I learnt some details from the man. The greater part of the infantry had already crossed the bridge, and there was also some artillery on this side of the river. As he said this a clatter of wheels and chains caused me to turn my head, and I saw behind us, in the stubble-fields of the plateau, two batteries of 75’s taking up positions. Ah! ah! we were going to send them our greetings then, a salute to the pompous General over there, and to his aide-de-camp, the stiff and obsequious Rittmeister, whom I imagined to be at his side. I looked on gaily with my Chasseurs at the laying of the guns. How we all loved that good little gun, which had so often come up to lend us the support of its terrible projectiles at critical moments! And those good fellows the gunners loved it too; the men we saw jumping nimbly down from their limber, quickly unhitching their piece, and pointing it with tender care towards the enemy.
Standing on a bank, with his glasses to his eyes, the officer in command gave his orders which were passed from man to man by the markers. And then suddenly we heard four loud, sharp reports behind us. The whistling of the shells, which almost grazed our heads, was impressive, and, though we knew there was no danger, we instinctively ducked. But we recovered ourselves at once to see what effect they had produced.
What a pity! They had fallen a bit short. We distinctly saw four small white puffs on the side of the hill just below the group of German officers. Ah! They didn’t wait for another! I saw them make off in hot haste whilst the troopers, stationed behind the stack, galloped off the horses. The man with the flag was the last to go, closing the procession with rather more dignity. But in ten seconds the whole lot had decamped, and the only men we could see were the dragoons of the patrol, who rode back to the ridge at full speed.
But just as they reached it the second battery opened fire, and this time the sighting was just right. The four white puffs appeared exactly over the spot where the Staff had stood a minute before—two to the right and two to the left of the stack. And all we now saw of the patrol was two riderless horses galloping madly towards the woods. Then the two batteries pounded away with a will.
When I had received orders to resume the forward movement and my good Chasseurs had taken up the pursuit again, the gunners had lengthened their range with mathematical precision, and the shells burst on the farther side of the ridge. I took a grim pleasure in imagining what must have been happening there, where, no doubt, the division was drawn up, and whilst I continued to direct my vigilant and expert scouts I amused myself by picturing the brilliant troopers of the Prussian Guard in headlong flight.
V. LOW MASS AND BENEDICTION
One morning in the middle of September, 1914, as we raised our heads at about six o’clock from the straw on which we had slept, I and my friend F. had a very disagreeable surprise: we heard in the darkness the gentle, monotonous noise of water falling drop by drop from the pent-house roof on to the road.