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

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

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

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:39 am

Under Fire: The Story of a Squad
by Henri Barbusse
Translated by Fitzwater Wray
COPYRIGHT 1917, by E. P. DUTTON & Co.




To the memory of the comrades who fell by my side at Crouÿ and on Hill 119 January, May, and September, 1915

Table of Contents

1. The Vision
2. In the Earth
3. The Return
4. Volpatte and Fouillade
5. Sanctuary
6. Habits
7. Entraining
8. On Leave
9. The Anger of Volpatte
10. Argoval
11. The Dog
12. The Doorway
13. The Big Words
14. Of Burdens
15. The Egg
16. An Idyll
17. The Sap
18. A Box of Matches
19. Bombardment
20. Under Fire
21. The Refuge
22. Going About
23. The Fatigue-Party
24. The Dawn
Site Admin
Posts: 33189
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:39 am

1. The Vision

MONT BLANC, the Dent du Midi, and the Aiguille Verte look across at the bloodless faces that show above the blankets along the gallery of the sanatorium. This roofed-in gallery of rustic wood-work on the first floor of the palatial hospital is isolated in Space and overlooks the world. The blankets of fine wool--red, green, brown, or white--from which those wasted cheeks and shining eyes protrude are quite still. No sound comes from the long couches except when some one coughs, or that of the pages of a book turned over at long and regular intervals, or the undertone of question and quiet answer between neighbors, or now and again the crescendo disturbance of a daring crow, escaped to the balcony from those flocks that seem threaded across the immense transparency like chaplets of black pearls.

Silence is obligatory. Besides, the rich and high-placed who have come here from all the ends of the earth, smitten by the same evil, have lost the habit of talking. They have withdrawn into themselves, to think of their life and of their death.

A servant appears in the balcony, dressed in white and walking softly. She brings newspapers and hands them about.

"It's decided," says the first to unfold his paper. "War is declared."

Expected as the news is, its effect is almost dazing, for this audience feels that its portent is without measure or limit. These men of culture and intelligence, detached from the affairs of the world and almost from the world itself, whose faculties are deepened by suffering and meditation, as far remote from their fellow men as if they were already of the Future--these men look deeply into the distance, towards the unknowable land of the living and the insane.

"Austria's act is a crime," says the Austrian.

"France must win," says the Englishman.

"I hope Germany will be beaten," says the German.

They settle down again under the blankets and on the pillows, looking to heaven and the high peaks. But in spite of that vast purity, the silence is filled with the dire disclosure of a moment before.


Some of the invalids break the silence, and say the word again under their breath, reflecting that this is the greatest happening of the age, and perhaps of all ages. Even on the lucid landscape at which they gaze the news casts something like a vague and somber mirage.

The tranquil expanses of the valley, adorned with soft and smooth pastures and hamlets rosy as the rose, with the sable shadow-stains of the majestic mountains and the black lace and white of pines and eternal snow, become alive with the movements of men, whose multitudes swarm in distinct masses. Attacks develop, wave by wave, across the fields and then stand still. Houses are eviscerated like human beings and towns like houses. Villages appear in crumpled whiteness as though fallen from heaven to earth. The very shape of the plain is changed by the frightful heaps of wounded and slain.

Each country whose frontiers are consumed by carnage is seen tearing from its heart ever more warriors of full blood and force. One's eyes follow the flow of these living tributaries to the River of Death. To north and south and west ajar there are battles on every side. Turn where you will, there is war in every corner of that vastness.

One of the pale-faced clairvoyants lifts himself on his elbow, reckons and numbers the fighters present and to come--thirty millions of soldiers . Another stammers, his eyes full of slaughter, "Two armies at death-grips--that is one great army committing suicide."

"It should not have been," says the deep and hollow voice of the first in the line. But another says, "It is the French Revolution beginning again." "Let thrones beware!" says another's undertone.

The third adds, "Perhaps it is the last war of all." A silence follows, then some heads are shaken in dissent whose faces have been blanched anew by the stale tragedy of sleepless night--"Stop war? Stop war? Impossible! There is no cure for the world's disease "

Some one coughs, and then the Vision is swallowed up in the huge sunlit peace of the lush meadows. In the rich colors of the glowing kine, the black forests, the green fields and the blue distance, dies the reflection of the fire where the old world burns and breaks. Infinite silence engulfs the uproar of hate and pain from the dark swarmings of mankind. They who have spoken retire one by one within themselves, absorbed once more in their own mysterious malady.

But when evening is ready to descend within the valley, a storm breaks over the mass of Mont Blanc. One may not go forth in such peril, for the last waves of the storm-wind roll even to the great veranda, to that harbor where they have taken refuge; and these victims of a great internal wound encompass with their gaze the elemental convulsion.

They watch how the explosions of thunder on the mountain upheave the level clouds like a stormy sea, how each one hurls a shaft of fire and a column of cloud together into the twilight; and they turn their wan and sunken faces to follow the flight of the eagles that wheel in the sky and look from their supreme height down through the wreathing mists, down to earth.

"Put an end to war?" say the watchers.--"Forbid the Storm!"

Cleansed from the passions of party and faction, liberated from prejudice and infatuation and the tyranny of tradition, these watchers on the threshold of another world are vaguely conscious of the simplicity of the present and the yawning possibilities of the future.

The man at the end of the rank cries, "I can see crawling things down there"--"Yes, as though they were alive"--"Some sort of plant, perhaps"--"Some kind of men"----

And there amid the baleful glimmers of the storm, below the dark disorder of the clouds that extend and unfurl over the earth like evil spirits, they seem to see a great livid plain unrolled, which to their seeing is made of mud and water, while figures appear and fast fix themselves to the surface of it, all blinded and borne down with filth, like the dreadful castaways of shipwreck. And it seems to them that these are soldiers.

The streaming plain, seamed and seared with long parallel canals and scooped into water-holes, is an immensity, and these castaways who strive to exhume themselves from it are legion. But the thirty million slaves, hurled upon one another in the mud of war by guilt and error, uplift their human faces and reveal at last a bourgeoning Will. The future is in the hands of these slaves, and it is clearly certain that the alliance to be cemented some day by those whose number and whose misery alike are infinite will transform the old world.
Site Admin
Posts: 33189
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:41 am

Part 1 of 2

2. In the Earth

THE great pale sky is alive with thunderclaps. Each detonation reveals together a shaft of red falling fire in what is left of the night, and a column of smoke in what has dawned of the day. Up there--so high and so far that they are heard unseen--a flight of dreadful birds goes circling up with strong and palpitating cries to look down upon the earth.

The earth! It is a vast and water-logged desert that begins to take shape under the long-drawn desolation of daybreak. There are pools and gullies where the bitter breath of earliest morning nips the water and sets it a-shiver; tracks traced by the troops and the convoys of the night in these barren fields, the lines of ruts that glisten in the weak light like steel rails, mud-masses with broken stakes protruding from them, ruined trestles, and bushes of wire in tangled coils. With its slime-beds and puddles, the plain might be an endless gray sheet that floats on the sea and has here and there gone under. Though no rain is falling, all is drenched, oozing, washed out and drowned, and even the wan light seems to flow.

Now you can make out a network of long ditches where the lave of the night still lingers. It is the trench. It is carpeted at bottom with a layer of slime that liberates the foot at each step with a sticky sound; and by each dug-out it smells of the night's excretions. The holes themselves, as you stoop to peer in, are foul of breath.

I see shadows coming from these sidelong pits and moving about, huge and misshapen lumps, bear-like, that flounder and growl. They are "us." We are muffled like Eskimos. Fleeces and blankets and sacking wrap us up, weigh us down, magnify us strangely. Some stretch themselves, yawning profoundly. Faces appear, ruddy or leaden, dirt-disfigured, pierced by the little lamps of dull and heavy-lidded eyes, matted with uncut beards and foul with forgotten hair.

Crack! Crack! Boom!--rifle fire and cannonade. Above us and all around, it crackles and rolls, in long gusts or separate explosions. The flaming and melancholy storm never, never ends. For more than fifteen months, for five hundred days in this part of the world where we are, the rifles and the big guns have gone on from morning to night and from night to morning. We are buried deep in an everlasting battlefield; but like the ticking of the clocks at home in the days gone by--in the now almost legendary Past--you only hear the noise when you listen.

A babyish face with puffy eyelids, and cheek-bones as lurid as if lozenge-shaped bits of crimson paper had been stuck on, comes out of the ground, opens one eye, then the other. It is Paradis. The skin of his fat cheeks is scored with the marks of the folds in the tent-cloth that has served him for night-cap. The glance of his little eye wanders all round me; he sees me, nods, and says-- "Another night gone, old chap."

"Yes, sonny; how many more like it still?"

He raises his two plump arms skywards. He has managed to scrape out by the steps of the dug-out and is beside me. After stumbling over the dim obstacle of a man who sits in the shadows, fervently scratches himself and sighs hoarsely, Paradis makes off--lamely splashing like a penguin through the flooded picture.

One by one the men appear from the depths. In the corners, heavy shadows are seen forming--human clouds that move and break up. One by one they become recognizable. There is one who comes out hooded with his blanket--a savage, you would say, or rather, the tent of a savage, which walks and sways from side to side. Near by, and heavily framed in knitted wool, a square face is disclosed, yellow-brown as though iodized, and patterned with blackish patches, the nose broken, the eyes of Chinese restriction and red-circled, a little coarse and moist mustache like a greasing-brush.

"There's Volpatte. How goes it, Firmin?"

"It goes, it goes, and it comes," says Volpatte. His heavy and drawling voice is aggravated by hoarseness. He coughs--"My number's up, this time. Say, did you hear it last night, the attack? My boy, talk about a bombardment--something very choice in the way of mixtures!" He sniffles and passes his sleeve under his concave nose. His hand gropes within his greatcoat and his jacket till it finds the skin, and scratches. "I've killed thirty of them in the candle," he growls; "in the big dug-out by the tunnel, mon vieux, there are some like crumbs of metal bread. You can see them running about in the straw like I'm telling you."

"Who's been attacking? The Boches?"

"The Boches and us too--out Vimy way--a counterattack--didn't you hear it?"

"No," the big Lamuse, the ox-man, replies on my account; "I was snoring; but I was on fatigue all night the night before."

"I heard it," declares the little Breton, Biquet; "I slept badly, or rather, didn't sleep. I've got a doss-house all to myself. Look, see, there it is--the damned thing." He points to a trough on the ground level, where on a meager mattress of muck, there is just body-room for one. "Talk about home in a nutshell!" he declares, wagging the rough and rock-hard little head that looks as if it had never been finished. "I hardly snoozed. I'd just got off, but was woke up by the relief of the 129th that went by--not by the noise, but the smell. Ah, all those chaps with their feet on the level with my nose! It woke me up, it gave me nose-ache so."

I knew it. I have often been wakened in the trench myself by the trail of heavy smell in the wake of marching men.

"It was all right, at least, if it killed the vermin," said Tirette.

"On the contrary, it excites them," says Lamuse; "the worse you smell, the more you have of 'em."

"And it's lucky," Biquet went on, "that their stink woke me up. As I was telling that great tub just now, I got my peepers open just in time to seize the tent-cloth that shut my hole up--one of those muck-heaps was going to pinch it off me."

"Dirty devils, the 129th." The human form from which the words came could now be distinguished down below at our feet, where the morning had not yet reached it. Grasping his abundant clothing by handsful, he squatted and wriggled. It was Papa Blaire. His little eyes blinked among the dust that luxuriated on his face. Above the gap of his toothless mouth, his mustache made a heavy sallow lump. His hands were horribly black, the top of them shaggy with dirt, the palms plastered in gray relief. Himself, shriveled and dirtbedight, exhaled the scent of an ancient stewpan. Though busily scratching, he chatted with big Barque, who leaned towards him from a little way off.

"I wasn't as mucky as this when I was a civvy," he said.

"Well, my poor friend, it's a dirty change for the worse," said Barque.

"Lucky for you," says Tirette, going one better; "when it comes to kids, you'll present madame with some little niggers!"

Blaire took offense, and gathering gloom wrinkled his brow. "What have you got to give me lip about, you? What next? It's war-time. As for you, bean-face, you think perhaps the war hasn't changed your phizog and your manners? Look at yourself, monkey-snout, buttock-skin! A man must be a beast to talk as you do." He passed his hand over the dark deposit on his face, which the rains of those days had proved finally indelible, and added, "Besides, if I am as I am, it's my own choosing. To begin with, I have no teeth. The major said to me a long time ago, 'You haven't a single tooth. It's not enough. At your next rest,' he says, 'take a turn round to the estomalogical ambulance.'"

"The tomatological ambulance," corrected Barque.

"Stomatological," Bertrand amended.

"You have all the making of an army cook--you ought to have been one," said Barque.

"My idea, too," retorted Blaire innocently. Some one laughed. The black man got up at the insult. "You give me belly-ache," he said with scorn. "I'm off to the latrines."

When his doubly dark silhouette had vanished, the others scrutinized once more the great truth that down here in the earth the cooks are the dirtiest of men.

"If you see a chap with his skin and toggery so smeared and stained that you wouldn't touch him with a barge-pole, you can say to yourself, 'Probably he's a cook.' And the dirtier he is, the more likely to be a cook."

"It's true, and true again," said Marthereau.

"Tiens, there's Tirloir! Hey, Tirloir!"

He comes up busily, peering this way and that, on an eager scent. His insignificant head, pale as chlorine, hops centrally about in the cushioning collar of a greatcoat that is much too heavy and big for him. His chin is pointed, and his upper teeth protrude. A wrinkle round his mouth is so deep with dirt that it looks like a muzzle. As usual, he is angry, and as usual, he rages aloud.

"Some one cut my pouch in two last night!"

"It was the relief of the 129th. Where had you put it?"

He indicates a bayonet stuck in the wall of the trench close to the mouth of a funk-hole--"There, hanging on the toothpick there."

"Ass!" comes the chorus. "Within reach of passing soldiers! Not dotty, are you?"

"It's hard lines all the same," wails Tirloir. Then suddenly a fit of rage seizes him, his face crumples, his little fists clench in fury, he tightens them like knots in string and waves them about. "Alors quoi? Ah, if I had hold of the mongrel that did it! Talk about breaking his jaw--I'd stave in his bread-pan, I'd--there was a whole Camembert in there, I'll go and look for it." He massages his stomach with the little sharp taps of a guitar player, and plunges into the gray of the morning, grinning yet dignified, with his awkward outlines of an invalid in a dressing-gown. We hear him grumbling until he disappears.

"Strange man, that," says Pépin; the others chuckle. "He's daft and crazy," declares Marthereau, who is in the habit of fortifying the expression of his thought by using two synonyms at once.

* * * * * *

"Tiens, old man," says Tulacque, as he comes up. "Look at this."

Tulacque is magnificent. He is wearing a lemon-yellow coat made out of an oilskin sleeping-sack. He has arranged a hole in the middle to get his head through, and compelled his shoulder-straps and belt to go over it. He is tall and bony. He holds his face in advance as he walks, a forceful face, with eyes that squint. He has something in his hand. "I found this while digging last night at the end of the new gallery to change the rotten gratings. It took my fancy off-hand, that knick-knack. It's an old pattern of hatchet."

It was indeed an old pattern, a sharpened flint hafted with an old brown bone--quite a prehistoric tool in appearance.

"Very handy," said Tulacque, fingering it. "Yes, not badly thought out. Better balanced than the regulation ax. That'll be useful to me, you'll see." As he brandishes that ax of Post-Tertiary Man, he would himself pass for an ape-man, decked out with rags and lurking in the bowels of the earth.

One by one we gathered, we of Bertrand's squad and the half-section, at an elbow of the trench. Just here it is a little wider than in the straight part where when you meet another and have to pass you must throw yourself against the side, rub your back in the earth and your stomach against the stomach of the other.

Our company occupies, in reserve, a second line parallel. No night watchman works here. At night we are ready for making earthworks in front, but as long as the day lasts we have nothing to do. Huddled up together and linked arm in arm, it only remains to await the evening as best we can.

Daylight has at last crept into the interminable crevices that furrow this part of the earth, and now it finds the threshold of our holes. It is the melancholy light of the North Country, of a restricted and muddy sky, a sky which itself, one would say, is heavy with the smoke and smell of factories. In this leaden light, the uncouth array of these dwellers in the depths reveals the stark reality of the huge and hopeless misery that brought it into being. But that is like the rattle of rifles and the verberation of artillery. The drama in which we are actors has lasted much too long for us to be surprised any more, either at the stubbornness we have evolved or the garb we have devised against the rain that comes from above, against the mud that comes from beneath, and against the cold--that sort of infinity that is everywhere. The skins of animals, bundles of blankets, Balaklava helmets, woolen caps, furs, bulging mufflers (sometimes worn turban-wise), paddings and quiltings, knittings and double-knittings, coverings and roofings and cowls, tarred or oiled or rubbered, black or all the colors (once upon a time) of the rainbow--all these things mask and magnify the men, and wipe out their uniforms almost as effectively as their skins. One has fastened on his back a square of linoleum, with a big draught-board pattern in white and red, that he found in the middle of the dining-room of some temporary refuge. That is Pépin. We know him afar off by his harlequin placard sooner even than by his pale Apache face. Here is Barque's bulging chest-protector, carven from an eiderdown quilt, formerly pink, but now fantastically bleached and mottled by dust and rain. There, Lamuse the Huge rises like a ruined tower to which tattered posters still cling. A cuirass of moleskin, with the fur inside, adorns little Eudore with the burnished back of a beetle; while the golden corselet of Tulacque the Big Chief surpasses all.

The "tin hat" gives a certain sameness to the highest points of the beings that are there, but even then the divers ways of wearing it--on the regulation cap like Biquet, over a Balaklava like Cadilhac, or on a cotton cap like Barque--produce a complicated diversity of appearance.

And our legs! I went down just now, bent double, into our dug-out, the little low cave that smells musty and damp, where one stumbles over empty jam-pots and dirty rags, where two long lumps lay asleep, while in the corner a kneeling shape rummaged a pouch by candle-light. As I climbed out, the rectangle of entry afforded me a revelation of our legs. Flat on the ground, vertically in the air, or aslant; spread about, doubled up, or mixed together; blocking the fairway and cursed by passers-by, they present a collection of many colors and many shapes--gaiters, leggings black or yellow, long or short, in leather, in tawny cloth, in any sort of waterproof stuff; puttees in dark blue, light blue, black, sage green, khaki, and beige. Alone of all his kind, Volpatte has retained the modest gaiters of mobilization. Mesnil André has displayed for a fortnight a pair of thick woolen stockings, ribbed and green; and Tirette has always been known by his gray cloth puttees with white stripes, commandeered from a pair of civilian trousers that was hanging goodness knows where at the beginning of the war. As for Marthereau's puttees, they are not both of the same hue, for he failed to find two fag-ends of greatcoat equally worn and equally dirty, to be cut up into strips.

There are legs wrapped up in rags, too, and even in newspapers, which are kept in place with spirals of thread or--much more practical--telephone wire. Pépin fascinated his friends and the passers-by with a pair of fawn gaiters, borrowed from a corpse. Barque, who poses as a resourceful man, full of ideas--and Heaven knows what a bore it makes of him at times!--has white calves, for he wrapped surgical bandages round his leg-cloths to preserve them, a snowy souvenir at his latter end of the cotton cap at the other, which protrudes below his helmet and is left behind in its turn by a saucy red tassel. Poterloo has been walking about for a month in the boots of a German soldier, nearly new, and with horseshoes on the heels. Caron entrusted them to Poterloo when he was sent back on account of his arm. Caron had taken them himself from a Bavarian machine-gunner, knocked out near the Pylônes road. I can hear Caron telling about it yet--

"Old man, he was there, his buttocks in a hole, doubled up, gaping at the sky with his legs in the air, and his pumps offered themselves to me with an air that meant they were worth my while. 'A tight fit,' says I. But you talk about a job to bring those beetle-crushers of his away! I worked on top of him, tugging, twisting and shaking, for half an hour and no lie about it. With his feet gone quite stiff, the patient didn't help me a bit. Then at last the legs of it--they'd been pulled about so-- came unstuck at the knees, and his breeks tore away, and all the lot came, flop! There was me, all of a sudden, with a full boot in each fist. The legs and feet had to be emptied out."

"You're going it a bit strong!"

"Ask Euterpe the cyclist if it isn't true. I tell you he did it along of me, too. We shoved our arms inside the boots and pulled out of 'em some bones and bits of sock and bits of feet. But look if they weren't worth while!"

So, until Caron returns, Poterloo continues on his behalf the wearing of the Bavarian machine-gunner's boots.

Thus do they exercise their wits, according to their intelligence, their vivacity, their resources, and their boldness, in the struggle with the terrible discomfort. Each one seems to make the revealing declaration, "This is all that I knew, all I was able, all that I dared to do in the great misery which has befallen me."

* * * * * *

Mesnil Joseph drowses; Blaire yawns; Marthereau smokes, "eyes front." Lamuse scratches himself like a gorilla, and Eudore like a marmoset. Volpatte coughs, and says, "I'm kicking the bucket." Mesnil André has got out his mirror and comb and is tending his fine chestnut beard as though it were a rare plant. The monotonous calm is disturbed here and there by the outbreaks of ferocious resentment provoked by the presence of parasites--endemic, chronic, and contagious.

Barque, who is an observant man, sends an itinerant glance around, takes his pipe from his mouth, spits, winks, and says-- "I say, we don't resemble each other much."

"Why should we?" says Lamuse. "It would be a miracle if we did."

* * * * *

Our ages? We are of all ages. Ours is a regiment in reserve which successive reinforcements have renewed partly with fighting units and partly with Territorials. In our half-section there are reservists of the Territorial Army, new recruits, and demi-poils. Fouillade is forty; Blaire might be the father of Biquet, who is a gosling of Class 1913. The corporal calls Marthereau "Grandpa" or "Old Rubbish-heap," according as in jest or in earnest. Mesnil Joseph would be at the barracks if there were no war. It is a comical effect when we are in charge of Sergeant Vigile, a nice little boy, with a dab on his lip by way of mustache. When we were in quarters the other day, he played at skipping-rope with the kiddies. In our ill-assorted flock, in this family without kindred, this home without a hearth at which we gather, there are three generations side by side, living, waiting, standing still, like unfinished statues, like posts.

Our races? We are of all races; we come from everywhere. I look at the two men beside me. Poterloo, the miner from the Calonne pit, is pink; his eyebrows are the color of straw, his eyes flax-blue. His great golden head involved a long search in the stores to find the vast steel-blue tureen that bonnets him. Fouillade, the boatman from Cette, rolls his wicked eyes in the long, lean face of a musketeer, with sunken cheeks and his skin the color of a violin. In good sooth, my two neighbors are as unlike as day and night.

Cocon, no less, a slight and desiccated person in spectacles, whose tint tells of corrosion in the chemical vapors of great towns, contrasts with Biquet, a Breton in the rough, whose skin is gray and his jaw like a paving-stone; and Mesnil André, the comfortable chemist from a country town in Normandy, who has such a handsome and silky beard and who talks so much and so well--he has little in common with Lamuse, the fat peasant of Poitou, whose cheeks and neck are like underdone beef. The suburban accent of Barque, whose long legs have scoured the streets of Paris in all directions, alternates with the semi-Belgian cadence of those Northerners who came from the 8th Territorial; with the sonorous speech, rolling on the syllables as if over cobblestone, that the 144th pours out upon us; with the dialect blown from those ant-like clusters that the Auvergnats so obstinately form among the rest. I remember the first words of that wag, Tirette, when he arrived--"I, mes enfants, I am from Clichy-la-Garenne! Can any one beat that?"--and the first grievance that Paradis brought to me, "They don't give a damn for me, because I'm from Morvan!"

* * * * * *

Our callings? A little of all--in the lump. In those departed days when we had a social status, before we came to immure our destiny in the molehills that we must always build up again as fast as rain and scrap-iron beat them down, what were we? Sons of the soil and artisans mostly. Lamuse was a farm-servant, Paradis a carter. Cadilhac, whose helmet rides loosely on his pointed head, though it is a juvenile size--like a dome on a steeple, says Tirette--owns land. Papa Blaire was a small farmer in La Brie. Barque, porter and messenger, performed acrobatic tricks with his carrier-tricycle among the trains and taxis of Paris, with solemn abuse (so they say) for the pedestrians, fleeing like bewildered hens across the big streets and squares. Corporal Bertrand, who keeps himself always a little aloof, correct, erect, and silent, with a strong and handsome face and forthright gaze, was foreman in a case-factory. Tirloir daubed carts with paint--and without grumbling, they say. Tulacque was barman at the Throne Tavern in the suburbs; and Eudore of the pale and pleasant face kept a roadside café not very far from the front lines. It has been ill-used by the shells--naturally, for we all know that Eudore has no luck. Mesnil André, who still retains a trace of well-kept distinction, sold bicarbonate and infallible remedies at his pharmacy in a Grande Place. His brother Joseph was selling papers and illustrated story-books in a station on the State Railways at the same time that, in far-off Lyons, Cocon, the man of spectacles and statistics, dressed in a black smock, busied himself behind the counters of an ironmongery, his hands glittering with plumbago; while the lamps of Bécuwe Adolphe and Poterloo, risen with the dawn, trailed about the coalpits of the North like weakling Will-o'-th'-wisps.

And there are others amongst us whose occupations one can never recall, whom one confuses with one another; and the rural nondescripts who peddled ten trades at once in their packs, without counting the dubious Pépin, who can have had none at all. (While at the depot after sick leave, three months ago, they say, he got married--to secure the separation allowance.)

The liberal professions are not represented among those around me. Some teachers are subalterns in the company or Red Cross men. In the regiment a Marist Brother is sergeant in the Service de Santé; a professional tenor is cyclist dispatch-rider to the Major; a "gentleman of independent means" is mess corporal to the C.H.R. But here there is nothing of all that. We are fighting men, we others, and we include hardly any intellectuals, or men of the arts or of wealth, who during this war will have risked their faces only at the loopholes, unless in passing by, or under gold-laced caps.

Yes, we are truly and deeply different from each other. But we are alike all the same. In spite of this diversity of age, of country, of education, of position, of everything possible, in spite of the former gulfs that kept us apart, we are in the main alike. Under the same uncouth outlines we conceal and reveal the same ways and habits, the same simple nature of men who have reverted to the state primeval.

The same language, compounded of dialect and the slang of workshop and barracks, seasoned with the latest inventions, blends us in the sauce of speech with the massed multitudes of men who (for seasons now) have emptied France and crowded together in the North-East.

Here, too, linked by a fate from which there is no escape, swept willy-nilly by the vast adventure into one rank, we have no choice but to go as the weeks and months go--alike. The terrible narrowness of the common life binds us close, adapts us, merges us one in the other. It is a sort of fatal contagion. Nor need you, to see how alike we soldiers are, be afar off--at that distance, say, when we are only specks of the dust-clouds that roll across the plain.

We are waiting. Weary of sitting, we get up, our joints creaking like warping wood or old hinges. Damp rusts men as it rusts rifles; more slowly, but deeper. And we begin again, but not in the same way, to wait. In a state of war, one is always waiting. We have become waiting-machines. For the moment it is food we are waiting for. Then it will be the post. But each in its turn. When we have done with dinner we will think about the letters. After that, we shall set ourselves to wait for something else.

Hunger and thirst are urgent instincts which formidably excite the temper of my companions. As the meal gets later they become grumblesome and angry. Their need of food and drink snarls from their lips--"That's eight o'clock. Now, why the hell doesn't it come?"

"Just so, and me that's been pining since noon yesterday," sulks Lamuse, whose eyes are moist with longing, while his cheeks seem to carry great daubs of wine-colored grease-paint.

Discontent grows more acute every minute.

"I'll bet Plumet has poured down his own gullet my wine ration that he's supposed to have, and others with it, and he's lying drunk over there somewhere."

"It's sure and certain"--Marthereau seconds the proposition.

"Ah, the rotters, the vermin, these fatigue men!" Tirloir bellows. "An abominable race--all of 'em--mucky-nosed idlers! They roll over each other all day long at the rear, and they'll be damned before they'll be in time. Ah, if I were boss, they should damn quick take our places in the trenches, and they'd have to work for a change. To begin with, I should say, 'Every man in the section will carry grease and soup in turns.' Those who were willing, of course----"

"I'm confident," cries Cocon, "it's that Pépère that's keeping the others back. He does it on purpose, firstly, and then, too, he can't finish plucking himself in the morning, poor lad. He wants ten hours for his flea-hunt, he's so finicking; and if he can't get 'em, monsieur has the pip all day."

"Be damned to him," growls Lamuse. "I'd shift him out of bed if only I was there! I'd wake him up with boot-toe, I'd ----"

"I was reckoning, the other day," Cocon went on; "it took him seven hours forty-seven minutes to come from thirty-one dug-out. It should take him five good hours, but no longer."

Cocon is the Man of Figures. He has a deep affection, amounting to rapacity, for accuracy in recorded computation. On any subject at all, he goes burrowing after statistics, gathers them with the industry of an insect, and serves them up on any one who will listen. Just now, while he wields his figures like weapons, the sharp ridges and angles and triangles that make up the paltry face where perch the double discs of his glasses, are contracted with vexation. He climbs to the firing-step (made in the days when this was the first line), and raises his head angrily over the parapet. The light touch of a little shaft of cold sunlight that lingers on the land sets a-glitter both his glasses and the diamond that hangs from his nose.

"And that Pépère, too, talk about a drinking-cup with the bottom out! You'd never believe the weight of stuff he can let drop on a single journey."

With his pipe in the corner, Papa Blaire fumes in two senses. You can see his heavy mustache trembling. It is like a comb made of bone, whitish and drooping.

"Do you want to know what I think? These dinner men, they're the dirtiest dogs of all. It's 'Blast this' and 'Blast that'--John Blast and Co., I call 'em."

"They have all the elements of a dunghill about them," says Eudore, with a sigh of conviction. He is prone on the ground, with his mouth half-open and the air of a martyr. With one fading eye he follows the movements of Pépin, who prowls to and fro like a hyaena.

Their spiteful exasperation with the loiterers mounts higher and higher. Tirloir the Grumbler takes the lead and expands. This is where he comes in. With his little pointed gesticulations he goads and spurs the anger all around him.

"Ah, the devils, what? The sort of meat they threw at us yesterday! Talk about whetstones! Beef from an ox, that? Beef from a bicycle, yes rather! I said to the boys, 'Look here, you chaps, don't you chew it too quick, or you'll break your front teeth on the nails!'"

Tirloir's harangue--he was manager of a traveling cinema, it seems--would have made us laugh at other times, but in the present temper it is only echoed by a circulating growl.

"Another time, so that you won't grumble about the toughness, they send you something soft and flabby that passes for meat, something with the look and the taste of a sponge--or a poultice. When you chew that, it's the same as a cup of water, no more and no less."

"Tout ça," says Lamuse, "has no substance; it gets no grip on your guts. You think you're full, but at the bottom of your tank you're empty. So, bit by bit, you turn your eyes up, poisoned for want of sustenance."

"The next time," Biquet exclaims in desperation, "I shall ask to see the old man, and I shall say, 'Mon capitaine'----"

"And I," says Barque, "shall make myself look sick, and I shall say, 'Monsieur le major'----"

"And get nix or the kick-out--they're all alike--all in a band to take it out of the poor private."

"I tell you, they'd like to get the very skin off us! ""And the brandy, too! We have a right to get it brought to the trenches--as long as it's been decided somewhere--I don't know when or where, but I know it--and in the three days that we've been here, there's three days that the brandy's been dealt out to us on the end of a fork!"

"Ah, malheur!"

* * * * * *

"There's the grub!" announces a poilu [note 1] who was on the look-out at the corner.

"Time, too!"

And the storm of revilings ceases as if by magic. Wrath is changed into sudden contentment.

Three breathless fatigue men, their faces streaming with tears of sweat, put down on the ground some large tins, a paraffin can, two canvas buckets, and a file of loaves, skewered on a stick. Leaning against the wall of the trench, they mop their faces with their handkerchiefs or sleeves. And I see Cocon go up to Pépère with a smile, and forgetful of the abuse he had been heaping on the other's reputation, he stretches out a cordial hand towards one of the cans in the collection that swells the circumference of Pépère. after the manner of a life-belt.

"What is there to eat?"

"It's there," is the evasive reply of the second fatigue man, whom experience has taught that a proclamation of the menu always evokes the bitterness of disillusion. So they set themselves to panting abuse of the length and the difficulties of the trip they have just accomplished: "Some crowds about, everywhere! It's a tough job to get along--got to disguise yourself as a cigarette paper, sometimes."--"And there are people who say they're shirkers in the kitchens!" As for him, he would a hundred thousand times rather be with the company in the trenches, to mount guard and dig, than earn his keep by such a job, twice a day during the night!

Paradis, having lifted the lids of the jars, surveys the recipients and announces, "Kidney beans in oil, bully, pudding, and coffee--that's all."

"Nom de Dieu!" bawls Tulacque. "And wine?" He summons the crowd: "Come and look here, all of you! That--that's the limit! We're done out of our wine!"

Athirst and grimacing, they hurry up; and from the profoundest depths of their being wells up the chorus of despair and disappointment, "Oh, Hell!"

"Then what's that in there?" says the fatigue man, still ruddily sweating, and using his foot to point at a bucket.

"Yes," says Paradis, "my mistake, there is some."

The fatigue man shrugs his shoulders, and hurls at Paradis a look of unspeakable scorn--"Now you're beginning! Get your gig-lamps on, if your sight's bad." He adds, "One cup each--rather less perhaps--some chucklehead bumped against me, coming through the Boyau du Bois, and a drop got spilled." "Ah!" he hastens to add, raising his voice, "if I hadn't been loaded up, talk about the boot-toe he'd have got in the rump! But he hopped it on his top gear, the brute!"

In spite of this confident assurance, the fatigue man makes off himself, curses overtaking him as he goes, maledictions charged with offensive reflections on his honesty and temperance, imprecations inspired by this revelation of a ration reduced.

All the same, they throw themselves on the food, and eat it standing, squatting, kneeling, sitting on tins, or on haversacks pulled out of the holes where they sleep--or even prone, their backs on the ground, disturbed by passers-by, cursed at and cursing. Apart from these fleeting insults and jests, they say nothing, the primary and universal interest being but to swallow, with their mouths and the circumference thereof as greasy as a rifle-breech. Contentment is theirs.

At the earliest cessation of their jaw-bones' activity, they serve up the most ribald of raillery. They knock each other about, and clamor in riotous rivalry to have their say. One sees even Farfadet smiling, the frail municipal clerk who in the early days kept himself so decent and clean amongst us all that he was taken for a foreigner or a convalescent. One sees the tomato-like mouth of Lamuse dilate and divide, and his delight ooze out in tears. Poterloo's face, like a pink peony, opens out wider and wider. Papa Blaire's wrinkles flicker with frivolity as he stands up, pokes his head forward, and gesticulates with the abbreviated body that serves as a handle for his huge drooping mustache. Even the corrugations of Cocon's poor little face are lighted up.

Bécuwe goes in search of firewood to warm the coffee. While we wait for our drink, we roll cigarettes and fill pipes. Pouches are pulled out. Some of us have shop-acquired pouches in leather or rubber, but they are a minority. Biquet extracts his tobacco from a sock, of which the mouth is drawn tight with string. Most of the others use the bags for anti-gas pads, made of some waterproof material which is an excellent preservative of shag, be it coarse or fine; and there are those who simply fumble for it in the bottom of their greatcoat pockets.

The smokers spit in a circle, just at the mouth of the dug-out which most of the half-section inhabit, and flood with tobacco-stained saliva the place where they put their hands and feet when they flatten themselves to get in or out.

But who notices such a detail?

* * * * * *

Now, àpropos of a letter to Marthereau from his wife, they discuss produce.

"La mère Marthereau has written," he says. "That fat pig we've got at home, a fine specimen, guess how much she's worth now?"

But the subject of domestic economy degenerates suddenly into a fierce altercation between Pépin and Tulacque. Words of quite unmistakable significance are exchanged. Then--"I don't care a what you say or what you don't say! Shut it up!"--"I shall shut it when I want, midden!"--"A seven-pound thump would shut it up quick enough!"--"Who from? Who'll give it me?"--"Come and find out!"

They grind their teeth and approach each other in a foaming rage. Tulacque grasps his prehistoric ax, and his squinting eyes are flashing. The other is pale and his eyes have a greenish glint; you can see in his blackguard face that his thoughts are with his knife.

But between the two, as they grip each other in looks and mangle in words, Lamuse intervenes with his huge pacific head, like a baby's, and his face of sanguinary hue: "Allons, allons! You're not going to cut yourselves up! Can't be allowed!"

The others also interpose, and the antagonists are separated, but they continue to hurl murderous looks at each other across the barrier of their comrades. Pépin mutters a residue of slander in tones that quiver with malice--

"The hooligan, the ruffian, the blackguard! But wait a bit! I'll see him later about this!"

On the other side, Tulacque confides in the poilu who is beside him: "That crab-louse! Non, but you know what he is! You know--there's no more to be said. Here, we've got to rub along with a lot of people that we don't know from Adam. We know 'em and yet we don't know 'em; but that man, if he thinks he can mess me about, he'll find himself up the wrong street! You wait a bit. I'll smash him up one of these days, you'll see!"

Meanwhile the general conversation is resumed, drowning the last twin echoes of the quarrel.

"It's every day alike, alors!" says Paradis to me; "yesterday it was Plaisance who wanted to let Fumex have it heavy on the jaw, about God knows what--a matter of opium pills, I think. First it's one and then it's another that talks of doing some one in. Are we getting to be a lot of wild animals because we look like 'em?"

"Mustn't take them too seriously, these men," Lamuse declares; "they're only kids."

"True enough, seeing that they're men."

* * * * * *

The day matures. A little more light has trickled through the mists that enclose the earth. But the sky has remained overcast, and now it dissolves in rain; With a slowness which itself disheartens, the wind brings back its great wet void upon us. The rain-haze makes everything clammy and dull--even the Turkey red of Lamuse s cheeks, and even the orange armor that caparisons Tulacque. The water penetrates to the deep joy with which dinner endowed us, and puts it out. Space itself shrinks; and the sky, which is a field of melancholy, comes closely down upon the earth, which is a field of death.

We are still there, implanted and idle. It will be hard to-day to reach the end of it, to get rid of the afternoon. We shiver in discomfort, and keep shifting our positions, like cattle enclosed.

Cocon is explaining to his neighbor the arrangement and intricacy of our trenches. He has seen a military map and made some calculations. In the sector occupied by our regiment there are fifteen lines of French trenches. Some are abandoned, invaded by grass, and half leveled; the others solidly upkept and bristling with men. These parallels are joined up by innumerable galleries which hook and crook themselves like ancient streets. The system is much more dense than we believe who live inside it. On the twenty-five kilometers' width that form the army front, one must count on a thousand kilometers of hollowed lines--trenches and saps of all sorts. And the French Army consists of ten such armies. There are then, on the French side, about 10,000 kilometers [note 2] of trenches, and as much again on the German side. And the French front is only about one-eighth of the whole war-front of the world.

Thus speaks Cocon, and he ends by saying to his neighbor, "In all that lot, you see what we are, us chaps?"

Poor Barque's head droops. His face, bloodless as a slum child's, is underlined by a red goatee that punctuates his hair like an apostrophe: "Yes, it's true, when you come to think of it. What's a soldier, or even several soldiers?--Nothing, and less than nothing, in the whole crowd; and so we see ourselves lost, drowned, like the few drops of blood that we are among all this flood of men and things."

Barque sighs and is silent, and the end of his discourse gives a chance of hearing to a bit of jingling narrative, told in an undertone: "He was coming along with two horses--Fs-s-s--a shell; and he's only one horse left."

"You get fed up with it," says Volpatte.

"But you stick it," growls Barque.

"You've got to," says Paradis.

"Why?" asks Marthereau, without conviction.

"No need for a reason, as long as we've got to."

"There is no reason," Lamuse avers.

"Yes, there is," says Cocon. "It's--or rather, there are several."

"Shut it up! Much better to have no reason, as long as we've got to stick it."

"All the same," comes the hollow voice of Blaire, who lets no chance slip of airing his pet phrase--"All the same, they'd like to steal the very skin off us!"

"At the beginning of it," says Tirette, "I used to think about a heap of things. I considered and calculated. Now, I don't think any more."

"Nor me either."

"Nor me."

"I've never tried to."

"You're not such a fool as you look, flea-face," says the shrill and jeering voice of Mesnil André. Obscurely flattered, the other develops his theme----

"To begin with, you can't know anything about anything."

Says Corporal Bertrand, "There's only one thing you need know, and it's this; that the Boches are here in front of us, deep dug in, and we've got to see that they don't get through, and we've got to put 'em out, one day or another--as soon as possible."

"Oui, oui, they've got to leg it, and no mistake about it. What else is there? Not worth while to worry your head thinking about anything else. But it's a long job."

An explosion of profane assent comes from Fouillade, and he adds, "That's what it is!"

"I've given up grousing," says Barque. "At the beginning of it, I played hell with everybody--with the people at the rear, with the civilians, with the natives, with the shirkers. Yes, I played hell; but that was at the beginning of the war--I was young. Now, I take things better."

"There's only one way of taking 'em--as they come!"

"Of course! Otherwise, you'd go crazy. We're dotty enough already, eh, Firmin?"

Volpatte assents with a nod of profound conviction. He spits, and then contemplates his missile with a fixed and unseeing eye.

"You were saying?" insists Barque.

"Here, you haven't got to look too far in front. You must live from day to day and from hour to hour, as well as you can."

"Certain sure, monkey-face. We've got to do what they tell us to do, until they tell us to go away. "

"That's all," yawns Mesnil Joseph.
Site Admin
Posts: 33189
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:41 am

Part 2 of 2

Silence follows the recorded opinions that proceed from these dried and tanned faces, inlaid with dust. This, evidently, is the credo of the men who, a year and a half ago, left all the corners of the land to mass themselves on the frontier: Give up trying to understand, and give up trying to be yourself. Hope that you will not die, and fight for life as well as you can.

"Do what you've got to do, oui, but get out of your own messes yourself," says Barque, as he slowly stirs the mud to and fro.

"No choice"--Tulacque backs him up. "If you don't get out of 'em yourself, no one'll do it for you. "

"He's not yet quite extinct, the man that bothers about the other fellow."

"Every man for himself, in war!"

"That's so, that's so."

Silence. Then from the depth of their destitution, these men summon sweet souvenirs--"All that," Barque goes on, "isn't worth much, compared with the good times we had at Soissons."

"Ah, the Devil!"

A gleam of Paradise lost lights up their eyes and seems even to redden their cold faces.

"Talk about a festival!" sighs Tirloir, as he leaves off scratching himself, and looks pensively far away over Trenchland.

"Ah, nom de Dieu! All that town, nearly abandoned, that used to be ours! The houses and the beds----"

"And the cupboards! "

"And the cellars!"

Lamuse's eyes are wet, his face like a nosegay, his heart full.

"Were you there long?" asks Cadilhac, who came here later, with the drafts from Auvergne.

"Several months."

The conversation had almost died out, but it flames up again fiercely at this vision of the days of plenty.

"We used to see," said Paradis dreamily, "the poilus pouring along and behind the houses on the way back to camp with fowls hung round their middles, and a rabbit under each arm, borrowed from some good fellow or woman that they hadn't seen and won't ever see again."

We reflect on the far-off flavor of chicken and rabbit. "There were things that we paid for, too. The spondu-licks just danced about. We held all the aces in those days."

"A hundred thousand francs went rolling round the shops."

"Millions, oui. All the day, just a squandering that you've no idea of, a sort of devil's delight."

"Believe me or not," said Blaire to Cadilhac, "but in the middle of it all, what we had the least of was fires, just like here and everywhere else you go. You had to chase it and find it and stick to it. Ah, mon vieux, how we did run after the kindlings! "

"Well, we were in the camp of the C.H.R. The cook there was the great Martin César. He was the man for finding wood! "

"Ah, oui, oui! He was the ace of trumps! He got what he wanted without twisting himself."

"Always some fire in his kitchen, young fellow. You saw cooks chasing and gabbling about the streets in all directions, blubbering because they had no coal or wood. But he'd got a fire. When he hadn't any, he said, 'Don't worry, I'll see you through.' And he wasn't long about it, either."

"He went a bit too far, even. The first time I saw him in his kitchen, you'd never guess what he'd got the stew going with! With a violin that he'd found in the house!"

"Rotten, all the same," says Mesnil André. "One knows well enough that a violin isn't worth much when it comes to utility, but all the same----"

"Other times, he used billiard cues. Zizi just succeeded in pinching one for a cane, but the rest--into the fire! Then the arm-chairs in the drawing-room went by degrees--mahogany, they were. He did 'em in and cut them up by night, case some N.C.O. had something to say about it."

"He knew his way about," said Pépin. "As for us, we got busy with an old suite of furniture that lasted us a fortnight."

"And what for should we be without? You've got to make dinner, and there's no wood or coal. After the grub's served out, there you are with your jaws empty, with a pile of meat in front of you, and in the middle of a lot of pals that chaff and bullyrag you!"

"It's the War Office's doing, it isn't ours."

"Hadn't the officers a lot to say about the pinching? "

"They damn well did it themselves, I give you my word! Desmaisons, do you remember Lieutenant Virvin's trick, breaking down a cellar door with an ax? And when a poilu saw him at it, he gave him the door for firewood, so that he wouldn't spread it about."

"And poor old Saladin, the transport officer. He was found coming out of a basement in the dusk with two bottles of white wine in each arm, the sport, like a nurse with two pairs of twins. When he was spotted, they made him go back down to the wine-cellar, and serve out bottles for everybody. But Corporal Bertrand, who is a man of scruples, wouldn't have any. Ah, you remember that, do you, sausage-foot!"

"Where's that cook now that always found wood?" asks Cadilhac.

"He's dead. A bomb fell in his stove. He didn't get it, but he's dead all the same--died of shock when he saw his macaroni with its legs in the air. Heart seizure, so the doc' said. His heart was weak--he was only strong on wood. They gave him a proper funeral--made him a coffin out of the bedroom floor, and got the picture nails out of the walls to fasten 'em together, and used bricks to drive 'em in. While they were carrying him off, I thought to myself, 'Good thing for him he's dead. If he saw that, he'd never be able to forgive himself for not having thought of the bedroom floor for his fire.'--Ah, what the devil are you doing, son of a pig?"

Volpatte offers philosophy on the rude intrusion of a passing fatigue party: "The private gets along on the back of his pals. When you spin your yarns in front of a fatigue gang, or when you take the best bit or the best place, it's the others that suffer."

"I've often," says Lamuse, "put up dodges so as not to go into the trenches, and it's come off no end of times. I own up to that. But when my pals are in danger, I'm not a dodger any more. I forget discipline and everything else. I see men, and I go. But otherwise, my boy, I look after my little self."

Lamuse's claims are not idle words. He is an admitted expert at loafing, but all the same he has brought wounded in under fire and saved their lives. Without any brag, he relates the deed--"We were all lying on the grass, and having a hot time. Crack, crack! Whizz, whizz! When I saw them downed, I got up, though they yelled at me, 'Get down!' Couldn't leave 'em like that. Nothing to make a song about, seeing I couldn't do anything else,"

Nearly all the boys of the squad have some high deed of arms to their credit, and the Croix de Guerre has been successively set upon their breasts.

"I haven't saved any Frenchmen," says Biquet, "but I've given some Boches the bitter pill." In the May attacks, he ran off in advance and was seen to disappear in the distance, but came back with four fine fellows in helmets.

"I, too," says Tulacque, "I've killed some." Two months ago, with quaint vanity, he laid out nine in a straight row, in front of the taken trench. "But," he adds, "it's always the Boche officer that I'm after."

"Ah, the beasts!" The curse comes from several men at once and from the bottom of their hearts.

"Ah, mon vieux," says Tirloir, "we talk about the dirty Boche race; but as for the common soldier, I don't know if it's true or whether we're codded about that as well, and if at bottom they're not men pretty much like us."

"Probably they're men like us," says Eudore.

"Perhaps!" cries Cocon, "and perhaps not."

"Anyway," Tirloir goes on, "we've not got a dead set on the men, but on the German officers; non, non, non, they're not men, they're monsters. I tell you, they're really a specially filthy sort o' vermin. One might say that they're the microbes of the war. You ought to see them close to--the infernal great stiff-backs, thin as nails, though they've got calf-heads."

"And snouts like snakes."

Tirloir continues: "I saw one once, a prisoner, as I came back from liaison. The beastly bastard! A Prussian colonel, that wore a prince's crown, so they told me, and a gold coat-of-arms. He was mad because we took leave to graze against him when they were bringing him back along the communication trench, and he looked down on everybody--like that. I said to myself, 'Wait a bit, old cock, I'll make you rattle directly!' I took my time and squared up behind him, and kicked into his tailpiece with all my might. I tell you, he fell down half-strangled."


"Yes, with rage, when it dawned on him that the rump of an officer and nobleman had been bust in by the hobnailed socks of a poor private! He went off chattering like a woman and wriggling like an epileptic----"

"I'm not spiteful myself," says Blaire, "I've got kiddies. And it worries me, too, at home, when I've got to kill a pig that I know--but those, I shall run 'em through--Bing!--full in the linen-cupboard."

"I, too."

"Not to mention," says Pépin, "that they've got silver hats, and pistols that you can get four quid for whenever you like, and field-glasses that simply haven't got a price. Ah, bad luck, what a lot of chances I let slip in the early part of the campaign! I was too much of a beginner then, and it serves me right. But don't worry, I shall get a silver hat. Mark my words, I swear I'll have one. I must have not only the skin of one of Wilhelm's red-tabs, but his togs as well. Don't fret yourself; I'll fasten on to that before the war ends."

"You think it'll have an end, then?" asks some one.

"Don't worry!" replies the other.

* * * * * *

Meanwhile, a hubbub has arisen to the right of us, and suddenly a moving and buzzing group appears, in which dark and bright forms mingle.

"What's all that?"

Biquet has ventured on a reconnaissance, and returns contemptuously pointing with his thumb towards the motley mass: "Eh, boys! Come and have a squint at them! Some people!"

"Some people?"

"Oui, some gentlemen, look you. Civvies, with Staff officers."

"Civilians! Let's hope they'll stick it!" [note 3]

It is the sacramental saying and evokes laughter, although we have heard it a hundred times, and although the soldier has rightly or wrongly perverted the original meaning and regards it as an ironical reflection on his life of privations and peril.

Two Somebodies come up; two Somebodies with overcoats and canes. Another is dressed in a sporting suit, adorned with a plush hat and binoculars. Pale blue tunics, with shining belts of fawn color or patent leather, follow and steer the civilians.

With an arm where a brassard glitters in gold-edged silk and golden ornament, a captain indicates the firing-step in front of an old emplacement and invites the visitors to get up and try it. The gentleman in the touring suit clambers up with the aid of his umbrella.

Says Barque, "You've seen the station-master at the Gare du Nord, all in his Sunday best, and opening the door of a first-class compartment for a rich sportsman on the first day of the shooting? With his 'Montez, monsieur le Propritaire!'--you know, when the toffs are all togged up in brand-new outfits and leathers and ironmongery, and showing off with all their paraphernalia for killing poor little animals!"

Three or four poilus who were quite without their accouterments have disappeared underground. The others sit as though paralyzed. Even the pipes go out, and nothing is heard but the babble of talk exchanged by the officers and their guests.

"Trench tourists," says Barque in an undertone, and then louder--"This way, mesdames et messieurs"--in the manner of the moment.

"Chuck it! " whispers Farfadet, fearing that Barque's malicious tongue will draw the attention of the potent personages.

Some heads in the group are now turned our way. One gentleman who detaches himself and comes up wears a soft hat and a loose tie. He has a white billy-goat beard, and might be an artiste. Another follows him, wearing a black overcoat, a black bowler hat, a black beard, a white tie and an eyeglass.

"Ah, ah! There are some poilus," says the first gentleman. "These are real poilus, indeed."

He comes up to our party a little timidly, as though in the Zoological Gardens, and offers his hand to the one who is nearest to him--not without awkwardness, as one offers a piece of bread to the elephant.

"He, he! They are drinking coffee," he remarks.

"They call it 'the juice,'" corrects the magpie-man.

"Is it good, my friends?" The soldier, abashed in his turn by this alien and unusual visitation, grunts, giggles, and reddens, and the gentleman says, "He, he! " Then, with a slight motion of the head, he withdraws backwards.

The assemblage, with its neutral shades of civilian cloth and its sprinkling of bright military hues--like geraniums and hortensias in the dark soil of a flowerbed--oscillates, then passes, and moves off the opposite way it came. One of the officers was heard to say, "We have yet much to see, messieurs les journalistes."

When the radiant spectacle has faded away, we look at each other. Those who had fled into the funk-holes now gradually and head first disinter themselves. The group recovers itself and shrugs its shoulders.

"They're journalists," says Tirette.


"Why, yes, the individuals that lay the newspapers. You don't seem to catch on, fathead. Newspapers must have chaps to write 'em."

"Then it's those that stuff up our craniums?" says Marthereau.

Barque assumes a shrill treble, and pretending that he has a newspaper in front of his nose, recites--"'The Crown Prince is mad, after having been killed at the beginning of the campaign, and meanwhile he has all the diseases you can name. William will die this evening, and again to-morrow. The Germans have no more munitions and are chewing wood. They cannot hold out, according to the most authoritative calculations, beyond the end of the week. We can have them when we like, with their rifles slung. If one can wait a few days longer, there will be no desire to forsake the life of the trenches. One is so comfortable there, with water and gas laid on, and shower-baths at every step. The only drawback is that it is rather too hot in winter. As for the Austrians, they gave in a long time since and are only pretending.' For fifteen months now it's been like that, and you can hear the editor saying to his scribes, 'Now, boys, get into it! Find some way of brushing that up again for me in five secs, and make it spin out all over those four damned white sheets that we've got to mucky.'"

"Ah, yes!" says Fouillade.

"Look here, corporal; you're making fun of it--isn't it true what I said?"

"There's a little truth in it, but you're too slashing on the poor boys, and you'd be the first to make a song about it if you had to go without papers. Oui, when the paper-man's going by, why do you all shout, 'Here, here'?"

"And what good can you get out of them all?" cries Papa Blaire. "Read 'em by the tubful if you like, but do the same as me--don't believe 'em!"

"Oui, oui, that's enough about them. Turn the page over, donkey-nose."

The conversation is breaking up; interest in it follows suit and is scattered. Four poilus join in a game of manille, that will last until night blacks out the cards. Volpatte is trying to catch a leaf of cigarette paper that has escaped his fingers and goes hopping and dodging in the wind along the wall of the trench like a fragile butterfly.

Cocon and Tirette are recalling their memories of barrack-life. The impressions left upon their minds by those years of military training are ineffaceable. Into that fund of abundant souvenirs, of abiding color and instant service, they have been wont to dip for their subjects of conversation for ten, fifteen, or twenty years. So that they still frequent it, even after a year and a half of actual war in all its forms.

I can hear some of the talk and guess the rest of it. For it is everlastingly the same sort of tale that they get out of their military past;--the narrator once shut up a bad-tempered N.C.O. with words of extreme appropriateness and daring. He wasn't afraid, he spoke out loud and strong! Some scraps of it reach my ears----

"Alors, d'you think I flinched when Nenoeil said that to me? Not a bit, my boy. All the pals kept their jaws shut but me; I spoke up, 'Mon adjudant,' I says, 'it's possible, but----'" A sentence follows that I cannot secure----"Oh, tu sais, just like that, I said it. He didn't get shirty; 'Good, that's good,' he says as he hops it, and afterwards he was as good as all that, with me."

"Just like me, with Dodore, 'jutant of the 13th, when I was on leave--a mongrel. Now he's at the Panthéon, as caretaker. He'd got it in for me, so----"

So each unpacks his own little load of historical anecdote. They are all alike, and not one of them but says, "As for me, I am not like the others."

* * * * * *

The post-orderly! He is a tall and broad man with fat calves; comfortable looking, and as neat and tidy as a policeman. He is in a bad temper. There are new orders, and now he has to go every day as far as Battalion Headquarters. He abuses the order as if it had been directed exclusively against himself; and he continues to complain even while he calls up the corporals for the post and maintains his customary chat en passant with this man and that. And in spite of his spleen he does not keep to himself all the information with which he comes provided. While removing the string from the letter-packets he dispenses his verbal news, and announces first, that according to rumor, there is a very explicit ban on the wearing of hoods.

"Hear that?" says Tirette to Tirloir. "Got to chuck your fine hood away!"

"Not likely! I'm not on. That's nothing to do with me," replies the hooded one, whose pride no less than his comfort is at stake.

"Order of the General Commanding the Army."

"Then let the General give an order that it's not to rain any more. I want to know nothing about it."

The majority of Orders, even when less peculiar than this one, are always received in this way--and then carried out.

"There's a reported order as well," says the man of letters, "that beards have got to be trimmed and hair got to be clipped close."

"Talk on, my lad," says Barque, on whose head the threatened order directly falls; "you didn't see me! You can draw the curtains!"

"I'm telling you. Do it or don't do it--doesn't matter a damn to me."

Besides what is real and written, there is bigger news, but still more dubious and imaginative--the division is going to be relieved, and sent either to rest--real rest, for six weeks--or to Morocco, or perhaps to Egypt.

Divers exclamations. They listen, and let themselves be tempted by the fascination of the new, the wonderful.

But some one questions the post-orderly: "Who told you that?"

"The adjutant commanding the Territorial detachment that fatigues for the H.Q. of the A.C."

"For the what?"

"For Headquarters of the Army Corps, and he's not the only one that says it. There's--you know him-- I've forgotten his name--he's like Galle, but he isn't Galle--there's some one in his family who is Some One. Anyway, he knows all about it."

"Then what?" With hungry eyes they form a circle around the story-teller.

"Egypt, you say, we shall go to? Don't know it. I know there were Pharaohs there at the time when I was a kid and went to school, but since--"

"To Egypt!" The idea finds unconscious anchorage in their minds.

"Ah, non," says Blaire, "for I get sea-sick. Still, it doesn't last, sea-sickness. Oui, but what would my good lady say?"

"What about it? She'll get used to it. You see niggers, and streets full of big birds, like we see sparrows here."

"But haven't we to go to Alsace?"

"Yes," says the post-orderly, "there are some who think so at the Pay-office."

"That'd do me well enough."

But common sense and acquired experience regain the upper hand and put the visions to flight. We have been told so often that we were going a long way off, so often have we believed it, so often been undeceived! So, as if at a moment arranged, we wake up.

"It's all my eye--they've done it on us too often. Wait before believing--and don't count a crumb's worth on it."

We reoccupy our corner. Here and there a man bears in his hand the light momentous burden of a letter.

"Ah," says Tirloir, "I must be writing. Can't go eight days without writing."

"Me too," says Eudore, "I must write to my p'tit' femme."

"Is she all right, Mariette?"

"Oui, oui, don't fret about Mariette."

A few have already settled themselves for correspondence. Barque is standing up. He stoops over a sheet of paper flattened on a note-book upon a jutting crag in the trench wall. Apparently in the grip of an inspiration, he writes on and on, with his eyes in bondage and the concentrated expression of a horseman at full gallop.

When once Lamuse--who lacks imagination--has sat down, placed his little writing-block on the padded summit of his knees, and moistened his copying-ink pencil, he passes the time in reading again the last letters received, in wondering what he can say that he has not already said, and in fostering a grim determination to say something else.

A sentimental gentleness seems to have overspread little Eudore, who is curled up in a sort of niche in the ground. He is lost in meditation, pencil in hand, eyes on paper. Dreaming, he looks and stares and sees. It is another sky that lends him light, another to which his vision reaches. He has gone home.

In this time of letter-writing, the men reveal the most and the best that they ever were. Several others surrender to the past, and its first expression is to talk once more of fleshly comforts.

Through their outer crust of coarseness and concealment, other hearts venture upon murmured memories, and the rekindling of bygone brightness: the summer morning, when the green freshness of the garden steals in upon the purity of the country bedroom; or when the wind in the wheat of the level lands sets it slowly stirring or deeply waving, and shakes the square of oats hard by into quick little feminine tremors; or the winter evening, with women and their gentleness around the shaded luster of the lamp.

But Papa Blaire resumes work upon the ring he has begun. He has threaded the still formless disc of aluminium over a bit of rounded wood, and rubs it with the file. As he applies himself to the job, two wrinkles of mighty meditation deepen upon his forehead. Anon he stops, straightens himself, and looks tenderly at the trifle, as though she also were looking at it.

"You know," he said to me once, speaking of another ring, "it's not a question of doing it well or not well. The point is that I've done it for my wife, d'you see? When I had nothing to do but scratch myself, I used to have a look at this photo"--he showed me a photograph of a big, chubby-faced woman--"and then it was quite easy to set about this damned ring. You might say that we've made it together, see? The proof of that is that it was company for me, and that I said Adieu to it when I sent it off to Mother Blaire."

He is making another just now, and this one will have copper in it, too. He works eagerly. His heart would fain express itself to the best advantage in this the sort of penmanship upon which he is so tenaciously bent.

As they stoop reverently, in their naked earth-holes, over the slender rudimentary trinkets--so tiny that the great hide-bound hands hold them with difficulty or let them fall--these men seem still more wild, more primitive, and more human, than at all other times.

You are set thinking of the first inventor, the father of all craftsmen, who sought to invest enduring materials with the shapes of what he saw and the spirit of what he felt.

* * * * * *

"People coming along," announces Biquet the mobile, who acts as hall-porter to our section of the trench-- "buckets of 'em." Immediately an adjutant appears, with straps round his belly and his chin, and brandishing his sword-scabbard.

"Out of the way, you! Out of the way, I tell you! You loafers there, out of it! Let me see you quit, hey!" We make way indolently. Those at the sides push back into the earth by slow degrees.

It is a company of Territorials, deputed to our sector for the fortification of the second line and the upkeep of its communication trenches. They come into view--miserable bundles of implements, and dragging their feet.

We watch them, one by one, as they come up, pass, and disappear. They are stunted and elderly, with dusty faces, or big and broken-winded, tightly enfolded in greatcoats stained and over-worn, that yawn at the toothless gaps where the buttons are missing.

Tirette and Barque, the twin wags, leaning close together against the wall, stare at them, at first in silence. Then they begin to smile.

"March past of the Broom Brigade," says Tirette.

"We'll have a bit of fun for three minutes," announces Barque.

Some of the old toilers are comical. This one whom the file brings up has bottle-shaped shoulders. Although extremely narrow-chested and spindle-shanked, he is big-bellied. He is too much for Barque. "Hullo, Sir Canteen!" he says.

When a more outrageously patched-up greatcoat appears than all the others can show, Tirette questions the veteran recruit. "Hey, Father Samples! Hey, you there!" he insists.

The other turns and looks at him, open-mouthed.

"Say there, papa, if you will be so kind as to give me the address of your tailor in London!"

A chuckle comes from the antiquated and wrinkle-scrawled face, and then the poilu, checked for an instant by Barque's command, is jostled by the following flood and swept away.

When some less striking figures have gone past, a new victim is provided for the jokers. On his red and wrinkled neck luxuriates some dirty sheep's-wool. With knees bent, his body forward, his back bowed, this Territorial's carriage is the worst.

"Tiens!" bawls Tirette, with pointed finger, "the famous concertina-man! It would cost you something to see him at the fair--here, he's free gratis!"

The victim stammers responsive insults amid the scattered laughter that arises.

No more than that laughter is required to excite the two comrades. It is the ambition to have their jests voted funny by their easy audience that stimulates them to mock the peculiarities of their old comrades-in-arms, of those who toil night and day on the brink of the great war to make ready and make good the fields of battle.

And even the other watchers join in. Miserable themselves, they scoff at the still more miserable.

"Look at that one! And that, look!"

"Non, but take me a snapshot of that little rump-end! Hey, earth-worm!"

"And that one that has no ending! Talk about a sky-scratcher! Tiens, là, he takes the biscuit. Yes, you take it, old chap!"

This man goes with little steps, and holds his pickax up in front like a candle; his face is withered, and his body borne down by the blows of lumbago.

"Like a penny, gran'pa?" Barque asks him, as he passes within reach of a tap on the shoulder.

The broken-down poilu replies with a great oath of annoyance, and provokes the harsh rejoinder of Barque: Come now, you might be polite, filthy-face, old muck-mill!"

Turning right round in fury, the old one defies his tormentor.

"Hullo!" cries Barque, laughing, "He's showing fight; the ruin! He's warlike, look you, and he might be mischievous if only he were sixty years younger!"

"And if he wasn't alone," wantonly adds Pépin, whose eye is in quest of other targets among the flow of new arrivals.

The hollow chest of the last straggler appears, and then his distorted back disappears.

The march past of the worn-out and trench-foul veterans comes to an end among the ironical and almost malevolent faces of these sinister troglodytes, whom their caverns of mud but half reveal.

Meanwhile, the hours slip away, and evening begins to veil the sky and darken the things of earth. It comes to blend itself at once with the blind fate and the ignorant dark minds of the multitude there enshrouded.

Through the twilight comes the rolling hum of tramping men, and another throng. rubs its way through.


They march past with faces red-brown, yellow or chestnut, their beards scanty and fine or thick and frizzled, their greatcoats yellowish-green, and their muddy helmets sporting the crescent in place of our grenade. Their eyes are like balls of ivory or onyx, that shine from faces like new pennies, flattened or angular. Now and again comes swaying along above the line the coal-black mask of a Senegalese sharpshooter. Behind the company goes a red flag with a green hand in the center.

We watch them in silence. These are asked no questions. They command respect, and even a little fear.

All the same, these Africans seem jolly and in high spirits. They are going, of course, to the first line. That is their place, and their passing is the sign of an imminent attack. They are made for the offensive.

"Those and the 75 gun we can take our hats off to. They're everywhere sent ahead at big moments, the Moroccan Division."

"They can't quite fit in with us. They go too fast--and there's no way of stopping them."

Some of these diabolical images in yellow wood or bronze or ebony are serious of mien, uneasy, and taciturn. Their faces have the disquieting and secret look of the snare suddenly discovered. The others laugh with a laugh that jangles like fantastic foreign instruments of music, a laugh that bares the teeth.

We talk over the characteristics of these Africans; their ferocity in attack, their devouring passion to be in with the bayonet, their predilection for "no quarter." We recall those tales that they themselves willingly tell, all in much the same words and with the same gestures. They raise their arms over their heads--"Kam'rad, Kam'rad!" "Non, pas Kam'rad!" And in pantomime they drive a bayonet forward, at belly-height, drawing it back then with the help of a foot.

One of the sharpshooters overhears our talk as he passes. He looks upon us, laughs abundantly in his helmeted turban, and repeats our words with significant shakes of his head: "Pas Kam'rad, non pas Kam'rad, never! Cut head off!"

"No doubt they're a different race from us, with their tent-cloth skin," Barque confesses, though he does not know himself what "cold feet" are. "It worries them to rest, you know; they only live for the minute when the officer puts his watch back in his pocket and says, 'Off you go!'"

"In fact, they're real soldiers."

"We are not soldiers," says big Lamuse, "we're men." Though the evening has grown darker now, that plain true saying sheds something like a glimmering light on the men who are waiting here, waiting since the morning. waiting since months ago.

They are men, good fellows of all kinds, rudely torn away from the joy of life. Like any other men whom you take in the mass, they are ignorant and of narrow outlook, full of a sound common sense--which some-times gets off the rails--disposed to be led and to do as they are bid, enduring under hardships, long-suffering.

They are simple men further simplified, in whom the merely primitive instincts have been accentuated by the force of circumstances--the instinct of self-preservation, the hard-gripped hope of living through, the joy of food, of drink, and of sleep. And at intervals they are cries and dark shudders of humanity that issue from the silence and the shadows of their great human hearts.

When we can no longer see clearly, we hear down there the murmur of a command, which comes nearer and rings loud--"Second half-section! Muster!" We fall in; it is the call.

"Gee up!" says the corporal. We are set in motion. In front of the tool-depot there is a halt and trampling. To each is given a spade or pickax. An N.C.O. presents the handles in the gloom: "You, a spade; there, hop it! You a spade, too; you a pick. Allons, hurry up and get off."

We leave by the communication trench at right angles to our own, and straight ahead towards the changeful frontier, now alive and terrible.

Up in the somber sky, the strong staccato panting of an invisible aeroplane circles in wide descending coils and fills infinity. In front, to right and left, everywhere, thunderclaps roll with great glimpses of short-lived light in the dark-blue sky.


[note 1:] The popular and international name for a French soldier. Its literal meaning is 'hairy, shaggy," but the word has conveyed for over a century the idea of the virility of a Samson, whose strength lay in his locks.--Tr.

[note 2:] 6250 miles.

[note 3:] Pourvu que les civils tiennent. In the early days of the war it was a common French saying that victory was certain--"if the civilians hold out."--Tr.
Site Admin
Posts: 33189
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:43 am

3. The Return

RELUCTANTLY the ashen dawn is bleaching the still dark and formless landscape. Between the declining road on the right that falls into the gloom, and the black cloud of the Alleux Wood--where we hear the convoy teams assembling and getting under way--a field extends. We have reached it, we of the 6th Battalion, at the end of the night. We have piled arms, and now, in the center of this circle of uncertain light, our feet in the mist and mud, we stand in dark clusters (that yet are hardly blue), or as solitary phantoms; and the heads of all are turned towards the road that comes from "down there." We are waiting for the rest of the regiment, the 5th Battalion, who were in the first line and left the trenches after us.

Noises; "There they are!" A long and shapeless mass appears in the west and comes down out of the night upon the dawning road.

At last! It is ended, the accursed shift that began at six o'clock yesterday evening and has lasted all night, and now the last man has stepped from the last communication trench.

This time it has been an awful sojourn in the trenches. The 18th company was foremost and has been cut up, eighteen killed and fifty wounded--one in three less in four days. And this without attack--by bombardment alone.

This is known to us, and as the mutilated battalion approaches down there, and we join them in trampling the muddy field and exchanging nods of recognition, we cry, "What about the 18th?" We are thinking as we put the question, "If it goes on like this, what is to become of all of us? What will become of me?"

The 17th, the 19th, and the 20th arrive in turn and pile arms. "There's the 18th!" It arrives after all the others; having held the first trench, it has been last relieved.

The light is a little cleaner, and the world is paling. We can make out, as he comes down the road, the company's captain, ahead of his men and alone. He helps himself along with a stick, and walks with difficulty, by reason of his old wound of the Marne battle that rheumatism is troubling; and there are other pangs, too. He lowers his hooded head, and might be attending a funeral. We can see that in his mind he is indeed following the dead, and his thoughts are with them.

Here is the company, debouching in dire disorder, and our hearts are heavy. It is obviously shorter than the other three, in the march past of the battalion.

I reach the road, and confront the descending mass of the 18th. The uniforms of these survivors are all earth-yellowed alike, so that they appear to be clad in khaki. The cloth is stiff with the ochreous mud that has dried underneath. The skirts of their greatcoats are like lumps of wood, jumping about on the yellow crust that reaches to their knees. Their faces are drawn and blackened; dust and dirt have wrinkled them anew; their eyes are big and fevered. And from these soldiers whom the depths of horror have given back there rises a deafening din. They talk all at once, and loudly; they gesticulate, they laugh and sing. You would think, to see them, that it was a holiday crowd pouring over the road!

These are the second section and its big sub-lieutenant, whose greatcoat is tightened and strapped around a body as stiff as a rolled umbrella. I elbow my way along the marching crowd as far as Marchal's squad, the most sorely tried of all. Out of eleven comrades that they were, and had been without a break for a year and a half, there were three men only with Corporal Marchal.

He sees me--with a glad exclamation and a broad smile. He lets go his rifle-sling and offers me his hands, from one of which hangs his trench stick--"Eh, vieux frère, still going strong? What's become of you lately?"

I turn my head away and say, almost under my breath, "So, old chap, it's happened badly."

His smile dies at once, and he is serious: "Eh, oui, old man; it can't be helped; it was awful this time. Barbier is killed."

"They told us--Barbier!"

"Saturday night it was, at eleven o'clock. He had the top of his back taken away by a shell," says Marchal, "cut off like a razor. Besse got a bit of shell that went clean through his belly and stomach. Barthlemy and Baubex got it in the head and neck. We passed the night skedaddling up and down the trench at full speed, to dodge the showers. And little Godefroy--did you know him?--middle of his body blown away. He was emptied of blood on the spot in an instant, like a bucket kicked over. Little as he was, it was remarkable how much blood he had, it made a stream at least fifty meters long. Gougnard got his legs cut up by one explosion. They picked him up not quite dead. That was at the listening post. I was there on duty with them. But when that shell fell I had gone into the trench to ask the time. I found my rifle, that I'd left in my place, bent double, as if some one had folded it in his hands, the barrel like a corkscrew, and half of the stock in sawdust. The smell of fresh blood was enough to bring your heart up."

"And Mondain--him, too?"

"Mondain--that was the day after, yesterday in fact, in a dug-out that a shell smashed in. He was lying down, and his chest was crushed. Have they told you about Franco, who was alongside Mondain? The fall of earth broke his spine. He spoke again after they'd got him out and set him down. He said, with his head falling to one side, 'I'm dying,' and he was gone. Vigile was with them, too; his body wasn't touched, but they found him with his head completely flattened out, flat as a pancake, and huge-as big as that. To see it spread out on the ground, black and distorted, it made you think of his shadow--the shadow one gets on the ground sometimes when one walks with a lantern at night."

"Vigile--only Class 1913--a child! And Mondain and Franco--such good sorts, in spite of their stripes. We're so many old special pals the less, mon vieux Marchal."

"Yes," says Marchal. But he is swallowed up in a crowd of his friends, who worry and catechise him. He bandies jests with them, and answers their raillery, and all hustle each other, and laugh.

I look from face to face. They are merry, and in spite of the contractions of weariness, and the earth-stains, they look triumphant.

What does it mean? If wine had been possible during their stay in the first line, I should have said, "All these men are drunk."

I single out one of the survivors, who hums as he goes, and steps in time with it flippantly, as hussars of the stage do. It is Vanderborn, the drummer.

"Hullo, Vanderborn, you look pleased with yourself!" Vanderborn, who is sedate in the ordinary, cries, "It's not me yet, you see! Here I am!" With a mad gesticulation he serves me a thump on the shoulder. I understand.

If these men are happy in spite of all, as they come out of hell, it is because they are coming out of it. They are returning, they are spared. Once again the Death that was there has passed them over. Each company in its turn goes to the front once in six weeks. Six weeks! In both great and minor matters, fighting soldiers manifest the philosophy of the child. They never look afar, either ahead or around. Their thought strays hardly farther than from day to day. To-day, every one of those men is confident that he will live yet a little while.

And that is why, in spite of the weariness that weighs them down and the new slaughter with which they are still bespattered, though each has seen his brothers torn away from his side, in spite of all and in spite of themselves, they are celebrating the Feast of the Survivors. The boundless glory in which they rejoice is this--they still stand straight.
Site Admin
Posts: 33189
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:43 am

4. Volpatte and Fouillade

AS we reached quarters again, some one cried: "But where's Volpatte?"--"And Fouillade, where's he?"

They had been requisitioned and taken off to the front line by the 5th Battalion. No doubt we should find them somewhere in quarters. No success. Two men of the squad lost!

"That's what comes of lending men," said the sergeant with a great oath. The captain, when apprised of the loss, also cursed and swore and said, "I must have those men. Let them be found at once. Allez!"

Farfadet and I are summoned by Corporal Bertrand from the barn where at full length we have already immobilized ourselves, and are growing torpid: "You must go and look for Volpatte and Fouillade."

Quickly we got up, and set off with a shiver of uneasiness. Our two comrades have been taken by the 5th and carried off to that infernal shift. Who knows where they are and what they may be by now!

We climb up the hill again. Again we begin, but in the opposite direction, the journey done since the dawn and the night. Though we are without our heavy stuff, and only carry rifles and accouterments, we feel idle, sleepy, and stiff; and the country is sad, and the sky all wisped with mist. Farfadet is soon panting. He talked a little at first, till fatigue enforced silence on him. He is brave enough, but frail, and during all his prewar life, shut up in the Town Hall office where he scribbled since the days of his "first sacrament" between a stove and some ageing cardboard files, he hardly learned the use of his legs.

Just as we emerge from the wood, slipping and floundering, to penetrate the region of communication trenches, two faint shadows are outlined in front. Two soldiers are coming up. We can see the protuberance of their burdens and the sharp lines of their rifles. The swaying double shape becomes distinct--"It's them!"

One of the shadows has a great white head, all swathed--"One of them's wounded! It's Volpatte!"

We run up to the specters, our feet making the sounds of sinking in sponge and of sticky withdrawal, and our shaken cartridges rattle in their pouches. They stand still and wait for us. When we are close up, "It's about time!" cries Volpatte.

"You're wounded, old chap?"--"What?" he says; the manifold bandages all round his head make him deaf, and we must shout to get through them. So we go close and shout. Then he replies, "That's nothing; we're coming from the hole where the 5th Battalion put us on Thursday."

"You've stayed there--ever since?" yells Farfadet, whose shrill and almost feminine voice goes easily through the quilting that protects Volpatte's ears.

"Of course we stayed there, you blithering idiot!" says Fouillade. "You don't suppose we'd got wings to fly away with, and still less that we should have legged it without orders?"

Both of them let themselves drop to a sitting position on the ground. Volpatte's head--enveloped in rags with a big knot on the top and the same dark yellowish stains as his face--looks like a bundle of dirty linen.

"They forgot you, then, poor devils?"

"Rather!" cries Fouillade, "I should say they did. Four days and four nights in a shell-hole, with bullets raining down, a hole that stunk like a cesspool."

"That's right," says Volpatte. "It wasn't an ordinary listening-post hole, where one comes and goes regularly. It was just a shell-hole, like any other old shell-hole, neither more nor less. They said to us on Thursday, 'Station yourselves in there and keep on firing,' they said. Next day, a liaison chap of the 5th Battalion came and showed his neb: 'What the hell are you doing there?'--'Why, we're firing. They told us to fire, so we're firing,' I says. 'If they told us to do it, there must be some reason at the back of it. We're wanting for them to tell us to do something else.' The chap made tracks. He looked a bit uneasy, and suffering from the effects of being bombed. 'It's 22,' he says."

"To us two," says Fouillade, "there was a loaf of bread and a bucket of wine that the 18th gave us when they planted us there, and a whole case of cartridges, my boy. We fired off the cartridges and drank the booze, but we had sense to keep a few cartridges and a hunch of bread, though we didn't keep any wine."

"That's where we went wrong," says Volpatte, "seeing that it was a thirsty job. Say, boys, you haven't got any gargle?"

"I've still nearly half a pint of wine," replies Farfadet. "Give it to him," says Fouillade, pointing to Volpatte, "seeing that he's been losing blood. I'm only thirsty."

Volpatte was shivering, and his little strapped-up eyes burned with fever in the enormous dump of rags set upon his shoulders. "That's good," he says, drinking.

"Ah! And then, too," he added, emptying--as politeness requires--the drop of wine that remained at the bottom of Farfadet's cup, "we got two Boches. They were crawling about outside, and fell into our holes, as blindly as moles into a spring snare, those chaps did. We tied 'em up. And see us then--after firing for thirty-six hours, we'd no more ammunition. So we filled our magazines with the last, and waited, in front of the parcels of Boche. The liaison chap forgot to tell his people that we were there. You, the 6th, forgot to ask for us; the 18th forgot us, too; and as we weren't in a listening-post where you're relieved as regular as if at H.Q., I could almost see us staying there till the regiment came back. In the long run, it was the loafers of the 204th, come to skulk about looking for fuses, that mentioned us. So then we got the order to fall back--immediately, they said. That 'immediately' was a good joke, and we got into harness at once. We untied the legs of the Boches, led them off and handed them over to the 204th, and here we are."

"We even fished out, in passing, a sergeant who was piled up in a hole and didn't dare come out, seeing he was shell-shocked. We slanged him, and that set him up a bit, and he thanked us. Sergeant Sacerdote he called himself."

"But your wound, old chap?"

"It's my ears. Two shells, a little one and a big one, my lad--went off while you're saying it. My head came between the two bursts, as you might say, but only just; a very close shave, and my lugs got it."

"You should have seen him," says Fouillade, "it was disgusting, those two ears hanging down. We had two packets of bandages, and the stretcher-men fired us one in. That makes three packets he's got rolled round his nut."

"Give us your traps, we're going back."

Farfadet and I divide Volpatte's equipment between us. Fouillade, sullen with thirst and racked by stiff joints, growls, and insists obstinately on keeping his weapons and bundles.

We stroll back, finding diversion--as always---in walking without ranks. It is so uncommon that one finds it surprising and profitable. So it is a breach of liberty which soon enlivens all four of us. We are in the country as though for the pleasure of it.

"We are pedestrians!" says Volpatte proudly. When we reach the turning at the top of the hill, he relapses upon rosy visions: "Old man, it's a good wound, after all. I shall be sent back, no mistake about it."

His eyes wink and sparkle in the huge white clump that dithers on his shoulders--a clump reddish on each side, where the ears were.

From the depth where the village lies we hear ten o'clock strike. "To hell with the time," says Volpatte "it doesn't matter to me any more what time it is."

He becomes loquacious. It is a low fever that inspires his dissertation, and condenses it to the slow swing of our walk, in which his step is already jaunty.

"They'll stick a red label on my greatcoat, you'll see, and take me to the rear. I shall be bossed this time by a very polite sort of chap, who'll say to me, 'That's one side, now turn the other way--so, my poor fellow.' Then the ambulance, and then the sick-train, with the pretty little ways of the Red Cross ladies all the way along, like they did to Crapelet Jules, then the base hospital. Beds with white sheets, a stove that snores in the middle of us all, people with the special job of looking after you, and that you watch doing it, regulation slippers--sloppy and comfortable--and a chamber-cupboard. Furniture! And it's in those big hospitals that you're all right for grub! I shall have good feeds, and baths. I shall take all I can get hold of. And there'll be presents--that you can enjoy without having to fight the others for them and get yourself into a bloody mess. I shall have my two hands on the counterpane, and they'll do damn well nothing, like things to look at--like toys, what? And under the sheets my legs'll be white-hot all the way through, and my trotters'll be expanding like bunches of violets."

Volpatte pauses, fumbles about, and pulls out of his pocket, along with his famous pair of Soissons scissors, something that he shows to me: "Tiens, have you seen this?"

It is a photograph of his wife and two children. He has already shown it to me many a time. I look at it and express appreciation.

"I shall go on sick-leave," says Volpatte, "and while my ears are sticking themselves on again, the wife and the little ones will look at me, and I shall look at them. And while they're growing again like lettuces, my friends, the war, it'll make progress--the Russians--one doesn't know, what?" He is thinking aloud, lulling himself with happy anticipations, already alone with his private festival in the midst of us.

"Robber!" Feuillade shouts at him. "You've too much luck, by God!"

How could we not envy him? He would be going away for one, two, or three months; and all that time, instead of our wretched privations, he would be transformed into a man of means!

"At the beginning," says Farfadet, "it sounded comic when I heard them wish for a 'good wound.' But all the same, and whatever can be said about it, I understand now that it's the only thing a poor soldier can hope for if he isn't daft."

* * * * * *

We were drawing near to the village and passing round the wood. At its corner, the sudden shape of a woman arose against the sportive sunbeams that outlined her with light. Alertly erect she stood, before the faintly violet background of the wood's marge and the crosshatched trees. She was slender, her head all afire with fair hair, and in her pale face we could see the night-dark caverns of great eyes. The resplendent being gazed fixedly upon us, trembling, then plunged abruptly into the undergrowth and disappeared like a torch.

The apparition and its flight so impressed Volpatte that he lost the thread of his discourse.

"She's something like, that woman there!"

"No," said Fouillade, who had misunderstood, "she's called Eudoxie. I knew her because I've seen her before. A refugee. I don't know where she comes from, but she's at Gamblin, in a family there."

"She's thin and beautiful," Volpatte certified; "one would like to make her a little present--she's good enough to eat--tender as a chicken. And look at the eyes she's got!"

"She's queer," says Fouillade. "You don't know when you've got her. You see her here, there, with her fair hair on top, then--off! Nobody about. And you know, she doesn't know what danger is; marching about, sometimes, almost in the front line, and she's been seen knocking about in No Man's Land. She's queer."

"Look! There she is again. The spook! She's keeping an eye on us. What's she after?"

The shadow-figure, traced in lines of light, this time adorned the other end of the spinney's edge.

"To hell with women," Volpatte declared, whom the idea of his deliverance has completely recaptured.

"There's one in the squad, anyway, that wants her pretty badly. See--when you speak of the wolf----"

"You see its tail----"

"Not yet, but almost--look!" From some bushes on our right we saw the red snout of Lamuse appear peeping, like a wild boar's.

He was on the woman's trail. He had seen the alluring vision, dropped to the crouch of a setting dog, and made his spring. But in that spring he fell upon us.

Recognizing Volpatte and Fouillade, big Lamuse gave shouts of delight. At once he had no other thought than to get possession of the bags, rifles, and haversacks--"Give me all of it--I'm resting--come on, give it up."

He must carry everything. Farfadet and I willingly gave up Volpatte's equipment; and Fouillade, now at the end of his strength, agreed to surrender his pouches and his rifle.

Lamuse became a moving heap. Under the huge burden he disappeared, bent double, and made progress only with shortened steps.

But we felt that he was still under the sway of a certain project, and his glances went sideways. He was seeking the woman after whom he had hurled himself. Every time he halted, the better to trim some detail of the load, or puffingly to mop the greasy flow of perspiration, he furtively surveyed all the corners of the horizon and scrutinized the edges of the wood. He did not see her again.

I did see her again, and got a distinct impression this time that it was one of us she was after. She half arose on our left from the green shadows of the undergrowth. Steadying herself with one hand on a branch, she leaned forward and revealed the night-dark eyes and pale face, which showed--so brightly lighted was one whole side of it--like a crescent moon.

I saw that she was smiling. And following the course of the look that smiled, I saw Farfadet a little way behind us, and he was smiling too. Then she slipped away into the dark foliage, carrying the twin smile with her.

Thus was the understanding revealed to me between this lissom and dainty gypsy, who was like no one at all, and Farfadet, conspicuous among us all--slender, pliant and sensitive as lilac. Evidently----!

Lamuse saw nothing, blinded and borne down as he was by the load he had taken from Farfadet and me, occupied in the poise of them, and in finding where his laden and leaden feet might tread.

But he looks unhappy; he groans. A weighty and mournful obsession is stifling him. In his harsh breathing it seems to me that I can hear his heart beating and muttering. Looking at Volpatte, hooded in bandages, and then at the strong man, muscular and full-blooded, with that profound and eternal yearning whose sharpness he alone can gauge, I say to myself that the worst wounded man is not he whom we think.

We go down at last to the village. "Let's have a drink," says Fouillade. "I'm going to be sent back," says Volpatte. Lamuse puffs and groans.

Our comrades shout and come running, and we gather in the little square where the church stands with its twin towers--so thoroughly mutilated by a shell that one can no longer look it in the face.
Site Admin
Posts: 33189
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:44 am

5. Sanctuary

THE dim road which rises through the middle of the night-bound wood is so strangely full of obstructing shadows that the deep darkness of the forest itself might by some magic have overflowed upon it. It is the regiment on the march, in quest of a new home.

The weighty ranks of the shadows, burdened both high and broad, hustle each other blindly. Each wave, pushed by the following, stumbles upon the one in front, while alongside and detached are the evolutions of those less bulky ghosts, the N.C.O.'s. A clamor of confusion, compound of exclamations, of scraps of chat, of words of command, of spasms of coughing and of song, goes up from the dense mob enclosed between the banks. To the vocal commotion is added the tramping of feet, the jingling of bayonets in their scabbards, of cans and drinking-cups, the rumbling and hammering of the sixty vehicles of the two convoys--fighting and regimental--that follow the two battalions. And such a thing is it that trudges and spreads itself over the climbing road that, in spite of the unbounded dome of night, one welters in the odor of a den of lions.

In the ranks one sees nothing. Sometimes, when one can lift his nose up, by grace of an eddy in the tide, one cannot help seeing the whiteness of a mess-tin, the blue steel of a helmet, the black steel of a rifle. Anon, by the dazzling jet of sparks that flies from a pocket flint-and-steel, or the red flame that expands upon the lilliputian stem of a match, one can see beyond the vivid near relief of hands and faces to the silhouetted and disordered groups of helmeted shoulders, swaying like surges that would storm the sable stronghold of the night. Then, all goes out, and while each tramping soldier's legs swing to and fro, his eye is fixed inflexibly upon the conjectural situation of the back that dwells in front of him.

After several halts, when we have allowed ourselves to collapse on our haversacks at the foot of the stacked rifles--stacks that form on the call of the whistle with feverish haste and exasperating delay, through our blindness in that atmosphere of ink-dawn reveals itself, extends, and acquires the domain of Space. The walls of the Shadow crumble in vague ruin. Once more we pass under the grand panorama of the day's unfolding upon the ever-wandering horde that we are.

We emerge at last from this night of marching, across concentric circles as it seems, of darkness less dark, then of half-shadow, then of gloomy light. Legs have a wooden stiffness, backs are benumbed, shoulders bruised. Faces are still so gray or so black, one would say they had but half rid themselves of the night. Now, indeed, one never throws it off altogether.

It is into new quarters that the great company is going--this time to rest. What will the place be like that we have to live in for eight days? It is called, they say--but nobody is certain of anything--Gauchin-l'Abbé. We have heard wonders about it--"It appears to be just it."

In the ranks of the companies whose forms and features one begins to make out in the birth of morning, and to distinguish the lowered heads and yawning mouths, some voices are heard in still higher praise. "There never were such quarters. The Brigade's there, and the court-martial. You can get anything in the shops."--"If the Brigade's there, we're all right."--

"Think we can find a table for the squad?"--"Everything you want, I tell you."

A pessimist prophet shakes his head: "What these quarters'll be like where we ye never been, I don't know," he says. "What I do know is that it'll be like the others."

But we don't believe him, and emerging from the fevered turmoil of the night, it seems to all that it is a sort of Promised Land we are approaching by degrees the light brings us out of the east and the icy air towards the unknown village.

At the foot of a bill in the half-light, we reach some houses, still slumbering and wrapped in heavy grayness

"There it is!"

Poof! We've done twenty-eight kilometers in the night. But what of that? There is no halt. We go past the houses, and they sink back again into their vague vapors and their mysterious shroud.

"Seems we've got to march a long time yet. It's always there, there, there!"

We march like machines, our limbs invaded by a sort of petrified torpor; our joints cry aloud, and force us to make echo.

Day comes slowly, for a blanket of mist covers the earth. It is so cold that the men dare not sit down during the halts, though overborne by weariness, and they pace to and fro in the damp obscurity like ghosts. The besom of a biting wintry wind whips our skin, sweeps away and scatters our words and our sighs.

At last the sun pierces the reek that spreads over us and soaks what it touches, and something like a fairy glade opens out in the midst of this gloom terrestrial. The regiment stretches itself and wakes up in truth, with slow-lifted faces to the gilded silver of the earliest rays. Quickly, then, the sun grows fiery, and now it is too hot. In the ranks we pant and sweat, and our grumbling is louder even than just now, when our teeth were chattering and the fog wet-sponged our hands and faces.

It is a chalk country through which we are passing on this torrid forenoon--"They mend this road with lime, the dirty devils!" The road has become blinding--a long-drawn cloud of dessicated chalk and dust that rises high above our columns and powders us as we go. Faces turn red, and shine as though varnished; some of the full-blooded ones might be plastered with vaseline. Cheeks and foreheads are coated with a rusty paste which agglutinates and cracks. Feet lose their dubious likeness to feet and might have paddled in a mason's mortar-trough. Haversacks and rifles are powdered in white, and our legion leaves to left and right a long milky track on the bordering grass. And to crown all--"To the right! A convoy!"

We bear to the right, hurriedly, and not without bumpings. The convoy of lorries, a long chain of foursquare and huge projectiles, rolling up with diabolical din, hurls itself along the road. Curse it! One after another, they gather up the thick carpet of white powder that upholsters the ground and send it broadcast over our shoulders! Now we are garbed in a stuff of light gray and our faces are pallid masks, thickest on the eyebrows and mustaches, on beards, and the cracks of wrinkles. Though still ourselves, we look like strange old men.

"When we're old buffers, we shall be as ugly as this," says Tirette.

"Tu craches blanc," declares Biquet. [note 1]

When a halt puts us out of action, you might take us for rows of plaster statues, with some dirty indications of humanity showing through.

We move again, silent and chagrined. Every step becomes hard to complete. Our faces assume congealed and fixed grimaces under the wan leprosy of dust. The unending effort contracts us and quite fills us with dismal weariness and disgust.

We espy at last the long-sought oasis. Beyond a hill, on a still higher one, some slated roofs peep from clusters of foliage as brightly green as a salad. The village is there, and our looks embrace it, but we are not there yet. For a long time it seems to recede as fast as the regiment crawls towards it.

At long last, on the stroke of noon, we reach the quarters that had begun to appear a pretense and a legend. In regular step and with rifles on shoulders, the regiment floods the street of Gauchin-l'Abbé right to its edges. Most of the villages of the Pas du Calais are composed of a single street, but such a street! It is often several kilometers long. In this one, the street divides in front of the mairie and forms two others, so that the hamlet becomes a big Y, brokenly bordered by low-built dwellings.

The cyclists, the officers, the orderlies, break away from the long moving mass. Then, as they come up, a few of the men at a time are swallowed up by the barns, the still available houses being reserved for officers and departments. Our half-company is led at first to the end of the village, and then--by some misunderstanding among the quartermasters--back to the other end, the one by which we entered. This oscillation takes up time, and the squad, dragged thus from north to south and from south to north, heavily fatigued and irritated by wasted walking, evinces feverish impatience. For it is supremely important to be installed and set free as early as possible if we are to carry out the plan we have cherished so long--to find a native with some little place to let, and a table where the squad can have its meals. We have talked a good deal about this idea and its delightful advantages. We have taken counsel, subscribed to a common fund, and decided that this time we will take the header into the additional outlay.

But will it be possible? Very many places are already snapped up. We are not the only ones to bring our dream of comfort here, and it will be a race for that table. Three companies are coming in after ours, but four were here before us, and there are the officers, the cooks of the hospital staff for the Section, and the clerks, the drivers, the orderlies and others, official cooks of the sergeants' mess, and I don't know how many more. All these men are more influential than the soldiers of the line, they have more mobility and more money, and can bring off their schemes beforehand. Already, while we march four abreast towards the barn assigned to the squad, we see some of these jokers across the conquered thresholds, domestically busy.

Tirette imitates the sounds of lowing and bleating-- "There's our cattle-shed." A fairly big barn. The chopped straw smells of night-soil, and our feet stir up clouds of dust. But it is almost enclosed. We choose our places and cast off our equipment.

Those who dreamed yet once again of a special sort of Paradise sing low--yet once again. "Look now, it seems as ugly as the other places."--"It's something like the same."--"Naturally."

But there is no time to waste in talking. The thing is to get clear and be after the others with all strength and speed. We hurry out. In spite of broken backs and aching feet, we set ourselves savagely to this last effort on which the comfort of a week depends.

The squad divides into two patrols and sets off at the double, one to left and one to right along the street, which is already obstructed by busy questing poilus; and all the groups see and watch each other--and hurry. In places there are collisions, jostlings, and abuse.

"Let's begin down there at once, or our goose'll be cooked!" I have an impression of a kind of fierce battle between all the soldiers, in the streets of the village they have just occupied. "For us," says Marthereau, "war is always struggling and fighting--always, always."

We knock at door after door, we show ourselves timidly, we offer ourselves like undesirable goods. A voice arises among us, "You haven't a bit of a corner, madame, for some soldiers? We would pay."

"No--you see, I've got officers--under-officers, that is--you see, it's the mess for the band, and the secretaries, and the gentlemen of the ambulance--"

Vexation after vexation. We close again, one after the other, all the doors we had half-opened, and look at each other, on the wrong side of the threshold, with dwindling hope in our eyes.

"Bon Dieu! You'll see that we shan't find anything," growls Barque. "Damn those chaps that got on the midden before us!"

The human flood reaches high-water mark everywhere. The three streets are all growing dark as each overflows into another. Some natives cross our path, old men or ill-shapen, contorted in their walk, stunted in the face; and even young people, too, over whom hovers the mystery of secret disorders or political connections. As for the petticoats, there are old women and many young ones--fat, with well-padded cheeks, and equal to geese in their whiteness.

Suddenly, in an alley between two houses, I have a fleeting vision of a woman who crossed the shadowy gap --Eudoxie! Eudoxie, the fairy woman whom Lamuse hunted like a satyr, away back in the country, that morning we brought back Volpatte wounded, and Fouillade, the woman I saw leaning from the spinney's edge and bound to Farfadet in a mutual smile. It is she whom I just glimpsed like a gleam of sunshine in that alley. But the gleam was eclipsed by the tail of a wall, and the place thereof relapsed upon gloom. She here, already! Then she has followed our long and painful trek! She is attracted--?

And she looks like one allured, too. Brief glimpse though it was of her face and its crown of fair hair, plainly I saw that she was serious, thoughtful, absentminded.

Lamuse, following close on my heels, saw nothing, and I do not tell him. He will discover quite soon enough the bright presence of that lovely flame where he would fain cast himself bodily, though it evades him like a Will-o'-th'-wisp. For the moment, besides, we are on business bent. The coveted corner must be won. We resume the hunt with the energy of despair. Barque leads us on; he has taken the matter to heart. He is trembling--you can see it in his dusty scalp. He guides us, nose to the wind. He suggests that we make an attempt on that yellow door over there. Forward!

Near the yellow door, we encounter a shape down-bent. Blaire, his foot on a milestone, is reducing the bulk of his boot with his knife, and plaster-like debris is falling fast. He might be engaged in sculpture.

"You never had your feet so white before," jeers Barque. "Rotting apart," says Blaire, "you don't know where it is, that special van?" He goes on to explain: "I've got to look up the dentist-van, so they can grapple with my ivories, and strip off the old grinders that's left. Oui, seems it's stationed here, the chop-caravan."

He folds up his knife, pockets it, and goes off alongside the wall, possessed by the thought of his jaw-bones' new lease of life.

Once more we put up our beggars' petition: "Good-day, madame; you haven't got a little corner where we could feed? We would pay, of course, we would pay--"

Through the glass of the low window we see lifted the face of an old man--like a fish in a bowl, it looks--a face curiously flat, and lined with parallel wrinkles, like a page of old manuscript.

"You've the little shed there."

"There's no room in the shed, and when the washing's done there--"

Barque seizes the chance. "It'll do very likely. May we see it?"

"We do the washing there," mutters the woman, continuing to wield her broom.

"You know," says Barque, with a smile and an engaging air, "we're not like those disagreeable people who get drunk and make themselves a nuisance. May we have a look?"

The woman has let her broom rest. She is thin and inconspicuous. Her jacket hangs from her shoulders as from a valise. Her face is like cardboard, stiff and without expression. She looks at us and hesitates, then grudgingly leads the way into a very dark little place, made of beaten earth and piled with dirty linen.

"It's splendid," cries Lamuse, in all honesty.

"Isn't she a darling, the little kiddie!" says Barque, as he pats the round cheek, like painted india-rubber, of a little girl who is staring at us with her dirty little nose uplifted in the gloom. "Is she yours, madame?"

"And that one, too?" risks Marthereau, as he espies an over-ripe infant on whose bladder-like cheeks are shining deposits of jam, for the ensnaring of the dust in the air. He offers a half-hearted caress in the direction of the moist and bedaubed countenance. The woman does not deign an answer.

So there we are, trifling and grinning, like beggars whose plea still hangs fire.

Lamuse whispers to me, in a torment of fear and cupidity, "Let's hope she'll catch on, the filthy old slut. It's grand here, and, you know, everything else is pinched!"

"There's no table," the woman says at last.

"Don't worry about the table," Barque exclaims. "Tenez! there, put away in that corner, the old door; that would make us a table."

"You're not going to trail me about and upset all my work!" replies the cardboard woman suspiciously, and with obvious regret that she had not chased us away immediately.

"Don't worry, I tell you. Look, I'll show you. Hey, Lamuse, old cock, give me a hand."

Under the displeased glances of the virago we place the old door on a couple of barrels.

"With a bit of a rub-down," says I, "that will be perfect."

"Eh, oui, maman, a flick with a brush'll do us instead of tablecloth."

The woman hardly knows what to say; she watches us spitefully: "There's only two stools, and how many are there of you?"

"About a dozen."

"A dozen. Jésus Maria!"

"What does it matter? That'll be all right, seeing there's a plank here--and that's a bench ready-made, eh, Lamuse?"

"Course," says Lamuse.

"I want that plank," says the woman. "Some soldiers that were here before you have tried already to take it away."

"But us, we're not thieves," suggests Lamuse gently, so as not to irritate the creature that has our comfort at her disposal.

"I don't say you are, but soldiers, vous savez, they smash everything up. Oh, the misery of this war!"

"Well then, how much'll it be, to hire the table, and to heat up a thing or two on the stove?"

"It'll be twenty sous a day," announces the hostess with restraint, as though we were wringing that amount from her.

"It's dear," says Lamuse.

"It's what the others gave me that were here, and they were very kind, too, those gentlemen, and it was worth my while to cook for them. I know it's not difficult for soldiers. If you think it's too much, it's no job to find other customers for this room and this table and the stove, and who wouldn't be in twelves. They're coming along all the time, and they'd pay still more, if I wanted. A dozen!--"

Lamuse hastens to add, "I said 'It's dear,' but still, it'll do, eh, you others?" On this downright question we record our votes.

"We could do well with a drop to drink," says Lamuse. "Do you sell wine?"

"No," said the woman, but added, shaking with anger, "You see, the military authority forces them that's got wine to sell it at fifteen sous! Fifteen sous! The misery of this cursed war! One loses at it, at fifteen sous, monsieur. So I don't sell any wine. I've got plenty for ourselves. I don't say but sometimes, and just to oblige, I don't allow some to people that one knows, people that knows what things are, but of course, messieurs, not at fifteen sous."

Lamuse is one of those people "that knows what things are." He grabs at his water-bottle, which is hanging as usual on his hip. "Give me a liter of it. That'll be what?"

"That'll be twenty-two sous, same as it cost me. But you know it's just to oblige you, because you're soldiers."

Barque, losing patience, mutters an aside. The woman throws him a surly glance, and makes as if to hand Lamuse's bottle back to him. But Lamuse, launched upon the hope of drinking wine at last, so that his cheeks redden as if the draught already pervaded them with its grateful hue, hastens to intervene----

"Don't be afraid--it's between ourselves, la mère, we won't give you away."

She raves on, rigid and bitter, against the limited price on wine; and, overcome by his lusty thirst, Lamuse extends the humiliation and surrender of conscience so far as to say, "No help for it, madame! It's a military order, so it's no use trying to understand it."

She leads us into the store-room. Three fat barrels occupy it in impressive rotundity. "Is this your little private store?"

"She knows her way about, the old lady," growls Barque.

The shrew turns on her heel, truculent: "Would you have me ruin myself by this miserable war? I've about enough of losing money all ways at once."

"How?" insists Barque.

"I can see you're not going to risk your money!"

"That's right--we only risk our skins."

We intervene, disturbed by the tone of menace for our present concern that the conversation has assumed. But the door of the wine-cellar is shaken, and a man's voice comes through. "Hey, Palmyra!" it calls.

The woman hobbles away, discreetly leaving the door open. "That's all right--we've taken root!" Lamuse says.

"What dirty devils these, people are!" murmurs Barque, who finds his reception hard to stomach.

"It's shameful and sickening," says Marthereau.

"One would think it was the first time you'd had any of it!"

"And you, old gabbler," chides Barque, "that says prettily to the wine-robber, 'Can't be helped, it's a military order'! Gad, old man, you're not short of cheek!"

"What else could I do or say? We should have had to go into mourning for our table and our wine. She could make us pay forty sous for the wine, and we should have had it all the same, shouldn't we? Very well, then, got to think ourselves jolly lucky. I'll admit I'd no confidence, and I was afraid it was no go."

"I know; it's the same tale everywhere and always, but all the same--"

"Damn the thieving natives, ah, oui! Some of 'em must be making fortunes. Everybody can't go and get killed."

"Ah, the gallant people of the East!"

"Yes, and the gallant people of the North!"

"Who welcome us with open arms!"

"With open hands, yes ----"

"I tell you," Marthereau says again, "it's a shame and it's sickening."

"Shut it up--there's the she-beast coming back." We took a turn round to quarters to announce our success, and then went shopping. When we returned to our new dining-room, we were hustled by the preparations for lunch. Barque had been to the rations distribution, and had managed, thanks to personal relations with the cook (who was a conscientious objector to fractional divisions), to secure the potatoes and meat that formed the rations for all the fifteen men of the squad. He had bought some lard--a little lump for fourteen sous--and some one was frying. He had also acquired some green peas in tins, four tins. Mesnil André's tin of veal in jelly would be a hors-d'oeuvre.

"And not a dirty thing in all the lot!" said Lamuse, enchanted.

* * * * * *

We inspected the kitchen. Barque was moving cheerfully about the iron Dutch oven whose hot and steaming bulk furnished all one side of the room.

"I've added a stewpan on the quiet for the soup," he whispered to me. Lifting the lid of the stove--"Fire isn't too hot. It's half an hour since I chucked the meat in, and the water's clean yet."

A minute later we heard some one arguing with the hostess. This extra stove was the matter in dispute. There was no more room left for her on her stove. They had told her they would only need a casserole, and she had believed them. If she had known they were going to make trouble she would not have let the room to them. Barque, the good fellow, replied jokingly, and succeeded in soothing the monster.

One by one the others arrived. They winked and rubbed their hands together, full of toothsome anticipation, like the guests at a wedding-breakfast. As they break away from the dazzling light outside and penetrate this cube of darkness, they are blinded, and stand like bewildered owls for several minutes.

"It's not too brilliant in here," says Mesnil Joseph. "Come, old chap, what do you want?" The others exclaim in chorus, "We're damned well off here." And I can see heads nodding assent in the cavern's twilight.

An incident: Farfadet having by accident rubbed against the damp and dirty wall, his shoulder has brought away from it a smudge so big and black that it can be seen even here. Farfadet, so careful of his appearance, growls, and in avoiding a second contact with the wall, knocks the table so that his spoon drops to the ground. Stooping, he fumbles among the loose earth, where dust and spiders' webs for years have silently fallen. When he recovers his spoon it is almost black, and webby threads hang from it. Evidently it is disastrous to let anything fall on the ground. One must live here with great care.

Lamuse brings down his fat hand, like a pork-pie, between two of the places at table. "Allons, à table!" We fall to. The meal is abundant and of excellent quality. The sound of conversation mingles with those of emptying bottles and filling jaws. While we taste the joy of eating at a table, a glimmer of light trickles through a vent-hole, and wraps in dusty dawn a piece of the atmosphere and a patch of the table, while its reflex lights up a plate, a cap's peak, an eye. Secretly I take stock of this gloomy little celebration that overflows with gayety. Biquet is telling about his suppliant sorrows in quest of a washerwoman who would agree to do him the good turn of washing some linen, but "it was too damned dear." Tulacque describes the queue outside the grocer's. One might not go in; customers were herded outside, like sheep. "And although you were outside, if you weren't satisfied, and groused too much, they chased you off."

Any news yet? It is said that severe penalties have been imposed on those who plunder the population, and there is already a list of convictions. Volpatte has been sent down. Men of Class '93 are going to be sent to the rear, and Pépère is one of them.

When Barque brings in the harvest of the fry-pan, he announces that our hostess has soldiers at her table--ambulance men of the machine-guns. "They thought they were the best off, but it's us that's that," says Fouillade with decision, lolling grandly in the darkness of the narrow and tainted hole where we are just as confusedly heaped together as in a dug-out. But who would think of making the comparison?

"Vous savez pas," says Pépin, "the chaps of the 9th, they're in clover! An old woman has taken them in for nothing, because of her old man that's been dead fifty years and was a rifleman once on a time. Seems she's even given them a rabbit for nix, and they're just worrying it jugged."

"There's good sorts everywhere. But the boys of the 9th had famous luck to fall into the only shop of good sorts in the whole village."

Palmyra comes with the coffee, which she supplies. She thaws a little, listens to us, and even asks questions in a supercilious way: "Why do you call the adjutant 'le juteux'?"

Barque replies sententiously, "'Twas ever thus."

When she has disappeared, we criticize our coffee. "Talk about clear! You can see the sugar ambling round the bottom of the glass."--"She charges six sous for it."--"It's filtered water."

The door half opens, and admits a streak of light. The face of a little boy is defined in it. We entice him in like a kitten and give him a bit of chocolate.

Then, "My name's Charlie," chirps the child. "Our house, that's close by. We've got soldiers, too. We always had them, we had. We sell them everything they want. Only, voilà, sometimes they get drunk."

"Tell me, little one, come here a bit," says Cocon, taking the boy between his knees. "Listen now. Your papa, he says, doesn't he, 'Let's hope the war goes on,' eh?" [note 2]

"Of course," says the child, tossing his head, "because we're getting rich. He says, by the end of May, we shall have got fifty thousand francs."

"Fifty thousand francs! Impossible!"

"Yes, yes!" the child insists, stamping, "he said it to mamma. Papa wished it could be always like that. Mamma, sometimes, she isn't sure, because my brother Adolphe is at the front. But we're going to get him sent to the rear, and then the war can go on."

These confidences are disturbed by sharp cries, coming from the rooms of our hosts. Biquet the mobile goes to inquire. "It's nothing," says he, coming back; "it's the good man slanging the woman because she doesn't know how to do things, he says, because she's made the mustard in a tumbler, and he never heard of such a thing, he says."

We get up, and leave the strong odor of pipes, wine, and stale coffee in our cave. As soon as we have crossed the threshold, a heaviness of heat puffs in our faces, fortified by the mustiness of frying that dwells in the kitchen and emerges every time the door is opened. We pass through legions of flies which, massed on the walls in black hordes, fly abroad in buzzing swarms as we pass: "It's beginning again like last year! Flies outside, lice inside.--"

"And microbes still farther inside!"

In a corner of this dirty little house and its litter of old rubbish, its dusty debris of last year and the relics of so many summers gone by, among the furniture and household gear, something is moving. It is an old simpleton with a long bald neck, pink and rough, making you think of a fowl's neck which has prematurely molted through disease. His profile is that of a hen, too-- no chin and a long nose. A gray overlay of beard felts his receded cheek, and you see his heavy eyelids, rounded and horny, move up and down like shutters on the dull beads of his eyes.

Barque has already noticed him: "Watch him--he's a treasure-seeker. He says there's one somewhere in this hovel that he's stepfather to. You'll see him directly go on all-fours and push his old phizog in every corner there is. Tiens, watch him."

With the aid of his stick, the old man proceeded to take methodical soundings. He tapped along the foot of the walls and on the floor-tiles.. He was hustled by the coming and going of the occupants of the house, by callers, and by the swing of Palmyra's broom; but she let him alone and said nothing, thinking to herself, no doubt, that the exploitation of the national calamity is a more profitable treasure than problematical caskets.

Two gossips are standing in a recess and exchanging confidences in low voices, hard by an old map of Russia that is peopled with flies. "Oui, but it's with the Picon bitters that you've got to be careful. If you haven't got a light touch, you can't get your sixteen glasses out of a bottle, and so you lose too much profit. I don't say but what one's all right in one's purse, even so, but one doesn't make enough. To guard against that, the retailers ought to agree among themselves, but the understanding's so difficult to bring off, even when it's in the general interest."

Outside there is torrid sunshine, riddled with flies. The little beasts, quite scarce but a few days ago, multiply everywhere the murmur of their minute and innumerable engines. I go out in the company of Lamuse; we are going for a saunter. One can be at peace today--it is complete rest, by reason of the overnight march. We might sleep, but it suits us much better to use the rest for an extensive promenade. To-morrow, the exercise and fatigues will get us again. There are some, less lucky than we, who are already caught in the cogwheels of fatigue. To Lamuse, who invites him to come and stroll with us, Corvisart replies, screwing up the little round nose that is laid flatly on his oblong face like a cork, "Can't--I'm on manure!" He points to the shovel and broom by whose help he is performing his task of scavenger and night-soil man.

We walk languidly. The afternoon lies heavy on the drowsy land and on stomachs richly provided and embellished with food. The remarks we exchange are infrequent.

Over there, we hear noises. Barque has fallen a victim to a menagerie of housewives; and the scene is pointed by a pale little girl, her hair tied behind in a pencil of tow and her mouth embroidered with fever spots, and by women who are busy with some unsavory job of washing in the meager shade before their doors.

Six men go by, led by a quartermaster corporal. They carry heaps of new greatcoats and bundles of boots. Lamuse regards his bloated and horny feet--"I must have some new sheds, and no mistake; a bit more and you'll see my splay-feet through these ones. Can't go marching on the skin of my tongs, eh?"

An aeroplane booms overhead. We follow its evolutions with our faces skyward, our necks twisted, our eyes watering at the piercing brightness of the sky.

Lamuse declares to me, when we have brought our gaze back to earth, "Those machines'll never become practical, never."

"How can you say that? Look at the progress they've made already, and the speed of it."

"Yes, but they'll stop there. They'll never do any better, never."

This time I do not challenge the dull and obstinate denial that ignorance opposes to the promise of progress, and I let my big comrade alone in his stubborn belief that the wonderful effort of science and industry has been suddenly cut short.

Having thus begun to reveal to me his inmost thoughts, Lamuse continues. Coming nearer and lowering his head, he says to me, "You know she's here--Eudoxie?"

"Ah!" said I.

"Yes, old chap. You never notice anything, you don't, but I noticed," and Lamuse smiles at me indulgently. "Now, do you catch on? If she's come here, it's because we interest her, eh? She's followed us for one of us, and don't you forget it."

He gets going again. "My boy, d'you want to know what I say? She's come after me."

"Are you sure of it, old chap?"

"Yes," says the ox-man, in a hollow voice. First, I want her. Then, twice, old man, I've found her exactly in my path, in mine, d'you understand? You may tell me that she ran away; that's because she's timid, that, yes----"

He stopped dead in the middle of the street and looked straight at me. The heavy face, greasily moist on the cheeks and nose, was serious. His rotund fist went up to the dark yellow mustache, so carefully pointed, and smoothed it tenderly. Then he continued to lay bare his heart to me "I want her; but, you know, I shall marry her all right, I shall. She's called Eudoxie Dumail. At first, I wasn't thinking of marrying her. But since I've got to know her family name, it seems to me that it's different, and I should get on all right. Ah, nom de Dieu! She's so pretty, that woman! And it's not only that she's pretty--ah!"

The huge child was overflowing with sentiment and emotion, and trying to make them speak to me. "Ah, my boy, there are times when I've just got to hold myself back with a hook," came the strained and gloomy tones, while the blood flushed to the fleshy parts of his cheeks and neck. "She's so beautiful, she's--and me I'm--she's so unlike-----you'll have noticed it, surely, you that notices--she's a country girl, oui; eh bien, she's got a God knows what that's better than a Parisienne, even a toffed-up and stylish Parisienne, pas? She--as for me, I----"

He puckered his red eyebrows. He would have liked to tell me all the splendor of his thoughts, but he knew not the art of expressing himself, so he was silent. He remained alone in his voiceless emotion, as always alone.

We went forward side by side between the rows of houses. In front of the doors, drays laden with casks were drawn up. The front windows blossomed with many-hued heaps of jam-pots, stacks of tinder pipe-lighters--everything that the soldier is compelled to buy. Nearly all the natives had gone into grocery. Business had been getting out of gear locally for a long time, but now it was booming. Every one, smitten with the fever of sum-totals and dazzled by the multiplication table, plunged into trade.

Bells tolled, and the procession of a military funeral came out. A forage wagon, driven by a transport man, carried a coffin wrapped in a flag. Following, were a detachment of men, an adjutant, a padre, and a civilian.

"The poor little funeral with its tail lopped off!" said Lamuse. "Ah, those that are dead are very happy. But only sometimes, not always--voilà!"

We have passed the last of the houses. In the country, beyond the end of the street, the fighting convoy and the regimental convoy have settled themselves, the traveling kitchens and jingling carts that follow them with odds and ends of equipment, the Red Cross wagons, the motor lorries, the forage carts, the baggage-master's gig. The tents of drivers and conductors swarm around the vehicles. On the open spaces horses lift their metallic eyes to the sky's emptiness, with their feet on barren earth. Four poilus are setting up a table. The open-air smithy is smoking. This heterogeneous and swarming city, planted in ruined fields whose straight or winding ruts are stiffening in the heat, is already broadly valanced with rubbish and dung.

On the edge of the camp a big, white-painted van stands out from the others in its tidy cleanliness. Had it been in the middle of a fair, one would have said it was the stylish show where one pays more than at the others.

This is the celebrated "stomatological" van that Blaire was asking about. In point of fact, Blaire is there in front, looking at it. For some long time, no doubt, he has been going round it and gazing. Field-hospital orderly Sambremeuse, of the Division, returning from errands, is climbing the portable stair of painted wood which leads to the van door. In his arms he carries a bulky box of biscuits, a loaf of fancy bread, and a bottle of champagne. Blaire questions him-- "Tell me, Sir Rump, this horse-box--is it the dentist's?"

"It's written up there," replies Sambremeuse--a little corpulent man, clean, close-shaven, and his chin starch-white. "If you can't see it, you don't want the dentist to look after your grinders, you want the vet to clean your eyesight."

Blaire comes nearer and scrutinizes the establishment. "It's a queer shop," he says. He goes nearer yet, draws back, hesitates to risk his gums in that carriage. At last he decides, puts a foot on the stair, and disappears inside the caravan.

We continue our walk, and turn into a footpath where are high, dusty bushes and the noises are subdued. The sunshine blazes everywhere; it heats and roasts the hollow of the way, spreading blinding and burning whiteness in patches, and shimmers in the sky of faultless blue.

At the first turning, almost before we had heard the light grating of a footstep, we are face to face with Eudoxie!

Lamuse utters a deep exclamation. Perhaps he fancies once more that she is looking for him, and believes that she is the gift of his destiny. He goes up to her--all the bulk of him.

She looks at him and stops, framed by the hawthorn. Her strangely slight and pale face is apprehensive, the lids tremble on her magnificent eyes. She is bareheaded, and in the hollowed neck of her linen corsage there is the dawning of her flesh. So near, she is truly enticing in the sunshine, this woman crowned with gold, and one's glance is impelled and astonished by the moon-like purity of her skin. Her eyes sparkle; her teeth, too, glisten white in the living wound of her half-open mouth, red as her heart.

"Tell me--I am going to tell you "pants Lamuse. "I like you so much----" He outstretches his arm towards the motionless, beloved wayfarer.

She starts, and replies to him, "Leave me alone--you disgust me!"

The man's hand is thrown over one of her little ones. She tries to draw it back, and shakes it to free herself. Her intensely fair hair falls loose, flaming. He draws her to him. His head bends towards her, and his lips are ready. His desire--the wish of all his strength and all his life--is to caress her. He would die that he might touch her with his lips. But she struggles, and utters a choking cry. She is trembling, and her beautiful face is disfigured with abhorrence.

I go up and put my hand on my friend's shoulder, but my intervention is not needed. Lamuse recoils and growls, vanquished.

"Are you taken that way often?" cries Eudoxie.

"No!" groans the miserable man, baffled, overwhelmed, bewildered.

"Don't do it again, vous savez!" she says, and goes off panting, and he does not even watch her go. He stands with his arms hanging, gazing at the place whence she has gone, tormented to the quick, torn from his dreams of her, and nothing left him to desire.

I lead him away and he comes in dumb agitation, sniffling and out of breath, as though he had run a long way. The mass of his big head is bent. In the pitiless light of eternal spring, he is like the poor Cyclops who roamed the shores of ancient Sicily in the beginnings of time--like a huge toy, a thing of derision, that a child's shining strength could subdue.

The itinerant wine-seller, whose barrow is hunchbacked with a barrel, has sold several liters to the men on guard duty. He disappears round the bend in the road, with his face flat and yellow as a Camembert, his scanty, thin hair frayed into dusty flakes, and so emaciated himself that one could fancy his feet were fastened to his trunk by strings through his flopping trousers.

And among the idle poilus of the guard-room at the end of the place, under the wing of the shaking and rattling signboard which serves as advertisement of the village, [note 3] a conversation is set up on the subject of this wandering buffoon.

"He has a dirty neb," says Bigornot; "and I'll tell you what I think--they've no business to let civvies mess about at the front with their pretty ringlets, and especially individuals that you don't know where they come from."

"You're quite crushing, you portable louse," replies Cornet.

"Never mind, shoe-sole face," Bigornot insists; "we trust 'em too much. I know what I'm saying when I open it."

"You don't," says Canard. "Pépère's going to the rear."

"The women here," murmurs La Mollette, "they're ugly; they're a lot of frights."

The other men on guard, their concentrated gaze roaming in space, watch two enemy aeroplanes and the intricate skeins they are spinning. Around the stiff mechanical birds up there that appear now black like crows and now white like gulls, according to the play of the light, clouds of bursting shrapnel stipple the azure, and seem like a long flight of snowflakes in the sunshine.

As we are going back, two strollers come up--Carassus and Cheyssier. They announce that mess-man Pépère is going to the rear, to be sent to a Territorial regiment, having come under the operation of the Dalbiez Act.

"That's a hint for Blaire," says Carassus, who has a funny big nose in the middle of his face that suits him ill.

In the village groups of poilus go by, or in twos, joined by the crossing bonds of converse. We see the solitary ones unite in couples, separate, then come together again with a new inspiration of talk, drawn to each other as if magnetized.

In the middle of an excited crowd white papers are waving. It is the newspaper hawker, who is selling for two sous papers which should be one sou. Fouillade is standing in the middle of the road, thin as the legs of a hare. At the corner of a house Paradis shows to the sun face pink as ham.

Biquet joins us again, in undress, with a jacket and cap of the police. He is licking his chops: "I met some pals and we've had a drink. You see, to-morrow one starts scratching again, and cleaning his old rags and his catapult. But my greatcoat!--going to be some job to filter that! It isn't a greatcoat any longer--it's armor-plate."

Montreuil, a clerk at the office, appears and hails Biquet: "Hey, riff-raff! A letter! Been chasing you an hour. You're never to be found, rotter!"

"Can't be both here and there, looney. Give us a squint." He examines the letter, balances it in his hand, and announces as he tears the envelope, "It's from the old woman."

We slacken our pace. As he reads, he follows the lines with his finger, wagging his head with an air of conviction, and his lips moving like a woman's in prayer.

The throng increases the nearer we draw to the middle of the village. We salute the commandant and the black-skirted padre who walks by the other's side like his nurse. We are questioned by Pigeon, Guenon, young Escutenaire, and Chasseur Clodore. Lamuse appears blind and deaf, and concerned only to walk.

Bizouarne, Chanrion, and Roquette arrive excitedly to announce big news--"D'you know, Pépère's going to the rear."

"Funny," says Biquet, raising his nose from his letter, "how people kid themselves. The old woman's bothered about me!" He shows me a passage in the maternal epistle: "'When you get my letter,' " he spells out, "'no doubt you will be in the cold and mud, deprived of everything, mon pauvre Eugène' " He laughs: "It's ten days since she put that down for me, and she's clean off it. We're not cold, 'cos it's been fine since this morning; and we're not miserable, because we've got a room that's good enough. We've had hard times, but we're all right now."

As we reach the kennel in which we are lodgers, we are thinking that sentence over. Its touching simplicity affects me, shows me a soul--a host of souls. Because the sun has shown himself, because we have felt a gleam and a similitude of comfort, suffering exists no longer, either of the past or the terrible future. "We're all right now." There is no more to say.

Biquet establishes himself at the table, like a gentleman, to write a reply. Carefully he lays abroad his pen ink, and paper, and examines each, then smilingly traces the strictly regular lines of his big handwriting across the meager page.

"You'd laugh," he says, "if you knew what I've written to the old woman." He reads his letter again, fondles it, and smiles to himself.


[note 1:] Pity to spoil this jest by translation, but Biquet's primary meaning was "You're cross because you've a throat like a lime-kiln." His secondary or literal meaning is obvious.--Tr.

[note 2:] See p. 34 ante; [chapter 5, note 3] another reference to the famous phrase. "Pourvu que les civils tiennent."--Tr.

[note 3:] Every French village has a plaque attached to the first house on each road of approach, giving its name and the distance to the next.--Tr.
Site Admin
Posts: 33189
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:44 am

6. Habits

WE are enthroned in the back yard. The big hen, white as a cream cheese, is brooding in the depths of a basket near the coop whose imprisoned occupant is rummaging about. But the black hen is free to travel. She erects and withdraws her elastic neck in jerks, and advances with a large and affected gait. One can just see her profile and its twinkling spangle, and her talk appears to proceed from a metal spring. She marches, glistening black and glossy like the love-locks of a gypsy; and as she marches, she unfolds here and there upon the ground a faint trail of chickens.

These trifling little yellow balls, kept always by a whispering instinct on the ebb-tide to safety, hurry along under the maternal march in short, sharp jerks, pecking as they go. Now the train comes to a full stop, for two of the chickens are thoughtful and immobile, careless of the parental clucking.

"A bad sign," says Paradis; "the hen that reflects is ill." And Paradis uncrosses and recrosses his legs. Beside him on the bench, Blaire extends his own, lets loose a great yawn that he maintains in placid duration, and sets himself again to observe, for of all of us he most delights in watching fowls during the brief life when they are in such a hurry to eat.

And we watch them in unison, not forgetting the shabby old cock, worn threadbare. Where his feathers have fallen appears the naked india-rubber leg, lurid as a grilled cutlet. He approaches the white sitter, which first turns her head away in tart denial, with several "No's" in a muffled rattle, and then watches him with the little blue enamel dials of her eyes.

"We're all right," says Barque.

"Watch the little ducks," says Blaire, "going along the communication trench."

We watch a single file of all-golden ducklings go past--still almost eggs on feet--their big heads pulling their little lame bodies along by the string of their necks, and that quickly. From his corner, the big dog follows them also with his deeply dark eye, on which the slanting sun has shaped a fine tawny ring.

Beyond this rustic yard and over the scalloping of the low wall, the orchard reveals itself, where a green carpet, moist and thick, covers the rich soil and is topped by a screen of foliage with a garniture of blossom, some white as statuary, others pied and glossy as knots in neckties. Beyond again is the meadow, where the shadowed poplars throw shafts of dark or golden green. Still farther again is a square patch of upstanding hops, followed by a patch of cabbages, sitting on the ground and dressed in line. In the sunshine of air and of earth we hear the bees, as they work and make music (in deference to the poets), and the cricket which, in defiance of the fable, sings with no humility and fills Space by himself.

Over yonder, there falls eddying from a poplar's peak a magpie--half white, half black, like a shred of partly-burned paper.

The soldiers outstretch themselves luxuriously on the stone bench, their eyes half closed, and bask in the sunshine that warms the basin of the big yard till it is like a bath.

"That's seventeen days we've been here! After thinking we were going away day after day!"

"One never knows," said Paradis, wagging his head and smacking his lips.

Through the yard gate that opens on to the road we see a group of poilus strolling, nose in air, devouring the sunshine; and then, all alone, Tellurure. In the middle of the street he oscillates the prosperous abdomen of which he is proprietor, and rocking on legs arched like basket-handles, he expectorates in wide abundance all around him.

"We thought, too, that we should be as badly off here as in the other quarters. But this time it's real rest, both in the time it lasts and the kind it is."

"You're not given too many exercises and fatigues."

"And between whiles you come in here to loll about."

The old man huddled up at the end of the seat--no other than the treasure-seeking grandfather whom we saw the day of our arrival---came nearer and lifted his finger. "When I was a young man, I was thought a lot of by women," he asserted, shaking his head. "I have led young ladies astray!"

"Ah!" said we, heedless, our attention taken away from his senile prattle by the timely noise of a cart that was passing, laden and laboring.

"Nowadays," the old man went on, "I only think about money."

"Ah, oui, the treasure you're looking for, papa."

"That's it," said the old rustic, though he felt the skepticism around him. He tapped his cranium with his forefinger, which he then extended towards the house. "Take that insect there," he said, indicating a little beast that ran along the plaster. "What does it say? It says, 'I am the spider that spins the Virgin's thread.'" And the archaic simpleton added, "One must never judge what people do, for one can never tell what may happen."

"That's true," replied Paradis politely. "He's funny," said Mesnil André, between his teeth, while he sought the mirror in his pocket to look at the facial benefit of fine weather. "He's crazy," murmured Barque in his ecstasy.

"I leave you," said the old man, yielding in annoyance.

He got up to go and look for his treasure again, entered the house that supported our backs, and left the door open, where beside the huge fireplace in the room we saw a little girl, so seriously playing with a doll that Blaire fell considering, and said, "She's right."

The games of children are a momentous preoccupation. Only the grown-ups play.

After we have watched the animals and the strollers go by, we watch the time go by, we watch everything.

We are seeing the life of things, we are present with Nature, blended with climates, mingled even with the sky, colored by the seasons. We have attached ourselves to this corner of the land where chance has held us back from our endless wanderings in longer and deeper peace than elsewhere; and this closer intercourse makes us sensible of all its traits and habits. September--the morrow of August and eve of October, most affecting of months--is already sprinkling the fine days with subtle warnings. Already one knows the meaning of the dead leaves that flit about the flat stones like a flock of sparrows.

In truth we have got used to each other's company, we and this place. So often transplanted, we are taking root here, and we no longer actually think of going away, even when we talk about it.

"The 11th Division jolly well stayed a month and a half resting," says Blaire.

"And the 375th, too, nine weeks!" replies Barque, in a tone of challenge.

"I think we shall stay here at least as long--at least, I say."

"We could finish the war here all right."

Barque is affected by the words, nor very far from believing them. "After all, it will finish some day, what!"

"After all!" repeat the others.

"To be sure, one never knows," says Paradis. He says this weakly, without deep conviction. It is, however, a saying which leaves no room for reply. We say it over again, softly, lulling ourselves with it as with an old song.

* * * * * *

Farfadet rejoined us a moment ago. He took his place near us, but a little withdrawn all the same, and sits on an overturned tub, his chin on his fists.

This man is more solidly happy than we are. We know it well, and he knows it well. Lifting his head he has looked in turn, with the same distant gaze, at the back of the old man who went to seek his treasure, and at the group that talks of going away no more. There shines over our sensitive and sentimental comrade a sort of personal glamour, which makes of him a being apart, which gilds him and isolates him from us, in spite of himself, as though an officer's tabs had fallen on him from the sky.

His idyll with Eudoxie has continued here. We have had the proofs; and once, indeed, he spoke of it. She is not very far away, and they are very near to each other. Did I not see her the other evening, passing along the wall of the parsonage, her hair but half quenched by a mantilla, as she went obviously to a rendezvous? Did I not see that she began to hurry and to lean forward, already smiling? Although there is no more between them yet than promises and assurances, she is his, and he is the man who will hold her in his arms.

Then, too, he is going to leave us, called to the rear, to Brigade H.Q., where they want a weakling who can work a typewriter. It is official; it is in writing; he is saved. That gloomy future at which we others dare not look is definite and bright for him.

He looks at an open window and the dark gap behind it of some room or other over there, a shadowy room that bemuses him. His life is twofold in hope; he is happy, for the imminent happiness that does not yet exist is the only real happiness down here.

So a scanty spirit of envy grows around him. "One never knows," murmurs Paradis again, but with no more confidence than when before, in the straitened scene of our life to-day, he uttered those immeasurable words.
Site Admin
Posts: 33189
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Wed Oct 19, 2016 12:45 am

7. Entraining

THE next day, Barque began to address us, and said: "I'll just explain to you what it is. There are some i----"

A ferocious whistle cut his explanation off short, on the syllable. We were in a railway station, on a platform. A night alarm had torn us from our sleep in the village and we had marched here. The rest was over; our sector was being changed; they were throwing us somewhere else. We had disappeared from Gauchin under cover of darkness without seeing either the place or the people, without bidding them good-by even in a look, without bringing away a last impression.

A locomotive was shunting, near enough to elbow us, and screaming full-lunged. I saw Barque's mouth, stoppered by the clamor of our huge neighbor, pronounce an oath, and I saw the other faces grimacing in deafened impotence, faces helmeted and chin-strapped, for we were sentries in the station.

"After you!" yelled Barque furiously, addressing the white-plumed whistle. But the terrible mechanism continued more imperiously than ever to drive his words back in his throat. When it ceased, and only its echo rang in our ears, the thread of the discourse was broken for ever, and Barque contented himself with the brief conclusion, "Oui."

Then we looked around us. We were lost in a sort of town. Interminable strings of trucks, trains of forty to sixty carriages, were taking shape like rows of dark-fronted houses, low built, all alike, and divided by alleys. Before us, alongside the collection of moving houses, was the main line, the limitless street where the white rails disappeared at both ends, swallowed up in distance. Sections of trains and complete trains were staggering in great horizontal columns, leaving their places, then taking them again. On every side one heard the regular hammering on the armored ground, piercing whistles, the ringing of warning bells, the solid metallic crash of the colossal cubes telescoping their steel stumps, with the counter-blows of chains and the rattle of the long carcases' vertebrae. On the ground floor of the building that arises in the middle of the station like a town ball, the hurried bell of telegraph and telephone was at work, punctuated by vocal noises. All about on the dusty ground were the goods sheds, the low stores through whose doors one could dimly see the stacked interiors--the pointsmen's cabins, the bristling switches, the hydrants, the latticed iron posts whose wires ruled the sky like music-paper; here and there the signals, and rising naked over this flat and gloomy city, two steam cranes, like steeples.

Farther away, on waste ground and vacant sites in the environs of the labyrinth of platforms and buildings, military carts and lorries were standing idle, and rows of horses, drawn out farther than one could see.

"Talk about the job this is going to be!"--"A whole army corps beginning to entrain this evening!"--"Tiens, they're coming now!"

A cloud which overspread a noisy vibration of wheels and the rumble of horses' hoofs was coming near and getting bigger in the approach to the station formed by converging buildings.

"There are already some guns on board." On some flat trucks down there, between two long pyramidal dumps of chests, we saw indeed the outline of wheels, and some slender muzzles. Ammunition wagons, guns and wheels were streaked and blotched with yellow, brown, and green.

"They're camouflés. [note 1] Down there, there are even horses painted. Look! spot that one, there, with the big feet as if he had trousers on. Well, he was white, and they've slapped some paint on to change his color."

The horse in question was standing apart from the others, which seemed to mistrust it, and displayed a grayish yellow tone, obviously with intent to deceive. "Poor devil!" said Tulacque.

"You see," said Paradis, "we not only take 'em to get killed, but mess them about first!"

"It's for their good, any way!"

"Eh oui, and us too, it's for our good!"

Towards evening soldiers arrived. From all sides they flowed towards the station. Deep-voiced non-coms. ran in front of the files. They were stemming the tide of men and massing them along the barriers or in railed squares--pretty well everywhere. The men piled their arms, dropped their knapsacks, and not being free to go out, waited, buried side by side in shadow.

The arrivals followed each other in volume that grew as the twilight deepened. Along with the troops, the motors flowed up, and soon there was an unbroken roar. Limousines glided through an enormous sea of lorries, little, middling, and big. All these cleared aside, wedged themselves in, subsided in their appointed places. A vast hum of voices and mingled noises arose from the ocean of men and vehicles that beat upon the approaches to the station and began in places to filter through.

"That's nothing yet," said Cocon, The Man of Figures. "At Army Corps Headquarters alone there are thirty officers' motors; and you don't know," he added, "how many trains of fifty trucks it takes to entrain all the Corpsmen and all the box of tricks--except, of course, the lorries, that'll join the new sector on their feet? Don't guess, fiat-face. It takes ninety."

"Great Scott! And there are thirty-three Corps?"

"There are thirty-nine, lousy one!"

The turmoil increases; the station becomes still more populous. As far as the eye can make out a shape or the ghost of a shape, there is a hurly-burly of movement as lively as a panic. All the hierarchy of the non-coms. expand themselves and go into action, pass and repass like meteors, wave their bright-striped arms, and multiply the commands and counter-commands that are carried by the worming orderlies and cyclists, the former tardy, the latter maneuvering in quick dashes, like fish in water.

Here now is evening, definitely. The blots made by the uniforms of the poilus grouped about the hillocks of rifles become indistinct, and blend with the ground; and then their mass is betrayed only by the glow of pipes and cigarettes. In some places on the edge of the clusters, the little bright points festoon the gloom like illuminated streamers in a merry-making street.

Over this confused and heaving expanse an amalgam of voices rises like the sea breaking on the shore: and above this unending murmur, renewed commands, shouts, the din of a shot load or of one transferred, the crash of steam-hammers redoubling their dull endeavors, and the roaring of boilers.

In the immense obscurity, surcharged with men and with all things, lights begin everywhere to appear. These are the flash-lamps of officers and detachment leaders, and the cyclists' acetylene lamps, whose intensely white points zigzag hither and thither and reveal an outer zone of pallid resurrection.

An acetylene searchlight blazes blindingly out and depicts a dome of daylight. Other beams pierce and rend the universal gray.

Then does the station assume a fantastic air. Mysterious shapes spring up and adhere to the sky's dark blue. Mountains come into view, rough-modeled, and vast as the ruins of a town. One can see the beginning of unending rows of objects, finally plunged in night. One guesses what the great bulks may be whose outermost outlines flash forth from a black abyss of the unknown.

On our left, detachments of cavalry and infantry move ever forward like a ponderous flood. We hear the diffused obscurity of voices. We see some ranks delineated by a flash of phosphorescent light or a ruddy glimmering, and we listen to long-drawn trails of noise.

Up the gangways of the vans whose gray trunks and black mouths one sees by the dancing and smoking flame of torches, artillerymen are leading horses. There are appeals and shouts, a frantic trampling of conflict, and the angry kicking of some restive animal--insulted by its guide--against the panels of the van where he is cloistered.

Not far away, they are putting wagons on to railway trucks. Swarming humanity surrounds a hill of trusses of fodder. A scattered multitude furiously attacks great strata of bales.

"That's three hours we've been on our pins," sighs Paradis.

"And those, there, what are they?" In some snatches of light we see a group of goblins, surrounded by glowworms and carrying strange instruments, come out and then disappear.

"That's the searchlight section," says Cocon.

"You've got your considering cap on, camarade; what's it about?"

"There are four Divisions, at present, in an Army Corps," replies Cocon; "the number changes, sometimes it is three, sometimes five. Just now, it's four. And each of our Divisions," continues the mathematical one, whom our squad glories in owning, "includes three R.I.-- regiments of infantry; two B.C.P.--battalions of chasseurs pied; one R.T.I.--regiment of territorial infantry--without counting the special regiments, Artillery, Engineers, Transport, etc., and not counting either Headquarters of the D.I. and the departments not brigaded but attached directly to the D.I. A regiment of the line of three battalions occupies four trains, one for H.Q., the machine-gun company, and the C.H.R. (compagnie hors rang [note 2] and one to each battalion. All the troops won't entrain here. They'll entrain in echelons along the line according to the position of the quarters and the period of reliefs."

"I'm tired," says Tulacque. "We don't get enough solids to eat, mark you. We stand up because it's the fashion, but we've no longer either force or freshness."

"I've been getting information," Cocon goes on; "the troops--the real troops--will only entrain as from midnight. They are still mustered here and there in the villages ten kilometers round about. All the departments of the Army Corps will first set off, and the E.N.E.--éléments non endivisionnés," Cocon obligingly explains, "that is, attached directly to the A.C. Among the E.N.E. you won't see the Balloon Department nor the Squadron--they're too big goods, and they navigate on their own, with their staff and officers and hospitals. The chasseurs regiment is another of these E.N.E."

"There's no regiment of chasseurs," says Barque, thoughtlessly, "it's battalions. One says 'such and such a battalion of chasseurs.'"

We can see Cocon shrugging his shoulders in the shadows, and his glasses cast a scornful gleam. "Think so, duck-neb? Then I'll tell you, since you're so clever, there are two--foot chasseurs and horse chasseurs."

"Gad! I forgot the horsemen," says Barque.

"Only them!" Cocon said. "In the E.N.E. of the Army Corps, there's the Corps Artillery, that is to say, the central artillery that's additional to that of the divisions. It includes the H.A.--heavy artillery; the T.A.--trench artillery; the A.D.--artillery depot, the armored cars, the anti-aircraft batteries--do I know, or don't I? There's the Engineers; the Military Police--to wit, the service of cops on foot and slops on horseback; the Medical Department; the Veterinary ditto; a squadron of the Draught Corps; a Territorial regiment for the guards and fatigues at H.Q.--Headquarters; the Service de l'lntendance, [note 3] and the supply column. There's also the drove of cattle, the Remount Depot, the Motor Department--talk about the swarm of soft jobs I could tell you about in an hour if I wanted to!--the Paymaster that controls the pay-offices and the Post, the Council of War, the Telegraphists, and all the electrical lot. All those have chiefs, commandants, sections and sub-sections, and they're rotten with clerks and orderlies of sorts, and all the bally box of tricks. You can see from here the sort of job the C.O. of a Corp's got!"

At this moment we were surrounded by a party of soldiers carrying boxes in addition to their equipment, and parcels tied up in paper that they bore reluctantly and anon placed on the ground, puffing.

"Those are the Staff secretaries. They are a part of the H.Q.--Headquarters--that is to say, a sort of General's suite. When they're flitting, they lug about their chests of records, their tables, their registers, and all the dirty oddments they need for their writing. Tiens! see that, there; it's a typewriter those two are carrying, the old papa and the little sausage, with a rifle threaded through the parcel. They're in three offices, and there's also the dispatch-riders' section, the Chancellerie, the A.C.T.S.--Army Corps Topographical Section--that distributes maps to the Divisions, and makes maps and plans from the aviators and the observers and the prisoners. It's the officers of all the departments who, under the orders of two colonels, form the Staff of the Army Corps. But the H.Q., properly so called, which also includes orderlies, cooks, storekeepers, workpeople, electricians, police, and the horsemen of the Escort, is bossed by a commandant."

At this moment we receive collectively a tremendous bump. "Hey, look out! Out of the way!" cries a man, by way of apology, who is being assisted by several others to push a cart towards the wagons. The work is hard, for the ground slopes up, and so soon as they cease to buttress themselves against the cart and adhere to the wheels, it slips back. The sullen men crush themselves against it in the depth of the gloom, grinding their teeth and growling, as though they fell upon some monster.

Barque, all the while rubbing his back, questions one of the frantic gang: "Think you're going to do it, old duckfoot?"

"Nom de Dieu!" roars he, engrossed in his job, "mind these setts! You're going to wreck the show!" With a sudden movement he jostles Barque again, and this time turns round on him: "What are you doing there, dung-guts, numskull?"

"Non, it can't be that you're drunk?" Barque retorts. "'What am I doing here?' It's good, that! Tell me, you lousy gang, wouldn't you like to do it too!"

"Out of the way!" cries a new voice, which precedes some men doubled up under burdens incongruous, but apparently overwhelming.

One can no longer remain anywhere. Everywhere we are in the way. We go forward, we scatter, we retire in the turmoil.

"In addition, I tell you," continues Cocon, tranquil as a scientist, "there are the Divisions, each organized pretty much like an Army Corps----"

"Oui, we know it; miss the deal!"

"He makes a fine to-do about it all, that mountebank in the horse-box on casters. What a mother-in-law he'd make!"

"I'll bet that's the Major's wrong-headed horse, the one that the vet said was a calf in process of becoming a cow."

"It's well organized, all the same, all that, no doubt about it," says Lamuse admiringly, forced back by a wave of artillerymen carrying boxes.

"That's true," Marthereau admits; "to get all this lot on the way, you've not got to be a lot of turnip-heads nor a lot of custards--Bon Dieu, look where you're putting your damned boots, you black-livered beast!"

"Talk about a flitting! When I went to live at Marcoussis with my family, there was less fuss than this. But then I'm not built that way myself."

We are silent; and then we hear Cocon saying, "For the whole French Army that holds the lines to go by-- I'm not speaking of those who are fixed up at the rear, where there are twice as many men again, and services like the ambulance that cost nine million francs and can clear you seven thousand cases a day--to see them go by in trains of sixty coaches each, following each other without stopping, at intervals of a quarter of an hour, it would take forty days and forty nights."

"Ah!" they say. It is too much effort for their imagination; they lose interest and sicken of the magnitude of these figures. They yawn, and with watering eyes they follow, in the confusion of haste and shouts and smoke, of roars and gleams and flashes, the terrible line of the armored train that moves in the distance, with fire in the sky behind it.


[note 1:] The word is likely to become of international usage. It stands for the use of paint in blotches of different colors, and of branches and other things to disguise almost any object that may be visible to hostile aircraft.--Tr.

[note 2:] Non-combatant.--Tr.

[note 3:] Akin to the British A.S.C.--Tr.
Site Admin
Posts: 33189
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

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

8. On Leave

EUDORE sat down awhile, there by the roadside well, before taking the path over the fields that led to the trenches, his hands crossed over one knee, his pale face uplifted. He had no mustache under his nose--only a little flat smear over each corner of his mouth. He whistled, and then yawned in the face of the morning till the tears came.

An artilleryman who was quartered on the edge of the wood--over there where a line of horses and carts looked like a gypsies' bivouac--came up, with the well in his mind, and two canvas buckets that danced at the end of his arms in time with his feet. In front of the sleepy unarmed soldier with a bulging bag he stood fast.

"On leave?"

"Yes," said Eudore; "just back."

"Good for you," said the gunner as he made off.

"You've nothing to grumble at--with six days' leave in your water-bottle!"

And here, see, are four more men coming down the road, their gait heavy and slow, their boots turned into enormous caricatures of boots by reason of the mud. As one man they stopped on espying the profile of Eudore.

"There's Eudore! Hello, Eudore! hello, the old sport! You're back then!" they cried together, as they hurried up and offered him hands as big and ruddy as if they were hidden in woolen gloves.

"Morning, boys," said Eudore.

"Had a good time? What have you got to tell us, my boy?"

"Yes," replied Eudore, "not so bad."

"We've been on wine fatigue, and we've finished. Let's go back together, pas?"

In single file they went down the embankment of the road--arm in arm they crossed the field of gray mud, where their feet fell with the sound of dough being mixed in the kneading-trough.

"Well, you've seen your wife, your little Mariette--the only girl for you--that you could never open your jaw without telling us a tale about her, eh?"

Eudore's wan face winced.

"My wife? Yes, I saw her, sure enough, but only for a little while--there was no way of doing any better--but no luck, I admit, and that's all about it."

"How's that?"

"How? You know that we live at Villers-l'Abbaye, a hamlet of four houses neither more nor less, astraddle over the road. One of those houses is our café, and she runs it, or rather she is running it again since they gave up shelling the village.

"Now then, with my leave coming along, she asked for a permit to Mont-St-Eloi, where my old folks are, and my permit was for Mont-St-Eloi too. See the move?

"Being a little woman with a head-piece, you know, she had applied for her permit long before the date when my leave was expected. All the same, my leave came before her permit. Spite o' that I set off--for one doesn't let his turn in the company go by, eh? So I stayed with the old people, and waited. I like 'em well enough, but I got down in the mouth all the same. As for them, it was enough that they could see me, and it worried them that I was bored by their company-how else could it be? At the end of the sixth day--at the finish of my leave, and the very evening before returning--a young man on a bicycle, son of the Florence family, brings me a letter from Mariette to say that her permit had not yet come----"

"Ah, rotten luck," cried the audience.

"And that," continued Eudore, "there was only one thing to do.--I was to get leave from the mayor of Mont-St-Eloi, who would get it from the military, and go myself at full speed to see her at Villers."

"You should have done that the first day, not the sixth!"

"So it seems, but I was afraid we should cross and me miss her--y'see, as soon as I landed, I was expecting her all the time, and every minute I fancied I could see her at the open door. So I did as she told me."

"After all, you saw her?"

"Just one day--or rather, just one night."

"Quite sufficient!" merrily said Lamuse, and Eudore the pale and serious shook his head under the shower of pointed and perilous jests that followed.

"Shut your great mouths for five minutes, chaps."

"Get on with it, petit."

"There isn't a great lot of it," said Eudore.

"Well, then, you were saying you had got a hump with your old people?"

"Ah, yes. They had tried their best to make up for Mariette--with lovely rashers of our own ham, and plum brandy, and patching up my linen, and all sorts of little spoiled-kid tricks--and I noticed they were still slanging each other in the old familiar way! But you talk about a difference! I always had my eye on the door to see if some time or other it wouldn't get a move on and turn into a woman. So I went and saw the mayor, and set off, yesterday, towards two in the afternoon--towards fourteen o'clock I might well say, seeing that I had been counting the hours since the day before! I had just one day of my leave left then.

"As we drew near in the dusk, through the carriage window of the little railway that still keeps going down there on some fag-ends of line, I recognized half the country, and the other half I didn't. Here and there I got the sense of it, all at once, and it came back all fresh to me, and melted away again, just as if it was talking to me. Then it shut up. In the end we got out, and I found--the limit, that was--that we had to pad the hoof to the last station.

"Never, old man, have I been in such weather. It had rained for six days. For six days the sky washed the earth and then washed it again. The earth was softening and shifting, and filling up the holes and making new ones."

"Same here--it only stopped raining this morning."

"It was just my luck. And everywhere there were swollen new streams, washing away the borders of the fields as though they were lines on paper. There were hills that ran with water from top to bottom. Gusts of wind sent the rain in great clouds flying and whirling about, and lashing our hands and faces and necks.

"So you bet, when I had tramped to the station, if some one had pulled a really ugly face at me, it would have been enough to make me turn back.

"But when we did get to the place, there were several of us--some more men on leave--they weren't bound for Villers, but they had to go through it to get somewhere else. So it happened that we got there in a lump--five old cronies that didn't know each other.

"I could make out nothing of anything. They've been worse shelled over there than here, and then there was the water everywhere, and it was getting dark.

"I told you there are only four houses in the little place, only they're a good bit off from each other. You come to the lower end of a slope. I didn't know too well where I was, no more than my pals did, though they belonged to the district and had some notion of the lay of it--and all the less because of the rain falling in bucketsful.

"It got so bad that we couldn't keep from hurrying and began to run. We passed by the farm of the Alleux---that's the first of the houses--and it looked like a sort of stone ghost. Bits of walls like splintered pillars standing up out of the water; the house was shipwrecked. The other farm, a little further, was as good as drowned dead.

"Our house is the third. It's on the edge of the road that runs along the top of the slope. We climbed up, facing the rain that beat on us in the dusk and began to blind us--the cold and wet fairly smacked us in the eye, flop!--and broke our ranks like machine-guns.

"The house! I ran like a greyhound--like an African attacking. Mariette! I could see her with her arms raised high in the doorway behind that fine curtain of night and rain--of rain so fierce that it drove her back and kept her shrinking between the doorposts like a statue of the Virgin in its niche. I just threw myself forward, but remembered to give my pals the sign to follow me. The house swallowed the lot of us. Mariette laughed a little to see me, with a tear in her eye. She waited till we were alone together and then laughed and cried all at once. I told the boys to make themselves at home and sit down, some on the chairs and the rest on the table.

"'Where are they going, ces messieurs?' asked Manette.

"'We are going to Vauvelles.'

"'Jésus!' she said, 'you'll never get there. You can't do those two miles and more in the night, with the roads washed away, and swamps everywhere. You mustn't even try to.'

"'Well, we'll go on to-morrow, then; only we must find somewhere to pass the night.'

"'I'll go with you,' I said, 'as far as the Pendu farm--they're not short of room in that shop. You'll snore in there all right, and you can start at daybreak.'

"'Right! let's get a move on so far.'

"We went out again. What a downpour! We were wet past bearing. The water poured into our socks through the boot-soles and by the trouser bottoms, and they too were soaked through and through up to the knees. Before we got to this Pendu, we meet a shadow in a big black cloak, with a lantern. The lantern is raised, and we see a gold stripe on the sleeve, and then an angry face.

"'What the hell are you doing there?' says the shadow, drawing back a little and putting one fist on his hip, while the rain rattled like hail on his hood.

"'They're men on leave for Vauvelles--they can't set off again to-night--they would like to sleep in the Pendu farm.'

"'What do you say? Sleep here?--This is the police station--I am the officer on guard and there are Boche prisoners in the buildings.' And I'll tell you what he said as well--'I must see you hop it from here in less than two seconds. Bonsoir.'

"So we right about face and started back again--stumbling as if we were boozed, slipping, puffing, splashing and bespattering ourselves. One of the boys cried to me through the wind and rain, 'We'll go back with you as far as your home, all the same. If we haven't a house we've time enough.'

"'Where will you sleep?'

"'Oh, we'll find somewhere, don't worry, for the little time we have to kill here.'

"'Yes, we'll find somewhere, all right,' I said. 'Come in again for a minute meanwhile--I won't take no--and Mariette sees us enter once more in single file, all five of us soaked like bread in soup.

"So there we all were, with only one little room to go round in and go round again--the only room in the house, seeing that it isn't a palace.

'Tell me, madame,' says one of our friends, 'isn't there a cellar here?'

"'There's water in it,' says Mariette; 'you can't see the bottom step and it's only got two.'

"'Damn,' says the man, 'for I see there's no loft, either.'

"After a minute or two he gets up: 'Good-night, old pal,' he says to me, and they get their hats on.

"'What, are you going off in weather like this, boys?'

"'Do you think,' says the old sport, 'that we're going to spoil your stay with your wife?'

"'But, my good man----'

"'But me no buts. It's nine o'clock, and you've got to take your hook before day. So good-night. Coming, you others?'

"'Rather,' say the boys. 'Good-night all.'

"There they are at the door and opening it. Mariette and me, we look at each other--but we don't move. Once more we look at each other, and then we sprang at them. I grabbed the skirt of a coat and she a belt--all wet enough to wring out.

"'Never! We won't let you go--it can't be done.'


"'But me no buts,' I reply, while she locks the door."

"Then what?" asked Lamuse.

"Then? Nothing at all," replied Eudore. "We just stayed like that, very discreetly--all the night--sitting, propped up in the corners, yawning--like the watchers over a dead man. We made a bit of talk at first. From time to time some one said, 'Is it still raining?' and went and had a look, and said, 'It's still raining'--we could hear it, by the way. A big chap who had a mustache like a Bulgarian fought against sleeping like a wild man. Sometimes one or two among the crowd slept, but there was always one to yawn and keep an eye open for politeness, who stretched himself or half got up so that he could settle more comfortably.

"Mariette and me, we never slept. We looked at each other, but we looked at the others as well, and they looked at us, and there you are.

"Morning came and cleaned the window. I got up to go and look outside. The rain was hardly less. In the room I could see dark forms that began to stir and breathe hard. Mariette's eyes were red with looking at me all night. Between her and me a soldier was filling his pipe and shivering.

"Some one beats a tattoo on the window, and I half open it. A silhouette with a streaming hat appears, as though carried and driven there by the terrible force of the blast that came with it, and asks----

"'Hey, in the café there! Is there any coffee to be had?'

"'Coming, sir, coming,' cried Mariette.

"She gets up from her chair, a little benumbed. Without a word she looks at her self in our bit of a mirror, touches her hair lightly, and says quite simply, the good lass----

"'I am going to make coffee for everybody.'

"When that was drunk off, we had all of us to go. Besides, customers turned up every minute.

"'Hey, la p'tite mère,' they cried, shoving their noses in at the half-open window, 'let's have a coffee--or three--or four'--'and two more again,' says another voice.

"We go up to Mariette to say good-by. They knew they had played gooseberry that night most damnably, but I could see plainly that they didn't know if it would be the thing to say something about it or just let it drop altogether.

"Then the Bulgarian made up his mind: 'We've made a hell of a mess of it for you, eh, ma p'tite dame?'

"He said that to show he'd been well brought up, the old sport.

"Mariette thanks him and offers him her hand---'That's nothing at all, sir. I hope you'll enjoy your leave.'

"And me, I held her tight in my arms and kissed her as long as I could--half a minute--discontented--my God, there was reason to be--but glad that Mariette had not driven the boys out like dogs, and I felt sure she liked me too for not doing it.

"'But that isn't all,' said one of the leave men, lifting the skirt of his cape and fumbling in his coat pocket; 'that's not all. What do we owe you for the coffees?'

"'Nothing, for you stayed the night with me; you are my guests.'

"'Oh, madame, we can't have that!'

"And how they set to to make protests and compliments in front of each other! Old man, you can say what you like--we may be only poor devils, but it was astonishing, that little palaver of good manners.

"'Come along! Let's be hopping it, eh?'

"They go out one by one. I stay till the last. Just then another passer-by begins to knock on the window--another who was dying for a mouthful of coffee. Mariette by the open door leaned forward and cried, 'One second!'

"Then she put into my arms a parcel that she had ready. 'I had bought a knuckle of ham--it was for supper--for us--for us two--and a liter of good wine. But, ma foi! when I saw there were five of you, I didn't want to divide it out so much, and I want still less now. There's the ham, the bread, and the wine. I give them to you so that you can enjoy them by yourself, my boy. As for them, we have given them enough,' she says.

"Poor Mariette," sighs Eudore. "Fifteen months since I'd seen her. And when shall I see her again? Ever?-- It was jolly, that idea of hers. She crammed all that stuff into my bag----"

He half opens his brown canvas pouch.

"Look, here they are! The ham here, and the bread, and there's the booze. Well, seeing it's there, you don't know what we're going to do with it? We're going to share it out between us, eh, old pals?"
Site Admin
Posts: 33189
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am


Return to Peace Initiatives

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest