WILL LEVINGTON COMFORT Author of "Midstream," "Down Among Men," "Fate Knocks At the Door," "Routledge Rides Alone," Etc., Etc.
TO THE HOUR—WHEN TROOPS TURN HOME
I. THE WOMAN AND THE EXILE
II. THE COURT OF EXECUTION
III. THE HOUSE OF AMPUTATIONS
IV. IN THE BOMB-PROOF PIT
V. THE SKYLIGHT PRISON
VI. THE FIELD OF HELMETS
VII. THE GREEN OF CEDARS
THE WOMAN AND THE EXILE
Peter Mowbray first saw her at the corner of Palace Square nearest the river. He was not in the least the kind of young man who appraises passing women, very far from a starer. At the instant their eyes met, his thoughts had been occupied with work matters and the trickery of events. In fact, there was so much to do that he resented the intrusion, found himself hoping in the first flash that she would show some flaw to break the attraction.
It may have been that her eyes were called to the passer-by just as his had been, without warning or volition. In any event their eyes met full, leisurely in that stirring silence before the consciousness of self, time, place and convention rushes in. ... Though she seemed very poor, there was something about her beyond reach in nobility. He was left with the impression of the whitest skin, the blackest hair and the reddest lips, but mainly of a gray-eyed girl—eyes that had become wider and wider, and had filled with sudden amazement (doubtless at her own answering look) before they turned away.
Desolation was abroad in Warsaw after this encounter. Mowbray thought of New York with loneliness, the zest gone from all present activity. Presently with curious grip his thoughts returned to a certain luncheon in New York with a tired literary man who had talked about women with the air of a connoisseur. The pith of the writer's observations was restored to his mind in this form:
"If I were to marry again it would be to a Latin woman—French, Italian, even Spanish—a close-to-nature woman born and bred in one of the Mediterranean countries. Not a blue-blood, for that has to do with decadence, but a woman of the people. They are passionate but pure, as Poe would say. If they find a man of any value, he becomes their world. They are strong natural mothers—mothering their children and their husband, too,—and immune to common sicknesses. Given a little food, they know enough to prepare it with art. If a man has a bit of a dream left, such a woman will either make him forget it painlessly, or she will make it come true."
There was no apparent relation, and none that proved afterward. What he had seen at the corner of Palace Square nearest the Vistula was not the face of a Latin woman, nor was any looseness of common birth evident in it. The key might have had to do with the little hat she wore, just a hat for wearing on the head, a protection against sun and rain, and with the austerely simple black dress; but these weathered exteriors again were effective in contrast to the vivid freshness of her natural coloring. As for what remained of the literary man's picture of the ideal woman to marry, it was the last word of decadence—the eminent selfishness of a man willing to accept the luxury of a woman who asks little to be happy. ... The next day at the same time and place Mowbray was there, and saw her coming from afar.
She seemed both afraid and angry, stopped abruptly and asked in Polish what he wanted. He was startled. It was a hard moment. He explained with difficulty that her language was as yet an inconvenient vehicle for him.
"You are not Russian?" she said in French.
He shook his head. She seemed to be relieved and he wondered why.
"What do you want?" she asked, though not quite with the original asperity.
"It did not occur to me you would notice," he said in the language she had ventured. "I saw you yesterday. You made me think of New York. As I was near to-day, I hoped to see you again—-" "You are American?" She spoke now in English, and with a still softer intonation.
"Yes,—you speak English, too?"
"I like it. It is—-" she checked herself and asked with just a shade of coldness, "Is there anything I can do for you?"
It might be construed as a courtesy to a stranger from one who lived in Warsaw. Peter liked it, a certain vista opening. However, there was no answer within reach except the truth, and he plunged:
"I should like to know you better."
The red lower lip disappeared beneath the other. Her gray eyes grew very wide; something intrepid and exquisite in her manner as she searched his face. Whatever she knew of the world, she dared still to trust her intuition—this was something of the revelation he drew.
Many people were passing. He looked toward the quieter center of the Square.
"Will you walk with me there?" he asked. "It is not easy to explain this sort of thing—-"
"No. I must go on. You may walk a little way."
"You are very good.... You see, I cannot tell just why—as you asked. If I knew you well, I could tell you. Yesterday I was quite unromantic—-"
She made it hard for him and did not let him see her smile. "You mean you are romantic to-day?"
Peter laughed. "What a trap—and I was trying so hard to tell you."
"You were trying—-"
"I don't need to tell you. All there is to say is that I want you to be my friend."
"I should have to think," she answered.
"Of course. ... Do you pass here every day?"
"I should have to think," she said.
It was the third day afterward that she passed again.
The first time that Boylan of the Rhodes News Agency of New York saw Peter Mowbray was in the office of Lonegan of The States, Mowbray's chief in Warsaw. Lonegan had known Peter in New York and had wanted him for his second many months before the fact was brought about. This was the Boylan of the Schmedding Polar Failure, of various wars and expeditions, a huge spectacle of a man, an old-timer, and very fond of Lonegan, though as representative of Rhodes' he was structurally the competitor of The States in this territory.
"Young Mowbray may be all right," Boylan observed, "but the curse of the student is on him. I should say that he isn't gusty enough for hard work—vest buttons too safe—"
"You can't measure health by the pound," Lonegan observed, regarding the other's bulk with one eye shut. "I never heard of Mowbray spending much time in bed outside of the small hours." "How old is he?" "Twenty-six or seven."
"I suppose he put on his gear all in a year or two?"
"There is that look about him, but he's safely over it. Some people never stop, but I've had to look up at him from the same angle now and then during the last five years.... It was just a little before that he happened into—his route like mine—his cub-year in London, then assistant in Antwerp, then in Dresden. He had Dresden alone for a year. I've been angling for him some time——"
"Yes," Boylan remarked, "you need the right kind of help to stand up with Rhodes from this end——"
"You do make it wildly exciting," Lonegan answered gently. "We'll rock Peter yet."
This chat took place in June. Ten weeks afterward Boylan came in with the big news, and found Lonegan bending over the following cablegram, almost the last that came through in the private cipher of The States:
Get Mowbray post with Russians. We are mailing influential matters. Warsaw key-desk for northern campaigns. We are to be congratulated on having Lonegan there.
It was from the Old Man, who in certain cases ventured thus to be expensively felicitous....
"I'm sorry, Lonegan," Boylan said. "I thought you would be taking the field—-"
"No, the Old Man's got the right eye for these affairs. I'm a desk man."
What Lonegan had swallowed to make his voice clear and steady, only he knew, but his nerve was effective. "You've got to help me, Boylan," he said. "You know the military end. You've got to help me get him attached. I know you'd do it for me, but I want you to do it for him—"
A grunt from the big man, who disappeared.
...Lonegan's lip curled. Again it was only Lonegan who knew why. He read the cablegram carefully again, and felt his face as if speculating whether he could wait until morning for a shave. There was routine to do, and the developments of the day to file. Peter was on a mail story.... It occurred to him presently that his second would be interested in this eventuality from the Office. He called several places by 'phone without locating the younger man.
"He's with the woman," Lonegan concluded.
Peter had left her address somewhere, but it was not at hand; neither was her house available to telephone. Lonegan took down the Warsaw directory, and came finally to the street-number after this line:
"Bertha Solwicz, sempstress."
She, too, was almost a stranger in Warsaw, and lonely. Each had their work, and many hours each day were required for it; still, after the first fortnight, they managed to meet often. Peter's time was hers, for he had the habit of leaving his feature-letter for the quiet hours of the night.
"I hate the name of Solwicz," she told him the first time he came to her house, "especially from you. And you must call me Berthe, not Bertha." In spite of her obvious lack of means, she had a few friends of rare quality, and yet he did not meet them. On her table that first day, he picked up a little book of poems, the leader of which was entitled We Are Free. Peter had read it a few weeks before and given it a quality of appreciation that was seldom called in these days. Just now he noted that the volume was affectionately inscribed to her from the author, Moritz Abel. She spoke of him and of the group of young master workmen to which he belonged. Then she read the poem, as they stood together. It was a moment of honor to the poet. Peter had turned pale, and the little room was hushed about them, as if Warsaw were suddenly stilled.
"You see what they are doing," she said. "There is a new race of artists in Russia. They have passed the emotions—-"
"This poem was due in the world," Peter said. "But it is still an age ahead of the crowd."
"That's what makes it so hard for them—for him. He does not like that. He would like to talk to all men straight. Moritz Abel—the name will not be forgotten. He is like the others of the new race. They are terrible in their calm. They have passed the emotions. They are free. Other artists in Europe or America repress the emotions. That is but the beginning of the mastery. When they are as great as this group of young men, they will show the spirit of the thing, not the emotion of it. Emotions are red. This is pure white, don't you see?"
For three days Warsaw had been upheaved in excitement. On the afternoon that the messenger from Lonegan brought the news of the cablegram, Berthe and Peter were planning an excursion into the country for the next day. She watched him closely as he read, and was sensitive enough to realize the importance of the message, before he spoke.... He found her gray eyes upon him. She chose her own way to break the tension:
"The country is heaven, no doubt about that. One must die to get there. Also one must live just so. Even when I was little, something always happened—just as we were planning to set out for the country."
He showed her the message, but had hardly heard her words. His discovery of this slender solitary red-lipped girl and what it meant, was rarely clear at this moment. She had awakened him plane by plane, awakened his passion and his mercy and his intuition.
"Tell me again what you said about the country. I was away for a minute."
"It is hard to think of a little excursion to the fields—with such a holiday ahead, as you are called upon."
"I wasn't thinking of that either, Berthe, but of you."
"Of course, you will go?"
"I was only talking foolishly, about our little excursion. One's own wants are so pitifully unimportant now."
"I had hardly expected personally to encounter a war," he remarked and added smilingly, "The fact is, I hadn't thought of meeting a woman like you."
"I don't believe you're as cold-blooded as you try to seem, Peter."
"I have fought all my life to be cold-blooded."
She never forgot that. "I wonder why men do it?"
"It's the cultivation, perhaps, of that which Americans love best of all—"
"We of Poland dare to be emotional," she said.
"You are an older people. You know how."
"One needs only to be one's self."
Peter smiled. "Sometimes I dare actually to be honest with you. Even Lonegan and I take no such liberties together."
"It isn't a matter of courage," she said. "You would dare anything. I know your quiet, deadly kind of courage. That's the first thing I felt about you."
It was like Mowbray not to acknowledge that such a thing had been said.
"I came to you asleep. I wonder if I should always have remained asleep?"
"Your words are pretty, Peter. It makes me sad that you are going away."
"You remember that company of soldiers that passed us yesterday as we walked? I had seen many such groups before—great shocky-haired fellows who ate and drank disgustingly. But yesterday you made me see that their blood is redder than the Little Father's—that empires ripen and go to seed only on a grander scale than turnips." Her eyes were gleaming.
"We who are so wise, who have mastered ourselves, should be very good to the peasants—and not take what they have and kill them in wars."
"Did I lead you to believe in any way that I felt myself mastered?" he asked quickly.
She touched his arm. "I was talking of the Fatherland," she answered.
He had met this intensity of hers before. Her scorn was neither hot nor cold, but electric. So often when words failed her, Peter fancied himself lost in some superb wilderness... Her own gray tone was in the room to-day—her gray eyes and black hair that made the shadows seem gray; her face that no night could hide from him. Sometimes his glance was held to her lips—as one turns to the firelight. Passion there—or was it the higher thing, compassion? There was bend and give to the black cloth she wore, as to the inflections of her voice. She could forget herself. That was the first and the inexhaustible charm.
It is true that she was very poor. This room which had become his sanctuary in Warsaw was in a humble house of a common quarter. She laughed at this, and at her many hours of work each day, for which the return was meager. There was the sweetest pathos to him in her little purse, and her pride in these matters was a thing of royalty.
"My father earned the right to be poor," she once said.
It seemed to him that her father was mentioned in the moments most memorable... She was at the window now, her hand lifting the shade. The light of the gray day shone through her fingers—a long, fragile hand that trembled.
"Shall we walk somewhere, or must you go to your office, Peter?"
"I won't, just yet. Yes, let's go outside."
They felt they must climb, a bit of suffocation in their hearts. Until to-day there had been invariable stimulus for Mowbray in the age of all things, even in the dusty, narrow, lower streets, but his smiling, easy countenance was a lie that he disliked now. It pinched him cruelly to leave her, and there was small amelioration in anything that the war might bring. She would give him sympathy and zeal and honor for the work and through all the lonely days, but what a lack would be of that swift directness of purpose, the deeper seeing, the glad capacity for higher heroism which he had found only in her presence. They crossed the riverward corner of the Square, where they had met. He tried to tell her how she had seemed that first day.
"I cannot understand," she replied. "Especially that day when I first saw you, I had nothing."
Now they ascended the terraces that commanded the Vistula. The rocky turf of the footpath, smoothed by the tread of forgotten generations (but still whispering to her of those who had passed on); the crumbling masonry of the retaining walls, gray with the pallor of the years; and afar the curving, dust-swept farmlands, which had mothered a thousand harvests, now moved with strange planting of peasant- soldiers. Mobilization business everywhere, drilling of the half- equipped, a singing excitement of parting, recruiting—no time for the actual misery.
They stood in the very frown of the fortress at sunset. A column of raw infantry came swinging out and started the descent. A moment afterward the roar of a folk-song came up in a gust. It was as if the underworld suddenly had been cratered.
"When they sing like that, and I think of what they shall soon be called upon to do—I can hardly endure it!" she whispered.... They stood with backs against the wall, as the tail of the column moved past. "Look at that weary one—so spent and sick—yet trying to sing—"
They were in the silence again. Across the river, against the red background, they watched another column of foot-soldiers moving like a procession of ants erect; and beyond, on the dim plain, a field battery, just replenished to war footing, was toiling with tired beasts and untried pieces. Mowbray thought of the human meat being herded in Austria for those great rakish guns, as the infantry below was being trained for distant slaughter arenas.
"Do speak, Peter," she whispered.
He turned to find her white face looking up to him and very close. They were alone.
"You won't mind if I think about myself this once?" he asked.
"I only want to say that, if you'll stay where you are, I'll come back from this stuff—I was going to say, dead or alive."
"Do you mean I am to stay in Warsaw?" she asked.
"No—not that exactly. I mean if you will stay where you are in regard to me——"
Tears filled her eyes. He would have known it even if they had not shone through the dusk, because his fingers felt the tremor in her arms. She tried to speak, but finished, "How utterly silly words are!"
The face of young Mowbray was strange with emotion, pale but brilliant-eyed, his long features bending to her. She was utter receptivity. Neither knew until afterward how rare and perfect was this moment.
"Anyway—we understand. We understand, Berthe."
"...As for Berthe," she said slowly, as they walked back, "her heart will stay where you have put it, Peter. That's out of her power to change. But the rest—I can't tell, yet——"
It was as if a finger had crossed Mowbray's face laterally under the eyes and across his nostrils, leaving a gray welt.
"I know you belong to the moderns," he said, after a moment. "We men belong to the ancients. We want a woman to wait and weep while we go off to the wars."
"We understand," she kept repeating.... "And now, before you go, come home with me and let me make you a cup of tea—just a cup of tea— before you go."
He went with her, and, when his tea-cup was finished, he happened to look into the bottom.
"What do you see?" she asked quickly, taking the cup.
"M-m-m," said Mowbray.
Peter and Lonegan were together at dinner three hours after the message from The States.
"It's a big chance, Mowbray. That's all I can say. I stay at the wire —no heroics."
"You ought to see it all from here."
Lonegan smiled deprecatingly. "Boylan will help you get through. You don't know him yet. Some time, perhaps, you will—two hundred and fifty pounds of soul. He'll do all he can to get you the same chance he has, because I asked him; and then he'll try to make The States look obsolete as a newspaper, wherein, of course, he'll fail. But he'll try. If he takes to you, it won't make him try less, but he'd do your stuff and his, if you fell sick. There isn't another Boylan—a great newspaper man, too. The States will watch closely, knowing that Rhodes' will get everything possible from Boylan's part of the front. The point is—and I think he'll want it, too—you'd better work together on the main line of stuff, as we do here. Your letters on the side should be better than his, because you're a better writer. As for war stuff, Boylan is the old master— Peking, Manchuria and the Balkans—that I think of; also the Schmedding Polar Failure. That last was war—a spectacular expedition of the Germans—
"I might as well make this a lecture, now that I've started," Lonegan went on. "The war game isn't complex. All the bewildering technicalities that bristle from a military officer's talk are just big-name stuff designed to keep down the contempt of the crowd—the oldest professional trick. Whenever the crowd gets to understand your terminology your game is cooked. You know how it is in a drug-store, and you've seen the old family doctor look wise....
"There's a lot of different explosives which they fire by mathematics, and which you can learn in part from our homely encyclopedias, but the main game will be fought out on the same principles that Attila fought it and Genghis Khan—numbers, traps, unexpectedness, the same dull old flanking activities, the raid of supplies and communications, the bending back of wings, the crimp of a line by making a hole in one part—and all that archaic rot. As I say, the game is extinct, so far as our modern complicated intelligences go, and the men whose names are biggest in the papers from now on are the same old beefy type of rudiments whom a man wouldn't associate with in times of national quiet.... I will end this by saying that the big story is the man— the peasant, the trooper, the one blinded little dupe, who dies, or plunges, or loses his legs in the name of the Fatherland—"
"I see that," said Peter; "but what really is interesting to me is this peasant's blindness and the monkey other men make of him—"
"I'm glad you spoke of that, for it is a thing to avoid. Interesting, I grant, but not popular with our kind of press. We are not servants of the minority or the elect. You'll find Boylan exploiting the army he's with—just as another might have done under Napoleon. By the way, where are you going to-night?"
"I'm going to sit at the feet of the most genial anarchist at large. His name is Fallows, an American, who has been ten years in Russia among the peasants."
"Duke Fallows—I know of him. When did he come to town?"
"Two days ago."
"Peter, how did you get next?" Lonegan looked a bit in awe at the other.
"I was asked to one of his private audiences last night."
Peter knew that Lonegan had many things to ask by the quick tone in which he spoke the first question.
"You know what Fallows will do to you?"
"Yes, if one lets go. He has learned how to use his power. He has brought forth his young upon the bare rocks, as somebody said."
"He'd turn an angel into an anarchist."
"A man ought not to be afraid to listen if there's a chance for him to be proved wrong—"
"Correct, absolutely. I am merely thinking about our job."
"A man gets in the habit of thinking about his job—doesn't he?"
"Did he tell you about the plowman of Liaoyang?"
"No, but my companion did. Fallows must have seen that episode rather clearly."
"Let's not get off the job business, Peter. As I was saying, the truth isn't popular—"
"That doesn't sound like Lonegan."
"No, and I don't like the feel of saying it, but it's very much to the point—"
"Mowbray, we are taking our bread, and its cake, too, from a paper that expects us to exploit the orthodox heroics. The pity and atrocious sham of it all has its side. But the fact still remains its side does not furnish the stuff that American newspapers pay men and cable tolls to furnish."
"Won't you come to-night?" Peter asked laughing. "Perhaps we can both reach the high point some day when we have earned the right to be poor."
"That's a higher point than I dream of, Peter. I can't help but think what a nest you've got into. Of course, I mean with Fallows and his kind—"
"An eagle's nest."
"But the eaglets are starving."
"Heretofore the job has been served. Come along with me and meet Duke Fallows again—"
"No. I must go back to the wire for the present. Boylan would be shocked, too. By the way, I've got a bid in for you with General Kohlvihr. Boylan is to help me put it through, of course. The more decorated they are the more they fall for Boylan. There's a chance that you'll start south with a column within two days. So you'd better get at that encyclopedia stuff—"
"Yes, I'll attend to that."
Peter left him smiling, and turned his steps across the Square, into a narrow street of the poor quarter, and on toward a little room and a low lamp, where a woman's hands sewed magically as she waited.
Fallows met them in his small bleak room, turned the lamp low, and opened the door of the diminutive wood-stove to let the firelight in the room. The three sat around it.... Peter Mowbray felt strange and young beside them. The woman seemed to belong to this world, and it was a world at war with every existing power. All Peter's training resisted stubbornly. Still, right or wrong, there was a nobility about their stand. He did not need to be sure their vision was absolutely true, yet the suspicion developed that they saw more clearly than he, and acted more purely. Mowbray did not lack anything of valor, but he lacked the fire somehow. He loved Berthe Solwicz, could have made every sacrifice for her, but that was a concrete thing.
Fallow's bony knees were close to the fire. He seemed both light and deep, often turning to Peter with secret intentness, and openly regarding the young woman with amazement and delight. Nearing fifty, Fallows was tall, thin and tanned. The deep lines of his face were those which make a man look homely to himself, but often interesting to others. His soft, low-collared shirt was somewhat of a spectacle in consideration of the angular and weathered neck. No rest could exist in the room that contained such loneliness as burned from his eyes. It was said that he had been rich, though everything about him was poor now. One would suspect the articles in his pockets to be meager and of poor quality—the things you might find in a peasant's coat. That which he called home was a peasant's house in the Bosk hills—the house of the plowman of Liaoyang, whose children he fathered. Annually, however, he went abroad, telling the story of the underdog, usually making the big circuit from the East to the West, and stopping at a certain little cabin within hearing distance of the whistles of Manhattan, where his first disciple worked in solitude mainly, and against the stream. Just now Fallows was planning a different winter's work.... They talked of the first fighting.
"The startling thing to realize is that for the present we are allied with England," said Fallows. "I mean Russia. You see, I am Russian, now, not the Russia of the Bear, but of the Man—"
Mowbray and the woman exchanged glances, each thinking of the tea-cup in the afternoon.... The exile showed traces of his ten years' training among simple men. Rhetoric and dithyramb were gone from his speech and habit of mind. The whole study and vision of the man was to make his words plain. Thus he said slowly:
"The peasants are children—children in mind and soul. We who have come a little farther are responsible for them, as a father is responsible for his children. So far we have wronged them, taught them to grasp instead of to give, to look down instead of up. We have even stolen from them the fruits of their looking down. The time is near at hand when we shall have to pay for all this.... A true father would die for his children. I know men who have done that, and there are men about us here, even in Warsaw tonight, who are ready for that—"
Fallows' voice was tender. He watched the face of the woman as he spoke. She was looking hard into the fire.
Fallows added: "There are fifty million men here in Russia—roughly speaking. Very strong, very simple, possibly very brutal men, but brutal as a fine dog is brutal, a simplicity about that. I do not idealize them. I have lived among them. I know this: They might be led to virtue, instead of to wickedness. My heart bleeds for them being led to slaughter again. The hard thing is to make them see, but the reason for that is simple, too. If they could see—they would not be children. They must be led. Never in modern history have they been purely led. Words cannot make them see; wars so far have not made them see. It may be that the sufferings and heroisms of this war shall be great enough to make them see...."
"What would you have the peasants see first?" Peter asked.
"Their real fathers—that men of wisdom and genius are the true fathers of the Fatherland, not the groups of predatory men. True fathers would die for their children. To me it has been blasphemy, when the nations of the past have called themselves Fatherlands. I would have the peasants fathered by men who realize that the peasants are the strength and salt of the earth; men who realize that the plan of life is good—that the plan of life is for concord and service each to the other—that the hate of man for man is the deadly sin, the hell of the world—that the fields and all the treasures of the mother earth are for those who serve and aspire, and not for those who hold fast, look down and covet more."
Mowbray was interested in the fact that Fallows had passed the stage of eloquence and scorn and burning hatred against evil in persons and institutions. There was no hue and cry about his convictions. He seemed to live in continual amazement at the slowness with which the world moves—the slowness to a man who is ahead and trying to pull his people along. Moreover there was that final wisdom which Fallows revealed from time to time—momentary loss of the conviction that he himself was immortally right. Fallows saw, indeed, that a man may be atrociously out of plumb, even to the point of becoming a private and public nuisance, when allowed to feed too long alone on the strong diet of his own convictions.... An hour sped by. Fallows replenished the fire and turned to Berthe Solwicz.
"All evening you've had something in your mind to tell me and I've been giving forth. You must forgive a man for so many words—when he has been living with little children so long. What is it?"
"Just a reading of a tea-cup to-day—but everything you said has its meaning concerned in it."
"I'm almost as interested in tea-cups as in the stars," said Fallows.
"You know a toy-bear, such as the Germans make?"
"Well, it would have been like that—if one were thinking of toys. We thought of the Russian Bear. It was perfect—in the bottom of the cup —standing up, walking like a man—huge paunch, thick paws held out pathetically, legs stretched out, just as he would be, rocking, you know—"
Fallows bowed seriously. Mowbray turned his smile to the shadows.
"Near him," Berthe added, "was a Russian soldier—perfect—fur cap, high boots, tightly belted, very natty—more perfect than we see in the streets, as if drawn from ideal. He was stabbing the bear with a long pole, leisurely—"
"It was a rifle and bayonet," said Peter. "We both saw it, but didn't speak until now. He was churning the bayonet around in the great paunch as if feeling for the vitals. The bear looked large and helpless."
Fallows' bronzed head had sunk upon his chest. His eyes, red with firelight, seemed lost to all expression. "I was thinking it would happen in Germany first," he said.
A moment afterward he added: "There's a time when a man wants to die for what he believes, and another time when he's afraid he will die before he gets a chance to make his life count."
Again he paused, and then looked up to Mowbray. "It's a good omen. That's the real war.... And was it your cup?"
"You say that you are going out for the Galician service?"
"Yes, possibly with Kohlvihr's column."
"You will see much service," said Fallows. "That used to be our dream —to see service. It will be easier seen with the Russians. They are not so modern in method as the French or Germans, or even the Japanese. Of course, war is the same. The nation at the end will win on the fields, not in the skies. The sky fulfillment is reserved for a better utility than war. But war belongs under the sea.... You will not be suppressed so rigidly with the Russians. You will see the side of the war which will have the most bearing on the future. I do not believe France and Germany are in the future as Russia is—"
"And England?" Peter asked quickly.
"The key to that is the wealth of the Indies—as of yore."
"You mean if India remains loyal?"
"If India remains under the yoke."
"But, if Britain should preserve her tenure in India with the Japanese troops—" Peter suggested.
Fallows shuddered. "As yet I can see no philosophy under heaven to cover that."
"And you think Britain and Russia are enemies in spite of this alliance?"
"Enemies, temperamental and structural—enemies, past and future."
Peter recurred to this point: "You think that India would not remain loyal if she had arms?"
"I was in a little village of the Punjab two years ago," Fallows replied, "and there was a lad of sixteen there, wonderful in promise— a mind, a spirit. They could not raise in the village enough money to send him across the seas steerage for his education. A single rifle costs nearly three pounds. It is hard for us to realize how poor India is."
Peter stood fast against this in his mind; his intellect would not accept.... "Are you going to take the field again, Mr. Fallows?"
"Not in a newspaper way. I shall nurse wounded soldiers. At least they have accepted me.... These are fearful and amazing days. We have all been in a kind of long feeding dream, like the insects, accumulating energy and terrible power for these days. Such death as we shall see!"
There was silence.
"I wonder how they are taking it in America?" Fallows mused.
"Doubtless as an opportunity for world-trade," said Peter.
"Oh, I hope not!" the exile said passionately. "There must be another America."
Fallows placed his hands on Berthe's shoulders, looking down: "You make me think of a young woman I once knew," he said. "Not that you look like her—but that you have the same zeal for something.... You are a very true daughter of your father—"
"You knew him?" she said huskily.
"We all knew him—we who dare to think we look ahead. When he died, his courage came to all of us. We were changed. If it had not been a pure and durable thing—his courage would have died with him. It is wonderful for me to be here with you. And this man loves you."
It was not a question, just a fragmentary utterance of a fine moment. Fallows said it as a man who has passed on, and yet loves to study the lives and loves of younger men. Even to Mowbray the feeling came for an instant that he was part of the solution to which they gave themselves.
"I have not told him of my father. He does not know my name," Berthe said. "But I am going to tell him—before he goes."
"He is safe," said Fallows. "I felt free with him—almost immediately —and that picture in the tea-cup!... Peter Mowbray, Peter Mowbray. It is a good name. And you are going out on the big story of the war for The States. You will see great things—best of all with the Russian columns. There will be an Austerlitz every day—a Liaoyang every day. I was in Manchuria with a man who made that his battle. I wonder if he will come out this time—to find how his dream of brotherhood is faring? God, how he took to that dream! He will be a Voice—"
They were standing. Fallows suddenly reached for his cap. "I'll go out with you—just to get out. The room is too small for me to-night."
Yet, when they reached the street, he left them abruptly, as if he had already said too much.
"He seems to be burning up," said Peter.
Berthe did not answer.
"He was like Zarathustra coming down from the mountain—so shockingly full of power," Peter added. "And yet he said so little of his own part."
"He couldn't, Peter. He's like you—when moments are biggest.... Oh, Peter, where do you keep your passion?"
"You mean this great burning that Fallows knows?"
"I haven't it. I haven't that passion. I think I am just a reporter. But you have it.... My father loved his family. I think your father must have loved the world—"
"But you love the world—"
"No, I love you."
"Peter, Peter—come to-morrow! Don't come in with me to-night!"
Peter went to his rooms at once. He was struck hard, but merely showed a bit weary. He found himself objecting to characteristics of Fallows' mind, the same which he had admired and delighted in from Berthe. She had always talked easily of death, and he had been without criticism; now he disliked the casual mention of death in Fallows' talk.
Peter saw that he was sore, and hated himself for it. Fallows personally was ready for death; therefore he had the right to counsel martyrdoms for others if he wished. Death to Peter, however, was not strictly a conversational subject. If a man were ready to die for another, it was not good taste to say so. Still he forced himself to be just, by thinking of Fallows' life.
Fallows somehow had turned a corner that he, Peter Mowbray, had not come to so far. Self-hypnotized, or not, the exile had given up everything in life to make the world better as he saw it. He had written and traveled and talked and plotted, even vowed himself to poverty, all for the good of the under-dog.
"It isn't fanaticism, when you come to look at it," Peter mused. "He sees it clearly, and makes one see it for the moment of listening. He isn't afraid. He would die every day for it, if he could.... And I take things as I find them, and grin. I wouldn't even have thought otherwise, except for Berthe. I have a suspicion that I'm half-baked."
Peter's mind was engaging itself thus feverishly, to avoid the main issue that the woman had flung him from her, and run to cover, stuffing her ears, so to speak, and asking him not to follow. He braced himself now and faced it. "If it happened to another pair, I should say it was the finish," he thought. "I should say that no man and woman could pass a rock like that.... I can't get to her point of view by thinking myself there. I'm cold—that's the word. And she's superb. I'd rather be her friend than lord of any other woman. That won't change. And she has spoiled everything I thought I knew. Altogether—it's a game, bright little story—and deep."
Lonegan came in and flung himself down wearily.
"I've been busy. Boylan is leaving in thirty-six hours. You're going with him?"
"I'm ready," said Peter.
"Did you have a big time?"
"What do you think of Fallows now?"
"I'm strong for him."
"Peter—you look bushed."
"It drains a man to spend an evening in that company. A fellow has to have a heavy lid—not to waste fire."
Lonegan was worried. "You don't mean to say you're getting fevers and emotions."
"Mowbray—you're lying. I don't believe you'd let anybody see your fires—not even how well you bank 'em. It isn't in you."
"I wish it were," said Peter.
* * *
For a long time after Lonegan left he plunged into his work, but there was no sleep for him afterward. He lay very still, breathing easily, as the fag-end of the night crawled by. At dawn he arose, dressed noiselessly, and went out into the city.
It was too early to go to Berthe, yet his steps led him to the street of her house, and he had not passed it a second time before she opened the blinds above, and called to him. He looked at her sorrowfully, and she met his eyes.
"Come in, Peter. I've been so sorry! If you can forgive me, we'll have coffee together—"
He followed her upstairs. The premonition came that he was to take away the image of Berthe Solwicz at its highest—inimitably enticing to his heart, the girlish and utterly feminine spirit that had captivated the man in his breast. She did not seem to know that she was like the woman of the first meeting, but to him all her grace of that day had returned, as if to complete the circle of the episode; and all that he had loved since was added. The one thing in his life that he was proud of, was that he had chosen this woman from the crowd.... They were in her room. With both hands she held him in his coat, so that he could not remove it, begging him to forget the last of last night before they could be at rest.
"I don't know as I want to, Berthe," he said. "It made me think. There are two kinds of people in the world—the kind who give and the kind who take. We represent each. I'm afraid the difference is intrinsic. There would be no satisfaction in me trying to be some one else—even trying to be like you. I am what I am—and must be that. But, Berthe, I can hold the suspicion that I am your inferior, and be pleasant about it—"
"Peter, Peter—you don't understand. I don't love myself—nor my way better. I am poor and tortured, carrying about a legacy, or a dream. I need you. I can tell you now—I never needed you so much as last night when I sent you away. I need your brain and balance—your big heart. It was never so dear to me."
This was too much for him. He sat down before her. All night he had been trying to qualify for a lower place in her heart than his earlier dreams had called for—any place rather than to be apart—for the stuff of adoration was in Peter Mowbray. Half-sitting, half-kneeling, she took her place on the rug before him.
"But first I must tell you the story. I could not tell you at once; and since then we have managed so well. But you must know before you go. I am not Polish, not even in name. My father's mother was a Russian woman, but his father was an Irishman, and the name—my name— is Wyndham. My father's given name was 'Metz'—"
Peter had caught it all before her last sentence. "Wyndham" had been enough. He saw clearly the natural and excellent reason for the tenderness of Duke Fallows toward the daughter of Metz Wyndham, and recalled the tragic story of the power and fire of this prophet of the people, who was executed by the Russian government in the midst of the turmoil following Red Sunday—"Metz Wyndham, the notorious Red," as he was denoted in the subsidized press of Petersburg, though "Metz Wyndham, the peasants' martyr," was a whisper which seemed destined in the end to silence all such uproar.
"You have heard of him? You knew his story?"
The upturned face shone with a different bloom for his eyes. "Yes," he answered.
"...I was away from Russia for years—in London and Paris," she said quickly. "But at last I felt I could not stay longer. I wanted to come back here—where the struggle is so tense and constant. He worked much here in Warsaw. All of his kind come some time to Warsaw. And so the name Solwicz, which I hate; and so the fear when I found you watching me in the street a second time, and my relief to learn that you were not Russian-"
"Of course I understand," said Peter. He put his hand upon her head. "I was in awe of you before I knew," he added, "and yet, I always saw that in the most vital moments something of him would come out.... I keep seeing you with him now—what a life for a young girl—what a builder, those years, for a young girl—and how brave you are. Berthe, I have it—you are spoiled for common people because you were brought up with that kind of a man. How clearly I understand last night now!"
"There's another side to that," she said huskily.
"Oh, I'm sorry—"
The most consummate plotting could not have endeared him to her as those three words.
"Peter, you must see it—the other side. There was no rest with him. All his brilliance, all his brilliant companions were one part, but there was a steady pressure of tragedy about us—from outside. And there was tragic pressure from him. He was subject to the most terrible melancholia. He had enough vision to see the wrong everywhere. It was not mania. There is wrong everywhere, if one looks—in judges and cities, in nations, wars, in the kind of amusements people plunge into—wrong and coarseness and stupidity. He loved men but hated institutions. Sometimes, he would see it all so clearly that the sense of his own powerlessness would come. He would cry, 'One man can't do anything. A man like me can't be heard—oh, I can't make myself heard! It is as if I were shut in a tomb.' He would only have been happy passing from one great crowd to another— harrowing, pleading, electrifying men. He would rise—even alone with me—to the heights of his power—and then fall into the valleys because no one could hear. That was his cry, 'I can't make myself heard! Then often, when he was waiting to speak, the power would come, and leave him drained when he faced his people. He would tell me afterward, 'If I could only have talked to them yesterday, or an hour before!'
"Then the doubt of self would come to him—the fear that he was wrong or insane. 'Berthe, it can't be that the crowds are wrong; that I am right—against all the crowds. It must be that I am insane.' He would suffer like one damned from that. Worse than all was the fear of his own Ego. He was more afraid of that than any other lion in the way. 'It isn't the cause, it's me—that wants to be heard. It's the accursed me that I am striving for—in agony to relieve. I merely use the Cause. All the time it is myself that I wish to make heard.' That would make him suicidal.
"I am only telling you these moods. He was a child, a playmate, the loveliest companion a girl ever had—seeing the beauty and analogy in all nature and outdoors—full of jest and delights. I just wanted to show you the other side——"
It was all of breathless interest.
"There came a day," she added, as Peter watched her raptly, "when he did make himself heard, even as he dreamed...."
Peter thought of his reading the story—a boy at school, and was struck with the memory of its appeal to him in the light of the present.
"...The sustaining of his friends was taken from us at the last. They dared not come, of course. 'Berthe, little heart, it's all right,' he would say. 'You will have to go on alone, but the way will be shown you. You have the strength. You have been heaven and earth to me. I must go and leave you, but that's only a temporary matter. It will be hard—but it has been hard with me.... This is all right. It's good for what ails the world—but you are only a little girl! My God, I dare not think of it....'
"I remember the dawn and the cold rain and the stone buildings—and then to find the world's relation to his daughter. That had been spared before. He kept it from me, and there was such a sustaining from his friends and power. Those most concerned are slowest to learn exactly what the world thinks of them.... It did not come until afterward, and then it almost killed me. I was clinging to a sorrow almost sacred, and I found that the world saw only the shame and madness of my plight. I suddenly saw it in the eyes of the people—how they drew apart from me.... He had only wanted to make them better. He said that all evil was the result of men hating one another. He did not hate men, but predatory institutions, false fatherlands, and all slave-drivers. They hanged him for that hatred, but what was more shocking was to find that the people whom he loved and served were horrified at his daughter...."
It did not detract from Peter's ardor that his intellect was away for an instant in a rather skeptical study of Metz Wyndham's life. To Peter had come glimpses of the magnificent selfishness of this prophet of the people. Did all great men have such an ego? If their lives were closely examined would they all reveal, in their intimate and familiar relations, the most subtle and insidious forms of self-service? In fact, was not the mighty ego the source of their record-making in the world? ... Peter banished this rush of conjectures. Whatever the father, the whole art of the life of Metz Wyndham's daughter was the loss of the love of self.
"I feel before you," he said, "as I once felt in the vineyards beneath Vesuvius."
She smiled at him. "There are several ways to take that."
"Just one that I mean—and no explanation."
"... Peter, our last day together—all shadowy background to be put away—"
"And breakfast to occupy the immediate fore."
He went out into the street to purchase certain essentials, found some tall white flowers, and a copper vase to put them in. They were hungry, after the long night, and their happiness was the exquisite moments which they found between the darkenings. They would not permit the parting altogether to pervade. Her face was lustrous white; her eyes made him think of those gray days on the ocean, in which one can see great distances. More of a girl than ever she seemed to him, with her black hair combed loosely back and hanging in a pair of braids. The flowers stood tall between them.
"War weather like this makes one grow quickly," he said. "To think how easy and content we thought ourselves—even three days ago. Now, I want to say, 'Come, Berthe—come with me....' I want to take you to some quiet place, back in the States, in the country by the water. Yes, north country—by some lake that would be frozen when we got there. That's where the silence is, that winter silence. A cabin, a roaring fire—you and I together, alone. It seems you would be safe there, and I could begin to be satisfied—".
"Peter, Peter—don't make heavens to-day!"
"It's your particular heaven. No other would ever have made me think of winter—of something austere and silent for you to ignite."
"I wonder, shall it ever come to me—to have peace and abundance of nature? I have always had the cities, and now it is more war again— the opposite to nature—but I shall think every hour of that winter cabin. That is my place," she added. "Another would have made you think of the South—or the seas. I shall think of your being there with me—every day—no matter where I am—-"
Her words had grown vague to his ears. Her lips were so red that for the time he saw them only. He arose and went to her around the tall flowers.
"What did you say?" he asked, after a moment.
"I don't know—oh, yes—perhaps, if we are very good in this war, and do all we can to make orderly our little circle of things in the great chaos—perhaps we may earn that winter cabin and the fireplace and the stillness. To plan our garden in the winter days—-"
"I wish I hadn't spoken of it. It's almost unearthly far—in such a time. But, Berthe, will you ever be satisfied with one who hasn't the white fire of passion—as you have, in the cause of the peasants?"
"Oh, that's what I wanted to tell you. We are to be separated. We are grown up—a man and a woman. We dare speak to each other. At least, I dare.... Peter, I couldn't love you if you were all that—all that—-" She hesitated.
"All that you missed in me last night?" he suggested.
"Yes, but I didn't miss it exactly. I was excited and overwrought. You are splendid with me. It is when others are near, that you are—cold and unemotional. I know it's your training—that thing you Americans have from the English. You are that way with men. You are not so with me. But, if you were like Fallows, or like my father, I could not love you. I would not dare—-"
"First, I could not—and then I would not dare. First, that which we are, we do not love. We love another kind—for completion——"
"Clearly said. That must be true," he answered quickly. "And why would you not dare?"
"Because we should have a little baby, and it would suffer so in coming years. Peter, the poise and the balance—the very qualities I need in you, and which I love, the little baby would require as his gift from his father."
THE COURT OF EXECUTION
"Hai, you, Peter—wake up!"
It was Boylan's voice, seemingly afar off, but coming closer.
"Wake up.... I say, young man, what do you think of it by this time?"
Thus Peter was awakened the seventh morning out—and in a place he had not observed the previous night. It was as good a place as usual, if not better, except for the smell of fish that had gone before. Clearly it had been a fish shop, business suspended some time. There were certain scaly trays on the sloping showboards to the street; scales glistened among the cobwebs of the low ceilings; also the floor was of turf, and doubtless very full of phosphor, an excellent base for rose- culture. The place dwindled and darkened to the rear, from which the head and shoulders of Samarc presently emerged, and a moment later Little Spenski, his companion, sat up and rubbed his eyes. These two, invariably together, were men of a rapid-fire battery, to meet their pieces lower in the fields, and attached for the present, as were Boylan and Mowbray, to the staff of General Kohlvihr's command.
"Think of what?" Peter asked.
Boylan disdained answer. He was strapping a pigskin legging over a bulging calf, always a severe strain. He looked up presently, reached across and touched his forefinger to Peter's chin then to his own, which bristled black and gray.
"Young man, you've got a secret," he remarked darkly.
Peter smiled. He kept his razors in the same case as his tooth-brush, and the case had not been mislaid so far. He could shave in the dark.
"You're either not of age, or your face is sterile," said Boylan.
"The floor of this fish shop isn't," said Peter.
"I've been with you the last forty-eight hours straight. No sign of life in that time."
"You went out looking for fresh meat at sundown. You were gone—-"
"I was gone just five minutes, because the train wasn't up. You had tea on when I came back."
"There was a bit too much hot water."
"Peter, that will do once more, but I've got a suspicion. No man living can shave in the saddle—so you won't be able to spring that one. Besides, you are willing to discuss the matter."
"Did you ask what town this is?"
"No," said Boylan; "I couldn't remember if they told me. New town every night. The only thing to name a town is a battle. God, smell the wood smoke—doesn't it make you keen?"
Boylan looked at him. "What are we out for?"
"Apparently the column is out for blood, but I thought you might mean breakfast."
"The column will get blood, right enough," said Boylan, "whether it gets breakfast or not. What's the news, I wonder?"
"I've forgotten my relation to news.... Where are you going?"
"To see if that beef-train is in. I suppose you'll have rigged up a turkish bath and be in the cooling room by the time I get back."
Peter fed the horses and had tea and black bread served for two, by the time Boylan called from a distance: "Put on the griddle, Peter—a regular steak.... I stopped in the farrier's on the way back and had it anviled a bit. That's what kept me," he added.
Peter tossed it in the pan. Their fire was in the turf at the door of the fish shop. Boylan drew in close, having washed noisily, and deposited the remaining provisions in the two saddle-bags. "We're fixed for supper and breakfast," he remarked, with a sigh.
"You said that the army that would win this war must win through famine. The Russians had better begin—"
"I didn't say anything about Mr. B. B. Boylan—"
"Mr. Big Belt Boylan," Peter muttered, twisting his face away from the heat and sizzling smoke steam. The name held.
The huge Rhodes' man liked Peter more than the latter knew, and his likings of this sort were deep and peculiar. Boylan was nearing fifty, a man all in one piece—thick, ponderous, hard, scarred with la viruela, a saber sweep, a green-blue arc in his throat where some dart or arrow had torn its way in between vital columns. His head was bald and wrinkled, but very large, his neck and jaw to match, his eyes a soft blue that once had been his secret shame. Very often he had been called into the public glare.
"I was so hungry once," Boylan said, "that I've been a slave to the fear of it ever since." He referred to the Polar Failure. "Once in Farrel's Island—we were four," he added. "We drew lots to find out which one of us we must eat. That was a winter.... All you fellows may begin famine as soon as you like. You'll come a long way before you arrive at the personal familiarity of the subject earned by this same little fat boy.... Turn it again, Peter."
Samarc rushed past, speaking excitedly in French, and in the shadows behind they saw the eyes of Spenski, sympathetic and wistful.
"What did he say, Peter?" Boylan asked quickly. "Samarc's French is like my Russian."
"He said his face had been fixed for tea—and toast with Spenski— until we began to steam up the place. Now he's gone to the feed- wagons."
"Why, bless the ruffian, there's enough here for four."
"I told him that, but you know Samarc."
Little Spenski's voice now drawled from behind.
"We're getting low, anyway. It was right for him to fill the bags this morning, though very kind of you to offer—"
"I don't like that, Spenski," said Boylan. "Bull cheek for four was my order. Why, you fellows—"
Boylan was going to say how consistently generous with rations and private provisions the two Warsaw men had been, but got tangled in the language. Peter helped him. Boylan wouldn't have it otherwise, and quartered the steak, serving Spenski and covering the fourth with a tin. It was an excellent feast. For five days these two pair had cautiously, timidly even, stood for each other in that reserved way that much-weathered men integrate a memorable friendship.... Samarc returned. They helped him cache his provisions and drew him into the quadrangle around the fire. There was time for an extra pot of tea, and the dawn rose superbly. That day in the column Spenski was called into the personal escort of Kohlvihr, Boylan accompanying. Samarc and Peter rode as usual with the forward infantry—just behind the van, headquarters back a quarter of a mile.
"Tell me about Spenski," Peter asked. "He's an interesting chap. I heard him talking to you about the stars last evening, before supper, pointing out Venus and Jupiter."
"He'll grow on you," said Samarc, their talk in French. "He did in my case. We've been together six years in and out of the big instrument shop in Warsaw—Bloom's. We make a camera, microscopes and even a telescope now and then. I invented a rather profitable objective for the Blooms, for which they gave me a position, and a small interest that has kept me from wandering far from Warsaw. In the first days they told me about Spenski—his remarkable workmanship—and pointed out the wiry, red-headed little chap with the quick imperative smile you've seen. We got on well together from the first. It has been no small thing for me that he likes my ways. I got him in this service, by the way, and I don't know whether I'm very proud of that. He's a lot more famous as a workman now than six years ago."
"What is his work?" Peter asked.
"A lens-maker. His art is one of the finest of the human eye—requires genius to begin with. Spenski's craft on a glass in many cases doubles the price of the instrument. No one knows better what kind of a workman he is, nor can follow his particular finish with a keener or more appreciative eye, than old Dr. Abbe himself. Spenski has letters from that old master.
"He knows all sorts of out-of-the-way things—like the star stuff. He'll name for you scores of the vague, indefinite ones, not to speak of the larger magnitudes, which he can call by color at any hour of the night. It was this passion of his for the stars which showed him his work as a boy. That started him fabricating glasses to see them better. He has a supreme eye for light, circles and foci, and a brain that just plays with heavy mathematics—the most abstruse calculations. Yet, you see, he carries it all with the ease of a boy. I think men who come with a task to do are like that. It's part of them. They don't feel the weight of what they know, because it's all through them—not localized. You might be with Spenski an hour or a week and never know that he was more than just a mechanic—if you were just a mechanic."
"It's very interesting," said Peter, as charmed with his companion as with the man he talked about.
"A little while ago Spenski found his girl, and I would have withdrawn—for that is the high test," Samarc resumed. "But Spenski managed to keep us both without strain.... And then the war came along. A blight fell upon all workmanship in an hour. I had been on the military side of things from a boy, a matter of training and heredity. Of course, I would go. Spenski looked around the shop when I told him this. It was stricken, the machinery cranking down, the faces of the men white and troubled. 'I'll go, too,' said he.... I reminded him of her.... 'She wouldn't be interested in a chap who remained at home,' he said.... I told him of the big plants in Switzerland and America, where he could be of great value, but he was not tempted. 'I want to go if they'll take me in your battery,' was his last word on the matter.
"Of course I saw to that, but there's no work here, and there won't be, that can bring out Spenski's real values. Think of using such a man to feed the hopper of a rapid-fire piece.... But it's good to have him along. Spenski's a hard habit to break."
That night, when Boylan and Mowbray were together again, but a little apart from the others, Big Belt said:
"Say, Peter, that little Spenski is a card. A good little chap, smart and modest. I like him."
"I found Samarc worth cultivating, too," said Peter.
Marching south along the Vistula with the old-fashioned army—no airships, nothing that intensely puzzled Mowbray in this service—that is, in the exteriors of it—nothing but earth poundage and earth power, a game that had much to do with earth and not with heaven. Seven quiet days of marching in splendid summer weather, the raw peasant soldiery well fed and comfortable, becoming a unit, all outbreak of separate consciousness anywhere more and more impossible, hardening to the peculiar day's work. They were used to heavy work, but this was a particular task that needed specific hardening of feet and lungs; also the personal idea in each breast required numbing. The physical aim was to make men light for heavy work; to give them a taste of the joy and the true health of the field—before the entrainments, the haste and the fighting; but the psychological purpose was to make each atom forget itself, to weave it well into the fabric of the mass. Kohlvihr's division had to be moved; very well, let the movement gather the values of practice marching as well.
A raw division, with a scattering of Poles and Finns mixed with the straight Slav peasantry and regarded by the Russian war office, as Peter Mowbray understood at once, a ticklish proposition. The cement for this new service was "green" as yet; it had to set, required frequent wettings of fine humor and affiliation. The marvel to Mowbray was that the thousands fell for it. They had practically all left something that was life and death to them—land, labor, women, children. Each had established the beginnings at least of a personal connection in the world, and this relation had to be rubbed out. What had they been promised to take its place? Freedom, doubtless. But intrinsically they were free men.
Peter recalled what Fallows had said: that properly fathered this peasantry might be led into a citizenship and virtue that would change the world. Instead they were to be impregnated with every crime. With such thoughts Peter felt the spirit of Berthe Wyndham awake in his mind.
Seven days and not a breath from the outer world. The correspondents were allowed to move in and out of Kohlvihr's headquarters; and, though they paid richly for everything, were treated well, and regarded as guests by the staff officers. Peter had met Kohlvihr in Warsaw before the thought of war—a good-tempered, if dull and bibulous old man, he had seemed in the midst of semi-civilian routine; but a different party here afield. Peter recalled the saying of old sailors that you never know a skipper until you ship under him.
Moments of evening, in the sharp hazes of wood smoke, when the whole army seemed nestling into itself, laughing, covering its nostalgia, putting on its strength, Peter met in certain moments the advisability of turning his back upon Boylan and Spenski and Samarc. The extraordinary nature of Berthe Wyndham would flood home to him, as to one to whom it belonged, very dear but very far.... He would smile when he thought of The States and the Old Man.... "He thinks I'm clutched in the ripping drama and waiting for blood," he muttered, "that I am burning to stop the breath of the outer world with my story of gore and conquest.... But I'm eating his bread. I won't betray. There must be a wise way to feed the red melodramatic receptivity of the cities and at the same time to tell the real story."
He stood in the midst of square miles of men and military engines. On every road other Russian forces moved southward and to the southeast. The railroads groaned with troops, for the most part in a better state of preparation than Kohlvihr's division. Rumors reached the staff, as they neared the Galician border, that the Austrian fields below were already bleeding; finally word came, as they turned eastward, that they were to entrain at Fransic and make a junction with the main Russian columns preparing to invade Galicia from the northeast.
On the night before they entered Fransic, Mowbray awoke, and saw a figure sitting in the doorway of the little hut assigned them for quarters. It was Spenski, his face upturned in the starlight. He sat so still that Peter slipped out from the blankets (which covered Boylan as well) and took his place beside the lens-maker. Spenski was facing the east. The street of the little hill town lost itself in a sharp declivity just ahead; the nearer huts were low. The whole east was naked to the horizon and an indescribable glory of starlight.
"Aren't they amazing?" Spenski whispered. "It must be nearly morning, for those are the winter stars. I think they must have wakened me up. Do you know them?"
"Just the first magnitudes. They are more brilliant than I have ever known."
Orion and a great kite of suns stood out with new and flashing power.
"I never saw that huge W before—" said Peter.
"You don't mean Cassiopeia? Her chair isn't there, but over to the north—"
"No, no—there. Rigel, the upper right corner, down to the left, the Dog-star; up to Betelguese, down to the left again to Procyon, and up to the brightest of all—the stranger, not usually there—"
Spenski clutched him. "I was watching the bigger configuration, and didn't notice. Your stranger is the planet Saturn in transit between Taurus and Orion. Saturn completes the W, and the W stands for—"
"War, possibly," said Peter.
There was a growl just now from Boylan: "Come on back to bed, you star-gazers."
"Saturn is so far and moves so slowly," the little man whispered, "that the W will not be deranged for many months."
The hurry call for Kohlvihr came as expected in Fransic. The first sections of the divisions were entrained the next day—an end to summer road-work.... A day and night of intolerable slowness in a vile coach, and on the following noon the troop-train was halted, while a string of Red Cross cars drew up to a siding to give the soldiers the right of way; a momentary halt—the line of passing windows filled with cheering, weeping nurses.
Just one reposeful face—as both trains halted a second or two. It was the face of one who seemed to understand the whole sorry story, already to be contemplating the ruin ahead. Her hands were folded, the eyes intent upon the distance rather than the immediate faces of men. Mowbray could not articulate. Above all he wanted to meet her eyes, to put back the light of the present in them, but it was neither sound nor gesture that accomplished it; rather the storming intensity of anguish in his mind. His train jerked, her eyes found him, her arms raised toward him, lips parted. It became the one, above all, of the exquisite pictures in his consciousness, and the reality passed so quickly—gone, and no word between them.
Thus her colors came to him again—the mystic trinity of white and gray and black—all he had since known and loved added to the mystery of their first meeting. It was like an awakening to the rack of thirst after one has dreamed of a spring of gurgling water—the swift passing of that face of tender beauty and fortitude, that fair brow, gray eyes and black hair....
Boylan was looking deeply into his face.
"Good God, man, you're a ghost. What is it, Peter?"
"It struck me queer to see a trainload of girls down here in the field," said Peter quite steadily.
"Well, if a trainload of strange women can do that to you—here's hoping we never do Paris together."
Little Spenski opposite had seen the outstretched hands, and Peter saw that he had seen.
And now a rainy field. Two days of cold wind and rain after the cattle-cars; a different tone and temper from the men, coughing instead of laughter at night-fall. Another nameless village—Galician, now, for the border had been crossed, and the stillest night Peter Mowbray had so far known among the troops. It was a listening army— the far distance breathing just the murmur of cannonading.
He moved about within the cordon of head-quarter sentries, studying the edges of the bivouac as the rain and the darkness fell. Kohlvihr's division was but a tooth of the main army now; the whole region was massed with Russians marching westward; but still the outfit from Warsaw was enough, all that he could encompass of the mystery of numbers. Others had met the enemy, but these were still virgin. They were listening.
Their faces looked white in the thickening dark, noses pinched and the rest beard.... Hair—it was like some rapidly ripening harvest in the command, different each day, making the faces harder and harder to memorize. Mowbray had been disgusted at first—faces like changelings, atrocious like chickens. But the beards were taking form now—all gradations of yellow and red and black—many of that gray- yellow which loses itself in the middle distance and becomes a blur. How he hated hair like that!
The next day dawned bright and cold. At ten Kohlvihr, in the midst of the southern wing, brushed the tail of an Austrian force in its turning. The engagement was sharp exhilaration to Peter; perhaps it was to certain of the soldiers; yet it was the first. Its touch of blood quivered through Kohlvihr's command not yet assimilated, stirred this raw entity with deep inexplicable passion.
The correspondents were riding with the staff; the point of the van was moving below in plain sight when its baptism fell. Kohlvihr licked his white lips, the upper lip uncontrollable like a deprived drunkard's. Below a skirmish was spreading out, the commands trumpeting back their messages. Mowbray turned. A little battery of mountain guns was racing forward through the infantry column, the drivers yelling for gangway. It was like a small town's fire department in action. Now the infantry poured down the rocky slopes that bordered the old iron road. Peter turned quite around in the saddle. The murmur in the air was queer—like something wrong below in a ship at sea. Kohlvihr's face interested him, the skirmish lines and their reinforcements, the voice of Boylan (though his faculties were too occupied to catch that rush of humorous comment in English); the mountain guns interested him, and the sudden racket of Russian riflery below.
Now one of the peasant soldiers was running up the slope from the van toward the staff. He was bare-headed, shocky-haired and bearded, making queer, high sounds like a squirrel as he ran—quite out of order and amazed at himself. He would have been struck down by his nearest neighbor ten days later, felled with the nearest officer's sword, but there was funk and a bit of dismay in the heart of the raw division that suffered the soldier to make his way to the staff.
Lifting his legs lumberingly, he held fast to his left wrist, where a bullet had started the blood. He held the wound high, like a trophy, the blood spurting, crying about it.... This was sudden discovery of something the army had started out to find, but had forgotten in the length of days. This was the red fleece—its drips of red were in each raw soul now. A little way farther and the staff awoke. An officer spoke. The peasant was caught and booted quiet. Kohlvihr licked his lips to keep them still. He perceived that Mowbray's eyes had fastened upon his mouth. The lips opened again. The order came forth for the soldier to be flogged.... It was their particular friend, Dabnitz, a lieutenant of the staff, who was given the execution of this order.
The four were much together for a few days after that, Samarc and Spenski not yet assigned to their battery. They learned each other in those few days as men often fail to learn the hearts of their immediate associates during years. There was fighting—scattered, open, surprising often to one out of touch with the points and the scouting. Different towns every day, and a continual giving of territory on the part of the Austrians.
"This is not the main fighting at all," said Boylan. "This is but the edge of the game. It won't break into print. The big stuff is farther on. These that we meet are the Austrian columns hurrying forward. This territory is ours for the marching through. We'll catch it later—and this will be forgotten."
Samarc had known these towns that the Russian column was passing through, yet he had to ask the names, because of the destruction. The Austrians would always destroy in haste before leaving, and more leisurely the Russians would destroy. It seemed to affect Samarc, as some landmark reopened from its ruin for his eyes,
"It seems to say," he told the lens-maker, "'I was this at one time, and now I must go.'" Orders came for Samarc and Spenski, but they were not to be remotely stationed, since their battery was assigned to Kohlvihr's division—a different camp but the same field. Few words about the separation, but each of the four understood.... Night and day, the dead had been with them in the recent days—in such richness and variety they could not escape, could not cover them, and something from the dead entered their hearts. To Peter—so queerly were his thoughts running—the memorable incident of their last night together had to do with an ant colony.
Supper was over, and they had tossed on a decayed log to keep up the fire. A nest of ants was presently driven forth by the heat from the soft heart of the wood. They found themselves hemmed in flame and turned back, as Peter thought, to seek the treacherous shelter of the nest again. It was not so; they were wiser than that, and marched forth in scores once more, each carrying an egg in its jaws. Spenski swung the end of the log out to the grass for them to make good their retiring. It was all very sane and admirable. Peter respected them....
The dead were with them. They had not learned to forget. Spenski would whimper in his sleep. The days did not fill him, wearied his body but other faculties and potencies were restless at night. This man who could grind a lens so that a line from the center of the earth to the center of the sun would pass through it without chromatic aberration, was more shocked than the other three by the cursory killing of the days, his imagination intoxicated and sleep perverted. His companion who imagined himself of coarser and heavier texture often placed his hand upon the dreaming one. Spenski would start, open his eyes and say, "Thanks, Samarc."
Continual rocking through the long days, and the rumbling of the earth from the artillery forward. A mountain country of sharply cool nights, of cool bright days—the scent of cedar and balsam, good water, steady skirmishing—food just a bit scarce so that the peasants snapped and bolted, showing sharp about the eyes. It was not hunger—just the lean kind of fare. Peter often watched the halted columns at night as the men sprang to the feeding. Supper fires burst forth at the drop of the rifles. Not so raw now, the Warsaw contingent, a military eye would remark—getting ripe, in fact.
A week afterward, Boylan reported at supper that they would be permitted to ride with the battery on the following day. In the meantime they had not seen nor heard of the other pair. Fighting and marching from dawn to nightfall usually; human nature refused effort after that. They were so near dead at night that they laughed about it, and felt their faces in embarrassment, sharp-boned and unfamiliar as the faces of the dead. Mowbray's was still clean shaven. Young Dabnitz, the exquisite of the staff, and a rather brilliant young Russian, was the only other who had kept his razors in order. Perhaps a woman ruled his heart, as Berthe Wyndham ruled Mowbray's.
Big Belt had lost his last reservation about his companion. He gave everything to Peter that he had given to Lonegan and something more— for the field called a little more, and perhaps Peter called a little more. The extent of Boylan's loyalty had nothing to do with words or matters of conduct so far, but it was a huge affair, a suggestion of which came to the younger man from time to time and humbled him.
Twice during the first fortnight, Boylan had asked if this were positively his first venture into the field with troops. "The reason I ask," he explained later, "is that you appear to have been on the job before."
This would have been a matter interesting to the Old Man of The States, according to Lonegan's story.
"I miss the little guy," said Boylan, referring to Spenski. They were anticipating the next day with the battery.
"I miss Samarc, too," said Peter.
Romanceless, remorseless routine. The day that followed was their hardest, for they were pressing the Austrians, taking their punishment but inflicting punishment, as if called of God to extinguish a nation. The face of the world seemed turned from them, in Peter's fancy. He marveled at what seemed the swift disintegration of an ancient worldly establishment like Austria—going down unsung. It was not like a country losing its identity, though that had to do with the facts; but rather like a shadow passing, to be followed, not by sunlight, but by another shadow of different contour and texture.
"We put such store by names," he muttered, as he watched the Austrian infantry give way before them, "and yet, the world will get on with other names just the same."
...There had been no chance for talk. They had merely pressed the hands of their friends, something darkly melancholy about Samarc, as if his eyes were in deep shadow, and something luminous in the eyes that shone from the haggard face of Little Spenski. They looked forward to the night, as men famished and athirst in a pit listen to the toil of rescuers. Almost the last thing that Peter remembered was that the moon came up before the sun had set. The rapid-fire battery was at work on a hot smoky hill, the shrapnel and larger pieces still higher, and the great masses of infantry moving below among the wind- driven hazes of the valley, their long necklaces, of white puffs, showing and vanishing.
Mowbray's ears were deadened to all sounds save from the immediate machine-guns and the big hounds above; to his eyes the swaying strings of infantry smoke-puffs in the valley were spectral and soundless.
The Russians had taken the little town of Judenbach in the early afternoon, but the Austrians gave them a stand two miles beyond, finding solid position in a range of craggy hills. The Russians had not cared to leave them there over night, but the dislodgment proved difficult. The unlimbering of the batteries toward the end of the day on the shoulders of a thickly-wooded mass (from which Peter watched the infantry and the moonrise in daylight), was the final effort of the day to drive the enemy farther afield from Judenbach.
The two infantries were contending; gray Russian lines in the bottom land and already advancing up the slopes. Day after day, smitten and replenished—tillers of land becoming the dung of the land. Mowbray had always pitied the infantry, and watched them now with unspeakable awe and depression—moving up the slopes, lost in their white necklaces of skirmish-fire, sprayed upon with steel vomit from the Austrian machines.
Samarc's battery was idle. It was often so, Boylan reported, when the enemy's duplicate pieces were busy.
Now withering—those gray Russian lines. They diminished, gave way, a thin ghostly pattern of the whole, falling back. An Austrian sortie of yellow-brown men to finish the task.
"That's our cue," Big Belt whispered.
The officers were already finding the range and fall. Samarc's machine was set, before his superior spoke. Peter saw what a week had done for him. Samarc seemed old at the task, already to have grown old. Spenski at the hopper—and the mutilating racket on. Between fire, Peter could not hold in mind the inconceivable magnitude and velocity of these sounds. His brain seemed to plow under, as it does the great events of pain, the impress of hideous suffering which the proximity of the machines caused. Yet at every firing the damnable things hurt him more. Fast beyond count, as the threads break in a strip of canvas torn with one movement—yet each crackling thread here meant projected steel.
They saw their work on the Austrian infantry lines. Yet always more infantry would come forth, and in the silence following the machines, the gray Russian lines stole forward again. Such was the slow battle vibration.
A company of sappers was below, opening the wood of the slope, so that the machine fire would not be impeded in case the Austrians drove back the infantry beyond the hollows at the bottom of the valley. A hundred yards down they were working like beavers among the trunks of cedar and balsam, when a shrapnel broke among them. The Russian higher batteries had been trying the same game among the Austrian emplacements, but could not see results.
All battery men near the two Americans knew well that the Austrians would note that explosion of their shrapnel, and would relate the range to the higher positions above. That one shot showed the Russian artillerymen that their position was untenable. It was not that the Austrians could see the damage they inflicted in one company of sappers, but that the shattering blow in plain sight from their position would show the exact means to displace the higher pieces that devastated their infantry.
"We've got to get out of here," Boylan whispered. Again as he spoke the orders to retire came quietly as a bit of garrison gossip, and as coldly. Horses came running down for the ammunition carts; every muscle of man and beast had its work now.
In thirty or forty seconds Austrian shrapnel would land higher. Peter was tallying off the seconds, wondering if they would get clear.... At this moment he noted that the moon had come up and that the sun was not yet sunk. The two on the eastern and western rims of the world were almost of a size and color, very huge and alike, except that one dazzled the eyes—the difference between incandescence and reflection. The whole dome was lost in florid haze. He almost laughed at what followed in his mind, so strange is the caravan of pictures that hurries through in action. It was the beauty above and ghastly waste of the infantry that brought back to his brain the reason and decency of the ants in the burning log—their order in contrast to this chaos....
The Austrians were workmen. Their searching shrapnel had been quite enough. Samarc's battery had begun to move, when they landed in the heart of it. All was changed about, and new. The silence was like a deep excavation, and the smell of fresh ground was in the air.
Peter did not see Boylan. He arose, half crawled up the torn ground to the place where Spenski and Samarc had stood. They were some distance —a saving distance for Mowbray—when he saw Samarc arise, his face sheeted in red. Samarc was staring about for Spenski. Presently, Peter followed the eyes of Samarc and saw the little man—half down, but looking up toward his friend, the eyes wide open; also Spenski's mouth, and the most extraordinary smile in the red beard.
Peter crawled a step nearer. There was no voice yet. He was tranced before this meeting of the companions, each of whom saw none but the other. Spenski had been partly kneeling, but as Samarc approached, his head bowed slowly down, and the smile was gone.
"Come on—they'll do it again!"
Peter heard the words—but did not know who spoke them—possibly Boylan from behind, possibly he had said it. He had not seen Samarc's lips move.
The voice was an offense in that silence.
Now Peter saw none but Spenski, until Samarc reached him, lifted, called. Peter saw the body raised from the ground to Samarc's arms— saw the little man's body open upon his friend like a melon that has rotted underneath.
All went black for Peter. The slope rose up and took him. For an eternity afterward he felt someone tugging at him—hands of terrible strength that would not let him die, would not let him sleep. After that a familiar voice began calling at intervals.
"Hello," said Peter at last. "What have I been doing?"
"Not anything that you've pulled before. Is this an old habit?"
"Passing out unhurt—lying like a log for an hour or two?"
"No, it's a new one. Where are we?"
"Judenbach. It's past supper time—"
Peter sat up, wobbled. The terrible hands steadied him again. He knew now what had lamed him.
"Where is she?" he asked.
"I was wondering what hit me?"
"Now, you're getting glib again," said Boylan. Peter's reserve had interposed. His absence had something to do with her, but he could not remember. "Where is she?" had got away from him as he crossed the border back into the racking physical domain. He didn't like that.
"Did I say anything?"
"Nothing that will be used against you," Boylan observed. "As for what hit you—that's the mystery. Not a scratch in sight.... I was behind. You were standing still as a sentry after that shrapnel. Presently you bowled over—"
There was an instant of silence; the picture returned and wrung a groan from Peter. All the energy of his life rebelled against the fact. Boylan's hand tightened upon him. For the moment Mowbray was in a kind of delirium.
"The moon had just come up," he said, "like another sun. The real sun was still in the sky from our hill."
"I know. I was there. Cut it, Peter."
"Where is Samarc?"
"In one of the hospital buildings, likely. I meant to find him as soon as I could leave you—"
"I'll go with you."
Big Belt fumbled in his saddled bags for a flask, brought it in one hand, a cup of water in the other....
They were in the streets, very dark. Once they were caught in a swift current of sheep driven in for the commissary. Judenbach sat on the slope of a hill, a little city, its heart of stone, very ancient, its "hoopskirts," as Boylan said, made of woven-cane huts. Already the stone buildings of the narrow main street were crowded with wounded. The correspondents were not permitted far either way from headquarters. Finally it was necessary to get Dabnitz of the staff to conduct them.... It had all been a jumble of ambulances at nightfall from the field, the lieutenant said. Russian soldiers were not ticketed. Many faces on the cots were bandaged beyond recognition. The three gave up at midnight, Peter gaining strength rather than losing it in the later hours. Orders were that the streets be emptied of all but sentries.
"No, nothing like that—" said Boylan, as Mowbray sank to the floor by his blanket roll. "You haven't had supper—"
"Don't, Boylan.... I say, what do they do with the dead?"
Rain was pattering down; the smell of drugs reached them.
"It does make a difference when you know one of them—doesn't it?.... God, man, we're cluttered with wounded. The dead are at peace—"
"I wonder what stars he's watching to-night?"
"Come, come. Peter—"
"I know.... I know, Boylan. Only it shows me something. He was a great workman. There are things in the world that can't be done because he's gone. There are others like him. He had a girl. He had a friend. He had us—"
Boylan decided that talking was good. He listened and prepared soup.
"And to-morrow they're at it again," said Peter.
"It won't look the same in the morning—"
Peter did not answer.
"Anyway, you didn't bring on the war, Peter—"
"It makes a man cold with that kind of cold a supper-fire don't help."
"Peter, you've got me stopped with your moods—like a woman. Women were always too profound for Mr. B. B. Boylan—"
"Sorry. You've been a prince. I'll do better now. I'll get out of it. Little shock—that's all. I think it wasn't so much physical. Something changed all around. I've been taking things as I found them so long. That helps to bring on a war—"
Boylan glanced at him narrowly.
Peter laughed. "I'm all right. Head's working."
Big Belt sighed. "I loved that little guy, too. God, I'd run east to Asia and keep on running rather than meet his girl."
Peter drank hot soup and slept. Next morning it was like a hard problem that one has slept upon and awakened with the process and answer straight-going. They had not searched ten minutes (calling "Samarc" softly among the cots where the faces were bandaged) before a hand came up to them. It was Peter who took it; and as their hands met, the whole fabric of the man on the cot broke into trembling. They understood. Samarc had been lying there rigid with his tragedy. Peter's touch had been enough to break the dam of his misery.
"I have ceased to kill," he said.
The head was twice as big with bandages; yet under that effigy, so terrible was the intensity of the moment, Peter became conscious of ruin there, also of a sudden icy cold in the morning air. Samarc's powerful hand still clutched his. The voice that had emerged from under the cloths was still in his ears. It had seemed to come as water from a pipe—loosely, the faucet gone. The hand was unhurt.
"...He came in the night. I did not speak—but my heart was fighting against the guns. He was moving here and there. He turned to me, as if I had suddenly cried out, 'What shall I do?'...'You can cease to kill,' he said."
Boylan was watching Peter. His face turned gray.
They received the intelligence of the words, as they came, although at another time the mouthing would have been inarticulate as wind in one of Judenbach's archaic street-lamps.
"I'll stay with him, Boylan," said Peter, choosing the hardest thing, but Big Belt would not leave, though the Russian columns were moving in the street—off to renew the battle among the hills. The two sat by until Samarc slept.
* * *
They were in the street again, moving close to the walls, for the cavalry was crowding the narrow highway. They crossed finally to a stone-paved area at the side of Judenbach's main building. Their feet were upon the stone flags of this court, when Dabnitz suddenly hurried forward, with a gesture for them to stand back.
"Just a moment, my friends," he said. "A little formality, but very necessary—"
Peter lifted his eyes, perceived three men standing bare-headed against the wall of head-quarters, twenty paces away. One of them exclaimed, his voice calm but penetrating:
"We are not spies. We do not care to turn our backs. We are not afraid to die, for we have made our lives count—"
It was the voice of a public speaker; the voice of a man making good many words.... Dabnitz stepped between Boylan and Mowbray, stretching out his arms before them. It was all in an instant. They saw Dabnitz's apologetic smile—and a Russian platoon at their right, rifles raised —then the ragged volley.