Puslapio vaizdai

ing in their trenches like cunning beasts.

'In torrid heat the battalion made a brief halt in the pretty little village of Nantouillet. Seated on a stone, white with dust like the rest of us, streaming with sweat, with beard unkempt, his eyes sparkling behind his glasses, once more I see our dear lieutenant, brave Charles Péguy, writer, poet, soldier, whom we all loved as our friend; who, in Lorraine as well as during the retreat, insensible to fatigue, fearless under the rain of shells, went from man to man, encouraging by word and deed; running through the ranks of our company from front to rear; eating, as we ate, only one day in three, without a word of complaint; always young despite his age,1 familiar with the speech which Parisians, as most of us were, can understand; reviving with a brief phrase, sometimes biting, sometimes sarcastic or jocose, the drooping spirits; always dauntless, preaching by example-once more I see our dear lieutenant, inspiring us, when many were beginning to despair, with his unshaken convictions of final victory, while he read eagerly a letter from his family, a tear of happiness glistening in his eye.

'An hour later, as the clock struck twelve, we reached, by a little shrublined path, the farm of La Trace, near the little village of Villeroy, where the battalion was to encamp. The whistles have barely blown the signal for a brief halt, when suddenly German shells begin to fall all about us, causing some confusion in our ranks. We are completely surprised by this terrible and unlooked-for bombardment, which kills or wounds a number of men and horses; but the battery of seventy-fives in advance of us goes gallantly into action amid shrapnel and percussion shells, at the foot of the little hamlet of La Baste. Though hard put to it at the outset, our artil1 Péguy was born in 1873.

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lery, after four hours of a terrific duel, had completely silenced the Prussian batteries. Next day, on entering the village of Monthyon, while in pursuit of the retreating foe, we came upon the shapeless débris of what had once been big guns, mingled with the bloody remnants of the Boche artillerymen, blown to bits and disemboweled by our shells.

'While our big guns were fighting thus victoriously, the battalion formed for battle, and the company deployed in sections by fours, Péguy's section being on the right of the line. From time to time there was a sharp order "Lie down; curl up like snails"; this to avoid a volley of shells, which burst all about us without doing any damage. Sheltered behind a little rise in the ground, we awaited, under the inaccurate fire of the enemy, the moment for attacking his intrenchments, a fruitless attack having already been made by the Moroccans on our right.

'At last, word came, and we started forward gladly, deployed as skirmishers, under the energetic command of Captain Guérin, who was by Péguy's side on the right of our line. It is five o'clock; the German artillery, overwhelmed, has ceased to speak; but when we reach the crest of the hill a terrific hail of bullets welcomes us: we dash for the leveled and tangled oatstalks, where many fall; it is difficult ground. One more leap, and we find cover behind the embankment of the Iverny-Chauconin road, gasping and breathless. The bullets hiss close above our heads; we fire at five hundred metres at the Germans, who are well sheltered behind the trees and thickets that line the little stream of La Sorcière, and are almost invisible in their earth-colored uniforms. Through a gap in the trees, we can catch momentary glimpses of German companies swiftly climbing the hill, supported by the infernal fire of the battalions in

front of us. They are falling back on Monthyon and Chauconin, which they partly burn for spite.

'Back! They're falling back! In clarion tones Lieutenant Péguy gives the order to fire, indicates the range and the objectives. He stands behind us, leaning against an abandoned roadroller, upright, gallant, and fearless under the downpour of bullets which hiss about us, while the infernal tap-tap of the Prussian machine-guns beats time.

"That wild rush through the oat-field has exhausted our breath; we are bathed in sweat, and our good lieutenant is in the same plight. A brief moment's respite, then, at a signal from the captain, his voice rings out: "Forward!" ‘Ah! this time it is no laughing mat

Scaling the embankment and skimming over the ground, stumbling among the beet-roots and clods of earth, bent double so as to offer a smaller target for the bullets, we rush to the assault. The harvest continues, frightful to see; the song of death hums about us. Thus we press on for two hundred metres; but to go farther for the moment, with no support in our rear and no possibility of replenishing our cartridge-belts, is sheer madness. It means a general massacre; not ten of us will get through! Captain Guérin and the other lieutenant, M. de La Cornillère, are stark dead.

""Lie down," roars Péguy, “and fire at will!" But he himself remains on his feet, field-glass in hand, directing our fire-heroic in hell.

Most of us had lost our knapsacks at Ravenel, during the retreat, but a knapsack at this moment would be a priceless shelter. And the lieutenant's voice rings out ceaselessly, "Fire! Fire! In God's name!"

"There is some whimpering: "We have n't any knapsack, lieutenant; we shall all be done in!"—"No matter!" shouts Péguy, above the howling tempest. "I have n't one either, you see, so fire, fire!" And he straightens up as if defying the balls, seeming to summon the death which he glorified in his verse.

'At that same instant a death-bearing bullet strikes the hero's head, crushes that broad and noble forehead. He has fallen on his side, motionless, without a cry; in the retreat of the barbarians he had the last prevision of the impending victory; and when leaping forward like a lunatic, a hundred metres farther on, I cast a terrified glance behind, I see yonder, as one black spot amid a multitude of others, stretched lifeless on the scorched and dusty ground, half-buried in the broad green leaves of the beet-tops, the body of our brave, our dear lieutenant.'

Here is the official report of the most glorious of deaths. After the war, there will rest upon us the duty of inviting all Frenchmen to read the poet who died for us, and who sang,

Heureux ceux qui sont morts pour une juste guerre,

Heureux les épis mûrs et les blés moisonnés.

'We shoot like madmen, black with powder, and the muskets burning our Heureux ceux qui sont morts dans les grandes

fingers. Every second there are shrieks and groans and gasps which tell their story: dear friends are killed at my side. How many are dead? how many wounded? They are past counting now.

'Péguy is still standing, despite our cries to him to lie down - a glorious fool with that reckless courage of his.


Couchés dessus le sol à la face de Dieu.1

1 Fortunate they who have died in a just war; Fortunate the ripened sheaves and the harvested grain.

Fortunate they who have fallen in the great battles

Fallen upon the earth in the sight of God.

Péguy arrived in the other world with a splendid escort of his friendsa whole chivalry ennobled by gaping wounds. Whence, pray, comes this miracle which, at the fated moment, raises up her indispensable sons to serve France? Eternal truths have

found their youthful witnesses. This war sets before us, by tens of thousands, examples whereby France shall live, as our ancestors, in days of old, lived, by the example of Roland and the blameless knights of the old ballads, and yesterday, by the example of the

heroes of the great epic. Let us try to meditate upon the sublime virtues of the soldiers of 1914-17. But, however we may profit by them, to remember them is like dipping water from the Ocean with the hand. I can take you into the woods, to see springs which I know well; but in these three years of war all the subterranean streams are bubbling to the surface, all the powers of sanctity and heroism are gushing forth, and we, overwhelmed with respect, stand on the brink of the chasm, on the shore of this new sea.


The young poet Paul Drouot, grandnephew of General Drouot, the first Napoleon's faithful follower and friend in adversity, who was known by the sonorous title of 'Sage of the Grande Armée,' had published, before the outbreak of the war, two collections of poems - Le Chanson d'Eliacin and La Grappe de Raisin - which lovers of letters will keep among their precious treasures. But he fell in battle, near Notre Dame de Lorette in Artois, a soldier in the ranks, in June, 1915; and it is time now for us to broaden the conception we had formed of him. He has gone hence to the world of heroes, and it is right for us, by the aid of authentic documents, to tell the story of his moral nobility and of the high poetic sense in which he understood his duty, and to interpret the scenes amid which he died.

Although in poor health, really a sick man, Drouot was too proud to give heed to his ailments; he wished to prove himself, in his unadorned tunic, a worthy descendant of General Drouot, and a fit member of the battalion. He was enrolled in the light infantry, and unmistakable sign of a warrior's spirit- he ranked his battalion

above all the rest. From time to time, when his heart overflowed with admiration for his comrades and his officers, he wrote to me. Shall I read you his last letter? I received it two or three days before the fatal missive which told me of his death. It is a beautiful letter, full of good sense. There you will see, sketched on his death-bed, the slope of that conquered trench where he was struck down, the countenance of a true leader of men, the noble countenance of Major Madelin, who fell in the assault on Lorette; and in looking at the portrait, you will learn to know the artist, Paul Drouot himself, who, but a few days later, was destined to sprinkle with his own blood the ground from which he had lifted his beloved commander.

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The picture is like one of those old groups of the knight succored by his squire, scattered through the history of ancient France-all, in their various guises, eternally true and never losing the power to stir our hearts. Paul Drouot, poet and soldier, who bears his commander, covered with blood, through the rain of bullets and the network of barbed wire, who sits weeping beside the body while he writes to me

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'I am going to try to give you,' writes Drouot, a straightforward and exact account of the last day and death of Major Madelin, the brother of our friend Louis Madelin, the historian.

'Perhaps you may have happened to meet him? He was a Lorrainer, from Bar-le-Duc. First of all, I will introduce him to you.

'He was tall, very tall, with a personal charm which you felt the moment you came within the circle of his influence

and that circle was his whole battalion. A twinkling blue eye, a shrewd expression, an unaffected elegance of manner — and then his breeding! the breeding of the officer. In short, just from listening to him, and watching him welcome them, every fresh soldier in the reserves, who came up from the station, though he may never have laid eyes on the major before, made up his mind on the spot to go through fire and water for him.

'How well he knew them, too! how he loved them! how he could return their salutes, talk to them, rebuke or encourage them, with a glance! A wonderful man to train men!

'As battalion commander, he was a prodigy. I have had the honor of watching him writing his reports, preparing for an assault, looking through his files; everything was done with the ease of men of superior mould who make light of difficulties. How admirable a sight

to see is the creative organizer, ever ready for emergencies, for undertaking new duties, or for modifying the old ones to meet present needs. He was the noblest example of a man made in his Maker's image.

"The soldiers knew him through and through. Major Madelin! You could tell it by the way they mentioned his name, or saluted him, or presented arms. I wish I might describe to you what the real type of French officer is; but you know it better than I. Yet this man, this hero, at once so winning and with such control over his men, and even over the changing phases of a battle- I knew him intimately in the heat of action, and in all the activities which, in men of noble nature, reveal the heart and mind at once. He had attained this mastery when very young, as he died at thirty-six.

'As you know, he had admitted me to his intimacy-that is to say, I had been one of his secretaries for more than three months. He had offered me the position out of great consideration, for he had learned that my poor health would not admit of my performing regular company duty. Being of his 'household' I was able to avoid many 'fatigues'; I was always sure of finding a warm shelter, so as to take more or less care of myself; in fact, it enabled me to 'carry on.' And this was the footing on which I stood with him: a friendly word from time to time, a moment's conversation, and an abiding impression that, although he never told me so, he was a friend who kept a somewhat closer watch upon me than upon the other men in his battalion.

"Twice already the battalion had gone into the trenches with orders to attack which set him all a-quiver with impatience for victory. Twice the orders were countermanded; there were signs of irritation - muttering on the part of the men, watchful exclamations

from the officers. Were they making sport of the infantry?

"The third day came. The mines were ready for the match, the dispositions for the assault minutely made. About four o'clock the artillery preparation began. We breathed again. This time the attack would surely come off- only half an hour, only quarter of an hour more.

"The Boches, on their side, were bombarding us violently. The major, who had been absolutely calm all day, apparently paying little heed to the thoughts of the passing moment but with his mind intent upon the impending attack, and confident of the event, started at last for the first line. Some artillery officers and I remained at his station in the second line, where we could watch the whole development of the assault. The hour struck. Through the dense, black smoke of the bursting shells which divided us from the first line, we perceived a thick yellowish vapor which rose slowly; the general uproar was so great that the explosion of the mine seemed almost noiseless. On the instant, the infantry darted forward. All we could see was a very narrow line of trench, from which men and more men, without end, came rushing.

'Standing on the edge of a trench, with uplifted cane, waving his arms to arouse his men, an officer was silhouetted against the clouds of smoke-it it was the major. For ten full minutes he stood there; we did not know whether he was applauding or encouraging his troops. Neither the artillerymen nor myself could take our eyes from that immovable figure. Nobody paid any heed to the bombardment; everybody was weeping, so sublime was the sight.

'At last the major returned. It was necessary to telephone to the general. His voice rang out, louder than usual and more distinct. The mere sound electrified you. "Ah!" he cried, "what

men they are! what men! even the bugler who sounded the charge!" Then came the scene at the telephone; the distant congratulations of the brigade commander.

'But already the major was on fire to get back to the first line.

"One of his captains had had to prevent him from going as far as the white work, the original objective, past which the attack had now swept. His second in command was about to follow him, he, too, overflowing with feverish eagerness and joy. "No," he said with a smile, "this time I am going to take Drouot along; he said he would like to go." 'We started he and I and a young artillery orderly full of snap. We walked with long strides, difficult as it was to reach the first line of trenches when the passage was blocked with prisoners, wounded, and fatigue parties. The major tossed a remark or a question to the soldiers filing past us toward the rear, but, in his haste to see what the state of affairs was, he did not stop for an


'In a moment we were in a position to watch in amazement the wonderful spectacle, at close quarters: another company emerged from the trench and rushed forward to attack. We could make out the holes in the enemy trenches, which had been knocked to pieces by the explosion, and the outline of the craters it had dug. Wounded men, who had fallen near by, were trying to crawl back to our lines. "Stay quietly where you are!" shouted the major, stepping out from cover, "it's too dangerous crossing the ground between.'

'Meanwhile, as we hurried along the shell-wrecked trench and leaped over the piles of earth that blocked it, we raised our heads above the parapet to cast a glance at the terrain and the horizon narrowed by the smoke of the

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