Whereupon, without a word of protest, without a sound, the crowd streamed out and scattered in the darkening fields, threading its way back to the quiet dells behind the lines.
So ended the day of the greatest aerial victory.
Sunday, June 3, 1917. To-day, the first Sunday of June, the women from the neighboring villages came to visit the camp. Nobody is allowed to enter, but from the road you can see the machines start or land. The day was glorious, and the broad sun transfiguring these French landscapes, with their elongated valleys, their wooded ranges of hills, and generally harmonious lines suggested Greece, and one looked around for the colonnades of temples.
Beyond the rolling country rose the Aisne cliffs, where the fighting was incessant, though its roar was scarcely perceived.
Why had these villages been attracted to this particular camp? Because they knew that here, in default of Greek temples, were young gods. They wanted to see Guynemer.
The news had flown on rapid wings from hamlet to hamlet, from farm to farm, of what had happened on the 25th, and on the next day Guynemer had been almost equally successful.
Several aviators had already landed, men with famous names, but the public cannot be expected to remember them all. Finally an airplane descended in graceful spirals, landing softly and rolling along close to the railings.
But the pilot, unconscious of the worshiping crowd, took off his helmet, disclosed a frowning face, and began discontentedly to examine his gun. Twice that day it had jammed, saving two Germans. Guynemer was like the painters of old who, by grinding their colors themselves, insured the duration of their works. He resented not being able to make all his weapons himself, his engine, his Vickers, and his bullets. At length he seemed willing to leave his machine, and pulled off his heavy war accouterment, which revealed a tall, flexible young man. As he rapidly approached his tent, his every motion watched by the onlookers, a private turned on him a small camera, with a beseeching—
“You’ll permit me, mon capitaine?”
“Yes, but quick.”
He was cross and impatient, and as he stopped he noticed all the eyes of the women watching him ecstatically. He made a despairing gesture. His frown deepened, his figure stiffened, and the snapshot was another failure.
Hardly any of his portraits are like him. Does the fact that he was tall and spare, almost beardless, with an amber-colored, oval face and a regular profile, and raven-hair brushed backwards, give any idea of the force that was in him? If his eyes, dark with golden reflections, could have been painted, they might no doubt have given a more accurate notion of him: his capacity for surveying all space, and his prompt decision, were visible in them, as well as his carefulness and his courage. Their glance was so direct, almost brutal, that it could be felt, so to speak, physically; and yet it could suddenly express a cheerful, boyish nature, or disclose his close attention to the technical problems which everlastingly engrossed his mind.