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

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

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

19. Bombardment

WE are in the flat country, a vast mistiness, but above it is dark blue. The end of the night is marked by a little falling snow which powders our shoulders and the folds in our sleeves. We are marching in fours, hooded. We seem in the turbid twilight to be the wandering survivors of one Northern district who are trekking to another.

We have followed a road and have crossed the ruins of Ablain-Saint-Nazaire. We have had confused glimpses of its whitish heaps of houses and the dim spider-webs of its suspended roofs. The village is so long that although full night buried us in it we saw its last buildings beginning to pale in the frost of dawn. Through the grating of a cellar on the edge of this petrified ocean's waves, we made out the fire kept going by the custodians of the dead town. We have paddled in swampy fields, lost ourselves in silent places where the mud seized us by the feet, we have dubiously regained our balance and our bearings again on another road, the one which leads from Carency to Souchez. The tall bordering poplars are shivered and their trunks mangled; in one place the road is an enormous colonnade of trees destroyed. Then, marching with us on both sides, we see through the shadows ghostly dwarfs of trees, wide-cloven like spreading palms; botched and jumbled into round blocks or long strips; doubled upon themselves, as if they knelt. From time to time our march is disordered and bustled by the yielding of a swamp. The road becomes a marsh which we cross on our heels, while our feet make the sound of sculling. Planks have been laid in it here and there. Where they have so far sunk in the mud as to proffer their edges to us we slip on them. Sometimes there is enough water to float them, and then under the weight of a man they splash and go under, and the man stumbles or falls, with frenzied imprecations.

It must be five o'clock. The stark and affrighting scene unfolds itself to our eyes, but it is still encircled by a great fantastic ring of mist and of darkness. We go on and on without pause, and come to a place where we can make out a dark hillock, at the foot of which there seems to be some lively movement of human beings.

"Advance by twos," says the leader of the detachment. "Let each team of two take alternately a plank and a hurdle." We load ourselves up. One of the two in each couple assumes the rifle of his partner as well as his own. The other with difficulty shifts and pulls out from the pile a long plank, muddy and slippery, which weighs full eighty pounds, or a hurdle of leafy branches as big as a door, which he can only just keep on his back as he bends forward with his hands aloft and grips its edges.

We resume our march, very slowly and very ponderously, scattered over the now graying road, with complaints and heavy curses which the effort strangles in our throats. After about a hundred yards, the two men of each team exchange loads, so that after two hundred yards, in spite of the bitter blenching breeze of early morning, all but the non-coms. are running with sweat.

Suddenly a vivid star expands down yonder in the uncertain direction that we are taking--a rocket. Widely it lights a part of the sky with its milky nimbus, blots out the stars, and then falls gracefully, fairy-like.

There is a swift light opposite us over there; a flash and a detonation. It is a shell! By the flat reflection that the explosion instantaneously spreads over the lower sky we see a ridge clearly outlined in front of us from east to west, perhaps half a mile away.

That ridge is ours--so much of it as we can see from here and up to the top of it, where our troops are. On the other slope, a hundred yards from our first line, is the first German line. The shell fell on the summit, in our lines; it is the others who are firing. Another shell another and yet another plant trees of faintly violet light on the top of the rise, and each of them dully illumines the whole of the horizon.

Soon there is a sparkling of brilliant stars and a sudden jungle of fiery plumes on the hill; and a fairy mirage of blue and white hangs lightly before our eyes in the full gulf of night.

Those among us who must devote the whole buttressed power of their arms and legs to prevent their greasy loads from sliding off their backs and to prevent themselves from sliding to the ground, these neither see nor hear anything. The others, sniffing and shivering with cold, wiping their noses with limp and sodden handkerchiefs, watch and remark, cursing the obstacles in the way with fragments of profanity. "It's like watching fireworks," they say.

And to complete the illusion of a great operatic scene, fairy-like but sinister, before which our bent and black party crawls and splashes, behold a red star, and then a green; then a sheaf of red fire, very much tardier. In our ranks, as the available half of our pairs of eyes watch the display, we cannot help murmuring in idle tones of popular admiration, "Ah, a red one!"--"Look, a green one!" It is the Germans who are sending up signals, and our men as well who are asking for artillery support.

Our road turns and climbs again as the day at last decides to appear. Everything looks dirty. A layer of stickiness, pearl-gray and white, covers the road, and around it the real world makes a mournful appearance. Behind us we leave ruined Souchez, whose houses are only flat heaps of rubbish and her trees but humps of bramble-like slivers. We plunge into a hole on our left, the entrance to the communication trench. We let our loads fall in a circular enclosure prepared for them, and both hot and frozen we settled in the trench and wait our hands abraded, wet, and stiff with cramp.

Buried in our holes up to the chin, our chests heaving against the solid bulk of the ground that protects us, we watch the dazzling and deepening drama develop. The bombardment is redoubled. The trees of light on the ridge have melted into hazy parachutes in the pallor of dawn, sickly heads of Medusae with points of fire; then, more sharply defined as the day expands, they become bunches of smoke-feathers, ostrich feathers white and gray, which come suddenly to life on the jumbled and melancholy soil of Hill 119, five or six hundred yards in front of us, and then slowly fade away. They are truly the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud, circling as one and thundering together. On the flank of the bill we see a party of men running to earth. One by one they disappear, swallowed up in the adjoining anthills.

Now, one can better make out the form of our "guests." At each shot a tuft of sulphurous white underlined in black forms sixty yards up in the air, unfolds and mottles itself, and we catch in the explosion the whistling of the charge of bullets that the yellow cloud hurls angrily to the ground. It bursts in sixfold squalls, one after another--bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. It is the 77 mm. gun.

We disdain the 77 mm. shrapnel, in spite of the fact that Blesbois was killed by one of them three days ago. They nearly always burst too high. Barque explains it to us, although we know it well: "One's chamber-pot protects one's nut well enough against the bullets. So they can destroy your shoulder and damn well knock you down, but they don't spread you about. Naturally, you've got to be fly, all the same. Got to be careful you don't lift your neb in the air as long as they're buzzing about, nor put your hand out to see if it's raining. Now, our 75 mm.----"

"There aren't only the 77's," Mesnil André broke in, "there's all damned sorts. Spell those out for me----" Those are shrill and cutting whistles, trembling or rattling; and clouds of all shapes gather on the slopes yonder whose vastness shows through them, slopes where our men are in the depths of the dug-outs. Gigantic plumes of faint fire mingle with huge tassels of steam, tufts that throw out straight filaments, smoky feathers that expand as they fall--quite white or greenish-gray, black or copper with gleams of gold, or as if blotched with ink.

The two last explosions are quite near. Above the battered ground they take shape like vast balls of black and tawny dust; and as they deploy and leisurely depart at the wind's will, having finished their task, they have the outline of fabled dragons.

Our line of faces on the level of the ground turns that way, and we follow them with our eyes from the bottom of the trench in the middle of this country peopled by blazing and ferocious apparitions, these fields that the sky has crushed.

"Those, they're the 150 mm. howitzers."--"They're the 210's, calf-head."--"There go the regular guns, too; the hogs! Look at that one!" It was a shell that burst on the ground and threw up earth and debris in a fan-shaped cloud of darkness. Across the cloven land it looked like the frightful spitting of some volcano, piled up in the bowels of the earth.

A diabolical uproar surrounds us. We are conscious of a sustained crescendo, an incessant multiplication of the universal frenzy. A hurricane of hoarse and hollow banging, of raging clamor, of piercing and beast-like screams, fastens furiously with tatters of smoke upon the earth where we are buried up to our necks, and the wind of the shells seems to set it heaving and pitching.

"Look at that," bawls Barque, "and me that said they were short of munitions!"

"Oh, la, la! We know all about that! That and the other fudge the newspapers squirt all over us!"

A dull crackle makes itself audible amidst the babel of noise. That slow rattle is of all the sounds of war the one that most quickens the heart.

"The coffee-mill! [note 1] One of ours, listen. The shots come regularly, while the Boches' haven't got the same length of time between the shots; they go crack--crack-crack-crack--crack-crack--crack----"

"Don't cod yourself, crack-pate; it isn't an unsewing-machine at all; it's a motor-cycle on the road to 31 dugout, away yonder."

"Well, I think it's a chap up aloft there, having a look round from his broomstick," chuckles Pépin, as he raises his nose and sweeps the firmament in search of an aeroplane.

A discussion arises, but one cannot say what the noise is, and that's all. One tries in vain to become familiar with all those diverse disturbances. It even happened the other day in the wood that a whole section mistook for the hoarse howl of a shell the first notes of a neighboring mule as he began his whinnying bray.

"I say, there's a good show of sausages in the air this morning," says Lamuse. Lifting our eyes, we count them.

"There are eight sausages on our side and eight on the Boches'," says Cocon, who has already counted them.

There are, in fact, at regular intervals along the horizon, opposite the distance-dwindled group of captive enemy balloons, the eight long hovering eyes of the army, buoyant and sensitive, and joined to the various headquarters by living threads.

'They see us as we see them. how the devil can one escape from that row of God Almighties up there?"

There's our reply!

Suddenly, behind our backs, there bursts the sharp and deafening stridor of the 75's. Their increasing crackling thunder arouses and elates us. We shout with our guns, and look at each other without hearing our shouts--except for the curiously piercing voice that comes from Barque's great mouth--amid the rolling of that fantastic drum whose every note is the report of a cannon.

Then we turn our eyes ahead and outstretch our necks, and on the top of the hill we see the still higher silhouette of a row of black infernal trees whose terrible roots are striking down into the invisible slope where the enemy cowers.

While the "75" battery continues its barking a hundred yards behind us--the sharp anvil-blows of a huge hammer, followed by a dizzy scream of force and fury--a gigantic gurgling dominates the devilish oratorio; that, also, is coming from our side. "It's a gran'pa, that one!"

The shell cleaves the air at perhaps a thousand yards above us; the voice of its gun covers all as with a pavilion of resonance. The sound of its travel is sluggish, and one divines a projectile bigger-boweled, more enormous than the others. We can hear it passing and declining in front with the ponderous and increasing vibration of a train that enters a station under brakes; then, its heavy whine sounds fainter. We watch the hill opposite. and after several seconds it is covered by a salmon-pink cloud that the wind spreads over one-half of the horizon. "It's a 220 mm."

"One can see them," declares Volpatte, "those shells, when they come out of the gun. If you're in the right line, you can even see them a good long away from the gun."

Another follows: "There! Look, look! Did you see that one? You didn't look quick enough, you missed it. Get a move on! Look, another! Did you see it?"

"I did not see it."--"Ass! Got to be a bedstead for you to see it! Look, quick, that one, there! Did you see it, unlucky good-for-nothing?"--" I saw it; is that all?"

Some have made out a small black object, slender and pointed as a blackbird with folded wings, pricking a wide curve down from the zenith.

"That weighs 240 lb., that one, my old bug," says Volpatte proudly, "and when that drops on a funk-hole it kills everybody inside it. Those that aren't picked off by the explosion are struck dead by the wind of it, or they're gas-poisoned before they can say 'ouf!'"

"The 270 mm. shell can be seen very well, too--talk about a bit of iron--when the howitzer sends it up--allez, off you go!"

"And the 155 Rimailho, too; but you can't see that one because it goes too straight and too far; the more you look for it the more it vanishes before your eyes."

In a stench of sulphur amid black powder, of burned stuffs and calcined earth which roams in sheets about the country, all the menagerie is let loose and gives battle. Bellowings, roarings, growlings, strange and savage; feline caterwaulings that fiercely rend your ears and search your belly, or the long-drawn piercing hoot like the siren of a ship in distress. At times, even, something like shouts cross each other in the air-currents, with curious variation of tone that make the sound human. The country is bodily lifted in places and falls back again. From one end of the horizon to the other it seems to us that the earth itself is raging with storm and tempest.

And the greatest guns, far away and still farther, diffuse growls much subdued and smothered, but you know the strength of them by the displacement of air which comes and raps you on the ear.

Now, behold a heavy mass of woolly green which expands and hovers over the bombarded region and draws out in every direction. This touch of strangely incongruous color in the picture summons attention, and all we encaged prisoners turn our faces towards the hideous outcrop.

"Gas, probably. Let's have our masks ready."--"The hogs!"

"They're unfair tricks, those," says Farfadet.

"They're what?" asks Barque jeeringly.

"Why, yes, they're dirty dodges, those gases----"

"You make me tired," retorts Barque, "with your fair ways and your unfair ways. When you've seen men squashed, cut in two, or divided from top to bottom, blown into showers by an ordinary shell, bellies turned inside out and scattered anyhow, skulls forced bodily into the chest as if by a blow with a club, and in place of the head a bit of neck, oozing currant jam of brains all over the chest and back--you've seen that and yet you can say 'There are clean ways!'"

"Doesn't alter the fact that the shell is allowed, it's recognized----"

"Ah, la, la! I'll tell you what--you make me blubber just as much as you make me laugh!" And he turns his back.

"Hey, look out, boys!"

We strain our eyes, and one of us has thrown himself flat on the ground; others look instinctively and frowning towards the shelter that we have not time to reach. and during these two seconds each one bends his head. It is a grating noise as of huge scissors which comes near and nearer to us, and ends at last with a ringing crash of unloaded iron.

That ore fell not far from us--two hundred yards away, perhaps. We crouch in the bottom of the trench and remain doubled up while the place where we are is lashed by a shower of little fragments.

"Don't want this in my tummy, even from that distance," says Paradis, extracting from the earth of the trench wall a morsel that has just lodged there. It is like a bit of coke, bristling with edged and pointed facets, and he dances it in his hand so as not to burn himself.

There is a hissing noise. Paradis sharply bows his head and we follow suit. "The fuse!--it has gone over." The shrapnel fuse goes up and then comes down vertically; but that of the percussion shell detaches itself from the broken mass after the explosion and usually abides buried at the point of contact, but at other times it flies off at random like a big red-hot pebble. One must beware of it. It may hurl itself on you a very long time after the detonation and by incredible paths, passing over the embankment and plunging into the cavities.

"Nothing so piggish as a fuse. It happened to me once--"

"There's worse things," broke in Bags of the 11th, "The Austrian shells, the 130's and the 74's. I'm afraid of them. They're nickel-plated, they say, but what I do know, seeing I've been there, is they come so quick you can't do anything to dodge them. You no sooner hear em snoring than they burst on you.

"The German 105's, neither, you haven't hardly the time to flatten yourself. I once got the gunners to tell me all about them."

"I tell you, the shells from the naval guns, you haven't the time to hear 'em. Got to pack yourself up before they come."

"And there's that new shell, a dirty devil, that breaks wind after it's dodged into the earth and out of it again two or three times in the space of six yards. When I know there's one of them about, I want to go round the corner. I remember one time----"

"That's all nothing, my lads," said the new sergeant, stopping on his way past, "you ought to see what they chucked us at Verdun, where I've come from. Nothing but whoppers, 380's and 420's and 244's. When you've been shelled down there you know all about it--the woods are sliced down like cornfields, the dug-outs marked and burst in even when they've three thicknesses of beams, all the road-crossings sprinkled, the roads blown into the air and changed into long heaps of smashed convoys and wrecked guns, corpses twisted together as though shoveled up. You could see thirty chaps laid out by one shot at the cross-roads; you could see fellows whirling around as they went up, always about fifteen yards, and bits of trousers caught and stuck on the tops of the trees that were left. You could see one of these 380's go into a house at Verdun by the roof, bore through two or three floors, and burst at the bottom, and all the damn lot's got to go aloft; and in the fields whole battalions would scatter and lie flat under the shower like poor little defenseless rabbits. At every step on the ground in the fields you'd got lumps as thick as your arm and as wide as that, and it'd take four poilus to lift the lump of iron. The fields looked as if they were full of rocks. And that went on without a halt for months on end, months on end!" the sergeant repeated as he passed on, no doubt to tell again the story of his souvenirs somewhere else.

"Look, look, corporal, those chaps over there--are they soft in the head?" On the bombarded position we saw dots of human beings emerge hurriedly and run towards the explosions.

"They're gunners," said Bertrand; "as soon as a shell's burst they sprint and rummage for the fuse is the hole, for the position of the fuse gives the direction of its battery, you see, by the way it's dug itself in; and as for the distance, you've only got to read it--it's shown on the range-figures cut on the time-fuse which is set just before firing."

"No matter--they're off their onions to go out under such shelling."

"Gunners, my boy," says a man of another company who was strolling in the trench, "are either quite good or quite bad. Either they're trumps or they're trash. I tell you----"

"That's true of all privates, what you're saying."

"Possibly; but I'm not talking to you about all privates; I'm talking to you about gunners, and I tell you too that--"

"Hey, my lads! Better find a hole to dump yourselves in, before you get one on the snitch!"

The strolling stranger carried his story away, and Cocon, who was in a perverse mood, declared: "We can be doing our hair in the dug-out, seeing it's rather boring outside."

"Look, they're sending torpedoes over there!" said Paradis, pointing. Torpedoes go straight up, or very nearly so, like larks, fluttering and rustling; then they stop, hesitate, and come straight down again, heralding their fall in its last seconds by a "baby-cry" that we know well. From here, the inhabitants of the ridge seem like invisible players, lined up for a game with a ball.

"In the Argonne," says Lamuse, "my brother says in a letter that they get turtle-doves, as he calls them. They're big heavy things, fired off very close. They come in cooing, really they do, he says, and when they break wind they don't half make a shindy, he says."

"There's nothing worse than the mortar-toad, that seems to chase after you and jump over the top of you, and it bursts in the very trench, just scraping over the bank."

"Tiens, tiens, did you hear it?" A whistling was approaching us when suddenly it ceased. The contrivance has not burst. "It's a shell that cried off," Paradis asserts. And we strain our ears for the satisfaction of hearing--or of not hearing--others.

Lamuse says: "All the fields and the roads and the villages about here, they're covered with dud shells of all sizes--ours as well, to say truth. The ground must be full of 'em, that you can't see. I wonder how they'll go on, later, when the time comes to say, 'That's enough of it, let's start work again.'"

And all the time, in a monotony of madness, the avalanche of fire and iron goes on; shrapnel with its whistling explosion and its overcharged heart of furious metal and the great percussion shells, whose thunder is that of the railway engine which crashes suddenly into a wall, the thunder of loaded rails or steel beams, toppling down a declivity. The air is now glutted and viewless, it is crossed and recrossed by heavy blasts, and the murder of the earth continues all around, deeply and more deeply, to the limit of completion.

There are even other guns which now join in---they are ours. Their report is like that of the 75's, but louder, and it has a prolonged and resounding echo, like thunder reverberating among mountains.

"They're the long 120's. They're on the edge of the wood half a mile away. Fine guns, old man, like gray-hounds. They're slender and fine-nosed, those guns---you want to call them 'Madame.' They're not like the 220's--they're all snout, like coal-scuttles, and spit their shells out from the bottom upwards. The 120's get there just the same, but among the teams of artillery they look like kids in bassinettes."

Conversation languishes; here and there are yawns. The dimensions and weight of this outbreak of the guns fatigue the mind. Our voices flounder in it and are drowned.

"I've never seen anything like this for a bombardment," shouts Barque.

"We always say that," replies Paradis.

"Just so," bawls Volpatte. "There's been talk of an attack lately; I should say this is the beginning of something."

The others say simply, "Ah!"

Volpatte displays an intention of snatching a wink of sleep. He settles himself on the ground with his back against one wall of the trench and his feet buttressed against the other wall.

We converse together on divers subjects. Biquet tells the story of a rat he has seen: "He was cheeky and comical, you know. I'd taken off my trotter-cases, and that rat, he chewed all the edge of the uppers into embroidery. Of course, I'd greased 'em."

Volpatte, who is now definitely out of action, moves and says, "I can't get to sleep for your gabbling."

"You can't make me believe, old fraud," says Marthereau, "that you can raise a single snore with a shindy like this all round you."

Volpatte replies with one.

* * * * * *

Fall in! March!

We are changing our spot. Where are they taking us to? We have no idea. The most we know is that we are in reserve, and that they may take us round to strengthen certain points in succession, or to clear the communication trenches, in which the regulation of passing troops is as complicated a job, if blocks and collisions are to be avoided, as it is of the trains in a busy station. It is impossible to make out the meaning of the immense maneuver in which the rolling of our regiment is only that of a little wheel, nor what is going on in all the huge area of the sector. But, lost in the network of deeps where we go and come without end, weary, harassed and stiff-jointed by prolonged halts, stupefied by noise and delay, poisoned by smoke, we make out that our artillery is becoming more and more active; the offensive seems to have changed places.

* * * * * *

Halt! A fire of intense and incredible fury was threshing the parapets of the trench where we were halted at the moment: "Fritz is going it strong; he's afraid of an attack, he's going dotty. Ah, isn't he letting fly!"

A heavy hail was pouring over us, hacking terribly at atmosphere and sky, scraping and skimming all the plain.

I looked through a loophole and saw a swift and strange vision. In front of us, a dozen yards away at most, there were motionless forms outstretched side by side--a row of mown-down soldiers--and the countless projectiles that hurtled from all sides were riddling this rank of the dead!

The bullets that flayed the soil in straight streaks amid raised slender stems of cloud were perforating and ripping the bodies so rigidly close to the ground, breaking the stiffened limbs, plunging into the wan and vacant faces. bursting and bespattering the liquefied eyes; and even did that file of corpses stir and budge out of line under the avalanche.

We could hear the blunt sound of the dizzy copper points as they pierced cloth and flesh, the sound of a furious stroke with a knife, the harsh blow of a stick upon clothing. Above us rushed jets of shrill whistling. with the declining and far more serious hum of ricochets. And we bent our heads under the enormous flight of noises and voices.

"Trench must be cleared--Gee up!" We leave this most infamous corner of the battlefield where even the dead are torn, wounded, and slain anew.

We turn towards the right and towards the rear. The communication trench rises, and at the top of the gully we pass in front of a telephone station and a group of artillery officers and gunners. Here there is a further halt. We mark time, and hear the artillery observer shout his commands, which the telephonist buried beside him picks up and repeats: "First gun, same sight; two-tenths to left; three a minute!"

Some of us have risked our heads over the edge of the bank and have glimpsed for the space of the lightning's flash all the field of battle round which our company has uncertainly wandered since the morning. I saw a limitless gray plain, across whose width the wind seemed to be driving faint and thin waves of dust, pierced in places by a more pointed billow of smoke.

Where the sun and the clouds trail patches of black and of white, the immense space sparkles dully from point to point where our batteries are firing, and I saw it one moment entirely spangled with short-lived flashes. Another minute, part of the field grew dark under a steamy and whitish film, a sort of hurricane of snow.

Afar, on the evil, endless, and half-ruined fields, caverned like cemeteries, we see the slender skeleton of a church, like a bit of torn paper; and from one margin of the picture to the other, dim rows of vertical marks, close together and underlined, like the straight strokes of a written page--these are the roads and their trees. Delicate meandering lines streak the plain backward and forward and rule it in squares, and these windings are stippled with men.

We can make out some fragments of lines made up of these human points who have emerged from the hollowed streaks and are moving on the plain in the horrible face of the flying firmament. It is difficult to believe that each of those tiny spots is a living thing with fragile and quivering flesh, infinitely unarmed in space, full of deep thoughts, full of far memories and crowded pictures. One is fascinated by this scattered dust of men as small as the stars in the sky.

Poor unknowns, poor fellow-men, it is your turn to give battle. Another time it will be ours. Perhaps to-morrow it will be ours to feel the heavens burst over our heads or the earth open under our feet, to be assailed by the prodigious plague of projectiles, to be swept away by the blasts of a tornado a hundred thousand times stronger than the tornado.

They urge us into the rearward shelters. For our eyes the field of death vanishes. To our ears the thunder is deadened on the great anvil of the clouds. The sound of universal destruction is still. The squad surrounds itself with the familiar noises of life, and sinks into the fondling littleness of the dug-outs.


[note 1] Military slang for machine-gun--Tr.
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Re: Under Fire: The Story of a Squad, by Henri Barbusse

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:52 am

Part 1 of 2

20. Under Fire

RUDELY awakened in the dark, I open my eyes: "What? What's up?"

"Your turn on guard--it's two o'clock in the morning," says Corporal Bertrand at the opening into the hole where I am prostrate on the floor. I hear him without seeing him.

"I'm coming," I growl, and shake myself, and yawn in the little sepulchral shelter. I stretch my arms, and my hands touch the soft and cold clay. Then I cleave the heavy odor that fills the dug-out and crawl out in the middle of the dense gloom between the collapsed bodies of the sleepers. After several stumbles and entanglements among accouterments, knapsacks and limbs stretched out in all directions, I put my hand on my rifle and find myself upright in the open air, half awake and dubiously balanced, assailed by the black and bitter breeze.

Shivering, I follow the corporal; he plunges in between the dark embankments whose lower ends press strangely and closely on our march. He stops; the place is here. I make out a heavy mass half-way up the ghostly wail which comes loose and descends from it with a whinnying yawn, and I hoist myself into the niche which it had occupied.

The moon is hidden by mist, but a very weak and uncertain light overspreads the scene, and one's sight gropes its way. Then a wide strip of darkness, hovering and gliding up aloft, puts it out. Even after touching the breastwork and the loophole in front of my face I can hardly make them out, and my inquiring hand discovers, among an ordered deposit of things, a mass of grenade handles.

"Keep your eye skinned, old chap," says Bertrand in a low voice. "Don't forget that our listening-post is in front there on the left. Allons, so long." His steps die away, followed by those of the sleepy sentry whom I am relieving.

Rifle-shots crackle all round. Abruptly a bullet smacks the earth of the wall against which I am leaning. I peer through the loophole. Our line runs along the top of the ravine, and the land slopes downward in front of me, plunging into an abyss of darkness where one can see nothing. One's sight ends always by picking out the regular lines of the stakes of our wire entanglements, planted on the shore of the waves of night, and here and there the circular funnel-like wounds of shells, little, larger, or enormous, and some of the nearest occupied by mysterious lumber. The wind blows in my face, and nothing else is stirring save the vast moisture that drain from it. It is cold enough to set one shivering in perpetual motion. I look upwards, this way and that; everything is borne down by dreadful gloom. I might be derelict and alone in the middle of a world destroyed by a cataclysm.

There is a swift illumination up above--a rocket. The scene in which I am stranded is picked out in sketchy incipience around me. The crest of our trench stands forth, jagged and dishevelled, and I see, stuck to the outer wall every five paces like upright caterpillars, the shadows of the watchers. Their rifles are revealed beside them by a few spots of light. The trench is shored with sandbags. It is widened everywhere, and in many places ripped up by landslides. The sandbags, piled up and dislodged, appear in the starlike light of the rocket like the great dismantled stones of ancient ruined buildings. I look through the loophole, and discern in the misty and pallid atmosphere expanded by the meteor the rows of stakes and even the thin lines of barbed wire which cross and recross between the posts. To my seeing they are like strokes of a pen scratched upon the pale and perforated ground. Lower down, the ravine is filled with the motionless silence of the ocean of night.

I come down from my look-out and steer at a guess towards my neighbor in vigil, and come upon him with outstretched hand. "Is that you?" I say to him in a subdued voice, though I don't know him.

"Yes," he replies, equally ignorant who I am, blind like myself. "It's quiet at this time," he adds "A bit since I thought they were going to attack, and they may have tried it on, on the right, where they chucked over a lot of bombs. There's been a barrage of 75's--vrrrran, vrrrran--Old man, I said to myself, 'Those 75's, p'raps they've good reason for firing. If they did come out, the Boches, they must have found something.' Tiens, listen, down there, the bullets buffing themselves!"

He opens his flask and takes a draught, and his last words, still subdued, smell of wine: "Ah, la, la! Talk about a filthy war! Don't you think we should be a lot better at home!--Hullo! What's the matter with the ass?" A rifle has rung out beside us, making a brief and sudden flash of phosphorescence. Others go off here and there along our line. Rifle-shots are catching after dark.

We go to inquire of one of the shooters, guessing our way through the solid blackness that has fallen again upon us like a roof. Stumbling, and thrown anon on each other, we reach the man and touch him--"Well, what's up?"

He thought he saw something moving, but there is nothing more. We return through the density, my unknown neighbor and I, unsteady, and laboring along the narrow way of slippery mud, doubled up as if we each carried a crushing burden. At one point of the horizon and then at another all around, a gun sounds, and its heavy din blends with the volleys of rifle-fire, redoubled one minute and dying out the next, and with the clusters of grenade-reports, of deeper sound than the crack of Lebel or Mauser, and nearly like the voice of the old classical rifles. The wind has again increased; it is so strong that one must protect himself against it in the darkness; masses of huge cloud are passing in front of the moon.

So there we are, this man and I, jostling without knowing each other, revealed and then hidden from each other in sudden jerks by the flashes of the guns. oppressed by the opacity, the center of a huge circle of fires that appear and disappear in the devilish landscape.

'We're under a curse," says the man.

We separate, and go each to his own loophole, to weary our eyes upon invisibility. Is some frightful and dismal storm about to break? But that night it did not. At the end of my long wait, with the first streaks of day, there was even a lull.

Again I saw, when the dawn came down on us like a stormy evening, the steep banks of our crumbling trench as they came to life again under the sooty scarf of the low-hanging clouds, a trench dismal and dirty, infinitely dirty, humped with debris and filthiness. Under the livid sky the sandbags are taking the same hue, and their vaguely shining and rounded shapes are like the bowels and viscera of giants, nakedly exposed upon the earth.

In the trench-wall behind me, in a hollowed recess, there is a heap of horizontal things like logs. Tree-trunks? No, they are corpses.

* * * * * *

As the call of birds goes up from the furrowed ground, as the shadowy fields are renewed, and the light breaks and adorns each blade of grass, I look towards the ravine. Below the quickening field and its high surges of earth and burned hollows, beyond the bristling of stakes, there is still a lifeless lake of shadow, and in front of the opposite slope a wall of night still stands.

Then I turn again and look upon these dead men whom the day is gradually exhuming, revealing their stained and stiffened forms. There are four of them. They are our comrades, Lamuse, Barque, Biquet, and little Eudore. They rot there quite near us, blocking one half of the wide, twisting, and muddy furrow that the living must still defend.

They have been laid there as well as may be, supporting and crushing each other. The topmost is wrapped in a tent-cloth. Handkerchiefs had been placed on the faces of the others; but in brushing against them in the dark without seeing them, or even in the daytime without noticing them, the handkerchiefs have fallen, and we are living face to face with these dead, heaped up there like a wood-pile.

* * * * * *

It was four nights ago that they were all killed together. I remember the night myself indistinctly--it is like a dream. We were on patrol--they, I, Mesnil André, and Corporal Bertrand; and our business was to identify a new German listening-post marked by the artillery observers. We left the trench towards midnight and crept down the slope in line, three or four paces from each other. Thus we descended far into the ravine, and saw, lying before our eyes, the embankment of their International Trench. After we had verified that there was no listening-post in this slice of the ground we climbed back, with infinite care. Dimly I saw my neighbors to right and left, like sacks of shadow, crawling, slowly sliding, undulating and rocking in the mud and the murk, with the projecting needle in front of a rifle. Some bullets whistled above us, but they did not know we were there, they were not looking for us. When we got within sight of the mound of our line, we took a breather for a moment; one of us let a sigh go, another spoke. Another turned round bodily, and the sheath of his bayonet rang out against a stone. Instantly a rocket shot redly up from the International Trench. We threw ourselves flat on the ground, closely, desperately, and waited there motionless, with the terrible star hanging over us and flooding us with daylight, twenty-five or thirty yards from our trench. Then a machine-gun on the other side of the ravine swept the zone where we were. Corporal Bertrand and I had had the luck to find in front of us, just as the red rocket went up and before it burst into light, a shell-hole, where a broken trestle was steeped in the mud. We flattened ourselves against the edge of the hole, buried ourselves in the mud as much as possible, and the poor skeleton of rotten wood concealed us. The jet of the machine-gun crossed several times. We heard a piercing whistle in the middle of each report, the sharp and violent sound of bullets that went into the earth, and dull and soft blows as well, followed by groans, by a little cry, and suddenly by a sound like the heavy snoring of a sleeper, a sound which slowly ebbed. Bertrand and I waited, grazed by the horizontal hail of bullets that traced a network of death an inch or so above us and sometimes scraped our clothes, driving us still deeper into the mud, nor dared we risk a movement which might have lifted a little some part of our bodies. The machine-gun at last held its peace in an enormous silence. A quarter of an hour later we two slid out of the shell-hole, and crawling on our elbows we fell at last like bundles into our listening-post. It was high time, too, for at that moment the moon shone out. We were obliged to stay in the bottom of the trench till morning, and then till evening, for the machine-gun swept the approaches without pause. We could not see the prostrate bodies through the loop-holes of the post, by reason of the steepness of the ground--except, just on the level of our field of vision, a lump which appeared to be the back of one of them. In the evening, a sap was dug to reach the place where they had fallen. The work could not be finished in one night and was resumed by the pioneers the following night, for, overwhelmed with fatigue, we could no longer keep from falling asleep.

Awaking from a leaden sleep, I saw the four corpses that the sappers had reached from underneath, hooking and then hauling them into the sap with ropes. Each of them had several adjoining wounds, bullet-holes an inch or so apart--the mitrailleuse had fired fast. The body of Mesnil André was not found, and his brother Joseph did some mad escapades in search of it. He went out quite alone into No Man's Land, where the crossed fire of machine-guns swept it three ways at once and constantly. In the morning, dragging himself along like a slug, he showed over the bank a face black with mud and horribly wasted. They pulled him in again, with his face scratched by barbed wire, his hands bleeding, with heavy clods of mud in the folds of his clothes, and stinking of death. Like an idiot be kept on saying, "He's nowhere." He buried himself in a corner with his rifle, which he set himself to clean without hearing what was said to him, and only repeating "He's nowhere."

It is four nights ago since that night, and as the dawn comes once again to cleanse the earthly Gehenna, the bodies are becoming definitely distinct.

Barque in his rigidity seems immoderately long, his arms lie closely to the body, his chest has sunk, his belly is hollow as a basin. With his head upraised by a lump of mud, he looks over his feet at those who come up on the left; his face is dark and polluted by the clammy stains of disordered hair, and his wide and scalded eyes are heavily encrusted with blackened blood. Eudore seems very small by contrast, and his little face is completely white, so white as to remind you of the be-flowered face of a pierrot, and it is touching to see that little circle of white paper among the gray and bluish tints of the corpses. The Breton Biquet, squat and square as a flagstone, appears to be under the stress of a huge effort; he might be trying to uplift the misty darkness; and the extreme exertion overflows upon the protruding cheek-bones and forehead of his grimacing face, contorts it hideously, sets the dried and dusty hair bristling, divides his jaws in a spectral cry, and spreads wide the eyelids from his lightless troubled eyes, his flinty eyes; and his hands are contracted in a clutch upon empty air.

Barque and Biquet were shot in the belly; Eudore in the throat. In the dragging and carrying they were further injured. Big Lamuse, at last bloodless, had a puffed and creased face, and the eyes were gradually sinking in their sockets, one more than the other. They have wrapped him in a tent-cloth, and it shows a dark stain where the neck is. His right shoulder has been mangled by several bullets, and the arm is held on only by strips of the sleeve and by threads that they have put in since. The first night he was placed there, this arm hung outside the heap of dead, and the yellow hand, curled up on a lump of earth, touched passers-by in the face; so they pinned the arm to the greatcoat.

A pestilential vapor begins to hover about the remains of these beings with whom we lived so intimately and suffered so long.

When we see them we say, "They are dead, all four"; but they are too far disfigured for us to say truly, "It is they," and one must turn away from the motionless monsters to feel the void they have left among us and the familiar things that have been wrenched away.

Men of other companies or regiments, strangers who come this way by day--by night one leans unconsciously on everything within reach of the hand, dead or alive-give a start when faced by these corpses flattened one on the other in the open trench. Sometimes they are angry--"What are they thinking about to leave those stiffs there?"--"It's shameful." Then they add, "It's true they can't be taken away from there." And they were only buried in the night.

Morning has come. Opposite us we see the other slope of the ravine, Hill 119, an eminence scraped, stripped, and scratched, veined with shaken trenches and lined with parallel cuttings that vividly reveal the clay and the chalky soil. Nothing is stirring there; and our shells that burst in places with wide spouts of foam like huge billows seem to deliver their resounding blows upon a great breakwater, ruined and abandoned.

My spell of vigil is finished, and the other sentinels, enveloped in damp and trickling tent-cloths, with their stripes and plasters of mud and their livid jaws, disengage themselves from the soil wherein they are molded, bestir themselves, and come down. For us, it is rest until evening.

We yawn and stroll. We see a comrade pass and then another. Officers go to and fro, armed with periscopes and telescopes. We feel our feet again, and begin once more to live. The customary remarks cross and clash; and were it not for the dilapidated outlook, the sunken lines of the trench that buries us on the hillside, and the veto on our voices, we might fancy ourselves in the rear lines. But lassitude weighs upon all of us, our faces are jaundiced and the eyelids reddened; through long watching we look as if we had been weeping. For several days now we have all of us been sagging and growing old.

One after another the men of my squad have made a confluence at a curve in the trench. They pile themselves where the soil is only chalky, and where, above the crust that bristles with severed roots, the excavations have exposed some beds of white stones that had lain in the darkness for over a hundred thousand years.

There in the widened fairway, Bertrand's squad beaches itself. It is much reduced this time, for beyond the losses of the other night, we no longer have Poterloo, killed in a relief, nor Cadilhac. wounded in the leg by a splinter the same evening as Poterloo, nor Tirioir nor Tulacque who have been sent back, the one for dysentery, and the other for pneumonia, which is taking an ugly turn--as he says in the postcards which he sends us as a pastime from the base hospital where he is vegetating.

Once more I see gathered and grouped, soiled by contact with the earth and dirty smoke, the familiar faces and poses of those who have not been separated since the beginning, chained and riveted together in fraternity. But there is less dissimilarity than at the beginning in the appearance of the cave-men.

Papa Blaire displays in his well-worn mouth a set of new teeth, so resplendent that one can see nothing in all his poor face except those gayly-dight jaws. The great event of these foreign teeth's establishment, which he is taming by degrees and sometimes uses for eating, has profoundly modified his character and his manners. He is rarely besmeared with grime, he is hardly slovenly. Now that he has become handsome he feels it necessary to become elegant. For the moment he is dejected, because--a miracle--he cannot wash himself. Deeply sunk in a corner, he half opens a lack-luster eye, bites and masticates his old soldier's mustache--not long ago the only ornament on his face--and from time to time spits out a hair.

Fouillade is shivering, cold-smitten, or yawns, depressed and shabby. Marthereau has not changed at all. He is still as always well-bearded, his eye round and blue, and his legs so short that his trousers seem to be slipping continually from his waist and dropping to his feet. Cocon is always Cocon by the dried and parchment-like head wherein sums are working; but a recurrence of lice, the ravages of which we see overflowing on to his neck and wrists, has isolated him for a week now in protracted tussles which leave him surly when he returns among us. Paradis retains unimpaired the same quantum of good color and good temper; he is unchanging, perennial. We smile when he appears in the distance, placarded on the background of sandbags like a new poster. Nothing has changed in Pépin either, whom we can just see taking a stroll--we can tell him behind by his red-and-white squares of an oilcloth draught-board, and in front by his blade-like face and the gleam of a knife in his cold gray look. Nor has Volpatte changed, with his leggings, his shouldered blanket, and his face of a Mongolian tatooed with dirt; nor Tirette, although he has been worried for some time by blood-red streaks in his eyes--for some unknown and mysterious reason. Farfadet keeps himself aloof, in pensive expectation. When the post is being given out he awakes from his reverie to go so far, and then retires into himself. His clerkly hands indite numerous and careful postcards. He does not know of Eudoxie's end. Lamuse said no more to any one of the ultimate and awful embrace in which he clasped her body. He regretted--I knew it--his whispered confidence to me that evening, and up to his death he kept the horrible affair sacred to himself, with tenacious bashfulness. So we see Farfadet continuing to live his airy existence with the living likeness of that fair hair, which he only leaves for the scarce monosyllables of his contact with us. Corporal Bertrand has still the same soldierly and serious mien among us; he is always ready with his tranquil smile to answer all questions with lucid explanations, to help each of us to do his duty.

We are chatting as of yore, as not long since. But the necessity of speaking in low tones distinguishes our remarks and imposes on them a lugubrious tranquillity.

* * * * * *

Something unusual has happened. For the last three months the sojourn of each unit in the first-line trenches has been four days. Yet we have now been five days here and there is no mention of relief. Some rumors of early attack are going about, brought by the liaison men and those of the fatigue-party that renews our rations every other night--without regularity or guarantee. Other portents are adding themselves to the whispers of offensive--the stopping of leave, the failure of the post, the obvious change in the officers, who are serious and closer to us. But talk on this subject always ends with a shrug of the shoulders; the soldier is never warned what is to be done with him; they put a bandage on his eyes, and only remove it at the last minute. So, "We shall see."--"We can only wait."

We detach ourselves from the tragic event foreboded. Is this because of the impossibility of a complete understanding, or a despondent unwillingness to decipher those orders that are sealed letters to us, or a lively faith that one will pass through the peril once more? Always, in spite of the premonitory signs and the prophecies that seem to be coming true, we fall back automatically upon the cares of the moment and absorb ourselves in them-- hunger, thirst, the lice whose crushing ensanguines all our nails, the great weariness that saps us all.

"Seen Joseph this morning?" says Volpatte. "He doesn't look very grand, poor lad."

"He'll do something daft, certain sure. He's as good as a goner, that lad, mind you. First chance he has he'll jump in front of a bullet. I can see he will."

"It'd give any one the pip for the rest of his natural. There were six brothers of 'em, you know; four of 'em killed; two in Alsace, one in Champagne, one in Argonne. If André's killed he's the fifth."

"If he'd been killed they'd have found his body--they'd have seen it from the observation-post; you can't lose the rump and the thighs. My idea is that the night they went on patrol he went astray coming back--crawled right round, poor devil, and fell right into the Boche lines."

"Perhaps he got sewn up in their wire."

"I tell you they'd have found him if he'd been done in; you know jolly well the Boches wouldn't have brought the body in. And we looked everywhere. As long as he's not been found you can take it from me that he's got away somewhere on his feet, wounded or unwounded."

This so logical theory finds favor, and now it is known that Mesnil André is a prisoner there is less interest in him. But his brother continues to be a pitiable object--"Poor old chap, he's so young!" And the men of the squad look at him secretly.

"I've got a twist!" says Cocon suddenly. The hour of dinner has gone past and we are demanding it. There appears to be only the remains of what was brought the night before.

"What's the corporal thinking of to starve us? There he is--I'll go and get hold of him. Hey, corporal! Why can't you get us something to eat?"--"Yes, yes--something to eat!" re-echoes the destiny of these eternally hungry men.

"I'm coming," says bustling Bertrand, who keeps going both day and night.

"What then?" says Pépin, always hot-headed. "I don't feel like chewing macaroni again; I shall open a tin of meat in less than two secs?" The daily comedy of dinner steps to the front again in this drama.

"Don't touch your reserve rations!" says Bertrand; "as soon as I'm back from seeing the captain I'll get you something."

When he returns he brings and distributes a salad of potatoes and onions, and as mastication proceeds our features relax and our eyes become composed.

For the ceremony of eating, Paradis has hoisted a policeman's hat. It is hardly the right place or time for it, but the hat is quite new, and the tailor, who promised it for three months ago, only delivered it the day we came up. The pliant two-cornered hat of bright blue cloth on his flourishing round head gives him the look of a pasteboard gendarme with red-painted cheeks. Nevertheless, all the while he is eating, Paradis looks at me steadily. I go up to him. "You've a funny old face."

"Don't worry about it," he replies. "I want a chat with you. Come with me and see something."

His hand goes out to his half-full cup placed beside his dinner things; he hesitates, and then decides to put his wine in a safe place down his gullet, and the cup in his pocket. He moves off and I follow him.

In passing he picks up his helmet that gapes on the earthen bench. After a dozen paces he comes close to me and says in a low voice and with a queer air, without looking at me--as he does when he is upset--"I know where Mesnil André is. Would you like to see him? Come, then."

So saying, he takes off his police hat, folds and pockets it. and puts on his helmet. He sets off again and I follow him without a word.

He leads me fifty yards farther, towards the place where our common dug-out is, and the footbridge of sandbags under which one always slides with the impression that the muddy arch will collapse on one's back. After the footbridge, a hollow appears in the wall of the trench, with a step made of a hurdle stuck fast in the clay. Paradis climbs there, and motions to me to follow him on to the narrow and slippery platform. There was recently a sentry's loophole here, and it has been destroyed and made again lower down with a couple of bullet-screens. One is obliged to stoop low lest his head rise above the contrivance.

Paradis says to me, still in the same low voice, "It's me that fixed up those two shields, so as to see--for I'd got an idea, and I wanted to see. Put your eye to this----"

"I don't see anything; the hole's stopped up. What's that lump of cloth?"

"It's him," says Paradis.

Ah! It was a corpse, a corpse sitting in a hole, and horribly near----

Having flattened my face against the steel plate and glued my eye to the hole in the bullet-screen, I saw all of it. He was squatting, the head hanging forward between the legs, both arms placed on his knees, his hands hooked and half closed. He was easily identifiable--so near, so near!--in spite of his squinting and lightless eyes, by the mass of his muddy beard and the distorted mouth that revealed the teeth. He looked as if he were both smiling and grimacing at his rifle, stuck straight up in the mud before him. His outstretched hands were quite blue above and scarlet underneath, crimsoned by a damp and hellish reflection.

It was he, rain-washed and besmeared with a sort of scum, polluted and dreadfully pale, four days dead, and close up to our embankment into which the shell-hole where he had burrowed had bitten. We had not found him because he was too near!

Between this derelict dead in its unnatural solitude and the men who inhabited the dug-out there was only a slender partition of earth, and I realize that the place in it where I lay my head corresponds to the spot buttressed by this dreadful body.

I withdraw my face from the peep-hole and Paradis and I exchange glances. "Mustn't tell him yet," my companion whispers. "No, we mustn't, not at once----" "I spoke to the captain about rooting him out, and he said, too, we mustn't mention it now to the lad.'" A light breath of wind goes by. "I can smell it!"--"Rather!" The odor enters our thoughts and capsizes our very hearts.

"So now," says Paradis, "Joseph's left alone, out of six brothers. And I'll tell you what--I don't think he'll stop long. The lad won't take care of himself--he'll get himself done in. A lucky wound's got to drop on him from the sky, otherwise he's corpsed. Six brothers--it's too bad, that! Don't you think it's too bad?" He added, "It's astonishing that he was so near us."

"His arm's just against the spot where I put my head."

"Yes," says Paradis, "his right arm, where there's a wrist-watch."

The watch--I stop short--is it a fancy, a dream? It seems to me--yes, I am sure now--that three days ago, the night when we were so tired out, before I went to sleep I heard what sounded like the ticking of a watch and even wondered where it could come from.

"It was very likely that watch you heard all the same, through the earth," says Paradis, whom I have told some of my thoughts; "they go on thinking and turning round even when the chap stops. Damn, your own ticker doesn't know you--it just goes quietly on making little circles."

I asked, "There's blood on his hands; but where was be hit?"

"Don't know; in the belly, I think; I thought there was something dark underneath him. Or perhaps in the face--did you notice the little stain on the cheek?"

I recall the hairy and greenish face of the dead man. "Yes, there was something on the cheek. Yes, perhaps it went in there--"

"Look out!" says Paradis hurriedly, "there he is! We ought not to have stayed here."

But we stay all the same, irresolutely wavering, as Mesnil Joseph comes straight up to us. Never did he seem so frail to us. We can see his pallor afar off, his oppressed and unnatural expression; he is bowed as be walks, and goes slowly, borne down by endless fatigue and his immovable notion.

"What's the matter with your face?" he asks me--he has seen me point out to Paradis the possible entry of the bullet. I pretend not to understand and then make some kind of evasive reply. All at once I have a torturing idea--the smell! It is there, and there is no mistaking it. It reveals a corpse; and perhaps he will guess rightly

It seems to me that he has suddenly smelt the sign-- the pathetic, lamentable appeal of the dead. But he says nothing, continues his solitary walk, and disappears round the corner.

"Yesterday," says Paradis to me, "be came just here, with his mess-tin full of rice that he didn't want to eat. Just as if he knew what he was doing, the fool stops here and talks of pitching the rest of his food over the bank, just on the spot where--where the other was. I couldn't stick that, old chap. I grabbed his arm just as he chucked the rice into the air, and it flopped down here in the trench. Old man, he turned round on me in a rage and all red in the face, 'What the hell's up with you now?' he says. I looked as fat-headed as I could, and mumbled some rot about not doing it on purpose. He shrugs his shoulders, and looks at me same as if I was dirt. He goes off, saying to himself, 'Did you see him, the blockhead?' He's bad-tempered, you know, the poor chap, and I couldn't complain. 'All right, all right,' he kept saying; and I didn't like it, you know, because I did wrong all the time, although I was right."

We go back together in silence and re-enter the dugout where the others are gathered. It is an old headquarters post, and spacious. Just as we slide in, Paradis listens. "Our batteries have been playing extra hell for the last hour, don't you think?"

I know what he means, and reply with an empty gesture, "We shall see, old man, we shall see all right!"

In the dug-out, to an audience of three, Tirette is again pouring out his barrack-life tales. Marthereau is snoring in a corner; he is close to the entry, and to get down we have to stride over his short legs, which seem to have gone back into his trunk. A group of kneeling men around a folded blanket are playing with cards----

"My turn!"--"40, 42--48--49!--Good!"

"Isn't he lucky, that game-bird; it's imposs', I've got stumped three times I want nothing more to do with you. You're skinning me this evening, and you robbed me the other day, too, you infernal fritter!"--"What did you revoke for, mugwump?"--"I'd only the king, nothing else."

"All the same," murmurs some one who is eating in a corner, "this Camembert, it cost twenty-five sous, but you talk about muck! Outside there's a layer of sticky glue, and inside it's plaster that breaks."

Meanwhile Tirette relates the outrages inflicted on him during his twenty-one days of training owing to the quarrelsome temper of a certain major: "A great hog he was, my boy. everything rotten on this earth. All the lot of us looked foul when he went by or when we saw him in the officers' room spread out on a chair that you couldn't see underneath him, with his vast belly and huge cap. and circled round with stripes from top to bottom, like a barrel--he was hard on the private! They called him Loeb--a Boche, you see!"

"I knew him!" cried Paradis; "when war started he was declared unfit for active service, naturally. While I was doing my term he was a dodger already--but he dodged round all the street corners to pinch you--you got a day's clink for an unbuttoned button, and he gave it you over and above if there was some bit of a thing about you that wasn't quite O.K.--and everybody laughed. He thought they were laughing at you, and you knew they were laughing at him, but you knew it in vain, you were in it up to your head for the clink."

"He had a wife," Tirette goes on, "the old----"

"I remember her, too," Paradis exclaimed. "You talk about a bitch!"

"Some of 'em drag a little pug-dog about with 'em, but him, he trailed that yellow minx about everywhere, with her broom-handle hips and her wicked look. It was her that worked the old sod up against us. He was more stupid than wicked, but as soon as she was there he got more wicked than stupid. So you bet they were some nuisance----"

Just then, Marthereau wakes up from his sleep by the entry with a half-groan. He straightens himself up, sitting on his straw like a gaol-bird, and we see his bearded silhouette take the vague outline of a Chinese, while his round eye rolls and turns in the shadows. He is looking at his dreams of a moment ago. Then he passes his hand over his eyes and--as if it had some connection with his dream--recalls the scene that night when we came up to the trenches-- "For all that," he says, in a voice weighty with slumber and reflection, "there were some half-seas-over that night! Ah, what a night! All those troops, companies and whole regiments, yelling and surging all the way up the road! In the thinnest of the dark you could see the jumble of poilus that went on and up--like the sea itself, you'd say--and carrying on across all the convoys of artillery and ambulance wagons that we met that night. I've never seen so many, so many convoys in the night, never!" Then he deals himself a thump on the chest, settles down again in self-possession, groans, and says no more.

Blaire's voice rises, giving expression to the haunting thought that wakes in the depths of the men: "It's four o'clock. It's too late for there to be anything from our side."

One of the gamesters in the other corner yelps a question at another: "Now then? Are you going to play or aren't you, worm-face?"

Tirette continues the story of his major: "Behold one day they'd served us at the barracks with some suetty soup. Old man, a disease, it was! So a chap asks to speak to the captain, and holds his mess-tin up to his nose."

"Numskull!" some one shouts in the other corner. "Why didn't you trump, then?"

"'Ah, damn it,' said the captain, 'take it away from my nose, it positively stinks.'"

"It wasn't my game," quavers a discontented but unconvinced voice.

"And the captain, he makes a report to the major. But behold the major, mad as the devil, he butts in shaking the paper in his paw: 'What's this?' he says. 'Where's the soup that has caused this rebellion, that I may taste it?' They bring him some in a clean mess-tin and he sniffs it. 'What now!' he says, 'it smells good. They damned well shan't have it then, rich soup like this!'"

"Not your game! And he was leading, too! Bungler! It's unlucky, you know."

"Then at five o'clock as we were coming out of barracks, our two marvels butt in again and plank themselves in front of the swaddies coming out, trying to spot some little thing not quite so, and he said, 'Ah, my bucks, you thought you'd score off me by complaining of this excellent soup that I have consumed myself along with my partner here; just wait and see if I don't get even with you. Hey, you with the long hair, the tall artist, come here a minute!' And all the time the beast was jawing, his bag-o'-bones--as straight and thin as a post-- went 'oui, oui' with her head."

"That depends; if he hadn't a trump, it's another matter."

"But all of a sudden we see her go white as a sheet, she puts her fist on her tummy and she shakes like all that, and then suddenly, in front of all the fellows that filled the square, she drops her umbrella and starts spewing!"

"Hey, listen!" says Paradis, sharply, "they're shouting in the trench. Don't you hear? Isn't it 'alarm!' they're shouting?"

"Alarm? Are you mad?"

The words were hardly said when a shadow comes in through the low doorway of our dug-out and cries-- "Alarm, 22nd! Stand to arms!"

A moment of silence and then several exclamations. "I knew it," murmurs Paradis between his teeth, and he goes on his knees towards the opening into the molehill that shelters us. Speech then ceases and we seem to be struck dumb. Stooping or kneeling we bestir ourselves; we buckle on our waist-belts; shadowy arms dart from one side to another; pockets are rummaged. And we issue forth pell-mell, dragging our knapsacks behind us by the straps, our blankets and pouches.

Outside we are deafened. The roar of gunfire has increased a hundredfold, to left, to right, and in front of us. Our batteries give voice without ceasing.

"Do you think they're attacking?" ventures a man. "How should I know?" replies another voice with irritated brevity.

Our jaws are set and we swallow our thoughts, hurrying, bustling, colliding, and grumbling without words.

A command goes forth--"Shoulder your packs.--"There's a counter-command----" shouts an officer who runs down the trench with great strides, working his elbows, and the rest of his sentence disappears with him. A counter-command! A visible tremor has run through the files, a start which uplifts our heads and holds us all in extreme expectation.

But no; the counter-order only concerns the knapsacks. No pack; but the blanket rolled round the body, and the trenching-tool at the waist. We unbuckle our blankets, tear them open and roll them up. Still no word is spoken; each has a steadfast eye and the mouth forcefully shut. The corporals and sergeants go here and there, feverishly spurring the silent haste in which the men are bowed: "Now then, hurry up! Come, come, what the hell are you doing? Will you hurry, yes or no?"

A detachment of soldiers with a badge of crossed axes on their sleeves clear themselves a fairway and swiftly delve holes in the wall of the trench. We watch them sideways as we don our equipment.

"What are they doing, those chaps?"--"It's to climb up by."

We are ready. The men marshal themselves, still silently, their blankets crosswise, the helmet-strap on the chin, leaning on their rifles. I look at their pale, contracted, and reflective faces. They are not soldiers, they are men. They are not adventurers, or warriors, or made for human slaughter, neither butchers nor cattle. They are laborers and artisans whom one recognizes in their uniforms. They are civilians uprooted, and they are ready. They await the signal for death or murder; but you may see, looking at their faces between the vertical gleams of their bayonets, that they are simply men.

Each one knows that he is going to take his head, his chest, his belly, his whole body, and all naked, up to the rifles pointed forward, to the shells, to the bombs piled and ready, and above all to the methodical and almost infallible machine-guns--to all that is waiting for him yonder and is now so frightfully silent--before he reaches the other soldiers that he must kill. They are not careless of their lives, like brigands, nor blinded by passion like savages. In spite of the doctrines with which they have been cultivated they are not inflamed. They are above instinctive excesses. They are not drunk, either physically or morally. It is in full consciousness, as in full health and full strength, that they are massed there to hurl themselves once more into that sort of madman's part imposed on all men by the madness of the human race. One sees the thought and the fear and the farewell that there is in their silence, their stillness, in the mask of tranquillity which unnaturally grips their faces. They are not the kind of hero one thinks of, but their sacrifice has greater worth than they who have not seen them will ever be able to understand.

They are waiting; a waiting that extends and seems eternal. Now and then one or another starts a little when a bullet, fired from the other side, skims the forward embankment that shields us and plunges into the flabby flesh of the rear wall.

The end of the day is spreading a sublime but melancholy light on that strong unbroken mass of beings of whom some only will live to see the night. It is raining--there is always rain in my memories of all the tragedies of the great war. The evening is making ready, along with a vague and chilling menace; it is about to set for men that snare that is as wide as the world.

* * * * * *

New orders are peddled from mouth to mouth. Bombs strung on wire hoops are distributed--"Let each man take two bombs!"

The major goes by. He is restrained in his gestures, in undress, girded, undecorated. We hear him say, "There's something good, mes enfants, the Boches are clearing out. You'll get along all right, eh?"

News passes among us like a breeze. "The Moroccans and the 21st Company are in front of us. The attack is launched on our right."

The corporals are summoned to the captain, and return with armsful of steel things. Bertrand is fingering me; he hooks something on to a button of my greatcoat. It is a kitchen knife. "I'm putting this on to your coat," he says.

"Me too!" says Pépin.

"No," says Bertrand, "it's forbidden to take volunteers for these things."

"Be damned to you!" growls Pépin.

We wait, in the great rainy and shot-hammered space that has no other boundary than the distant and tremendous cannonade. Bertrand has finished his distribution and returns. Several soldiers have sat down, and some of them are yawning.

The cyclist Billette slips through in front of us, carrying an officer's waterproof on his arm and obviously averting his face. "Hullo, aren't you going too?" Cocon cries to him.

"No, I'm not going," says the other. "I'm in the 17th. The Fifth Battalion's not attacking!"

"Ah, they've always got the luck, the Fifth. They've never got to fight like we have!" Billette is already in the distance, and a few grimaces follow his disappearance.

A man arrives running, and speaks to Bertrand, and then Bertrand turns to us----

"Up you go," he says, "it's our turn."

All move at once. We put our feet on the steps made by the sappers, raise ourselves, elbow to elbow, beyond the shelter of the trench, and climb on to the parapet.

* * * * * *

Bertrand is out on the sloping ground. He covers us with a quick glance, and when we are all there he says, "Allons, forward!"

Our voices have a curious resonance. The start has been made very quickly, unexpectedly almost, as in a dream. There is no whistling sound in the air. Among the vast uproar of the guns we discern very clearly this surprising silence of bullets around us----

We descend over the rough and slippery ground with involuntary gestures, helping ourselves sometimes with the rifle. Mechanically the eye fastens on some detail of the declivity, of the ruined ground, on the sparse and shattered stakes pricking up, at the wreckage in the holes. It is unbelievable that we are upright in full daylight on this slope where several survivors remember sliding along in the darkness with such care, and where the others have only hazarded furtive glances through the loopholes. No, there is no firing against us. The wide exodus of the battalion out of the ground seems to have passed unnoticed! This truce is full of an increasing menace, increasing. The pale light confuses us.

On all sides the slope is covered by men who, like us, are bent on the descent. On the right the outline is defined of a company that is reaching the ravine by Trench 97--an old German work in ruins. We cross our wire by openings. Still no one fires on us. Some awkward ones who have made false steps are getting up again. We form up on the farther side of the entanglements and then set ourselves to topple down the slope rather faster--there is an instinctive acceleration in the movement. Several bullets arrive at last among us. Bertrand shouts to us to reserve our bombs and wait till the last moment.

But the sound of his voice is carried away. Abruptly, across all the width of the opposite slope, lurid flames burst forth that strike the air with terrible detonations. In line from left to right fires emerge from the sky and explosions from the ground. It is a frightful curtain which divides us from the world, which divides us from the past and from the future. We stop, fixed to the ground, stupefied by the sudden host that thunders from every side; then a simultaneous effort uplifts our mass again and throws it swiftly forward. We stumble and impede each other in the great waves of smoke. With harsh crashes and whirlwinds of pulverized earth, towards the profundity into which we hurl ourselves pell-mell, we see craters opened here and there, side by side, and merging in each other. Then one knows no longer where the discharges fall. Volleys are let loose so monstrously resounding that one feels himself annihilated by the mere sound of the downpoured thunder of these great constellations of destruction that form in the sky. One sees and one feels the fragments passing close to one's head with their hiss of red-hot iron plunged in water. The blast of one explosion so burns my hands that I let my rifle fall. I pick it up again, reeling, and set off in the tawny-gleaming tempest with lowered head, lashed by spirits of dust and soot in a crushing downpour like volcanic lava. The stridor of the bursting shells hurts your ears, beats you on the neck, goes through your temples, and you cannot endure it without a cry. The gusts of death drive us on, lift us up, rock us to and fro. We leap, and do not know whither we go. Our eyes are blinking and weeping and obscured. The view before us is blocked by a flashing avalanche that fills space.

It is the barrage fire. We have to go through that whirlwind of fire and those fearful showers that vertically fall. We are passing through. We are through it, by chance. Here and there I have seen forms that spun round and were lifted up and laid down, illumined by a brief reflection from over yonder. I have glimpsed strange faces that uttered some sort of cry--you could see them without hearing them in the roar of annihilation. A brasier full of red and black masses huge and furious fell about me, excavating the ground, tearing it from under my feet, throwing me aside like a bouncing toy. I remember that I strode over a smoldering corpse, quite black, with a tissue of rosy blood shriveling on him; and I remember, too, that the skirts of the greatcoat flying next to me had caught fire, and left a trail of smoke behind. On our right, all along Trench 97, our glances were drawn and dazzled by a rank of frightful flames, closely crowded against each other like men.


Now, we are nearly running. I see some who fall solidly flat, face forward, and others who founder meekly, as though they would sit down on the ground. We step aside abruptly to avoid the prostrate dead, quiet and rigid, or else offensive, and also--more perilous snares!-- the wounded that hook on to you, struggling.

The International Trench! We are there. The wire entanglements have been torn up into long roots and creepers, thrown afar and coiled up, swept away and piled in great drifts by the guns. Between these big bushes of rain-damped steel the ground is open and free.

The trench is not defended. The Germans have abandoned it, or else a first wave has already passed over it. Its interior bristles with rifles placed against the bank. In the bottom are scattered corpses. From the jumbled litter of the long trench, hands emerge that protrude from gray sleeves with red facings, and booted legs. In places the embankment is destroyed and its woodwork splintered--all the flank of the trench collapsed and fallen into an indescribable mixture. In other places, round pits are yawning. And of all that moment I have best retained the vision of a whimsical trench covered with many-colored rags and tatters. For the making of their sandbags the Germans had used cotton and woolen stuffs of motley design pillaged from some house-furnisher's shop; and all this hotch-potch of colored remnants, mangled and frayed, floats and flaps and dances in our faces.

We have spread out in the trench. The lieutenant, who has jumped to the other side, is stooping and summoning us with signs and shouts--"Don't stay there; forward, forward!"

We climb the wall of the trench with the help of the sacks, of weapons, and of the backs that are piled up there. In the bottom of the ravine the soil is shot-churned, crowded with jetsam, swarming with prostrate bodies. Some are motionless as blocks of wood; others move slowly or convulsively. The barrage fire continues to increase its infernal discharge behind us on the ground that we have crossed. But where we are at the foot of the rise it is a dead point for the artillery.
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Re: Under Fire: The Story of a Squad, by Henri Barbusse

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:53 am

Part 2 of 2

A short and uncertain calm follows. We are less deafened and look at each other. There is fever in the eyes, and the cheek-bones are blood-red. Our breathing snores and our hearts drum in our bodies.

In haste and confusion we recognize each other, as if we had met again face to face in a nightmare on the uttermost shores of death. Some hurried words are cast upon this glade in hell--"It's you! "--"Where's Cocon?"-- "Don't know."--"Have you seen the captain? "--"No."--"Going strong?"--"Yes."

The bottom of the ravine is crossed and the other slope rises opposite. We climb in Indian file by a stairway rough-hewn in the ground: "Look out!" The shout means that a soldier half-way up the steps has been struck in the loins by a shell-fragment; he falls with his arms forward, bareheaded, like the diving swimmer. We can see the shapeless silhouette of the mass as it plunges into the gulf. I can almost see the detail of his blown hair over the black profile of his face.

We debouch upon the height. A great colorless emptiness is outspread before us. At first one can see nothing but a chalky and stony plain, yellow and gray to the limit of sight. No human wave is preceding ours; in front of us there is no living soul, but the ground is peopled with dead--recent corpses that still mimic agony or sleep, and old remains already bleached and scattered to the wind, half assimilated by the earth.

As soon as our pushing and jolted file emerges, two men close to me are hit, two shadows are hurled to the ground and roll under our feet, one with a sharp cry, and the other silently, as a felled ox. Another disappears with the caper of a lunatic, as if he had been snatched away. Instinctively we close up as we hustle forward---always forward--and the wound in our line closes of its own accord. The adjutant stops, raises his sword, lets it fall, and drops to his knees. His kneeling body slopes backward in jerks, his helmet drops on his heels, and he remains there, bareheaded, face to the sky. Hurriedly the rush of the rank has split open to respect his immobility.

But we cannot see the lieutenant. No more leaders then---- Hesitation checks the wave of humanity that begins to beat on the plateau. Above the trampling one hears the hoarse effort of our lungs. "Forward!" cries some soldier, and then all resume the onward race to perdition with increasing speed.

* * * * * *

"Where's Bertrand?" comes the laborious complaint of one of the foremost runners. "There! Here!" He had stooped in passing over a wounded man, but he leaves him quickly, and the man extends his arms towards him and seems to sob.

It is just at the moment when he rejoins us that we hear in front of us, coming from a sort of ground swelling, the crackle of a machine-gun. It is a moment of agony--more serious even than when we were passing through the flaming earthquake of the barrage. That familiar voice speaks to us across the plain, sharp and horrible. But we no longer stop. "Go on, go on!"

Our panting becomes hoarse groaning, yet still we hurl ourselves toward the horizon.

"The Boches! I see them!" a man says suddenly. "Yes--their heads, there--above the trench-- it's there, the trench, that line. It's close, Ah, the hogs!"

We can indeed make out little round gray caps which rise and then drop on the ground level, fifty yards away, beyond a belt of dark earth, furrowed and humped. Encouraged they spring forward, they who now form the group where I am. So near the goal, so far unscathed, shall we not reach it? Yes, we will reach it! We make great strides and no longer hear anything. Each man plunges straight ahead, fascinated by the terrible trench, bent rigidly forward, almost incapable of turning his head to right or to left. I have a notion that many of us missed their footing and fell to the ground. I jump sideways to miss the suddenly erect bayonet of a toppling rifle. Quite close to me, Farfadet jostles me with his face bleeding, throws himself on Volpatte who is beside me and clings to him. Volpatte doubles up without slackening his rush and drags him along some paces, then shakes him off without looking at him and without knowing who be is, and shouts at him in a breaking voice almost choked with exertion: "Let me go, let me go, nom de Dieu! They'll pick you up directly--don't worry."

The other man sinks to the ground, and his face, plastered with a scarlet mask and void of all expression, turns in every direction; while Volpatte, already in the distance, automatically repeats between his teeth, "Don't worry," with a steady forward gaze on the line.

A shower of bullets spirts around me, increasing the number of those who suddenly halt, who collapse slowly, defiant and gesticulating, of those who dive forward solidly with all the body's burden, of the shouts, deep, furious, and desperate, and even of that hollow and terrible gasp when a man's life goes bodily forth in a breath. And we who are not yet stricken, we look ahead, we walk and we run, among the frolics of the death that strikes at random into our flesh.

The wire entanglements--and there is one stretch of them intact. We go along to where it has been gutted into a wide and deep opening. This is a colossal funnel-hole, formed of smaller funnels placed together, a fantastic volcanic crater, scooped there by the guns.

The sight of this convulsion is stupefying; truly it seems that it must have come from the center of the earth. Such a rending of virgin strata puts new edge on our attacking fury, and none of us can keep from shouting with a solemn shake of the head--even just now when words are but painfully torn from our throats--"Ah, Christ! Look what hell we've given 'em there! Ah, look!"

Driven as if by the wind, we mount or descend at the will of the hollows and the earthy mounds in the gigantic fissure dug and blackened and burned by furious flames. The soil clings to the feet and we tear them out angrily. The accouterments and stuffs that cover the soft soil, the linen that is scattered about from sundered knapsacks, prevent us from sticking fast in it, and we are careful to plant our feet in this debris when we jump into the holes or climb the hillocks.

Behind us voices urge us--- Forward, boys, forward, nome de Dieu!"

"All the regiment is behind us!" they cry. We do not turn round to see, but the assurance electrifies our rush once more.

No more caps are visible behind the embankment of the trench we are nearing. Some German dead are crumbling in front of it, in pinnacled heaps or extended lines. We are there. The parapet takes definite and sinister shape and detail; the loopholes--we are prodigiously, incredibly close!

Something falls in front of us. It is a bomb. With a kick Corporal Bertrand returns it so well that it rises and bursts just over the trench.

With that fortunate deed the squad reaches the trench.

Pépin has hurled himself flat on the ground and is involved with a corpse. He reaches the edge and plunges in--the first to enter. Fouillade, with great gestures and shouts, jumps into the pit almost at the same moment that Pépin rolls down it. Indistinctly I see--in the time of the lightning's flash--a whole row of black demons stooping and squatting for the descent, on the ridge of the embankment, on the edge of the dark ambush.

A terrible volley bursts point-blank in our faces, flinging in front of us a sudden row of flames the whole length of the earthen verge. After the stunning shock we shake ourselves and burst into devilish laughter--the discharge has passed too high. And at once, with shouts and roars of salvation, we slide and roll and fall alive into the belly of the trench!

* * * * * *

We are submerged in a mysterious smoke, and at first I can only see blue uniforms in the stifling gulf. We go one way and then another, driven by each other, snarling and searching. We turn about, and with our hands encumbered by knife, bombs, and rifle, we do not know at first what to do.

"They're in their funk-holes, the swine!" is the cry. Heavy explosions are shaking the earth--underground, in the dug-outs. We are all at once divided by huge clouds of smoke so thick that we are masked and can see nothing more. We struggle like drowning men through the acrid darkness of a fallen fragment of night. One stumbles against barriers of cowering clustered beings who bleed and howl in the bottom. Hardly can one make out the trench walls, straight up just here and made of white sandbags, which are everywhere torn like paper. At one time the heavy adhesive reek sways and lifts, and one sees again the swarming mob of the attackers. Torn out of the dusty picture, the silhouette of a hand-to-hand struggle is drawn in fog on the wall, it droops and sinks to the bottom. I hear several shrill cries of "Kamarad!" proceeding from a pale-faced and gray-clad group in the huge corner made by a rending shell. Under the inky cloud the tempest of men flows back, climbs towards the right, eddying, pitching and falling, along the dark and ruined mole.

* * * * * *

And suddenly one feels that it is over. We see and hear and understand that our wave, rolling here through the barrage fire, has not encountered an equal breaker. They have fallen back on our approach. The battle has dissolved in front of us. The slender curtain of defenders has crumbled into the holes, where they are caught like rats or killed. There is no more resistance, but a void, a great void. We advance in crowds like a terrible array of spectators.

And here the trench seems all lightning-struck. With its tumbled white walls it might be just here the soft and slimy bed of a vanished river that has left stony bluffs, with here and there the flat round hole of a pool, also dried up; and on the edges, on the sloping banks and in the bottom, there is a long trailing glacier of corpses--a dead river that is filled again to overflowing by the new tide and the breaking wave of our company. In the smoke vomited by dug-outs and the shaking wind of subterranean explosions, I come upon a compact mass of men hooked onto each other who are describing a wide circle. Just as we reach them the entire mass breaks up to make a residue of furious battle. I see Blaire break away, his helmet hanging on his neck by the chin-strap and his face flayed, and uttering a savage yell. I stumble upon a man who is crouching at the entry to a dug-out. Drawing back from the black hatchway, yawning and treacherous, he steadies himself with his left hand on a beam. In his right hand and for several seconds he holds a bomb which is on the point of exploding. It disappears in the hole, bursts immediately, and a horrible human echo answers him from the bowels of the earth. The man seizes another bomb.

Another man strikes and shatters the posts at the mouth of another dug-out with a pickax he has found there, causing a landslide, and the entry is blocked. I see several shadows trampling and gesticulating over the tomb.

Of the living ragged band that has got so far and has reached this long-sought trench after dashing against the storm of invincible shells and bullets launched to meet them, I can hardly recognize those whom I know, just as though all that had gone before of our lives had suddenly become very distant. There is some change working in them. A frenzied excitement is driving them all out of themselves.

"What are we stopping here for?" says one, grinding his teeth.

"Why don't we go on to the next?" a second asks me in fury. "Now we're here, we'd be there in a few jumps!'

"I, too, I want to go on."--"Me, too. Ah, the hogs!" They shake themselves like banners. They carry the luck of their survival as it were glory; they are implacable, uncontrolled, intoxicated with themselves.

We wait and stamp about in the captured work, this strange demolished way that winds along the plain and goes from the unknown to the unknown.

Advance to the right!

We begin to flow again in one direction. No doubt it is a movement planned up there, back yonder, by the chiefs. We trample soft bodies underfoot, some of which are moving and slowly altering their position; rivulets and cries come from them. Like posts and heaps of rubbish, corpses are piled anyhow on the wounded, and press them down, suffocate them, strangle them. So that I can get by, I must push at a slaughtered trunk of which the neck is a spring of gurgling blood.

In the cataclysm of earth and of massive wreckage blown up and blown out, above the hordes of wounded and dead that stir together, athwart the moving forest of smoke implanted in the trench and in all its environs, one no longer sees any face but what is inflamed, blood-red with sweat, eyes flashing. Some groups seem to be dancing as they brandish their knives. They are elated, immensely confident, ferocious.

The battle dies down imperceptibly. A soldier says, "Well, what's to be done now?" ft flares up again suddenly at one point. Twenty yards away in the plain, in the direction of a circle that the gray embankment makes, a cluster of rifle-shots crackles and hurls its scattered missiles around a hidden machine-gun, that spits intermittently and seems to be in difficulties.

Under the shadowy wing of a sort of yellow and bluish nimbus I see men encircling the flashing machine and closing in on it. Near to me I make out the silhouette of Mesnil Joseph, who is steering straight and with no effort of concealment for the spot whence the barking explosions come in jerky sequence.

A flash shoots out from a corner of the trench between us two. Joseph halts, sways, stoops, and drops on one knee. I run to him and he watches me coming. "It's nothing--my thigh. I can crawl along by myself." He seems to have become quiet, childish, docile; and sways slowly towards the trench.

I have still in my eyes the exact spot whence rang the shot that hit him, and I slip round there by the left, making a detour. No one there. I only meet another of our squad on the same errand--Paradis.

We are bustled by men who are carrying on their shoulders pieces of iron of all shapes. They block up the trench and separate us. "The machine-gun's taken by the 7th," they shout, "it won't bark any more. It was a mad devil--filthy beast! Filthy beast!"

"What's there to do now?"--"Nothing."

We stay there, jumbled together, and sit down. The living have ceased to gasp for breath, the dying have rattled their last, surrounded by smoke and lights and the din of the guns that rolls to all the ends of the earth. We no longer know where we are. There is neither earth nor sky--nothing but a sort of cloud. The first period of inaction is forming in the chaotic drama, and there is a general slackening in the movement and the uproar. The cannonade grows less; it still shakes the sky as a cough shakes a man, but it is farther off now. Enthusiasm is allayed, and there remains only the infinite fatigue that rises and overwhelms us, and the infinite waiting that begins over again.

* * * * * *

Where is the enemy? He has left his dead everywhere, and we have seen rows of prisoners. Yonder again there is. one, drab, ill-defined and smoky, outlined against the dirty sky. But the bulk seem to have dispersed afar. A few shells come to us here and there blunderingly, and we ridicule them. We are saved, we are quiet, we are alone, in this desert where an immensity of corpses adjoins a line of the living.

Night has come. The dust has flown away, but has yielded place to shadow and darkness over the long-drawn multitude's disorder. Men approach each other, sit down, get up again and walk about, leaning on each other or hooked together. Between the dug-outs, which are blocked by the mingled dead, we gather in groups and squat. Some have laid their rifles on the ground and wander on the rim of the trench with their arms balancing; and when they come near we can see that they are blackened and scorched, their eyes are red and slashed with mud. We speak seldom, but are beginning to think.

We see the stretcher-bearers, whose sharp silhouettes stoop and grope; they advance linked two and two together by their long burdens. Yonder on our right one hears the blows of pick and shovel.

I wander into the middle of this gloomy turmoil. In a place where the embankment has crushed the embankment of the trench into a gentle slope, some one is seated. A faint light still prevails. The tranquil attitude of this man as he looks reflectively in front of him is sculptural and striking. Stooping, I recognize him as Corporal Bertrand. He turns his face towards me, and I feel that he is looking at me through the shadows with his thoughtful smile.

"I was coming to look for you," he says; "they're organizing a guard for the trench until we've got news of what the others have done and what's going on in front. I'm going to put you on double sentry with Paradis, in a listening-post that the sappers have just dug."

We watch the shadows of the passers-by and of those who are seated, outlined in inky blots, bowed and bent in diverse attitudes under the gray sky, all along the ruined parapet. Dwarfed to the size of insects and worms, they make a strange and secret stirring among these shadow-hidden lands where for two years war has caused cities of soldiers to wander or stagnate over deep and boundless cemeteries.

Two obscure forms pass in the dark, several paces from us; they are talking together in low voices-- "You bet, old chap, instead of listening to him, I shoved my bayonet into his belly so that I couldn't haul it out."

"There were four in the bottom of the hole. I called to 'em to come out, and as soon as one came out I stuck him. Blood ran down me up to the elbow and stuck up my sleeves."

"Ah!" the first speaker went on, "when we are telling all about it later, if we get back, to the other people at home, by the stove and the candle, who's going to believe it? It's a pity, isn't it?"

"I don't care a damn about that, as long as we do get back," said the other; "I want the end quickly, and only that."

Bertrand was used to speak very little ordinarily, and never of himself. But he said, "I've got three of them on my hands. I struck like a madman. Ah, we were all like beasts when we got here!"

He raised his voice and there was a restrained tremor in it: "it was necessary," he said, "it was necessary, for the future's sake."

He crossed his arms and tossed his head: "The future!" he cried all at once as a prophet might. "How will they regard this slaughter, they who'll live after us, to whom progress--which comes as sure as fate--will at last restore the poise of their conscience? How will they regard these exploits which even we who perform them don't know whether one should compare them with those of Plutarch's and Corneille's heroes or with those of hooligans and apaches?

"And for all that, mind you," Bertrand went on. "there is one figure that has risen above the war and will blaze with the beauty and strength of his courage ----"

I listened, leaning on a stick and towards him, drinking in the voice that came in the twilight silence from the lips that so rarely spoke. He cried with a clear voice---"Liebknecht!"

He stood up with his arms still crossed. His face, as profoundly serious as a statue's, drooped upon his chest. But he emerged once again from his marble muteness to repeat, "The future, the future! The work of the future will be to wipe out the present, to wipe it out more than we can imagine, to wipe it out like something abominable and shameful. And yet--this present-- it had to be, it had to be! Shame on military glory, shame on armies, shame on the soldier's calling, that changes men by turns into stupid victims or ignoble brutes. Yes, shame. That's the true word, but it's too true; it's true in eternity, but it's not yet true for us. It will be true when there is a Bible that is entirely true, when it is found written among the other truths that a purified mind will at the same time let us understand. We are still lost, still exiled far from that time. In our time of to-day, in these moments, this truth is hardly more than a fallacy, this sacred saying is only blasphemy!"

A kind of laugh came from him, full of echoing dreams--"To think I once told them I believed in prophecies, just to kid them!"

I sat down by Bertrand's side. This soldier who had always done more than was required of him and survived notwithstanding, stood at that moment in my eyes for those who incarnate a lofty moral conception, who have the strength to detach themselves from the hustle of circumstances, and who are destined, however little their path may run through a splendor of events, to dominate their time.

"I have always thought all those things," I murmured.

"Ah!" said Bertrand. We looked at each other without a word, with a little surprised self-communion. After this full silence he spoke again. "It's time to start duty; take your rifle and come."

* * * * * *

From our listening-post we see towards the east a light spreading like a conflagration, but bluer and sadder than buildings on fire. It streaks the sky above a long black cloud which extends suspended like the smoke of an extinguished fire, like an immense stain on the world. It is the returning morning.

It is so cold that we cannot stand still in spite of our fettering fatigue. We tremble and shiver and shed tears, and our teeth chatter. Little by little, with dispiriting tardiness, day escapes from the sky into the slender framework of the black clouds. All is frozen, colorless and empty; a deathly silence reigns everywhere. There is rime and snow under a burden of mist. Everything is white. Paradis moves--a heavy pallid ghost, for we two also are all white. I had placed my shoulder-bag on the other side of the parapet, and it looks as if wrapped in paper. In the bottom of the hole a little snow floats, fretted and gray in the black foot-bath. Outside the hole, on the piled-up things, in the excavations, upon the crowded dead, snow rests like muslin.

Two stooping protuberant masses are crayoned on the mist; they grow darker as they approach and hail us. They are the men who come to relieve us. Their faces are ruddy and tearful with cold, their cheek-bones like enameled tiles; but their greatcoats are not snow-powdered, for they have slept underground.

Paradis hoists himself out. Over the plain I follow his Father Christmas back and the duck-like waddle of the boots that pick up white-felted soles. Bending deeply forward we regain the trench; the footsteps of those who replaced us are marked in black on the scanty whiteness that covers the ground.

Watchers are standing at intervals in the trench, over which tarpaulins are stretched on posts here and there, figured in white velvet or mottled with rime, and forming great irregular tents; and between the watchers are squatting forms who grumble and try to fight against the cold. to exclude it from the meager fireside of their own chests, or who are simply frozen. A dead man has slid down. upright and hardly askew, with his feet in the trench and his chest and arms resting on the bank. He was clasping the earth when life left him. His face is turned skyward and is covered with a leprosy of ice, the eyelids are white as the eyes, the mustache caked with hard slime. Other bodies are sleeping, less white than that one; the snowy stratum is only intact on lifeless things.

"We must sleep." Paradis and I are looking for shelter, a hole where we may hide ourselves and shut our eyes. "It can't be helped if there are stiffs in the dugouts," mutters Paradis; "in a cold like this they'll keep, they won't be too bad." We go forward, so weary that we can only see the ground.

I am alone. Where is Paradis? He must have lain down in some hole, and perhaps I did not hear his call. I meet Marthereau. "I'm looking where I can sleep, I've been on guard," he says.

"I, too; let's look together."

"What's all the row and to-do?" says Marthereau. A mingled hubbub of trampling and voices overflows from the communication trench that goes off here. "The communication trenches are full of men. Who are you?"

One of those with whom we are suddenly mixed up replies, "We're the Fifth Battalion." The newcomers stop. They are in marching order. The one that spoke sits down for a breathing space on the curves of a sand-bag that protrudes from the line. He wipes his nose with the back of his sleeve.

"What are you doing here? Have they told you to come?"

"Not half they haven't told us. We're coming to attack. We're going yonder, right up." With his head he indicates the north. The curiosity with which we look at them fastens on to a detail. "You've carried everything with you?"--"We chose to keep it, that's all."

"Forward!" they are ordered. They rise and proceed, incompletely awake, their eyes puffy, their wrinkles underlined. There are young men among them with thin necks and vacuous eyes, and old men; and in the middle, ordinary ones. They march with a commonplace and pacific step. What they are going to do seems to us, who did it last night, beyond human strength. But still they go away towards the north.

"The revally of the damned," says Marthereau.

We make way for them with a sort of admiration and a sort of terror. When they have passed, Marthereau wags his head and murmurs, "There are some getting ready, too, on the other side, with their gray uniforms. Do you think those chaps are feeling it about the attack? Then why have they come? It's not their doing, I know, but it's theirs all the same, seeing they're here.-- I know, I know, but it's odd, all of it."

The sight of a passer-by alters the course of his ideas: "Tiens, there's Truc, the big one, d'you know him? Isn't he immense and pointed, that chap! As for me, I know I'm not quite hardly big enough; but him, he goes too far. He always knows what's going on, that two-yarder! For savvying everything, there's nobody going to give him the go-by! I'll go and chivvy him about a funk-hole."

"If there's a rabbit-hole anywhere?" replies the elongated passer-by, leaning on Marthereau like a poplar tree, "for sure, my old Caparthe, certainly. Tiens, there"--and unbending his elbow he makes an indicative gesture like a flag-signaler---"'Villa von Hindenburg.' and there, 'Villa Glücks auf.' If that doesn't satisfy you, you gentlemen are hard to please. P'raps there's a few lodgers in the basement, but not noisy lodgers, and you can talk out aloud in front of them, you know!"

"Ah, nom de Dieu!" cried Marthereau a quarter of an hour after we had established ourselves in one of these square-cut graves, "there's lodgers he didn't tell us about, that frightful great lightning-rod, that infinity!" His eyelids were just closing, but they opened again and he scratched his arms and thighs: "I want a snooze! It appears it's out of the question. Can't resist these things."

We settled ourselves to yawning and sighing, and finally we lighted a stump of candle, wet enough to resist us although covered with our hands; and we watched each other yawn.

The German dug-out consisted of several rooms. We were against a partition of ill-fitting planks; and on the other side, in Cave No. 2, some men were also awake. We saw light trickle through the crannies between the planks and heard rumbling voices. "It's the other section," said Marthereau.

Then we listened, mechanically. "When I was off on leave," boomed an invisible talker, "we had the hump at first, because we were thinking of my poor brother who was missing in March--dead, no doubt--and of my poor little Julien, of Class 1915, killed in the October attacks. And then bit by bit, her and me, we settled down to be happy at being together again, you see. Our little kid, the last, a five-year-old, entertained us a treat. He wanted to play soldiers with me, and I made a little gun for him. I explained the trenches to him; and he, all fluttering with delight like a bird, he was shooting at me and yelling. Ah, the damned young gentleman, he did it properly! He'll make a famous poilu later! I tell you, he's quite got the military spirit!"

A silence; then an obscure murmur of talk, in the midst of which we catch the name of Napoleon; then another voice, or the same, saying, "Wilhelm, he's a stinking beast to have brought this war on. But Napoleon, he was a great man!"

Marthereau is kneeling in front of me in the feeble and scanty rays of our candle, in the bottom of this dark ill-enclosed hole where the cold shudders through at intervals, where vermin swarm and where the sorry crowd of living men endures the faint but musty savor of a tomb; and Marthereau looks at me. He still hears, as I do, the unknown soldier who said, "Wilhelm is a stinking beast, but Napoleon was a great man," and who extolled the martial ardor of the little boy still left to him. Marthereau droops his arms and wags his weary head--and the shadow of the double gesture is thrown on the partition by the lean light in a sudden caricature.

"Ah!" says my humble companion, "we're all of us not bad sorts, and we're unlucky, and we're poor devils as well. But we're too stupid, we're too stupid!"

Again he turns his eyes on me. In his bewhiskered and poodle-like face I see his fine eyes shining in wondering and still confused contemplation of things which he is setting himself to understand in the innocence of his obscurity.

We come out of the uninhabitable shelter; the weather has bettered a little; the snow has melted, and all is soiled anew. "The wind's licked up the sugar," says Marthereau.

* * * * *

I am deputed to accompany Mesnil Joseph to the refuge on the Pylônes road. Sergeant Henriot gives me charge of the wounded man and hands me his clearing order. "If you meet Bertrand on the way," says Henriot, "tell him to look sharp and get busy, will you?" Bertrand went away on liaison duty last night and they have been waiting for him for an hour; the captain is getting impatient and threatens to lose his temper.

I get under way with Joseph, who walks very slowly, a little paler than usual, and still taciturn. Now and again he halts, and his face twitches. We follow the communication trenches, and a comrade appears suddenly. It is Volpatte, and he says, "I'm going with you to the foot of the hill." As he is off duty, he is wielding a magnificent twisted walking-stick, and he shakes in his hand like castanets the precious pair of scissors that never leaves him.

All three of us come out of the communication trench when the slope of the land allows us to do it without danger of bullets--the guns are not firing. As soon as we are outside we stumble upon a gathering of men. It is raining. Between the heavy legs planted there like little trees on the gray plain in the mist we see a dead man. Volpatte edges his way in to the horizontal form upon which these upright ones are waiting; then he turns round violently and shouts to us, "It's Pépin!"

"Ah!" says Joseph, who is already almost fainting. He leans on me and we draw near. Pépin is full length, his feet and hands bent and shriveled, and his rain-washed face is swollen and horribly gray.

A man who holds a pickax and whose sweating face is full of little black trenches, recounts to us the death of Pépin: "He'd gone into a funk-hole where the Boches had planked themselves, and behold no one knew he was there and they smoked the hole to make sure of cleaning it out, and the poor lad, they found him after the operation, corpsed, and all pulled out like a cat's innards in the middle of the Boche cold meat that he'd stuck--and very nicely stuck too, I may say, seeing I was in business as a butcher in the suburbs of Paris."

"One less to the squad!" says Volpatte as we go away.

We are now on the edge of the ravine at the spot where the plateau begins that our desperate charge traversed last evening, and we cannot recognize it. This plain, which had then seemed to me quite level, though it really slopes, is an amazing charnel-house. It swarms with corpses, and might be a cemetery of which the top has been taken away.

Groups of men are moving about it, identifying the dead of last evening and last night, turning the remains over, recognizing them by some detail in spite of their faces. One of these searchers, kneeling, draws from a dead hand an effaced and mangled photograph--a portrait killed.

In the distance, black shell-smoke goes up in scrolls. then detonates over the horizon. The wide and stippled flight of an army of crows sweeps the sky.

Down below among the motionless multitude, and identifiable by their wasting and disfigurement, there are zouaves, tirailleurs, and Foreign Legionaries from the May attack. The extreme end of our lines was then on Berthonval Wood, five or six kilometers from here. In that attack, which was one of the most terrible of the war or of any war, those men got here in a single rush. They thus formed a point too far advanced in the wave of attack, and were caught on the flanks between the machine-guns posted to right and to left on the lines they had overshot. It is some months now since death hollowed their eyes and consumed their cheeks, but even in those storm-scattered and dissolving remains one can identify the havoc of the machine-guns that destroyed them, piercing their backs and loins and severing them in the middle. By the side of heads black and waxen as Egyptian mummies, clotted with grubs and the wreckage of insects, where white teeth still gleam in some cavities, by the side of poor darkening stumps that abound like a field of old roots laid bare, one discovers naked yellow skulls wearing the red cloth fez, whose gray cover has crumbled like paper. Some thigh-bones protrude from the heaps of rags stuck together with reddish mud; and from the holes filled with clothes shredded and daubed with a sort of tar, a spinal fragment emerges. Some ribs are scattered on the soil like old cages broken; and close by, blackened leathers are afloat, with water-bottles and drinking-cups pierced and flattened. About a cloven knapsack, on the top of some bones and a cluster of bits of cloth and accouterments, some white points are evenly scattered; by stooping one can see that they are the finger and toe constructions of what was once a corpse.

Sometimes only a rag emerges from long mounds to indicate that some human being was there destroyed, for all these unburied dead end by entering the soil.

The Germans, who were here yesterday, abandoned their soldiers by the side of ours without interring them-- as witness these three putrefied corpses on the top of each other, in each other, with their round gray caps whose red edge is hidden with a gray band, their yellow-gray jackets, and their green faces. I look for the features of one of them. From the depth of his neck up to the tufts of hair that stick to the brim of his cap is just an earthy mass, the face become an anthill, and two rotten berries in place of the eyes. Another is a dried emptiness flat on its belly, the back in tatters that almost flutter, the hands, feet, and face enrooted in the soil.

"Look! It's a new one, this----"

In the middle of the plateau and in the depth of the rainy and bitter air, on the ghastly morrow of this debauch of slaughter, there is a head planted in the ground, a wet and bloodless head, with a heavy beard.

It is one of ours, and the helmet is beside it. The distended eyelids permit a little to be seen of the dull porcelain of his eyes, and one lip shines like a slug in the shapeless beard. No doubt he fell into a shell-hole, which was filled up by another shell, burying him up to the neck like the cat's-head German of the Red Tavern at Souchez.

"I don't know him," says Joseph, who has come up very slowly and speaks with difficulty.

"I recognize him," replies Volpatte.

"That bearded man?" says Joseph.

"He has no beard. Look----" Stooping, Volpatte passes the end of his stick under the chin of the corpse and breaks off a sort of slab of mud in which the head was set, a slab that looked like a beard. Then he picks up the dead man's helmet and puts it on his head, and for a moment holds before the eyes the round handles of his famous scissors so as to imitate spectacles.

"Ah!" we all cried together, "it's Cocon!"

When you hear of or see the death of one of those who fought by your side and lived exactly the same life, you receive a direct blow in the flesh before even understanding. It is truly as if one heard of his own destruction. It is only later that one begins to mourn.

We look at the hideous head that is murder's jest, the murdered head already and cruelly effacing our memories of Cocon. Another comrade less. We remain there around him, afraid.

"He was----"

We should like to speak a little, but do not know what to say that would be sufficiently serious or telling or true.

"Come," says Joseph, with an effort, wholly engrossed by his severe suffering, "I haven't strength enough to be stopping all the time."

We leave poor Cocon, the ex-statistician, with a last look, a look too short and almost vacant.

"One cannot imagine----" says Volpatte.

No, one cannot imagine. All these disappearances at once surpass the imagination. There are not enough survivors now. But we have vague idea of the grandeur of these dead. They have given all; by degrees they have given all their strength, and finally they have given themselves, en bloc. They have outpaced life, and their effort has something of superhuman perfection.

* * * * * *

"Tiens, he's just been wounded, that one, and yet--" A fresh wound is moistening the neck of a body that is almost a skeleton.

"It's a rat," says Volpatte. "The stiffs are old ones, but the rats talk to 'em. You see some rats laid out--poisoned, p'raps--near every body or under it. Tiens, this poor old chap shall show us his." He lifts up the foot of the collapsed remains and reveals two dead rats.

"I should like to find Farfadet again," says Volpatte. 'I told him to wait just when we started running and he clipped hold of me. Poor lad, let's hope he waited!"

So he goes to and fro, attracted towards the dead by a strange curiosity; and these, indifferent, bandy him about from one to another, and at each step he looks on the ground. Suddenly he utters a cry of distress. With his hand he beckons us as he kneels to a dead man.


Acute emotion grips us. He has been killed; he, too, like the rest, he who most towered over us by his energy and intelligence. By virtue of always doing his duty. he has at last got killed. He has at last found death where indeed it was.

We look at him, and then turn away from the sight and look upon each other.

The shock of his loss is aggravated by the spectacle that his remains present, for they are abominable to see. Death has bestowed a grotesque look and attitude on the man who was so comely and so tranquil. With his hair scattered over his eyes, his mustache trailing in his mouth, and his face swollen--he is laughing. One eye is widely open, the other shut, and the tongue lolls out. His arms are outstretched in the form of a cross: the hands open, the fingers separated. The right leg is straight. The left, whence flowed the hemorrhage that made him die, has been broken by a shell; it is twisted into a circle, dislocated, slack, invertebrate. A mournful irony has invested the last writhe of his agony with the appearance of a clown's antic.

We arrange him, and lay him straight, and tranquillize the horrible masks. Volpatte has taken a pocket-book from him and places it reverently among his own papers, by the side of the portrait of his own wife and children. That done, he shakes his head: "He--he was truly a good sort, old man. When he said anything, that was the proof that it was true. Ah, we needed him badly!"

"Yes," I said, "we had need of him always."

"Ah, la, la!" murmurs Volpatte. and he trembles. Joseph repeats in a weak voice, "Ah, nom de Dieu! Ah, nom de Dieu!"

The plateau is as covered with people as a public square; fatigue-parties in detachments, and isolated men. Here and there, the stretcher-bearers are beginning (patiently and in a small way) their huge and endless task.

Volpatte leaves us, to return to the trench and announce our new losses, and above all the great gap left by Bertrand. He says to Joseph, "We shan't lose sight of you, eh? Write us a line now and again--just, 'All goes well; signed, Camembert,' eh?" He disappears among the people who cross each other's path in the expanse now completely possessed by a mournful and endless rain.

Joseph leans on me and we go down into the ravine. The slope by which we descend is known as the Zouaves' Cells. In the May attack, the Zouaves had all begun to dig themselves individual shelters, and round these they were exterminated. Some are still seen, prone on the brim of an incipient hole, with their trenching-tools in their fleshless hands or looking at them with the cavernous hollows where shrivel the entrails of eyes. The ground is so full of dead that the earth-falls uncover places that bristle with feet, with half-clothed skeletons, and with ossuaries of skulls placed side by side on the steep slope like porcelain globe-jars.

In the ground here there are several strata of dead and in many places the delving of the shells has brought out the oldest and set them out in display on the top of the new ones. The bottom of the ravine is completely carpeted with debris of weapons, clothing, and implements. One tramples shell fragments, old iron, loaves and even biscuits that have fallen from knapsacks and are not yet dissolved by the rain. Mess-tins, pots of jam. and helmets are pierced and riddled by bullets--the scrapings and scum of a hell-broth; and the dislocated posts that survive are stippled with holes.

The trenches that run in this valley have a look of earthquake crevasses, and as if whole tombs of uncouth things had been emptied on the ruins of the earth's convulsion. And there, where no dead are, the very earth is cadaverous.

We follow the International Trench, still fluttering with rainbow rags--a shapeless trench which the confusion of torn stuffs invests with an air of a trench assassinated-- to a place where the irregular and winding ditch forms an elbow. All the way along, as far as an earthwork barricade that blocks the way, German corpses are entangled and knotted as in a torrent of the damned, some of them emerging from muddy caves in the middle of a bewildering conglomerate of beams, ropes, creepers of iron, trench-rollers, hurdles, and bullet-screens. At the barrier itself, one corpse stands upright, fixed in the other dead, while another, planted in the same spot, stands obliquely in the dismal place, the whole arrangement looking like part of a big wheel embedded in the mud, or the shattered sail of a windmill. And over all this, this catastrophe of flesh and filthiness, religious images are broadcast, post-cards, pious pamphlets, leaflets on which prayers are written in Gothic lettering--they have scattered themselves in waves from gutted clothing. The paper words seem to bedeck with blossom these shores of pestilence, this Valley of Death, with their countless pallors of barren lies.

I seek a solid footway to guide Joseph in--his wound is paralyzing him by degrees, and he feels it extending throughout his body. While I support him, and he is looking at nothing, I look upon the ghastly upheaval through which we are escaping.

A German sergeant is seated, here where we tread, supported by the riven timbers that once formed the shelter of a sentry. There is a little hole under his eye; the thrust of a bayonet has nailed him to the planks through his face. In front of him, also sitting, with his elbows on his knees and his fists on his chin, there is a man who has all the top of his skull taken off like a boiled egg. Beside them--an awful watchman!--the half of a man is standing, a man sliced in two from scalp to stomach, upright against the earthen wall. I do not know where the other half of this human post may be, whose eye hangs down above and whose bluish viscera curl spirally round his leg.

Down below, one's foot detaches itself from a matrix of blood, stiffened with French bayonets that have been bent, doubled, and twisted by the force of the blow. Through a gap in the mutilated wall one espies a recess where the bodies of soldiers of the Prussian Guard seem to kneel in the pose of suppliants, run through from behind, with blood-stained gaps, impaled. Out of this group they have pulled to its edge a huge Senegalese tirailleur, who, petrified in the contorted position where death seized him, leans upon empty air and holds fast by his feet, staring at his two severed wrists. No doubt a bomb had exploded in his hands; and since all his face is alive, he seems to be gnawing maggots.

"It was here," says a passing soldier of an Alpine regiment, "that they did the white flag trick; and as they'd got Africans to deal with, you bet they got it hot!--Tiens, there's the white flag itself that these dunghills used."

He seizes and shakes a long handle that lies there. A square of white stuff is nailed to it, and unfolds itself innocently.

A procession of shovel-bearers advances along the battered trench. They have an order to shovel the earth into the relics of the trenches, to stop everything up, so that the bodies may be buried on the spot. Thus these helmeted warriors will here perform the work of the redresser of wrongs as they restore their full shape to the fields and make level the cavities already half filled by cargoes of invaders.

* * * * * *

Some one calls me from the other side of the trench, a man sitting on the ground and leaning against a stake. It is Papa Ramure. Through his unbuttoned greatcoat and jacket I see bandages around his chest. "The ambulance men have been to tuck me up," he says, in a weak and stertorous voice, "but they can't take me away from here before evening. But I know all right that I'm petering out every minute."

He jerks his head. "Stay a bit," he asks me. He is much moved, and the tears are flowing. He offers his hand and holds mine. He wants to say a lot of things to me and almost to make confession. "I was a straight man before the war," he says, with trickling tears; "I worked from morning to night to feed my little lot. And then I came here to kill Boches. And now, I've got killed. Listen, listen, listen, don't go away, listen to me----"

"I must take Joseph back--he's at the end of his strength. I'll come back afterwards."

Ramure lifted his streaming eyes to the wounded man. "Not only living, but wounded! Escaped from death! Ah, some women and children are lucky! All right, take him, take him, and come back--I hope I shall be waiting for you----"

Now we must climb the other slope of the ravine, and we enter the deformed and maltreated ditch of the old Trench 97.

Suddenly a frantic whistling tears the air and there is a shower of shrapnel above us. Meteorites flash and scatter in fearful flight in the heart of the yellow clouds. Revolving missiles rush through the heavens to break and burn upon the bill, to ransack it and exhume the old bones of men; and the thundering flames multiply themselves along an even line.

It is the barrage fire beginning again. Like children we cry, 'Enough, enough!"

In this fury of fatal engines, this mechanical cataclysm that pursues us through space, there is something that surpasses human strength and will, something supernatural. Joseph, standing with his hand in mine, looks over his shoulder at the storm of rending explosions. He bows his head like an imprisoned beast, distracted: "What, again! Always, then!" he growls; "after all we've done and all we've seen--and now it begins again! Ah, non, non!"

He falls on his knees, gasps for breath, and throws a futile look of full hatred before him and behind him. He repeats, "It's never finished, never!"

I take him by the arm and raise him. "Come; it'll be finished for you."

We must dally there awhile before climbing, so I will go and bring back Ramure in extremis, who is waiting for me. But Joseph clings to me, and then I notice a movement of men about the spot where I left the dying man. I can guess what it means; it is no longer worth while to go there.

The ground of the ravine where we two are closely clustered to abide the tempest is quivering, and at each shot we feel the deep simoom of the shells. But in the hole where we are there is scarcely any risk of being hit. At the first lull, some of the men who were also waiting detach themselves and begin to go up; stretcher-bearers redouble their huge efforts to carry a body and climb, making one think of stubborn ants pushed back by successive grains of sand; wounded men and liaison men move again.

"Let's go on," says Joseph, with sagging shoulders, as he measures the hill with his eye--the last stage of his Gethsemane.

There are trees here; a row of excoriated willow trunks, some of wide countenance, and others hollowed and yawning, like coffins on end. The scene through which we are struggling is rent and convulsed, with hills and chasms, and with such somber swellings as if all the clouds of storm had rolled down here. Above the tortured earth, this stampeded file of trunks stands forth against a striped brown sky, milky in places and obscurely sparkling--a sky of agate.

Across the entry to Trench 97 a felled oak twists his great body, and a corpse stops up the trench. Its head and legs are buried in the ground. The dirty water that trickles in the trench has covered it with a sandy glaze, and through the moist deposit the chest and belly bulge forth, clad in a shirt. We stride over the frigid remains, slimy and pale, that suggest the belly of a stranded crocodile; and it is difficult to do so, by reason of the soft and slippery ground. We have to plunge our hands up to the wrists in the mud of the wall.

At this moment an infernal whistle falls on us and we bend like bushes. The shell bursts in the air in front of us, deafening and blinding, and buries us under a horribly sibilant mountain of dark smoke. A climbing soldier has churned the air with his arms and disappeared, hurled into some hole. Shouts have gone up and fallen again like rubbish. While we are looking, through the great black veil that the wind tears from the ground and dismisses into the sky, at the bearers who are putting down a stretcher, running to the place of the explosion and picking up something inert--I recall the unforgettable scene when my brother-in-arms, Poterloo, whose heart was so full of hope, vanished with his arms outstretched in the flame of a shell.

We arrive at last on the summit, which is marked as with a signal by a wounded and frightful man. He is upright in the wind, shaken but upright, enrooted there. In his uplifted and wind-tossed cape we see a yelling and convulsive face. We pass by him, and he is like a sort of screaming tree.

* * * * * *

We have arrived at our old first line, the one from which we set off for the attack. We sit down on a firing-step with our backs to the holes cut for our exodus at the last minute by the sappers. Euterpe, the cyclist, passes and gives us good-day. Then he turns in his tracks and draws from the cuff of his coat-sleeve an envelope, whose protruding edge had conferred a white stripe on him.

"It's you, isn't it," be says to me, "that takes Biquet's letters that's dead?"--"Yes."--" Here's a returned one; the address has hopped it."

The envelope was exposed, no doubt, to rain on the top of a packet, and the address is no longer legible among the violet mottlings on the dried and frayed paper. Alone there survives in a corner the address of the sender. I pull the letter out gently--"My dear mother"--Ah, I remember! Biquet, now lying in the open air in the very trench where we are halted, wrote that letter not long ago in our quarters at Gauchin-l'Abbé, one flaming and splendid afternoon, in reply to a letter from his mother, whose fears for him had proved groundless and made him laugh--"You think I'm in the cold and rain and danger. Not at all; on the contrary, all that's finished. It's hot, we're sweating, and we've nothing to do only to stroll about in the sunshine. I laughed to read your letter----''

I return to the frail and damaged envelope the letter which, if chance had not averted this new irony, would have been read by the old peasant woman at the moment when the body of her son is a wet nothing in the cold and the storm, a nothing that trickles and flows like a dark spring on the wall of the trench.

Joseph has leaned his head backwards. His eyes close for a moment, his mouth half opens, and his breathing is fitful.

"Courage!" I say to him, and he opens his eyes again.

"Ah!" he replies, "it isn't to me you should say that. Look at those chaps, there, they're going back yonder, and you too, you're going back. It all has to go on for you others. Ah, one must be really strong to go on, to go on!"
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Re: Under Fire: The Story of a Squad, by Henri Barbusse

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:54 am

21. The Refuge

FROM this point onwards we are in sight of the enemy observation-posts, and must no longer leave the communication trenches. First we follow that of the Pylônes road. The trench is cut along the side of the road, and the road itself is wiped out; so are its trees. Half of it, all the way along, has been chewed and swallowed by the trench; and what is left of it has been invaded by the earth and the grass, and mingled with the fields in the fullness of time. At some places in the trench--there, where a sandbag has burst and left only a muddy cell--you may see again on the level of your eyes the stony ballast of the ex-road, cut to the quick, or even the roots of the bordering trees that have been cut down to embody in the trench wall. The latter is as slashed and uneven as if it were a wave of earth and rubbish and dark scum that the immense plain has spat out and pushed against the edge of the trench.

We arrive at a junction of trenches, and on the top of the maltreated hillock which is outlined on the cloudy grayness, a mournful signboard stands crookedly in the wind. The trench system becomes still more cramped and close, and the men who are flowing towards the clearing-station from all parts of the sector multiply and throng in the deep-dug ways.

These lamentable lanes are staked out with corpses. At uneven intervals their walls are broken into by quite recent gaps, extending to their full depth, by funnelholes of fresh earth which trespass upon the unwholesome land beyond, where earthy bodies are squatting with their chins on their knees or leaning against the wall as straight and silent as the rifles which wait beside them. Some of these standing dead turn their blood-bespattered faces towards the survivors; others exchange their looks with the sky's emptiness.

Joseph halts to take breath. I say to him as to a child, "We're nearly there, we're nearly there."

The sinister ramparts of this way of desolation contract still more. They impel a feeling of suffocation, of a nightmare of falling which oppresses and strangles: and in these depths where the walls seem to be coming nearer and closing in, you are forced to halt, to wriggle a path for yourself, to vex and disturb the dead, to be pushed about by the endless disorder of the files that flow along these hinder trenches, files made up of messengers, of the maimed, of men who groan and who cry aloud, who hurry frantically, crimsoned by fever or pallid and visibly shaken by pain.

* * * * * *

All this throng at last pulls up and gathers and groans at the crossways where the burrows of the Refuge open out.

A doctor is trying with shouts and gesticulations to keep a little space clear from the rising tide that beats upon the threshold of the shelter, where he applies summary bandages in the open air; they say he has not ceased to do it, nor his helpers either, all the night and all the day, that he is accomplishing a superhuman task.

When they leave his hands, some of the wounded are swallowed up by the black hole of the Refuge; others are sent back to the bigger clearing-station contrived in the trench on the Béthune road.

In this confined cavity formed by the crossing of the ditches, in the bottom of a sort of robbers' den, we waited two hours, buffeted, squeezed, choked and blinded, climbing over each other like cattle, in an odor of blood and butchery. There are faces that become more distorted and emaciated from minute to minute. One of the patients can no longer hold back his tears; they come in floods, and as he shakes his head he sprinkles his neighbors. Another, bleeding like a fountain, shouts, "Hey, there! have a look at me!" A young man with burning eyes yells like a soul in hell, "I'm on fire!" and he roars and blows like a furnace.

* * * * * *

Joseph is bandaged. He thrusts a way through to me and holds out his hand: "It isn't serious, it seems; good-by," he says.

At once we are separated in the mob. With my last glance I see his wasted face and the vacant absorption in his trouble as he is meekly led away by a Divisional stretcher-bearer whose hand is on his shoulder; and suddenly I see him no more. In war, life separates us just as death does, without our having even the time to think about it.

They tell me not to stay there, but to go down into the Refuge to rest before returning. There are two entries, very low and very narrow, on the level of the ground. This one is flush with the mouth of a sloping gallery, narrow as the conduit of a sewer. In order to penetrate the Refuge, one must first turn round and work backwards with bent body into the shrunken pipe, and here the feet discover steps. Every three paces there is a deep step.

Once inside you have a first impression of being trapped--that there is not room enough either to descend or climb out. As you go on burying yourself in the gulf, the nightmare of suffocation continues that you progressively endured as you advanced along the bowels of the trenches before foundering in here. On all sides you bump and scrape yourself, you are clutched by the tightness of the passage, you are wedged and stuck. I have to change the position of my cartridge pouches by sliding them round the belt and to take my bags in my arms against my chest. At the fourth step the suffocation increases still more and one has a moment of agony; little as one may lift his knee for the rearward step, his back strikes the roof. In this spot it is necessary to go on all fours, still backwards. As you go down into the depth, a pestilent atmosphere and heavy as earth buries you. Your hands touch only the cold, sticky and sepulchral clay of the wall, which bears you down on all sides and enshrouds you in a dismal solitude; its blind and moldy breath touches your face. On the last steps, reached after long labor, one is assailed by a hot, unearthly clamor that rises from the hole as from a sort of kitchen.

When you reach at last the bottom of this laddered sap that elbows and compresses you at every step, the evil dream is not ended, for you find yourself in a lone but very narrow cavern where gloom reigns, a mere corridor not more than five feet high. If you cease to stoop and to walk with bended knees, your head violently strikes the planks that roof the Refuge, and the newcomers are heard to growl--more or less forcefully, according to their temper and condition--"Ah, lucky I've got my tin hat on:"

One makes out the gesture of some one who is squatting in an angle. It is an ambulance man on guard, whose monotone says to each arrival, "Take the mud off your boots before going in." So you stumble into an accumulating pile of mud; it entangles you at the foot of the steps on this threshold of hell.

In the hubbub of lamentation and groaning, in the strong smell of a countless concentration of wounds, in this blinking cavern of confused and unintelligible life, I try first to get my bearings. Some weak candle flames are shining along the Refuge, but they only relieve the darkness in the spots where they pierce it. At the farthest end faint daylight appears, as it might to a dungeon prisoner at the bottom of an oubliette. This obscure vent-hole allows one to make out some big objects ranged along the corridor; they are low stretchers, like coffins. Around and above them one then dimly discerns the movement of broken and drooping shadows, and the stirring of ranks and groups of specters against the walls.

I turn round. At the end opposite that where the faraway light leaks through, a mob is gathered in front of a tent-cloth which reaches from the ceiling to the ground, and thus forms an apartment, whose illumination shines through the oily yellow material. In this retreat, anti-tetanus injections are going on by the light of an acetylene lamp. When the cloth is lifted to allow some one to enter or leave, the glare brutally besplashes the disordered rags of the wounded stationed in front to await their treatment. Bowed by the ceiling, seated, kneeling or groveling, they push each other in the desire not to lose their turn or to steal some other's, and they bark like dogs, "My turn!"--"Me!"----"Me!" In this corner of modified conflict the tepid stinks of acetylene and bleeding men are horrible to swallow.

I turn away from it and seek elsewhere to find a place where I may sit down. I go forward a little, groping, still stooping and curled up, and my hands in front.

By grace of the flame which a smoker holds over his pipe I see a bench before me, full of beings. My eyes are growing accustomed to the gloom that stagnates in the cave, and I can make out pretty well this row of people whose bandages and swathings dimly whiten their beads and limbs. Crippled, gashed, deformed, motionless or restless, fast fixed in this kind of barge, they present an incongruous collection of suffering and misery.

One of them cries out suddenly, half rises, and then sits down again. His neighbor, whose greatcoat is torn and his head bare, looks at him and says to him--"What's the use of worrying?"

And he repeats the sentence several times at random, gazing straight in front of him, his hands on his knees. A young man in the middle of the seat is talking to himself. He says that he is an aviator. There are burns down one side of his body and on his face. In his fever he is still burning; it seems to him that he is still gnawed by the pointed flames that leaped from his engine. He is muttering, "Gott mit uns!" and then, "God is with us!"

A zouave with his arm in a sling, who sits awry and seems to carry his shoulder like a torturing burden, speaks to him: "You're the aviator that fell, aren't you?"

"I've seen--things " replies the flying-man laboriously.

"I too, I've seen some!" the soldier interrupts; "some people couldn't stick it, to see what I've seen."

"Come and sit here," says one of the men on the seat to me, making room as he speaks. "Are you wounded?"

"No; I brought a wounded man here, and I'm going back."

"You're worse than wounded then; come and sit down."

"I was mayor in my place," explains one of the sufferers, "but when I go back no one will know me again, it's so long now that I've been in misery."

"Four hours now have I been stuck on this bench," groans a sort of mendicant, whose shaking hand holds his helmet on his knees like an alms-bowl, whose head is lowered and his back rounded.

"We're waiting to be cleared, you know," I am informed by a big man who pants and sweats--all the bulk of him seems to be boiling. His mustache hangs as if it had come half unstuck through the moisture of his face. He turns two big and lightless eyes on me, and his wound is not visible.

"That's so," says another; "all the wounded of the Brigade come and pile themselves up here one after another, without counting them from other places. Yes, look at it now; this hole here, it's the midden for the whole Brigade."

"I'm gangrened, I'm smashed, I'm all in bits inside," droned one who sat with his head in his hands and spoke through his fingers; "yet up to last week I was young and I was clean. They've changed me. Now, I've got nothing but a dirty old decomposed body to drag along."

"Yesterday," says another, "I was twenty-six years old. And now how old am I?" He tries to get up, so as to show us his shaking and faded face, worn out in a night, to show us the emaciation, the depression of cheeks and eye-sockets, and the dying flicker of light in his greasy eye.

"It hurts!" humbly says some one invisible.

"What's the use of worrying?" repeats the other mechanically.

There was a silence, and then the aviator cried, "The padres were trying on both sides to hide their voices."

"What's that mean?" said the astonished zouave.

"Are you taking leave of 'em, old chap?" asked a chasseur wounded in the hand and with one arm bound to his body, as his eyes left the mummified limb for a moment to glance at the flying-man.

The latter's looks were distraught; he was trying to interpret a mysterious picture which everywhere he saw before his eyes-- "Up there, from the sky, you don't see much, you know. Among the squares of the fields and the little heaps of the villages the roads run like white cotton. You can make out, too, some hollow threads that look as if they'd been traced with a pin-point and scratched through fine sand. These nets that festoon the plain with regularly wavy marks, they're the trenches. Last Sunday morning I was flying over the firing-line. Between our first lines and their first lines, between their extreme edges, between the fringes of the two huge armies that are up against each other, looking at each other and not seeing, and waiting--it's not very far; sometimes forty yards, sometimes sixty. To me it looked about a stride, at the great height where I was planing. And behold I could make out two crowds, one among the Boches, and one of ours, in these parallel lines that seemed to touch each other; each was a solid, lively lump, and all around 'em were dots like grains of black sand scattered on gray sand, and these hardly budged--it didn't look like an alarm! So I went down several turns to investigate.

"Then I understood. It was Sunday, and there were two religious services being held under my eyes--the altar, the padre, and all the crowd of chaps. The more I went down the more I could see that the two things were alike--so exactly alike that it looked silly. One of the services--whichever you like--was a reflection of the other, and I wondered if I was seeing double. I went down lower; they didn't fire at me. Why? I don't know at all. Then I could hear. I heard one murmur. one only. I could only gather a single prayer that came up to me en bloc, the sound of a single chant that passed by me on its way to heaven. I went to and fro in space to listen to this faint mixture of hymns that blended together just the same although they were one against the other; and the more they tried to get on top of each other, the more they were blended together up in the heights of the sky where I was floating.

"I got some shrapnel just at the moment when, very low down, I made out the two voices from the earth that made up the one--'Gott mit uns!' and 'God is with us!'--and I flew away."

The young man shook his bandage-covered head; he seemed deranged by the recollection. "I said to myself at the moment, 'I must be mad!'"

"It's the truth of things that's mad," said the zouave.

With his eyes shining in delirium, the narrator sought to express and convey the deep disturbing idea that was besieging him, that he was struggling against.

"Now think of it!" he said. "Fancy those two identical crowds yelling things that are identical and yet opposite, these identical enemy cries! What must the good God think about it all? I know well enough that He knows everything, but even if He knows everything, He won't know what to make of it."

"Rot!" cried the zouave.

"He doesn't care a damn for us, don't fret yourself."

"Anyway, what is there funny about it? That doesn't prevent people from quarreling with each other--and don't they! And rifle-shots speak jolly well the same language, don't they?"

"Yes," said the aviator, "but there's only one God. It isn't the departure of prayers that I don't understand; it's their arrival."

The conversation dropped.

"There's a crowd of wounded laid out in there," the man with the dull eyes said to me, "and I'm wondering all ways how they got 'em down here. It must have been a terrible job, tumbling them in here."

Two Colonials, hard and lean, supporting each other like tipsy men, butted into us and recoiled, looking on the ground for some place to fall on.

"Old chap, in that trench I'm telling you of," the hoarse voice of one was relating, "we were three days without rations, three full days without anything--anything. Willy-nilly, we had to drink our own water, and no help for it."

The other explained that once on a time he had cholera. "Ah, that's a dirty business--fever, vomiting, colics; old man, I was ill with that lot!"

"And then, too," suddenly growled the flying-man, still fierce to pursue the answer to the gigantic conundrum, "what is this God thinking of to let everybody believe like that that He's with them? Why does He let us all--all of us--shout out side by side, like idiots and brutes, 'God is with us!'--'No, not at all, you're wrong; God is with us'?"

A groan arose from a stretcher, and for a moment fluttered lonely in the silence as if it were an answer.

* * * * * *

Then, "I don't believe in God," said a pain-racked voice; "I know He doesn't exist--because of the suffering there is. They can tell us all the clap-trap they like, and trim up all the words they can rind and all they can make up, but to say that all this innocent suffering could come from a perfect God, it's damned skull-stuffing."

"For my part," another of the men on the seat goes on, "I don't believe in God because of the cold. I've seen men become corpses bit by bit, just simply with cold. If there was a God of goodness, there wouldn't be any cold. You can't get away from that."

"Before you can believe in God, you've got to do away with everything there is. So we've got a long way to go!"

Several mutilated men, without seeing each other, combine in head-shakes of dissent "You're right," says another, "you're right."

These men in ruins, vanquished in victory, isolated and scattered, have the beginnings of a revelation. There come moments in the tragedy of these events when men are not only sincere, but truth-telling, moments when you see that they and the truth are face to face.

"As for me," said a new speaker, "if I don't believe in God, it's----" A fit of coughing terribly continued his sentence.

When the fit passed and his cheeks were purple and wet with tears, some one asked him, "Where are you wounded?"

"I'm not wounded; I'm ill."

"Oh, I see!" they said, in a tone which meant "You're not interesting."

He understood, and pleaded the cause of his illness:

"I'm done in, I spit blood. I've no strength left, and it doesn't come back, you know, when it goes away like that."

"Ah, ah!" murmured the comrades--wavering, but secretly convinced all the same of the inferiority of civilian ailments to wounds.

In resignation he lowered his head and repeated to himself very quietly, "I can't walk any more; where would you have me go?"

* * * * * *

A commotion is arising for some unknown reason in. the horizontal gulf which lengthens as it contracts from stretcher to stretcher as far as the eye can see, as far as the pallid peep of daylight, in this confused corridor where the poor winking flames of candles redden and seem feverish, and winged shadows cast themselves. The odds and ends of heads and limbs are agitated, appeals and cries arouse each other and increase in number like invisible ghosts. The prostrate bodies undulate, double up, and turn over.

In the heart of this den of captives, debased and punished by pain, I make out the big mass of a hospital attendant whose heavy shoulders rise and fall like a knapsack carried crosswise, and whose stentorian voice reverberates at speed through the cave. "You've been meddling with your bandage again, you son of a lubber, you varmint!" he thunders. "I'll do it up again for you, as long as it's you, my chick, but if you touch it again, you'll see what I'll do to you!"

Behold him then in the obscurity, twisting a bandage round the cranium of a very little man who is almost upright, who has bristling hair and a beard which puffs out in front. With dangling arms, he submits in silence. But the attendant abandons him, looks on the ground and exclaims sonorously, "What the ----? Eh, come now, my friend, are you cracked? There's manners for you, to lie down on the top of a patient!" And his capacious hand disengages a second limp body on which the first had extended himself as on a mattress; while the mannikin with the bandaged head alongside, as soon as he is let alone, puts his hands to his head without saying a word and tries once more to remove the encircling lint.

There is an uproar, too, among some shadows that are visible against a luminous background; they seem to be wildly agitated in the gloom of the crypt. The light of a candle shows us several men shaken with their efforts to hold a wounded soldier down on his stretcher. It is a man whose feet are gone. At the end of his legs are terrible bandages, with tourniquets to restrain the hemorrhage. His stumps have bled into the linen wrappings, and he seems to wear red breeches. His face is devilish, shining and sullen, and he is raving. They are pressing down on his shoulders and knees, for this man without feet would fain jump from the stretcher and go away.

"Let me go!" he rattles in breathless, quavering rage. His voice is low, with sudden sonorities, like a trumpet that one tries to blow too softly. "By God, let me go, I tell you! Do you think I'm going to stop here? Allons, let me be, or I'll jump over you on my hands!"

So violently he contracts and extends himself that he pulls to and fro those who are trying to restrain him by their gripping weight, and I can see the zigzags of the candle held by a kneeling man whose other arm engirdles the mutilated maniac, who shouts so fiercely that he wakes up the sleepers and dispels the drowsiness of the rest. On all sides they turn towards him; half rising, they listen to the incoherent lamentations which end by dying in the dark. At the same moment, in another corner, two prostrate wounded, crucified on the ground, so curse each other that one of them has to be removed before the frantic dialogue is broken up.

I go farther away, towards the point where the light from outside comes through among the tangled beams as through a broken grating, and stride over the interminable stretchers that take up all the width of the underground alley whose oppressive confinement chokes me. The human forms prone on the stretchers are now hardly stirring under the Jack-o'-lanterns of the candles; they stagnate in their rattling breath and heavy groans.

On the edge of a stretcher a man is sitting, leaning against the wall. His clothes are torn apart, and in the middle of their darkness appears the white, emaciated breast of a martyr. His head is bent quite back and veiled in shadow, but I can see the beating of his heart.

The daylight that is trickling through at the end, drop by drop, comes in by an earth-fall. Several shells. falling on the same spot, have broken through the heavy earthen roof of the Refuge.

Here, some pale reflections are cast on the blue of the greatcoats, on the shoulders and along the folds. Almost paralyzed by the darkness and their own weakness, a group of men is pressing towards the gap, like dead men half awaking, to taste a little of the pallid air and detach themselves from the sepulcher. This corner at the extremity of the gloom offers itself as a way of escape, an oasis where one may stand upright, where one is lightly, angelically touched by the light of heaven.

"There were some chaps there that were blown to bits when the shells burst," said some one to me who was waiting there in the sickly ray of entombed light. "You talk about a mess! Look, there's the padre hooking down what was blown up."

The huge Red Cross sergeant, in a hunter's chestnut waistcoat which gives him the chest of a gorilla, is detaching the pendent entrails twisted among the beams of the shattered woodwork. For the purpose he is using a rifle with fixed bayonet, since he could not find a stick long enough; and the heavy giant, bald, bearded and asthmatic, wields the weapon awkwardly. He has a mild face, meek and unhappy, and while he tries to catch the remains of intestines in the corners, he mutters a string of "Oh's!" like sighs. His eyes are masked by blue glasses; his breathing is noisy. The top of his head is of puny dimensions, and the huge thickness of his neck has a conical shape. To see him thus pricking and unhanging from the air strips of viscera and rags of flesh, you could take him for a butcher at some fiendish task.

But I let myself fall in a corner with my eyes half closed, seeing hardly anything of the spectacle that lies and palpitates and falls around me. Indistinctly I gather some fragments of sentences--still the horrible monotony of the story of wounds: "Nom de Dieu! In that place I should think the bullets were touching each other.-- "His head was bored through from one temple to the other. You could have passed a thread through."

"Those beggars were an hour before they lifted their fire and stopped peppering us." Nearer to me some one gabbles at the end of his story, "When I'm sleeping I dream that I'm killing him over again!"

Other memories are called up and buzz about among the buried wounded; it is like the purring of countless gear-wheels in a machine that turns and turns. And I hear afar him who repeats from his seat, "What's the use of worrying?" in all possible tones, commanding a pitiful, sometimes like a prophet and anon like one shipwrecked; he metrifies with his cry the chorus of choking and plaintive voices that try so terribly to extol their suffering.

Some one comes forward, blindly feeling the wall with his stick, and reaches me. It is Farfadet! I call him, and he turns nearly towards me to tell me that one eye is gone, and the other is bandaged as well. I give him my place, take him by the shoulders and make him sit down. He submits, and seated at the base of the wall waits patiently, with the resignation of his clerkly calling, as if in a waiting-room.

I come to anchor a little farther away, in an empty space where two prostrate men are talking to each other in low voices; they are so near to me that I hear them without listening. They are two soldiers of the Foreign Legion; their helmets and greatcoats are dark yellow.

"It's not worth while to make-believe about it," says one of them banteringly. "I'm staying here this time. It's finished--my bowels are shot through. If I were in a hospital, in a town, they'd operate on me in time, and it might stick up again. But here! It was yesterday I got it. We're two or three hours from the Béthune road, aren't we? And how many hours, think you, from the road to an ambulance where they can operate? And then, when are they going to pick us up? It's nobody's fault, I dare say; but you've got to look facts in the face. Oh, I know it isn't going to be any worse from now than it is, but it can't be long, seeing I've a hole all the way through my parcel of guts. You, your foot'll get all right, or they'll put you another one on. But I'm going to die."

"Ah!" said the other, convinced by the reasoning of his neighbor. The latter goes on-- "Listen, Dominique. You've led a bad life. You cribbed things, and you were quarrelsome when drunk. You've dirtied your ticket in the police register, properly."

"I can't say it isn't true, because it is," says the other; "but what have you got to do with it?"

"You'll lead a bad life again after the war, inevitably; and then you'll have bother about that affair of the cooper."

The other becomes fierce and aggressive. "What the hell's it to do with you? Shut your jaw!"

"As for me, I've no more family than you have. I've nobody, except Louise--and she isn't a relation of mine, seeing we're not married. And there are no convictions against me, beyond a few little military jobs. There's nothing on my name."

"Well, what about it? I don't care a damn."

"I'm going to tell you. Take my name. Take it-- I give it you; as long as neither of us has any family."

"Your name?"

"Yes; you'll call yourself Leonard Carlotti, that's all. 'Tisn't a big job. What harm can it do you? Straight off, you've no more convictions. They won't hunt you out, and you can be as happy as I should have been if this bullet hadn't gone through my magazine."

"Oh Christ!" said the other, "you'd do that? You'd--that--well, old chap, that beats all!"

"Take it. It's there in my pocket-book in my greatcoat. Go on, take it, and hand yours over to me--so that I can carry it all away with me. You'll be able to live where you like, except where I come from, where I'm known a bit, at Longueville in Tunis. You'll remember that? And anyway, it's written down. You must read it, the pocket-book. I shan't blab to anybody. To bring the trick off properly, mum's the word, absolutely."

He ponders a moment, and then says with a shiver "I'll p'raps tell Louise, so's she'll find I've done the right thing, and think the better of me, when I write to her to say good-by."

But he thinks better of it, and shakes his head with an heroic effort. "No--I shan't let on, even to her. She's her, of course, but women are such chatterers!"

The other man looks at him, and repeats, "Ah, nome de Dieu!"

Without being noticed by the two men I leave the drama narrowly developing in this lamentable corner and its jostling and traffic and hubbub.

Now I touch the composed and convalescent chat of two poor wretches-- "Ah, my boy, the affection he had for that vine of his! You couldn't find anything wrong among the branches of it----"

"That little nipper, that wee little kid, when I went out with him, holding his tiny fist, it felt as if I'd got hold of the little warm neck of a swallow, you know."

And alongside this sentimental avowal, here is the passing revelation of another mind: "Don't I know the 547th! Rather! Listen, it's a funny regiment. They've got a poilu in it who's called Petitjean, another called Petitpierre, and another called Petitlouis. Old man, it's as I'm telling you; that's the kind of regiment it is."

As I begin to pick out a way with a view to leaving the cavern, there is a great noise down yonder of a fall and a chorus of exclamations. It is the hospital sergeant who has fallen. Through the breach that he was clearing of its soft and bloody relics, a bullet has taken him in the throat, and he is spread out full length on the ground. His great bewildered eyes are rolling and his breath comes foaming. His mouth and the lower part of his face are quickly covered with a cloud of rosy bubbles. They place his head on a bag of bandages, and the bag is instantly soaked with blood. An attendant cries that the packets of lint will be spoiled, and they are needed. Something else is sought on which to put the head that ceaselessly makes a light and discolored froth. Only a loaf can be found, and it is slid under the spongy hair.

While they hold the sergeant's hand and question him, he only slavers new heaps of bubbles, and we see his great black-bearded head across this rosy cloud. Laid out like that, he might be a deep-breathing marine monster, and the transparent red foam gathers and creeps up to his great hazy eyes, no longer spectacled.

Then his throat rattles. It is a childish rattle, and he dies moving his head to right and to left as though he were trying very gently to say "No."

Looking on the enormous inert mass, I reflect that he was a good man. He had an innocent and impressionable heart. How I reproach myself that I sometimes abused him for the ingenuous narrowness of his views, and for a certain clerical impertinence that he always had! And how glad I am in this distressing scene--yes, happy enough to tremble with joy--that I restrained myself from an angry protest when I found him stealthily reading a letter I was writing, a protest that would unjustly have wounded him! I remember the time when he exasperated me so much by his dissertation on France and the Virgin Mary. It seemed impossible to me that he could utter those thoughts sincerely. Why should he not have been sincere? Has he not been really killed today? I remember, too, certain deeds of devotion, the kindly patience of the great man, exiled in war as in life--and the rest does not matter. His ideas themselves are only trivial details compared with his heart--which is there on the ground in ruins in this corner of Hell. With what intensity I lamented this man who was so far asunder from me in everything!

Then fell the thunder on us! We were thrown violently on each other by the frightful shaking of the ground and the walls. It was as if the overhanging earth had burst and hurled itself down. Part of the armor-plate of beams collapsed, enlarging the hole that already pierced the cavern. Another shock--another pulverized span fell in roaring destruction. The corpse of the great Red Cross sergeant went rolling against the wall like the trunk of a tree. All the timber in the long frame-work of the cave, those heavy black vertebrae, cracked with an ear-splitting noise, and all the prisoners in the dungeon shouted together in horror.

Blow after blow, the explosions resound and drive us in all directions as the bombardment mangles and devours the sanctuary of pierced and diminished refuge. As the hissing flight of shells hammers and crushes the gaping end of the cave with its thunderbolts, daylight streams in through the clefts. More sharply now, and more unnaturally, one sees the flushed faces and those pallid with death, the eyes which fade in agony or burn with fever, the patched-up white-bound bodies, the monstrous bandages. All that was hidden rises again into daylight. Haggard, blinking and distorted, in face of the flood of iron and embers that the hurricanes of light bring with them, the wounded arise and scatter and try to take flight. All the terror-struck inhabitants roll about in compact masses across the miserable tunnel, as if in the pitching hold of a great ship that strikes the rocks.

The aviator, as upright as he can get and with his neck on the ceiling, waves his arms and appeals to God, asks Him what He is called, what is His real name. Overthrown by the blast and cast upon the others, I see him who, bare of breast and his clothes gaping like a wound, reveals the heart of a Christ. The greatcoat of the man who still monotonously repeats, "What's the use of worrying?" now shows itself all green, bright green, the effect of the picric acid no doubt released by the explosion that has staggered his brain. Others--the rest, indeed--helpless and maimed, move and creep and cringe, worm themselves into the corners. They are like moles. poor, defenseless beasts, hunted by the hellish hounds of the guns.

The bombardment slackens, and ends in a cloud of smoke that still echoes the crashes, in a quivering and burning after-damp. I pass out through the breach; and still surrounded and entwined in the clamor of despair, I arrive under the free sky, in the soft earth where mingled planks and legs are sunk. I catch myself on some wreckage; it is the embankment of the trench. At the moment when I plunge into the communication trenches they are visible a long way; they are still gloomily stirring, still filled by the crowd that overflows from the trenches and flows without end towards the refuges. For whole days, for whole nights, you will see the long rolling streams of men plucked from the fields of battle, from the plain over there that also has feelings of its own, though it bleeds and rots without end.
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Re: Under Fire: The Story of a Squad, by Henri Barbusse

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:54 am

22. Going About

WE have been along the Boulevard de la République and then the Avenue Gambetta, and now we are debouching into the Place du Commerce. The nails in our polished boots ring on the pavements of the capital. It is fine weather, and the shining sky glistens and flashes as if we saw it through the frames of a greenhouse; it sets a-sparkle all the shop-fronts in the square. The skirts of our well-brushed greatcoats have been let down, and as they are usually fastened back, you can see two squares on the floating lappets where the cloth is bluer.

Our sauntering party halts and hesitates for a moment in front of the Café de la Sous-Préfecture, also called the Grand-Café.

"We have the right to go in!" says Volpatte.

"Too many officers in there," replies Blaire, who has lifted his chin over the guipure curtains in which the establishment is dressed up and risked a glance through the window between its golden letters.

"Besides," says Paradis, "we haven't seen enough yet."

We resume our walk and, simple soldiers that we are, we survey the sumptuous shops that encircle the Place du Commerce; the drapers, the stationers, the chemists, and--like a General's decorated uniform--the display of the jeweler. We have put forth our smiles like ornaments, for we are exempt from all duty until the evening, we are free, we are masters of our own time. Our steps are gentle and sedate; our empty and swinging hands are also promenading, to and fro.

"No doubt about it, you get some good out of this rest," remarks Paradis.

It is an abundantly impressive city which expands before our steps. One is in touch with life, with the life of the people, the life of the Rear, the normal life. How we used to think, down yonder, that we should never get here!

We see gentlemen, ladies, English officers, aviators-recognizable afar by their slim elegance and their decorations--soldiers who are parading their scraped clothes and scrubbed skins and the solitary ornament of their engraved identity discs, flashing in the sunshine on their greatcoats; and these last risk themselves carefully in the beautiful scene that is clear of all nightmares.

We make exclamations as they do who come from afar: "Talk about a crowd!" says Tirette in wonder. "Ah, it's a wealthy town!" says Blaire.

A work-girl passes and looks at us. Volpatte gives me a jog with his elbow and swallows her with his eyes, then points out to me two other women farther away who are coming up, and with beaming eye he certifies that the town is rich in femininity--"Old man, they are plump!" A moment ago Paradis had a certain timidity to overcome before he could approach a cluster of cakes of luxurious lodging, and touch and eat them; and every minute we are obliged to halt in the middle of the pavement and wait for Blaire, who is attracted and detained by the displays of fancy jumpers and caps, neck-ties in pale blue drill, slippers as red and shiny as mahogany. Blaire has reached the final height of his transformation. He who held the record for negligence and grime is certainly the best groomed of us all, especially since the further complication of his ivories, which were broken in the attack and had to be remade. He affects an off-hand demeanor. "He looks young and youthful," says Marthereau.

We find ourselves suddenly face to face with a toothless creature who smiles to the depth of her throat. Some black hair bristles round her hat. Her big, unpleasant features, riddled with pock-marks, recalls the ill-painted faces that one sees on the coarse canvas of a traveling show. 'She's beautiful,'' says Volpatte. Marthereau. at whom she smiled, is dumb with shock.

Thus do the poilus converse who are suddenly placed under the spell of a town. More and more they rejoice in the beautiful scene, so neat and incredibly clean. They resume possession of life tranquil and peaceful, of that conception of comfort and even of happiness for which in the main houses were built.

"We should easily get used to it again, you know, old man, after all!"

Meanwhile a crowd is gathered around an outfitter's shop-window where the proprietor has contrived, with the aid of mannikins in wood and wax, a ridiculous tableau. On a groundwork of little pebbles like those in an aquarium, there is a kneeling German, in a suit so new that the creases are definite, and punctuated with an Iron Cross in cardboard. He holds up his two wooden pink hands to a French officer, whose curly wig makes a cushion for a juvenile cap, who has bulging, crimson cheeks, and whose infantile eye of adamant looks somewhere else. Beside the two personages lies a rifle bar-rowed from the odd trophies of a box of toys. A card gives the title of the animated group--"Kamarad!"

"Ah, damn it, look!"

We shrug our shoulders at sight of the puerile contrivance, the only thing here that recalls to us the gigantic war raging somewhere under the sky. We begin to laugh bitterly, offended and even wounded to the quick in our new impressions. Tirette collects himself, and some abusive sarcasm rises to his lips; but the protest lingers and is mute by reason of our total transportation, the amazement of being somewhere else.

Our group is then espied by a very stylish and rustling lady, radiant in violet and black silk and enveloped in perfumes. She puts out her little gloved hand and touches Volpatte's sleeve and then Blaire's shoulder, and they instantly halt, gorgonized by this direct contact with the fairy-like being.

"Tell me, messieurs, you who are real soldiers from the front, you have seen that in the trenches, haven't you?"

"Er--yes--yes " reply the two poor fellows, horribly frightened and gloriously gratified.

"Ah!" the crowd murmurs, "did you hear? And they've been there, they have!"

When we find ourselves alone again on the flagged perfection of the pavement, Volpatte and Blaire look at each other and shake their heads.

"After all," says Volpatte, "it is pretty much like that you know!"

"Why, yes, of course!"

And these were their first words of false swearing that day.

* * * * * *

We go into the Café de l'Industrie et des Fleurs. A roadway of matting clothes the middle of the floor. Painted all the way along the walls, all the way up the square pillars that support the roof, and on the front of the counter, there is purple convolvulus among great scarlet poppies and roses like red cabbages.

"No doubt about it, we've got good taste in France," says Tirette.

"The chap that did all that had a cartload of patience," Blaire declares as he looks at the rainbow embellishments.

"In these places," Volpatte adds, "the pleasure of drinking isn't the only one."

Paradis informs us that he knows all about cafés. On Sundays formerly, he frequented cafés as beautiful as this one and even more beautiful. Only, he explains, that was a long time ago, and he has lost the flavor that they've got. He indicates a little enameled wash-hand basin hanging on the wall and decorated with flowers: "There's where one can wash his hands." We steer politely towards the basin. Volpatte signs to Paradis to turn the tap, and says, "Set the waterworks going!"

Then all six of us enter the saloon, whose circumference is already adorned with customers, and install ourselves at a table.

"We'll have six currant-vermouths, shall we?"

"We could very easily get used to it again, after all," they repeat.

Some civilians leave their places and come near us. They whisper, "They've all got the Croix de Guerre, Adolphe, you see------"--"Those are real poilus!"

Our comrades overhear, and now they only talk among themselves abstractedly, with their ears elsewhere, and an unconscious air of importance appears.

A moment later, the man and woman from whom the remarks proceeded lean towards us with their elbows on the white marble and question us: "Life in the trenches, it's very rough, isn't it?"

"Er--yes----well, of course, it isn't always pleasant."

"What splendid physical and moral endurance you have! In the end you get used to the life, don't you?"

"Why, yes, of course, one gets used to it--one gets used to it all right "

"All the same, it's a terrible existence--and the suffering!" murmurs the lady, turning over the leaves of an illustrated paper which displays gloomy pictures of destruction. "They ought not to publish these things, Adolphe, about the dirt and the vermin and the fatigues! Brave as you are, you must be unhappy?"

Volpatte, to whom she speaks, blushes. He is ashamed of the misery whence he comes, whither he must return. He lowers his head and lies, perhaps without realizing the extent of his mendacity: "No, after all, we're not unhappy, it isn't so terrible as all that!"

The lady is of the same opinion. "I know," she says, "there are compensations! How superb a charge must be, eh? All those masses of men advancing like they do in a holiday procession, and the trumpets playing a rousing air in the fields! And the dear little soldiers that can't be held back and shouting, 'Vive la France!' and even laughing as they die! Ah! we others, we're not in honor's way like you are. My husband is a clerk at the Préfecture, and just now he's got a holiday to treat his rheumatism."

"I should very much have liked to be a soldier," said the gentleman, "but I've no luck. The head of my office can't get on without me."

People go and come, elbowing and disappearing behind each other. The waiters worm their way through with their fragile and sparkling burdens--green, red or bright yellow, with a white border. The grating of feet on the sanded floor mingles with the exclamations of the regular customers as they recognize each other, some standing, others leaning on their elbows, amid the sound of glasses and dominoes pushed along the tables. In the background, around the seductive shock of ivory balls, a crowding circle of spectators emits classical pleasantries.

"Every man to his trade, mon brave," says a man at the other end of the table whose face is adorned with powerful colors, addressing Tirette directly; "you are heroes. On our side, we are working in the economic life of the country. It is a struggle like yours. I am useful--I don't say more useful than you, but equally so."

And I see Tirette through the cigar-smoke making round eyes, and in the hubbub I can hardly hear the reply of his humble and dumbfounded voice--Tirette, the funny man of the squad!--"Yes, that's true; every man to his trade."

Furtively we stole away.

* * * * * *

We are almost silent as we leave the Café des Fleurs. It seems as if we no longer know how to talk. Something like discontent irritates my comrades and knits their brows. They look as if they are becoming aware that they have not done their duty at an important juncture.

"Fine lot of gibberish they've talked to us, the beasts!" Tirette growls at last with a rancor that gathers strength the more we unite and collect ourselves again.

"We ought to have got beastly drunk to-day!" replies Paradis brutally.

We walk without a word spoken. Then, after a time, "They're a lot of idiots, filthy idiots," Tirette goes on; "they tried to cod us, but I'm not on; if I see them again," he says, with a crescendo of anger, "I shall know what to say to them!"

"We shan't see them again," says Blaire.

"In eight days from now, p'raps we shall be laid out," says Volpatte.

In the approaches to the square we run into a mob of people flowing out from the Hôtel de Ville and from another big public building which displays the columns of a temple supporting a pediment. Offices are closing, and pouring forth civilians of all sorts and all ages, and military men both young and old, who seem at a distance to be dressed pretty much like us; but when nearer they stand revealed as the shirkers and deserters of the war, in spite of being disguised as soldiers, in spite of their brisques. [note 1]

Women and children are waiting for them, in pretty and happy clusters. The commercial people are shutting up their shops with complacent content and a smile for both the day ended and for the morrow, elated by the lively and constant thrills of profits increased, by the growing jingle of the cash-box. They have stayed behind in the heart of their own firesides; they have only to stoop to caress their children. We see them beaming in the first starlights of the street, all these rich folk who are becoming richer, all these tranquil people whose tranquillity increases every day, people who are full, you feel. and in spite of all, of an unconfessable prayer. They all go slowly, by grace of the fine evening, and settle themselves in perfected homes, or in cafés where they are waited upon. Couples are forming, too, young women and young men, civilians or soldiers, with some badge of their preservation embroidered on their collars. They make haste into the shadows of security where the others go, where the dawn of lighted rooms awaits them; they hurry towards the night of rest and caresses.

And as we pass quite close to a ground-floor window which is half open, we see the breeze gently inflate the lace curtain and lend it the light and delicious form of lingerie--and the advancing throng drives us back, poor strangers that we are!

We wander along the pavement, all through the twilight that begins to glow with gold--for in towns Night adorns herself with jewels. The sight of this world has revealed a great truth to us at last, nor could we avoid it: a Difference which becomes evident between human beings, a Difference far deeper than that of nations and with defensive trenches more impregnable; the clean-cut and truly unpardonable division that there is in a country's inhabitants between those who gain and those who grieve, those who are required to sacrifice all, all, to give their numbers and strength and suffering to the last limit, those upon whom the others walk and advance, smile and succeed.

Some items of mourning attire make blots in the crowd and have their message for us, but the rest is of merriment, not mourning.

"It isn't one single country, that's not possible," suddenly says Volpatte with singular precision, "there are two. We're divided into two foreign countries. The Front, over there, where there are too many unhappy, and the Rear, here, where there are too many happy."

"How can you help it? It serves its end--it's the background--but afterwards ----"

"Yes, I know; but all the same, all the same, there are too many of them, and they're too happy, and they're always the same ones, and there's no reason--"

"What can you do?" says Tirette.

"So much the worse," adds Blaire, still more simply.

"In eight days from now p'raps we shall have snuffed it!" Volpatte is content to repeat as we go away with lowered heads.


[note 1] See p. 122. [note 2]
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Re: Under Fire: The Story of a Squad, by Henri Barbusse

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:55 am

23. The Fatigue-Party

EVENING is falling upon the trench. All through the day it has been drawing near, invisible as fate, and now it encroaches on the banks of the long ditches like the lips of a wound infinitely great.

We have talked, eaten, slept, and written in the bottom of the trench since the morning. Now that evening is here, an eddying springs up in the boundless crevice; it stirs and unifies the torpid disorder of the scattered men. It is the hour when we arise and work.

Volpatte and Tirette approach each other. "Another day gone by, another like the rest of 'em," says Volpatte, looking at the darkening sky.

"You're off it; our day isn't finished," replies Tirette, whose long experience of calamity has taught him that one must not jump to conclusions, where we are, even in regard to the modest future of a commonplace evening that has already begun.

"Allons! Muster!" We join up with the laggard inattention of custom. With himself each man brings his rifle, his pouches of cartridges, his water-bottle, and a pouch that contains a lump of bread. Volpatte is still eating, with protruding and palpitating cheek. Paradis, with purple nose and chattering teeth, growls. Fouillade trails his rifle along like a broom. Marthereau looks at a mournful handkerchief, rumpled and stiff, and puts it back in his pocket. A cold drizzle is falling, and everybody shivers.

Down yonder we hear a droning chant--"Two shovels, one pick, two shovels, one pick " The file trickles along to the tool-store, stagnates at the door, and departs, bristling with implements.

"Everybody here? Gee up!" says the sergeant. Downward and rolling, we go forward. We know not where we go. We know nothing, except that the night and the earth are blending in the same abyss.

As we emerge into the nude twilight from the trench, we see it already black as the crater of a dead volcano. Great gray clouds, storm-charged, hang from the sky. The plain, too, is gray in the pallid light; the grass is muddy, and all slashed with water. The things which here and there seem only distorted limbs are denuded trees. We cannot see far around us in the damp reek; besides, we only look downwards at the mud in which we slide--"Porridge!"

Going across country we knead and pound a sticky paste which spreads out and flows back from every step--"Chocolate cream--coffee creams!"

On the stony parts, the wiped-out ruins of roads that have become barren as the fields, the marching troop breaks through a layer of slime into a flinty conglomerate that grates and gives way under our iron-shod soles--"Seems as if we were walking on buttered toast!"

On the slope of a knoll sometimes, the mud is black and thick and deep-rutted, like that which forms around the horse-ponds in villages, and in these ruts there are lakes and puddles and ponds, whose edges seem to be in rags.

The pleasantries of the wags, who in the early freshness of the journey had cried, "Quack, quack," when they went through the water, are now becoming rare and gloomy; gradually the jokers are damped down. The rain begins to fall heavily. The daylight dwindles, and the confusion that is space contracts. The last lingering light welters on the ground and in the water.

A steaming silhouette of men like monks appears through the rain in the west. It is a company of the 204th, wrapped in tent-cloths. As we go by we see the pale and shrunken faces and the dark noses of these dripping prowlers before they disappear. The track we are following through the faint grass of the fields is itself a sticky field streaked with countless parallel ruts, all plowed in the same line by the feet and the wheels of those who go to the front and those who go to the rear.

We have to jump over gaping trenches, and this is not always easy, for the edges have become soft and slippery, and earth-falls have widened them. Fatigue, too, begins to bear upon our shoulders. Vehicles cross our path with a great noise and splashing. Artillery limbers prance by and spray us heavily. The motor lorries are borne on whirling circles of water around the wheels, with spirting tumultuous spokes.

As the darkness increases, the jolted vehicles and the horses' necks and the profiles of the riders with their floating cloaks and slung carbines stand out still more fantastically against the misty floods from the sky. Here, there is a block of ammunition carts of the artillery. The horses are standing and trampling as we go by. We hear the creaking of axles, shouts, disputes, commands which collide, and the roar of the ocean of rain. Over the confused scuffle we can see steam rising from the buttocks of the teams and the cloaks of the horsemen.

"Look out!" Something is laid out on the ground on our right--a row of dead. As we go by, our feet instinctively avoid them and our eyes search them. We see upright boot-soles, outstretched necks, the hollows of uncertain faces, hands half clenched in the air over the dark medley.

We march and march, over fields still ghostly and foot-worn, under a sky where ragged clouds unfurl themselves upon the blackening expanse--which seems to have befouled itself by prolonged contact with so many multitudes of sorry humanity.

Then we go down again into the communication trenches. To reach them we make a wide circuit, so that the rearguard can see the whole company, a hundred yards away, deployed in the gloom, little obscure figures sticking to the slopes and following each other in loose order, with their tools amid their rifles pricking up on each side of their heads, a slender trivial line that plunges in and raises its arms as if in entreaty.

These trenches--still of the second lines--are populous. On the thresholds of the dug-outs, where cart-cloths and skins of animals hang and flap, squatting and bearded men watch our passing with expressionless eyes, as if they were looking at nothing. From beneath other cloths, drawn down to the ground, feet are projected, and snores.

"Nom de Dieu! It's a long way!" the trampers begin to grumble. There is an eddy and recoil in the flow.

"Halt!" The stop is to let others go by. We pile ourselves up, cursing, on the walls of the trench. It is a company of machine-gunners with their curious burdens.

There seems to be no end to it, and the long halts are wearying. Muscles are beginning to stretch. The everlasting march is overwhelming us. We have hardly got going again when we have to recoil once more into a traverse to let the relief of the telephonists go by. We back like awkward cattle, and restart more heavily.

"Look out for the wire!" The telephone wire undulates above the trench, and crosses it in places between two posts. When it is too slack, its curve sags into the trench and catches the rifles of passing men, and the ensnared ones struggle, and abuse the engineers who don't know how to fix up their threads.

Then, as the drooping entanglement of precious wires increases, we shoulder our rifles with the butt in the air, carry the shovels under our arms, and go forward with lowered heads.

* * * * * *

Our progress now is suddenly checked, and we only advance step by step, locked in each other. The head of the column must be in difficult case. We reach a spot where failing ground leads to a yawning hole--the Covered Trench. The others have disappeared through the low doorway. "We've got to go into this blackpudding. then?"

Every man hesitates before ingulfing himself in the narrow underground darkness, and it is the total of these hesitations and lingerings that is reflected in the rear sections of the column in the form of wavering, obstruction, and sometimes abrupt shocks.

From our first steps in the Covered Trench, a heavy darkness settles on us and divides us from each other. The damp odor of a swamped cave steals into us. In the ceiling of the earthen corridor that contains us, we can make out a few streaks and holes of pallor--the chinks and rents in the overhead planks. Little streams of water flow freely through them in places, and in spite of tentative groping we stumble on heaped-up timber. Alongside, our knocks discover the dim vertical presence of the supporting beams.

The air in this interminable tunnel is vibrating heavily. It is the searchlight engine that is installed there--we have to pass in front of it.

After we have felt our deep-drowned way for a quarter of an hour, some one who is overborne by the darkness and the wet, and tired of bumping into unknown people, growls, "I don't care--I'm going to light up."

The brilliant beam of a little electric lamp flashes out, and instantly the sergeant bellows, "Ye gods! Who's the complete ass that's making a light? Are you daft? Don't you know it can be seen, you scab, through the roof?"

The flash-lamp, after revealing some dark and oozing walls in its cone of light, retires into the night. "Not much you can't see it!" jeers the man, "and anyway we're not in the first lines." "Ah, that can't be seen!"

The sergeant, wedged into the file and continuing to advance, appears to be turning round as he goes and attempting some forceful observations--"You gallows-bird! You damned dodger!" But suddenly he starts a new roar--"What! Another man smoking now! Holy hell!" This time he tries to halt, but in vain he rears himself against the wall and struggles to stick to it. He is forced precipitately to go with the stream and is carried away among his own shouts, which return and swallow him up, while the cigarette, the cause of his rage, disappears in silence.

* * * * * *

The jerky beat of the engine grows louder, and an increasing heat surrounds us. The overcharged air of the trench vibrates more and more as we go forward. The engine's jarring note soon hammers our ears and shakes us through. Still it gets hotter; it is like some great animal breathing in our faces. The buried trench seems to be leading us down and down into the tumult of some infernal workshop, whose dark-red glow is sketching out our huge and curving shadows in purple on the walls.

In a diabolical crescendo of din, of hot wind and of lights, we flow deafened towards the furnace. One would think that the engine itself was hurling itself through the tunnel to meet us, like a frantic motor-cyclist drawing dizzily near with his headlight and destruction.

Scorched and half blinded, we pass in front of the red furnace and the black engine, whose flywheel roars like a hurricane, and we have hardly time to make out the movements of men around it. We shut our eyes, choked by the contact of this glaring white-hot breath.

Now, the noise and the heat are raging behind us and growing feebler, and my neighbor mutters in his beard, "And that idiot that said my lamp would be seen!"

And here is the free air! The sky is a very dark blue, of the same color as the earth and little lighter. The rain becomes worse and worse, and walking is laborious in the heavy slime. The whole boot sinks in, and it is a labor of acute pain to withdraw the foot every time. Hardly anything is left visible in the night, but at the exit from the hole we see a disorder of beams which flounder in the widened trench--some demolished dugout.

Just at this moment, a searchlight's unearthly arm that was swinging through space stops and falls on us, and we find that the tangle of uprooted and sunken posts and shattered framing is populous with dead soldiers. Quite close to me, the head of a kneeling body hangs on its back by an uncertain thread; a black veneer, edged with clotted drops, covers the cheek. Another body so clasps a post in its arms that it has only half fallen. Another, lying in the form of a circle, has been stripped by the shell, and his back and belly are laid bare. Another, outstretched on the edge of the heap, has thrown his hand across our path; and in this place where there no traffic except by night--for the trench is blocked just there by the earth-fall and inaccessible by day--every one treads on that hand. By the searchlight's shaft I saw it clearly, fleshless and worn, a sort of withered fin.

The rain is raging and the sound of its streaming dominates everything--a horror of desolation. We feel the water on our flesh as if the deluge had washed our clothes away.

We enter the open trench, and the embrace of night and storm resumes the sole possession of this confusion of corpses, stranded and cramped on a square of earth as on a raft.

The wind freezes the drops of sweat on our foreheads. It is near midnight. For six hours now we have marched in the increasing burden of the mud. This is the time when the Paris theaters are constellated with electroliers and blossoming with lamps; when they are filled with luxurious excitement, with the rustle of skirts, with merrymaking and warmth; when a fragrant and radiant multitude, chatting, laughing, smiling, applauding, expanding. feels itself pleasantly affected by the cleverly graduated emotions which the comedy evokes, and lolls in contented enjoyment of the rich and splendid pageants of military glorification that crowd the stage of the music-hall.

"Aren't we there? Nom de Dieu, shan't we ever get there?" The groan is breathed by the long procession that tosses about in these crevices of the earth, carrying rifles and shovels and pickaxes under the eternal torrent. We march and march. We are drunk with fatigue, and roll to this side and that. Stupefied and soaked, we strike with our shoulders a substance as sodden as ourselves.

"Halt!"--"Are we there?"--"Ah, yes, we're there!"

For the moment a heavy recoil presses us back and then a murmur runs along: "We've lost ourselves." The truth dawns on the confusion of the wandering horde. We have taken the wrong turn at some fork, and it will be the deuce of a job to find the right way again.

Then, too, a rumor passes from mouth to mouth that a fighting company on its way to the lines is coming up behind us. The way by which we have come is stopped up with men. It is the block absolute.

At all costs we must try to regain the lost trench--which is alleged to be on our left--by trickling through some sap or other. Utterly wearied and unnerved, the men break into gesticulations and violent reproaches. They trudge awhile, then drop their tools and halt. Here and there are compact groups--you can glimpse them by the light of the star-shells--who have let themselves fall to the ground. Scattered afar from south to north, the troop waits in the merciless rain.

The lieutenant who is in charge and has led us astray, wriggles his way along the men in quest of some lateral exit. A little trench appears, shallow and narrow.

"We most go that way, no doubt about it," the officer hastens to say. "Come, forward, boys."

Each man sulkily picks up his burden. But a chorus of oaths and curses rises from the first who enter the little sap: "It's a latrine!"

A disgusting smell escapes from the trench, and those inside halt butt into each other, and refuse to advance. We are all jammed against each other and block up the threshold.

"I'd rather climb out and go in the open!" cries a man. But there are flashes rending the sky above the embankments on all sides, and the sight is so fearsome of these jets of resounding flame that overhang our pit and its swarming shadows that no one responds to the madman's saying.

Willing or unwilling, since we cannot go back, we must even take that way. "Forward into the filth!" cries the leader of the troop. We plunge in, tense with repulsion. Bullets are whistling over. "Lower your heads!" The trench has little depth; one must stoop very low to avoid being hit, and the stench becomes intolerable. At last we emerge into the communication trench that we left in error. We begin again to march. Though we march without end we arrive nowhere.

While we wander on, dumb and vacant, in the dizzy stupefaction of fatigue, the stream which is running in the bottom of the trench cleanses our befouled feet.

The roars of the artillery succeed each other faster and faster, till they make but a single roar upon all the earth. From all sides the gunfire and the bursting shells hurl their swift shafts of light and stripe confusedly the black sky over our heads. The bombardment then becomes so intense that its illumination has no break. In the continuous chain of thunderbolts we can see each other clearly--our helmets streaming like the bodies of fishes, our sodden leathers, the shovel-blades black and glistening; we can even see the pale drops of the unending rain. Never have I seen the like of it; in very truth it is moonlight made by gunfire.

Together there mounts from our lines and from the enemy's such a cloud of rockets that they unite and mingle in constellations; at one moment, to light us on our hideous way, there was a Great Bear of star-shells in the valley of the sky that we could see between the parapets.

* * * * * *

We are lost again, and this time we must be close to the first lines; but a depression in this part of the plain forms a sort of basin, overrun by shadows. We have marched along a sap and then back again. In the phosphorescent vibration of the guns, shimmering like a cinematograph, we make out above the parapet two stretcher-bearers trying to cross the trench with their laden stretcher.

The lieutenant, who at least knows the place where he should guide the team of workers, questions them, "Where is the New Trench?"--"Don't know." From the ranks another question is put to them, "How far are we from the Boches?" They make no reply, as they are talking among themselves.

"I'm stopping," says the man in front; "I'm too tired."

"Come, get on with you, nom de Dieu!" says the other in a surly tone and floundering heavily, his arms extended by the stretcher. "We can't step and rust here."

They put the stretcher down on the parapet, the edge of it overhanging the trench, and as we pass underneath we can see the prostrate man's feet. The rain which falls on the stretcher drains from it darkened.

"Wounded?" some one asks down below.

"No, a stiff," growls the bearer this time, "and he weighs twelve stone at least. Wounded I don't mind--for two days and two nights we haven't left off carrying 'em--but it's rotten, breaking yourself up with lugging dead men about.' And the bearer, upright on the edge of the bank, drops a foot to the base of the opposite bank across the cavity, and with his legs wide apart, laboriously balanced, he grips the stretcher and begins to draw it across, calling on his companion to help him.

A little farther we see the stooping form of a hooded officer, and as he raises his hand to his face we see two gold lines on his sleeve. He, surely, will tell us the way. But he addresses us, and asks if we have not seen the battery he is looking for. We shall never get there!

But we do, all the same. We finish up in a field of blackness where a few lean posts are bristling. We climb up to it, and spread out in silence. This is the spot.

The placing of us is an undertaking. Four separate times we go forward and then retire, before the company is regularly echeloned along the length of the trench to be dug, before an equal interval is left between each team of one striker and two shovelers. "Incline three paces more--too much--one pace to the rear. Come, one pace to the rear--are you deaf?--Halt! There!"

This adjustment is done by the lieutenant and a noncom. of the Engineers who has sprung up out of the ground. Together or separately they run along the file and give their muttered orders into the men s ears as they take them by the arm, sometimes, to guide them. Though begun in an orderly way, the arrangement degenerates, thanks to the ill temper of the exhausted men, who must continually be uprooting themselves from the spot where the undulating mob is stranded.

"We're in front of the first lines," they whisper round me. "No." murmur other voices, "we're just behind."

No one knows. The rain still falls, though less fiercely than at some moments on the march. But what matters the rain! We have spread ourselves out on the ground. Now that our backs and limbs rest in the yielding mud, we are so comfortable that we are unconcerned about the rain that pricks our faces and drives through to our flesh, indifferent to the saturation of the bed that contains us.

But we get hardly time enough to draw breath. They are not so imprudent as to let us bury ourselves in sleep. We must set ourselves to incessant labor. It is two o'clock of the morning; in four hours more it will be too light for us to stay here. There is not a minute to lose.

"Every man," they say to us, "must dig five feet in length, two and a half feet in width, and two and three-quarter feet in depth. That makes fifteen feet in length for each team. And I advise you to get into it; the sooner it's done, the sooner you'll leave."

We know the pious claptrap. It is not recorded in the annals of the regiment that a trenching fatigue-party ever once got away before the moment when it became absolutely necessary to quit the neighborhood if they were not to be seen, marked and destroyed along with the work of their hands.

We murmur, "Yes, yes---all right; it's not worth saying. Go easy."

But everybody applies himself to the job courageously, except for some invincible sleepers whose nap will involve them later in superhuman efforts.

We attack the first layer of the new line--little mounds of earth, stringy with grass. The ease and speed with which the work begins--like all entrenching work in free soil--foster the illusion that it will soon be finished, that we shall be able to sleep in the cavities we have scooped: and thus a certain eagerness revives.

But whether by reason of the noise of the shovels, or because some men are chatting almost aloud, in spite of reproofs, our activity wakes up a rocket, whose flaming vertical line rattles suddenly on our right.

"Lie down!" Every man flattens himself, and the rocket balances and parades its huge pallor over a sort of field of the dead.

As soon as it is out one hears the men, in places and then all along, detach themselves from their secretive stillness, get up, and resume the task with more discretion.

Soon another star-shell tosses aloft its long golden stalk, and still more brightly illuminates the flat and motionless line of trenchmakers. Then another and another.

Bullets rend the air around us, and we hear a cry, "Some one wounded!" He passes, supported by comrades. We can just see the group of men who are going away, dragging one of their number.

The place becomes unwholesome. We stoop and crouch, and some are scratching at the earth on their knees. Others are working full length; they toil, and turn, and turn again, like men in nightmares. The earth, whose first layer was light to lift, becomes muddy and sticky; it is hard to handle, and clings to the tool like glue. After every shovelful the blade must be scraped.

Already a thin heap of earth is winding along, and each man has the idea of reinforcing the incipient breastwork with his pouch and his rolled-up greatcoat, and he hoods himself behind the slender pile of shadow when a volley comes----

While we work we sweat, and as soon as we stop working we are pierced through by the cold. A spell seems to be cast on us, paralyzing our arms. The rockets torment and pursue us, and allow us but little movement. After every one of them that petrifles us with its light we have to struggle against a task still more stubborn. The hole only deepens into the darkness with painful and despairing tardiness.

The ground gets softer; each shovelful drips and flows, and spreads from the blade with a flabby sound. At last some one cries, "Water!" The repeated cry travels all along the row of diggers--"Water--that's done it!"

"Mélusson's team's dug deeper, and there's water. They've struck a swamp."--"No help for it."

We stop in confusion. In the bosom of the night we hear the sound of shovels and picks thrown down like empty weapons. The non-coms. go gropingly after the officer to get instructions. Here and there, with no desire for anything better, some men are going deliciously to sleep under the caress of the rain, under the radiant rockets.

* * * * * *

It was very nearly at this minute, as far as I can remember, that the bombardment began again. The first shell fell with a terrible splitting of the air, which seemed to tear itself in two; and other whistles were already converging upon us when its explosion uplifted the ground at the head of the detachment in the heart of the magnitude of night and rain, revealing gesticulations upon a sudden screen of red.

No doubt they had seen us, thanks to the rockets, and had trained their fire on us.

The men hurled and rolled themselves towards the little flooded ditch that they had dug, wedging, burying, and immersing themselves in it, and placed the blades of the shovels over their heads. To right, to left, in front and behind, shells burst so near that every one of them shook us in our bed of clay; and it became soon one continuous quaking that seized the wretched gutter, crowded with men and scaly with shovels, under the strata of smoke and the falling fire. The splinters and debris crossed in all directions with a network of noise over the dazzling field. No second passed but we all thought what some stammered with their faces in the earth, "We're done, this time!"

A little in front of the place where I am. a shape has arisen and cried, "Let's be off!" Prone bodies half rose out of the shroud of mud that dripped in tails and liquid rags from their limbs, and these deathful apparitions cried also, "Let's go!" They were on their knees, on all-fours, crawling towards the way of retreat: "Get on, allez, get on!"

But the long file stayed motionless, and the frenzied complaints were in vain. They who were down there at the end would not budge, and their inactivity immobilized the rest. Some wounded passed over the others, crawling over them as over debris, and sprinkling the whole company with their blood.

We discovered at last the cause of the maddening inactivity of the detachment's tail--"There's a barrage fire beyond."

A weird imprisoned panic seized upon the men with cries inarticulate and gestures stillborn. They writhed upon the spot. But little shelter as the incipient trench afforded, no one dared leave the ditch that saved us from protruding above the level of the ground, no one dared fly from death towards the traverse that should be down there. Great were the risks of the wounded who had managed to crawl over the others, and every moment some were struck and went down again.

Fire and water fell blended everywhere. Profoundly entangled in the supernatural din, we shook from neck to heels. The most hideous of deaths was falling and bounding and plunging all around us in waves of light, its crashing snatched our fearfulness in all directions--our flesh prepared itself for the monstrous sacrifice! In that tense moment of imminent destruction, we could only remember just then how often we had already experienced it, how often undergone this outpouring of iron, and the burning roar of it, and the stench. It is only during a bombardment that one really recalls those he has already endured.

And still, without ceasing, newly-wounded men crept over us, fleeing at any price. In the fear that their contact evoked we groaned again, "We shan't get out of this; nobody will get out of it."

Suddenly a gap appeared in the compressed humanity, and those behind breathed again, for we were on the move.

We began by crawling, then we ran, bowed low in the mud and water that mirrored the flashes and the crimson gleams, stumbling and falling over submerged obstructions, ourselves resembling heavy splashing projectiles, thunder-hurled along the ground. We arrive at the starting-place of the trench we had begun to dig.

"There's no trench--there's nothing."

In truth the eye could discern no shelter in the plain where our work had begun. Even by the stormy flash of the rockets we could only see the plain, a huge and raging desert. The trench could not be far away, for it had brought us here. But which way must we steer to find it?

The rain redoubled. We lingered a moment in mournful disappointment, gathered on a lightning-smitten and unknown shore--and then the stampede.

Some bore to the left, some to the right, some went straight forward--tiny groups that one only saw for a second in the heart of the thundering rain before they were separated by sable avalanches and curtains of flaming smoke.

* * * * * *

The bombardment over our heads grew less; it was chiefly over the place where we had been that it was increasing. But it might any minute isolate everything and destroy it.

The rain became more and more torrential--a deluge in the night. The darkness was so deep that the star-shells only lit up slices of water-seamed obscurity, in the depths of which fleeing phantoms came and went and ran round in circles.

I cannot say how long I wandered with the group with which I had remained. We went into morasses. We strained our sight forward in quest of the embankment and the trench of salvation, towards the ditch that was somewhere there, as towards a harbor.

A cry of consolation was heard at last through the vapors of war and the elements--"A trench!" But the embankment of that trench was moving; it was made of men mingled in confusion, who seemed to be coming out and abandoning it.

"Don't stay there, mates!" cried the fugitives; "clear off, don't come near. It's hell--everything's collapsing--the trenches are legging it and the dug-outs are bunged up--the mud's pouring in everywhere. There won't be any trenches by the morning--it's all up with them about here!"

They disappeared. Where? We forgot to ask for some little direction from these men whose streaming shapes had no sooner appeared than they were swallowed up in the dark.

Even our little group crumbled away among the devastation, no longer knowing where they were. Now one, now another, faded into the night, disappearing towards his chance of escape.

We climbed slopes and descended them. I saw dimly in front of me men bowed and hunchbacked, mounting a slippery incline where mud held them back, and the wind and rain repelled them under a dome of cloudy lights.

Then we flowed back, and plunged into a marsh up to our knees. So high must we lift our feet that we walked with a sound of swimming. Each forward stride was an enormous effort which slackened in agony.

It was there that we felt death drawing near. But we beached ourselves at last on a sort of clay embankment that divided the swamp. As we followed the slippery back of this slender island along, I remember that once we had to stoop and steer ourselves by touching some half-buried corpses, so that we should not be thrown down from the soft and sinuous ridge. My hand discovered shoulders and hard backs, a face cold as a helmet, and a pipe still desperately bitten by dead jaws.

As we emerged and raised our heads at a venture we heard the sound of voices not far away. "Voices! Ah, voices!" They sounded tranquil to us, as though they called us by our names, and we all came close together to approach this fraternal murmuring of men.

The words became distinct. They were quite near--in the hillock that we could dimly see like an oasis: and yet we could not hear what they said. The sounds were muddled, and we did not understand them.

"What are they saying?" asked one of us in a curious tone.

Instinctively we stopped trying to find a way in. A doubt, a painful idea was seizing us. Then, clearly enunciated, there rang out these words--"Achtung!--Zweites Geschütz--Schuss----" Farther back, the report of a gun answered the telephonic command.

Horror and stupefaction nailed us to the spot at first--"Where are we? Oh, Christ, where are we?" Turning right about face, slowly in spite of all, borne down anew by exhaustion and dismay, we took flight, as overwhelmed by weariness as if we had many wounds, pulled back by the mud towards the enemy country, and retaining only just enough energy to repel the thought of the sweetness it would have been to let ourselves die.

We came to a sort of great plain. We halted and threw ourselves on the ground on the side of a mound, and leaned back upon it, unable to make another step.

And we moved no more, my shadowy comrades nor I. The rain splashed in our faces, streamed down our backs and chests, ran down from our knees and filled our boots.

We should perhaps be killed or taken prisoners when day came. But we thought no more of anything. We could do no more; we knew no more.
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Re: Under Fire: The Story of a Squad, by Henri Barbusse

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:55 am

24. The Dawn

WE are waiting for daylight in the place where we sank to the ground. Sinister and slow it comes, chilling and dismal, and expands upon the livid landscape.

The rain has ceased to fall--there is none left in the sky. The leaden plain and its mirrors of sullied water seem to issue not only from the night but from the sea.

Drowsy or half asleep, sometimes opening our eyes only to close them again, we attend the incredible renewal of light, paralyzed with cold and broken with fatigue.

Where are the trenches?

We see lakes, and between the lakes there are lines of milky and motionless water. There is more water even than we had thought. It has taken everything and spread everywhere, and the prophecy of the men in the night has come true. There are no more trenches; those canals are the trenches enshrouded. It is a universal flood. The battlefield is not sleeping; it is dead. Life may be going on down yonder perhaps, but we cannot see so far.

Swaying painfully, like a sick man, in the terrible encumbering clasp of my greatcoat, I half raise myself to look at it all. There are three monstrously shapeless forms beside me. One of them--it is Paradis, in an amazing armor of mud, with a swelling at the waist that stands for his cartridge pouches--gets up also. The others are asleep, and make no movement.

And what is this silence, too, this prodigious silence? There is no sound, except when from time to time a lump of earth slips into the water, in the middle of this fantastic paralysis of the world. No one is firing. There are no shells, for they would not burst. There are no bullets, either, for the men----

Ah, the men! Where are the men?

We see them gradually. Not far from us there are some stranded and sleeping hulks so molded in mud from head to foot that they are almost transformed into inanimate objects.

Some distance away I can make out others, curled up and clinging like snails all along a rounded embankment, from which they have partly slipped back into the water. It is a motionless rank of clumsy lumps, of bundles placed side by side, dripping water and mud, and of the same color as the soil with which they are blended.

I make an effort to break the silence. To Paradis, who also is looking that way, I say, "Are they dead?"

"We'll go and see presently," he says in a low voice; "stop here a bit yet. We shall have the heart to go there by and by."

We look at each other, and our eyes fall also on the others who came and fell down here. Their faces spell such weariness that they are no longer faces so much as something dirty, disfigured and bruised, with blood-shot eyes. Since the beginning we have seen each other in all manner of shapes and appearances, and yet--we do not know each other.

Paradis turns his head and looks elsewhere.

Suddenly I see him seized with trembling. He extends an arm enormously caked in mud. "There--there----" he says.

On the water which overflows from a stretch particularly cross-seamed and gullied, some lumps are floating, some round-backed reefs.

We drag ourselves to the spot. They are drowned men. Their arms and heads are submerged. On the surface of the plastery liquid appear their backs and the straps of their accouterments. Their blue cloth trousers are inflated, with the feet attached askew upon the ballooning legs, like the black wooden feet on the shapeless legs of marionettes. From one sunken head the hair stands straight up like water-weeds. Here is a face which the water only lightly touches; the head is beached on the marge, and the body disappears in its turbid tomb. The face is lifted skyward. The eyes are two white holes; the mouth is a black hole. The mask's yellow and puffed-up skin appears soft and creased, like dough gone cold.

They are the men who were watching there, and could not extricate themselves from the mud. All their efforts to escape over the sticky escarpment of the trench that was slowly and fatally filling with water only dragged them still more into the depth. They died clinging to the yielding support of the earth.

There, our first lines are; and there, the first German lines, equally silent and flooded. On our way to these flaccid ruins we pass through the middle of what yesterday was the zone of terror, the awful space on whose threshold the fierce rush of our last attack was forced to stop, the No Man's Land which bullets and shells had not ceased to furrow for a year and a half, where their crossed fire during these latter days had furiously swept the ground from one horizon to the other.

Now, it is a field of rest. The ground is everywhere dotted with beings who sleep or who are on the way to die, slowly moving, lifting an arm, lifting the head.

The enemy trench is completing the process of foundering into itself, among great marshy undulations and funnel-holes, shaggy with mud: it forms among them a line of pools and wells. Here and there we can see the still overhanging banks begin to move, crumble, and fail down. In one place we can lean against it.

In this bewildering circle of filth there are no bodies. But there, worse than a body, a solitary arm protrudes, bare and white as a stone, from a hole which dimly shows on the other side of the water. The man has been buried in his dug-out and has had only the time to thrust out his arm.

Quite near, we notice that some mounds of earth aligned along the ruined ramparts of this deep-drowned ditch are human. Are they dead--or asleep? We do not know; in any case, they rest.

Are they German or French? We do not know. One of them has opened his eyes, and looks at us with swaying head. We say to him, "French?"--and then, "Deutsch?" He makes no reply, but shuts his eyes again and relapses into oblivion. We never knew what he was.

We cannot decide the identity of these beings, either by their clothes, thickly covered with filth, or by their head-dress, for they are bareheaded or swathed in woolens under their liquid and offensive cowls; or by their weapons, for they either have no rifles or their hands rest lightly on something they have dragged along, a shapeless and sticky mass, like to a sort of fish.

All these men of corpse-like faces who are before us and behind us, at the limit of their strength, void of speech as of will, all these earth-charged men who you would say were carrying their own winding-sheets, are as much alike as if they were naked. Out of the horror of the night apparitions are issuing from this side and that who are clad in exactly the same uniform of misery and mud.

It is the end of all. For the moment it is the prodigious finish, the epic cessation of the war.

I once used to think that the worst hell in war was the flame of shells; and then for long I thought it was the suffocation of the caverns which eternally confine us. But it is neither of these. Hell is water.

The wind is rising, and its icy breath goes through our flesh. On the wrecked and dissolving plain, flecked with bodies between its worm-shaped chasms of water, among the islands of motionless men stuck together like reptiles, in this flattening and sinking chaos there are some slight indications of movement. We see slowly stirring groups and fragments of groups, composed of beings who bow under the weight of their coats and aprons of mud, who trail themselves along, disperse, and crawl about in the depths of the sky's tarnished light. The dawn is so foul that one would say the day was already done.

These survivors are migrating across the desolated steppe, pursued by an unspeakable evil which exhausts and bewilders them. They are lamentable objects; and some, when they are fully seen, are dramatically ludicrous, for the whelming mud from which they still take flight has half unclothed them.

As they pass by their glances go widely around. They look at us, and discovering men in us they cry through the wind, "It's worse down yonder than it is here. The chaps are falling into the holes, and you can't pull them out. All them that trod on the edge of a shell-hole last night, they're dead. Down there where we're coming from you can see a head in the ground, working its arms, embedded. There's a hurdle-path that's given way in places and the hurdles have sunk into holes, and it's a man-trap. Where there's no more hurdles there's two yards deep of water. Your rifle? You couldn't pull it out again when you'd stuck it in. Look at those men, there. They've cut off all the bottom half of their great-coats--hard lines on the pockets--to help 'em get clear, and also because they hadn't strength to drag a weight like that. Dumas' coat, we were able to pull it off him, and it weighed a good eighty pounds; we could just lift it, two of us, with both our hands. Look--him with the bare legs; it's taken everything off him, his trousers, his drawers, his boots, all dragged off by the mud. One's never seen that, never."

Scattered and straggling, the herd takes flight in a fever of fear, their feet pulling huge stumps of mud out of the ground. We watch the human flotsam fade away, and the lumps of them diminish, immured in enormous clothes.

We get up, and at once the icy wind makes us tremble like trees. Slowly we veer towards the mass formed by two men curiously joined, leaning shoulder to shoulder, and each with an arm round the neck of the other. Is it the hand-to-hand fight of two soldiers who have overpowered each other in death and still hold their own, who can never again lose their grip? No; they are two men who recline upon each other so as to sleep. As they might not spread themselves on the falling earth that was ready to spread itself on them, they have supported each other, clasping each other's shoulder; and thus plunged in the ground up to their knees, they have gone to sleep.

We respect their stillness, and withdraw from the twin statue of human wretchedness.

Soon we must halt ourselves. We have expected too much of our strength and can go no farther. It is not yet ended. We collapse once more in a churned corner, with a noise as if one shot a load of dung.

From time to time we open our eyes. Some men are steering for us, reeling. They lean over us and speak in low and weary tones. One of them says, "Sie sind todt. Wir bleiben hier." (They're dead. We'll stay here.) The other says, "Ja," like a sigh.

But they see us move, and at once they sink in front of us. The man with the toneless voice says to us in French, "We surrender," and they do not move. Then they give way entirely, as if this was the relief, the end of their torture; and one of them whose face is patterned in mud like a savage tattooed, smiles slightly.

"Stay there," says Paradis, without moving the head that he leans backward upon a hillock; "presently you shall go with us if you want."

"Yes," says the German, "I've had enough." We make no reply, and he says, "And the others too?"

"Yes," says Paradis, "let them stop too, if they like." There are four of them outstretched on the ground. The death-rattle has got one of them. It is like a sobbing song that rises from him. The others then half straighten themselves, kneeling round him, and roll great eyes in their muck-mottled faces. We get up and watch the scene. But the rattle dies out, and the blackened throat which alone in all the big body pulsed like a little bird, is still.

"Er ist todt!" (He's dead) says one of the men, beginning to cry. The others settle themselves again to sleep. The weeper goes to sleep as he weeps.

Other soldiers have come, stumbling, gripped in sudden halts like tipsy men, or gliding along like worms, to take sanctuary here; and we sleep all jumbled together in the common grave.

* * * * * *

Waking, Paradis and I look at each other, and remember. We return to life and daylight as in a nightmare. In front of us the calamitous plain is resurrected, where hummocks vaguely appear from their immersion, the steel-like plain that is rusty in places and shines with lines and pools of water, while bodies are strewn here and there in the vastness like foul rubbish, prone bodies that breathe or rot.

Paradis says to me, "That's war."

"Yes, that's it," he repeats in a far-away voice, "that's war. It's not anything else."

He means--and I am with him in his meaning--"More than attacks that are like ceremonial reviews, more than visible battles unfurled like banners, more even than the hand-to-hand encounters of shouting strife, War is frightful and unnatural weariness, water up to the belly, mud and dung and infamous filth. It is befouled faces and tattered flesh, it is the corpses that are no longer like corpses even, floating on the ravenous earth. It is that, that endless monotony of misery, broken, by poignant tragedies; it is that, and not the bayonet glittering like silver, nor the bugle's chanticleer call to the sun!"

Paradis was so full of this thought that he ruminated a memory, and growled, "D'you remember the woman in the town where we went about a bit not so very long ago? She talked some drivel about attacks, and said, 'How beautiful they must be to see!'"

A chasseur who was full length on his belly, flattened out like a cloak, raised his bead out of the filthy background in which it was sunk, and cried, 'Beautiful? Oh, hell! It's just as if an ox were to say, 'What a fine sight it must be, all those droves of cattle driven forward to the slaughter-house!'" He spat out mud from his besmeared mouth, and his unburied face was like a beast's.

"Let them say, 'It must be,'" he sputtered in a strange jerky voice, grating and ragged; "that's all right. But beautiful! Oh, hell!"

Writhing under the idea, he added passionately, "It's when they say things like that that they hit us hardest of all!" He spat again, hut exhausted by his effort he fell back in his bath of mud, and laid his head in his spittle.

* * * * * *

Paradis, possessed by his notion, waved his hand towards the wide unspeakable landscape. and looking steadily on it repeated his sentence, 'War is that. It is that everywhere. What are we, we chaps, and what's all this here? Nothing at all. All we can see is only a speck. You've got to remember that this morning there's three thousand kilometers of equal evils, or nearly equal, or worse."

"And then," said the comrade at our side, whom we could not recognize even by his voice, "to-morrow it begins again. It began again the day before yesterday, and all the days before that!"

With an effort as if he was tearing the ground, the chasseur dragged his body out of the earth where he had molded a depression like an oozing coffin, and sat in the hole. He blinked his eyes and tried to shake the balance of mud from his face, and said, "We shall come out of it again this time. And who knows, p'raps we shall come out of it again to-morrow! Who knows?"

Paradis, with his back bent under mats of earth and clay, was trying to convey his idea that the war cannot be imagined or measured in terms of time and space. "When one speaks of the whole war," he said, thinking aloud, 'it's as if you said nothing at all--the words are strangled. We're here, and we look at it all like blind men."

A bass voice rolled to us from a little farther away, "No, one cannot imagine it."

At these words a burst of harsh laughter tore itself from some one. "How could you imagine it, to begin with, if you hadn't been there?"

"You'd have to be mad," said the chasseur.

Paradis leaned over a sprawling outspread mass beside him and said, "Are you asleep?"

"No, but I'm not going to budge." The smothered and terror-struck mutter issued instantly from the mass that was covered with a thick and slimy horse-cloth, so indented that it seemed to have been trampled. "I'll tell you why. I believe my belly's shot through. But I'm not sure, and I daren't find out."

"Let's see----"

"No, not yet," says the man. "I'd rather stop on a bit like this."

The others, dragging themselves on their elbows, began to make splashing movements, by way of casting off the clammy infernal covering that weighed them down. The paralysis of cold was passing away from the knot of sufferers, though the light no longer made any progress over the great irregular marsh of the lower plain. The desolation proceeded, but not the day.

Then he who spoke sorrowfully, like a bell, said. "It'll be no good telling about it, eh? They wouldn't believe you; not out of malice or through liking to pull your leg, but because they couldn't. When you say to 'em later, if you live to say it, 'We were on a night job and we got shelled and we were very nearly drowned in mud,' they'll say, 'Ah!' And p'raps they'll say. 'You didn't have a very spicy time on the job.' And that's all. No one can know it. Only us."

"No, not even us, not even us!" some one cried.

"That's what I say, too. We shall forget--we're forgetting already, my boy!"

"We've seen too much to remember."

"And everything we've seen was too much. We're not made to hold it all. It takes its damned hook in all directions. We're too little to hold it."

"You're right, we shall forget! Not only the length of the big misery, which can't be calculated, as you say, ever since the beginning, but the marches that turn up the ground and turn it again, lacerating your feet and wearing out your bones under a load that seems to grow bigger in the sky, the exhaustion until you don't know your own name any more, the tramping and the inaction that grind you, the digging jobs that exceed your strength, the endless vigils when you fight against sleep and watch for an enemy who is everywhere in the night, the pillows of dung and lice--we shall forget not only those, but even the foul wounds of shells and machine-guns, the mines, the gas, and the counter-attacks. At those moments you're full of the excitement of reality, and you've some satisfaction. But all that wears off and goes away, you don't know how and you don't know where, and there's only the names left, only the words of it, like in a dispatch."

"That's true what he says," remarks a man, without moving his head in its pillory of mud. When I was on leave, I found I'd already jolly well forgotten what had happened to me before. There were some letters from me that I read over again just as if they were a book I was opening. And yet in spite of that, I've forgotten also all the pain I've had in the war. We're forgetting-machines. Men are things that think a little but chiefly forget. That's what we are."

"Then neither the other side nor us'll remember! So much misery all wasted!"

This point of view added to the abasement of these beings on the shore of the flood, like news of a greater disaster, and humiliated them still more.

"Ah, if one did remember!" cried some one.

"If we remembered," said another, "there wouldn't be any more war."

A third added grandly, "Yes, if we remembered, war would be less useless than it is."

But suddenly one of the prone survivors rose to his knees, dark as a great bat ensnared, and as the mud dripped from his waving arms he cried in a hollow voice, "There must be no more war after this!"

In that miry corner where, still feeble unto impotence, we were beset by blasts of wind which laid hold on us with such rude strength that the very ground seemed to sway like sea-drift, the cry of the man who looked as if he were trying to fly away evoked other like cries: "There must be no more war after this!"

The sullen or furious exclamations of these men fettered to the earth, incarnate of earth, arose and slid away on the wind like beating wings--

"No more war! No more war! Enough of it!"

"It's too stupid--it's too stupid," they mumbled.

'What does it mean, at the bottom of it, all this?--all this that you can't even give a name to?"

They snarled and growled like wild beasts on that sort of ice-floe contended for by the elements, in their dismal disguise of ragged mud. So huge was the protest thus rousing them in revolt that it choked them.

"We're made to live, not to be done in like this!"

"Men are made to be husbands, fathers--men, what the devil!--not beasts that hunt each other and cut each other's throats and make themselves stink like all that."

"And yet, everywhere--everywhere--there are beasts, savage beasts or smashed beasts. Look, look!"

I shall never forget the look of those limitless lands wherefrom the water had corroded all color and form, whose contours crumbled on all sides under the assault of the liquid putrescence that flowed across the broken bones of stakes and wire and framing; nor, rising above those things amid the sullen Stygian immensity, can I ever forget the vision of the thrill of reason, logic and simplicity that suddenly shook these men like a fit of madness.

I could see them agitated by this idea--that to try to live one's life on earth and to be happy is not only a right but a duty, and even an ideal and a virtue; that the only end of social life is to make easy the inner life of every one.

"To live!"--"All of us!"--"You!"--"Me!"

"No more war--ah, no!--it's too stupid--worse than that, it's too----"

For a finishing echo to their half-formed thought a saying came to the mangled and miscarried murmur of the mob from a filth-crowned face that I saw arise from the level of the earth-- "Two armies fighting each other--that's like one great army committing suicide!"

* * * * * *

"And likewise, what have we been for two years now? Incredibly pitiful wretches, and savages as well, brutes, robbers, and dirty devils."

"Worse than that!" mutters he whose only phrase it is.

"Yes, I admit it!"

In their troubled truce of the morning, these men whom fatigue had tormented, whom rain had scourged, whom night-long lightning had convulsed, these survivors of volcanoes and flood began not only to see dimly how war, as hideous morally as physically, outrages common sense, debases noble ideas and dictates all kind of crime, but they remembered how it had enlarged in them and about them every evil instinct save none, mischief developed into lustful cruelty, selfishness into ferocity, the hunger for enjoyment into a mania.

They are picturing all this before their eyes as just now they confusedly pictured their misery. They are crammed with a curse which strives to find a way out and to come to light in words, a curse which makes them to groan and wail. It is as if they toiled to emerge from the delusion and ignorance which soil them as the mud soils them; as if they will at last know why they are scourged.

"Well then?" clamors one.

"Ay, what then?" the other repeats, still more grandly. The wind sets the flooded flats a-tremble to our eyes, and falling furiously on the human masses lying or kneeling and fixed like flagstones and grave-slabs, it wrings new shivering from them.

"There will be no more war," growls a soldier, "when there is no more Germany."

"That's not the right thing to say!" cries another. "It isn't enough. There'll be no more war when the spirit of war is defeated." The roaring of the wind half smothered his words, so he lifted his head and repeated them.

"Germany and militarism"--some one in his anger precipitately cut in--"they're the same thing. They wanted the war and they'd planned it beforehand. They are militarism."

"Militarism--" a soldier began again.

"What is it?" some one asked.

"It's--it's brute force that's ready prepared, and that lets fly suddenly, any minute."

"Yes. To-day militarism is called Germany."

"Yes, but what will it be called to-morrow?"

"I don't know," said a voice serious as a prophet's.

"If the spirit of war isn't killed, you'll have struggle all through the ages."

"We must--one's got to----"

"We must fight!" gurgled the hoarse voice of a man who had lain stiff in the devouring mud ever since our awakening; "we've got to!" His body turned heavily over. "We've got to give all we have, our strength and our skins and our hearts, all our life and what pleasures are left us. The life of prisoners as we are, we've got to take it in both hands. You've got to endure everything, even injustice--and that's the king that's reigning now--and the shameful and disgusting sights we see, so as to come out on top, and win. But if we've got to make such a sacrifice," adds the shapeless man, turning over again, "it's because we're fighting for progress, not for a country; against error, not against a country."

"War must be killed," said the first speaker, "war must be killed in the belly of Germany!"

"Anyway," said one of those who sat enrooted there like a sort of shrub, "anyway, we're beginning to understand why we've got to march away."

"All the same," grumbled the squatting chasseur in his turn, "there are some that fight with quite another idea than that in their heads. I've seen some of 'em, young men, who said, 'To hell with humanitarian ideas'; what mattered to them was nationality and nothing else, and the war was a question of fatherlands--let every man make a shine about his own. They were fighting, those chaps, and they were fighting well."

"They're young, the lads you're talking about; they're young, and we must excuse 'em."

"You can do a thing well without knowing what you are doing."

"Men are mad, that's true. You'll never say that often enough."

"The Jingoes--they're vermin," growled a shadow.

Several times they repeated, as though feeling their way, "War must be killed; war itself."

"That's all silly talk. What diff does it make whether you think this or that? We've got to be winners, that's all."

But the others had begun to cast about. They wanted to know and to see farther than to-day. They throbbed with the effort to beget in themselves some light of wisdom and of will. Some sparse convictions whirled in their minds, and jumbled scraps of creeds issued from their lips.

"Of course--yes--but we must look at facts--you've got to think about the object, old chap."

"The object? To be winners in this war," the pillar-man insisted, "isn't that an object?"

Two there were who replied together, "No!"

* * * * * *

At this moment there was a dull noise; cries broke out around us, and we shuddered. A length of earth had detached itself from the hillock on which--after a fashion--we were leaning back, and had completely exhumed in the middle of us a sitting corpse, with its legs out full length. The collapse burst a pool that had gathered on the top of the mound, and the water spread like a cascade over the body and laved it as we looked.

Some one cried, "His face is all black!"

"What is that face?" gasped a voice.

Those who were able drew near in a circle, like frogs. We could not gaze upon the head that showed in low relief upon the trench-wall that the landslide had laid bare. "His face? It isn't his face!" In place of the face we found the hair, and then we saw that the corpse which had seemed to be sitting was broken, and folded the wrong way. In dreadful silence we looked on the vertical back of the dislocated dead, upon the hanging arms, backward curved, and the two outstretched legs that rested on the sinking soil by the points of the toes. Then the discussion began again, revived by this fearful sleeper. As though the corpse was listening they clamored-- "No! To win isn't the object. It isn't those others we've got to get at--it's war."

"Can't you see that we've got to finish with war? If we've got to begin again some day, all that's been done is no good. Look at it there!--and it would be in vain. It would be two or three years or more of wasted catastrophe."

* * * * * *

"Ah, my boy, if all we've gone through wasn't the end of this great calamity! I value my life; I've got my wife, my family, my home around them; I've got schemes for my life afterwards, mind you. Well, all the same, if this wasn't the end of it, I'd rather die."

"I'm going to die." The echo came at that moment exactly from Paradis' neighbor, who no doubt had examined the wound in his belly. "I'm sorry on account of my children."

"It's on account of my children that I'm not sorry," came a murmur from somewhere else. "I'm dying, so I know what I'm saying, and I say to myself, 'They'll have peace.'"

"Perhaps I shan't die," said another, with a quiver of hope that he could not restrain even in the presence of the doomed, "but I shall suffer. Well, I say, 'more's the pity,' and I even say 'that's all right'; and I shall know how to stick more suffering if I know it's for something."

"Then we'll have to go on fighting after the war?"

"Yes, p'raps----"

"You want more of it, do you?"

"Yes, because I want no more of it," the voice grunted. "And p'raps it'll not be foreigners that we've got to fight?"

"P'raps, yes----"

A still more violent blast of wind shut our eyes and choked us. When it had passed, and we saw the volley take flight across the plain, seizing and shaking its muddy plunder and furrowing the water in the long gaping trenches--long as the grave of an army--we began again.

"After all, what is it that makes the mass and the horror of war?"

"It's the mass of the people."

"But the people--that's us!"

He who had said it looked at me inquiringly.

"Yes," I said to him, "yes, old boy, that's true! It's with us only that they make battles. It is we who are the material of war. War is made up of the flesh and the souls of common soldiers only. It is we who make the plains of dead and the rivers of blood, all of us, and each of us is invisible and silent because of the immensity of our numbers. The emptied towns and the villages destroyed, they are a wilderness of our making. Yes, war is all of us, and all of us together."

"Yes, that's true. It's the people who are war; without them, there would be nothing, nothing but some wrangling, a long way off. But it isn't they who decide on it; it's the masters who steer them."

"The people are struggling to-day to have no more masters that steer them. This war, it's like the French Revolution continuing."

"Well then, if that's so, we're working for the Prussians too?"

"It's to be hoped so," said one of the wretches of the plain.

"Oh, hell!" said the chasseur, grinding his teeth. But he shook his head and added no more.

"We want to look after ourselves! You shouldn't meddle in other people's business," mumbled the obstinate snarler.

"Yes, you should! Because what you call 'other people,' that's just what they're not--they're the same!"

"Why is it always us that has to march away for everybody?"

"That's it!" said a man, and he repeated the words he had used a moment before. "More's the pity, or so much the better."

"The people--they're nothing, though they ought to be everything," then said the man who had questioned me, recalling, though he did not know it, an historic sentence of more than a century ago, but investing it at last with its great universal significance. Escaped from torment, on all fours in the deep grease of the ground, he lifted his leper-like face and looked hungrily before him into infinity.

He looked and looked. He was trying to open the gates of heaven.

* * * * * *

"The peoples of the world ought to come to an understanding, through the hides and on the bodies of those who exploit them one way or another. All the masses ought to agree together."

"All men ought to be equal."

The word seems to come to us like a rescue.

"Equal--yes--yes--there are some great meanings for justice and truth. There are some things one believes in, that one turns to and clings to as if they were a sort of light. There's equality, above all."

"There's liberty and fraternity, too."

"But principally equality!"

I tell them that fraternity is a dream, an obscure and uncertain sentiment; that while it is unnatural for a man to hate one whom he does not know, it is equally unnatural to love him. You can build nothing on fraternity. Nor on liberty, either; it is too relative a thing in a society where all the elements subdivide each other by force.

But equality is always the same. Liberty and fraternity are words while equality is a fact. Equality should be the great human formula--social equality, for while individuals have varying values, each must have an equal share in the social life; and that is only just, because the life of one human being is equal to the life of another. That formula is of prodigious importance. The principle of the equal rights of every living being and the sacred will of the majority is infallible and must be invincible; all progress will be brought about by it, all, with a force truly divine. It will bring first the smooth bed-rock of all progress--the settling of quarrels by that justice which is exactly the same thing as the general advantage.

And these men of the people, dimly seeing some unknown Revolution greater than the other, a revolution springing from themselves and already rising, rising in their throats, repeat "Equality!"

It seems as if they were spelling the word and then reading it distinctly on all sides--that there is not upon the earth any privilege, prejudice or injustice that does not collapse in contact with it. It is an answer to all, a word of sublimity. They revolve the idea over and over, and find a kind of perfection in it. They see errors and abuses burning in a brilliant light.

"That would be fine!" said one.

"Too fine to be true!" said another.

But the third said, "It's because it's true that it's fine. It has no other beauty, mind! And it's not because it's fine that it will come. Fineness is not in vogue, any more than love is. It's because it's true that it has to be."

"Then, since justice is wanted by the people, and the people have the power, let them do it."

"They're beginning already!" said some obscure lips.

"It's the way things are running," declared another.

"When all men have made themselves equal, we shall be forced to unite."

"And there'll no longer be appalling things done in the face of heaven by thirty million men who don't wish them."

It is true, and there is nothing to reply to it. What pretended argument or shadow of an answer dare one oppose to it--"There'll no longer be the things done in the face of heaven by thirty millions of men who don't want to do them!"

Such is the logic that I hear and follow of the words, spoken by these pitiful fellows cast upon the field of affliction, the words which spring from their bruises and pains, the words which bleed from them.

Now, the sky is all overcast. Low down it is armored in steely blue by great clouds. Above, in a weakly luminous silvering, it is crossed by enormous sweepings of wet mist. The weather is worsening, and more rain on the way. The end of the tempest and the long trouble is not yet.

"We shall say to ourselves," says one, "'After all, why do we make war?' We don't know at all why, but we can say who we make it for. We shall be forced to see that if every nation every day brings the fresh bodies of fifteen hundred young men to the God of War to be lacerated, it's for the pleasure of a few ringleaders that we could easily count; that if whole nations go to slaughter marshaled in armies in order that the gold-striped caste may write their princely names in history, so that other gilded people of the same rank can contrive more business, and expand in the way of employees and shops--and we shall see, as soon as we open our eyes, that the divisions between mankind are not what we thought, and those one did believe in are not divisions."

"Listen!" some one broke in suddenly.

We hold our peace, and hear afar the sound of guns. Yonder, the growling is agitating the gray strata of the sky, and the distant violence breaks feebly on our buried ears. All around us, the waters continue to sap the earth and by degrees to ensnare its heights.

"It's beginning again."

Then one of us says, "Ah, look what we've got against us!"

Already there is uneasy hesitation in these castaways' discussion of their tragedy, in the huge masterpiece of destiny that they are roughly sketching. It is not only the peril and pain, the misery of the moment, whose endless beginning they see again. It is the enmity of circumstances and people against the truth, the accumulation of privilege and ignorance, of deafness and unwillingness, the taken sides, the savage conditions accepted, the immovable masses, the tangled lines.

And the dream of fumbling thought is continued in another vision, in which everlasting enemies emerge from the shadows of the past and stand forth in the stormy darkness of to-day.

* * * * * *

Here they are. We seem to see them silhouetted against the sky, above the crests of the storm that beglooms the world--a cavalcade of warriors, prancing and flashing, the charges that carry armor and plumes and gold ornament, crowns and swords. They are burdened with weapons; they send forth gleams of light; magnificent they roll. The antiquated movements of the warlike ride divide the clouds like the painted fierceness of a theatrical scene.

And far above the fevered gaze of them who are upon the ground, whose bodies are layered with the dregs of the earth and the wasted fields, the phantom cohort flows from the four corners of the horizon, drives back the sky's infinity and hides its blue deeps.

And they are legion. They are not only the warrior caste who shout as they fight and have joy of it, not only those whom universal slavery has clothed in magic power, the mighty by birth, who tower here and there above the prostration of the human race and will take their sudden stand by the scales of justice when they think they see great profit to gain; not only these, but whole multitudes who minister consciously or unconsciously to their fearful privilege.

"There are those who say," now cries one of the somber and compelling talkers, extending his hand as though he could see the pageant, "there are those who say, 'How fine they are!'"

"And those who say, 'The nations hate each other!'"

"And those who say, 'I get fat on war, and my belly matures on it!'"

"And those who say, 'There has always been war, so there always will be!'"

"There are those who say, 'I can't see farther than the end of my nose, and I forbid others to see farther!'"

"There are those who say, 'Babies come into the world with either red or blue breeches on!'"

"There are those," growled a hoarse voice, "who say, 'Bow your head and trust in God!'"

* * * * * *

Ah, you are right, poor countless workmen of the battles, you who have made with your bands all of the Great War, you whose omnipotence is not yet used for well-doing, you human host whose every face is a world of sorrows, you who dream bowed under the yoke of a thought beneath that sky where long black clouds rend themselves and expand in disheveled lengths like evil angels--yes, you are right. There are all those things against you. Against you and your great common interests which as you dimly saw are the same thing in effect as justice, there are not only the sword-wavers, the profiteers, and the intriguers.

There is not only the prodigious opposition of interested parties--financiers, speculators great and small, armorplated in their banks and houses, who live on war and live in peace during war, with their brows stubbornly set upon a secret doctrine and their faces shut up like safes.

There are those who admire the exchange of flashing blows, who hail like women the bright colors of uniforms; those whom military music and the martial ballads poured upon the public intoxicate as with brandy; the dizzy-brained, the feeble-minded, the superstitious, the savages.

There are those who bury themselves in the past, on whose lips are the sayings only of bygone days, the traditionalists for whom an injustice has legal force because it is perpetuated, who aspire to be guided by the dead, who strive to subordinate progress and the future and all their palpitating passion to the realm of ghosts and nursery-tales.

With them are all the parsons, who seek to excite you and to lull you to sleep with the morphine of their Paradise, so that nothing may change. There are the lawyers, the economists, the historians--and how many more?--who befog you with the rigmarole of theory, who declare the inter-antagonism of nationalities at a time when the only unity possessed by each nation of to-day is in the arbitrary map-made lines of her frontiers, while she is inhabited by an artificial amalgam of races; there are the worm-eaten genealogists, who forge for the ambitious of conquest and plunder false certificates of philosophy and imaginary titles of nobility. The infirmity of human intelligence is short sight. In too many cases, the wiseacres are dunces of a sort, who lose sight of the simplicity of things, and stifle and obscure it with formulae and trivialities. It is the small things that one learns from books, not the great ones.

And even while they are saying that they do not wish for war they are doing all they can to perpetuate it. They nourish national vanity and the love of supremacy by force. "We alone," they say, each behind his shelter, "we alone are the guardians of courage and loyalty, of ability and good taste!" Out of the greatness and richness of a country they make something like a consuming disease. Out of patriotism--which can be respected as long as it remains in the domain of sentiment and art on exactly the same footing as the sense of family and local pride, all equally sacred--out of patriotism they make a Utopian and impracticable idea, unbalancing the world, a sort of cancer which drains all the living force, spreads everywhere and crushes life, a contagious cancer which culminates either in the crash of war or in the exhaustion and suffocation of armed peace.

They pervert the most admirable of moral principles. How many are the crimes of which they have made virtues merely by dowering them with the word "national"? They distort even truth itself. For the truth which is eternally the same they substitute each their national truth. So many nations, so many truths; and thus they falsify and twist the truth.

Those are your enemies. All those people whose childish and odiously ridiculous disputes you hear snarling above you--"It wasn't me that began, it was you!"--"No, it wasn't me, it was you!"--"Hit me then!"--"No, you hit me!"--those puerilities that perpetuate the world's huge wound, for the disputants are not the people truly concerned, but quite the contrary, nor do they desire to have done with it; all those people who cannot or will not make peace on earth; all those who for one reason or another cling to the ancient state of things and find or invent excuses for it--they are your enemies!

They are your enemies as much as those German soldiers are to-day who are prostrate here between you in the mud, who are only poor dupes hatefully deceived and brutalized, domestic beasts. They are your enemies, wherever they were born, however they pronounce their names, whatever the language in which they lie. Look at them, in the heaven and on the earth. Look at them, everywhere! Identify them once for all, and be mindful for ever!

* * * * * *

"They will say to you," growled a kneeling man who stooped with his two bands in the earth and shook his shoulders like a mastiff, 'My friend, you have been a wonderful hero!' I don't want them to say it!

"Heroes? Some sort of extraordinary being? Idols? Rot! We've been murderers. We have respectably followed the trade of hangmen. We shall do it again with all our might, because it's of great importance to follow that trade, so as to punish war and smother it. The act of slaughter is always ignoble; sometimes necessary, but always ignoble. Yes, hard and persistent murderers, that's what we've been. But don't talk to me about military virtue because I've killed Germans."

"Nor to me," cried another in so loud a voice that no one could have replied to him even had he dared; "nor to me, because I've saved the lives of Frenchmen! Why, we might as well set fire to houses for the sake of the excellence of life-saving!"

"It would be a crime to exhibit the fine side of war, even if there were one!" murmured one of the somber soldiers.

The first man continued. "They'll say those things to us by way of paying us with glory, and to pay themselves, too, for what they haven't done. But military glory--it isn't even true for us common soldiers. It's for some, but outside those elect the soldier's glory is a lie, like every other fine-looking thing in war. In reality, the soldier's sacrifice is obscurely concealed. The multitudes that make up the waves of attack have no reward. They run to hurl themselves into a frightful inglorious nothing. You cannot even heap up their names, their poor little names of nobodies."

"To hell with it all," replies a man, "we've got other things to think about."

"But all that," hiccupped a face which the mud concealed like a hideous hand, "may you even say it? You'd be cursed, and 'shot at dawn'! They've made around a Marshal's plumes a religion as bad and stupid and malignant as the other!"

The man raised himself, fell down, and rose again. The wound that he had under his armor of filth was staining the ground, and when he had spoken, his wide-open eyes looked down at all the blood he had given for the healing of the world.

* * * * * *

The others, one by one, straighten themselves. The storm is falling more heavily on the expanse of flayed and martyred fields. The day is full of night. It is as if new enemy shapes of men and groups of men are rising unceasingly on the crest of the mountain-chain of clouds, round about the barbaric outlines of crosses, eagles, churches, royal and military palaces and temples. They seem to multiply there, shutting out the stars that are fewer than mankind; it seems even as if these apparitions are moving in all directions in the excavated ground, here, there, among the real beings who are thrown there at random, half buried in the earth like grains of corn.

My still living companions have at last got up. Standing with difficulty on the foundered soil, enclosed in their bemired garb, laid out in strange upright coffins of mud, raising their huge simplicity out of the earth's depths-- a profoundity like that of ignorance--they move and cry out, with their gaze, their arms and their fists extended towards the sky whence fall daylight and storm. They are struggling against victorious specters, like the Cyranos and Don Quixotes that they still are.

One sees their shadows stirring on the shining sad expanse of the plain, and reflected in the pallid stagnant surface of the old trenches, which now only the infinite void of space inhabits and purifies, in the center of a polar desert whose horizons fume.

But their eyes are opened. They are beginning to make out the boundless simplicity of things. And Truth not only invests them with a dawn of hope, but raises on it a renewal of strength and courage.

"That's enough talk about those others!" one of the men commanded; "all the worse for them!--Us! Us all!" The understanding between democracies, the entente among the multitudes, the uplifting of the people of the world, the bluntly simple faith! All the rest, aye, all the rest, in the past, the present and the future, matters nothing at all.

And a soldier ventures to add this sentence, though he begins it with lowered voice, "If the present war has advanced progress by one step, its miseries and slaughter will count for little."

And while we get ready to rejoin the others and begin war again, the dark and storm-choked sky slowly opens above our heads. Between two masses of gloomy cloud a tranquil gleam emerges; and that line of light, so blackedged and beset, brings even so its proof that the sun is there.

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