And I stepped down to face the breech of a gun whose muzzle pointed out of another hole in the timbered roof covered with earth.
“It’s very cosy!” I remarked.
“Oh, this is the shop! The living room is below—here!”
I descended a ladder into a cellar ten feet below the gun level, where some of the gunners were lying on a thick carpet of perfectly dry straw.
“You are not doing much firing these days?” I suggested.
“Oh, we gave the Boches a couple this morning so they shouldn’t get cocky thinking they were safe It’s necessary to keep your hand in even in the winter.”
“Don’t you get lonesome?”
“No, we shift on and off. We’re not here all the while. It is quite warm in our salon, monsieur, and we have good comrades. It is war. It is for France. What would you?”
Four other gun-positions and four other cellars like this! Thousands of gun-positions and thousands of cellars! Man invents new powers of destruction and man finds a way of escaping them.
As we left the battery we started forward, and suddenly out of the dusk came a sharp call. A young corporal confronted us. Who were we and what business had we prowling about on that hill? If there had been no officer along and I had not had a laisser-passer on my person, the American Ambassador to France would probably have had to get another countryman out of trouble.
The incident shows how thoroughly the army is policed and how surely. Editors who wonder why their correspondents are not in the front line catching bullets, please take notice.
It was dark when we returned to the little village on the plateau where we had left the car. The place seemed uninhabited with all the blinds closed. But through one uncovered window I saw a room full of chatting soldiers. We went to pay our respects to the colonel in command, and found him and his staff around a table covered with oilcloth in the main living-room of a villager’s house. He spoke of his men, of their loyalty and cheerfulness, as the other commanders had, as if this were his only boast. These French officers have little “side”; none of that toe-the-mark, strutting militarism which the Germans think necessary to efficiency. They live very simply on campaign, though if they do get to town for a few hours they enjoy a good meal. If they did not, madame at the restaurant would feel that she was not doing her duty to France.
Scorched piles of brick and mortar where a home has been ought to make about the same impression anywhere. When you have gone from Belgium to French Lorraine, however, you will know quite the contrary. In Belgium I suffered all the depression which a nightmare of war’s misery can bring; in French Lorraine I found myself sharing something of the elation of a man who looks at a bruised knuckle with the consciousness that it broke a burglar’s jaw.