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Ch. 5: In Alsace

August 13th, 1915.

My trip to the east began by a dash toward the north. Near Rheims is
a little town--hardly more than a village, but in English we have no
intermediate terms such as "bourg" and "petit bourg"--where one of
the new Red Cross sanitary motor units was to be seen "in action."
The inspection over, we climbed to a vineyard above the town and
looked down at a river valley traversed by a double line of trees.
The first line marked the canal, which is held by the French, who
have gun-boats on it. Behind this ran the high-road, with the
first-line French trenches, and just above, on the opposite slope,
were the German lines. The soil being chalky, the German positions
were clearly marked by two parallel white scorings across the brown
hill-front; and while we watched we heard desultory firing, and saw,
here and there along the ridge, the smoke-puff of an exploding
shell. It was incredibly strange to stand there, among the vines
humming with summer insects, and to look out over a peaceful country
heavy with the coming vintage, knowing that the trees at our feet
hid a line of gun-boats that were crashing death into those two
white scorings on the hill.

Rheims itself brings one nearer to the war by its look of deathlike
desolation. The paralysis of the bombarded towns is one of the most
tragic results of the invasion. One's soul revolts at this senseless
disorganizing of innumerable useful activities. Compared with the
towns of the north, Rheims is relatively unharmed; but for that very
reason the arrest of life seems the more futile and cruel. The
Cathedral square was deserted, all the houses around it were closed.
And there, before us, rose the Cathedral--_a_ cathedral, rather, for
it was not the one we had always known. It was, in fact, not like
any cathedral on earth. When the German bombardment began, the west
front of Rheims was covered with scaffolding: the shells set it on
fire, and the whole church was wrapped in flames. Now the
scaffolding is gone, and in the dull provincial square there stands
a structure so strange and beautiful that one must search the
Inferno, or some tale of Eastern magic, for words to picture the
luminous unearthly vision. The lower part of the front has been
warmed to deep tints of umber and burnt siena. This rich burnishing
passes, higher up, through yellowish-pink and carmine, to a sulphur
whitening to ivory; and the recesses of the portals and the hollows
behind the statues are lined with a black denser and more velvety
than any effect of shadow to be obtained by sculptured relief. The
interweaving of colour over the whole blunted bruised surface
recalls the metallic tints, the peacock-and-pigeon iridescences, the
incredible mingling of red, blue, umber and yellow of the rocks
along the Gulf of AEgina. And the wonder of the impression is
increased by the sense of its evanescence; the knowledge that this
is the beauty of disease and death, that every one of the
transfigured statues must crumble under the autumn rains, that every
one of the pink or golden stones is already eaten away to the core,
that the Cathedral of Rheims is glowing and dying before us like a
sunset...

August 14th.


A stone and brick chateau in a flat park with a stream running
through it. Pampas-grass, geraniums, rustic bridges, winding paths:
how _bourgeois_ and sleepy it would all seem but for the sentinel
challenging our motor at the gate!

Before the door a collie dozing in the sun, and a group of
staff-officers waiting for luncheon. Indoors, a room with handsome
tapestries, some good furniture and a table spread with the usual
military maps and aeroplane-photographs. At luncheon, the General,
the chiefs of the staff--a dozen in all--an officer from the General
Head-quarters. The usual atmosphere of _camaraderie_, confidence,
good-humour, and a kind of cheerful seriousness that I have come to
regard as characteristic of the men immersed in the actual facts of
the war. I set down this impression as typical of many such luncheon
hours along the front...

August 15th.


This morning we set out for reconquered Alsace. For reasons
unexplained to the civilian this corner of old-new France has
hitherto been inaccessible, even to highly placed French officials;
and there was a special sense of excitement in taking the road that
led to it.

We slipped through a valley or two, passed some placid villages with
vine-covered gables, and noticed that most of the signs over the
shops were German. We had crossed the old frontier unawares, and
were presently in the charming town of Massevaux. It was the Feast
of the Assumption, and mass was just over when we reached the square
before the church. The streets were full of holiday people,
well-dressed, smiling, seemingly unconscious of the war. Down the
church-steps, guided by fond mammas, came little girls in white
dresses, with white wreaths in their hair, and carrying, in baskets
slung over their shoulders, woolly lambs or blue and white Virgins.
Groups of cavalry officers stood chatting with civilians in their
Sunday best, and through the windows of the Golden Eagle we saw
active preparations for a crowded mid-day dinner. It was all as
happy and parochial as a "Hansi" picture, and the fine old gabled
houses and clean cobblestone streets made the traditional setting
for an Alsacian holiday.

At the Golden Eagle we laid in a store of provisions, and started
out across the mountains in the direction of Thann. The Vosges, at
this season, are in their short midsummer beauty, rustling with
streams, dripping with showers, balmy with the smell of firs and
braken, and of purple thyme on hot banks. We reached the top of a
ridge, and, hiding the motor behind a skirt of trees, went out into
the open to lunch on a sunny slope. Facing us across the valley was
a tall conical hill clothed with forest. That hill was
Hartmannswillerkopf, the centre of a long contest in which the
French have lately been victorious; and all about us stood other
crests and ridges from which German guns still look down on the
valley of Thann.

Thann itself is at the valley-head, in a neck between hills; a
handsome old town, with the air of prosperous stability so oddly
characteristic of this tormented region. As we drove through the
main street the pall of war-sadness fell on us again, darkening the
light and chilling the summer air. Thann is raked by the German
lines, and its windows are mostly shuttered and its streets
deserted. One or two houses in the Cathedral square have been
gutted, but the somewhat over-pinnacled and statued cathedral which
is the pride of Thann is almost untouched, and when we entered it
vespers were being sung, and a few people--mostly in black--knelt in
the nave.

No greater contrast could be imagined to the happy feast-day scene
we had left, a few miles off, at Massevaux; but Thann, in spite of
its empty streets, is not a deserted city. A vigorous life beats in
it, ready to break forth as soon as the German guns are silenced.
The French administration, working on the best of terms with the
population, are keeping up the civil activities of the town as the
Canons of the Cathedral are continuing the rites of the Church. Many
inhabitants still remain behind their closed shutters and dive down
into their cellars when the shells begin to crash; and the schools,
transferred to a neighbouring village, number over two thousand
pupils. We walked through the town, visited a vast catacomb of a
wine-cellar fitted up partly as an ambulance and partly as a shelter
for the cellarless, and saw the lamentable remains of the industrial
quarter along the river, which has been the special target of the
German guns. Thann has been industrially ruined, all its mills are
wrecked; but unlike the towns of the north it has had the good
fortune to preserve its outline, its civic personality, a face that
its children, when they come back, can recognize and take comfort
in.

After our visit to the ruins, a diversion was suggested by the
amiable administrators of Thann who had guided our sight-seeing.
They were just off for a military tournament which the --th dragoons
were giving that afternoon in a neighboring valley, and we were
invited to go with them.

The scene of the entertainment was a meadow enclosed in an
amphitheatre of rocks, with grassy ledges projecting from the cliff
like tiers of opera-boxes. These points of vantage were partly
occupied by interested spectators and partly by ruminating cattle;
on the lowest slope, the rank and fashion of the neighbourhood was
ranged on a semi-circle of chairs, and below, in the meadow, a
lively steeple-chase was going on. The riding was extremely pretty,
as French military riding always is. Few of the mounts were
thoroughbreds--the greater number, in fact, being local cart-horses
barely broken to the saddle--but their agility and dash did the
greater credit to their riders. The lancers, in particular, executed
an effective "musical ride" about a central pennon, to the immense
satisfaction of the fashionable public in the foreground and of the
gallery on the rocks.

The audience was even more interesting than the artists. Chatting
with the ladies in the front row were the General of division and
his staff, groups of officers invited from the adjoining
Head-quarters, and most of the civil and military administrators of
the restored "Departement du Haut Rhin." All classes had turned out
in honour of the fete, and every one was in a holiday mood.
The people among whom we sat were mostly Alsatian property-owners,
many of them industrials of Thann. Some had been driven from their
homes, others had seen their mills destroyed, all had been living
for a year on the perilous edge of war, under the menace of
reprisals too hideous to picture; yet the humour prevailing was that
of any group of merry-makers in a peaceful garrison town. I have
seen nothing, in my wanderings along the front, more indicative of
the good-breeding of the French than the spirit of the ladies and
gentlemen who sat chatting with the officers on that grassy slope of
Alsace.

The display of _haute ecole_ was to be followed by an exhibition of
"transportation throughout the ages," headed by a Gaulish chariot
driven by a trooper with a long horsehair moustache and mistletoe
wreath, and ending in a motor of which the engine had been taken out
and replaced by a large placid white horse. Unluckily a heavy rain
began while this instructive "number" awaited its turn, and we had
to leave before Vercingetorix had led his warriors into the ring...

August 16th.


Up and up into the mountains. We started early, taking our way along
a narrow interminable valley that sloped up gradually toward the
east. The road was encumbered with a stream of hooded supply vans
drawn by mules, for we were on the way to one of the main positions
in the Vosges, and this train of provisions is kept up day and
night. Finally we reached a mountain village under fir-clad slopes,
with a cold stream rushing down from the hills. On one side of the
road was a rustic inn, on the other, among the firs, a chalet
occupied by the brigade Head-quarters. Everywhere about us swarmed
the little "chasseurs Alpins" in blue Tam o'Shanters and leather
gaiters. For a year we had been reading of these heroes of the
hills, and here we were among them, looking into their thin
weather-beaten faces and meeting the twinkle of their friendly eyes.
Very friendly they all were, and yet, for Frenchmen, inarticulate
and shy. All over the world, no doubt, the mountain silences breed
this kind of reserve, this shrinking from the glibness of the
valleys. Yet one had fancied that French fluency must soar as high
as Mont Blanc.

Mules were brought, and we started on a long ride up the mountain.
The way led first over open ledges, with deep views into valleys
blue with distance, then through miles of forest, first of beech and
fir, and finally all of fir. Above the road the wooded slopes rose
interminably and here and there we came on tiers of mules, three or
four hundred together, stabled under the trees, in stalls dug out of
different levels of the slope. Near by were shelters for the men,
and perhaps at the next bend a village of "trappers' huts," as the
officers call the log-cabins they build in this region. These
colonies are always bustling with life: men busy cleaning their
arms, hauling material for new cabins, washing or mending their
clothes, or carrying down the mountain from the camp-kitchen the
two-handled pails full of steaming soup. The kitchen is always in
the most protected quarter of the camp, and generally at some
distance in the rear. Other soldiers, their job over, are lolling
about in groups, smoking, gossiping or writing home, the "Soldiers'
Letter-pad" propped on a patched blue knee, a scarred fist
laboriously driving the fountain pen received in hospital. Some are
leaning over the shoulder of a pal who has just received a Paris
paper, others chuckling together at the jokes of their own French
journal--the "Echo du Ravin," the "Journal des Poilus," or the
"Diable Bleu": little papers ground out in purplish script on
foolscap, and adorned with comic-sketches and a wealth of local
humour.

Higher up, under a fir-belt, at the edge of a meadow, the officer
who rode ahead signed to us to dismount and scramble after him. We
plunged under the trees, into what seemed a thicker thicket, and
found it to be a thatch of branches woven to screen the muzzles of a
battery. The big guns were all about us, crouched in these sylvan
lairs like wild beasts waiting to spring; and near each gun hovered
its attendant gunner, proud, possessive, important as a bridegroom
with his bride.

We climbed and climbed again, reaching at last a sun-and-wind-burnt
common which forms the top of one of the highest mountains in the
region. The forest was left below us and only a belt of dwarf firs
ran along the edge of the great grassy shoulder. We dismounted, the
mules were tethered among the trees, and our guide led us to an
insignificant looking stone in the grass. On one face of the stone
was cut the letter F., on the other was a D.; we stood on what, till
a year ago, was the boundary line between Republic and Empire. Since
then, in certain places, the line has been bent back a long way; but
where we stood we were still under German guns, and we had to creep
along in the shelter of the squat firs to reach the outlook on the
edge of the plateau. From there, under a sky of racing clouds, we
saw outstretched below us the Promised Land of Alsace. On one
horizon, far off in the plain, gleamed the roofs and spires of
Colmar, on the other rose the purplish heights beyond the Rhine.
Near by stood a ring of bare hills, those closest to us scarred by
ridges of upheaved earth, as if giant moles had been zigzagging over
them; and just under us, in a little green valley, lay the roofs of
a peaceful village. The earth-ridges and the peaceful village were
still German; but the French positions went down the mountain,
almost to the valley's edge; and one dark peak on the right was
already French.

We stopped at a gap in the firs and walked to the brink of the
plateau. Just under us lay a rock-rimmed lake. More zig-zag
earthworks surmounted it on all sides, and on the nearest shore was
the branched roofing of another great mule-shelter. We were looking
down at the spot to which the night-caravans of the Chasseurs Alpins
descend to distribute supplies to the fighting line.

"Who goes there? Attention! You're in sight of the lines!" a voice
called out from the firs, and our companion signed to us to move
back. We had been rather too conspicuously facing the German
batteries on the opposite slope, and our presence might have drawn
their fire on an artillery observation post installed near by. We
retreated hurriedly and unpacked our luncheon-basket on the more
sheltered side of the ridge. As we sat there in the grass, swept by
a great mountain breeze full of the scent of thyme and myrtle, while
the flutter of birds, the hum of insects, the still and busy life of
the hills went on all about us in the sunshine, the pressure of the
encircling line of death grew more intolerably real. It is not in
the mud and jokes and every-day activities of the trenches that one
most feels the damnable insanity of war; it is where it lurks like a
mythical monster in scenes to which the mind has always turned for
rest.

We had not yet made the whole tour of the mountain-top; and after
luncheon we rode over to a point where a long narrow yoke connects
it with a spur projecting directly above the German lines. We left
our mules in hiding and walked along the yoke, a mere knife-edge of
rock rimmed with dwarf vegetation. Suddenly we heard an explosion
behind us: one of the batteries we had passed on the way up was
giving tongue. The German lines roared back and for twenty minutes
the exchange of invective thundered on. The firing was almost
incessant; it seemed as if a great arch of steel were being built up
above us in the crystal air. And we could follow each curve of sound
from its incipience to its final crash in the trenches. There were
four distinct phases: the sharp bang from the cannon, the long
furious howl overhead, the dispersed and spreading noise of the
shell's explosion, and then the roll of its reverberation from cliff
to cliff. This is what we heard as we crouched in the lee of the
firs: what we saw when we looked out between them was only an
occasional burst of white smoke and red flame from one hillside, and
on the opposite one, a minute later, a brown geyser of dust.

Presently a deluge of rain descended on us, driving us back to our
mules, and down the nearest mountain-trail through rivers of mud. It
rained all the way: rained in such floods and cataracts that the
very rocks of the mountain seemed to dissolve and turn into mud. As
we slid down through it we met strings of Chasseurs Alpins coming
up, splashed to the waist with wet red clay, and leading pack-mules
so coated with it that they looked like studio models from which the
sculptor has just pulled off the dripping sheet. Lower down we came
on more "trapper" settlements, so saturated and reeking with wet
that they gave us a glimpse of what the winter months on the front
must be. No more cheerful polishing of fire-arms, hauling of
faggots, chatting and smoking in sociable groups: everybody had
crept under the doubtful shelter of branches and tarpaulins; the
whole army was back in its burrows.

August 17th.


Sunshine again for our arrival at Belfort. The invincible city lies
unpretentiously behind its green glacis and escutcheoned gates; but
the guardian Lion under the Citadel--well, the Lion is figuratively
as well as literally _a la hauteur._ With the sunset flush
on him, as he crouched aloft in his red lair below the fort, he
might almost have claimed kin with his mighty prototypes of the
Assarbanipal frieze. One wondered a little, seeing whose work he
was; but probably it is easier for an artist to symbolize an heroic
town than the abstract and elusive divinity who sheds light on the
world from New York harbour.

From Belfort back into reconquered Alsace the road runs through a
gentle landscape of fields and orchards. We were bound for
Dannemarie, one of the towns of the plain, and a centre of the new
administration. It is the usual "gros bourg" of Alsace, with
comfortable old houses in espaliered gardens: dull, well-to-do,
contented; not in the least the kind of setting demanded by the
patriotism which has to be fed on pictures of little girls singing
the Marseillaise in Alsatian head-dresses and old men with operatic
waistcoats tottering forward to kiss the flag. What we saw at
Dannemarie was less conspicuous to the eye but much more nourishing
to the imagination. The military and civil administrators had the
kindness and patience to explain their work and show us something of
its results; and the visit left one with the impression of a slow
and quiet process of adaptation wisely planned and fruitfully
carried out. We _did_, in fact, hear the school-girls of Dannemarie
sing the Marseillaise--and the boys too--but, what was far more
interesting, we saw them studying under the direction of the
teachers who had always had them in charge, and found that
everywhere it had been the aim of the French officials to let the
routine of the village policy go on undisturbed. The German signs
remain over the shop-fronts except where the shop-keepers have
chosen to paint them out; as is happening more and more frequently.
When a functionary has to be replaced he is chosen from the same
town or the same district, and even the _personnel_ of the civil and
military administration is mainly composed of officers and civilians
of Alsatian stock. The heads of both these departments, who
accompanied us on our rounds, could talk to the children and old
people in German as well as in their local dialect; and, as far as a
passing observer could discern, it seemed as though everything had
been done to reduce to a minimum the sense of strangeness and
friction which is inevitable in the transition from one rule to
another. The interesting point was that this exercise of tact and
tolerance seemed to proceed not from any pressure of expediency but
from a sympathetic understanding of the point of view of this people
of the border. I heard in Dannemarie not a syllable of lyrical
patriotism or post-card sentimentality, but only a kindly and
impartial estimate of facts as they were and must be dealt with.

August 18th.


Today again we started early for the mountains. Our road ran more to
the westward, through the heart of the Vosges, and up to a fold of
the hills near the borders of Lorraine. We stopped at a
Head-quarters where a young officer of dragoons was to join us, and
learned from him that we were to be allowed to visit some of the
first-line trenches which we had looked out on from a high-perched
observation post on our former visit to the Vosges. Violent fighting
was going on in that particular region, and after a climb of an hour
or two we had to leave the motor at a sheltered angle of the road
and strike across the hills on foot. Our path lay through the
forest, and every now and then we caught a glimpse of the high-road
running below us in full view of the German batteries. Presently we
reached a point where the road was screened by a thick growth of
trees behind which an observation post had been set up. We scrambled
down and looked through the peephole. Just below us lay a valley
with a village in its centre, and to the left and right of the
village were two hills, the one scored with French, the other with
German trenches. The village, at first sight, looked as normal as
those through which we had been passing; but a closer inspection
showed that its steeple was shattered and that some of its houses
were unroofed. Part of it was held by German, part by French troops.
The cemetery adjoining the church, and a quarry just under it,
belonged to the Germans; but a line of French trenches ran from the
farther side of the church up to the French batteries on the right
hand hill. Parallel with this line, but starting from the other side
of the village, was a hollow lane leading up to a single tree. This
lane was a German trench, protected by the guns of the left hand
hill; and between the two lay perhaps fifty yards of ground. All
this was close under us; and closer still was a slope of open ground
leading up to the village and traversed by a rough cart-track. Along
this track in the hot sunshine little French soldiers, the size of
tin toys, were scrambling up with bags and loads of faggots, their
ant-like activity as orderly and untroubled as if the two armies had
not lain trench to trench a few yards away. It was one of those
strange and contradictory scenes of war that bring home to the
bewildered looker-on the utter impossibility of picturing how the
thing _really happens._

While we stood watching we heard the sudden scream of a battery
close above us. The crest of the hill we were climbing was alive
with "Seventy-fives," and the piercing noise seemed to burst out at
our very backs. It was the most terrible war-shriek I had heard: a
kind of wolfish baying that called up an image of all the dogs of
war simultaneously tugging at their leashes. There is a dreadful
majesty in the sound of a distant cannonade; but these yelps and
hisses roused only thoughts of horror. And there, on the opposite
slope, the black and brown geysers were beginning to spout up from
the German trenches; and from the batteries above them came the puff
and roar of retaliation. Below us, along the cart-track, the little
French soldiers continued to scramble up peacefully to the
dilapidated village; and presently a group of officers of dragoons,
emerging from the wood, came down to welcome us to their
Head-quarters.

We continued to climb through the forest, the cannonade still
whistling overhead, till we reached the most elaborate trapper
colony we had yet seen. Half underground, walled with logs, and
deeply roofed by sods tufted with ferns and moss, the cabins were
scattered under the trees and connected with each other by paths
bordered with white stones. Before the Colonel's cabin the soldiers
had made a banked-up flower-bed sown with annuals; and farther up
the slope stood a log chapel, a mere gable with a wooden altar under
it, all tapestried with ivy and holly. Near by was the chaplain's
subterranean dwelling. It was reached by a deep cutting with
ivy-covered sides, and ivy and fir-boughs masked the front. This
sylvan retreat had just been completed, and the officers, the
chaplain, and the soldiers loitering near by, were all equally eager
to have it seen and hear it praised.

The commanding officer, having done the honours of the camp, led us
about a quarter of a mile down the hillside to an open cutting which
marked the beginning of the trenches. From the cutting we passed
into a long tortuous burrow walled and roofed with carefully fitted
logs. The earth floor was covered by a sort of wooden lattice. The
only light entering this tunnel was a faint ray from an occasional
narrow slit screened by branches; and beside each of these
peep-holes hung a shield-shaped metal shutter to be pushed over it
in case of emergency.

The passage wound down the hill, almost doubling on itself, in order
to give a view of all the surrounding lines. Presently the roof
became much higher, and we saw on one side a curtained niche about
five feet above the floor. One of the officers pulled the curtain
back, and there, on a narrow shelf, a gun between his knees, sat a
dragoon, his eyes on a peep-hole. The curtain was hastily drawn
again behind his motionless figure, lest the faint light at his back
should betray him. We passed by several of these helmeted watchers,
and now and then we came to a deeper recess in which a mitrailleuse
squatted, its black nose thrust through a net of branches. Sometimes
the roof of the tunnel was so low that we had to bend nearly double;
and at intervals we came to heavy doors, made of logs and sheeted
with iron, which shut off one section from another. It is hard to
guess the distance one covers in creeping through an unlit passage
with different levels and countless turnings; but we must have
descended the hillside for at least a mile before we came out into a
half-ruined farmhouse. This building, which had kept nothing but its
outer walls and one or two partitions between the rooms, had been
transformed into an observation post. In each of its corners a
ladder led up to a little shelf on the level of what was once the
second story, and on the shelf sat a dragoon at his peep-hole.
Below, in the dilapidated rooms, the usual life of a camp was going
on. Some of the soldiers were playing cards at a kitchen table,
others mending their clothes, or writing letters or chuckling
together (not too loud) over a comic newspaper. It might have been a
scene anywhere along the second-line trenches but for the lowered
voices, the suddenness with which I was drawn back from a slit in
the wall through which I had incautiously peered, and the presence
of these helmeted watchers overhead.

We plunged underground again and began to descend through another
darker and narrower tunnel. In the upper one there had been one or
two roofless stretches where one could straighten one's back and
breathe; but here we were in pitch blackness, and saved from
breaking our necks only by the gleam of the pocket-light which the
young lieutenant who led the party shed on our path. As he whisked
it up and down to warn us of sudden steps or sharp corners he
remarked that at night even this faint glimmer was forbidden, and
that it was a bad job going back and forth from the last outpost
till one had learned the turnings.

The last outpost was a half-ruined farmhouse like the other. A
telephone connected it with Head-quarters and more dumb dragoons sat
motionless on their lofty shelves. The house was shut off from the
tunnel by an armoured door, and the orders were that in case of
attack that door should be barred from within and the access to the
tunnel defended to the death by the men in the outpost. We were on
the extreme verge of the defences, on a slope just above the village
over which we had heard the artillery roaring a few hours earlier.
The spot where we stood was raked on all sides by the enemy's lines,
and the nearest trenches were only a few yards away. But of all this
nothing was really perceptible or comprehensible to me. As far as my
own observation went, we might have been a hundred miles from the
valley we had looked down on, where the French soldiers were walking
peacefully up the cart-track in the sunshine. I only knew that we
had come out of a black labyrinth into a gutted house among
fruit-trees, where soldiers were lounging and smoking, and people
whispered as they do about a death-bed. Over a break in the walls I
saw another gutted farmhouse close by in another orchard: it was an
enemy outpost, and silent watchers in helmets of another shape sat
there watching on the same high shelves. But all this was infinitely
less real and terrible than the cannonade above the disputed
village. The artillery had ceased and the air was full of summer
murmurs. Close by on a sheltered ledge I saw a patch of vineyard
with dewy cobwebs hanging to the vines. I could not understand where
we were, or what it was all about, or why a shell from the enemy
outpost did not suddenly annihilate us. And then, little by little,
there came over me the sense of that mute reciprocal watching from
trench to trench: the interlocked stare of innumerable pairs of
eyes, stretching on, mile after mile, along the whole sleepless line
from Dunkerque to Belfort.

My last vision of the French front which I had traveled from end to
end was this picture of a shelled house where a few men, who sat
smoking and playing cards in the sunshine, had orders to hold out to
the death rather than let their fraction of that front be broken.

Edith Wharton

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