It is an early summer's morning: the dew is all over France: the
train is going eastwards. They are quite slow, those troop trains, and
there are few embankments or cuttings in those flat plains, so that
you seem to be meandering along through the very life of the people.
The roads come right down to the railways, and the sun is shining
brightly over the farms and the people going to work along the roads,
so that you can see their faces clearly as the slow train passes them
They are all women and boys that work on the farms; sometimes
perhaps you see a very old man, but nearly always women and boys; they
are out working early. They straighten up from their work as we go by
and lift their hands to bless us.
We pass by long rows of the tall French poplars, their branches cut
away all up the trunk, leaving only an odd round tuft at the top of
the tree; but little branches are growing all up the trunk now, and
the poplars are looking unkempt. It would be the young men who would
cut the branches of the poplars. They would cut them for some useful
thrifty purpose that I do not know; and then they would cut them
because they were always cut that way, as long ago as the times of the
old men's tales about France; but chiefly, I expect, because youth
likes to climb difficult trees; that is why they are clipped so very
high. And the trunks are all unkempt now.
We go on by many farms with their shapely red-roofed houses; they
stand there, having the air of the homes of an ancient people; they
would not be out of keeping with any romance that might come, or any
romance that has come in the long story of France, and the girls of
those red-roofed houses work all alone in the fields.
We pass by many willows and come to a great marsh. In a punt on
some open water an old man is angling. We come to fields again, and
then to a deep wood. France smiles about us in the open sunlight.
But towards evening we pass over the border of this pleasant
country into a tragical land of destruction and gloom. It is not only
that murder has walked here to and fro for years, until all the fields
are ominous with it, but the very fields themselves have been
mutilated until they are unlike fields, the woods have been shattered
right down to the anemones, and the houses have been piled in heaps of
rubbish, and the heaps of rubbish have been scattered by shells. We
see no more trees, no more houses, no more women, no cattle even now.
We have come to the abomination of desolation. And over it broods, and
will probably brood for ever, accursed by men and accursed by the very
fields, the hyena-like memory of the Kaiser, who has whitened so many
It may be some satisfaction to his selfishness to know that the
monument to it cannot pass away, to know that the shell holes go too
deep to be washed away by the healing rains of years, to know that the
wasted German generations will not in centuries gather up what has
been spilt on the Somme, or France recover in the sunshine of many
summers from all the misery that his devilish folly has caused. It is
likely to be to such as him a source of satisfaction, for the truly
vain care only to be talked of in many mouths; they hysterically love
to be thought of, and the notice of mankind is to them a mirror which
reflects their futile postures. The admiration of fools they love, and
the praise of a slavelike people, but they would sooner be hated by
mankind than be ignored and forgotten as is their due. And the truly
selfish care only for their imperial selves.
Let us leave him to pass in thought from ruin to ruin, from wasted
field to field, from crater to crater; let us leave his fancy haunting
cemeteries in the stricken lands of the world, to find what glee he
can in this huge manifestation of his imperial will.
We neither know to what punishment he moves nor can even guess what
fitting one is decreed. But the time is surely appointed and the
place. Poor trifler with Destiny, who ever had so much to dread?