I asked to be taken home.
On the way to the machine we passed a mitrailleuse buried by the roadside. Its location brought an argument among the officers. Strategically it would be valuable for a time, but there was some question as to its position in view of a retirement by the French.
I could not follow the argument. I did not try to. I was cold and tired, and the red sunset had turned to deep purple and gold. The guns had ceased. Over all the countryside brooded the dreadful peace of sheer exhaustion and weariness. And in the air, high overhead, a German plane sailed slowly home.
* * * * *
Sentries halted us on the way back holding high lanterns that set the bayonets of their guns to gleaming. Faces pressed to the glass, they surveyed us stolidly, making sure that we were as our passes described us. Long lines of marching men turned out to let us pass. As darkness settled down, the location of the German line, as it encircled Ypres, was plainly shown by floating fusees. In every hamlet reserves were lining up for the trenches, dark masses of men, with here and there a face thrown into relief as a match was held to light a cigarette. Open doors showed warm, lamp-lit interiors and the glow of fires.
I sat back in the car and listened while the officers talked together. They were speaking of General Joffre, of his great ability, of his confidence in the outcome of the war, and of his method, during those winter months when, with such steady fighting, there had been so little apparent movement. One of the officers told me that General Joffre had put his winter tactics in three words:
“I nibble them.”
DUNKIRK: FROM MY JOURNAL
I wakened early this morning and went to church—a great empty place, very cold but with the red light of the sanctuary lamp burning before a shrine. There were perhaps a dozen people there when I went in. Before the Mater Dolorosa two women in black were praying with upturned eyes. At the foot of the Cross crouched the tragic figure of the Mother, with her dead Son in her arms. Before her were these other mothers, praying in the light of the thin burning candles. Far away, near the altar, seven women of the Society of the Holy Rosary were conducting a private service. They were market women, elderly, plain, raising to the altar faces full of faith and devotion, as they prayed for France and for their soldier-children.
Here and there was a soldier or a sailor on his knees on a low prie-dieu, his cap dangling loose in his hands. Unlike the women, the lips of these men seldom moved in prayer; they apparently gazed in wordless adoration at the shrine. Great and swelling thoughts were theirs, no doubt, kindled by that tiny red flame: thoughts too big for utterance or even for form. To go out and fight for France, to drive back the invaders, and, please God, to come back again—that was what their faces said.