« AnkstesnisTęsti »
poplars, and then the great hemisphere swept over us. And at first the sky was empty. Yet my uneasiness referred itself in some vague way to the sky.
"I was melancholy. I found something strangely sorrowful and submissive in the sleepers all about me, those men who had marched so far, who had left all the established texture of their lives behind them to come upon this mad campaign-this campaign that signified nothing and consumed everything, this mere fever of fighting. I saw how little and feeble is the life of man, a thing of chances, preposterously unable to find the will to realize even the most timid of its dreams. And I wondered if always it would be so, if man was a doomed animal who to the last days of his time would never take hold of fate and change it to his will. Always, it may be, he will remain kindly, but jealous; desirous, but discursive; able and unwisely impulsive, until Saturn, who begot him, shall devour him in his turn.
"I was roused by the sudden realization of the presence of a squadron of aëroplanes far away to the northeast and very high. They looked like little black dashes against the deep midnight blue. I remember that I looked up at them at first rather idly, as one might notice a flight of birds. Then I perceived that they were. only the extreme wing of a great fleet that was very swiftly advancing in a long line from the direction of the frontier, and my attention tightened.
"Directly I saw that fleet, I was astonished not to have seen it before.
"I stood up softly, undesirous of disturbing my companions, but with my heart beating now rather more rapidly with surprise and excitement. I strained my ears for any sound of guns along our front. Almost instinctively I turned about for protection to the south and west, and peered. And then I saw coming as fast, and much nearer to me, as if they had sprung out of the darkness, three banks of aeroplanes, a group of squadrons very high, a main body at a height perhaps of one or two thousand feet, and a doubtful number flying low and very indistinct. The middle ones were so thick they kept putting out groups of stars. And I realized that, after all, there was to be fighting in the air.
"There was something extraordinarily strange in this swift, noiseless convergence of nearly invisible combatants above the sleeping hosts. Every one about me was still unaware; there was no sign as yet of any agitation among the shipping on the main canal, the whole course of which, dotted with unsuspicious lights and fringed with fires, must have been clearly perceptible from above. Then a long way off toward Alkmaar I heard bugles, and after that shots, and then a wild clamor of bells. I determined to let my men sleep on for as long as they could.
THE SKY BATTLE SEEN FROM THE LAND
"THE battle was joined with the swiftness of dreaming. I do not think it can have been five minutes from the moment when I first became aware of the central European air fleet to the contact of the two forces. I saw it quite plainly in silhouette against the luminous blue of the Northern sky. The allied aeroplanesthey were mostly French-came pouring down like a fierce shower upon the middle of the central European fleet. They looked exactly like a coarser sort of rain. There was a crackling sound-the first sound I heard; it reminded one of the aurora borealis, and I suppose it was an interchange of rifle-shots. There were flashes like summer lightning, and then all the sky became a whirling confusion of battle that was still largely noiseless. Some of the central European aëroplanes were certainly charged and overset; others seemed to collapse and fall, and then flare out with so bright a light that it took the edge off one's vision and made the rest of the battle disappear as though it had been snatched back out of sight.
THE SWEEPING AWAY OF HOLLAND
"AND then while I still peered, and tried to shade those flames from my eyes with my hand, and while the men about me were beginning to stir, the atomic bombs were thrown at the dikes. They made a mighty thunder in the air, and fell like Lucifer in the picture, leaving a flaring trail in the sky. The night, which had been pellucid and detailed and eventful, seemed to vanish, to be replaced abruptly by a black background to these tremendous pillars of fire.
"Hard upon the sound of them came a
roaring wind, and the sky was filled with flickering lightnings and rushing clouds. There was something discontinuous in this impact. At one moment I was a lonely watcher in a sleeping world; the next saw every one about me afoot, the whole world awake and amazed.
"And then the wind had struck me a buffet, taken my helmet, and swept aside the summer-house of 'Vreugde bij Vrede' as a scythe sweeps away grass. I saw the bombs fall, and then watched a great crimson flare leap responsive to each impact, and mountainous masses of red-lit steam and flying fragments clamber up toward the zenith. Against the glare I saw the country-side for miles standing black and clear, churches, trees, chimneys. And suddenly I understood. The central Europeans had burst the dikes. Those flares meant the bursting of the dikes, and in a little while the sea-water would be upon us."
He goes on to tell with a certain prolixity of the steps he took-and, all things considered, they were very intelligent steps to meet this amazing crisis. He got his men aboard, and hailed the adjacent barges; he got the man who acted as barge engineer at his post and the engines working; he cast loose from his moorings. Then he bethought himself of food, and contrived to land five men, get in a few dozen cheeses, and ship his men again before the inundation reached them.
He is reasonably proud of this piece of coolness. His idea was to take the water head-on, and with his engines full-speed ahead. And all the while he was thanking Heaven he was not in the jam of traffic in the main canal. He rather, I think, overestimated the probable rush of waters; he dreaded being swept away, he explains, and smashed against houses and
He does not give any estimate of the time it took between the bursting of the dike and the arrival of the waters, but it was probably an interval of about twenty minutes or half an hour. He was working now in darkness, save for the light of his lantern, and in a great wind. He hung out head and stern lights.
Whirling torrents of steam were pouring up from the advancing waters, which had rushed, it must be remembered, through nearly incandescent gaps in the
sea defenses, and this vast uprush of vapor soon altogether veiled the flaring centers of explosion.
"The waters came at last, an advancing cascade. It was like a broad roller sweeping across the country. It came with a deep roaring sound. I had expected a Niagara, but the total fall of the front could not have been much more than twelve feet. Our barge hesitated for a moment, took a dose over her bows, and then lifted. I signaled for full-speed ahead, and brought her head up-stream and held on like grim death to keep her there.
"There was a wind about as strong as the flood, and I found we were pounding against every conceivable buoyant object that had been between us and the sea. The only light in the world now came from our lamps, the steam became impenetrable at a score of yards from the boat, and the roar of the wind and water cut us off from all remoter sounds. The black, shining waters swirled by, coming into the light of our lamps out of an ebony blackness, and vanishing again into impenetrable black. And on the waters came shapes, came things, that flashed upon us for a moment, now a half-submerged boat, now a cow, now a huge fragment of a house's timberings, now a muddle of packing-cases and scaffolding. The things clapped into sight like something shown by the opening of a shutter, and then bumped shatteringly against us or rushed by us. Once I saw very clearly a man's white face.
"All the while a group of laboring, half-submerged trees remained ahead of us, drawing very slowly nearer. I steered a course to avoid them. They seemed to gesticulate a frantic despair against the black steam clouds behind. Once a great branch detached itself and tore shuddering by me. We did, on the whole, make headway. The last I saw of 'Vreugde bij Vrede' before the night swallowed it was almost dead astern of us."
MORNING found Barnet still afloat. The bows of his barge had been badly strained, and his men were pumping or baling in relays. He had got about a dozen halfdrowned people aboard whose boat had capsized near him, and he had three other
boats in tow. He was afloat, and somewhere between Amsterdam and Alkmaar, but he could not tell where. It was a day that was still half-night. Gray waters stretched in every direction under a dark-gray sky, and out of the waves rose the upper parts of houses, in many cases ruined; the tops of trees; windmills, in fact the upper third of all the familiar Dutch scenery. And on the waters there drifted a dimly seen flotilla of barges, small boats,-many overturned,-furniture, rafts, and miscellaneous objects.
The drowned were under water that morning. Only here and there did a dead cow or a stiff figure still clinging stoutly to a box or chair or suchlike buoy hint at the hidden massacre. It was not till the Thursday that the dead came to the surface in any quantity. The view was bounded on every side by a gray mist that closed overhead in a gray canopy. The air cleared in the afternoon, and then, far away to the west, under great banks of steam and dust, the flaming, red eruption of the atomic bombs became visible across the waste of water.
plete insignificance. The view
They showed flat and sullen through the mist, like London sunsets. "They sat upon the sea," says Barnet, "like frayed-out water-lilies of flame."
Barnet seems to have spent the morning in rescue work along the track of the canal, in helping people who were adrift, in picking up derelict boats, and in taking people out of imperiled houses. He found other military barges similarly employed, and it was only as the day wore on and the immediate appeals for aid were satisfied that he thought of food and drink for his men and what course he had better pursue. They had a little cheese but no water. "Orders," that mysterious direction, had at last disappeared. He saw that he had now to act upon his own responsibility.
"One's sense of a destruction so farreaching and of a world so altered that it seemed foolish to go in any direction and expect to find things as they had been before the war began.
if we went away to the south we should reach hilly country, or at least country that was not submerged, and then we should be able to land, find some stream drink, and get supplies and news. It was a voyage in a red-lit mist, in a world of steamy silhouette, full of strange voices and perplexity, and with every other sensation dominated by a feverish thirst. We sat," he says, "in a little huddled group, saying very little, and the men forward were mere knots of silent endurance.
"I do not think any of us felt we belonged to a defeated army, nor had we any strange sense of the war as the dominating fact about us. Our mental setting had far more of the effect of a huge natural catastrophe. The atomic bomb had dwarfed the international issues to complete insignificance. When our minds wandered from the preoccupations of our immediate needs, we speculated upon the possibility of stopping the use of these frightful explosives before the world was utterly destroyed. For to us it seemed quite plain that these bombs and the still greater power of destruction of which they were the precursors might quite easily shatter every relationship and institution of mankind.
"Every boat we drew near now hailed us for water, and their demands did much to exasperate our thirst. I decided that
""It 's plain,' said Mylius, 'we've got to put an end to war. Things have to be run some way. This-all this is impossible.'
"I made no immediate answer. Something, I cannot think what, had brought back to me the figure of that man I had seen wounded on the very first day of actual fighting. I saw again his angry, tearful eyes tearful eyes and that poor dripping, bloody mess, which had been a skilful human hand five minutes before, thrust out in indignant protest. 'Damned foolery!' he had stormed, 'damned foolery! My right hand, sir! My right hand!'
"My faith had for a time gone altogether out of me. 'I think we are toosilly,' I said suddenly to Mylius, 'ever to stop war. If we'd had the sense to do it, we should have done it before this. I think this-' and I waved a gesture at the gaunt, black outline of a smashed windmill that stuck up, ridiculous and ugly, above the red waters-'this is the end."""
(The third part of Mr. Wells's Prophetic Trilogy will appear in the March CENTURY)
THE HEART OF INDIA
BY E. F. BENSON
Author of "The Relentless City," "Account Rendered," etc.
HERE is not a pious Hindu in all nally into it, with flotsam of withered
were pas- a mere
sible for him, come to Benares to die, nor count himself happy in dying if only, when the ardent purity of fire had embraced and devoured his outworn body, the ashes thereof might be given into the liquid keeping of holy Ganges, which makes all things pure, and purges whatever it touches with waves of absolution and supreme unction. Until we accept and, as far as we can, understand the literal truth of this statement, and believe unquestioningly in the unquestioning faith that inspires it, we cannot hope to form the faintest idea of what Benares means, and shall find there only what so many find, namely, a picturesque river-bank crowded with idle folk who bathe in the morning and do nothing all day long, a repulsive method of publicly disposing of the dead, and sour, distrustful glances at the cameras of tourists, their loud voices, and jostling progress, at their pointed fingers, and looks averted from the burning ghat, or glued there with horrified curiosity.
Such features as these strike every one who with superficial eye and hustling steps visits this incomparable riverside, and superficially they are quite undeniable. He will draw hurried conclusions from some of those fakirs and contemplative folk who spend their time there, and have an eager eye to their begging-bowls, and, hastily generalizing, will call them a mob of idle beggars. To him this crowded theater of a town, which forever gazes on the mute, flowing stage of the Ganges, where nothing happens, where no dramatic presentment is made, will be to him but a curious huddle of dusty and tumbling palaces, a muck-heap of wrecked religions, and meaningless superstitions inspired by the Oriental love of indolence; while of the river itself he will see nothing more than a broad and strangely pellucid stream, considering the pollutions that are cast eter
stacked boats that bring incessant loads of wood to the city. Rows of great palaces, decaying and untended, are buried up to their very balconies in alluvial accumulations; others the scouring action of the river has bodily uprooted, and they have slipped and toppled down the steep bank, none underpinning them, till here a steeple rises from the river-bed itself, here, until the next rains come, a flight of steps and the terrace that once crowned it are strewn sidewise and disjectedly along the margin of the stream. Next year the flooded river will complete the destruction it has begun, and this massive bastion will vanish forever below the blind, devouring waters. To him an indescribable throng of fraudulent fanatics who do not believe in the faith they profess, and only play with the austerities they apparently practise, people these ruinous banks. On wooden platforms, shaded by straw umbrellas, sit those false fakirs and Oriental Pecksniffs, geniuses, at any rate, in one art, namely, that of complete lethargy. Some bemuse themselves with silence, some with bodily immobility that has soaked through to their souls, and they are lost and drowned not in sacred meditation, but in fathomless gulfs of vacancy.
FAITH OR FRAUD?
PERHAPS he may allow that once, when religion in these mystical lands of the East was alive and bred men who were holy of soul, such life of concentrated immobility, which led to the "seedless contemplation," was genuine. But such took their crutch and begging-bowl not on to crowded riversides, but into the empty places of forest and of jungle, and in stillness realized their souls. He cannot credit that such an accumulation of holiness as professes to unfold itself on this left bank of the Ganges is conceivable. These loinclothed drones find that it is easier to earn
livelihood and savings by sitting still than by honest work: it is not inherent sanctity, but inherent laziness, that sits all day below those straw umbrellas, and has its joints and muscles pleasantly massaged by a black-eyed little bronze statue of a chela, who begs for his master all day and shares his blanket at night. He knows something of the native, does our bustling observer, and we may take it from him this is a mere crowd of fraudulent and idle beggars.
One such he will see who, he will be told, never sits down. For four years he has stood day and night; and all day, as every one may see, he stands in the blaze of the sun, body and head completely uncovered but for a narrow loin-cloth, and, smeared over with the ashes that distinguish the followers of Siva, bends over a wood fire, the smoke of which ascends continually into his face. He has vowed to continue thus for twelve years.
But twelve years already have passed for another, sitting in a small cramped palanquin, so that back and legs can never be extended, and during this time he has never spoken. All power of movement has long since left him, but morning by morning he is borne down by his chelas, and dipped in the sacred river. Then he is brought back and placed in his prison again, from which all day he looks with steadfast eyes upon the Ganges. He is completely naked, but when, a few years ago, the English authorities decreed that for the sake of decency he should wear the minimum of covering, fearing, one must suppose, that visitors who poked their heads through the windows of his palanquin would be shocked, the feeling in Benares was such that the order was has tily rescinded.
In these two cases, and in many more like them, he who attempts to understand Benares without granting the postulate we have started with, may, it is true, be a little shaken in his conclusion; but he will proceed to justify himself by asking what is the good of it all, or by passing on, perhaps, to the burning ghat. There he will see the pyre being built by chattering undertakers; he will see lying on the steps, in shallow water, the shrouded corpse, receiving its last ablution before the flame purifies it and the holy river again receives the ashes of the burning. He will see it cheerfully bestowed on the half-built
pyre, and covered with dry wood and fagots; for a little while the son and only mourner, brown and glistening from his half-finished morning's bath, will watch the flames flower round his father's corpse, then, when all is going well, he will return to his interrupted ablutions. Perhaps an arm or leg will shoot out of the blaze, making a wild, indescribable gesture in the air as the flame eats through the sinews of thigh and shoulder, and the superficial observer will look on that with ghoulish interest, or, if more sensitive, with shudder and aversion, as with a shudder he will look at the dogs that live about the burning ghat, and help, if the fire fails. And if that is all that our observer sees, he will have failed as utterly in reaching the essential truth and naturalness of all it holds for the native, as he will have failed in appreciating all the rest.
POTENTIAL SEDITION AND DISEASE
OR, still superficial, though piercing below the actual visible impression, and seeking, though missing, the essential spirit of the place, he will remember how the mutiny was largely spread by just such fakirs as he sees here by the score. He will have been told, too, that the Brahmans, who are the brain of India, are busy with seditions and revolutionary concoctions, and are using this holy place as a hotbed for their schemes. He will remember the sour and suspicious looks cast at him, and feel that the air is thick with treachery and ominous with danger. Here sedition is cooked, and the savor of it spreads, like the drifting smoke of the burning ghat, over the illimitable plains, carried there by those traveling fakirs who pass through Benares and wander over every province. Then this broiling, dusty reach of the Ganges becomes to him a nightmare fecund with potential force, and the whole length of the crowded quays is as deadly as a coiled cobra, which, as it sleeps, distils into its glands an imminent and deadly poison. The poison collects, collects, and such crimes as that of the bomb outrage at Delhi are no more than a somnolent and tentative stroke. To him the place reeks with sinister things, and by contrast the very burning ghat becomes a place of relief from the ominousness of the underlying menace. There, at any rate, fire cleanses and consumes; there is no breeding of sub