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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsPaths Of Glory: Impressions Of War Written At And Near The Front - Chapter 5. Being a Guest of the Kaiser
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Paths Of Glory: Impressions Of War Written At And Near The Front - Chapter 5. Being a Guest of the Kaiser Post by :ow24160 Category :Nonfictions Author :Irvin S. Cobb Date :May 2012 Read :6288

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Paths Of Glory: Impressions Of War Written At And Near The Front - Chapter 5. Being a Guest of the Kaiser

You know how four of us blundered into the German lines in a taxicab; and how, getting out of German hands after three days and back to Brussels, we undertook, in less than twenty-four hours thereafter, to trail the main forces then shoving steadily southward with no other goal before them but Paris.

First by hired hack, as we used to say when writing accounts of funerals down in Paducah, then afoot through the dust, and finally, with an equipment consisting of that butcher's superannuated dogcart, that elderly mare emeritus and those two bicycles, we made our zigzagging way downward through Belgium.

We knew that our credentials were, for German purposes, of most dubious and uncertain value. We knew that the Germans were permitting no correspondents--not even German correspondents--to accompany them. We knew that any alien caught in the German front was liable to death on the spot, without investigation of his motives. We knew all these things; and the knowledge of them gave a fellow tingling sensations in the tips of his toes when he permitted himself to think about his situation. But, after the first few hours, we took heart unto ourselves; for everywhere we met only kindness and courtesy at the hands of the Kaiser's soldiers, men and officers alike.

There was, it is true, the single small instance of the excited noncom. who poked a large, unwholesome-looking automatic pistol into my shrinking diaphragm when he wanted me to get off the running board of a military automobile into which I had climbed, half a minute before, by invitation of the private who steered it. I gathered his meaning right away, even though he uttered only guttural German and that at the top of his voice; a pointed revolver speaks with a tongue which is understood by all peoples. Besides, he had the distinct advantage in repartee; and so, with no extended argument, I got down from there and he pouched his ironmongery. I regarded the incident as being closed and was perfectly willing that it should remain closed.

That, however, though of consuming interest to me at the moment, was but a detail--an exception to prove the standing rule. One place we dined with a Rittmeister's mess; and while we sat, eating of their midday ration of thick pea soup with sliced sausages in it, some of the younger officers stood; also they let us stretch our wearied legs on their mattresses, which were ranged seven in a row on the parlor floor of a Belgian house, where from a corner a plaster statue of Joan of Arc gazed at us with her plaster eyes.

Common soldiers offered repeatedly to share their rye-bread sandwiches and bottled beer with us. Not once, but a dozen times, officers of various rank let us look at their maps and use their field glasses; and they gave us advice for reaching the zone of actual fighting and swapped gossip with us, and frequently regretted that they had no spare mounts or spare automobiles to loan us.

We attributed a good deal of this to the inherent kindliness of the German gentleman's nature; but more of it we attributed to a newborn desire on the part of these men to have disinterested journalists see with their own eyes the scope and result of the German operations, in the hope that the truth regarding alleged German atrocities might reach the outside world and particularly might reach America.

Of the waste and wreckage of war; of desolated homes and shattered villages; of the ruthless, relentless, punitive exactness with which the Germans punished not only those civilians they accused of firing on them but those they suspected of giving harbor or aid to the offenders; of widows and orphans; of families of innocent sufferers, without a roof to shelter them or a bite to stay them; of fair lands plowed by cannon balls, and harrowed with rifle bullets, and sown with dead men's bones; of men horribly maimed and mangled by lead and steel; of long mud trenches where the killed lay thick under the fresh clods--of all this and more I saw enough to cure any man of the delusion that war is a beautiful, glorious, inspiring thing, and to make him know it for what it is--altogether hideous and unutterably awful.

As for Uhlans spearing babies on their lances, and officers sabering their own men, and soldiers murdering and mutilating and torturing at will--I saw nothing. I knew of these tales only from having read them in the dispatches sent from the Continent to England, and from there cabled to American papers.

Even so, I hold no brief for the Germans; or for the reasons that inspired them in waging this war; or for the fashion after which they have waged it. I am only trying to tell what I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears.

Be all that as it may, we straggled into Beaumont--five of us--on the evening of the third day out from Brussels, without baggage or equipment, barring only what we wore on our several tired and drooping backs. As in the case of our other trip, a simple sight-seeing ride had resolved itself into an expeditionary campaign; and so there we were, bearing, as proof of our good faith and professional intentions, only our American passports, our passes issued by General von Jarotzky, at Brussels, and--most potent of all for winning confidence from the casual eye--a little frayed silk American flag, with a hole burned in it by a careless cigar butt, which was knotted to the front rail of our creaking dogcart.

Immediately after passing the ruined and deserted village of Montignies St. Christophe, we came at dusk to a place where a company of German infantrymen were in camp about a big graystone farmhouse. They were cooking supper over big trench fires and, as usual, they were singing. The light shone up into the faces of the cooks, bringing out in ruddy relief their florid skins and yellow beards. A yearling bull calf was tied to a supply-wagon wheel, bellowing his indignation. I imagine he quit bellowing shortly thereafter.

An officer came to the edge of the road and, peering sharply at us over a broken hedge, made as if to stop us; then changed his mind and permitted us to go unchallenged. Entering the town, we proceeded, winding our way among pack trains and stalled motor trucks, to the town square. Our little cavalcade halted to the accompaniment of good- natured titterings from many officers in front of the town house of the Prince de Caraman-Chimay.

By a few Americans the prince is remembered as having been the cousin of one of the husbands of the much-married Clara Ward, of Detroit; but at this moment, though absent, he had particularly endeared himself to the Germans through the circumstance of his having left behind, in his wine cellars, twenty thousand bottles of rare vintages. Wine, I believe, is contraband of war. Certainly in this instance it was. As we speedily discovered, it was a very unlucky common soldier who did not have a swig of rare Burgundy or ancient claret to wash down his black bread and sausage that night at supper.

Unwittingly we had bumped into the headquarters of the whole army--not of a single corps, but of an army. In the thickening twilight on the little square gorgeous staff officers came and went, afoot, on horseback and in automobiles; and through an open window we caught a glimpse of a splendid-looking general, sitting booted and sword-belted at a table in the Prince de Caraman-Chimay's library, with hunting trophies--skin and horn and claw--looking down at him from the high-paneled oak wainscotings, and spick-and-span aides waiting to take his orders and discharge his commissions.

It dawned on us that, having accidentally slipped through a hole in the German rear guard, we had reached a point close to the front of operations. We felt uncomfortable.

It was not at all likely that a Herr Over-Commander would expedite us with the graciousness that had marked his underlings back along the line of communication. We remarked as much to one another; and it was a true prophecy. A staff officer--a colonel who spoke good English--received us at the door of the villa and examined our papers in the light which streamed over his shoulder from a fine big hallway behind him. In everything, both then and thereafter, he was most polite.

"I do not understand how you came here, you gentlemen," he said at length. "We have no correspondents with our army."

"You have now," said one of us, seeking to brighten the growing embarrassment of the situation with a small jape.

Perhaps he did not understand. Perhaps it was against the regulations for a colonel, in full caparison of sword and shoulder straps, to laugh at a joke from a dusty, wayworn, shabby stranger in a dented straw hat and a wrinkled Yankee-made coat. At any rate this colonel did not laugh.

"You did quite right to report yourselves here and explain your purposes," he continued gravely; "but it is impossible that you may proceed. To-morrow morning we shall give you escort and transportation back to Brussels. I anticipate"--here he glanced quizzically at our aged mare, drooping knee-sprung between the shafts of the lopsided dogcart--"I anticipate that you will return more speedily than you arrived.

"You will kindly report to me here in the morning at eleven. Meantime remember, gentlemen, that you are not prisoners--by no means, not. You may consider yourselves for the time being as--shall we say?--guests of the German Army, temporarily detained. You are at perfect liberty to come and go--only I should advise you not to go too far, because if you should try to leave town tonight our soldiers would certainly shoot you quite dead. It is not agreeable to be shot; and, besides, your great Government might object. So, then, I shall have the pleasure of seeing you in the morning, shall I not? Yes? Good night, gentlemen!"

He clicked his neat heels so that his spurs jangled, and bowed us out into the dark. The question of securing lodgings loomed large and imminent before us. Officers filled the few small inns and hotels; soldiers, as we could see, were quartered thickly in all the houses in sight; and already the inhabitants were locking their doors and dousing their lights in accordance with an order from a source that was not to be disobeyed. Nine out of ten houses about the square were now but black oblongs rising against the gray sky. We had nowhere to go; and yet if we did not go somewhere, and that pretty soon, the patrols would undoubtedly take unpleasant cognizance of our presence. Besides, the searching chill of a Belgian night was making us stiff.

Scouting up a narrow winding alley, one of the party who spoke German found a courtyard behind a schoolhouse called imposingly L'Ecole Moyenne de Beaumont, where he obtained permission from a German sergeant to stable our mare for the night in the aristocratic companionship of a troop of officers' horses. Through another streak of luck we preempted a room in the schoolhouse and held it against all comers by right of squatter sovereignty. There my friends and I slept on the stone floor, with a scanty amount of hay under us for a bed and our coats for coverlets. But before we slept we dined.

We dined on hard-boiled eggs and stale cheese--which we had saved from midday--in a big, bare study hall half full of lancers. They gave us rye bread and some of the Prince de Caraman-Chimay's wine to go with the provender we had brought, and they made room for us at the long benches that ran lengthwise of the room. Afterward one of them--a master musician, for all his soiled gray uniform and grimed fingers--played a piano that was in the corner, while all the rest sang.

It was a strange picture they made there. On the wall, on a row of hooks, still hung the small umbrellas and book-satchels of the pupils. Presumably at the coming of the Germans they had run home in such a panic that they left their school-traps behind. There were sums in chalk, half erased, on the blackboard; and one of the troopers took a scrap of chalk and wrote "On to Paris!" in big letters here and there. A sleepy parrot, looking like a bundle of rumpled green feathers, squatted on its perch in a cage behind the master's desk, occasionally emitting a loud squawk as though protesting against this intrusion on its privacy.

When their wine had warmed them our soldier-hosts sang and sang, unendingly. They had been on the march all day, and next day would probably march half the day and fight the other half, for the French and English were just ahead; but now they sprawled over the school benches and drummed on the boards with their fists and feet, and sang at the tops of their voices. They sang their favorite marching songs--Die Wacht am Rhein, of course; and Deutschland, Deutschland, Uber Alles! which has a fine, sonorous cathedral swing to it; and God Save the King!--with different words to the air, be it said; and Haltet Aus! Also, for variety, they sang Tannenbaum--with the same tune as Maryland, My Maryland!--and Heil dir im Sieges-kranz; and snatches from various operas.

When one of us asked for Heine's Lorelei they sang not one verse of it, or two, but twenty or more; and then, by way of compliment to the guests of the evening, they reared upon their feet and gave us The Star Spangled Banner, to German words. Suddenly two of them began dancing. In their big rawhide boots, with hobbed soles and steel-shod heels, they pounded back and forth, while the others whooped them on. One of the dancers gave out presently; but the other seemed still unimpaired in wind and limb. He darted into an adjoining room and came back in a minute dragging a half-frightened, half-pleased little Belgian scullery maid and whirled her about to waltz music until she dropped for want of breath to carry her another turn; after which he did a solo--Teutonic version--of a darky breakdown, stopping only to join in the next song.

It was eleven o'clock and they were still singing when we left them and went groping through dark hallways to where our simple hay mattress awaited us. I might add that we were indebted to a corporal of lancers for the hay, which he pilfered from the feed racks outside after somebody had stolen the two bundles of straw one of us had previously purchased. Except for his charity of heart we should have lain on the cold flagging.

The next morning was Thursday morning, and by Thursday night, at the very latest, we counted on being back in Brussels; but we were not destined to see Brussels again for nearly six weeks. We breakfasted frugally on good bread and execrable coffee at a half-wrecked little cafe where soldiers had slept; and at eleven o'clock, when we had bestowed Bulotte, the ancient nag, and the dogcart on an accommodating youth--giving them to him as a gracious gift, since neither he nor anyone else would buy the outfit at any price--we repaired to the villa to report ourselves and start on our return to the place whence we had come so laboriously.

The commander and his staff were just leaving, and they were in a big hurry. We knew the reason for their hurry, for since daylight the sound of heavy firing to the south and southwest, across the border in the neighborhood of Maubeuge, had been plainly audible. Officers in long gray overcoats with facings of blue, green, black, yellow and four shades of red--depending on the branches of the service to which they belonged--were piling into automobiles and scooting away.

As we sat on a wooden bench before the prince's villa, waiting for further instructions from our friend of the night before--meaning by that the colonel who could not take a joke, but could make one of his own--a tall, slender young man of about twenty-four, with a little silky mustache and a long, vulpine nose, came striding across the square with long steps. As nearly as we could tell, he wore a colonel's shoulder straps; and, aside from the fact that he seemed exceedingly youthful to be a colonel, we were astonished at the deference that was paid him by those of higher rank, who stood about waiting for their cars. Generals, and the like, even grizzled old generals with breasts full of decorations, bowed and clicked before him; and when he, smiling broadly, insisted on shaking hands with all of them, some of the group seemed overcome with gratification.

Presently a sort of family resemblance in his face to some one whose picture we had seen often somewhere began to impress itself on us, and we wondered who he was; but, being rather out of the setting ourselves, none of us cared to ask. Two weeks later, in Aix-la-Chapelle, I was passing a shop and saw his likeness in full uniform on a souvenir postcard in the window. It was Prince August Wilhelm, fourth son of the Kaiser; and we had seen him as he was about getting his first taste of being under fire by the enemy.

Pretty soon he was gone and our colonel was gone, and nearly everybody else was gone too; Companies of infantry and cavalry fell in and moved off, and a belated battery of field artillery rumbled out of sight up the twisting main street. The field postoffice staff, the field telegraph staff, the Red Cross corps and the wagon trains followed in due turn, leaving behind only a small squad to hold the town--and us.

A tall young lieutenant was in charge of the handful who remained; and, by the same token, as was to transpire, he was also in charge of us. He was built for a football player, and he had shoulders like a Cyclops, and his family name was Mittendorfer. He never spoke to his men except to roar at them like a raging lion, and he never addressed us except to coo as softly as the mourning dove. It was interesting to listen as his voice changed from a bellow to a croon, and back again a moment later to a bellow. With training he might have made an opera singer--he had such a vocal range and such perfect control over it. This Lieutenant Mittendorfer introduced himself to our attention by coming smartly up and saying there had been a delay about requisitioning an automobile for our use; but he thought the car would be along very shortly--and would the American gentlemen be so good as to wait? There being nothing else to do, we decided to do as he suggested.

We chose for our place of waiting a row of seats before a taverne, and there we sat, side by side, keeping count of the guns booming in the distance, until it began to rain. A sergeant came up then and invited us to go with him, in order that we might escape a wetting. He waved us into the doorway of a house two doors from where we had been sitting, at the same time suggesting to us that we throw away our cigars and cigarettes. When we crossed the threshold we realized the good intention behind this advice, seeing that the room we entered, which had been a shop of sorts, was now an improvised powder magazine.

From the floor to the height of a man it was piled with explosive shells for field guns, cased in straw covers like wine bottles, and stacked in neat rows, with their noses all pointing one way. Our guide led us along an aisle of these deadly things, beckoned us through another doorway at the side, where a sentry stood with a bayonet fixed on his gun, and with a wave of his hand invited us to partake of the hospitalities of the place. We looked about us, and lo! we were hard- and-fast in jail!

I have been in pleasanter indoor retreats in my time, even on rainy afternoons. The room was bedded down ankle-deep in straw; and the straw, which had probably been fresh the day before, already gave off a strong musky odor--the smell of an animal cage in a zoo.

For furnishings, the place contained a bench and a large iron pot containing a meat stew, which had now gone cold, so that a rime of gray suet coated the upper half of the pot. But of human occupants there was an ample sufficiency, considering the cubic space available for breathing purposes. Sitting in melancholy array against the walls, with their legs half buried in the straw and their backs against the baseboards, were eighteen prisoners--two Belgian cavalrymen and sixteen Frenchmen--mostly Zouaves and chasseurs-a-pied. Also, there were three Turcos from Northern Africa, almost as dark as negroes, wearing red fezzes and soiled white, baggy, skirtlike arrangements instead of trousers. They all looked very dirty, very unhappy and very sleepy.

At the far side of the room on a bench was another group of four prisoners; and of these we knew two personally--Gerbeaux, a Frenchman who lived in Brussels and served as the resident Brussels correspondent of a Chicago paper; and Stevens, an American artist, originally from Michigan, but who for several years had divided his time between Paris and Brussels. With them were a Belgian photographer, scared now into a quivering heap from which two wall-eyes peered out wildly, and a negro chauffeur, a soot-black Congo boy who had been brought away from Africa on a training ship as a child. He, apparently, was the least-concerned person in that hole.

The night before, by chance, we had heard that Gerbeaux and Stevens were under detention, but until this moment of meeting we did not know their exact whereabouts. They--the Frenchman, the American and the Belgian-- had started out from Brussels in an auto driven by the African, on Monday, just a day behind us. Because their car carried a Red Cross flag without authority to do so, and because they had a camera with them, they very soon found themselves under arrest, and, what was worse, under suspicion. Except that for two days they had been marched afoot an average of twenty-five miles a day, they had fared pretty well, barring Stevens. He, being separated from the others, had fallen into the hands of an officer who treated him with such severity that the account of his experiences makes a tale worth recounting separately and at length.

We stayed in that place half an hour--one of the longest half hours I remember. There was a soldier with a fixed bayonet at the door, and another soldier with a saw-edged bayonet at the window, which was broken. Parties of soldiers kept coming to this window to peer at the exhibits within; and, as they invariably took the civilians for Englishmen who had been caught as spies, we attracted almost as much attention as the Turcos in their funny ballet skirts; in fact I may say we fairly divided the center of the stage with the Turcos.

At the end of half an hour the lieutenant bustled in, all apologies, to say there had been a mistake and that we should never have been put in with the prisoners at all. The rain being over, he invited us to come outside and get a change of air. When we got outside we found that our two bicycles, which we had left leaning against the curb, were gone. To date they are still gone.

Again we sat waiting. Finally it occurred to us to go inside the little taverne, where, perhaps, we should be less conspicuous. We went in, and presently we were followed by Lieutenant Mittendorfer, he bringing with him a tall young top-sergeant of infantry who carried his left arm in a sling and had a three weeks' growth of fuzzy red beard on his chops. It was explained that this top-sergeant, Rosenthal by name, had been especially assigned to be our companion--our playfellow, as it were;-- until such time as the long-delayed automobile should appear.

Sergeant Rosenthal, who was very proud of his punctured wrist and very hopeful of getting a promotion, went out soon; but it speedily became evident that he had not forgotten us. For one soldier with his gun appeared in the front room of the place, and another materialized just outside the door, likewise with his gun. And by certain other unmistakable signs it became plain to our perceptions that as between being a prisoner of the German army and being a guest there was really no great amount of difference. It would have taken a mathematician to draw the distinction, so fine it was.

We stayed in that taverne and in the small living room behind it, and in the small high-walled courtyard behind the living room, all that afternoon and that evening and that night, being visited at intervals by either the lieutenant or the sergeant, or both of them at once. We dined lightly on soldiers' bread and some of the prince's wine-- furnished by Rosenthal--and for dessert we had some shelled almonds and half a cake of chocolate--furnished by ourselves; also drinks of pale native brandy from the bar.

During the evening we received several bulletins regarding the mythical automobile. Invariably Mittendorfer was desolated to be compelled to report that there had been another slight delay. We knew he was desolated, because he said he was. During the evening, also, we met all the regular members of the household living under that much-disturbed roof. There was the husband, a big lubberly Fleming who apparently did not count for much in the economic and domestic scheme of the establishment; his wife, a large, commanding woman who ran the business and the house as well; his wife's mother, an old sickly woman in her seventies; and his wife's sister, a poor, palsied half-wit.

When the sister was a child, so we heard, she had been terribly frightened, so that to this day, still frightened, she crept about, a pale shadow, quivering all over pitiably at every sound. She would stand behind a door for minutes shaking so that you could hear her knuckles knocking against the wall. She seemed particularly to dread the sight of the German privates who came and went; and they, seeing this, were kind to her in a clumsy, awkward way. Hourly, like a ghost she drifted in and out.

For a while it looked as though we should spend the night sitting up in chairs; but about ten o'clock three soldiers, led by Rosenthal and accompanied by the landlady, went out; and when they came back they brought some thick feather mattresses which had been commandeered from neighboring houses, we judged. Also, through the goodness of his heart, Mittendorfer, who impressed us more and more as a strange compound of severity and softness, took pity on Gerbeaux and Stevens, and bringing them forth from that pestilential hole next door, he convoyed them in to stay overnight with us. They told us that by now the air in the improvised prison was absolutely suffocating, what with the closeness, the fouled straw, the stale food and the proximity of so many dirty human bodies all packed into the kennel together.

Ten of us slept on the floor of that little grogshop--the five of our party lying spoon-fashion on two mattresses, Gerbeaux and Stevens making seven, and three soldiers. The soldiers relieved each other in two-hour spells, so that while two of them snored by the door the third sat in a chair in the middle of the room, with his rifle between his knees, and a shaded lamp and a clock on a table at his elbow. Just before we turned in, Rosenthal, who had adopted a paternal tone to the three guards, each of whom was many years older than he, addressed them softly, saying:

"Now, my children, make yourselves comfortable. Drink what you please; but if any one of you gets drunk I shall take pleasure in seeing that he gets from seven to nine years in prison at hard labor." For which they thanked him gratefully in chorus.

I am not addicted to the diary-keeping habit, but during the next day, which was Friday, I made fragmentary records of things in a journal, from which I now quote verbatim:

Seven-thirty a. m.--about. After making a brief toilet by sousing our several faces in a pail of water, we have just breakfasted--sketchily-- on wine and almonds. It would seem that the German army feeds its prisoners, but makes no such provision for its guests. On the whole I think I should prefer being a prisoner.

We have offered our landlady any amount within reason for a pot of coffee and some toasted bread; but she protests, calling on Heaven to witness the truth of her words, that there is nothing to eat in the house--that the Germans have eaten up all her store of food, and that her old mother is already beginning to starve. Yet certain appetizing smells, which come down the staircase from upstairs when the door is opened, lead me to believe she is deceiving us. I do not blame her for treasuring what she has for her own flesh and blood; but I certainly could enjoy a couple of fried eggs.

Nine a. m. Mittendorfer has been in, with vague remarks concerning our automobile. Something warns me this young man is trifling with us. He appears to be a practitioner of the Japanese school of diplomacy--that is, he believes it is better to pile one gentle, transparent fiction on another until the pyramid of romance falls of its own weight, rather than to break the cruel news at a single blow.

Eleven-twenty. One of the soldiers has brought us half a dozen bottles of good wine--three bottles of red and three of white--but the larder remains empty. I do not know exactly what a larder is; but if it is as empty as I am at the present moment it must remind itself of a haunted house.

Eleven-forty. A big van full of wounded Germans has arrived. From the windows we can see it distinctly. The more seriously hurt lie on the bed of the wagon, under the hood. The man who drives has one leg in splints; and of the two who sit at the tail gate, holding rifles upright, one has a bandaged head, and the other has an arm in a sling.

Unless a German is so seriously crippled as to be entirely unfitted for service he manages to do something useful. There are no loose ends and no waste to the German military system; I can see that. The soldiers in the street cheer the wounded as they pass and the wounded answer by singing Die Wacht am Rhein feebly.

One poor chap raises his head and looks out. He appears to be almost spent, but I see his lips move as he tries to sing. You may not care for the German cause, but you are bound to admire the German spirit--the German oneness of purpose.

Noon. As the Texas darky said: "Dinnertime fur some folks; but just twelve o'clock fur me!" Again I smell something cooking upstairs. On the mantel of the shabby little interior sitting room, where we spend most of our time sitting about in a sad circle, is a little black-and- tan terrier pup, stuffed and mounted, with shiny glass eyes--a family pet, I take it, which died and was immortalized by the local taxidermist. If I only knew what that dog was stuffed with I would take a chance and eat him.

I have a fellow feeling for Arctic explorers who go north and keep on going until they run out of things to eat. I admire their heroism and sympathize with their sufferings, but I deplore their bad judgment. There are grapes growing on trellises in the little courtyard at the back, but they are too green for human consumption. I speak authoritatively on this subject, having just sampled one.

Two p.m. Tried to take a nap, but failed. Hansen found a soiled deck of cards behind a pile of books on the mantelpiece, and we all cheered up, thinking of poker; but it was a Belgian deck of thirty-two cards, all the pips below the seven-spot being eliminated. Poker with that deck would be a hazardous pursuit.

McCutcheon remarks casually that he wonders what would happen if somebody accidentally touched off those field-gun shells in the house two doors away. We suddenly remember that they are all pointed our way! The conversation seems to lull, and Mac, for the time being, loses popularity.

Two-thirty p.m. Looking out on the dreary little square of this town of Beaumont I note that the natives, who have been scarce enough all day, have now vanished almost entirely; whereas soldiers are noticeably more numerous than they were this morning.

Three-fifteen p.m. Heard a big noise in the street and ran to the window in time to see about forty English prisoners passing under guard --the first English soldiers I have seen, in this campaign, either as prisoners or otherwise. Their tan khaki uniforms and flat caps give them a soldierly look very unlike the slovenly, sloppy-appearing French prisoners in the guardhouse; but they appear to be tremendously downcast. The German soldiers crowd up to stare at them, but there is no jeering or taunting from the Germans. These prisoners are all infantrymen, judging by their uniforms. They disappear through the gateway of the prince's park.

Three-forty. I have just had some exercise; walked from the front door to the courtyard and back. There are two guards outside the door now instead of one. The German army certainly takes mighty good care of its guests.

This day has been as long as Gibbon's "Decline and Fall," and much more tiresome. No; I'll take that back; it is not strong enough. This day has been as long as the entire Christian Era.

Four p.m. Gerbeaux, who was allowed to go out foraging, under escort of a guard, has returned with a rope of dried onions; a can of alphabet noodles; half a pound of stale, crumbly macaroons; a few fresh string beans; a pot of strained honey, and several clean collars of assorted sizes. The woman of the-house is now making soup for us out of the beans, the onions and the noodles. She has also produced a little grated Parmesan cheese from somewhere.

Four-twenty p.m. That was the best soup I ever tasted, even if it was full of typographical errors from the jumbling together of the little alphabet noodles. Still, nobody but a proofreader could have found fault with that. There was only one trouble with that soup: there was not enough of it--just one bowl apiece. I would have traded the finest case of vintage wine in the Chimay vaults for another bowl.

Just as the woman brought in the soup Mittendorfer appeared, escorting a French lieutenant who was taken prisoner this morning. The prisoner was a little, handsome, dapper chap not over twenty-two years old, wearing his trim blue-and-red uniform with an air, even though he himself looked thoroughly miserable. We were warned not to speak with him, or he with us; but Gerbeaux, after listening to him exchanging a few words with the lieutenant, said he judged from his accent that the little officer was from the south of France.

We silently offered him a bowl of the soup as he sat in a corner fenced off from the rest of us by a small table; but he barely tasted it, and after a bit he lay down in his corner, with his arm for a pillow, and almost instantly was asleep, breathing heavily, like a man on the verge of exhaustion. A few minutes later we heard, from Sergeant Rosenthal, that the prisoner's brother-in-law had been killed the day before, and that he--the little officer--had seen the brother-in-law fall.

Five p.m. We have had good news--two chunks of good news, in fact. We are to dine and we are to travel. The sergeant has acquired, from unknown sources, a brace of small, skinny, fresh-killed pullets; eight fresh eggs; a big loaf of the soggy rye bread of the field mess; and wine unlimited. Also, we are told that at nine o'clock we are to start for Brussels--not by automobile, but aboard a train carrying wounded and prisoners northward.

Everybody cheers up, especially after ma-dame promises to have the fowls and the eggs ready in less than an hour.

The Belgian photographer, who, it develops, is to go with our troop, has been brought in from the guardhouse and placed with us. With the passing hours his fright has increased. Gerbeaux says the poor devil is one of the leading photographers of Brussels--that by royal appointment he takes pictures of the queen and her children. But the queen would have trouble in recognizing her photographer if she could see him now-- with straw in his tousled hair, and his jaw lolling under the weight of his terror, and his big, wild eyes staring this way and that. Nothing that Gerbeaux can say to him will dissuade him from the belief that the Germans mean to shoot him.

I almost forgot to detail a thing that occurred a few minutes ago, just before the Belgian joined us. Mittendorfer brought a message for the little French lieutenant. The Frenchman roused up and, after they had saluted each other ceremoniously, Mittendorfer told him he had come to invite him to dine with a mess of German officers across the way, in the town hall.

On the way out he stopped to speak with Sergeant Rosenthal who, having furnished the provender for the forthcoming feast, was now waiting to share in it. Using German, the lieutenant said:

"I'm being kept pretty busy. Two citizens of this town have just been sentenced to be shot, and I've orders to go and attend to the shooting before it gets too dark for the firing squad to see to aim."

Rosenthal did not ask of what crime the condemned two had been convicted.

"You had charge of another execution this morning, didn't you?" he said.

"Yes," answered the lieutenant; "a couple--man and wife. The man was seventy-four years old and the woman was seventy-two. It was proved against them that they put poisoned sugar in the coffee for some of our soldiers. You heard about the case, didn't you?"

"I heard something about it," said Rosenthal.

That was all they said. After three weeks of war a tragedy like this has become commonplace, not only to these soldiers but to us. Already all of us, combatants and onlookers alike, have seen so many horrors that one more produces no shock in our minds. It will take a wholesale killing to excite us; these minor incidents no longer count with us. If I wrote all day I do not believe I could make the meaning of war, in its effects on the minds of those who view it at close hand, any clearer. I shall not try.

Six-fifteen p.m. We have dined. The omelet was a very small omelet, and two skinny pullets do not go far among nine hungry men; still, we have dined.

My journal breaks off with this entry. It broke off because immediately after dinner word came that our train was ready. A few minutes before we left the taverne for the station, to start on a trip that was to last two days instead of three hours, and land us not in Brussels, but on German soil in Aix-la-Chapelle, two incidents happened which afterward, in looking back on the experience, I have found most firmly clinched in my memory: A German captain came into the place to get a drink; he recognized me as an American and hailed me, and wanted to know my business and whether I could give him any news from the outside world. I remarked on the perfection of his English.

"I suppose I come by it naturally," he said. "I call myself a German, but I was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and partly reared in New Jersey, and educated at Princeton; and at this moment I am a member of the New York Cotton Exchange."

Right after this three Belgian peasants, all half-grown boys, were brought in. They had run away from their homes at the coming of the Germans, and for three days had been hiding in thickets, without food, until finally hunger and cold had driven them in.

All of them were in sorry case and one was in collapse. He trembled so his whole body shook like jelly. The landlady gave him some brandy, but the burning stuff choked his throat until it closed and the brandy ran out of his quivering blue lips and spilled on his chin. Seeing this, a husky German private, who looked as though in private life he might be a piano mover, brought out of his blanket roll a bottle of white wine and, holding the scared, exhausted lad against his chest, ministered to him with all gentleness, and gave him sips of the wine. In the line of duty I suppose he would have shot that boy with the same cheerful readiness.

Just as we were filing out into the dark, Sergeant Rosenthal, who was also going along, halted us and reminded us all and severally that we were not prisoners, but still guests; and that, though we were to march with the prisoners to the station, we were to go in line with the guards; and if any prisoner sought to escape it was hoped that we would aid in recapturing the runaway. So we promised him, each on his word of honor, that we would do this; and he insisted that we should shake hands with him as a pledge and as a token of mutual confidence, which we accordingly did. Altogether it was quite an impressive little ceremonial--and rather dramatic, I imagine.

As he left us, however, he was heard, speaking in German, to say sotto voce to one of the guards:

"If one of those journalists tries to slip away don't take any chances-- shoot him at once!"

It is so easy to keep one's honor intact when you have moral support in the shape of an earnest-minded German soldier, with a gun, stepping along six feet behind you. My honor was never safer.

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