That layer of plaster and brick-dust lies on the age that has gone, as final, as fatal, as the layer of flints that covers the top of the chalk and marks the end of an epoch and some unknown geologic catastrophe.
It is only by the little things in Bethune, lying where they were left, that one can trace at all what kind of house each was, or guess at the people who dwelt in it. It is only by a potato growing where Pavement was, and flowering vigorously under a vacant window, that one can guess that the battered, house beside it was once a fruiterer’s shop, whence the potato rolled away when man fell on evil days, and found the street, no longer harsh and unfriendly; but soft and fertile like the primal waste, and took root and throve there as its forbears throve before it in another continent before the coming of man.
Across the street, in the dust of a stricken house, the implements of his trade show where a carpenter lived when disaster came so suddenly, quite good tools, some still upon shelves, some amongst broken things that lie all over the floor. And further along the street in which these things are someone has put up a great iron shutter that was to protect his shop. It has a graceful border of painted, irises all the way up each side. It might have been a jeweller that would have had such a shutter. The shutter alone remains standing straight upright, and the whole shop is gone.
And just here the shaken street ends and all the streets end together. The rest is a mound of white stones and pieces of bricks with low, leaning walls surrounding it, and the halves of hollow houses; and eyeing it round a comer, one old tower of the cathedral, as though still gazing over its congregation of houses, a mined, melancholy watcher. Over the bricks lie tracks, but no more streets. It is about the middle of the town, a hawk goes over, calling as though he flew over the waste, and as though the waste were his. The breeze that carries him opens old shutters and flaps them to again. Old, useless hinges moan; wall-paper whispers. Three French soldiers trying to find their homes walk over the bricks and groundsel.
It is the Abomination of Desolation, not seen by prophecy far off in some fabulous future, nor remembered from terrible ages by the aid of papyrus and stone, but fallen on our own century, on the homes of folk like ourselves: common things that we knew are become the relics of bygone days. It is our own time that has ended in blood and broken bricks.