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come to them in the dunes and express in power what is only hinted at by humble voices. I thought how everywhere we wait for some supreme one to gather up the hope of the nations and the anguish of the individual, and make a music that will send us forward to the Rhine.
But a better thing than that took place. One of their own came and shaped their suffering into song. And together, he and they, they made a song that is close to the great experience of war. A Belgian, one of the boy soldiers, came forward to sing to the bearded men. And the song that he sang was "La valse des obus"-"The Dance of the Shells."
"Dear friends, I'm going to sing you some rhymes on the war at the Yser." The men to whom he was singing had been holding the Yser for ten months.
"I want you to know that life in the trenches, night by night, is n't gay."
Two thousand men, unshaved and tousled, with pain in their joints from those trench nights, were listening.
"As soon as you get there, you must set to work. It does n't matter whether it's a black night or a full moon; without making a sound, close to the enemy, you must fill the sand-bags for the fortifications."
Every man on the hill had been doing just that thing for a year.
Then came his chorus:
"Every time we are in the trenches, Crack! There breaks the shell."
But his French has a verve that no literal translation will give. Let us take it as he sang it:
"Crack! Il tombe des obus," sang the slight young Belgian, leaning out toward the two thousand men of many colors, many nations; and soon the sky in the north was spotted with white clouds of shrapnel-smoke.
"There we are, all of us, crouching with bent back-Crack! Once more an obus. The shrapnel, which try to stop us at our job, drive us out; but the things that bore us still more-Crack!- -are just those obus."
With each “Crack! Il tombe des obus," the big bass-drum boomed like the
shell he sang of. His voice was as tense and metallic as a taut string, and he snapped out the lilting line in swift staccato as if he were flaying his audience with a whip. Man after man on the hillside took up the irresistible rhythm in an undertone, and "Cracked" with the singer. In front of me was being created a folksong. The bitterness and glory of their life were being told to them, and they were hearing the singer gladly. Their leader was lifting the dreary trench night and death itself into a surmounting and joyous thing.
"When you 've made your entrenchment, then you must go and guard it without preliminaries. All right; go ahead. But just as you 're moving, you have to squat down for a day and a night-yes, for a full twenty-four hours-because things are hot. Somebody gives you half a drop of coffee. Thirst torments you. The powder-fumes choke you."
Here and there in the crowd, listening intently, men were stirring. The lad was speaking to the exact intimate detail of their experience. This was the life they knew. What would he make of it?
"Despite our sufferings, we cherish. the hope some day of our returning and finding our parents, our wives, and our little ones. Yes, that is my hope, my joyous hope. But to come to that day, so like a dream, we must be of good cheer. It is only by enduring patience, full of confidence, that we shall force back our oppressors. To chase away those cursed Prussians-Crack! We need the obus. My captain calling, 'Crack! More, still more of those obus!' Giving them the bayonet in the bowels, we shall chase them clean beyond the Rhine. And our victory will be won to the waltz of the obus."
It was a song out of the heart of an unconquerable boy. It climbed the hillock to the top. The response was the answer of men moved. His song told them why they fought on. There is a Belgium, not under an alien rule, which the shells have not shattered, and that dear kingdom is still uninvaded. The mother would rather lose her husband and her son than lose the
France that made them. presence is less precious than the spirit that passed into them out of France. That is why these weary men continue their fight. The issue will rest in something more than a matter of mathematics. It is the last stand of the human spirit.
What is this idea of country, so passionately held, that the women walk to the city gates with son and husband and send them out to die? It is the aspect of nature shared in by folk of one blood, an arrangement of hill and pasture which grew dear from early years, sounds and echoes of sound that come from remembered places. It is the look of a land that is your land, the light that flickers in an English lane, the bells that used to ring in Bruges.
IT ET IIe REFRAIN Chaqu' fois que nous sommes aux tranchées, Crack! Il tombe des obus.
Nous sommes tous là, le dos courbé
Crack! Encore un obus.
Les shrapnels pour nous divertir,
L'abri terminé, 'I Faut aller l'occuper, Sans façons. Allez-donc.
Pas moyen d' se bouger Donc, on doit y rester Accroupi,
Jour et nuit,
Pendant la chaleur,
Pour passer vingt-quatr' heures. On nous donn' une d'mi gourde de café. La soif nous tourmente,
Et la poudre asphyxiante, Nous étouffe au dessus du marché.
LA VALSE DES OBUS
Chers amis, je vais Vous chanter des couplets,
Sur la guerre,
Pour vous faire savoir,
A peine arrivé,
'1 Faut aller travailler.
Qu'il fasse noir' ou qu'il y ait clair de lune,
Et sans fair' du bruit,
Nous allons près de l'ennemi,
Malgré nos souffrances, Nous gardons l'espérance D' voir le jour,
De notr' retour
De r'trouver nos parents,
Nos femmes et nos enfants.
Plein de joie,
Oui ma foi,
Mais pour arriver,
A ce jour tant rêvé,
Nous devons tous y mettre du cœur,
Que nous repouss'rons les oppresseurs.
Pour chasser ces maudits All'mands
Et la baionnett' dans les reins, Nous les chass'rons au delà du Rhin. La victoire des Alliés s'ra due
A la valse des obus.
The young man in the flat-bottom skiff rested on his oars. On both sides the river was shut in by dense swamp growth. Tall cane, standing thicker than planted wheat-stalks, grew to the very edge of the under-washed banks, the upper part of its slender stems a brilliant green above the level brown line that marked the river's last high water. Here and there a live-oak or cypress stood above the cane. On the high ground, beyond the canebrake, Southern pines grew in taller splendor, the needles of their spreading tops varnished in the sunlight. He could see no figure on the bank.
The boat continued to make headway against the sluggish current, a fan of black ripples spreading from the bow. The sun, directly overhead, made hot the motionless air between the river-banks.
"Pull in hyer, I say; an' be durn' quick about it!"
Amid the foliage, Ned Emmet caught now the flash of something blue, the slender barrel of a squirrel rifle; its aim moved steadily up-stream with the boat. He saw, too, half hidden behind the trunk of a cypress, a kneeling man.
"Ef you don't git that boat to this hyer bank afore I counts ten, I'll shoot."
Emmet had been long enough in the flat lands of southern Alabama to know
that the harsh voice meant all it said. After half a dozen strokes of the oars, the boat ran deep into the mud at the bank. "Now stand up afore you turns round." Emmet rose. He wore no coat over his flannel shirt. Facing the river, he stood waiting. The boy was no coward, though the flesh between his shoulder-blades twitched.
strained his worn clothing. The jean trousers and hickory shirt, all that covered him, were frayed and thickly plastered with dried swamp mud. Tow-colored hair fell tangled from his hatless head to his bony shoulders. A straggling yellow beard failed to hide his long, sharp chin. But for glowing black eyes beneath his brows, the man would have been piti
"What's that in your hip-pocket?" ful, want and desperate need had so
the voice called.
"Ain't got no gun, hev you?"
"Well, tie up, an' git outer your boat." Underneath the man's drawl Emmet felt a lurking desperation. As he made the boat fast, the aiming muzzle never wavered from his head.
"Now come on up the bank, an' ef you tries to break an' run, I 'll git you afore you kin take three jumps."
"I'm not going to run." Emmet climbed the slippery bank, and pushed into the thick growth of cane.
"Jes keep straight ahead as you air a-goin', an' no monkey-shines, neither," the voice warned.
The man kept the tree-trunk between them as Emmet picked his way over the soggy earth. Beyond the tree, he followed out into a well-worn path, walking far enough behind for an easy shot in case of a sudden wheel and attack.
The path ended a hundred feet from the stream. Here the cane had been trodden down, leaving a cleared circle twenty feet in diameter. A small fire smoldered in the center; the ring of baked mud about the ashes told that it had been alive for many days. Beneath the branches of a tree lay a heap of cut cane, enough dried and crushed stalks to hold a sleeping man's body some inches above the slimy earth.
"Go over thar an' set down." The man nodded toward a fallen log, and sidestepped to the bed of cane. Here he squatted back on bare heels, the rifle across his bent knees. Even this crouched pose could not conceal his unusual height. At every angle the bones of his big frame
marked him. A long thin nose, humped high at the bridge, cheek-bones that pushed to break through the taut yellow skin, added to the squatting man's look of desperation.
Emmet seated himself, and wiped the sweat from his forehead. The intense heat of the place had no apparent effect upon the ragged man across the circle; his jaundiced face was dust-dry.
"Throw that tobaccy of yourn over hyer," he said abruptly.
"May I have a pipeful first?" Emmet asked coolly.
The squatting man assented.
Emmet filled his pipe. From another pocket he drew out a box.
"Matches, by God!" The man's voice. was strained. He rose, reaching out an eager hand, then realizing that the game was now all on his side, he settled back.
Emmet lighted his pipe, and tossed the tobacco across to the man, who crammed a greedy handful into his mouth. Relief from a long-denied craving spread over the drawn face.
"Give me them matches, too," he said. sharply.
For some moments he chewed the tobacco in silence.
"Young feller, what day is this?" "Sunday, July the sixth." The man looked away. His faded brows drew to a doubting frown.
"Air you sure it ain't August?" There was a listless note in the question. He was silent long.
"How much money is you got with
you?" "Eighty dollars." Emmet cursed his luck.
The man raised the rifle an inch or two
from his bent knees. "Throw it over," he said. "Is that watch of yourn gold? What's it wuth?"
"I paid sixty-five dollars for it," Emmet said angrily.
The man rose and stepped back, rifle at shoulder.
"Git up an' lay it on the ground whar I kin reach it," he said without emphasis. "I'll do it," Emmet answered between set teeth, "but I would n't if you'd give me a fighting chance."
"Well, I ain't a-goin' to," the man said lazily. "Now, young feller, go back an' set down, an' me an' you 'll have a talk."
Emmet returned to his seat hot and angry. The bony man squatted again on his heels.
"You 're one of them Yankee surveyors what 's layin' out the new railroad, ain't you?"
"Yes," snapped Emmet.
"Well, now, ef I decides not to kill you, what air you a-goin' to do when I starts down river in that boat of yourn?" "I'll walk east until I hit the Three Notch Road, then follow it south to our camp."
The man moved his head in slow approval.
"Yes, that 'll git you thar; it's about six mile' when you fetch outer the cane."
"And when I get back, I won't brag that I've been robbed by Buck Grimshaw," Emmet said with slow distinct
"On about every cross-road sign in the county."
"Is they offerin' a reward?" "One thousand dollars," Emmet answered coldly, "dead or alive." Grimshaw's head went high. "They'll never git me alive." His black eyes glittered.
"I have n't heard any of them say they were trying to take you that way."
Pride came for a moment to the gaunt face.
"About a month back a boat come up past hyer, two men a-pullin', an' the sheriff settin' in the stern with weepons all around him. I hearn the fools a-talkin' half-mile down the river afore they got hyer. I'd a-kilt the passel of 'em afore they could a-clim' up the bank." Grimshaw disdainfully shrugged the subject from mind.
"How long has you bin in this country?" he said with abrupt change.
"Now, see here," answered Emmet, "if you are not going to murder me, I want to start for camp. It will be dark before I get there as it is."
The man grinned at him.
"Ef I decides not to kill you,—an', mind, I ain't said I won't,-it'll be dark afore I lets you go. I can't start down river myself till nightfall, an' Buck Grimshaw ain't no fool. Me an' you, Bub, is a-goin' to have a nice talk together."
He looked away; an expression almost wistful crossed his haggard features.
"God! I ain't spoke' to no on' 'cep'n' myself for more 'n five months." His voice, at the end, was a whisper.
Silence, broken only by the grating noises of swamp insects, fell about them. Emmet held in his impatience behind clenched teeth. The claw of a giant landcrab pushed out from its hole near by; the creature followed, to stare at the boy with lidless, beady eyes. The hot, dead air pressed heavily about him.
"Say something! Talk!" Emmet cried. The yellow skin about the man's mouth broke into the angles of another grin.
"I was jes a-waitin' on you, Bub. How long has you bin around hyer?"