“Look!” cried Rachel.
For suddenly, down below them, a huge trunk began to move as though of its own accord. Hissing and crashing like some gray serpent, it glided down the hill-side, till it approached a group of figures and horses congregated at the head of the valley, near an engine puffing smoke. Then something invisible happened, and presently a trolley piled high with logs detached itself from the group, and set out on a solitary journey down the railway, watched here and there by men in queer uniforms with patches on their backs.
“German prisoners!” said Janet, and strained her eyes to see, thinking all the time of a letter she had received that morning from her soldier brother fighting with the English troops to the west of Rheims:—
“The beggars are on the run! Foch has got them this time. But, oh, Lord, the sight they’ve made of all this beautiful country! Trampled, and ruined, and smashed! all of it. Deliberate loot and malice everywhere, and tales of things done in the villages that make one see red. We captured a letter to his wife on a dead German this morning: ’Well, the offensive is a failure, but we’ve done one thing—we’ve smashed up another bit of France!’ How are we ever going to live with this people in the same world after the war?”
And there below, in the heart of this remote English woodland, now being sacrificed to the war, moved the sons of this very people, cast up here by the tide of battle. Janet had heard that nobody spoke to them during the work, except to give directions; after work they had their own wired camp, and all intercourse between them and the Canadian woodmen, or the English timber girls, was forbidden. But what were they saying among themselves—what were they thinking—these peasants, some perhaps from the Rhineland, or the beautiful Bavarian country, or the Prussian plains? Janet had travelled a good deal in Germany before the war, using her holidays as a mistress in a secondary school, and her small savings, in a kind of wandering which had been a passion with her. She had known Bavarians and Prussians at home. But here, in this corner of rural England, with this veil of silence drawn between them and the nation which at last, in this summer of 1918, was grimly certain, after four years of vengeance and victory, what ferments were, perhaps, working in the German mind?
Yes, there was the German camp, and beyond it under the hill the Canadian forestry camp; whilst just beneath them could be seen the roof of the large women’s hostel.