Guns were still firing: but they thought of death now as one who walked on the other side of the hills, no longer as a neighbour, as one who might drop in at any moment, and sometime did, while they were taking tea. It was not that they had been afraid of him, but the strain of expectancy was over; and that strain being suddenly gone in a single night, they all had a need, whether they knew it or not, of something to take its place, so the football loomed very large.
It was morning and he had slept long. The guns that grew active at dawn had not woke him; in those twelve days they had grown too familiar, but he woke wide when he heard the young English soldier with a bundle of three-days-old papers under his arm calling “Paiper, paiper!”—bringing to that strange camp the voice of the English towns. He woke wide at that wonder; and saw the sun shining cheerily, on desolation with a tinge of green in it, which even by itself rejoiced him on that morning after those twelve days amongst mud, looking at mud, surrounded by mud, protected by mud, sharing with mud the liability to be suddenly blown high and to come down in a shower on other men’s helmets and coats.
He wondered if Dante when he came up from Hell heard anyone calling amongst the Verdure, in sunlight, any familiar call such as merchants use, some trivial song or cry of his native city.
“The enemy attacked the Happy Valley.” I read these words in a paper at the time of the taking of Albert, for the second time, by our troops. And the words brought back Albert to me like a spell, Albert at the end of the mighty Bapaume-Albert road, that pathway Of Mars down which he had stalked so tremendously through his garden, the wide waste battlefields of the Somme. The words brought back Albert at the end of that road in the sunset and the cathedral seen against the west, and the gilded Virgin half cast down, but incapable of losing dignity, and evening coming down over the marshes. They brought it back like a spell. Like two spells rather, that some magician had mixed. Picture some magician of old in his sombre wonderful, chamber wishing dreams to transport him far off to delectable valleys. He sits him down and writes out a spell on parchment, slowly and with effort of aged memory, though he remembered it easily once. The shadows of crocodiles and antique gods flicker on walls and ceiling from a gusty flame as he writes; and in the end he writes the spell out wrongly and mixes up with the valleys where he would rest dark bits of the regions of Hell. So one sees Albert again and its Happy Valley.