched that as we turned, for a moment, I hugged her to my breast and couldn't help it. with all my strength, old chap, as I should have hugged her once on a time if she'd have let me.

"I've been half an hour cleaning myself from the touch of her and the smell that she breathed on me in spite of me and in spite of herself. Ah, lucky for me that I'm as done up as a wretched cart-horse!"

He turns over on his belly, clenches his fists, and slumbers, with his face buried in the ground and his dubious dream of passion and corruption.
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Re: Under Fire: The Story of a Squad, by Henri Barbusse

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:51 am

18. A Box of Matches

IT is five o'clock in the evening. Three men are seen moving in the bottom of the gloomy trench. Around their extinguished fire in the dirty excavation they are frightful to see, black and sinister. Rain and negligence have put their fire out, and the four cooks are looking at the corpses of brands that are shrouded in ashes and the stumps of wood whence the flame has flown.

Volpatte staggers up to the group and throws down the black mass that he had on his shoulder. "I've pulled it out of a dug-out where it won't show much."

"We have wood," says Blaire, "but we've got to light it. Otherwise, how are we going to cook this cab-horse?"

"It's a fine piece," wails a dark-faced man, "thin flank. In my belief, that's the best bit of the beast, the flank."

"Fire?" Volpatte objects, "there are no more matches, no more anything."

"We must have fire," growls Poupardin, whose indistinct bulk has the proportions of a bear as he rolls and sways in the dark depths of our cage.

"No two ways about it, we've got to have it," Pépin agrees. He is coming out of a dug-out like a sweep out of a chimney. His gray mass emerges and appears, like night upon evening.

"Don't worry; I shall get some," declares Blaire in a concentrated tone of angry decision. He has not been cook long, and is keen to show himself quite equal to adverse conditions in the exercise of his functions.

He spoke as Martin César used to speak when he was alive. His aim is to resemble the great legendary figure of the cook who always found ways for a fire, just as others, among the non-coms., would fain imitate Napoleon.

"I shall go if it's necessary and fetch every bit of wood there is at Battalion H.Q. I shall go and requisition the colonel's matches--I shall go---- "

"Let's go and forage." Poupardin leads the way. His face is like the bottom of a saucepan that the fire has gradually befouled. As it is cruelly cold, he is wrapped up all over. He wears a cape which is half goatskin and half sheepskin, half brown and half whitish, and this twofold skin of tints geometrically cut makes him like some strange occult animal.

Pépin has a cotton cap so soiled and so shiny with grease that it might be made of black silk. Volpatte, inside his Balaklava and his fleeces, resembles a walking tree-trunk. A square opening betrays a yellow face at the top of the thick and heavy bark of the mass he makes, which is bifurcated by a couple of legs.

"Let's look up the 10th. They've always got the needful. They're on the Pylônes road, beyond the Boyau-Neuf."

The four alarming objects get under way, cloud-shape, in the trench that unwinds itself sinuously before them like a blind alley, unsafe, unlighted, and unpaved. It is uninhabited, too, in this part, being a gangway between the second lines and the first lines.

In the dusty twilight two Moroccans meet the fire-questing cooks. One has the skin of a black boot and the other of a yellow shoe. Hope gleams in the depths of the cooks' hearts.

"Matches, boys?"

"Napoo," replies the black one, and his smile reveals his long crockery-like teeth in his cigar-colored mouth of moroccan leather.

In his turn the yellow one advances and asks, "Tobacco? A bit of tobacco?" And be holds out his greenish sleeve and his great hard paw, in which the cracks are full of brown dirt, and the nails purplish.

Pépin growls, rummages in his clothes, and pulls out a pinch of tobacco, mixed with dust, which he hands to the sharpshooter.

A little farther they meet a sentry who is half asleep--in the middle of the evening--on a heap of loose earth. The drowsy soldier says, "It's to the right, and then again to the right, and then straight forward. Don't go wrong about it."

They march--for a long time. "We must have come a long way," says Volpatte, after half an hour of fruitless paces and encloistered loneliness.

"I say, we're going downhill a hell of a lot, don't you think?" asks Blaire.

"Don't worry, old duffer," scoffs Pépin, "but if you've got cold feet you can leave us to it."

Still we tramp on in the falling night. The ever-empty trench--a desert of terrible length--has taken a shabby and singular appearance. The parapets are in ruins; earthslides have made the ground undulate in hillocks.

An indefinite uneasiness lays hold of the four huge fire-hunters, and increases as night overwhelms them in this monstrous road.

Pépin, who is leading just now, stands fast and holds up his hand as a signal to halt. "Footsteps," they say in a sobered tone.

Then, and in the heart of them, they are afraid. It was a mistake for them all to leave their shelter for so long. They are to blame. And one never knows.

"Get in there, quick, quick!" says Pépin, pointing to a right-angled cranny on the ground level.

By the test of a hand, the rectangular shadow is proved to be the entry to a funk-hole. They crawl in singly; and the last one, impatient, pushes the others; they become an involuntary carpet in the dense darkness of the hole.

A sound of steps and of voices becomes distinct and draws nearer. From the mass of the four men who tightly hung up the burrow, tentative hands are put out at a venture. All at once Pépin murmurs in a stifled voice, "What's this?"

"What?" ask the others, pressed and wedged against him.

"Clips!" says Pépin under his breath, "Boche cartridge-clips on the shelf! We're in the Boche trench!"

"Let's hop it." Three men make a jump to get out.

"Look out, bon Dieu! Don't stir!--footsteps ----"

They hear some one walking, with the quick step of a solitary man. They keep still and bold their breath. With their eyes fixed on the ground level, they see the darkness moving on the right, and then a shadow with legs detaches itself, approaches, and passes. The shadow assumes an outline. It is topped by a helmet covered with a cloth and rising to a point. There is no other sound than that of his passing feet.

Hardly has the German gone by when the four cooks, with no concerted plan and with a single movement, burst forth, jostling each other, run like madmen, and hurl themselves on him.

"Kamerad, messieurs!" he says.

But the blade of a knife gleams and disappears. The man collapses as if he would plunge into the ground. Pépin seizes the helmet as the Boche is failing and keeps it in his hand.

"Let's leg it," growls the voice of Poupardin.

"Got to search him first!"

They lift him and turn him over, and set the soft, damp and warm body up again. Suddenly he coughs.

"He isn't dead!"--"Yes, he is dead; that's the air."

They shake him by the pockets; with hasty breathing the four black men stoop over their task. "The helmet's mine," says Pépin. "It was me that knifed him, I want the helmet."

They tear from the body its pocket-book of still warm papers, its field-glass, purse, and leggings.

"Matches!" shouts Blaire, shaking a box, "he's got some!"

"Ah, the fool that you are!" hisses Volpatte.

"Now let's be off like hell." They pile the body in a corner and break into a run, prey to a sort of panic, and regardless of the row their disordered flight makes.

"It's this way!--This way!--Hurry, lads--for all you're worth!"

Without speaking they dash across the maze of the strangely empty trench that seems to have no end.

"My wind's gone," says Blaire, "I'm----" He staggers and stops.

"Come on, buck up, old chap," gasps Pépin, hoarse and breathless. He takes him by the sleeve and drags him forward like a stubborn shaft-horse.

'We're right!" says Poupardin suddenly. "Yes, I remember that tree. It's the Pylônes road!"

"Ah!" wails Blaire, whose breathing is shaking him like an engine. He throws himself forward with a last impulse--and sits down on the ground.

'Halt!" cries a sentry--"Good Lord!" he stammers as he sees the four poilus. "Where the--where are you coming from, that way?"

They laugh, jump about like puppets, full-blooded and streaming with perspiration, blacker than ever in the night. The German officer's helmet is gleaming in the hands of Pépin. "Oh, Christ!" murmurs the sentry, with gaping mouth, "but what's been up?"

An exuberant reaction excites and bewitches them. All talk at once. In haste and confusion they act again the drama which hardly yet they realize is over. They had gone wrong when they left the sleepy sentry and had taken the International Trench, of which a part is ours and another part German. Between the French and German sections there is no barricade or division. There is merely a sort of neutral zone, at the two ends of which sentries watch ceaselessly. No doubt the German watcher was not at his post, or likely he hid himself when he saw the four shadows, or perhaps be doubled back and had not time to bring up reinforcements. Or perhaps, too, the German officer had strayed too far ahead in the neutral zone. In short, one understands what happened without understanding it.

"The funny part of it," says Pépin, "is that we knew all about that, and never thought to be careful about it when we set off."

"We were looking for matches," says Volpatte.

"And we've got some!" cries Pépin. "You've not lost the flamers, old broomstick?"

"No damned fear!" says Blaire; "Boche matches are better stuff than ours. Besides, they're all we've got to light our fire! Lose my box? Let any one try to pinch it off me!"

"We're behind time--the soup-water'll be freezing. Hurry up, so far. Afterwards there'll be a good yarn to tell in the sewer where the boys are, about what we did to the Boches."
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