“But, Mister Whitlock,” murmured the puzzled Chinaman, “the cannon—he has no eyes!”
We rode back to Laon through the falling dusk. The western sky was all a deep saffron pink—the color of a salmon’s belly—and we could hear the constant blaspheming of the big siege guns, taking up the evening cannonade along the center. Pretty soon we caught up with the column that was headed for the right wing. At that hour it was still in motion, which probably meant forced marching for an indefinite time. Viewed against the sunset yellow, the figures of the dragoons stood up black and clean, as conventionalized and regular as though they had all been stenciled on that background. Seeing next the round, spiked helmets of the cannoneers outlined in that weird half-light, I knew of what those bobbing heads reminded me. They were like pictures of Roman centurions.
Within a few minutes the afterglow lost its yellowish tone and burned as a deep red flare. As we swung off into a side road the columns were headed right into that redness, and turning to black cinder-shapes as they rode. It was as though they marched into a fiery furnace, treading the crimson paths of glory—which are not glorious and probably never were, but which lead most unerringly to the grave.
A week later, when we learned what had happened on the right wing, and of how the Germans had fared there under the battering of the Allies, the thought of that open furnace door came back to me. I think of it yet-often.
War de Luxe
“I think,” said a colonel of the ordnance department as we came out into the open after a good but a hurried and fly-ridden breakfast—“I think,” he said in his excellent Saxonized English, “that it would be as well to look at our telephone exchange first of all. It perhaps might prove of some small interest to you.” With that he led the way through a jumble of corridors to a far corner of the Prefecture of Laon, perching high on the Hill of Laon and forming for the moment the keystone of the arch of the German center. So that was how the most crowded day in a reasonably well-crowded newspaperman’s life began for me—with a visit to a room which had in other days been somebody’s reception parlor. We came upon twelve soldier-operators sitting before portable switchboards with metal transmitters clamped upon their heads, giving and taking messages to and from all the corners and crannies of the mid-battle-front. This little room was the solar plexus of the army. To it all the tingling nerves of the mighty organism ran and in it all the ganglia centered. At two sides of the room the walls were laced with silk-covered wires appliqued as thickly and as closely and as intricately as the threads in old point lace, and over these wires the gray-coated operators could talk—and did talk pretty constantly—with all the trenches and all the batteries and all the supply camps and with the generals of brigades and of divisions and of corps.