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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsPaths Of Glory: Impressions Of War Written At And Near The Front - Chapter 7. The Grapes of Wrath
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Paths Of Glory: Impressions Of War Written At And Near The Front - Chapter 7. The Grapes of Wrath Post by :add2it Category :Nonfictions Author :Irvin S. Cobb Date :May 2012 Read :649

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Paths Of Glory: Impressions Of War Written At And Near The Front - Chapter 7. The Grapes of Wrath

There is a corner of Rhenish Prussia that shoulders up against Holland and drives a nudging elbow deep into the ribs of Belgium; and right here, at the place where the three countries meet, stands Charlemagne's ancient city of Aix-la-Chapelle, called Aachen by the Germans.

To go from the middle of Aix-la-Chapelle to the Dutch boundary takes twenty minutes on a tram-car, and to go to the Belgian line requires an even hour in a horse-drawn vehicle, and considerably less than that presuming you go by automobile. So you see the toes of the town touch two foreign frontiers; and of all German cities it is the most westerly and, therefore, closest of all to the zone of action in the west of Europe.

You would never guess it, however. When we landed in Aix-la-Chapelle, coming out of the heart of the late August hostilities in Belgium, we marveled; for, behold, here was a clean, white city that, so far as the look of it and the feel of it went, might have been a thousand miles from the sound of gunfire. On that Sabbath morning of our arrival an air of everlasting peace abode with it. That same air of peace continued to abide with it during all the days we spent here. Yet, if you took a step to the southwest--a figurative step in seven-league boots--you were where all hell broke loose. War is a most tremendous emphasizer of contrasts.

These lines were written late in September, in a hotel room at Aix-la- Chapelle. The writing of them followed close on an automobile trip to Liege, through a district blasted by war and corrugated with long trenches where those who died with their boots on still lie with their boots on.

Let me, if I can, draw two pictures--one of this German outpost town, and the other of the things that might be seen four or five miles distant over the border.

I have been told that, in the first flurry of the breaking out of the World-War, Aix was not placid. It went spy-mad, just as all Europe went spy-mad--a mania from which this Continent has not entirely recovered by any means. There was a great rounding up of suspected aliens. Every loyal citizen resolved himself or herself into a self-appointed policeman, to watch the movements of those suspected of being disloyal. Also, they tell me, when the magic mobilization began and troops poured through without ceasing for four days and four nights, and fighting broke out just the other side of the Belgian customhouse, on the main high road to Liege, there was excitement. But all that was over long before we came.

The war has gone onward, down into France; and all the people know is what the official bulletins tell them; in fact, I think they must know less about operations and results than our own people in America. I know not what the opportunity of the spectator may have been with regard to other wars, but certainly in this war it is true that the nearer you get to it the less you understand of its scope.

All about you, on every side, is a screen of secrecy. Once in a while it parts for a moment, and through the rift you catch a glimpse of the movement of armies and the swing and sweep of campaigns. Then the curtain closes and again you are shut in.

Let me put the case in another way: It is as though we who are at the front, or close to it, stand before a mighty painting, but with our noses almost touching the canvas. You who are farther away see the whole picture. We, for the moment, see only so much of it as you might cover with your two hands; but this advantage we do have--that we see the brush strokes, the color shadings, the infinite small detail, whereas you view its wider effects.

And then, having seen it, when we try to put our story into words--when we try to set down on paper the unspeakable horror of it--we realize what a futile, incomplete thing the English language is.

This present day in Aix-la-Chapelle will be, I assume, much like all the other days I have spent here. An hour ago small official bulletins, sanctioned by the Berlin War Office, were posted in the windows of the shops and on the front of the public buildings; and small groups gathered before them to read the news.

If it was good news they took it calmly. If it was not so good, still they took it calmly. If it was outright bad news I think they would still take it calmly. For, come good or evil, they are all possessed now with the belief that, in the long run, Germany must win. Their confidence is supreme.

It was characteristic of them, though, that, until word came of the first German success, there was no general flying of flags in the town. Now flags are up everywhere--the colors of the Empire and of Prussia, and often enough just a huge yellow square bearing the spraddled, black, spidery design of the Imperial eagle. But there is never any hysteria; I don't believe these Prussians know the meaning of the word. It is safe to assume that out of every three grown men in front of a bulletin one will be a soldier.

Yet, considering that Germany is supposed, at this moment, to have upward of five million men in the field or under arms, and that approximately two millions more, who were exempt from call by reason of age or other disabilities, are said to have volunteered, you would be astonished to see how many men in civilian dress are on the streets. Whether in uniform or not, though, these men are at work after some fashion or other for their country. Practically all the physicians in Aix are serving in the hospitals. The rich men--the men of affairs--are acting as military clerks at headquarters or driving Red Cross cars. The local censor of the telegraph is over eighty years old--a splendid- looking old white giant, who won the Iron Cross in the Franco-Prussian War and retired with the rank of general years and years ago. Now, in full uniform, he works twelve hard hours a day. The head waiter at this hotel told me yesterday that he expected to be summoned to the colors in a day or two. He has had his notice and is ready to go. He is more than forty years old. I know my room waiter kept watch on me until he satisfied himself I was what I claimed to be--an American--and not an English spy posing as an American.

So, at first, did the cheery little girl cashier in the Arcade barber shop downstairs. For all I know, she may still have me under suspicion and be making daily reports on me to the secret-service people. The women help, too--and the children. The wives and daughters of the wealthiest men in the town are minding the sick and the wounded. The mothers and the younger girls meet daily to make hospital supplies. Women come to you in the cafes at night, wearing Red Cross badges on their left arms, and shaking sealed tin canisters into which you are expected to drop contributions for invalided soldiers.

Since so many of their teachers are carrying rifles or wearing swords, the pupils of the grammar schools and the high schools are being organized into squads of crop-gatherers. Beginning next week, so I hear, they will go out into the fields and the orchards to assist in the harvesting of the grain and the fruit. For lack of hands to get it under cover the wheat has already begun to suffer; but the boys and girls will bring it in.

It is now half-past eleven o'clock in the forenoon. At noon, sharp, an excellent orchestra will begin to play in the big white casino maintained by the city, just opposite my hotel. It will play for an hour then, and again this afternoon, and again, weather permitting, to-night.

The townspeople will sit about at small, white tables and listen to the music while they sip their beer or drink their coffee. They will be soberer and less vivacious than I imagine they were two months ago; but then these North Germans are a sober-minded race anyhow, and they take their amusements quietly. Also, they have taken the bad tidings of the last few days from France very quietly.

During the afternoon crowds will gather on the viaduct, just above the principal railroad station, where they will stand for hours looking down over the parapet into the yards below. There will be smaller crowds on the heights of Ronheide, on the edge of the town, where the tracks enter the long tunnel under one of the hills that etch the boundary between Germany and Belgium.

Rain or shine, these two places are sure to be black with people, for here they may see the trains shuttle by, like long bobbins in a loom that never ceases from its weaving--trains going west loaded with soldiers and naval reservists bound for the front, and trains headed east bearing prisoners and wounded. The raw material passes one way-- that's the new troops; the finished product passes the other--the wounded and the sick.

When wounded men go by there will be cheering, and some of the women are sure to raise the song of Die Wacht am Rhein; and within the cars the crippled soldiers will take up the chorus feebly. God knows how many able-bodied soldiers already have gone west; how many maimed and crippled ones have gone east! In the first instance the number must run up into the second million; of the latter there must have been well above two hundred thousand.

No dead come back from the front--at least, not this way. The Germans bury their fallen soldiers where they fall. Regardless of his rank, the dead man goes into a trench. If so be he died in battle he is buried, booted and dressed just as he died. And the dead of each day must be got underground before midnight of that same day--that is the hard-and- fast rule wherever the Germans are holding their ground or pressing forward. There they will lie until the Judgment Day, unless their kinsfolk be of sufficient wealth and influence to find their burial places and dig them up and bring them home privily for interment. Even so, it may be days or even weeks after a man is dead and buried before his people hear of it. It may be they will not hear of it until a letter written to him in the care of his regiment and his company comes back unopened, with one word in sinister red letters on it--Gefallen!

At this hotel, yesterday, I saw a lady dressed in heavy black. She had the saddest, bravest face I ever looked into, I think. She sat in the restaurant with two other ladies, who were also in black. The octogenarian censor of telegrams passed them on the way out. To her two companions he bowed deeply, but at her side he halted and, bending very low, he kissed her hand, and then went away without a word.

The head waiter, who knows all the gossip of the house and of half the town besides, told us about her. Her only son, a lieutenant of artillery, was killed at the taking of Liege. It was three days before she learned of his death, though she was here in Aachen, only a few miles away; for so slowly as this does even bad news travel in war times when it pertains to the individual.

Another week elapsed before her husband, who is a lieutenant-colonel, could secure leave of absence and return from the French border to seek for his son's body; and there was still another week of searching before they found it. It was at the bottom of a trench, under the bodies of a score or more of his men; and it was in such a state that the mother had not been permitted to look on her dead boy's face.

Such things as this must be common enough hereabouts, but one hears very little of them and sees even less. Aix-la-Chapelle has suffered most heavily. The Aix regiment was shot to pieces in the first day's fighting at Liege. Nearly half its members were killed or wounded; but astonishingly few women in mourning are to be seen on the street, and none of the men wear those crape arm bands that are so common in Europe ordinarily; nor, except about the railroad station, are very many wounded to be seen.

There are any number of wounded privates in the local hospitals; but there must be a rule against their appearance in public places, for it is only occasionally that I meet one abroad. Slightly wounded officers are more plentiful. I judge from this that no such restriction applies to them as applies to the common soldiers. This hotel is full of them-- young officers mostly, with their heads tied up or their arms in black silk slings, or limping about on canes or crutches.

Until a few days ago the columns of the back pages of the Aix and Cologne papers were black-edged with cards inserted by relatives in memory of officers who had fallen--"For King and Fatherland!" the cards always said. I counted thirteen of these death notices in one issue of a Cologne paper. Now they have almost disappeared. I imagine that, because of the depressing effect of such a mass of these publications on the public mind, the families of killed officers have been asked to refrain from reciting their losses in print. Yet there are not wanting signs that the grim total piles up by the hour and the day.

Late this afternoon, when I walk around to the American consulate, I shall pass the office of the chief local paper; and there I am sure to find anywhere from seventy-five to a hundred men and women waiting for the appearance on a bulletin board of the latest list of dead, wounded and missing men who are credited to Aix-la-Chapelle and its vicinity. A new list goes up each afternoon, replacing the list of the day before. Sometimes it contains but a few names; sometimes a good many. Then there will be piteous scenes for a little while; but presently the mourners will go away, struggling to compose themselves as they go; for their Kaiser has asked them to make no show of their loss among their neighbors. Having made the supremest sacrifice they can make, short of offering up their own lives, they now make another and hide their grief away from sight. Surely, this war spares none at all--neither those who fight nor those who stay behind.

Toward dusk the streets will fill up with promenaders. Perhaps a regiment or so of troops, temporarily quartered here on the way to the front, will clank by, bound for their barracks in divers big music halls. The squares may be quite crowded with uniforms; or there may be only one gray coat in proportion to three or four black ones--this last is the commoner ratio. It all depends on the movements of the forces.

To-night the cafes will be open and the moving-picture places will run full blast; and the free concert will go on and there will be services in the cathedral of Charlemagne. The cafes that had English names when the war began have German ones now. Thus the Bristol has become the Crown Prince Cafe, and the Piccadilly is the Germania; but otherwise they are just as they were before the war started, and the business in them is quite as good, the residents say, as it ever was. Prices are no higher than they used to be--at least I have not found them high.

After the German fashion the diners will eat slowly and heavily; and afterward they will sit in clusters of three or four, drinking mugs of Munich or Pilsner, and talking deliberately. At the Crown Prince there will be dancing, and at two or three other places there will be music and maybe singing; but at the Kaiserhof, where I shall dine, there is nothing more exciting than beer and conversation. It was there, two nights ago, I met at the same time three Germans representing three dominant classes in the life of their country, and had from each of them the viewpoint of his class toward the war. They were, respectively, a business man, a scientist, and a soldier. The business man belongs to a firm of brothers which ranks almost with the Krupps in commercial importance. It has branches in many cities and agencies and plants in half a dozen countries. He said:

"We had not our daily victory to-day, eh? Well, so it goes; we must not expect to win always. We must have reverses, and heavy ones too; but in the end we must win. To lose now would mean national extinction. To win means Germany's commercial and military preeminence in this hemisphere.

"There can be but one outcome of this war--either Germany, as an empire, will cease to exist, or she will emerge the greatest Power, except the United States, on the face of the earth. And so sure are we of the result that to-day my brothers and I bought ground for doubling the size and capacity of our largest plant.

"In six weeks from now we shall have beaten France; in six months we shall have driven Russia to cover. For England it will take a year-- perhaps longer. And then, as in all games, big and little, the losers will pay. France will be made to pay an indemnity from which she will never recover.

"Of Belgium I think we shall take a slice of seacoast; Germany needs ports on the English Channel. Russia will be so humbled that no longer will the Muscovite peril threaten Europe. Great Britain we shall crush utterly. She shall be shorn of her navy and she shall lose her colonies--certainly she shall lose India and Egypt. She will become a third-class Power and she will stay a third-class Power. Forget Japan-- Germany will punish Japan in due season.

"Within five years from now I predict there will be an offensive and defensive alliance of all the Teutonic and all the Scandinavian races of Europe, with Bulgaria included, holding absolute dominion over this continent and stretching in an unbroken line from the North Sea to the Adriatic and the Black Sea.

"Europe is to have a new map, my friends, and Germany will be in the middle of that map. When this has been accomplished we shall talk about disarmament--not before. And first, we shall disarm our enemies who forced this war on us."

The scientist spoke next. He is a tall, spectacled, earnest Westphalian, who has invented and patented over a hundred separate devices used in electric-lighting properties, and, in between, has found time to travel round the world several times and write a book or two.

"I do not believe in war," he said. "War has no place in the civilization of the world to-day; but this war was inevitable. Germany had to expand or be suffocated. And out of this war good will come for all the world, especially for Europe. We Germans are the most industrious, the most earnest and the best-educated race on this side of the ocean. To-day one-fourth of the population of Belgium cannot read and write. Under German influence illiteracy will disappear from among them. Russia stands for reaction; England for selfishness and perfidy; France for decadence. Germany stands for progress. Do not believe the claims of our foes that our Kaiser wishes to be another Napoleon and hold Europe under his thumb. What he wants for Germany and what he means to have is, first, breathing room for his people; and after that a fair share of the commercial opportunities of the world.

"German enlightenment and German institutions will do the reSt. And after this war--if we Germans win it--there will never be another universal war."

The soldier spoke last. He is a captain of field artillery, a member of a distinguished Prussian family, and one of the most noted big-game hunters in Europe. Three weeks ago, in front of Charleroi, a French sharpshooter put a bullet in him. It passed through his left forearm, pierced one lung and lodged in the muscles of his breast, where it lies imbedded. In a week from now he expects to rejoin his command.

To look at him you would never guess that he had so recently been wounded; his color is high and he moves with the stiff, precise alertness of the German army man. He is still wearing the coat he wore in the fight; there are two ragged little holes in the left sleeve and a puncture in the side of it; and it is spotted with stiff, dry, brown stains.

"I don't presume to know anything about the political or commercial aspects of this war," he said over his beer mug; "but I do know this: War was forced on us by these other Powers. They were jealous of us and they made the Austrian-Servian quarrel their quarrel. But when war came we were ready and they were not.

"Not until the mobilization was ordered did the people of Germany know the color of the field uniform of their soldiers; yet four millions of these service uniforms were made and finished and waiting in our military storehouses. Not until after the first shot was fired did we who are in the army know how many army corps we had, or the names of their commanders, or even the names of the officers composing the general staff.

"A week after we took the field our infantry, in heavy marching order, was covering fifty kilometers a day--thirty of your American miles--and doing it day after day without straggling and without any footsore men dropping behind.

"Do these things count in the sum total? I say they do. Our army will win because it deserves to win through being ready and being complete and being efficient. Don't discount the efficiency of our navy either. Remember, we Germans have the name of being thorough. When our fleet meets the British fleet I think you will find that we have a few Krupp surprises for them."

I may meet these confident gentlemen tonight. If not, it is highly probable I shall meet others who are equally confident, and who will express the same views, which they hold because they are the views of the German people.

At eleven o'clock, when I start back to the hotel, the streets will be almost empty. Aix will have gone to bed, and in bed it will peacefully stay unless a military Zeppelin sails over its rooftrees, making a noise like ten million locusts all buzzing at once. There were two Zeppelins aloft last night, and from my window I saw one of them quite plainly. It was hanging almost stationary in the northern sky, like a huge yellow gourd. After a while it made off toward the weSt. One day last week three of them passed, all bound presumably for Paris or Antwerp, or even London. That time the people grew a bit excited; but now they take a Zeppelin much as a matter of course, and only wonder mildly where it came from and whither it is going.

As for to-morrow, I imagine to-morrow will be another to-day; but yesterday was different. I had a streak of luck. It is forbidden to civilians, and more particularly to correspondents, to go prowling about eastern Belgium just now; but I found a friend in a naturalized German- American, formerly of Chicago, but living now in Germany, though he still retains his citizenship in the United States.

Like every one else in Aachen, he is doing something for the government, though I can only guess at the precise nature of his services. At any rate he had an automobile, a scarce thing to find in private hands in these times; and, what was more, he had a military pass authorizing him to go to Liege and to take two passengers along. He invited me to go with him for a day's ride through the country where the very first blows were swapped in the western theater of hostilities.

We started off in the middle of a fickle-minded shower, which first blew puffs of wetness in our faces, like spray on a flawy day at sea, and then broke off to let the sun shine through for a minute or two. For two or three kilometers after clearing the town we ran through a district that smiled with peace and groaned with plenty. On the verandas of funny little gray roadhouses with dripping red roofs officers sat over their breakfast coffee. A string of wagons passed us, bound inward, full of big, white, clean-looking German pigs. A road builder, repairing the ruts made by the guns and baggage trains, stood aside for us to pass and pulled off his hat to us. This was Europe as it used to be--Europe as most American tourists knew it.

We came to a tall barber pole which a careless painter had striped with black on white instead of with red on white, and we knew by that we had arrived at the frontier. Also, there stood alongside the pole a royal forest ranger in green, with a queer cockaded hat on his head, doing sentry duty. As we stopped to show him our permits, and to give him a ripe pear and a Cologne paper, half a dozen soldiers came tumbling out of the guardroom in the little customhouse, and ran up to beg from us, not pears, but papers. Clear to Liege we were to be importuned every few rods by soldiers begging for papers. Some had small wooden sign-boards bearing the word Zeitung, which they would lift and swing across the path of an approaching automobile. I began to believe after a while that if a man had enough newspapers in stock he could bribe his way through the German troops clear into France.

These fellows who gathered about us now were of the Landsturm, men in their late thirties and early forties, with long, shaggy mustaches. Their kind forms the handle of the mighty hammer whose steel nose is battering at France. Every third one of them wore spectacles, showing that the back lines of the army are extensively addicted to the favorite Teutonic sport of being nearsighted. Also, their coat sleeves invariably were too long for them, and hid their big hands almost to the knuckles. This is a characteristic I have everywhere noted among the German privates. If the French soldier's coat is over-lengthy in the skirt the German's is ultra-generous with cloth in the sleeves. I saw that their hair was beginning to get shaggy, showing that they had been in the field some weeks, since every German soldier--officer and private alike--leaves the barracks so close-cropped that his skin shows pinky through the bristles. Among them was one chap in blue sailor's garb, left behind doubtless when forty-five hundred naval reserves passed through three days before to work the big guns in front of Antwerp.

We went on. At first there was nothing to show we had entered Belgium except that the Prussian flag did not hang from a pole in front of every farmhouse, but only in front of every fourth house, say, or every fifth one. Then came stretches of drenched fields, vacant except for big black ravens and nimble piebald magpies, which bickered among themselves in the neglected and matted grain; and then we swung round a curve in the rutted roadway and were in the town of Battice.

No; we were not in the town of Battice. We were where the town of Battice had been--where it stood six weeks ago. It was famous then for its fat, rich cheeses and its green damson plums. Now, and no doubt for years to come, it will be chiefly notable as having been the town where, it is said, Belgian civilians first fired on the German troops from roofs and windows, and where the Germans first inaugurated their ruthless system of reprisal on houses and people alike.

Literally this town no longer existed. It was a scrap-heap, if you like, but not a town. Here had been a great trampling out of the grapes of wrath, and most sorrowful was the vintage that remained.

It was a hard thing to level these Belgian houses absolutely, for they were mainly built of stone or of thick brick coated over with a hard cement. So, generally, the walls stood, even in Battice; but always the roofs were gone, and the window openings were smudged cavities, through which you looked and saw square patches of the sky if your eyes inclined upward, or else blackened masses of ruination if you gazed straight in at the interiors. Once in a while one had been thrown flat. Probably big guns operated here. In such a case there was an avalanche of broken masonry cascading out into the roadway.

Midway of the mile-long avenue of utter waste which we now traversed we came on a sort of small square. Here was the yellow village church. It lacked a spire and a cross, and the front door was gone, so we could see the wrecked altar and the splintered pews within. Flanking the church there had been a communal hall, which was now shapeless, irredeemable wreckage. A public well had stood in the open space between church and hall, with a design of stone pillars about it. The open mouth of the well we could see was choked with foul debris; but a shell had struck squarely among the pillars and they fell inward like wigwam poles, forming a crazy apex. I remember distinctly two other things: a picture of an elderly man with whiskers--one of those smudged atrocities that are called in the States crayon portraits--hanging undamaged on the naked wall of what had been an upper bedroom; and a wayside shrine of the sort so common in the Catholic countries of Europe. A shell had hit it a glancing blow, so that the little china figure of the Blessed Virgin lay in bits behind the small barred opening of the shrine.

Of living creatures there was none. Heretofore, in all the blasted towns I had visited, there was some human life stirring. One could count on seeing one of the old women who are so numerous in these Belgian hamlets--more numerous, I think, than anywhere else on earth. In my mind I had learned to associate such a sight with at least one old woman--an incredibly old woman, with a back bent like a measuring worm's, and a cap on her scanty hair, and a face crosshatched with a million wrinkles--who would be pottering about at the back of some half- ruined house or maybe squatting in a desolated doorway staring at us with her rheumy, puckered eyes. Or else there would be a hunchback-- crooked spines being almost as common in parts of Belgium as goiters are in parts of Switzerland. But Battice had become an empty tomb, and was as lonely and as silent as a tomb. Its people--those who survived--had fled from it as from an abomination.

Beyond Battice stood another village, called Herve; and Herve was Battice all over again, with variations. At this place, during the first few hours of actual hostilities between the little country and the big one, the Belgians had tried to stem the inpouring German flood, as was proved by wrecks of barricades in the high street. One barricade had been built of wagon bodies and the big iron hods of road-scrapers; the wrecks of these were still piled at the road's edge. Yet there remained tangible proof of the German claim that they did not harry and burn indiscriminately, except in cases where the attack on them was by general concert.

Here and there, on the principal street, in a row of ruins, stood a single house that was intact and undamaged. It was plain enough to be seen that pains had been taken to spare it from the common fate of its neighbors. Also, I glimpsed one short side street that had come out of the fiery visitation whole and unscathed, proving, if it proved anything, that even in their red heat the Germans had picked and chosen the fruit for the wine press of their vengeance.

After Herve we encountered no more destruction by wholesale, but only destruction by piecemeal, until, nearing Liege, we passed what remained of the most northerly of the ring of fortresses that formed the city's defenses. The conquerors had dismantled it and thrown down the guns, so that of the fort proper there was nothing except a low earthen wall, almost like a natural ridge in the earth.

All about it was an entanglement of barbed wire; the strands were woven and interwoven, tangled and twined together, until they suggested nothing so much as a great patch of blackberry briers after the leaves have dropped from the vines in the fall of the year. To take the works the Germans had to cut through these trochas. It seemed impossible to believe human beings could penetrate them, especially when one was told that the Belgians charged some of the wires with high electricity, so that those of the advancing party who touched them were frightfully burned and fell, with their garments blazing, into the jagged wire brambles, and were held there until they died.

Before the charge and the final hand-to-hand fight, however, there was shelling. There was much shelling. Shells from the German guns that fell short or overshot the mark descended in the fields, and for a mile round these fields were plowed as though hundreds of plowshares had sheared the sod this way and that, until hardly a blade of grass was left to grow in its ordained place. Where shells had burst after they struck were holes in the earth five or six feet across and five or six feet deep. Shells from the German guns and from the Belgian guns had made a most hideous hash of a cluster of small cottages flanking a small smelting plant which stood directly in the line of fire. Some of these houses--workmen's homes, I suppose they had been--were of frame, sheathed over with squares of tin put on in a diamond pattern; and you could see places where a shell, striking such a wall a glancing blow, had scaled it as a fish is scaled with a knife, leaving the bare wooden ribs showing below. The next house, and the next, had been hit squarely and plumply amidships, and they were gutted as fishes are gutted. One house in twenty, perhaps, would be quite whole, except for broken windows and fissures in the roof--as though the whizzing shells had spared it deliberately.

I recall that of one house there was left standing only a breadth of front wall between the places where windows had been. It rose in a ragged column to the line of the roof-rafters--only, of course, there was neither roof nor rafter now. On the face of the column, as though done in a spirit of bitter irony, was posted a proclamation, signed by the burgomaster and the military commandant, calling on the vanished dwellers of this place to preserve their tranquillity.

On the side of the fort away from the city, and in the direction whence we had come, a corporal's guard had established itself in a rent-asunder house in order to be out of the wet. On the front of the house they had hung a captured Belgian bugler's uniform and a French dragoon's overcoat, which latter garment was probably a trophy brought back from the lower lines of fighting; it made you think of an old-clothes-man's shop. The corporal came forth to look at our passes before permitting us to go on. He was a dumpy, good-natured-looking Hanoverian with patchy saffron whiskers sprouting out on him.

"Ach! yes," he said in answer to my conductor's question. "Things are quiet enough here now; but on Monday"--that would be three days before-- "we shot sixteen men here--rioters and civilians who fired on our troops, and one grave-robber--a dirty hound! They are yonder."

He swung his arm; and following its swing we saw a mound of fresh-turned clay, perhaps twenty feet in length, which made a yellow streak against the green of a small inclosed pasture about a hundred yards away. We saw many such mounds that day; and this one where the ignoble sixteen lay was the shortest of the lot. Some mounds were fifty or sixty feet in length. I presume there were distinguishing marks on the filled-up trenches where the German dead lay, but from the automobile we could make out none.

As we started on again, after giving the little Hanoverian the last treasured copy of a paper we had managed to keep that long against continual importunity, a big Belgian dog, with a dragging tail and a sharp jackal nose, loped round from behind an undamaged cow barn which stood back of the riven shell of a house where the soldiers were quartered. He had the air about him of looking for somebody or something.

He stopped short, sniffing and whining, at sight of the gray coats bunched in the doorway; and then, running back a few yards, with his head all the time turned to watch the strangers, he sat on his haunches, stuck his pointed muzzle upward toward the sky and fetched a long, homesick howl from the bottom of his disconsolate canine soul. When we turned a bend in the road, to enter the first recognizable street of Liege, he was still hunkered down there in the rain. He finished the picture; he keynoted it. The composition of it--for me--was perfect now.

I mean no levity when I say that Liege was well shaken before taken; but merely that the phrase is the apt one for use, because it better expresses the truth than any other I can think of. Yet, considering what it went through, last month, Liege seemed to have emerged in better shape than one would have expected.

Driving into the town I saw more houses with white flags--the emblem of complete surrender--fluttering from sill and coping, than houses bearing marks of the siege. In the bombardment the shells mostly appeared to have passed above the town--which was natural enough, seeing that the principal Belgian forts stood on the hilltops westward of and overlooking the city; and the principal German batteries--at least, until the last day of fighting--were posted behind temporary defenses, hastily thrown up, well to the east and north.

Liege, squatted in the natural amphitheater below, practically escaped the fire of the big guns. The main concern of the noncombatants, they tell me, was to shelter themselves from the street fighting, which, by all accounts, was both stubborn and sanguinary. The doughty Walloons who live in this corner of Belgium have had the name of being sincere and willing workers with bare steel since the days when Charles the Bold, of Burgundy, sought to curb their rebellious spirits by razing their city walls and massacring some ten thousand of them. And quite a spell before that, I believe, Julius Caesar found them tough to bend and hard to break.

As for the Germans, checked as they had been in their rush on France by a foe whom they had regarded as too puny to count as a factor in the war, they sacrificed themselves by hundreds and thousands to win breathing space behind standing walls until their great seventeen-inch siege guns could be brought from Essen and mounted by the force of engineers who came for that purpose direct from the Krupp works.

In that portion of the town lying west of the Meuse we counted perhaps ten houses that were leveled flat and perhaps twenty that were now but burnt-out, riddled hulls of houses, as empty and useless as so many shucked pea-pods. Of the bridges spanning the river, the principal one, a handsome four-span structure of stone ornamented with stone figures of river gods, lay now in shattered fragments, choking the current, where the Belgians themselves had blown it apart. One more bridge, or perhaps two--I cannot be sure--were closed to traffic because dynamite had made them unsafe; but the remaining bridges, of which I think there were three, showed no signs of rough treatment. Opposite the great University there was a big, black, ragged scar to show where a block of dwellings had stood.

Liege, to judge from its surface aspect, could not well have been quieter. Business went on; buyers and sellers filled the side streets and dotted the long stone quays. Old Flemish men fished industriously below the wrecked stone bridge, where the debris made new eddies in the swift, narrow stream; and blue pigeons swarmed in the plaza before the Palais de Justice, giving to the scene a suggestion of St. Mark's Square at Venice.

The German Landwehr, who were everywhere about, treated the inhabitants civilly enough, and the inhabitants showed no outward resentment against the Germans. But beneath the lid a whole potful of potential trouble was brewing, if one might believe what the Germans told us. We talked with a young lieutenant of infantry who in more peaceful times had been a staff cartoonist for a Berlin comic paper. He received us beneath the portico of the Theatre Royale, built after the model of the Odeon in Paris. Two waspish rapid-fire guns stood just within the shelter of the columns, with their black snouts pointing this way and that to command the sweep of the three-cornered Place du Theatre. A company of soldiers was quartered in the theater itself. At night, so the lieutenant said, those men who were off duty rummaged the costumes out of the dressing rooms, put them on, and gave mock plays, with music. An officer's horse occupied what I think must have been the box office. It put its head out of a little window just over our heads and nickered when other horses passed. Against the side of the building were posters advertising a French company to play the Gallicized version of an American farce--"Baby Mine"--by Margaret Mayo. The borders of the posters were ornamented with prints of American flags done in the proper colors.

"Yes, Liege seems quiet enough," said the lieutenant; "but we expect a revolt to break out at any time. We expected it last night, and the guard in the streets was tripled and doubled; and these little dears"-- patting the muzzle of one of the machine guns--"were put here; and more like them were mounted on the porticoes of the Hotel de Ville and the Palais de Justice. So nothing happened in the city proper, though in the outskirts three soldiers disappeared and are supposed to have been murdered, and a high officer"--he did not give the name or the rank-- "was waylaid and killed just beyond the environs.

"Now we fear that the uprising may come to-night. For the last three days the residents, in great numbers, have been asking for permits to leave Liege and go into neutral territory in Holland, or to other parts of their own country. To us this sudden exodus--there seems to be no reason for it--looks significant.

"These people are naturally turbulent. Always they have been so. Most of them are makers of parts for firearms--gunmaking, you know, was the principal industry here--and they are familiar with weapons; and many of the men are excellent shots. This increases the danger. At first they were content to ambush single soldiers who strayed into obscure quarters after dark. Now it is forbidden for less than three soldiers in a party to go anywhere at night; and they think from this that we are afraid, and are growing more daring.

"By day they smile at us and bow, and are as polite as dancing masters; but at night the same men who smile at us will cheerfully cut the throat of any German who is foolish enough to venture abroad alone.

"Besides, this town and all the towns between here and Brussels are being secretly flooded with papers printed in French telling the people that we have been beaten everywhere to the south, and that the Allies are but a few miles away; and that if they will rise in numbers and destroy the garrisons re-enforcements will arrive the next morning to hold the district against us.

"If they do rise it will be Louvain all over again. We shall burn Liege and kill all who are suspected of being in league against our troops. Assuredly many innocent ones will suffer then with the guilty; but what else can we do? We are living above a seething volcano."

Certainly, though, never did volcano seethe more quietly.

The garrison commander would not hear of our visiting any of the wrecked Belgian fortresses on the wooded heights behind the city. As a reason for his refusal he said that explosives in the buried magazines were beginning to go off, making it highly dangerous for spectators to venture near them. However, he had no objection to our going to a certain specified point within the zone of supposed safety. With a noncommissioned officer to guide us we climbed up a miry footpath to the crest of a low hill; and from a distance of perhaps a hundred yards we looked across at what was left of Fort Loncin, one of the principal defenses.

I am wrong there. We did not look at what was left of Fort Loncin. Literally nothing was left of it. As a fort it was gone, obliterated, wiped out, vanished. It had been of a triangular shape. It was of no shape now. We found it difficult to believe that the work of human hands had wrought destruction so utter and overwhelming. Where masonry walls had been was a vast junk heap; where stout magazines had been bedded down in hard concrete was a crater; where strong barracks had stood was a jumbled, shuffled nothingness.

Standing there on the shell-torn hilltop, looking across to where the Krupp surprise wrote its own testimonials at its first time of using, in characters so deadly and devastating, I found myself somehow thinking of that foolish nursery tale wherein it is recited that a pig built himself a house of straw, and the wolf came; and he huffed and he puffed and he blew the house down. The noncommissioned officer told us an unknown number of the defenders, running probably into the hundreds, had been buried so deeply beneath the ruins of the fort in the last hours of the fighting that the Germans had been unable to recover the bodies. Even as he spoke a puff of wind brought to our nostrils a smell which, once a man gets it into his nose, he will never get the memory of it out again so long as he has a nose. Being sufficiently sick, we departed thence.

As we rode back, and had got as far as the two ruined villages, it began to rain very hard. The rain, as it splashed into the puddles, stippled the farther reaches of the road thickly with dots, and its slanting lines turned everything into one gray etching which you might have labeled Desolation! And you would make no mistake in your labeling. Then--with one of those tricks of deliberate drama by which Nature sometimes shames stage managers--the late afternoon sun came out just after we crossed the frontier, and shone on us; and on the dapper young officers driving out in carriages; and on the peaceful German country places with their formal gardens; and on a crate of fat white German pigs riding to market to be made up into sausages for the placid burghers of Aix-la-Chapelle.

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