A quarter to eleven!
Suddenly the whole thing seemed impossible—that the noise at the foot of the street was really guns; that I should be there; that these two young women should live there day and night in the midst of such horrors. For the whole town is a graveyard. Bodies in numbers have been buried in shell-holes and hastily covered, or float in the stagnant water of the canal. Every heavy rain uncovers shallow graves in the fields, allowing a dead arm, part of a rotting trunk, to show.
And now, after this lapse of time, it still seems incredible. Are they still there? Report has it that the Germans captured this town and held it for a time, only to lose it later. What happened to the little “sick and sorry” house during those fearful days? Did the German officers sit about that pine table and throw a nut to summon an orderly? Did they fill the lamp while it was lighted, and play on the cracked piano, and pick up shrapnel cases as they landed on the doorstep and set them on the mantel?
Ten minutes to eleven!
The chauffeur came to the door and stuck his head in.
“I have found petrol in a can in an empty shed,” he explained. “It is now possible to go.”
We went. We lost no time on the order of our going. The rain was over, but the fog had descended again. We lighted our lamps, and were curtly ordered by a sentry to put them out. In the moment that they remained alight, carefully turned away from the trenches, it was possible to see the hopeless condition of the street.
At last we reached a compromise. One lamp we might have, but covered with heavy paper. It was very little. The car bumped ominously, sagged into shell-holes.
I turned and looked back at the house. Faint rays of light shone through its boarded windows. A wounded soldier had been brought up the street and stood, leaning heavily on his companion, at the doorstep. The door opened, and he was taken in.
Good-bye, little “sick and sorry” house, with your laughter and tears, your friendly hands, your open door! Good-bye!
Five minutes later, as we reached the top of the Street, the bombardment began.
VOLUNTEERS AND PATRIOTS
I hold a strong brief for the English: For the English at home, restrained, earnest, determined and unassuming; for the English in the field, equally all of these things.
The British Army has borne attacks at La Bassee and Ypres, positions so strategically difficult to hold that the Germans have concentrated their assaults at these points. It has borne the horrors of the retreat from Mons, when what the Kaiser called “General French’s contemptible little army” was forced back by oncoming hosts of many times its number. It has fought, as the English will always fight, with unequalled heroism but without heroics.