And evening settled down, a huge grey canvas waiting for sombre pictures; a setting for all the dark tales of the world, haunted forever a grizzly place was haunted ever, in any century, in any land; but not by mere ghosts from all those thousands of graves and half-buried bodies and sepulchral shell-holes; haunted by things huger and more disastrous than that; haunted by wailing ambitions, under the stars or moon, drifting across the rubbish that once was villages, which strews the lonely plain; the lost ambitions of two Emperors and a Sultan wailing from wind to wind and whimpering for dominion of the world.
The cold wind blew over the blasted heath and bits of broken iron flapped on and on.
And now the traveller hurried, for night was falling, and such a night as three witches might have brewed in a cauldron. He went on eagerly but with infinite sadness. Over the sky-line strange rockets went up from the war, peered oddly over the earth and went down again. Very far off a few soldiers lit a little fire of their own. The night grew colder; tap, tap, went broken iron.
And at last the traveller stopped in the lonely night and looked round him attentively, and appeared to be satisfied that he had come within sight of his journey’s end, although to ordinary eyes the spot to which he had come differed in no way from the rest of the waste.
He went no further, but turned round and round, peering piece by piece at that weedy and cratered earth.
He was looking for the village where he was born.
I came again to Croisilles.
I looked for the sunken road that we used to hold in support, with its row of little shelters in the bank and the carved oak saints above them here and there that had survived the church in Croisilles. I could have found it with my eyes shut. With my eyes open I could not find it. I did not recognize the lonely metalled road down which lorries were rushing for the little lane so full of life, whose wheel-ruts were three years old.
As I gazed about me looking for our line, I passed an old French civilian looking down at a slight mound of white stone that rose a little higher than the road. He was walking about uncertainly, when first I noticed him, as though he was not sure where he was. But now he stood quite still looking down at the mound.
“Voila ma maison,” he said.
He said no more than that: this astounding remark, this gesture that indicated such calamity, were quite simply made. There was nothing whatever of theatrical pose that we wrongly associate with the French, because they conceal their emotions less secretly than we; there were no tragic tones in his voice: only a trace of deep affection showed in one of the words he used. He spoke as a woman might say of her only child, “Look at my baby.”
“Voila ma maison,” he said.