One wire ran upstairs to the Over-General’s sleeping quarters and ended, so we were told, in a receiver that hung upon the headboard of his bed. Another stretched, by relay points, to Berlin, and still another ran to the headquarters of the General Staff where the Kaiser was, somewhere down the right wing; and so on and so forth. If war is a business these times instead of a chivalric calling, then surely this was the main office and clearing house of the business.
To our novice eyes the wires seemed snarled—snarled inextricably, hopelessly, eternally—and we said as much, but the ordnance colonel said behind this apparent disorder a most careful and particular orderliness was hidden away. Given an hour’s notice, these busy men who wore those steel vises clamped upon their ears could disconnect the lines, pull down and reel in the wires, pack the batteries and the exchanges, and have the entire outfit loaded upon automobiles for speedy transmission elsewhere. Having seen what I had seen of the German military system, I could not find it in my heart to doubt this. Miracles had already become commonplaces; what might have been epic once was incidental now. I hearkened and believed.
At his command a sergeant plugged in certain stops upon a keyboard and then when the Colonel, taking a hand telephone up from a table, had talked into it in German he passed it into my hands.
“The captain at the other end of the line knows English,” he said. “I’ve just told him you wish to speak with him for a minute.” I pressed the rubber disk to my ear. “Hello!” I said.
“Hello!” came back the thin-strained answer. “This is such and such a trench”—giving the number—“in front of Cerny. What do you want to know?”
“What’s the news there?” I stammered fatuously.
A pleasant little laugh tinkled through the strainer.
“Oh, it’s fairly quiet now,” said the voice. “Yesterday afternoon shrapnel fire rather mussed us up, but to-day nothing has happened. We’re just lying quiet and enjoying the fine weather. We’ve had much rain lately and my men are enjoying the change.”
So that was all the talk I had with a man who had for weeks been living in a hole in the ground with a ditch for an exercise ground and the brilliant prospects of a violent death for his hourly and daily entertainment. Afterward when it was too late I thought of a number of leading questions which I should have put to that captain. Undoubtedly there was a good story in him could you get it out.