But it isn’t the bombs that matter, and it isn’t you who run the risk. The observer is not there to drop bombs, in most cases, but to watch, watch, watch. A motor standing by the roadside, a body of men about some work, extra traffic along a road—and a red tick goes down on a map; that is all. You go away. But next day, or sometimes much sooner, that red tick comes up for shelling as part of the normal day’s routine of some German battery.
So if these letters from France ever seem thin, remember that the war correspondent does not wish to give to the enemy for a penny what he would gladly give a regiment to get. On our way back is a field pock-marked by a hundred ancient shell-holes around a few deserted earthworks. On some bygone afternoon it must have been wild, raging, reeking hell there for half an hour or so. Somebody in this landscape put a red tick once against that long-forgotten corner.
THE ROAD TO LILLE
There is a house at a certain corner I passed of late. On it, in big white letters on a blue ground, is written “To Lille.” Every township for a hundred miles has that same signpost, showing you the way to the great city of Northern France. But Rockefeller himself with all his motor-cars could not follow its direction to-day. For the city to which it points is six miles behind the German lines. You can get from our lines the edge of some outlying suburb overlapping a distant hill-top.
And that is all that the French people can see of the second city of their State. The distant roofs, the smoke rising from some great centre of human activity nestled in a depression into which you cannot look; you can peer at them all day long through a telescope and wonder why it is they are stoking their chimneys, or what it is that causes the haze to hang deeply on such and such a day over this or that corner—you can study the place as an astronomer studies the faint markings upon the surface of Mars. But to all intents and purposes that country is as much cut off from you as is the farthest star.
For the war in which we are engaged means this—that you may travel from any part of the world with the freedom of this twentieth century and all its conveniences, until you come to the place where we are to-day. But, when you come thus far, there is a line in front of you which no power that has yet been produced in this world, from its creation to the present day—not all the money nor all the invention—not all the parliamentarians nor the philosophers—not all the socialism nor the autocracy, the capital, nor the labour, the brain, nor the physical power in the whole world has yet been able to pass. The German nation, for reasons of its own, has put this line across another people’s country and made a fool of all the progress and civilisation on which we relied so confidently up to a couple of years ago. I suppose it will all grow unbelievable again some day—two hundred years hence they will smile at such talk just as we did two years ago. But it will be as true then as it is to-day—that a nation of officials and philosophers gone mad has been able to place across the world a line which no man can at present move.