In a stable near at hand a horse whinnied. I patted him as I passed, and he put his head against my shoulder.
“He recognises you!” said Captain Boisseau. “He too is American.”
It was late afternoon by that time. The plan to reach the advanced trenches was frustrated by an increasing fusillade from the front. There were barbed-wire entanglements everywhere, and every field was honeycombed with trenches. One looked across the plain and saw nothing. Then suddenly as we advanced great gashes cut across the fields, and in these gashes, although not a head was seen, were men. The firing was continuous. And now, going down a road, with a line of poplar trees at the foot and the setting sun behind us throwing out faint shadows far ahead, we saw the flash of water. It was very near. It was the flooded river and the canal. Beyond, eight hundred yards or less from where we stood, were the Germans. To one side the inundation made a sort of bay.
It was along this part of the field that the Allies expected the German Army to make its advance when the spring movement commenced. And as nearly as can be learned from the cabled accounts that is where the attack was made.
A captain from General d’Urbal’s staff met us at the trenches, and pointed out the strategical value of a certain place, the certainty of a German advance, and the preparations that were made to meet it.
It was odd to stand there in the growing dusk, looking across to where was the invading army, only a little over two thousand feet away. It was rather horrible to see that beautiful landscape, the untravelled road ending in the line of poplars, so very close, where were the French outposts, and the shining water just beyond, and talk so calmly of the death that was waiting for the first Germans who crossed the canal.
“I NIBBLE THEM”
I went into the trenches. The captain was very proud of them.
“They represent the latest fashion in trenches!” he explained, smiling faintly.
It seemed to me that I could easily have improved on that latest fashion. The bottom was full of mud and water. Standing in the trench, I could see over the side by making an effort. The walls were wattled—that is, covered with an interlacing of fagots which made the sides dry.
But it was not for that reason only that these trenches were called the latest fashion. They were divided, every fifteen feet or so, by a bulwark of earth about two feet thick, round which extended a communication trench.
“The object of dividing these trenches in this manner is to limit the havoc of shells that drop into them,” the captain explained. “Without the earth bulwark a shell can kill every man in the trench. In this way it can kill only eight. Now stand at this end of the trench. What do you see?”
What I saw was a barbed-wire entanglement, leading into a cul-de-sac.