I walked a little with the French interpreter. We came to a little shrine in the southern aisle. It had been all paved with marble, and the marble was broken into hundreds of pieces, and someone had carefully picked up all the bits, and laid them together on the altar.
And this pathetic heap that was gathered of broken bits had drawn many to stop and gaze at it; and idly, as soldiers will, they had written their names on them: every bit had a name on it, with but a touch of irony the Frenchman said, “All that is necessary to bring your name to posterity is to write it on one of these stones.”, “No,” I said, “I will do it by describing all this.” And we both laughed.
I have not done it yet: there is more to say of Arras. As I begin the tale of ruin and wrong, the man who did it totters. His gaudy power begins to stream away like the leaves of autumn. Soon his throne will be bare, and I shall have but begun to say what I have to say of calamity in cathedral and little gardens of Arras.
The winter of the Hohenzollerns will come; sceptre, uniforms, stars and courtiers all gone; still the world will not know half of the bitter wrongs of Arras. And spring will bring a new time and cover the trenches with green, and the pigeons will preen themselves on the shattered towers, and the lime-trees along the steps will grow taller and brighter, and happier men will sing in the streets untroubled by any War Lord; by then, perhaps, I may have told, to such as care to read, what such a war did in an ancient town, already romantic when romance was young, when war came suddenly without mercy, without pity, out of the north and east, on little houses, carved galleries, and gardens; churches, cathedrals and the jackdaws’ nests.
Nietsche said, “You have heard that a good cause justifies any war, but I say unto you that a good war justifies any cause.”
A man was walking alone over a plain so desolate that, if you have never seen it, the mere word desolation could never convey to you the melancholy surroundings that mourned about this man on his lonely walk. Far off a vista of trees followed a cheerless road all dead as mourners suddenly stricken dead in some funereal procession. By this road he had come; but when he had reached a certain point he turned from the road at once, branching away to the left, led by a line of bushes that may once have been a lane. For some while his feet had rustled through long neglected grass; sometimes he lifted them up to step over a telephone wire that lolled over old entanglements and bushes; often he came to rusty strands of barbed wire and walked through them where they had been cut, perhaps years ago, by huge shells; then his feet hissed on through the grass again, dead grass that had hissed about his boots all through the afternoon.
Once he sat down to rest on the edge of a crater, weary with such walking as he had never seen before; and after he had stayed there a little while a cat that seemed to have its home in that wild place started suddenly up and leaped away over the weeds. It seemed an animal totally wild, and utterly afraid of man.