We were wondering what to do when we were commandeered to take a message down that precipitous hill of Ciry to some cavalry. It was now quite dark and still raining. We had no carbide, and my carburetter had jibbed, so we decided to stop at Ciry for the night. At the inn we found many drinks—particularly some wonderful cherry brandy—and a friendly motor-cyclist who told us of a billet that an officer was probably going to leave. We went there. Our host was an old soldier, so, after his wife had hung up what clothes we dared take off to dry by a red-hot stove, he gave us some supper of stewed game and red wine, then made us cunning beds with straw, pillows, and blankets. Too tired to thank him we dropped asleep.
That, though we did not know it then, was the last night of our little Odyssey. We had been advancing or retiring without a break since my tragic farewell to Nadine. We had been riding all day and often all night. But those were heroic days, and now as I write this in our comfortable slack winter quarters, I must confess—I would give anything to have them all over again. Now we motor-cyclists are middle-aged warriors. Adventures are work. Experiences are a routine. Then, let’s be sentimental, we were young.
[Illustration: THE AISNE (SOISSONS TO VAILLY)]
THE BATTLE OF THE AISNE.
I’m going to start by giving you an account of what we thought of the military situation during the great marches and the battle of the Aisne—for my own use. What happened we shall be able to look up afterwards in some lumbersome old history, should we forget, but, unless I get down quickly what we thought, it will disappear in after-knowledge.
You will remember how the night we arrived on the Aisne Huggie and I stretched ourselves on a sand-heap at the side of the road—just above Ciry—and watched dim columns of Germans crawling like grey worms up the slopes the other side of the valley. We were certain that the old Division was still in hot cry on the heels of a rapidly retreating foe. News came—I don’t know how: you never do—that our transport and ammunition were being delayed by the fearsome and lamentable state of the roads. But the cavalry was pushing on ahead, and tired infantry were stumbling in extended order through the soaked fields on either side of us. There was hard gunnery well into the red dusk. Right down the valley came the thunder of it, and we began to realise that divisions, perhaps even corps, had come up on either flank.
The ancient captain of cuirassiers, who had hauled me out of my shrine into the rain that afternoon, made me understand there was a great and unknown number of French on our left. From the Order before the Marne I had learnt that a French Army had turned the German right, but the first news I had had of French on our own right was when one staff-officer said in front of me that the French away to the east had been held up. That was at Doue.