A band plays in Arras, to the north and east the shells go thumping on.
The very origins of things are in doubt, so much is jumbled together. It is as hard to make out just where the trenches ran, and which was No-Man’s-Land, as it is to tell the houses from garden and orchard and road: the rubbish covers all. It is as though the ancient forces of Chaos had come back from the abyss to fight against order and man, and Chaos had won. So lies this village of France.
As I left it a rat, with something in its mouth, holding its head high, ran right across the village.
Once at manoeuvres as the Prussian Crown Prince charged at the head of his regiment, as sabres gleamed, plumes streamed, and hooves thundered behind him, he is reported to have said to one that galloped near him: “Ah, if only this were the real thing!”
One need not doubt that the report is true. So a young man might feel as he led his regiment of cavalry, for the scene would fire the blood; all those young men and fine uniforms and good horses, all coming on behind, everything streaming that could float on the air, everything jingling then which could ever make a sound, a bright sky no doubt over the uniforms, a good fresh wind for men and horses to gulp; and behind, the clinking and jingling, the long roll of hooves thundering. Such a scene might well stir emotions to sigh for the splendours of battle.
This is one side of war. Mutilation and death are another; misery, cold and dirt; pain, and the intense loneliness of men left behind by armies, with much to think of; no hope, and a day or two to live. But we understand that glory covers that.