“Wait,” he said vaingloriously, “just wait until we get at the damned British. Some one else may have the Frenchmen—we want to get our hands on the Englishmen. Do you know what my men say? They say they are glad for once in their lives to enjoy a fight where the policemen won’t interfere and spoil the sport. That’s the Bavarian for you—the Prussian is best at drill, but the Bavarian is the best fighter in the whole world. Only let us see the enemy—that is all we ask!
“I say, what news have you from the front? All goes well, eh? As for me I only hope there will be some of the enemy left for us to kill. It is a glorious thing—this going to war! I think we shall get there very soon, where the fighting is. I can hardly wait for it.” And with that he hopped up on the steps of the nearest car and posed for his picture.
Having just come from the place whither he was so eagerly repairing I might have told him a few things. I might for example have told him what the captain of a German battery in front of La Fere had said, and that was this:
“I have been on this one spot for nearly three weeks now, serving my guns by day and by night. I have lost nearly half of my original force of men and two of my lieutenants. We shoot over those tree tops yonder in accordance with directions for range and distance which come from somewhere else over field telephone, but we never see the men at whom we are firing. They fire back without seeing us, and sometimes their shells fall short or go beyond us, and sometimes they fall among us and kill and wound a few of us. Thus it goes on day after day. I have not with my own eyes seen a Frenchman or an Englishman unless he was a prisoner. It is not so much pleasure—fighting like this.”
I might have told the young Bavarian lieutenant of other places where I had been—places where the dead lay for days unburied. I might have told him there was nothing particularly pretty or particularly edifying about the process of being killed. Death, I take it, is never a very tidy proceeding; but in battle it acquires an added unkemptness. Men suddenly and sorely stricken have a way of shrinking up inside their clothes; unless they die on the instant they have a way of tearing their coats open and gripping with their hands at their vitals, as though to hold the life in; they have a way of sprawling their legs in grotesque postures; they have a way of putting their arms up before their faces as though at the very last they would shut out a dreadful vision. Those contorted, twisted arms with the elbows up, those spraddled stark legs, and, most of all, those white dots of shirts—those I had learned to associate in my own mind with the accomplished fact of mortality upon the field.