“All of a sudden, men began to come out of the tunnel. They came and came until there were nearly two hundred of them—French reservists mostly. They were crazy men—crazy for the time being, and still crazy, I expect, some of them. They came out staggering, choking, falling down and getting up again. You see, their nerves were gone. The fumes, the gases, the shock, the fire, what they had endured and what they had escaped—all these had distracted them. They danced, sang, wept, laughed, shouted in a sort of maudlin frenzy, spun about deliriously until they dropped. They were deafened, and some of them could not see but had to grope their way. I remember one man who sat down and pulled off his boots and socks and threw them away and then hobbled on in his bare feet until he cut the bottoms of them to pieces. I don’t care to see anything like that again—even if it is my enemies that suffer it.”
He told it so vividly, that standing alongside of him before the tunnel opening I could see the procession myself—those two hundred men who had drained horror to its lees and were drunk on it.
We went to Fort Boussois, some four miles away. It was another of the keys to the town. It was taken on September sixth; on the next day, September seventh, the citadel surrendered. Here, in lieu of the 42- centimeter, which was otherwise engaged for the moment, the attacking forces brought into play an Austrian battery of 30-centimeter guns. So far as I have been able to ascertain this was the only Austrian command which had any part in the western campaigns. The Austrian gunners shelled the fort until the German infantry had been massed in a forest to the northward. Late in the afternoon the infantry charged across a succession of cleared fields and captured the outer slopes. With these in their possession it didn’t take them very long to compel the surrender of Fort Boussois, especially as the defenders had already been terribly cut up by the artillery fire.
The Austrians must have been first-rate marksmen. One of their shells fell squarely upon the rounded dome of a big armored turret which was sunk in the earth and chipped off the top of it as you would chip your breakfast egg. The men who manned the guns in that revolving turret must all have died in a flash of time. The impact of the blow was such that the leaden solder which filled the interstices of the segments of the turret was squeezed out from between the plates in curly strips, like icing from between the layers of a misused birthday cake.
Back within the main works we saw where a shell had bored a smooth, round orifice through eight meters of earth and a meter and a half of concrete and steel plates. Peering into the shaft we could make out the floor of a tunnel some thirty feet down. To judge by its effects, this shell had been of a different type from any others whose work we had witnessed. Apparently it had been devised to excavate holes rather than to explode, and when we asked questions about it we speedily ascertained that our guide did not care to discuss the gun which had inflicted this particular bit of damage.