It was nearly eleven o’clock when Kendall and his companions arrived in the old cathedral town of Meaux and found accommodations in the Hôtel Sirène, that rather quaint and down-at-heel hostelry which hides in a courtyard behind huge gates that close at an hour so early as to astonish Americans. Kendall was to discover that this was the universal custom in the smaller towns of the country—that the hotels closed themselves to guests in the early evening, and that to effect an entrance thereafter was an achievement.
They contrived, however, to find huddled accommodations, but Kendall did not find sleep for a long hour. Events were imminent, events both of the soul and material, and his imagination insisted upon handling them and scrutinizing them. Speculations upon the proximity of war mingled with anticipations and apprehensions of his relations with Andree…. He fancied she, too, was suffering a wakeful night….
In the morning he awoke and breakfasted in a dining-room filled with American newspaper correspondents, for Meaux was at that date one of their headquarters, with French and American officers and a few English Red Cross nurses…. Presently he was in his car again and moving through the narrow, crowded streets toward Montreuil. The open country, rolling, beautiful, rich, lay before him.
Here, indeed, were indications of war. The roads were crowded with the traffic of warfare, with vehicles of all sorts and descriptions moving toward the front or returning from the front. The greater part of them were huge French camions driven by poilus who looked out upon the world with eyes that had seen such sights as alter the fabric of a man’s soul during the four years that were drawing to a close. They were all in haste. American camions and camionettes and side-cars were rumbling or whizzing by. Refugees driving cows, urging on weary horses that dragged enormous two-wheeled carts heaped high with household treasures, appeared now and then…. These seemed to Kendall to savor more of the thing that was war than even such jolting, bumping pieces of artillery as he encountered now and then….
Kendall was within hearing of the big guns on the battle-line, yet all about him, spread in peaceful beauty, was a country apparently secure, apparently untouched by the devastation of an invading army. Yet, a few weeks before, German cavalry patrols had penetrated almost to this point. The fields were green and beautiful, promising abundant crops. Children were entering a little school-house just as children enter school-houses in America. Farmers were working in their fields…. If it had not been for the mass of military vehicles upon the roads and for an occasional distant rumble that might have been thunder, but was not the thunder of heaven, Kendall could not have sensed the proximity of war.
French soldiers on bicycles were frequent. Now a Frenchman on a bicycle is one of the sights of the war. Somehow he never seems to master the contrivance in all its intricacies. He can ride furiously in a straight line, coattails standing out straight behind, eyes fixed and determined, jaws set. So long as he follows a bee-line all is well, but you can read on his face that he realizes the uncertainty of life. Let him be compelled to swerve from his course, to turn a corner, or even to stop the machine to alight, and there is none so rash as to prophesy what will be forthcoming. Kendall saw one stocky poilu attempt to turn around. It was amazing! The man ricochetted off a camion against a stone pile, off the stone pile into a donkey-cart, off the donkey-cart into the arms of a troop of his marching comrades, scattering them like chickens, thence through the poilus in zigzag to a ditch, from which he presently rebounded, facing in the direction in which he had originally traveled. He did not turn. He had had enough of turning. Now he would keep on his way without meddling with Providence, doubtless intending to reach his destination by circumnavigating the globe….
Now Ken was passing long mule-teams driven by American boys whose faces were so incrusted in dust as to give them the appearance of figures carved out of ghastly rock. Ken could see the dust in drifts on their eyebrows, and their eyelashes had a strange albino-look. Again his car edged over to give space to a truck carrying to the rear the remnants of a destroyed German avion. This moved by to disclose a long column of Italian troops, armed not with rifles, but with picks and shovels—each man wearing on his cap a vivid red star. Not a hundred yards beyond was visible the gray rump of an observation balloon, kneeling on the ground in the midst of a cluster of trees like some unbelievably monstrous elephant, its back incrusted with something that might have been the green moss of great age. This was the camouflage to make it indistinguishable from the foliage of the trees…. Presently Kendall was passing groups of hangars, aeroplanes standing before them in the fields. Now it was a huge howitzer grunting and straining to be at its business farther ahead and lumberingly eager to join its voice with the roars of its companions. Once in a while by the roadside nestled a little plot of graves above which waved the tricolor of France….
An hour’s drive brought them to Montreuil and Kendall’s car descended the steep and crooked road that led into the valley where the tiny village, teeming with American soldiers, lay in all its morning charm…. It was not quiet. There sounded, every minute or so, the sharp crack of the marvelous little seventy-five sending its word of defiance to the German army which crouched behind the hills, making ready for another leap at the throat of France.
There was no stopping here. On they went along roads whose wooded sides concealed American artillerymen and artillery. Here was the edge of the front. Guns were actually firing over Kendall’s head at the distant and invisible enemy. He thrilled to this realization…. In a few moments they passed on their left a beautiful château, historic because it had been occupied by von Kluck as headquarters when his armies were rushing onward to meet their defeat at the Marne. The car passed through Bezu, where was an American field hospital occupying a tiny church, its operating-room now in the adjoining building, which had been, a few weeks before, the school crowded with urchins…. But there was neither priest nor school-boy now. All were gone; all had fled before the Hun and were scattered, God knew where, over the face of France.
Now Kendall’s driver turned off the main road and shortly another hamlet lay before them—the remnants of the place that had been Domptin. Here a military policeman halted them, demanded credentials and destination.
“You walk from here,” he said. “No cars pass over this road by day.”
“You know the way?” Ken asked his driver.
So they alighted and trudged along the road. Ken observed many little craters by the roadside and in the fields, and, without asking, knew they had been caused by hostile shells…. It was very noisy—or so Kendall fancied. Artillery was at work on all sides of him, but it was only the desultory fire of the quiet day. Though the voices of the guns were audible, neither guns nor the men who served them were to be seen. Kendall’s pulse increased; he felt in the pit of his stomach that electric sensation which always came to him while he stood waiting for the referee’s whistle at the start of a football game.
They walked on. Even here, where the affairs of war were unmistakable, there was that exotic sense of peace. The woods were still green, the bushes thick and covered with foliage, the crops, almost ready for the reaper, waving and undulating as the breezes crossed the fields…. No human being was visible. Yet here ahead, to the right and to the left, was the locale of one of the most savage struggles of the war; here it was that the American Second Division was thrown into the line to stop the German as he marched, victory-flushed, upon Paris…. And here the German had stopped…. Just beyond were fields of wheat and woodlands tenanted by no living being, but nevertheless tenanted. In their depths, concealed from the eye, not reachable by any human hand, were the unburied bodies of American dead….
“Here we are,” said Kendall’s driver, pointing to a gray rectangular mass of buildings just ahead. “Paris Farms. Regimental headquarters of the Ninth Infantry.”
They entered the gates, passed the saluting sentry, and found themselves in a square courtyard surrounded by barns and farm buildings, with the old farm-house at the opposite end. Groups of men in khaki sat close to the walls. None were in the middle of the courtyard, and Kendall’s driver, instead of leading him up the path that ran directly to the door, conducted him in a round-about way, his shoulder rubbing the wall…. In the air above was the intermittent throb of a German aeroplane reconnoitering, and it was the duty as well as the desire of all men to remain invisible….
Life, for the most part, is made up of small matters, of small joys and small griefs, of little pleasurable surprises and minor catastrophes. In the ratio as the little joys outnumber the little sorrows we are happy. Tremendous events, crashing climaxes, occur in few lives. But we like to fancy ourselves participants in astonishing doings, and as the victims of beneficiaries of amazing coincidences. We are so constituted that we can be amazed at the slightest deviation from the normal, and the arrival of a genuine surprise can set us all by the ears with excitement…. A benevolent surprise awaited Kendall inside the door of the ancient farm-house. It was of not the least importance in the scheme of the universe and would not modify Kendall’s life by the breadth of a hair, yet it was potent to overshadow everything else in his mind for hours and to make him feel that he had been singled out by the powers for especial grace.
There was a broad hallway, cluttered with bedding rolls and occupied by a group of lounging soldiers. At the right was a room occupied as the office of the adjutant, which Kendall entered a trifle diffidently as a stranger, wondering what manner of men he would be required to have dealings with…. And then….
“Ken Ware!” shouted a voice, and a young second lieutenant with the most pitiable of mustaches—a yellow and yearning mustache—leaped from a desk at his right to greet him. “Where did you rain down from, and where did you get all those bars on your shoulders?”
It was Jimmy Martin, whom Kendall had last known as a newspaper man in Detroit, with whom he had been familiar in those affairs of young manhood which make for friendships to be looked back upon with longing and regret when the days and the affairs of young manhood have been engulfed in the past.
“What are you doing? What are you doing here?” Jimmy demanded.
“I’m in the Intelligence. And you—?”
“Intelligence officer of this regiment…. And only a second lieutenant. Ought to be a captain. Doing a captain’s work. Say”—he was a sudden young man—“wait till I get my tin lid and cane and we’ll go to see the sights. How long are you here?”
“Bring on your sights,” said Kendall. “While you are exhibiting I can get from you what I came for.”
“Wish you could stay. We’ve got a darn good mess. Not as good as we had the first few days, but good.”
“Why the first few days?”
“We went out and gathered up stuff to eat—to save it from the boche.”
“Not exactly. We gathered it in and ate it to prevent its giving aid and comfort to the enemy. One day we got a pig at eleven-thirty and had chops for lunch at one. The colonel said that pork was too close to being pig for him. Next day we had rabbits. Speared them with pitchforks. There was a bully strawberry-patch up the line and we had plenty until a regiment of Senegalese moved in and looted it. There’s a patch of gooseberries in No Man’s Land, and we have the devil’s own time keeping the men from going out after them.”
As they passed out and through the barn into the woods Kendall explained his errand, and the conversation became technical. Whatever else he might have been, Jimmy Martin was engrossed in his particular job and, apparently, was admirably efficient. The greater part of the data Kendall wanted was at Jimmy’s tongue’s end; the rest would be readily obtainable from available records of Martin’s work.
By this time they had traversed a plainly marked road which led along the end of a field bordering the woods, and Jimmy complained bitterly of its evidence. “We’ve made that road since we came here. It’ll show up plain on their photographs and show a lot of circulation here…. You can see they’ve been droppin’ shells on it now.”
They entered the denseness of the woods to find it teeming with American soldiery who occupied the quiet of the day in enlarging and making more comfortable the makeshift dugouts they inhabited…. These were not such dugouts as Kendall had seen described in books about the war; they were such affairs as he had made himself when he was a boy and called “coojees,” where he had played robber and baked potatoes. They were hastily dug and as hastily covered with a mat of boughs and a layer of earth—flimsy sanctuaries, able to shelter from spraying shrapnel, but of no effect whatever against explosive shell.
Suddenly an invisible seventy-five was discharged almost at Kendall’s elbow, and Jimmy laughed to see his friend’s reaction to the unexpected sound. They parted the bushes and examined the beautiful little gun—that weapon which one may almost say has been the salvation of France!
A captain of artillery issued belligerently from a timbered dugout and confronted Martin. “Say,” he demanded, “you’re the ding-donged Intelligence officer that had me pinched the other night. Ain’t you?”
“Oh, was it you? Sorry. The boys are sort of stirred up about spies. They didn’t savvy you. When a strange officer comes poking around these woods looking for a place to light and asking oodles of questions about whether there’s artillery here and such like, somethin’s goin’ to happen. A couple of boys came rushin’ up to me to ask what to do, and I told them to pinch you. This place is full of spy rumors. Everybody’s seein’ them. The doughboy that hasn’t seen somethin’ darn mysterious and suspicious in the last twenty-four hours is hard to find.”
“Forget it. I was some lost. Should have reported before I came down.”
“Where was it they got Lieutenant Small last night?”
“Down this path about a hundred yards. His horse is there yet.”
Kendall and Martin walked that way. Under a shelter of boughs stood the handsome horse of which the dead lieutenant had been so fond; he stood quietly switching his tail and nibbling the leaves about him, all unconscious that his back would never again bear the weight of a gentle master…. And thirty feet away was the spot where Small had met his death, met it because he had scorned the shelter of a dugout, but with his French orderly had slept on the surface of the earth, with no shelter except a lean-to of brushwood…. On the surrounding bushes were gruesome shreds….
So this was war at last! On this spot a man had been killed by the enemy and the blood of him was not yet dry!… Somehow it convinced Kendall that he was at the front, that there was actual danger where he stood. He was experiencing the thing he had come to France hoping to experience…. And yet it was difficult to feel the fact. He had fancied the line of battle to be a constant tumult, horrible with tremendous showers of bursting shells and glorious with charges and defenses. In its stark actuality it was quite different. Affairs were gone about nonchalantly and methodically. Even the artillerymen who sent a shell now and then at some target they could not see served their guns in a bored manner.
It was only by a certain tingling of the nerves that he, a tenderfoot in this business, sensed the presence of war; that war was here about him, within reach of his arm. Those seventy-fives which spoke with such a vicious, through-the-teeth bark were sending lethal shells across the sunlit landscape, causing death and wounds. Possibly that very shell which he could hear as it sped on its way might kill an enemy…. And these boys killed with an air of detachment and ennui….
And the infantrymen! Scattered through the woods about their rabbit-warren of dugouts, they looked and acted like boys on holiday, on some camping excursion. They chatted and frolicked, and grumbled about the food, and because they were not relieved and sent to rest billets, and because the enemy did not try to advance, and because they themselves were not sent against the enemy. Kendall absorbed a feeling that they rather liked the whole thing, that it was just the life they were born to and were fitted to live—and that they knew it.
It was a picture, there in the bois, a picture that touched the imagination of that young man from the peaceful Middle West and would not soon be erased from his memory. The trees grew closely, admitting only patches of sunlight here and there, with an effect of peaceful, lazy, restful shade. One saw dimly. The scene was soothing to the eyes, alive as it was with movement. The brown of uniforms blended with the yellow-green of the foliage and with the red-yellow of the upturned soil where it had been broken by hundreds of shovels in the fashioning of shelters…. Kendall stood and watched and knew that he was beholding a sight which, in the years of his age, he would see again and describe again, and live again in the telling…. It excited him, yet he wondered why it should excite him more than it had done when he had seen other khaki-clad boys in camps in America…. It was because these boys slept with death for a blanket-mate. It was because no man of them knew what minute might call him with awful suddenness over the threshold of life and into the mysteries of death….
There had been no fire from the enemy. Since the dawn their guns had been silent, but now, without warning, the air was filled with a threat, with a sound which Kendall had never heard before, but which he recognized by the instinct of self-preservation which resided in him. It was the rushing, shrieking, rending, express-train rush of a big shell—not of a shell going, but of one coming. It startled Kendall. For an instant he was blind and deaf to everything in the universe but the approach of that shell, and it seemed to him to be directing itself exactly at the small of his back. He wanted to dodge, to run, to obliterate himself from that portion of the earth, but there was no place to betake himself. It was a matter of seconds, of parts of a second. The shell screeched over their heads and detonated over toward the farm-house…. And Ken became fully conscious again, a bit surprised that he was still in the same spot and that he had not made himself ridiculous.
And now pictures came to him that he had seen in that interval, pictures seen but registering now for the first time. He laughed…. The woods had resolved itself into a prairie-dog village at the first instant of alarm. The air had been full of diving legs as soldiers plunged headlong into the earth. Everywhere Ken’s eyes had looked they had seen an American soldier disappearing with comical haste into the bowels of the earth.
“It was about time for them to start,” said Martin. “We’d better get back to headquarters. I may be wanted.”
They walked back hurriedly while shell after shell screamed down at them as it rushed over their heads. Ken was silent. He was thinking: “I’m under fire. I’m really under fire. The enemy is shooting at me…. They are trying to kill me.” It was not easy to convince his mind.
As they entered the farm-house the shells were coming in rapid succession and exploding in the vicinity with tremendous detonations. Young Martin cocked his ear and hazarded an opinion as to their caliber…. A jagged fragment, hurtled from an explosion a hundred feet away, crashed through the roof and came to rest on the second floor. Young Martin was delighted; he rushed up-stairs after the bit, carrying it down gingerly wrapped in a cloth, for it was still hot, and then with joy applied gauges and calipers to it so that he might identify it exactly…. He was happy. The gauge was as he had named it.
“Say,” he said over his shoulder to several officers who were gathered in the room, “listen here: now comes this man with orders for us to report on the crops of the neighborhood. Kind of crops. Quantity. Quality. How many kernels of wheat to the head…. My business is collecting information about the Germans….”
“Huh!” grunted the lieutenant-colonel, who evidently in civilian life had been acquainted with market reports, “snails weak to medium. Frogs strong. Give it to ’em, boy. Full particulars.”
“Say, colonel, you know that woods we were talking about.” Martin pointed to a map on the wall. “The boches are using it. My men have reported circulation there, and they’ve been putting up camouflage. How many shells will it take to gas ’em out? I’d like to get ’em out of there.”
“Have to have brigade orders to use gas….”
Blammm! came a detonation unpleasantly near, but still beyond the headquarters. The colonel cocked his ear. “Boy, don’t you make them no shorter,” he drawled.
The adjutant entered. “General’s here. Come to mess. He and the colonel are coming down-stairs now. All in.”
All filed into the mess-room. The younger officers had been full of boyish spirits and pranks, but decorum settled on them as they entered the door. They seemed suddenly to grow up and to acquire the demeanor of maturity, and stood erect in stately manner while Kendall was presented to the general and the colonel…. And then the meal proceeded. Kendall wondered where the food came from, but asked no embarrassing questions about the source of supplies. There was chicken, there were potatoes, there was fresh asparagus, there was custard pudding, there were cheese and coffee and cherries—and then cigars.
“Don’t get the idea we pass cigars at every mess,” whispered a daring lieutenant in Kendall’s ear. “Just throwin’ ourselves in honor of the general….”
The bombardment had increased in violence during the meal, had increased to such a degree that Kendall thought rather more of falling shells than of food…. There was absolutely no protection. A shell might crash down upon them through the frail structure at will…. But nobody appeared to mind. Kendall reflected that he, perhaps, did not appear to mind, and wondered if the others were experiencing the same sensations as he. He did not see how it could be otherwise. Or had they found some magic philosophy which rendered them immune to reflections upon sudden death?… The general told the colonel a humorous anecdote, and the colonel replied to it with another equally pointless to Kendall’s way of thinking. Why in thunder, he wondered, didn’t they get through with this meal and go to a place a bit more sheltered?… But the seniors chatted on, apparently with placid enjoyment of Philippine and Cuban reminiscences, all to the accompaniment of bursting high-explosive shells, one of which could have obliterated that farm-house and all the men it contained.
But an end arrived. The general and the colonel arose, and it became etiquette for the juniors to arise as well. The dignitaries disappeared to the colonel’s quarters up the stairs, and a few of the younger officers went to the adjutant’s office across the hall, Kendall and Jimmy with them. The telephone on Martin’s desk buzzed and Jimmy lifted the receiver. He looked up with a frown.
“This nut down the road wants to know if the general’s killed yet.”
“Did he say general over that ’phone?”
“Then we can sit down and expect to get really shelled now.”
It was then that Kendall learned that the general theory was that the enemy had found means to tap all our telephone wires and to listen in to our conversations—a theory which has given rise to much quaint telephone conversation, couched in a language not hitherto known on this or any other planet.
Darkness was falling without, and with the darkness came a multiplication of the shells designed by the enemy for the discomfort of the regiment…. Kendall, to his surprise, was growing accustomed to the shells. He was conscious of them, but had lost something of his consciousness of the danger that was in them…. He was interested. It was an interesting spot and an interesting moment, and he sat quiet and wide of eye to miss no thrill that might be there for him…. Telephones were busy with messages coming and going, messages camouflaged by strange words and code numbers and weird names. When plain English was necessary the longest and most erudite words in the dictionary were sought, doubtless on the theory that the German was not educated to the point of comprehending them.
Everybody had his job, and everybody seemed to believe his especial piece of work to be the most important in the army. A lieutenant came in with a scowl of tremendous ferocity.
“Colonel,” he said, “we’ve got a damn bad situation. It’s that doctor. He refuses to give some of my wounded men wound chevrons. Says they aren’t wounded enough…. How bad has a man got to be shot before he’s wounded, anyhow?”
“My understanding,” said the lieutenant-colonel, “is that any man who is hurt enough to require medical attention is entitled to a chevron…. It doesn’t make any difference if he’s hurt by high explosive or hooked by a bull.”
The din was now terrific. French and American artillery had opened fire all along the line. So quickly did report follow explosion and explosion report that the whole mingled into one continuous and mighty sound. And during it all the young Intelligence officer quarreled with a sergeant who was his draftsman, as they tried to reconcile maps drawn from observers’ sketches with photographs taken from aeroplanes.
“Aw, hell!” growled the draftsman, “this guy’s made a conventionalized design. What we’re lookin’ for is what’s on the ground, not some guy’s pretty ideas. You want me to make a map to send up to the general, and what the devil have I got to make it from? I’m S.O.L…. There hain’t no damn woods like that.”
“Here,” declared Jimmy, indicating on maps and photographs, “this woods is supposed to be that woods, and this trench is supposed to be that trench.”
“Expect me to send a map to the general and label it ‘Supposed?…’ That map’s pretty, all right, but it hain’t worth a hoot in Hoboken. Call him up and ask him what the blazes—”
Kendall laughed, and was surprised to discover that he could laugh, that anything would seem humor in this place with death showering down on all sides.
Now the attentions of the enemy seemed to take on the aspect of a serious effort, for the officers of experience began to gather and to hold consultations and to listen with marked interest.
“Gas!” somebody said. “Listen! Hear it?”
Kendall listened, but could not distinguish the bursting of the gas-shell, so easily to be identified by the practised ear.
“Gas-masks at alerte,” was the order.
The telephone rang. “Shrapnel and gas here,” said an observer some place out in the darkness.
“Got your mask on?” demanded Jimmy.
“No. It ain’t bad yet.”
“You get that mask on and keep it on. Now. While I’m waiting…. Is it on? … There. You can telephone as well through a mask as without it. Try it…. All right.”
There was a moment of comparative inactivity, then the telephone again. “Mustard gas to the right,” was reported, and after a few moments a call from a certain company of infantry which had become unhappy in its position: “Say, we want a retaliatory barrage. We’re getting everything here—big, little, and gas.”
“They want a barrage,” reported Jimmy.
“Where do they want it?” asked the lieutenant-colonel.
“I don’t know. Wake George up; that’s his business…. Say, let’s notify the gas officer; we’re beginning to get it pretty close here.”
Jimmy called the person designated as George. “Hey!” he said, irreverently. “Get your pants on and come down. The adjutant wants you.”
It was very chilly. Ken shivered with the cold, and was rather thankful it was cold, because it gave him honest reason for shivering. He was keyed to a high pitch, nerves taut, imagination straining its leash, but he was enjoying himself after a strange fashion, reveling in this experience, in the sensations of peril, in the fact that he was at the very center of things. The artillery activity continued to increase, and the ear-shattering, sweeping, rolling gusts of infernal clamor seemed to reach a very climax of sound…. Again and again he could feel upon his own body the shock of adjacent explosions. It required but a few feet difference in the fall of one of those shells to mean all that stood between life and death for him…. And yet he was not afraid. He was not conscious of fear, only of that queer electric sensation, and of an elevation of spirits due to intense excitement.
The telephone insisted with a new insistence each moment. “Gas reported to the right…. Gas reported to the left….”
“What shall we do about it?” Jimmy asked the lieutenant-colonel.
“How about a little interdiction?” They spoke casually, as one would say, “The road is dusty,” and the other reply, “It might be well to sprinkle it.”
“It’ll be all right if we can get enough…. I’ll call up and ask for it.”
Then: “Hello!… Hello! Is this Hoboken?… They’re giving us more gas than we like … at right and left and in front…. Yes…. Been coming twenty minutes…. Is it worth while to retaliate?… Orders to use gas have to come from you.”
“We’re in for beaucoup casualties,” somebody said out of a moment’s pause.
“Say, you were too mild with Hoboken. I’d ’a’ told him we was gettin’ gas to beat the devil, and we had to have some doin’s of our own. Them birds don’t worry about what we’re gettin’ unless we holler loud.” This from the draftsman-sergeant.
“There!” The adjutant looked up at the ceiling. “Listen!… Boche aeroplane. I’ve heard it quite a spell. Directing their fire by the flash of our batteries…. Gawd! Why don’t we get more aeroplanes of our own!”
The telephone again, and Jimmy reported with what Kendall conceived to be relief, “He says he’ll have the hundred and fifty-fives and gas going in ten minutes.”
“Say,” somebody complained, “that boche aeroplane must be mired in a cloud. It sounds like it was standing still in one spot.”
“Stuck or not, she’s up there without any friendly intentions…. Say, we ought to go over to the States and shoot them peace-talkin’ pups.” It was the sergeant speaking again. “Anybody that wants to make peace with the boche!… They hain’t got no right pollutin’ the atmosphere….”
There came a pause while all waited hopefully for the “big stuff” that had been promised them—and presently it came. Kendall had believed the ultimate in sound had been achieved before, but this—this was impossible. Such an extreme from silence could not be. It was cosmic. It was awful. He seemed to be standing in the very center of such an upheaval as might have created worlds…. It upreared to a very ultimate climax of sound, to a single note made up of a multitude of gigantic sub-tones. It was amazing, it was terrifying, it was gratifying….
“Fritz is gettin’ his good,” said the sergeant, with profound satisfaction.
This continued an hour, and then gradually subsided. The German fire had become desultory—and then ceased. They had drawn upon themselves more than they liked by their evening’s strafing…. The silence that ensued was startlingly loud. One could hear it….
“I’m for some grub if we can rustle it,” said a raw-boned lieutenant.
The lieutenant-colonel yawned and stretched his arms high over his head. “Oh-hum!… Darn these quiet nights,” he said, with sincerity. “I thought for a while there was going to be something stirring.”
“Oh, I’m willing to have a rest once in a while,” said Jimmy. “I’m going to sleep. Gimme all these quiet nights you want to….”
Kendall looked at his watch. It was half past two in the morning…. Quiet nights! He wondered if they were making game of him, but as he looked back on the conduct of these young men during that night he was persuaded of their sincerity…. And he—he had fancied himself present at the unloosing of Inferno….
Presently he was lying on a bundle of hay on a stone floor, wrapped in his blankets…. A sentence, a scrap from the talk of the night, repeated itself to him, “We’re in for casualties.” He pondered it. Casualties—that meant wounded and dead; men mangled and men in the horrible agonies that follow the breathing of mustard gas…. Some of those boys he had seen a few hours ago down in the woods—only a few hundred feet away—were dead … dead! He had been near to death—had sat for hours where death might reach out and touch him upon the shoulder…. So this was war … this was how the thing was done!
It seemed so futile. What had been accomplished by this night’s slaughter? Neither side had advanced a foot; nothing had been won or lost…. But hundreds of lives had been wasted, hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of munitions had been expended—and why? For nothing that he could see, for no purpose except the desire of each side to make the other side uncomfortable…. That night could have been erased from the history of the war, and its absence would never have been noticed. Its activities had no more effect upon the course of the war than the barking of a dog would have had—and yet hundreds of bodies were tenantless, and hundreds of mothers would mourn their sons.
“War is scientific waste,” he said to himself, and repeated the phrase. He hated war because it was waste…. He wondered how many men had given their lives on just such futile nights as this during the years since August, 1914. Thousands upon thousands, doubtless…. How many of those girls he had seen in Paris had been deprived of husbands—of the men who would some day have been their husbands—in just such affairs? It was wrong—wrong…. War was a horrid disease, or was it the German nation which was a horrid disease? He could not think clearly…. He had thought little of mankind in the mass, but now he considered it, and his sympathy attached to it. It was futile to pity an individual, any individual, but one’s heart might bleed for mankind…. And most of all it might bleed for that portion of mankind whose duty it is to be the mothers of forthcoming generations—who were deprived by war of the right to fulfil that duty.
Then he found himself repeating over and over a phrase: “Little moments of happiness…. Little moments of happiness….” If men were to be wasted as they had been wasted this night, and if God could sit quiescent in His heaven, tolerating such wastage, then could that God deny to women their little moments of happiness as a partial, an infinitesimal, balm for the agony He permitted? Could He frown upon those little moments, or decree them to be evil?… He wondered how God stood on this question of morals. In a moment came an answer, but Kendall could not assert it to be a true answer. It was this: “God demands another generation of mankind.”
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