Part 2 out of 7
"And Mondain--him, too?"
"Mondain--that was the day after, yesterday in fact, in a dug-out
that a shell smashed in. He was lying down, and his chest was
crushed. Have they told you about Franco, who was alongside Mondain?
The fall of earth broke his spine. He spoke again after they'd got
him out and set him down. He said, with his head falling to one
side, 'I'm dying,' and he was gone. Vigile was with them, too; his
body wasn't touched, but they found him with his head completely
flattened out, flat as a pancake, and huge-as big as that. To see it
spread out on the ground, black and distorted, it made you think of
his shadow--the shadow one gets on the ground sometimes when one
walks with a lantern at night."
"Vigile--only Class 1913--a child! And Mondain and Franco--such good
sorts, in spite of their stripes. We're so many old special pals the
less, mon vieux Marchal."
"Yes," says Marchal. But he is swallowed up in a crowd of his
friends, who worry and catechise him. He bandies jests with them,
and answers their raillery, and all hustle each other, and laugh.
I look from face to face. They are merry, and in spite of the
contractions of weariness, and the earth-stains, they look
What does it mean? If wine had been possible during their stay in
the first line, I should have said, "All these men are drunk."
I single out one of the survivors, who hums as he goes, and steps in
time with it flippantly, as hussars of the stage do. It is
Vanderborn, the drummer.
"Hullo, Vanderborn, you look pleased with yourself!" Vanderborn, who
is sedate in the ordinary, cries, "It's not me yet, you see! Here I
am!" With a mad gesticulation he serves me a thump on the shoulder.
If these men are happy in spite of all, as they come out of hell, it
is because they are coming out of it. They are returning, they are
spared. Once again the Death that was there has passed them over.
Each company in its turn goes to the front once in six weeks. Six
weeks! In both great and minor matters, fighting soldiers manifest
the philosophy of the child. They never look afar, either ahead or
around. Their thought strays hardly farther than from day to day.
To-day, every one of those men is confident that he will live yet a
And that is why, in spite of the weariness that weighs them down and
the new slaughter with which they are still bespattered, though each
has seen his brothers torn away from his side, in spite of all and
in spite of themselves, they are celebrating the Feast of the
Survivors. The boundless glory in which they rejoice is this--they
still stand straight.
Volpatte and Fouillade
AS we reached quarters again, some one cried: "But where's
Volpatte?"--"And Fouillade, where's he?"
They had been requisitioned and taken off to the front line by the
5th Battalion. No doubt we should find them somewhere in quarters.
No success. Two men of the squad lost!
"That's what comes of lending men," said the sergeant with a great
oath. The captain, when apprised of the loss, also cursed and swore
and said, "I must have those men. Let them be found at once. Allez!"
Farfadet and I are summoned by Corporal Bertrand from the barn where
at full length we have already immobilized ourselves, and are
growing torpid: "You must go and look for Volpatte and Fouillade."
Quickly we got up, and set off with a shiver of uneasiness. Our two
comrades have been taken by the 5th and carried off to that infernal
shift. Who knows where they are and what they may be by now!
We climb up the hill again. Again we begin, but in the opposite
direction, the journey done since the dawn and the night. Though we
are without our heavy stuff, and only carry rifles and
accouterments, we feel idle, sleepy, and stiff; and the country is
sad, and the sky all wisped with mist. Farfadet is soon panting. He
talked a little at first, till fatigue enforced silence on him. He
is brave enough, but frail, and during all his prewar life, shut up
in the Town Hall office where he scribbled since the days of his
"first sacrament" between a stove and some ageing cardboard files,
he hardly learned the use of his legs.
Just as we emerge from the wood, slipping and floundering, to
penetrate the region of communication trenches, two faint shadows
are outlined in front. Two soldiers are coming up. We can see the
protuberance of their burdens and the sharp lines of their rifles.
The swaying double shape becomes distinct--"It's them!"
One of the shadows has a great white head, all swathed--"One of
them's wounded! It's Volpatte!"
We run up to the specters, our feet making the sounds of sinking in
sponge and of sticky withdrawal, and our shaken cartridges rattle in
their pouches. They stand still and wait for us. When we are close
up, "It's about time!" cries Volpatte.
"You're wounded, old chap?"--"What?" he says; the manifold bandages
all round his head make him deaf, and we must shout to get through
them. So we go close and shout. Then he replies, "That's nothing;
we're coming from the hole where the 5th Battalion put us on
"You've stayed there--ever since?" yells Farfadet, whose shrill and
almost feminine voice goes easily through the quilting that protects
"Of course we stayed there, you blithering idiot!" says Fouillade.
"You don't suppose we'd got wings to fly away with, and still less
that we should have legged it without orders?"
Both of them let themselves drop to a sitting position on the
ground. Volpatte's head--enveloped in rags with a big knot on the
top and the same dark yellowish stains as his face--looks like a
bundle of dirty linen.
"They forgot you, then, poor devils?"
"Rather!" cries Fouillade, "I should say they did. Four days and
four nights in a shell-hole, with bullets raining down, a hole that
stunk like a cesspool."
"That's right," says Volpatte. "It wasn't an ordinary listening-post
hole, where one comes and goes regularly. It was just a shell-hole,
like any other old shell-hole, neither more nor less. They said to
us on Thursday, 'Station yourselves in there and keep on firing,'
they said. Next day, a liaison chap of the 5th Battalion came and
showed his neb: 'What the hell are you doing there?'--'Why, we're
firing. They told us to fire, so we're firing,' I says. 'If they
told us to do it, there must be some reason at the back of it. We're
wanting for them to tell us to do something else.' The chap made
tracks. He looked a bit uneasy, and suffering from the effects of
being bombed. 'It's 22,' he says."
"To us two," says Fouillade, "there was a loaf of bread and a bucket
of wine that the 18th gave us when they planted us there, and a
whole case of cartridges, my boy. We fired off the cartridges and
drank the booze, but we had sense to keep a few cartridges and a
hunch of bread, though we didn't keep any wine."
"That's where we went wrong," says Volpatte, "seeing that it was a
thirsty job. Say, boys, you haven't got any gargle?"
"I've still nearly half a pint of wine," replies Farfadet. "Give it
to him," says Fouillade, pointing to Volpatte, "seeing that he's
been losing blood. I'm only thirsty."
Volpatte was shivering, and his little strapped-up eyes burned with
fever in the enormous dump of rags set upon his shoulders. "That's
good," he says, drinking.
"Ah! And then, too," he added, emptying--as politeness requires--the
drop of wine that remained at the bottom of Farfadet's cup, "we got
two Boches. They were crawling about outside, and fell into our
holes, as blindly as moles into a spring snare, those chaps did. We
tied 'em up. And see us then--after firing for thirty-six hours,
we'd no more ammunition. So we filled our magazines with the last,
and waited, in front of the parcels of Boche. The liaison chap
forgot to tell his people that we were there. You, the 6th, forgot
to ask for us; the 18th forgot us, too; and as we weren't in a
listening-post where you're relieved as regular as if at H.Q., I
could almost see us staying there till the regiment came back. In
the long run, it was the loafers of the 204th, come to skulk about
looking for fuses, that mentioned us. So then we got the order to
fall back--immediately, they said. That 'immediately' was a good
joke, and we got into harness at once. We untied the legs of the
Boches, led them off and handed them over to the 204th, and here we
"We even fished out, in passing, a sergeant who was piled up in a
hole and didn't dare come out, seeing he was shell-shocked. We
slanged him, and that set him up a bit, and he thanked us. Sergeant
Sacerdote he called himself."
"But your wound, old chap?"
"It's my ears. Two shells, a little one and a big one, my lad--went
off while you're saying it. My head came between the two bursts, as
you might say, but only just; a very close shave, and my lugs got
"You should have seen him," says Fouillade, "it was disgusting,
those two ears hanging down. We had two packets of bandages, and the
stretcher-men fired us one in. That makes three packets he's got
rolled round his nut."
"Give us your traps, we're going back."
Farfadet and I divide Volpatte's equipment between us. Fouillade,
sullen with thirst and racked by stiff joints, growls, and insists
obstinately on keeping his weapons and bundles.
We stroll back, finding diversion--as always--in walking without
ranks. It is so uncommon that one finds it surprising and
profitable. So it is a breach of liberty which soon enlivens all
four of us. We are in the country as though for the pleasure of it.
"We are pedestrians!" says Volpatte proudly. When we reach the
turning at the top of the hill, he relapses upon rosy visions: "Old
man, it's a good wound, after all. I shall be sent back, no mistake
His eyes wink and sparkle in the huge white clump that dithers on
his shoulders--a clump reddish on each side, where the ears were.
From the depth where the village lies we hear ten o'clock strike.
"To hell with the time," says Volpatte "it doesn't matter to me any
more what time it is."
He becomes loquacious. It is a low fever that inspires his
dissertation, and condenses it to the slow swing of our walk, in
which his step is already jaunty.
"They'll stick a red label on my greatcoat, you'll see, and take me
to the rear. I shall be bossed this time by a very polite sort of
chap, who'll say to me, 'That's one side, now turn the other
way--so, my poor fellow.' Then the ambulance, and then the
sick-train, with the pretty little ways of the Red Cross ladies all
the way along, like they did to Crapelet Jules, then the base
hospital. Beds with white sheets, a stove that snores in the middle
of us all, people with the special job of looking after you, and
that you watch doing it, regulation slippers--sloppy and
comfortable--and a chamber-cupboard. Furniture! And it's in those
big hospitals that you're all right for grub! I shall have good
feeds, and baths. I shall take all I can get hold of. And there'll
be presents--that you can enjoy without having to fight the others
for them and get yourself into a bloody mess. I shall have my two
hands on the counterpane, and they'll do damn well nothing, like
things to look at--like toys, what? And under the sheets my legs'll
be white-hot all the way through, and my trotters'll be expanding
like bunches of violets."
Volpatte pauses, fumbles about, and pulls out of his pocket, along
with his famous pair of Soissons scissors, something that he shows
to me: "Tiens, have you seen this?"
It is a photograph of his wife and two children. He has already
shown it to me many a time. I look at it and express appreciation.
"I shall go on sick-leave," says Volpatte, "and while my ears are
sticking themselves on again, the wife and the little ones will look
at me, and I shall look at them. And while they're growing again
like lettuces, my friends, the war, it'll make progress--the
Russians--one doesn't know, what?" He is thinking aloud, lulling
himself with happy anticipations, already alone with his private
festival in the midst of us.
"Robber!" Feuillade shouts at him. "You've too much luck, by God!"
How could we not envy him? He would be going away for one, two, or
three months; and all that time, instead of our wretched privations,
he would be transformed into a man of means!
"At the beginning," says Farfadet, "it sounded comic when I heard
them wish for a 'good wound.' But all the same, and whatever can be
said about it, I understand now that it's the only thing a poor
soldier can hope for if he isn't daft."
* * * * * *
We were drawing near to the village and passing round the wood. At
its corner, the sudden shape of a woman arose against the sportive
sunbeams that outlined her with light. Alertly erect she stood,
before the faintly violet background of the wood's marge and the
crosshatched trees. She was slender, her head all afire with fair
hair, and in her pale face we could see the night-dark caverns of
great eyes. The resplendent being gazed fixedly upon us, trembling,
then plunged abruptly into the undergrowth and disappeared like a
The apparition and its flight so impressed Volpatte that he lost the
thread of his discourse.
"She's something like, that woman there!"
"No," said Fouillade, who had misunderstood, "she's called Eudoxie.
I knew her because I've seen her before. A refugee. I don't know
where she comes from, but she's at Gamblin, in a family there."
"She's thin and beautiful," Volpatte certified; "one would like to
make her a little present--she's good enough to eat--tender as a
chicken. And look at the eyes she's got!"
"She's queer," says Fouillade. "You don't know when you've got her.
You see her here, there, with her fair hair on top, then--off!
Nobody about. And you know, she doesn't know what danger is;
marching about, sometimes, almost in the front line, and she's been
seen knocking about in No Man's Land. She's queer."
"Look! There she is again. The spook! She's keeping an eye on us.
What's she after?"
The shadow-figure, traced in lines of light, this time adorned the
other end of the spinney's edge.
"To hell with women," Volpatte declared, whom the idea of his
deliverance has completely recaptured.
"There's one in the squad, anyway, that wants her pretty badly.
See--when you speak of the wolf--"
"You see its tail--"
"Not yet, but almost--look!" From some bushes on our right we saw
the red snout of Lamuse appear peeping, like a wild boar's.
He was on the woman's trail. He had seen the alluring vision,
dropped to the crouch of a setting dog, and made his spring. But in
that spring he fell upon us.
Recognizing Volpatte and Fouillade, big Lamuse gave shouts of
delight. At once he had no other thought than to get possession of
the bags, rifles, and haversacks--"Give me all of it--I'm
resting--come on, give it up."
He must carry everything. Farfadet and I willingly gave up
Volpatte's equipment; and Fouillade, now at the end of his strength,
agreed to surrender his pouches and his rifle.
Lamuse became a moving heap. Under the huge burden he disappeared,
bent double, and made progress only with shortened steps.
But we felt that he was still under the sway of a certain project,
and his glances went sideways. He was seeking the woman after whom
he had hurled himself. Every time he halted, the better to trim some
detail of the load, or puffingly to mop the greasy flow of
perspiration, he furtively surveyed all the corners of the horizon
and scrutinized the edges of the wood. He did not see her again.
I did see her again, and got a distinct impression this time that it
was one of us she was after. She half arose on our left from the
green shadows of the undergrowth. Steadying herself with one hand on
a branch, she leaned forward and revealed the night-dark eyes and
pale face, which showed--so brightly lighted was one whole side of
it--like a crescent moon.
I saw that she was smiling. And following the course of the look
that smiled, I saw Farfadet a little way behind us, and he was
smiling too. Then she slipped away into the dark foliage, carrying
the twin smile with her.
Thus was the understanding revealed to me between this lissom and
dainty gypsy, who was like no one at all, and Farfadet, conspicuous
among us all--slender, pliant and sensitive as lilac. Evidently--!
Lamuse saw nothing, blinded and borne down as he was by the load he
had taken from Farfadet and me, occupied in the poise of them, and
in finding where his laden and leaden feet might tread.
But he looks unhappy; he groans. A weighty and mournful obsession is
stifling him. In his harsh breathing it seems to me that I can hear
his heart beating and muttering. Looking at Volpatte, hooded in
bandages, and then at the strong man, muscular and full-blooded,
with that profound and eternal yearning whose sharpness he alone can
gauge, I say to myself that the worst wounded man is not he whom we
We go down at last to the village. "Let's have a drink," says
Fouillade. "I'm going to be sent back," says Volpatte. Lamuse puffs
Our comrades shout and come running, and we gather in the little
square where the church stands with its twin towers--so thoroughly
mutilated by a shell that one can no longer look it in the face.
THE dim road which rises through the middle of the night-bound wood
is so strangely full of obstructing shadows that the deep darkness
of the forest itself might by some magic have overflowed upon it. It
is the regiment on the march, in quest of a new home.
The weighty ranks of the shadows, burdened both high and broad,
hustle each other blindly. Each wave, pushed by the following,
stumbles upon the one in front, while alongside and detached are the
evolutions of those less bulky ghosts, the N.C.O.'s. A clamor of
confusion, compound of exclamations, of scraps of chat, of words of
command, of spasms of coughing and of song, goes up from the dense
mob enclosed between the banks. To the vocal commotion is added the
tramping of feet, the jingling of bayonets in their scabbards, of
cans and drinking-cups, the rumbling and hammering of the sixty
vehicles of the two convoys--fighting and regimental--that follow
the two battalions. And such a thing is it that trudges and spreads
itself over the climbing road that, in spite of the unbounded dome
of night, one welters in the odor of a den of lions.
In the ranks one sees nothing. Sometimes, when one can lift his nose
up, by grace of an eddy in the tide, one cannot help seeing the
whiteness of a mess-tin, the blue steel of a helmet, the black steel
of a rifle. Anon, by the dazzling jet of sparks that flies from a
pocket flint-and-steel, or the red flame that expands upon the
lilliputian stem of a match, one can see beyond the vivid near
relief of hands and faces to the silhouetted and disordered groups
of helmeted shoulders, swaying like surges that would storm the
sable stronghold of the night. Then, all goes out, and while each
tramping soldier's legs swing to and fro, his eye is fixed
inflexibly upon the conjectural situation of the back that dwells in
front of him.
After several halts, when we have allowed ourselves to collapse on
our haversacks at the foot of the stacked rifles--stacks that form
on the call of the whistle with feverish haste and exasperating
delay, through our blindness in that atmosphere of ink-dawn reveals
itself, extends, and acquires the domain of Space. The walls of the
Shadow crumble in vague ruin. Once more we pass under the grand
panorama of the day's unfolding upon the ever-wandering horde that
We emerge at last from this night of marching, across concentric
circles as it seems, of darkness less dark, then of half-shadow,
then of gloomy light. Legs have a wooden stiffness, backs are
benumbed, shoulders bruised. Faces are still so gray or so black,
one would say they had but half rid themselves of the night. Now,
indeed, one never throws it off altogether.
It is into new quarters that the great company is going--this time
to rest. What will the place be like that we have to live in for
eight days? It is called, they say--but nobody is certain of
anything--Gauchin-l'Abbe. We have heard wonders about it--"It
appears to be just it."
In the ranks of the companies whose forms and features one begins to
make out in the birth of morning, and to distinguish the lowered
heads and yawning mouths, some voices are heard in still higher
praise. "There never were such quarters. The Brigade's there, and
the court-martial. You can get anything in the shops."--"If the
Brigade's there, we're all right."--
"Think we can find a table for the squad?"--"Everything you want, I
A pessimist prophet shakes his head: "What these quarters'll be like
where we ye never been, I don't know," he says. "What I do know is
that it'll be like the others."
But we don't believe him, and emerging from the fevered turmoil of
the night, it seems to all that it is a sort of Promised Land we are
approaching by degrees the light brings us out of the east and the
icy air towards the unknown village.
At the foot of a bill in the half-light, we reach some houses, still
slumbering and wrapped in heavy grayness
"There it is!"
Poof! We've done twenty-eight kilometers in the night. But what of
that? There is no halt. We go past the houses, and they sink back
again into their vague vapors and their mysterious shroud.
"Seems we've got to march a long time yet. It's always there, there,
We march like machines, our limbs invaded by a sort of petrified
torpor; our joints cry aloud, and force us to make echo.
Day comes slowly, for a blanket of mist covers the earth. It is so
cold that the men dare not sit down during the halts, though
overborne by weariness, and they pace to and fro in the damp
obscurity like ghosts. The besom of a biting wintry wind whips our
skin, sweeps away and scatters our words and our sighs.
At last the sun pierces the reek that spreads over us and soaks what
it touches, and something like a fairy glade opens out in the midst
of this gloom terrestrial. The regiment stretches itself and wakes
up in truth, with slow-lifted faces to the gilded silver of the
earliest rays. Quickly, then, the sun grows fiery, and now it is too
hot. In the ranks we pant and sweat, and our grumbling is louder
even than just now, when our teeth were chattering and the fog
wet-sponged our hands and faces.
It is a chalk country through which we are passing on this torrid
forenoon--"They mend this road with lime, the dirty devils!" The
road has become blinding--a long-drawn cloud of dessicated chalk and
dust that rises high above our columns and powders us as we go.
Faces turn red, and shine as though varnished; some of the
full-blooded ones might be plastered with vaseline. Cheeks and
foreheads are coated with a rusty paste which agglutinates and
cracks. Feet lose their dubious likeness to feet and might have
paddled in a mason's mortar-trough. Haversacks and rifles are
powdered in white, and our legion leaves to left and right a long
milky track on the bordering grass. And to crown all--"To the right!
We bear to the right, hurriedly, and not without bumpings. The
convoy of lorries, a long chain of foursquare and huge projectiles,
rolling up with diabolical din, hurls itself along the road. Curse
it! One after another, they gather up the thick carpet of white
powder that upholsters the ground and send it broadcast over our
shoulders! Now we are garbed in a stuff of light gray and our faces
are pallid masks, thickest on the eyebrows and mustaches, on beards,
and the cracks of wrinkles. Though still ourselves, we look like
strange old men.
"When we're old buffers, we shall be as ugly as this," says Tirette.
"Tu craches blanc," declares Biquet. [note 1]
When a halt puts us out of action, you might take us for rows of
plaster statues, with some dirty indications of humanity showing
We move again, silent and chagrined. Every step becomes hard to
complete. Our faces assume congealed and fixed grimaces under the
wan leprosy of dust. The unending effort contracts us and quite
fills us with dismal weariness and disgust.
We espy at last the long-sought oasis. Beyond a hill, on a still
higher one, some slated roofs peep from clusters of foliage as
brightly green as a salad. The village is there, and our looks
embrace it, but we are not there yet. For a long time it seems to
recede as fast as the regiment crawls towards it.
At long last, on the stroke of noon, we reach the quarters that had
begun to appear a pretense and a legend. In regular step and with
rifles on shoulders, the regiment floods the street of
Gauchin-l'Abbe right to its edges. Most of the villages of
the Pas du Calais are composed of a single street, but such a
street! It is often several kilometers long. In this one, the street
divides in front of the mairie and forms two others, so that the
hamlet becomes a big Y, brokenly bordered by low-built dwellings.
The cyclists, the officers, the orderlies, break away from the long
moving mass. Then, as they come up, a few of the men at a time are
swallowed up by the barns, the still available houses being reserved
for officers and departments. Our half-company is led at first to
the end of the village, and then--by some misunderstanding among the
quartermasters--back to the other end, the one by which we entered.
This oscillation takes up time, and the squad, dragged thus from
north to south and from south to north, heavily fatigued and
irritated by wasted walking, evinces feverish impatience. For it is
supremely important to be installed and set free as early as
possible if we are to carry out the plan we have cherished so
long--to find a native with some little place to let, and a table
where the squad can have its meals. We have talked a good deal about
this idea and its delightful advantages. We have taken counsel,
subscribed to a common fund, and decided that this time we will take
the header into the additional outlay.
But will it be possible? Very many places are already snapped up. We
are not the only ones to bring our dream of comfort here, and it
will be a race for that table. Three companies are coming in after
ours, but four were here before us, and there are the officers, the
cooks of the hospital staff for the Section, and the clerks, the
drivers, the orderlies and others, official cooks of the sergeants'
mess, and I don't know how many more. All these men are more
influential than the soldiers of the line, they have more mobility
and more money, and can bring off their schemes beforehand. Already,
while we march four abreast towards the barn assigned to the squad,
we see some of these jokers across the conquered thresholds,
Tirette imitates the sounds of lowing and bleating--"There's our
cattle-shed." A fairly big barn. The chopped straw smells of
night-soil, and our feet stir up clouds of dust. But it is almost
enclosed. We choose our places and cast off our equipment.
Those who dreamed yet once again of a special sort of Paradise sing
low--yet once again. "Look now, it seems as ugly as the other
places."--"It's something like the same."--"Naturally."
But there is no time to waste in talking. The thing is to get clear
and be after the others with all strength and speed. We hurry out.
In spite of broken backs and aching feet, we set ourselves savagely
to this last effort on which the comfort of a week depends.
The squad divides into two patrols and sets off at the double, one
to left and one to right along the street, which is already
obstructed by busy questing poilus; and all the groups see and watch
each other--and hurry. In places there are collisions, jostlings,
"Let's begin down there at once, or our goose'll be cooked!" I have
an impression of a kind of fierce battle between all the soldiers,
in the streets of the village they have just occupied. "For us,"
says Marthereau, "war is always struggling and fighting--always,
We knock at door after door, we show ourselves timidly, we offer
ourselves like undesirable goods. A voice arises among us, "You
haven't a bit of a corner, madame, for some soldiers? We would pay."
"No--you see, I've got officers--under-officers, that is--you see,
it's the mess for the band, and the secretaries, and the gentlemen
of the ambulance--"
Vexation after vexation. We close again, one after the other, all
the doors we had half-opened, and look at each other, on the wrong
side of the threshold, with dwindling hope in our eyes.
"Bon Dieu! You'll see that we shan't find anything," growls Barque.
"Damn those chaps that got on the midden before us!"
The human flood reaches high-water mark everywhere. The three
streets are all growing dark as each overflows into another. Some
natives cross our path, old men or ill-shapen, contorted in their
walk, stunted in the face; and even young people, too, over whom
hovers the mystery of secret disorders or political connections. As
for the petticoats, there are old women and many young ones--fat,
with well-padded cheeks, and equal to geese in their whiteness.
Suddenly, in an alley between two houses, I have a fleeting vision
of a woman who crossed the shadowy gap--Eudoxie! Eudoxie, the fairy
woman whom Lamuse hunted like a satyr, away back in the country,
that morning we brought back Volpatte wounded, and Fouillade, the
woman I saw leaning from the spinney's edge and bound to Farfadet in
a mutual smile. It is she whom I just glimpsed like a gleam of
sunshine in that alley. But the gleam was eclipsed by the tail of a
wall, and the place thereof relapsed upon gloom. She here, already!
Then she has followed our long and painful trek! She is attracted--?
And she looks like one allured, too. Brief glimpse though it was of
her face and its crown of fair hair, plainly I saw that she was
serious, thoughtful, absentminded.
Lamuse, following close on my heels, saw nothing, and I do not tell
him. He will discover quite soon enough the bright presence of that
lovely flame where he would fain cast himself bodily, though it
evades him like a Will-o'-th'-wisp. For the moment, besides, we are
on business bent. The coveted corner must be won. We resume the hunt
with the energy of despair. Barque leads us on; he has taken the
matter to heart. He is trembling--you can see it in his dusty scalp.
He guides us, nose to the wind. He suggests that we make an attempt
on that yellow door over there. Forward!
Near the yellow door, we encounter a shape down-bent. Blaire, his
foot on a milestone, is reducing the bulk of his boot with his
knife, and plaster-like debris is falling fast. He might be engaged
"You never had your feet so white before," jeers Barque. "Rotting
apart," says Blaire, "you don't know where it is, that special van?"
He goes on to explain: "I've got to look up the dentist-van, so they
can grapple with my ivories, and strip off the old grinders that's
left. Oui, seems it's stationed here, the chop-caravan."
He folds up his knife, pockets it, and goes off alongside the wall,
possessed by the thought of his jaw-bones' new lease of life.
Once more we put up our beggars' petition: "Good-day, madame; you
haven't got a little corner where we could feed? We would pay, of
course, we would pay--"
Through the glass of the low window we see lifted the face of an old
man--like a fish in a bowl, it looks--a face curiously flat, and
lined with parallel wrinkles, like a page of old manuscript.
"You've the little shed there."
"There's no room in the shed, and when the washing's done there--"
Barque seizes the chance. "It'll do very likely. May we see it?"
"We do the washing there," mutters the woman, continuing to wield
"You know," says Barque, with a smile and an engaging air, "we're
not like those disagreeable people who get drunk and make themselves
a nuisance. May we have a look?"
The woman has let her broom rest. She is thin and inconspicuous. Her
jacket hangs from her shoulders as from a valise. Her face is like
cardboard, stiff and without expression. She looks at us and
hesitates, then grudgingly leads the way into a very dark little
place, made of beaten earth and piled with dirty linen.
"It's splendid," cries Lamuse, in all honesty.
"Isn't she a darling, the little kiddie!" says Barque, as he pats
the round cheek, like painted india-rubber, of a little girl who is
staring at us with her dirty little nose uplifted in the gloom. "Is
she yours, madame?"
"And that one, too?" risks Marthereau, as he espies an over-ripe
infant on whose bladder-like cheeks are shining deposits of jam, for
the ensnaring of the dust in the air. He offers a half-hearted
caress in the direction of the moist and bedaubed countenance. The
woman does not deign an answer.
So there we are, trifling and grinning, like beggars whose plea
still hangs fire.
Lamuse whispers to me, in a torment of fear and cupidity, "Let's
hope she'll catch on, the filthy old slut. It's grand here, and, you
know, everything else is pinched!"
"There's no table," the woman says at last.
"Don't worry about the table," Barque exclaims. "Tenez! there, put
away in that corner, the old door; that would make us a table."
"You're not going to trail me about and upset all my work!" replies
the cardboard woman suspiciously, and with obvious regret that she
had not chased us away immediately.
"Don't worry, I tell you. Look, I'll show you. Hey, Lamuse, old
cock, give me a hand."
Under the displeased glances of the virago we place the old door on
a couple of barrels.
"With a bit of a rub-down," says I, "that will be perfect."
"Eh, oui, maman, a flick with a brush'll do us instead of
The woman hardly knows what to say; she watches us spitefully:
"There's only two stools, and how many are there of you?"
"About a dozen."
"A dozen. Jesus Maria!"
"What does it matter? That'll be all right, seeing there's a plank
here--and that's a bench ready-made, eh, Lamuse?"
"Course," says Lamuse.
"I want that plank," says the woman. "Some soldiers that were here
before you have tried already to take it away."
"But us, we're not thieves," suggests Lamuse gently, so as not to
irritate the creature that has our comfort at her disposal.
"I don't say you are, but soldiers, vous savez, they smash
everything up. Oh, the misery of this war!"
"Well then, how much'll it be, to hire the table, and to heat up a
thing or two on the stove?"
"It'll be twenty sous a day," announces the hostess with restraint,
as though we were wringing that amount from her.
"It's dear," says Lamuse.
"It's what the others gave me that were here, and they were very
kind, too, those gentlemen, and it was worth my while to cook for
them. I know it's not difficult for soldiers. If you think it's too
much, it's no job to find other customers for this room and this
table and the stove, and who wouldn't be in twelves. They're coming
along all the time, and they'd pay still more, if I wanted. A
Lamuse hastens to add, "I said 'It's dear,' but still, it'll do, eh,
you others?" On this downright question we record our votes.
"We could do well with a drop to drink," says Lamuse. "Do you sell
"No," said the woman, but added, shaking with anger, "You see, the
military authority forces them that's got wine to sell it at fifteen
sous! Fifteen sous! The misery of this cursed war! One loses at it,
at fifteen sous, monsieur. So I don't sell any wine. I've got plenty
for ourselves. I don't say but sometimes, and just to oblige, I
don't allow some to people that one knows, people that knows what
things are, but of course, messieurs, not at fifteen sous."
Lamuse is one of those people "that knows what things are." He grabs
at his water-bottle, which is hanging as usual on his hip. "Give me
a liter of it. That'll be what?"
"That'll be twenty-two sous, same as it cost me. But you know it's
just to oblige you, because you're soldiers."
Barque, losing patience, mutters an aside. The woman throws him a
surly glance, and makes as if to hand Lamuse's bottle back to him.
But Lamuse, launched upon the hope of drinking wine at last, so that
his cheeks redden as if the draught already pervaded them with its
grateful hue, hastens to intervene--
"Don't be afraid--it's between ourselves, la mere, we won't
give you away."
She raves on, rigid and bitter, against the limited price on wine;
and, overcome by his lusty thirst, Lamuse extends the humiliation
and surrender of conscience so far as to say, "No help for it,
madame! It's a military order, so it's no use trying to understand
She leads us into the store-room. Three fat barrels occupy it in
impressive rotundity. "Is this your little private store?"
"She knows her way about, the old lady," growls Barque.
The shrew turns on her heel, truculent: "Would you have me ruin
myself by this miserable war? I've about enough of losing money all
ways at once."
"How?" insists Barque.
"I can see you're not going to risk your money!"
"That's right--we only risk our skins."
We intervene, disturbed by the tone of menace for our present
concern that the conversation has assumed. But the door of the
wine-cellar is shaken, and a man's voice comes through. "Hey,
Palmyra!" it calls.
The woman hobbles away, discreetly leaving the door open. "That's
all right--we've taken root!" Lamuse says.
"What dirty devils these, people are!" murmurs Barque, who finds his
reception hard to stomach.
"It's shameful and sickening," says Marthereau.
"One would think it was the first time you'd had any of it!"
"And you, old gabbler," chides Barque, "that says prettily to the
wine-robber, 'Can't be helped, it's a military order'! Gad, old man,
you're not short of cheek!"
"What else could I do or say? We should have had to go into mourning
for our table and our wine. She could make us pay forty sous for the
wine, and we should have had it all the same, shouldn't we? Very
well, then, got to think ourselves jolly lucky. I'll admit I'd no
confidence, and I was afraid it was no go."
"I know; it's the same tale everywhere and always, but all the
"Damn the thieving natives, ah, oui! Some of 'em must be making
fortunes. Everybody can't go and get killed."
"Ah, the gallant people of the East!"
"Yes, and the gallant people of the North!"
"Who welcome us with open arms!"
"With open hands, yes--"
"I tell you," Marthereau says again, "it's a shame and it's
"Shut it up--there's the she-beast coming back." We took a turn
round to quarters to announce our success, and then went shopping.
When we returned to our new dining-room, we were hustled by the
preparations for lunch. Barque had been to the rations distribution,
and had managed, thanks to personal relations with the cook (who was
a conscientious objector to fractional divisions), to secure the
potatoes and meat that formed the rations for all the fifteen men of
the squad. He had bought some lard--a little lump for fourteen
sous--and some one was frying. He had also acquired some green peas
in tins, four tins. Mesnil Andre's tin of veal in jelly would
be a hors-d'oeuvre.
"And not a dirty thing in all the lot!" said Lamuse, enchanted.
* * * * * *
We inspected the kitchen. Barque was moving cheerfully about the
iron Dutch oven whose hot and steaming bulk furnished all one side
of the room.
"I've added a stewpan on the quiet for the soup," he whispered to
me. Lifting the lid of the stove--"Fire isn't too hot. It's half an
hour since I chucked the meat in, and the water's clean yet."
A minute later we heard some one arguing with the hostess. This
extra stove was the matter in dispute. There was no more room left
for her on her stove. They had told her they would only need a
casserole, and she had believed them. If she had known they were
going to make trouble she would not have let the room to them.
Barque, the good fellow, replied jokingly, and succeeded in soothing
One by one the others arrived. They winked and rubbed their hands
together, full of toothsome anticipation, like the guests at a
wedding-breakfast. As they break away from the dazzling light
outside and penetrate this cube of darkness, they are blinded, and
stand like bewildered owls for several minutes.
"It's not too brilliant in here," says Mesnil Joseph. "Come, old
chap, what do you want?" The others exclaim in chorus, "We're damned
well off here." And I can see heads nodding assent in the cavern's
An incident: Farfadet having by accident rubbed against the damp and
dirty wall, his shoulder has brought away from it a smudge so big
and black that it can be seen even here. Farfadet, so careful of his
appearance, growls, and in avoiding a second contact with the wall,
knocks the table so that his spoon drops to the ground. Stooping, he
fumbles among the loose earth, where dust and spiders' webs for
years have silently fallen. When he recovers his spoon it is almost
black, and webby threads hang from it. Evidently it is disastrous to
let anything fall on the ground. One must live here with great care.
Lamuse brings down his fat hand, like a pork-pie, between two of the
places at table. "Allons, a table!" We fall to. The meal is
abundant and of excellent quality. The sound of conversation mingles
with those of emptying bottles and filling jaws. While we taste the
joy of eating at a table, a glimmer of light trickles through a
vent-hole, and wraps in dusty dawn a piece of the atmosphere and a
patch of the table, while its reflex lights up a plate, a cap's
peak, an eye. Secretly I take stock of this gloomy little
celebration that overflows with gayety. Biquet is telling about his
suppliant sorrows in quest of a washerwoman who would agree to do
him the good turn of washing some linen, but "it was too damned
dear." Tulacque describes the queue outside the grocer's. One might
not go in; customers were herded outside, like sheep. "And although
you were outside, if you weren't satisfied, and groused too much,
they chased you off."
Any news yet? It is said that severe penalties have been imposed on
those who plunder the population, and there is already a list of
convictions. Volpatte has been sent down. Men of Class '93 are going
to be sent to the rear, and Pepere is one of them.
When Barque brings in the harvest of the fry-pan, he announces that
our hostess has soldiers at her table--ambulance men of the
machine-guns. "They thought they were the best off, but it's us
that's that," says Fouillade with decision, lolling grandly in the
darkness of the narrow and tainted hole where we are just as
confusedly heaped together as in a dug-out. But who would think of
making the comparison?
"Vous savez pas," says Pepin, "the chaps of the 9th, they're
in clover! An old woman has taken them in for nothing, because of
her old man that's been dead fifty years and was a rifleman once on
a time. Seems she's even given them a rabbit for nix, and they're
just worrying it jugged."
"There's good sorts everywhere. But the boys of the 9th had famous
luck to fall into the only shop of good sorts in the whole village."
Palmyra comes with the coffee, which she supplies. She thaws a
little, listens to us, and even asks questions in a supercilious
way: "Why do you call the adjutant 'le juteux'?"
Barque replies sententiously, "'Twas ever thus."
When she has disappeared, we criticize our coffee. "Talk about
clear! You can see the sugar ambling round the bottom of the
glass."--"She charges six sous for it."--"It's filtered water."
The door half opens, and admits a streak of light. The face of a
little boy is defined in it. We entice him in like a kitten and give
him a bit of chocolate.
Then, "My name's Charlie," chirps the child. "Our house, that's
close by. We've got soldiers, too. We always had them, we had. We
sell them everything they want. Only, voila, sometimes they
"Tell me, little one, come here a bit," says Cocon, taking the boy
between his knees. "Listen now. Your papa, he says, doesn't he,
'Let's hope the war goes on,' eh?" [note 2]
"Of course," says the child, tossing his head, "because we're
getting rich. He says, by the end of May, we shall have got fifty
"Fifty thousand francs! Impossible!"
"Yes, yes!" the child insists, stamping, "he said it to mamma. Papa
wished it could be always like that. Mamma, sometimes, she isn't
sure, because my brother Adolphe is at the front. But we're going to
get him sent to the rear, and then the war can go on."
These confidences are disturbed by sharp cries, coming from the
rooms of our hosts. Biquet the mobile goes to inquire. "It's
nothing," says he, coming back; "it's the good man slanging the
woman because she doesn't know how to do things, he says, because
she's made the mustard in a tumbler, and he never heard of such a
thing, he says."
We get up, and leave the strong odor of pipes, wine, and stale
coffee in our cave. As soon as we have crossed the threshold, a
heaviness of heat puffs in our faces, fortified by the mustiness of
frying that dwells in the kitchen and emerges every time the door is
opened. We pass through legions of flies which, massed on the walls
in black hordes, fly abroad in buzzing swarms as we pass: "It's
beginning again like last year! Flies outside, lice inside.--"
"And microbes still farther inside!"
In a corner of this dirty little house and its litter of old
rubbish, its dusty debris of last year and the relics of so many
summers gone by, among the furniture and household gear, something
is moving. It is an old simpleton with a long bald neck, pink and
rough, making you think of a fowl's neck which has prematurely
molted through disease. His profile is that of a hen, too--no chin
and a long nose. A gray overlay of beard felts his receded cheek,
and you see his heavy eyelids, rounded and horny, move up and down
like shutters on the dull beads of his eyes.
Barque has already noticed him: "Watch him--he's a treasure-seeker.
He says there's one somewhere in this hovel that he's stepfather to.
You'll see him directly go on all-fours and push his old phizog in
every corner there is. Tiens, watch him."
With the aid of his stick, the old man proceeded to take methodical
soundings. He tapped along the foot of the walls and on the
floor-tiles.. He was hustled by the coming and going of the
occupants of the house, by callers, and by the swing of Palmyra's
broom; but she let him alone and said nothing, thinking to herself,
no doubt, that the exploitation of the national calamity is a more
profitable treasure than problematical caskets.
Two gossips are standing in a recess and exchanging confidences in
low voices, hard by an old map of Russia that is peopled with flies.
"Oui, but it's with the Picon bitters that you've got to be careful.
If you haven't got a light touch, you can't get your sixteen glasses
out of a bottle, and so you lose too much profit. I don't say but
what one's all right in one's purse, even so, but one doesn't make
enough. To guard against that, the retailers ought to agree among
themselves, but the understanding's so difficult to bring off, even
when it's in the general interest."
Outside there is torrid sunshine, riddled with flies. The little
beasts, quite scarce but a few days ago, multiply everywhere the
murmur of their minute and innumerable engines. I go out in the
company of Lamuse; we are going for a saunter. One can be at peace
today--it is complete rest, by reason of the overnight march. We
might sleep, but it suits us much better to use the rest for an
extensive promenade. To-morrow, the exercise and fatigues will get
us again. There are some, less lucky than we, who are already caught
in the cogwheels of fatigue. To Lamuse, who invites him to come and
stroll with us, Corvisart replies, screwing up the little round nose
that is laid flatly on his oblong face like a cork, "Can't--I'm on
manure!" He points to the shovel and broom by whose help he is
performing his task of scavenger and night-soil man.
We walk languidly. The afternoon lies heavy on the drowsy land and
on stomachs richly provided and embellished with food. The remarks
we exchange are infrequent.
Over there, we hear noises. Barque has fallen a victim to a
menagerie of housewives; and the scene is pointed by a pale little
girl, her hair tied behind in a pencil of tow and her mouth
embroidered with fever spots, and by women who are busy with some
unsavory job of washing in the meager shade before their doors.
Six men go by, led by a quartermaster corporal. They carry heaps of
new greatcoats and bundles of boots. Lamuse regards his bloated and
horny feet--"I must have some new sheds, and no mistake; a bit more
and you'll see my splay-feet through these ones. Can't go marching
on the skin of my tongs, eh?"
An aeroplane booms overhead. We follow its evolutions with our faces
skyward, our necks twisted, our eyes watering at the piercing
brightness of the sky.
Lamuse declares to me, when we have brought our gaze back to earth,
"Those machines'll never become practical, never."
"How can you say that? Look at the progress they've made already,
and the speed of it."
"Yes, but they'll stop there. They'll never do any better, never."
This time I do not challenge the dull and obstinate denial that
ignorance opposes to the promise of progress, and I let my big
comrade alone in his stubborn belief that the wonderful effort of
science and industry has been suddenly cut short.
Having thus begun to reveal to me his inmost thoughts, Lamuse
continues. Coming nearer and lowering his head, he says to me, "You
know she's here--Eudoxie?"
"Ah!" said I.
"Yes, old chap. You never notice anything, you don't, but I
noticed," and Lamuse smiles at me indulgently. "Now, do you catch
on? If she's come here, it's because we interest her, eh? She's
followed us for one of us, and don't you forget it."
He gets going again. "My boy, d'you want to know what I say? She's
come after me."
"Are you sure of it, old chap?"
"Yes," says the ox-man, in a hollow voice. "First, I want her. Then,
twice, old man, I've found her exactly in my path, in mine, d'you
understand? You may tell me that she ran away; that's because she's
timid, that, yes--"
He stopped dead in the middle of the street and looked straight at
me. The heavy face, greasily moist on the cheeks and nose, was
serious. His rotund fist went up to the dark yellow mustache, so
carefully pointed, and smoothed it tenderly. Then he continued to
lay bare his heart to me "I want her; but, you know, I shall marry
her all right, I shall. She's called Eudoxie Dumail. At first, I
wasn't thinking of marrying her. But since I've got to know her
family name, it seems to me that it's different, and I should get on
all right. Ah, nom de Dieu! She's so pretty, that woman! And it's
not only that she's pretty--ah!"
The huge child was overflowing with sentiment and emotion, and
trying to make them speak to me. "Ah, my boy, there are times when
I've just got to hold myself back with a hook," came the strained
and gloomy tones, while the blood flushed to the fleshy parts of his
cheeks and neck. "She's so beautiful, she's--and me I'm--she's so
unlike--you'll have noticed it, surely, you that notices--she's a
country girl, oui; eh bien, she's got a God knows what that's better
than a Parisienne, even a toffed-up and stylish Parisienne, pas?
She--as for me, I--"
He puckered his red eyebrows. He would have liked to tell me all the
splendor of his thoughts, but he knew not the art of expressing
himself, so he was silent. He remained alone in his voiceless
emotion, as always alone.
We went forward side by side between the rows of houses. In front of
the doors, drays laden with casks were drawn up. The front windows
blossomed with many-hued heaps of jam-pots, stacks of tinder
pipe-lighters--everything that the soldier is compelled to buy.
Nearly all the natives had gone into grocery. Business had been
getting out of gear locally for a long time, but now it was booming.
Every one, smitten with the fever of sum-totals and dazzled by the
multiplication table, plunged into trade.
Bells tolled, and the procession of a military funeral came out. A
forage wagon, driven by a transport man, carried a coffin wrapped in
a flag. Following, were a detachment of men, an adjutant, a padre,
and a civilian.
"The poor little funeral with its tail lopped off!" said Lamuse.
"Ah, those that are dead are very happy. But only sometimes, not
We have passed the last of the houses. In the country, beyond the
end of the street, the fighting convoy and the regimental convoy
have settled themselves, the traveling kitchens and jingling carts
that follow them with odds and ends of equipment, the Red Cross
wagons, the motor lorries, the forage carts, the baggage-master's
gig. The tents of drivers and conductors swarm around the vehicles.
On the open spaces horses lift their metallic eyes to the sky's
emptiness, with their feet on barren earth. Four poilus are setting
up a table. The open-air smithy is smoking. This heterogeneous and
swarming city, planted in ruined fields whose straight or winding
ruts are stiffening in the heat, is already broadly valanced with
rubbish and dung.
On the edge of the camp a big, white-painted van stands out from the
others in its tidy cleanliness. Had it been in the middle of a fair,
one would have said it was the stylish show where one pays more than
at the others.
This is the celebrated "stomatological" van that Blaire was asking
about. In point of fact, Blaire is there in front, looking at it.
For some long time, no doubt, he has been going round it and gazing.
Field-hospital orderly Sambremeuse, of the Division, returning from
errands, is climbing the portable stair of painted wood which leads
to the van door. In his arms he carries a bulky box of biscuits, a
loaf of fancy bread, and a bottle of champagne. Blaire questions
him--"Tell me, Sir Rump, this horse-box--is it the dentist's?"
"It's written up there," replies Sambremeuse--a little corpulent
man, clean, close-shaven, and his chin starch-white. "If you can't
see it, you don't want the dentist to look after your grinders, you
want the vet to clean your eyesight."
Blaire comes nearer and scrutinizes the establishment. "It's a queer
shop," he says. He goes nearer yet, draws back, hesitates to risk
his gums in that carriage. At last he decides, puts a foot on the
stair, and disappears inside the caravan.
We continue our walk, and turn into a footpath where are high, dusty
bushes and the noises are subdued. The sunshine blazes everywhere;
it heats and roasts the hollow of the way, spreading blinding and
burning whiteness in patches, and shimmers in the sky of faultless
At the first turning, almost before we had heard the light grating
of a footstep, we are face to face with Eudoxie!
Lamuse utters a deep exclamation. Perhaps he fancies once more that
she is looking for him, and believes that she is the gift of his
destiny. He goes up to her--all the bulk of him.
She looks at him and stops, framed by the hawthorn. Her strangely
slight and pale face is apprehensive, the lids tremble on her
magnificent eyes. She is bareheaded, and in the hollowed neck of her
linen corsage there is the dawning of her flesh. So near, she is
truly enticing in the sunshine, this woman crowned with gold, and
one's glance is impelled and astonished by the moon-like purity of
her skin. Her eyes sparkle; her teeth, too, glisten white in the
living wound of her half-open mouth, red as her heart.
"Tell me--I am going to tell you "pants Lamuse. "I like you so
much--" He outstretches his arm towards the motionless, beloved
She starts, and replies to him, "Leave me alone--you disgust me!"
The man's hand is thrown over one of her little ones. She tries to
draw it back, and shakes it to free herself. Her intensely fair hair
falls loose, flaming. He draws her to him. His head bends towards
her, and his lips are ready. His desire--the wish of all his
strength and all his life--is to caress her. He would die that he
might touch her with his lips. But she struggles, and utters a
choking cry. She is trembling, and her beautiful face is disfigured
I go up and put my hand on my friend's shoulder, but my intervention
is not needed. Lamuse recoils and growls, vanquished.
"Are you taken that way often?" cries Eudoxie.
"No!" groans the miserable man, baffled, overwhelmed, bewildered.
"Don't do it again, vous savez!" she says, and goes off panting, and
he does not even watch her go. He stands with his arms hanging,
gazing at the place whence she has gone, tormented to the quick,
torn from his dreams of her, and nothing left him to desire.
I lead him away and he comes in dumb agitation, sniffling and out of
breath, as though he had run a long way. The mass of his big head is
bent. In the pitiless light of eternal spring, he is like the poor
Cyclops who roamed the shores of ancient Sicily in the beginnings of
time--like a huge toy, a thing of derision, that a child's shining
strength could subdue.
The itinerant wine-seller, whose barrow is hunchbacked with a
barrel, has sold several liters to the men on guard duty. He
disappears round the bend in the road, with his face flat and yellow
as a Camembert, his scanty, thin hair frayed into dusty flakes, and
so emaciated himself that one could fancy his feet were fastened to
his trunk by strings through his flopping trousers.
And among the idle poilus of the guard-room at the end of the place,
under the wing of the shaking and rattling signboard which serves as
advertisement of the village, [note 3] a conversation is set up on
the subject of this wandering buffoon.
"He has a dirty neb," says Bigornot; "and I'll tell you what I
think--they've no business to let civvies mess about at the front
with their pretty ringlets, and especially individuals that you
don't know where they come from."
"You're quite crushing, you portable louse," replies Cornet.
"Never mind, shoe-sole face," Bigornot insists; "we trust 'em too
much. I know what I'm saying when I open it."
"You don't," says Canard. "Pepere's going to the
"The women here," murmurs La Mollette, "they're ugly; they're a lot
The other men on guard, their concentrated gaze roaming in space,
watch two enemy aeroplanes and the intricate skeins they are
spinning. Around the stiff mechanical birds up there that appear now
black like crows and now white like gulls, according to the play of
the light, clouds of bursting shrapnel stipple the azure, and seem
like a long flight of snowflakes in the sunshine.
As we are going back, two strollers come up--Carassus and Cheyssier.
They announce that mess-man Pepere is going to the
rear, to be sent to a Territorial regiment, having come under the
operation of the Dalbiez Act.
"That's a hint for Blaire," says Carassus, who has a funny big nose
in the middle of his face that suits him ill.
In the village groups of poilus go by, or in twos, joined by the
crossing bonds of converse. We see the solitary ones unite in
couples, separate, then come together again with a new inspiration
of talk, drawn to each other as if magnetized.
In the middle of an excited crowd white papers are waving. It is the
newspaper hawker, who is selling for two sous papers which should be
one sou. Fouillade is standing in the middle of the road, thin as
the legs of a hare. At the corner of a house Paradis shows to the
sun face pink as ham.
Biquet joins us again, in undress, with a jacket and cap of the
police. He is licking his chops: "I met some pals and we've had a
drink. You see, to-morrow one starts scratching again, and cleaning
his old rags and his catapult. But my greatcoat!--going to be some
job to filter that! It isn't a greatcoat any longer--it's
Montreuil, a clerk at the office, appears and hails Biquet: "Hey,
riff-raff! A letter! Been chasing you an hour. You're never to be
"Can't be both here and there, looney. Give us a squint." He
examines the letter, balances it in his hand, and announces as he
tears the envelope, "It's from the old woman."
We slacken our pace. As he reads, he follows the lines with his
finger, wagging his head with an air of conviction, and his lips
moving like a woman's in prayer.
The throng increases the nearer we draw to the middle of the
village. We salute the commandant and the black-skirted padre who
walks by the other's side like his nurse. We are questioned by
Pigeon, Guenon, young Escutenaire, and Chasseur Clodore. Lamuse
appears blind and deaf, and concerned only to walk.
Bizouarne, Chanrion, and Roquette arrive excitedly to announce big
news--"D'you know, Pepere's going to the rear."
"Funny," says Biquet, raising his nose from his letter, "how people
kid themselves. The old woman's bothered about me!" He shows me a
passage in the maternal epistle: "'When you get my letter,'" he
spells out, "'no doubt you will be in the cold and mud, deprived of
everything, mon pauvre Eugene'" He laughs: "It's ten days
since she put that down for me, and she's clean off it. We're not
cold, 'cos it's been fine since this morning; and we're not
miserable, because we've got a room that's good enough. We've had
hard times, but we're all right now."
As we reach the kennel in which we are lodgers, we are thinking that
sentence over. Its touching simplicity affects me, shows me a
soul--a host of souls. Because the sun has shown himself, because we
have felt a gleam and a similitude of comfort, suffering exists no
longer, either of the past or the terrible future. "We're all right
now." There is no more to say.
Biquet establishes himself at the table, like a gentleman, to write
a reply. Carefully he lays abroad his pen ink, and paper, and
examines each, then smilingly traces the strictly regular lines of
his big handwriting across the meager page.
"You'd laugh," he says, "if you knew what I've written to the old
woman." He reads his letter again, fondles it, and smiles to
[note 1:] Pity to spoil this jest by translation, but Biquet's
primary meaning was "You're cross because you've a throat like a
lime-kiln." His secondary or literal meaning is obvious.--Tr.
[note 2:] See p. 34 ante; [chapter 5, note 3] another reference to
the famous phrase. "Pourvu que les civils tiennent."--Tr.
[note 3:] Every French village has a plaque attached to the first
house on each road of approach, giving its name and the distance to
WE are enthroned in the back yard. The big hen, white as a cream
cheese, is brooding in the depths of a basket near the coop whose
imprisoned occupant is rummaging about. But the black hen is free to
travel. She erects and withdraws her elastic neck in jerks, and
advances with a large and affected gait. One can just see her
profile and its twinkling spangle, and her talk appears to proceed
from a metal spring. She marches, glistening black and glossy like
the love-locks of a gypsy; and as she marches, she unfolds here and
there upon the ground a faint trail of chickens.
These trifling little yellow balls, kept always by a whispering
instinct on the ebb-tide to safety, hurry along under the maternal
march in short, sharp jerks, pecking as they go. Now the train comes
to a full stop, for two of the chickens are thoughtful and immobile,
careless of the parental clucking.
"A bad sign," says Paradis; "the hen that reflects is ill." And
Paradis uncrosses and recrosses his legs. Beside him on the bench,
Blaire extends his own, lets loose a great yawn that he maintains in
placid duration, and sets himself again to observe, for of all of us
he most delights in watching fowls during the brief life when they
are in such a hurry to eat.
And we watch them in unison, not forgetting the shabby old cock,
worn threadbare. Where his feathers have fallen appears the naked
india-rubber leg, lurid as a grilled cutlet. He approaches the white
sitter, which first turns her head away in tart denial, with several
"No's" in a muffled rattle, and then watches him with the little
blue enamel dials of her eyes.
"We're all right," says Barque.
"Watch the little ducks," says Blaire, "going along the
We watch a single file of all-golden ducklings go past--still almost
eggs on feet--their big heads pulling their little lame bodies along
by the string of their necks, and that quickly. From his corner, the
big dog follows them also with his deeply dark eye, on which the
slanting sun has shaped a fine tawny ring.
Beyond this rustic yard and over the scalloping of the low wall, the
orchard reveals itself, where a green carpet, moist and thick,
covers the rich soil and is topped by a screen of foliage with a
garniture of blossom, some white as statuary, others pied and glossy
as knots in neckties. Beyond again is the meadow, where the shadowed
poplars throw shafts of dark or golden green. Still farther again is
a square patch of upstanding hops, followed by a patch of cabbages,
sitting on the ground and dressed in line. In the sunshine of air
and of earth we hear the bees, as they work and make music (in
deference to the poets), and the cricket which, in defiance of the
fable, sings with no humility and fills Space by himself.
Over yonder, there falls eddying from a poplar's peak a magpie--half
white, half black, like a shred of partly-burned paper.
The soldiers outstretch themselves luxuriously on the stone bench,
their eyes half closed, and bask in the sunshine that warms the
basin of the big yard till it is like a bath.
"That's seventeen days we've been here! After thinking we were going
away day after day!"
"One never knows," said Paradis, wagging his head and smacking his
Through the yard gate that opens on to the road we see a group of
poilus strolling, nose in air, devouring the sunshine; and then, all
alone, Tellurure. In the middle of the street he oscillates the
prosperous abdomen of which he is proprietor, and rocking on legs
arched like basket-handles, he expectorates in wide abundance all
"We thought, too, that we should be as badly off here as in the
other quarters. But this time it's real rest, both in the time it
lasts and the kind it is."
"You're not given too many exercises and fatigues."
"And between whiles you come in here to loll about."
The old man huddled up at the end of the seat--no other than the
treasure-seeking grandfather whom we saw the day of our
arrival--came nearer and lifted his finger. "When I was a young
man, I was thought a lot of by women," he asserted, shaking his
head. "I have led young ladies astray!"
"Ah!" said we, heedless, our attention taken away from his senile
prattle by the timely noise of a cart that was passing, laden and
"Nowadays," the old man went on, "I only think about money."
"Ah, oui, the treasure you're looking for, papa."
"That's it," said the old rustic, though he felt the skepticism
around him. He tapped his cranium with his forefinger, which he then
extended towards the house. "Take that insect there," he said,
indicating a little beast that ran along the plaster. "What does it
say? It says, 'I am the spider that spins the Virgin's thread.'" And
the archaic simpleton added, "One must never judge what people do,
for one can never tell what may happen."
"That's true," replied Paradis politely. "He's funny," said Mesnil
Andre, between his teeth, while he sought the mirror in his
pocket to look at the facial benefit of fine weather. "He's crazy,"
murmured Barque in his ecstasy.
"I leave you," said the old man, yielding in annoyance.
He got up to go and look for his treasure again, entered the house
that supported our backs, and left the door open, where beside the
huge fireplace in the room we saw a little girl, so seriously
playing with a doll that Blaire fell considering, and said, "She's
The games of children are a momentous preoccupation. Only the
After we have watched the animals and the strollers go by, we watch
the time go by, we watch everything.
We are seeing the life of things, we are present with Nature,
blended with climates, mingled even with the sky, colored by the
seasons. We have attached ourselves to this corner of the land where
chance has held us back from our endless wanderings in longer and
deeper peace than elsewhere; and this closer intercourse makes us
sensible of all its traits and habits. September--the morrow of
August and eve of October, most affecting of months--is already
sprinkling the fine days with subtle warnings. Already one knows the
meaning of the dead leaves that flit about the flat stones like a
flock of sparrows.
In truth we have got used to each other's company, we and this
place. So often transplanted, we are taking root here, and we no
longer actually think of going away, even when we talk about it.
"The 11th Division jolly well stayed a month and a half resting,"
"And the 375th, too, nine weeks!" replies Barque, in a tone of
"I think we shall stay here at least as long--at least, I say."
"We could finish the war here all right."
Barque is affected by the words, nor very far from believing them.
"After all, it will finish some day, what!"
"After all!" repeat the others.
"To be sure, one never knows," says Paradis. He says this weakly,
without deep conviction. It is, however, a saying which leaves no
room for reply. We say it over again, softly, lulling ourselves with
it as with an old song.
* * * * * *
Farfadet rejoined us a moment ago. He took his place near us, but a
little withdrawn all the same, and sits on an overturned tub, his
chin on his fists.
This man is more solidly happy than we are. We know it well, and he
knows it well. Lifting his head he has looked in turn, with the same
distant gaze, at the back of the old man who went to seek his
treasure, and at the group that talks of going away no more. There
shines over our sensitive and sentimental comrade a sort of personal
glamour, which makes of him a being apart, which gilds him and
isolates him from us, in spite of himself, as though an officer's
tabs had fallen on him from the sky.
His idyll with Eudoxie has continued here. We have had the proofs;
and once, indeed, he spoke of it. She is not very far away, and they
are very near to each other. Did I not see her the other evening,
passing along the wall of the parsonage, her hair but half quenched
by a mantilla, as she went obviously to a rendezvous? Did I not see
that she began to hurry and to lean forward, already smiling?
Although there is no more between them yet than promises and
assurances, she is his, and he is the man who will hold her in his
Then, too, he is going to leave us, called to the rear, to Brigade
H.Q., where they want a weakling who can work a typewriter. It is
official; it is in writing; he is saved. That gloomy future at which
we others dare not look is definite and bright for him.
He looks at an open window and the dark gap behind it of some room
or other over there, a shadowy room that bemuses him. His life is
twofold in hope; he is happy, for the imminent happiness that does
not yet exist is the only real happiness down here.
So a scanty spirit of envy grows around him. "One never knows,"
murmurs Paradis again, but with no more confidence than when before,
in the straitened scene of our life to-day, he uttered those
THE next day, Barque began to address us, and said: "I'll just
explain to you what it is. There are some i--"
A ferocious whistle cut his explanation off short, on the syllable.
We were in a railway station, on a platform. A night alarm had torn
us from our sleep in the village and we had marched here. The rest
was over; our sector was being changed; they were throwing us
somewhere else. We had disappeared from Gauchin under cover of
darkness without seeing either the place or the people, without
bidding them good-by even in a look, without bringing away a last
A locomotive was shunting, near enough to elbow us, and screaming
full-lunged. I saw Barque's mouth, stoppered by the clamor of our
huge neighbor, pronounce an oath, and I saw the other faces
grimacing in deafened impotence, faces helmeted and chin-strapped,
for we were sentries in the station.
"After you!" yelled Barque furiously, addressing the white-plumed
whistle. But the terrible mechanism continued more imperiously than
ever to drive his words back in his throat. When it ceased, and only
its echo rang in our ears, the thread of the discourse was broken
for ever, and Barque contented himself with the brief conclusion,
Then we looked around us. We were lost in a sort of town.
Interminable strings of trucks, trains of forty to sixty carriages,
were taking shape like rows of dark-fronted houses, low built, all
alike, and divided by alleys. Before us, alongside the collection of
moving houses, was the main line, the limitless street where the
white rails disappeared at both ends, swallowed up in distance.
Sections of trains and complete trains were staggering in great
horizontal columns, leaving their places, then taking them again. On
every side one heard the regular hammering on the armored ground,
piercing whistles, the ringing of warning bells, the solid metallic
crash of the colossal cubes telescoping their steel stumps, with the
counter-blows of chains and the rattle of the long carcases'
vertebrae. On the ground floor of the building that arises in the
middle of the station like a town ball, the hurried bell of
telegraph and telephone was at work, punctuated by vocal noises. All
about on the dusty ground were the goods sheds, the low stores
through whose doors one could dimly see the stacked interiors--the
pointsmen's cabins, the bristling switches, the hydrants, the
latticed iron posts whose wires ruled the sky like music-paper; here
and there the signals, and rising naked over this flat and gloomy
city, two steam cranes, like steeples.
Farther away, on waste ground and vacant sites in the environs of
the labyrinth of platforms and buildings, military carts and lorries
were standing idle, and rows of horses, drawn out farther than one
"Talk about the job this is going to be!"--"A whole army corps
beginning to entrain this evening!"--"Tiens, they're coming now!"
A cloud which overspread a noisy vibration of wheels and the rumble
of horses' hoofs was coming near and getting bigger in the approach
to the station formed by converging buildings.
"There are already some guns on board." On some flat trucks down
there, between two long pyramidal dumps of chests, we saw indeed the
outline of wheels, and some slender muzzles. Ammunition wagons, guns
and wheels were streaked and blotched with yellow, brown, and green.
"They're camoufles. [note 1] Down there, there are even
horses painted. Look! spot that one, there, with the big feet as if
he had trousers on. Well, he was white, and they've slapped some
paint on to change his color."
The horse in question was standing apart from the others, which
seemed to mistrust it, and displayed a grayish yellow tone,
obviously with intent to deceive. "Poor devil!" said Tulacque.
"You see," said Paradis, "we not only take 'em to get killed, but
mess them about first!"
"It's for their good, any way!"
"Eh oui, and us too, it's for our good!"
Towards evening soldiers arrived. From all sides they flowed towards
the station. Deep-voiced non-coms. ran in front of the files. They
were stemming the tide of men and massing them along the barriers or
in railed squares--pretty well everywhere. The men piled their arms,
dropped their knapsacks, and not being free to go out, waited,
buried side by side in shadow.
The arrivals followed each other in volume that grew as the twilight
deepened. Along with the troops, the motors flowed up, and soon
there was an unbroken roar. Limousines glided through an enormous
sea of lorries, little, middling, and big. All these cleared aside,
wedged themselves in, subsided in their appointed places. A vast hum
of voices and mingled noises arose from the ocean of men and
vehicles that beat upon the approaches to the station and began in
places to filter through.
"That's nothing yet," said Cocon, The Man of Figures. "At Army Corps
Headquarters alone there are thirty officers' motors; and you don't
know," he added, "how many trains of fifty trucks it takes to
entrain all the Corpsmen and all the box of tricks--except, of
course, the lorries, that'll join the new sector on their feet?
Don't guess, fiat-face. It takes ninety."
"Great Scott! And there are thirty-three Corps?"
"There are thirty-nine, lousy one!"
The turmoil increases; the station becomes still more populous. As
far as the eye can make out a shape or the ghost of a shape, there
is a hurly-burly of movement as lively as a panic. All the hierarchy
of the non-coms. expand themselves and go into action, pass and
repass like meteors, wave their bright-striped arms, and multiply
the commands and counter-commands that are carried by the worming
orderlies and cyclists, the former tardy, the latter maneuvering in
quick dashes, like fish in water.
Here now is evening, definitely. The blots made by the uniforms of
the poilus grouped about the hillocks of rifles become indistinct,
and blend with the ground; and then their mass is betrayed only by
the glow of pipes and cigarettes. In some places on the edge of the
clusters, the little bright points festoon the gloom like
illuminated streamers in a merry-making street.
Over this confused and heaving expanse an amalgam of voices rises
like the sea breaking on the shore: and above this unending murmur,
renewed commands, shouts, the din of a shot load or of one
transferred, the crash of steam-hammers redoubling their dull
endeavors, and the roaring of boilers.
In the immense obscurity, surcharged with men and with all things,
lights begin everywhere to appear. These are the flash-lamps of
officers and detachment leaders, and the cyclists' acetylene lamps,
whose intensely white points zigzag hither and thither and reveal an
outer zone of pallid resurrection.
An acetylene searchlight blazes blindingly out and depicts a dome of
daylight. Other beams pierce and rend the universal gray.
Then does the station assume a fantastic air. Mysterious shapes
spring up and adhere to the sky's dark blue. Mountains come into
view, rough-modeled, and vast as the ruins of a town. One can see
the beginning of unending rows of objects, finally plunged in night.
One guesses what the great bulks may be whose outermost outlines
flash forth from a black abyss of the unknown.
On our left, detachments of cavalry and infantry move ever forward
like a ponderous flood. We hear the diffused obscurity of voices. We
see some ranks delineated by a flash of phosphorescent light or a
ruddy glimmering, and we listen to long-drawn trails of noise.
Up the gangways of the vans whose gray trunks and black mouths one
sees by the dancing and smoking flame of torches, artillerymen are
leading horses. There are appeals and shouts, a frantic trampling of
conflict, and the angry kicking of some restive animal--insulted by
its guide--against the panels of the van where he is cloistered.
Not far away, they are putting wagons on to railway trucks. Swarming
humanity surrounds a hill of trusses of fodder. A scattered
multitude furiously attacks great strata of bales.
"That's three hours we've been on our pins," sighs Paradis.
"And those, there, what are they?" In some snatches of light we see
a group of goblins, surrounded by glowworms and carrying strange
instruments, come out and then disappear.
"That's the searchlight section," says Cocon.
"You've got your considering cap on, camarade; what's it about?"
"There are four Divisions, at present, in an Army Corps," replies
Cocon; "the number changes, sometimes it is three, sometimes five.
Just now, it's four. And each of our Divisions," continues the
mathematical one, whom our squad glories in owning, "includes three
R.I.--regiments of infantry; two B.C.P.--battalions of chasseurs
pied; one R.T.I.--regiment of territorial infantry--without counting
the special regiments, Artillery, Engineers, Transport, etc., and
not counting either Headquarters of the D.I. and the departments not
brigaded but attached directly to the D.I. A regiment of the line of
three battalions occupies four trains, one for H.Q., the machine-gun
company, and the C.H.R. (compagnie hors rang [note 2]), and one to
each battalion. All the troops won't entrain here. They'll entrain
in echelons along the line according to the position of the quarters
and the period of reliefs."
"I'm tired," says Tulacque. "We don't get enough solids to eat, mark
you. We stand up because it's the fashion, but we've no longer
either force or freshness."
"I've been getting information," Cocon goes on; "the troops--the
real troops--will only entrain as from midnight. They are still
mustered here and there in the villages ten kilometers round about.
All the departments of the Army Corps will first set off, and the
E.N.E.--elements non endivisionnes," Cocon
obligingly explains, "that is, attached directly to the A.C. Among
the E.N.E. you won't see the Balloon Department nor the
Squadron--they're too big goods, and they navigate on their own,
with their staff and officers and hospitals. The chasseurs regiment
is another of these E.N.E."
"There's no regiment of chasseurs," says Barque, thoughtlessly,
"it's battalions. One says 'such and such a battalion of
We can see Cocon shrugging his shoulders in the shadows, and his
glasses cast a scornful gleam. "Think so, duck-neb? Then I'll tell
you, since you're so clever, there are two--foot chasseurs and horse
"Gad! I forgot the horsemen," says Barque.
"Only them!" Cocon said. "In the E.N.E. of the Army Corps, there's
the Corps Artillery, that is to say, the central artillery that's
additional to that of the divisions. It includes the H.A.--heavy
artillery; the T.A.--trench artillery; the A.D.--artillery depot,
the armored cars, the anti-aircraft batteries--do I know, or don't
I? There's the Engineers; the Military Police--to wit, the service
of cops on foot and slops on horseback; the Medical Department; the
Veterinary ditto; a squadron of the Draught Corps; a Territorial
regiment for the guards and fatigues at H.Q.--Headquarters; the
Service de l'lntendance, [note 3] and the supply column. There's
also the drove of cattle, the Remount Depot, the Motor
Department--talk about the swarm of soft jobs I could tell you about
in an hour if I wanted to!--the Paymaster that controls the
pay-offices and the Post, the Council of War, the Telegraphists, and
all the electrical lot. All those have chiefs, commandants, sections
and sub-sections, and they're rotten with clerks and orderlies of
sorts, and all the bally box of tricks. You can see from here the
sort of job the C.O. of a Corp's got!"
At this moment we were surrounded by a party of soldiers carrying
boxes in addition to their equipment, and parcels tied up in paper
that they bore reluctantly and anon placed on the ground, puffing.
"Those are the Staff secretaries. They are a part of the
H.Q.--Headquarters--that is to say, a sort of General's suite. When
they're flitting, they lug about their chests of records, their
tables, their registers, and all the dirty oddments they need for
their writing. Tiens! see that, there; it's a typewriter those two
are carrying, the old papa and the little sausage, with a rifle
threaded through the parcel. They're in three offices, and there's
also the dispatch-riders' section, the Chancellerie, the
A.C.T.S.--Army Corps Topographical Section--that distributes maps to
the Divisions, and makes maps and plans from the aviators and the
observers and the prisoners. It's the officers of all the
departments who, under the orders of two colonels, form the Staff of
the Army Corps. But the H.Q., properly so called, which also
includes orderlies, cooks, storekeepers, workpeople, electricians,
police, and the horsemen of the Escort, is bossed by a commandant."
At this moment we receive collectively a tremendous bump. "Hey, look
out! Out of the way!" cries a man, by way of apology, who is being
assisted by several others to push a cart towards the wagons. The
work is hard, for the ground slopes up, and so soon as they cease to
buttress themselves against the cart and adhere to the wheels, it
slips back. The sullen men crush themselves against it in the depth
of the gloom, grinding their teeth and growling, as though they fell
upon some monster.
Barque, all the while rubbing his back, questions one of the frantic
gang: "Think you're going to do it, old duckfoot?"
"Nom de Dieu!" roars he, engrossed in his job, "mind these setts!
You're going to wreck the show!" With a sudden movement he jostles
Barque again, and this time turns round on him: "What are you doing
there, dung-guts, numskull?"
"Non, it can't be that you're drunk?" Barque retorts. "'What am I
doing here?' It's good, that! Tell me, you lousy gang, wouldn't you
like to do it too!"
"Out of the way!" cries a new voice, which precedes some men doubled
up under burdens incongruous, but apparently overwhelming.
One can no longer remain anywhere. Everywhere we are in the way. We
go forward, we scatter, we retire in the turmoil.
"In addition, I tell you," continues Cocon, tranquil as a scientist,
"there are the Divisions, each organized pretty much like an Army
"Oui, we know it; miss the deal!"
"He makes a fine to-do about it all, that mountebank in the
horse-box on casters. What a mother-in-law he'd make!"
"I'll bet that's the Major's wrong-headed horse, the one that the
vet said was a calf in process of becoming a cow."
"It's well organized, all the same, all that, no doubt about it,"
says Lamuse admiringly, forced back by a wave of artillerymen
"That's true," Marthereau admits; "to get all this lot on the way,
you've not got to be a lot of turnip-heads nor a lot of
custards--Bon Dieu, look where you're putting your damned boots, you
"Talk about a flitting! When I went to live at Marcoussis with my
family, there was less fuss than this. But then I'm not built that
We are silent; and then we hear Cocon saying, "For the whole French
Army that holds the lines to go by--I'm not speaking of those who
are fixed up at the rear, where there are twice as many men again,
and services like the ambulance that cost nine million francs and
can clear you seven thousand cases a day--to see them go by in
trains of sixty coaches each, following each other without stopping,
at intervals of a quarter of an hour, it would take forty days and
"Ah!" they say. It is too much effort for their imagination; they
lose interest and sicken of the magnitude of these figures. They
yawn, and with watering eyes they follow, in the confusion of haste
and shouts and smoke, of roars and gleams and flashes, the terrible
line of the armored train that moves in the distance, with fire in
the sky behind it.
[note 1:] The word is likely to become of international usage. It
stands for the use of paint in blotches of different colors, and of
branches and other things to disguise almost any object that may be
visible to hostile aircraft.--Tr.
[note 2:] Non-combatant.--Tr.
[note 3:] Akin to the British A.S.C.--Tr.
EUDORE sat down awhile, there by the roadside well, before taking
the path over the fields that led to the trenches, his hands crossed
over one knee, his pale face uplifted. He had no mustache under his
nose--only a little flat smear over each corner of his mouth. He
whistled, and then yawned in the face of the morning till the tears
An artilleryman who was quartered on the edge of the wood--over
there where a line of horses and carts looked like a gypsies'
bivouac--came up, with the well in his mind, and two canvas buckets
that danced at the end of his arms in time with his feet. In front
of the sleepy unarmed soldier with a bulging bag he stood fast.
"Yes," said Eudore; "just back."
"Good for you," said the gunner as he made off.
"You've nothing to grumble at--with six days' leave in your
And here, see, are four more men coming down the road, their gait
heavy and slow, their boots turned into enormous caricatures of
boots by reason of the mud. As one man they stopped on espying the
profile of Eudore.
"There's Eudore! Hello, Eudore! hello, the old sport! You're back
then!" they cried together, as they hurried up and offered him hands
as big and ruddy as if they were hidden in woolen gloves.
"Morning, boys," said Eudore.
"Had a good time? What have you got to tell us, my boy?"
"Yes," replied Eudore, "not so bad."
"We've been on wine fatigue, and we've finished. Let's go back
In single file they went down the embankment of the road--arm in arm
they crossed the field of gray mud, where their feet fell with the
sound of dough being mixed in the kneading-trough.
"Well, you've seen your wife, your little Mariette--the only girl
for you--that you could never open your jaw without telling us a
tale about her, eh?"
Eudore's wan face winced.
"My wife? Yes, I saw her, sure enough, but only for a little
while--there was no way of doing any better--but no luck, I admit,
and that's all about it."
"How? You know that we live at Villers-l'Abbaye, a hamlet of four
houses neither more nor less, astraddle over the road. One of those
houses is our cafe, and she runs it, or rather she is running
it again since they gave up shelling the village.
"Now then, with my leave coming along, she asked for a permit to
Mont-St-Eloi, where my old folks are, and my permit was for
Mont-St-Eloi too. See the move?
"Being a little woman with a head-piece, you know, she had applied
for her permit long before the date when my leave was expected. All
the same, my leave came before her permit. Spite o' that I set
off--for one doesn't let his turn in the company go by, eh? So I
stayed with the old people, and waited. I like 'em well enough, but
I got down in the mouth all the same. As for them, it was enough
that they could see me, and it worried them that I was bored by
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