Pest is on one bank and Buda on the other, beside a wooded hill climbing steeply up to the old citadel, somewhat as the west bank of the Hudson climbs up to Storm King.
I first came on the Danube at Budapest in the evening after dinner and saw, close in front of me, what looked to be some curious electric-light sign. It seemed odd in war time, and I stared for a moment before I saw that this strange design was really the black, opposite bank with its zigzag streams of lamps.
Few cities have so naturally beautiful a drop-curtain, and, instead of spoiling it with gas-works' and grain-elevators as we should do, the Hungarians have been thoughtful enough to build a tree-covered promenade between the Danube and the string of hotels which line the river. In front of each of these hotels is a double row of tables and a hedge, and then the trees, under which, while the orchestras play, all Pest comes to stroll and take the air between coffee-time and the late Hungarian dinner.
Hundreds of cities have some such promenade, but few so genial and cosey a one as that of Budapest—not the brittle gayety of some more sophisticated capitals, but the simpler light-heartedness of a people full of feeling, fond of music and talk, and ready to share all they have with a stranger.
The bands play tunes from our musical comedies, but every now and then —and this is what the people like best—they swing into the strange, rolling, passionate-melancholy music of the country. Wherever the tzigany music comes from, it seems Hungarian, at any rate—fiery and indolent and haphazard, rolling on without any particular rhyme or reason, now piling up and now sinking indolently back as the waves roll up and fall back on the sand. People will listen to it for hours, and you can imagine one of those simpler daredevils—a hussar, for instance —in his blue-braided jacket, red breeches, and big cavalry boots, listening and drinking, and thinking of the fights he has won and the girls he has lost, getting sorry for himself at last and breaking his glass and weeping, and being very happy indeed.
There is a club in Budapest—at once a club and a luxurious villa almost too crowded with rugs and fine furniture. When you go to play tennis, instead of the ordinary locker-room one is ushered into a sort of boudoir filled with Chippendale furniture. It is a delightful place to get exercise, with tea served on a garden table between sets; yet, when I was in Budapest, the place was almost deserted. It was not, it seemed, the season that people came there, although just the season to use such a place. For six weeks they came here, and nothing could bring them back again. They did things only in spurts, so to speak: "They go off on hunting trips to the ends of the earth, bring back animals for the Zoo, then off to their country places and—flop! Then there is a racing season, and they play polo and race for a while, then—flop!"
I have never seen such interesting photographers' show-windows as there are in Budapest. Partly this is because the photographers are good, but partly it must he in the Hungarians themselves—such vivid, interesting, unconventional faces. These people look as if they ought to do the acting and write the music and novels and plays and paint the pictures for all the rest of the world. If they haven't done so, it must be because, along with their natural talent, they have this indolence and tendency to flop and not push things through.
It was this Budapest, so easy-going and cheerful, that came drifting through the hospital windows, with the faint sound of band music that Sunday afternoon.
On all the park benches and the paths winding up to the citadel, in a hundred shady corners and walks, soldiers, with canes and bandages, were sitting with their best girls, laughing with them, holding hands. The boys, with miniature flower-gardens in their hats, tinselled grass and red-white-and-green rosettes, could sit with their arms round their sweethearts as much as they wanted to, for everybody knew that they had just been called to the colors and this was their farewell.
I looked over more of the histories—not in the ward, where one was, of course, more or less a nuisance, but in the room where they were filed in hundred lots. Some of the men were still in the hospital, some had died, most of them gone back to the front. There were many of these foot cases: "While on outpost duty in the Carpathians during a snow-storm I felt the lower part of my body becoming powerless. Not being able to walk, was carried back and put on train. Next day we were stopped, because Russians were ahead of us, and obliged to leave train. Waited two days without food or medical attention; then put on train for Budapest."
"My regiment was in the Carpathians, and on or about January 20 my feet refused to obey. I held out for four days and then reported ill. Toes amputated, right foot."
"I belong to German Grenadier Regiment No. ——. On February 6, while sleeping in open snow, I felt numbed in feet. Put on light duty, but on 8th reported ill and doctor declared feet frozen."
"March 12, during heavy snowstorm, Russians attacked us. One of my comrades was shot in stomach, and I took off my gloves to bandage him. All at once our regiment sounded 'Storm!' and I had to rush off to attack, forgetting my gloves. I had both my hands frozen."
"I am field-cornet of the—-German Grenadiers. I was, since the beginning of the war, in Belgium and France, and at end of November sent to Russian Poland and January 1 to Carpathians. On February 6, while retiring to prevent the Russians surrounding us, I was shot In thigh at 1,500 yards distance and fell. Within a few minutes I got two more shots."
"That's just like a German," commented the nurse. "They always begin by telling just who they are and what they were doing. A Hungarian would probably just say that he was up in the mountains and it was cold. These soldiers are like big children, some of them, and they tell us things sometimes."
"While in Carpathians on January 20 I reported to my lieutenant, feet frozen. He said dig a hole and when you are quite frozen we will put you in. I stood it another seven days, then we had to retreat. I went myself to the doctor; my feet were then black already. Debreczen hospital six days, then here. Both amputated."
The feet were gone, at any rate, whatever the lieutenant may have said. We returned to the German field-cornet.
"He came in walking—a fine, tall man. We had only one place to bathe the men in, then: a big tank—for everything was improvised and there was no hot-water heater—and one of the doctors told him he could use his own bath up-stairs, but he said no, he'd stay with his men. He seemed to be getting on all right, then one morning the doctor touched his leg and he heard that crackling sound—it was gas infection. They just slit his leg down from hip to knee, but it was no use—he died in three hours. Practically all the wounds were infected when the men came in, but suppose he could have picked up something in that bath? He came in walking."
Through most of the German histories one could see the German armies turning now this way, now that, against their "world of enemies," as they say: "I belong to—-Regiment German Infantry and am stationed since March 1 in Carpathians. I am in active service since the start, having done Belgium, France, and Russia."
"While at battle of Luneville, with troop of about forty men stormed battery, capturing them, for which decorated with Iron Cross. Shifted to Carpathians. After march in severe cold, fingers and feet frozen."
"While in France attacking I was hit in head by shrapnel. In hospital fourteen days, then sent to Carpathians on December 7 with Austro-Hungarian troops. Wounded in arm and while creeping back hit five times in fifteen minutes. Lay all afternoon in trenches."
"I think those are the three who came in together one night, all singing 'Die Wacht am Rhein'; they all had the Iron Cross. They were a noisy lot. They all got well and went back to the front again."
Here were three pictures from the Galician fighting: "Wounded by shrapnel near Przemysl, bandaged by comrade, and helped to house; only occupant old woman. Lay on straw two days, no food. Called to men passing; they had me moved in cart seventy miles to hospital. Stayed eight days; started on train, then taken off for three days, then to Budapest."
"During fighting at Lupkow Pass I was wounded by two pistol-shots. First one, fired by Russian officer, hit me in chest. Ran back to my company and in darkness taken by one of our officers for Russian and shot in arm."
"While digging trenches struck by a rifle-bullet in two places. Lay in trench two hours when found by Russian infantrymen, who hurriedly dressed me and put me out of firing-range on horse blanket in old trench. Later found by our soldiers, carried to base, and dressed there, then to field-hospital, then in cart to railroad station. Went few kilometres by train, but became so ill had to be taken off for two days, then sent to Budapest. Seventeen days. Two months in hospital; returned to front."
"We called that man 'professor,'" said the nurse. "He was a teacher of some sort. There was a boy here at the same time, a Pole, but he could speak English: just out of the university—Cracow, I think. He was in Serbia, and was shot through the temple; he lost the sight of both eyes."
Several in the Serbian fighting had struck river mines. One, who had been ordered to proceed across the River Save near Sabac, remarked that he was "told afterward" they had struck a floating mine and that seven were killed and thirteen wounded. The Serbian campaign was not pleasant. The Serbians do not hold up their hands, as the big, childlike Russians sometimes seem to have done. They fight as long as they can stand. Then there was disease and lack of medical supplies and service. '"They came in covered with mud and with fractures done up with twigs—just as they had been dressed on the field. Sometimes a fractured hip would be bound with a good-sized limb from a tree reaching all the way from the man's feet to his waist."
Yet the wonder is what nature and the tough constitutions of these young men will do with intelligent help. We came to what they call a "face case." "Wounded November 4 in Galicia by rifle-fire on right side of face and right hand; dressed by comrade, then lost consciousness until arrived here. ('He probably means,' explained the nurse, 'that he was delirious and didn't realize the time.') Physical examination—right side of face blown away; lower jaw broken into several pieces, extending to left side; teeth on lower jaw loose; part of upper jaw gone, and tongue exposed. Infected. Operated—several pieces of lower jaw removed and two pieces wired together in front."
From the desk drawer the nurse picked out several photographs—X-ray pictures of little round shrapnel bullets embedded in flesh, of bone splintered by rifle-bullets and shot through the surrounding flesh as if they had been exploded; one or two black feet cut off above the ankles; one of a group of convalescents standing on the hospital steps.
"There he is," she said, pointing-to a man with a slightly crooked jaw— the man whose history we had just read. "We saved it. It isn't such a bad face, after all."
The worst wounds, of course, do not come to a hospital so far from the front as this—they never leave the battle-field at all. In Turkey, for instance, where travelling is difficult, very few of those shot through the trunk of the body ever got as far as Constantinople—nearly all of the patients were wounded in the head, arms, or legs. On over a thousand patients in this Budapest hospital the following statistics are based: Rifle wounds, 1,095; shrapnel, 138; shell, 2; bayonet, 2; sabre, 1; hand-grenade, 1; frozen feet, 163; frozen hands, 100; rheumatism, 65; typhoid, 38; pneumonia, 15; tetanus, 5; gas infection, 5. Deaths, 19— septicemia, 7; pneumonia, tetanus, typhoid, 1. It was dark when I started down-stairs, through that warm, brooding stillness of a hospital at night. The ward at the head of the stairs was hushed now, and the hall lamp, shining across the white trousers of an orderly dozing in his chair within the shadow of the door and past the screen drawn in front of it, dimly lit the foot of the line of beds where the men lay sleeping.
Nothing could happen to them now—until they were sound again and the order came to go out and fling themselves again under the wheels. The doctor on duty for the night, coat off, was stretched on his sofa peacefully reading under a green lamp. And, as I went down-stairs past the three long wards, the only sign of life was in a little circle of light cast by a single lamp over the bed of one of the new patients, lighting up the upturned profile of a man and the fair hair of the young night nurse bending over him and silently changing the cloths on his chest.
We dined late that evening on an open balcony at the top of the house. People in Vienna and Budapest like to eat and drink in the open air. Below us lay the dark velvet of the park, with an occasional lamp, and beyond, over the roofs of Pest, the lights of Buda across the river.
Up through the trees came the voices of men singing. I asked what this might be. They were men, my friends explained, who had had their legs amputated. There were fifty-eight of them, and the people who owned the big, empty garden across the street had set it aside for them to live in. There they could sit in the sun and learn to walk on their artificial legs—it was a sort of school for them.
I went to see it next morning—this Garden of Legless Men. They were scattered about under the trees on benches two by two, some with bandaged stumps, some with crutches, some with no legs at all. They hobbled over willingly enough to have their pictures taken, although one of them muttered that he had had his taken seventy times and no one had sent him a. copy yet. The matron gathered them about her, arranging them rather proudly so that their wounds "would show. One looked to be quite all right—because he had artificial legs, boots and all, below the knee.
"Come," said the matron, "show the gentleman how you can walk." And the obedient man came wabbling toward us in a curious, slightly rickety progress, like one of those toys which are wound up and set going on the sidewalk. At the matron's suggestion he even dropped one of his canes. He could almost stand alone, indeed, like some of the political arguments for which millions of healthy young fellows like him obediently go out to fight.
The Augusta Barracken Hospital is on the outskirts of Budapest—a characteristic product of the war, wholesale healing for wholesale maiming—1,000 beds and all the essentials, in what, two months before, was a vacant lot by the railroad tracks. The buildings are long, one-story, pine barracks, just wide enough for two rows of beds with an aisle down the centre. The space between the barracks is filled, in thrifty European fashion, with vegetable-gardens, and they are set on neat streets through which the patients can be wheeled or carried to and from the operating and dressing rooms without going up or down stairs. Trains come in from the observation hospitals near the front, where all wounded now stay for five days until it is certain they have no contagious disease, and switch right up to the door of the receiving-room.
The men give their names, pass at once to another room where their uniforms are taken away to be disinfected, thence to the bathroom, then into clean clothes and to bed. It is a city of the sick—of healing, rather—and on a bright day, with crowds of convalescents sitting about in their linen pajamas in the sun, stretcher-bearers going back and forth, the capable-looking surgeons with their strong, kind faces, pretty nurses in nun-like white, it all has the brisk, rather jolly air of any vigorous organism, going full blast ahead.
We had been through it, seen the wards of strapping, handsome, childlike Russians, as carefully looked after by the Hungarians as if they were their own, when our officer guide remarked that in an hour or two a transport of four hundred new wounded would be coming in. We waited in the receiving-room, where a young convalescent had been brought out on a stretcher to see his peasant family—a weather-beaten father, a mother with a kerchief over her head, two solemn, little, round-faced brothers with Tyrolean feathers in their caps. Benches were arranged for those able to sit up, clerks prepared three writing-desks, orderlies laid a row of stretchers side by side for fifty yards or so along the railroad track.
The transport was late, the sun going, and I went down to the other end of the yard to get a picture of some Russians I had seen two days before. We had walked through their ward then, and I remembered one very sick boy, to whom one of the nurses with us had given a flower she was wearing, and how he had smiled as he put it to his face with his gaunt, white hand. "It doesn't take long," she had said, "when they get like that. They have so little vitality to go on, and some morning between two and five"—and sure enough his bed was empty now.
A troop-train was rushing by, as I came back, covered with green branches and flowers. They went by with a cheer—that cheer which sounds like a cheer sometimes, and sometimes, when two trains pass on adjoining tracks so fast that you only catch a blur of faces, like the windy shriek of lost souls.
Then came a sound of band music, and down the road, outside the high wire fence, a little procession led by soldiers in gray-blue, playing Chopin's "Funeral March." Behind them came the hospital hearse, priests, and a weeping peasant family. The little procession moved slowly behind the wailing trumpets—it was an honor given to all who died here, except the enemy—and must have seemed almost a sort of extravagance to the convalescents crowding up to the fence who had seen scores of their comrades buried in a common trench. Opposite us the drums rolled and the band began the Austrian national hymn. Then they stopped; the soldier escort fired their rules in the air. That ended the ceremony, and the hearse moved on alone.
Then the convalescents drifted back toward us. Most of them would soon be ready for the front again, and many glad of it, if only to be men in a man's world again. One of the nurses spoke of some of the others she had known. One man slashed his hand with his knife in the hope of staying behind. Even the bravest must gather themselves together before the leap. Only those who have seen what modern guns can do know how much to fear them.
"For a week or so after they come in lots of them are dazed; they just lie there scarcely stirring. All that part of it—the shock to their nerves—we see more of than the doctors do. When the word comes to go out again they have all the physical symptoms of intense nervous excitement, even nausea sometimes." The train came at last—two long sections of sleeping-cars. An officer stepped off, clicked his heels, and saluted, and the orderlies started unloading the men. Those who could walk at all were helped from the doors; the others—men with broken hips, legs in casts, and so on—were passed out of the windows on stretchers held over the orderlies' heads. In the receiving-ward they were set down in rows before the three tables, most of them clutching their papers as they came. Each man gave his name and regiment, and such particulars, and the address of some one of his family to whom notice could be sent. It was one clerk's duty to address a post-card telling his family of his condition and that he was in the hospital.
These cards were already ruled off into columns in each of which the words "Lightly wounded," "Wounded," "Severely wounded," "Ill," "Very ill" were printed in nine of the languages spoken in Austria-Hungary. The clerk merely had to put a cross on the proper word. Here, for instance, is the Lightly wounded column, in German, Hungarian, and the other dialects: "Leicht verwundet, Konnyen megse-besult, Lehce ranen, Lekko raniony, Lecko ranenki, Leggiermente Jcrzto, Lako ranjen, Lahko ranjen, Usor ranit."
A number were Russians—fine, big, clear-eyed fellows with whom these genuine "Huns" chatted and laughed as if they were their own men. On one stretcher came a very pale, round-faced, little boy about twelve, with stubbly blond hair clipped short and an enchanting smile. He had been carrying water for the soldiers, somebody said, when a piece of shrapnel took off one of his feet. Possibly he was one of those little adventurers who run away to war as boys used to run away to sea or the circus. He seemed entirely at home with these men, at any rate, and when one of the Hungarians brought him a big tin cup of coffee and a chunk of black bread, he wriggled himself half upright and went to work at it like a veteran.
As soon as the men were registered they were hurried out of their uniforms and into the bathroom. At the door two nurses in white—so calm and clean and strong that they must have seemed like goddesses, in that reek of steam and disinfectants and festering wounds—received them, asked each man how he was wounded, and quickly, as if he were a child, snipped off his bandages, unless the leg or arm were in a cast, and turned him over to the orderlies. Those who could walk used showers, the others were bathed on inclined slabs. Even the worst wounded scarcely made a sound, and those who could take care of themselves limped under the showers as if they had been hospital boarders before, and waited for, and even demanded, with a certain peremptoriness, their little bundle of belongings before they went on to the dressing-room.
Discipline, possibly, though one could easily fancy that all this organized kindness and comfort suddenly enveloping them was enough to raise them for the moment above thoughts of pain.
As they lifted the man on the dressing-table and loosened the pillow-like bandage under his drawn-up thigh, a thick, sickening odor spread through the room. As the last bit of gauze packing was drawn from the wound, the greenish pus followed and streamed into the pan. The jagged chunk of shell had hit him at the top of the thigh and ploughed down to the knee. The wound had become infected, and the connecting tissues had rotted away until the leg was now scarcely more than a bone and the two flaps of flesh. The civilian thinks of a wound, generally, as a comparatively decent sort of hole, more or less the width of the bullet itself. There was nothing decent about this wound. It was such a slash as one might expect in a slaughtered ox. It had been slit farther to clean the infection, until you could have thrust your fist into it, and, as the surgeon worked, the leg, partly from weakness, partly from the man's nervousness, trembled like a leaf.
First the gauze stuffed into the cavity had to be pulled out. The man, of an age that suggested that he might have left at home a peasant wife, slightly faded and weather-worn like himself, cringed and dug his nails into the under side of the table, but made no outcry. The surgeon squeezed the flesh above and about the wound, the quick-fingered young nurse flushed the cavity with an antiseptic wash, then clean, dry gauze was pushed into it and slowly pulled out again.
The man—they had nicknamed him "Pop"—breathed faster. This panting went into a moan, which deepened into a hoarse cry, and then, as he lost hold of himself completely, he began a hideous sort of sharp yelping like a dog.
This is a part of war that doctors and nurses see; not rarely and in one hospital, but in all hospitals and every morning, when the long line of men—'"pus tanks' we called 'em last winter," muttered one of the young doctors—are brought in to be dressed, There was such a leg that day in the Barracken Hospital; the case described here was in the American Red Cross Hospital in Vienna.
Such individual suffering makes no right or wrong, of course. It is a part of war. Yet the more one sees of it and of this cannon fodder, the people on whom the burden of war really falls, how alike they all are in their courage, simplicity, patience, and long-suffering, whether Hungarians or Russians, Belgians or Turks, the less simple is it to be convinced of the complete righteousness of any of the various general ideas in whose name these men are tortured. I suspect that only those can hate with entire satisfaction and success who stay quietly at home and read the papers.
I remember riding down into Surrey from London one Sunday last August and reading an editorial on Louvain—so well written, so quivering with noble indignation that one's blood boiled, as they say, and one could scarcely wait to get off the train to begin the work of revenge. Perhaps the most moving passage in this editorial was about the smoking ruins of the Town Hall, which I later saw intact. I have thought occasionally since of that editorial and of the thousands of sedentary fire-eaters and hate-mongers like the writer of it—men who live forever in a cloud of words, bounce from one nervous reaction to another without ever touching the ground, and, rejoicing in their eloquence, go down from their comfortable breakfasts to their comfortable offices morning after morning and demand slaughter, annihilation, heaven knows what not —men who could not endure for ten minutes that small part of war which any frail girl of a trained nurse endures hour after hour every morning as part of the day's work.
If I had stayed in London and continued to read the lies of but one side, I should doubtless, by this time, be able to loathe and despise the enemy with an entire lack of doubt, discomfort, or intelligence. But having been in all the countries and read all the lies, the problem is less simple.
How many people who talk or write about war would have the courage to face a minute, fractional part of the reality underlying war's inherited romance? People speak with pleasant excitement of "flashing sabres" without the remotest thought of what flashing sabres do. A sabre does not stop in mid-air with its flashing, where a Meissonier or a Detaille would paint it—it goes right on through the cords and veins of a man's neck. Sabre wounds are not very common, but there was one in the Vienna hospital that morning—a V-shaped trench in which you could have laid four fingers fiat, down through the hair and into the back of the man's neck, so close to the big blood-vessel that you could see it beat under its film of tissue—the only thing between him and death. I thought of it a day or two later when I was reading a book about the Austrian army officer's life, written by an English lady, and came across the phrase: '"Sharpen sabres!' was the joyful cry."
Be joyful if you can, when you know what war is, and, knowing it, know also that it is the only way to do your necessary work. The absurd and disgusting thing is the ignorance and cowardice of those who can slaughter an army corps every day for lunch, with words, and would not be able to make so trivial a start toward the "crushing" they are forever talking about as to fire into another man's open eyes or jam a bayonet into a single man's stomach. Among the Utopian steps which one would most gladly support would be an attempt to send the editors and politicians of all belligerent countries to serve a week in the enemy's hospitals.
East Of Lemberg—Through Austria-Hungary to the Galician Front
We left Nagybiesce in the evening, climbed that night through the high Tatras, stopped in the morning at Kaschau long enough for coffee and a sight of the old cathedral, rolled on down through the country of robber barons' castles and Tokay wine, and came at length, in the evening, to Munkacs and the foot of the high Carpathians.
This was close to the southernmost point the Russians touched when they came pouring down through the Carpathian passes, and one of the places in the long line where Germans and Austro-Hungarians joined forces in the spring to drive them back again. Munkacs is where the painter Munkacsy came from. It was down to Munkacs, through Silesia and the Tatras, that the troop-trains came in April while snow was still deep in the Carpathians. Now it was a feeding-station for fresh troops going up and wounded and prisoners coming down.
The officers in charge had no notion we were coming, but no sooner heard we were strangers in Hungary than we must come in, not only to dinner, but to dine with them at their table. We had red-hot stuffed paprika pods, Liptauer cheese mixed salmon-pink with paprika, and these and other things washed down with beer and cataracts of hospitable talk. Some one whispering that a bit of cheese might come in handy in the breakfastless, cholera-infested country, into which we were going that night, they insisted we must take, not merely a slice, but a chunk as big as a small trunk. We looked at the soup-kitchen, where they could feed two thousand a day, and tasted the soup. We saw the dressing-station and a few wounded waiting there, and all on such a breeze of talk and eloquent explanation that you might have thought you had stepped back into a century when suspicion and worry and nerves were unknown.
The Hungarians are like that—along with their indolence and romantic melancholy—lively and hospitable and credulous with strangers. Nearly all of them are good talkers and by sheer fervor and conviction can make almost any phrase resemble an idea and a real idea as good as a play. Hungarians are useful when trenches must be taken by storm, just as the sober Tyrolean mountaineers are better for sharp-shooting and slow resistance.
One of the interesting things about the Austro-Hungarian army, as well, of course, as an inevitable weakness, is the variety of races and temperaments hidden under these blue-gray uniforms—Hungarians, Austrians, Croatians, Slovaks, Czechs. Things in universal use, like post-cards and paper money, often have their words printed in nine languages, and an Austro-Hungarian officer may have to know three or four in order to give the necessary orders to his men. And his men cannot fight for the fatherland as the Germans do; they must rally round a more or less abstract idea of nationality. And one of the surprises of the war, doubtless, to many people, has been that its strain, instead of disintegrating, appears to have beaten this loose mass together.
At the table that evening was a middle-aged officer and his aid on their way to a new detail at the front. They were simple and soldier-like and, after the flashing bosoms of the sedentary hinterland, it was pleasant to see these men, who had been on active service since the beginning, without a single medal. The younger Hungarian was one of those slumbering daredevils who combine a compact, rugged shape—strong wrists, hair low on the forehead—with the soft voice and shy manners of a girl. He spoke a little German and English in the slow, almost plaintive Hungarian cadence, but all we could get out of him about the war was that it had made him so tired—so 'mude'. He had gone to school in Zurich but could not tell our Swiss lieutenant the name of his teacher—he couldn't remember anything, any more, he said, with his plaintive smile. He had a little factory in Budapest and had gone back on furlough to see that things were ship-shape, but it was no use, he couldn't tell them what to do when he got there. Common enough, our captain guide observed. He had been in the fighting along the San until invalided back to the Presse-Quartier, and there were times, then, he said, when for days it was hard for him to remember his own name.
We climbed up into the mountains in the night and he had us up at daylight to look down from creaking, six-story timber bridges built by the Austro-Hungarian engineers to replace the steel railroad bridges blown up by the Russians. We passed a tunnel or two, a big stockade full of Russian prisoners milling round in their brown overcoats, and down from the pass into the village of Skole. Here we were to climb the near-by heights of Ostry, which the Hungarians of the Corps Hoffmann stormed in April when the snow was still on the ground, and "orientiren" ourselves a bit about this Carpathian fighting.
I had looked back at it through the "histories" and the amputated feet and hands in the hospital at Budapest—now, in the muggy air of a late August morning we were to tramp over the ground itself. There were, in this party of rather leisurely reporters, a tall, wise, slow-smiling young Swede who had gone to sea at twelve and been captain of a destroyer before leaving the navy to manage a newspaper; a young Polish count, amiably interested in many sorts of learning and nearly all sorts of ladies—he had seen some of the Carpathian fighting as an officer in the Polish Legion; one of the Swiss citizen officers—one can hear him now whacking his heels together whenever he was presented, and fairly hissing "Oberleutnant W—-, aw Schweiz!" and a young Bulgarian professor, who spoke German and a little French, but, unlike so many of the Bulgarians of the older generation who were educated at Robert College, no English. The Bulgarians are intensely patriotic and there was nothing under sun, moon, or stars which this young man did not compare with what they had in Sofia. German tactics, Russian novels, sky-scrapers, music, steamships—no matter what—in a moment would come his "Bei uns in Sofia"—(With us in Sofia) and his characteristic febrile gesture, thumb and forefinger joined, other fingers extended, pumping emphatically before his face.
Then there was our captain guide from the regular army, a volunteer automobile officer, a soldier servant for each man—for the Austrians do such things in style—and even, on a separate flat car, our own motor. The Carpathians here are in the neighborhood of three thousand five hundred feet high—a tangle of pine-covered slopes as steep as a roof sometimes, and reminding one a bit of our Oregon Cascades on a much-reduced scale. You must imagine snow waist-deep, the heights furrowed with trenches, the frosty balsam stillness split with screaming shells and shrapnel and the rat-tat-tat of machine guns; imagine yourself floundering upward with winter overcoat, blanket, pack, rifle, and cartridge-belt—any one who has snow-shoed in mountains in midwinter can fancy what fighting meant in a place like this. Men's feet and hands were frozen on sentry duty or merely while asleep—for the soldiers slept as a rule in the open, merely huddled in their blankets before a fire—the severely wounded simply dropped in the snow, and for most of them, no doubt, that was the end of it.
Puffing and steaming in our rain-coats, we climbed the fifteen hundred feet or so to the top of the mountain, up which the Russians had built a sort of cork-screw series of trenches, twisting one behind the other. We reached one sky-line only to find another looking down at us. Barbed-wire entanglements and "Spanish riders" crossed the slopes in front of them—it was the sort of place that looks to a civilian as if it could hold out forever.
The difficulty in country like this is, of course, to escape flanking fire. You fortify yourself against attack from one direction only to be enfiladed by artillery from some ridge to right or left. That was what the Austrians and Germans did and, following their artillery with an infantry assault, captured one of the upper Russian trenches. From this it was only a matter of a few hours to clear out the others. Except for the visits of a few peasants the battle-field had scarcely been touched since the snow melted. The hillside was peppered with shell holes, the trenches littered with old hand-grenades, brown Russian over-coats, the rectangular metal cartridge clip cases—-about like biscuit tins—which the Russians leave everywhere, and some of the brush-covered shelters in which the Russians had lived, with their spoons and wet papers and here and there a cigarette box or a tube of tooth-paste, might have almost been lived in yesterday.
The valley all the way back to Skole was strung with the brush and timber shelters in which the Russians had camped—the first of thousands of cut-up pine-trees we were to see before we left Galicia. All the drab and dreary side of war was in that little mountain town—smashed houses; sidewalks, streets, and fences splashed with lime against cholera; stores closed or just keeping alive, and here and there signs threatening spies and stating that any one found carrying explosives or building fires would be shot. I went into one fairly clean little cafe, where it seemed one might risk a cup of tea—you are not supposed to drink unboiled or unbottled water in such neighborhoods—and the dismal old Jew who kept the place told me that he had been there since the war began. He made a sour face when I said he must have seen a good deal. A lot he could see, he said, six months in a cellar "gesteckt."
There was a certain amount of cholera all through eastern Galicia, especially among the peasants, not so well housed, often, as the soldiers, and not nearly so well fed and taken care of. Every one who went into Galicia had to be vaccinated for cholera, and in the army this had all but prevented it. In a whole division living in a cholera-infected neighborhood there would be only one or two cases, and sometimes none at all. The uncomfortable rumor of it was everywhere, however, and one was not supposed to eat raw fruit or vegetables, and in some places hand-shaking, even in an officers' mess, was prohibited.
Russian prisoners were working about the station as they were all over eastern Austria-Hungary—big, blond, easy-going children, apparently quite content. Our Warsaw Pole talked with one of them, who seemed to mourn only the fact that he didn't have quite so big a ration of bread as he had had as a soldier. He had come from Siberia, where he had left a wife and three children—four, maybe, by this time, he said; some rascally Austrian might have made another one.
Beyond Skole we left the mountains—looking back at that imposing wall on the horizon, one could fancy the Russians coming down from the north and thinking, "There we shall stand!"—and rode northward through a pleasant, shallow, valley country, past Ruthenian settlements with their three-domed churches and houses steep-roofed with heavy thatch. Some of these Ruthenians, following the Little Russians of the south, Gogol's country, were not enthusiastic when the Russians came through. Among others, the Russian Government had made great propaganda, given money for churches and so on, so that the apparently guileless peasants occasionally revealed artillery positions, the Austrians said, by driving their cattle past them or by smoke signals from cottage chimneys. We stopped for dinner at Strij, another of those drab, dusty, half-Jewish towns filled now with German and Austro-Hungarian soldiers, officers, proclamations, and all the machinery of a staff headquarters, and the next morning rolled into Lemberg. The Russians captured it in the first week of the war, held it through the winter, and then, after the Czar had, from a balcony in the town, formally annexed it to the empire forever and a day, in April, the Austro-Hungarians retook it again in June.
There were smashed windows in the railroad station, but otherwise, to a stranger coming in for the first time, Lemberg seemed swinging along, a big modern city of some-two hundred thousand people, almost as if nothing had happened.
With an officer from General Bom-Ermolh's staff, and maps, we drove out to the outlying fortifications, where the real fighting had taken place. The concrete gun positions, the permanent infantry protections with loopholes in concrete, and all the trenches and barbed wire, looked certainly as if the Russians had intended to stay in Lemberg. The full explanation of why they did not must be left for the present. What happened at one fortified position, a few miles southwest of Lemberg, was plain enough.
Here, in pleasant open farming country was a concrete and earth fort, protected by elaborate trenches and entanglements, in front of which, for nearly a mile across the fields, was an open field of fire. Infantry might have charged across that open space until the end of the war without getting any nearer, but the offensive did not, of course, try that. Over behind distant clumps of trees and a wooded ridge on the horizon they planted their heavy batteries. On a space perhaps three hundred yards long some sixty of these heavy guns concentrated their fire. The infantry pushed up under its protection, the fort fell, and the garrison was captured with it.
It is by such use of artillery that herds of prisoners are sometimes gathered in. Just before the charging infantry reaches the trench, the cataract of artillery fire, which has been pouring into it, is suddenly shifted back a few hundred yards, where it hangs like a curtain shutting off escape. The success of such tactics demands, of course, finished work from the artillery-men and perfect co-ordination between artillery and infantry. At lunch a few days later in Cracow, a young Austrian officer was telling me how they had once arranged that the artillery should fire twenty rounds, and on the twenty-first the infantry, without waiting for the usual bugle signal to storm, should charge the trenches. At the same instant the artillery-men were to move up their range a couple of hundred yards. The manoeuvre was successful and the Russians caught, huddled under cover, before they knew what had happened.
Though Lemberg's cafes were gay enough and the old Jews in gaberdines, with the orthodox curl dangling before each ear, dozed peacefully on the park benches, still the Russians were only a few hours' motor drive to the eastward, and next morning we went out to see them. All of the country through which we drove was, in a way, the "front"—beginning with the staff head-quarters and going on up through wagon-trains, reserves, horse camps, ammunition-stations, and so on, to the first-line trenches themselves.
Sweeping up through this long front on a fine autumn morning is to see the very glitter and bloom of war. Wounds and suffering, burned towns, and broken lives—all that is forgotten in the splendid panorama—men and motors and fliers and guns, the cheerful smell of hay and coffee and horses, the clank of heavy trucks and the jangle of chains, all in beautiful harvest country; in the contagion of pushing on, shoulder to shoulder, and the devil take the hindmost, toward something vastly interesting up ahead.
Every one is well and strong, and the least of them lifted up and glamoured over by the idea that unites them. All the pettinesses and smallness of every-day existence seem brushed aside, for no one is working for money or himself, and every man of them may be riding to his death.
Flippant young city butterflies jump to their feet and gravely salute when their elders enter, the loutish peasant flings up his chin as if he would defy the universe. What a strange and magic thing is this discipline or team-work or whatever you choose to call it, by which some impudent waiter, for instance, who yesterday would have growled at his tips, will to-day fling his chin up and his hands to his sides and beam like a boy, merely because his captain, showing guests through the camp, deigns to peer into his mess-can and, slapping him affectionately on the cheek, ask him if the food is all right!
We whizzed into the village of Kamionka, on the upper Bug, across which the Russians had been driven only a few days before. Their trenches were just within the woods a scant mile away, and the smoke of their camp-fires curled up through the trees. Across the much-talked-of Bug, which resembles here a tide-water river split with swampy flats, were the trenches they had left. They trailed along the river bank, bent with it almost at a right angle, and the Austro-Hungarian batteries had been so placed that a crisscross fire enfiladed each trench. From the attic observation station into which we climbed, the officers directing the attack could look down the line of one of the trenches and see their own shells ripping it to pieces. "It was a sight you could see once in a lifetime," said one of the young artillery-men, still strung up with the excitement of the fight—exactly what was said to me at Ari Bumu by a Turkish officer who had seen the Triumph go down.
That attic was like a scene in some military melodrama, with its tattered roof, its tripod binoculars peering at the enemy, the businesslike officers dusty and unshaven, the field-telegraph operator squatting in one corner, with a receiver strapped to his ear. We walked across the rafters to an adjoining room, where there were two or three chairs and an old sofa, had schnapps all round, and then went out to walk over the position.
In front was the wabbly foot-bridge run across by the pioneers, and on the swampy flats the little heaps of sod thrown up by the first line as they pushed across—wading up to their necks part of the way—under fire.
On the near bank the Austro-Hungarian trenches had run between the tombs of an old Jewish burying-ground, and from the earth walls, here and there, projected a bone or a crumbling skull. The Russian trenches on the other bank wound through a farmyard in the same impersonal way— pig-pens, orchard, chicken-coops, all thought of merely as shelter. It was just to the left of a pig-pen that a Russian officer had held his machine gun until the last minute, pouring in a flank fire. "He did his work!" was the young officer's comment.
We lunched with a corps commander and dined with a genial old colonel and his staff, and between times motored through level farming country to a position to the northward on the Rata, a tributary of the Bug. Both sides were watching each other here from their sausage-shaped captive balloons, and a few aeroplanes were snooping about but at the moment all was quiet. The Austro-Hungarians had been waiting here for over a fortnight, and the artillery-men had polished up their battery positions as artillery-men like to do when they have time. Two were in a pasture, so neatly roofed over with sod that a birdman might fly over the place until the cows came home without knowing guns were there. Another, hidden just within the shadow of a pine forest, was as attractive as some rich man's mountain camp, the gun positions as snug as yacht cabins, the officer's lodges made of fresh, sweet-smelling pine logs, and in a little recess in the trees a shrine had been built to St. Barbara, who looks out for artillery-men.
The infantry trenches along the river, cut in the clean sand and neatly timbered and loopholed, were like model trenches on some exposition ground. Through these loopholes one could see the Russian trenches, perhaps a mile away, and in between the peasant women, bright red and white splashes in the yellow wheat, were calmly going ahead with their harvest. All along the Galician front we saw peasants working thus and regarding this elaborate game of war very much apparently as busy farmers regard a draghunt or a party of city fishermen. At one point we had to come out in the open and cross a foot-bridge. "Please— Lieutenant," one of the soldiers protested as the officer with us stepped out, standing erect, "it is not safe!" The officer crouched and hurried across and so did we, but just before we did so, up out of the field where they had been mowing, straight through this gap, came a little company of barefooted peasant women with their bundles of gleanings on their heads, and talking in that singsong monotone of theirs, as detached as so many birds, they went pat-patting across the bridge. If one of these women could but write her impressions of war!
They had done their part, these peasant women and old men and children. All over Galicia, round the burned villages, right through barbed-wire entanglements up to the very trenches, stretched the yellow wheat. Somehow they had ploughed and sowed and brought it to harvest, and now with scythes, with knives even, sometimes, they were getting it under cover. At home we know gleaners generally only in rather sentimental pictures; here we saw them day after day, barefooted women and children going over the stubble and picking up the forgotten wheat heads and arranging them in one hand as if they were a bouquet. There will be no wheat wasted this year.
And with them everywhere were the Russian prisoners, swinging scythes, binding grain, sometimes coming down the road, without even a guard, sprawled in the sun on a load of straw. It would be hard to find a place where war seemed more a vast theatricalism than in some of these Hungarian and Galician neighborhoods. There seemed to be no enmity whatever between captors and prisoners. Everywhere the latter were making themselves useful in the fields, in road-making, about railroad yards, and several officers told me that it was surprising how many good artisans, carpenters, iron-workers, and so on, there were among them. The Russians got exactly the same food as the Hungarian soldiers, and were paid a few cents a day for their work. You would see men in the two uniforms hobnobbing in the open freight-cars as the work-trains rolled up the line, and sometimes a score or so of husky Russians working in the wheat, guarded by some miniature, lone, Landsturm man. Of all the various war victims I had seen, these struck me as the most lucky—they could not even, like the wounded, be sent back again.
We drove back through the dark that night, and in the bright, waving circle of an automobile search-light, with the cool breath from the pines in our faces, saw that long "front" roll back again. Now and then a soldier would step into the white circle and, holding up his arm, struggle between his awe of this snorting motor with its imperial double-eagle flag and its sharp-voiced officers muffled in gray coats— between his peasant's habit of taking off his hat and letting such people blow by, and his soldier's orders to stop every-thing that passed. He stopped us, nevertheless, and the pass was laboriously read in the light of his electric lamp before we went on again.
In the dark and quiet all the countless joints and wheels of the vast organism were still mysteriously turning. Once, in a cloud of dust, we passed troops marching toward the front—tired faces, laughing faces— the shout "Man in the road !" and then the glimpse of a couple of Red Cross men kneeling by a soldier who had given out on the way; once, in the black pines, cows driven by two little frightened peasant children; once a long line of bearded Jews, bound, with packs on their backs, for what was left of their homes; a supply-train, a clanking battery, and now and then other motors like ours with shrouded gray figures, streaking by in a flashing mist of dust.
Next day, swinging southward into another sector of the front, over beautiful rolling hills, rather like the Genesee Valley, we drummed up a hill and came out at the top in a village square. It had once been a white little village clinging to the skirts of an old chateau—the village of Swirz and Count Lavasan's chateau—and both were now black and tumbled walls.
In the centre of the square people were singing—a strange little crowd and strange, mournful singing. We thought at first it was a funeral service, for the women were weeping as they sang, but as the auto-mobile swept up beside them, we saw that it was men the women were crowding round—live men, going away to war.
They were men who had not been called out because the Russians held the country, and by one of fate's ironies, now that the enemy had been beaten and driven home, they must go out and fight. At a little table by the side of the square sat the recruiting officer with his pen and ledger, and the village school-master, a grave, intelligent-looking young man, who must have held such a place in this half-feudal village as he would have done a hundred years ago, was doing his best to glamour over the very realistic loss of these wives and sweethearts with patriotism's romance. He sang and obediently they all wailed after him the old song of scattered Poland—"Poland is not lost" "Yeszcze Polska me Zginela Poki my zygemy..."
The song stopped, there was a word of command, and the little squad started away. The women clung to their men and cried aloud. The children hanging to their skirts began to wail, too. There was something creepy and horrible, like the cries of tortured animals, in that uncontrolled crying there in the bright morning sunshine. The schoolmaster spoke to them bluntly, told them to go back to their homes and their work, and obedient, and a little quieter now, they drifted away, with aprons to their faces and their little children clinging to their skirts—back to their cottages and the winter ahead.
This picture did not fit in very well with our rollicking military panorama, but we were soon over the hills, and half an hour later were breakfasting on pate-de-foie-gras sandwiches and champagne, with a charming old corps commandant, at a round table set outdoors in a circle of trees that must have been planted for that very purpose. Cheered and stiffened by many bows and heel clickings and warming hospitality, we hurried off to an artillery position near the village of Olszanica.
Just under the brow of a hill we were stopped and told that it was dangerous to go farther, and we skirted off to the right under cover, to the observation station itself. More little Swiss chalets, more hospitable officers, and out in front, across a mile of open country, the Russian trenches. Through a periscope one could see Russians exercising their horses by riding them round the circle—as silent and remote and of another world as a picture on a biograph screen.
"You see that clump of trees," said the young officer, "one of their batteries is just behind there. Those aren't real trees, they were put there by the Russians." I swung the glass to the left, picked up a company of men marching. "Hello, hello," he whispered, then after a moment's scrutiny: "No—they're our men." After all, war isn't always so different from the old days, when men had a time for fighting and a time for going in to powder their wigs! The division commander, standing a little behind us, remarked: "We shall fire from the right-hand battery over behind the hill and then from the left—the one you passed near the road." Then turning to an officer at the field telephone he said; "You may fire now."
There was a moment's pause, from over the woods behind us came a "Whr-r-rong !" and out over the sunny fields a shell went milling away to send back a faint report and show a puff of cotton above the trenches to the right. It was a bit short—the next fell better. Another nod, another "Whr-r-row?/" from somewhere behind us, and this time the cottony puff was just short of the clump of trees where the Russians had concealed their battery. I picked up the spot through the glass and— one might have known !—there was One of those eternal peasants calmly swinging his scythe about fifty yards short of the spot where the shrapnel had exploded. I could see him straighten up, glance at it, then go on with his mowing again.
There was a certain elegance, a fine spaciousness about these artillery-men and their work which made one more content with war again. No huddling in muddy trenches here, waiting to be smashed by jagged chunks of iron—everything clean, aloof, scientific, exact, a matter of fine wires crossing on a periscope lens, of elevation, wind pressure, and so on, and everything in the wide outdoors, and done, so to say, with a magnificent gesture.
People drive high-power motor-cars and ride strong horses because of the sense of power it gives them—how about standing on a hill, looking over miles of splendid country to where a huddle of ants and hobby-horse specks—say a battalion or two—are just crawling around a hill or jammed on a narrow bridge, and then to scatter them, herd them, chase them from one horizon to another with a mere, "Mr. Jones, you may fire now," and a wave of the hand!
The division commander took us back a mile or so to his headquarters for lunch, the Russians slowly waking up and sending a few perfunctory shells after us as we went over the hill, and here was another genial party, with three "Hochs" for the guests at the end. Even out here in empty Galicia the soldiers got their beer. "We're not quite so temperate as the Russians," the general smiled. "A little alcohol—not too much—does 'em good."
A young lieutenant who sat next me regaled me with his impression of things in general. The Russians had squandered ammunition, he said, in the early days of the war—they would fire twenty rounds or so at a single cavalryman or anything that showed itself. They were short now, but a supply would come evidently every now and then, for they would blaze away for a day or so, then there would be a lull again. They were short on officers, too, but not so much as you might think, because they kept their officers well back of the line, generally. Their artillery was better than the infantry, as a rule; the latter shot carelessly and generally too high.
Both he and the officer at my left—a big, farmer-like commissary man— spoke most amiably of the Russians. The latter told of one place where both sides had to get water out of the same well. And there was no trouble. "No," he said, in his deep voice, "they're not hose," using the same word "bad" one would apply to a naughty boy. They were a particularly chipper lot, these artillerymen, and when I told the young lieutenant, who had been assigned to speak French to me under the notion that I was more at home in that language, that I had stopped at Queens Hotel instead of the St. Antoine in Antwerp, and that the Belgian army had crossed the Scheldt, and the pontoon bridge had been blown up directly in front of the hotel, he said that he would "certainly engage rooms there for the next bombardment," as he waved good-by.
We were presented, while in Lemberg, to General Bom-Ermolli, and lunched at the headquarters mess. We also met Major-General Bardolf, his chief of staff, and chief of staff of the assassinated Crown Prince. The latter described to us the campaign about Lemberg, and it was interesting to hear the rasping accent he gave to a word like "Durchbrechung," for instance, as if he were a Prussian instead of an Austrian, and to observe the frankness with which he ascribed the difference that had come over the spirit of the Austro-Hungarian army to the coming of Mackensen and the Germans.
West of Lemberg the pleasant country lost its war-time air and in Przemysl the two or three lonely Landsturm men guarding the wrecked fortifications, twice taken and twice blown up by retreating armies, lit candles to take us through the smashed galleries, and accepted a few Hellers when we came out, with quite the bored air of professional museum guides.
The town of Przemysl itself was untouched. The greater part of the visible damage to the forts, some distance outside the town, was done by the dynamite of the retreating army. In one place, however, we saw the crater of one of the 42-centimetre shells which have been talked about oftener than they have been used. The Austrian "thirty-point-fives" have done much of the smashing ascribed to the "forty-twos," and ordinary work, like that of bombarding a city or infantry trenches, by cannon of smaller caliber. A genuine forty-two had been dropped here, however, we were told, on a building used by the Russians to store ammunition, and the building had simply disappeared. There was nothing left but a crater sixty or seventy feet across and eighteen to twenty feet deep.
We trailed westward, through Tarnow, where the great drive first broke through, and on to the pleasant old university city of Cracow on the frontier of the Poland of which it was once the capital, and to which it belonged until the partition of 1795. It was toward Cracow that the Russians were driving when they first started for Berlin, and they were but a stone's throw away most of the winter. We got to Cracow on the Emperor's birthday and saw a military mass on the great parade-ground with the commandant of the fort standing uncovered and alone facing the altar, behind him his staff, and perhaps a hundred yards behind them and stretching for a quarter of a mile down the field, the garrison. At the intervals in the mass the whole garrison fired salutes, the volleys going down the field, a battalion at a time, now and then reinforced by the cannon on Kosciusko Hill.
Cracow is Polish in atmosphere and feeling, and even in the few hours we were there one heard a good deal of Polish hopes and ambitions. The independence which Russia was to grant must come now, it would appear, from some one else. The Poles want a king of their own, but apparently they preferred to be under the wing of Austria rather than of Germany. The Germans, who had laid rather a firm hand on the parts of Poland they had occupied, might not fall in with this notion and one could detect here one of those clouds, "no bigger than a man's hand," which dramatists put in the first act, and which often swell to interesting proportions before the final curtain goes down.
In The Dust Of The Russian Retreat
Warsaw had fallen, and Ivangorod, and the centre of the German and Austro-Hungarian armies, sweeping across eastern Europe like beaters across a prairie, was now before Brest-Litovsk. This was the apex of this central triangle of Russian forts, a city and a rail-road centre as well as a fortress, and the last strongly fortified place on the direct road to Moscow. It seemed as if the Russians must make a stand here, and even though we were four or five days getting there, the heavy artillery was not yet up, and there might still be time.
We wound through the green hills and under the ruined castles of northern Hungary in the afternoon, rolled slowly up across Silesia and into Russian Poland in the night, and came at noon to Radom, only sixty-five miles south of Warsaw. Hindenburg had been here in October, 1914, when he invaded Poland to draw off the Russians from Galicia, then the Russian offensive had rolled over the place. The Russians had held it all the winter; now they were a hundred and fifty miles eastward— beyond the Vistula and the Bug—"boog," not "bug," by the way—and just hanging to the edge of Poland.
The war had scarcely touched Budapest and Vienna—scarcely touched the ordinary city surfaces, that is to say. In hotels and cafes, streets and parks, life flowed on almost as brightly as ever. Farther north, in the Hungarian towns and villages, life still went on as usual, but one felt the grip of war—you might not go there nor move about without a military pass. Beyond Radom, where now in the pleasant park the very literary Polish young people were strolling, reading as they walked, there was, so to speak, no ordinary life at all—only the desert of war and the curious, intense, and complicated life of those who made it. Our car was hitched to a long transport-train—for it would be another two days before the automobiles would come back for us from the front— and we rode into this deserted Polish country toward Ivangorod.
It had all been fought over at least twice—railroad stations and farm buildings burned, bridges dynamited, telegraph-poles cut down. The stations now were mere board shelters for a commandant and a soldiers' lunch-room; the bridges, timber bridges flung across by the pioneers; and the sawed-off telegraph-poles, spliced between railroad rails to save cutting new ones, were stuck back into the ground like forks. The Russians had a rather odd way of burning stations and leaving the rails, the important thing, intact, but here and there they had neatly destroyed them for miles by exploding a cartridge under the end of each.
The country is level here—fields interspersed with dark pine forests, planted in the European fashion, to be grown and harvested like any other crop—parks of living telephone-posts, thick as the quills of a porcupine. And through these pines and across the fields were the eternal Russian trenches, carefully built, timber-lined, sometimes roofed and sodded over, with rifle holes under the eaves. Barbed-wire entanglements, seven rows deep sometimes, trailed in front of them, through timber, through the long grass and flowers of marsh-land, a wicked foggy band against the green as far as one could see. Along the Galician front and in the Carpathians I had seen mile after mile of such trenches, timber-work, wires, and Spanish riders left behind, good as new, until it began to seem as if war were a peculiarly absurd game, consisting principally in chopping down good trees and digging ditches, and then going somewhere else.
In front of Ivangorod great preparations had been made. There was no town here, but the great fortress, with its citadel, barracks, machine-shops, gardens, church, and protecting forts, was almost a city in itself. It had a garrison of twenty thousand, and its gigantic concrete walls, covered over with earth and grass, its, moat and barbed wire, looked formidable enough. It had no modern heavy artillery, however, and even if it had, artillery in a fixed, known spot is comparatively helpless against the mobile guns, screened by hills and timber, besiegers can bring against it. Elaborate earthworks had, therefore, been thrown up several miles to the west of the fortress, but these became useless when the enemy, crossing the Vistula to north and south, swung round to cut off the one way out—the railroad to Brest-Litovsk.
The Russians might have shut themselves in and waited—not very long, probably—until the big "thirty-point-fives" smashed the fort to pieces. They chose to get out in time, blew up the railroad bridge across the Bug, burned the barracks, and, with enough dynamite to give a good imitation of an earthquake, tumbled the walls and galleries of the fortress into melancholy heaps of rock.
It was dusk when we rolled into Ivangorod and into the thick of that vast and complicated labor which goes on in the rear of an advancing army—all that laborious building up which follows the retreating army's orgy of tearing down—bridge builders, an acre or two of transport horses, blacksmiths and iron-workers, a semi-permanent bakery, the ovens, on wheels, like thrashing-machine engines, dropping sparks and sending out a sweet, warm, steamy smell of corn and wheat. It never stopped, this bakery, night or day, and the bread was piled up in a big tent near by like cord-wood.
And here you could see the amount of trouble that can be made by blowing up a railroad bridge. First, of course, a new timber bridge has to be flung across, and the Vistula is a good two hundred yards wide here and the river was high. Up ahead the army was fighting forward, dependent, for the moment, on what came across that bridge. A train arrives, hundreds of tons of freight which normally would roll across the river in a few puffs of a cigarette. The cars must be opened, each box and sack taken out by hand, carried down a bank, loaded into a wagon; the wagons creep over the pontoons, struggle through the sand on the other side, then each piece must be unloaded and put on a train again.
An axle breaks, the returning line waits an hour for the other to cross, a sixty-foot pine log for the new railway bridge wedges fast in turning a corner and stops everything—you must imagine them at it all day, sweating and swearing in all the dialects of the dual monarchy—all night, with fagged horses and drivers dazed with sleep, in the blaze of a search-light reaching out over the river. Meanwhile a tall timber railroad bridge was creeping across. There was no pile-driver engine, and at each cluster of piles fifteen or twenty Russian prisoners, in their brown service uniforms, hung to as many ropes—"Heave... whack! Heave... whack!"—in quaint retribution for what a few sticks of dynamite had done a fortnight before.
A thousand fresh Hungarian troops had just come in next morning, and were waiting for their coffee, when the word came by field-telephone that a Russian flier was dropping bombs about twenty kilometres away. It was fine hunting-ground—men, horses, stores, and the new bridge—but he sailed away, and we drove a dozen miles up the Vistula to New Alexandria, burned during the enveloping movement on Ivangorod.
All along the way were trenches, telltale yellow lines of sand winding among the pines, gun positions, barbed wire, and every now and then a big plane-tree, with ladders running up to an artillery observation platform. I climbed up one of them on cleats worn by Russian boots for a look at the Vistula and the string of Red Cross barges, filled with wounded, going up the river. The children hereabout, at any rate, will revere the Russians, for their pioneers had carried that winding stairway up to the very tip-top of the tree in a manner only seen in dreams or picture-books.
All the farmhouses had been burned, and the peasants were just returning. We passed several tired mothers with babies in shawls hanging from their shoulders and little boys trudging behind with some rusty kettle or coffee-pot, and once a woman, standing in the ruins of her house, of which only the chimney was left, calmly cooking her dinner.
New Alexandria, a pleasant little town, grown up round an old chateau, and used as a sort of summer resort by Warsaw people, was nothing but blackened chimneys and heaps of brick. The Russians had burned everything, and the inhabitants, who had fled into the pines, were just now beginning to straggle back. Some had set up little stands in front of their burned houses and were trying to sell apples, plums, pears, about the only marketable thing left; some were cleaning brick and trying to rebuild, some contented themselves with roofing over their cellars. And while we were observing these domestic scenes, the army, which had taken the outer forts by assault the preceding night, was marching into burning Brest-Litovsk.
It was another day before the motors came and we could get under way and whirl through such a cross-section of a modern army's life as one could scarcely have seen in the west of Europe since the Germans first came rolling down on Paris. No suburban warfare this; none of that hideous, burrowing, blowing up, methodically squashing out yard after yard of trenches and men. This was war in the grand old style—an army on the march, literally, down roads smoky with dust and sunshine, across bridges their own pioneers had built, a river of men and horses, wagons and guns, from one hazy blue horizon to another.
And all these men had come from victory and knew they were marching to it. How far they were going none could tell, but the gods were with them—so might the Grand Army have looked when it started eastward a hundred years ago. Men and horses had been pouring down that road for weeks—on each side of the macadam highway the level, unfenced fields were trampled flat. It was fully one hundred and twenty miles, as the motor road ran, to Brest-Litovsk, and there was scarce a moment when, if we were not in the thick of them, we were not at least in sight of wagons, motors, horses, and men. And, of course, this was but the rear of the army; the fighting men proper were up in front. The dust hung like fog in the autumn sunshine. Drivers were black with it; in the distance, on parallel roads, it climbed high in the still air like smoke from burning villages. And out of this dust, as we whizzed on, our soldier chauffeur, whistle in mouth, shrieking for room, appeared pontoon trains—big steel scows on top, beams underneath, cut, numbered, and ready to put together; trains of light farm wagons, wide at the top, slanting toward the middle, commandeered from all over Austria-Hungary at the beginning of the war and driven, some by soldiers, but oftener by civilians with the yellow Austrian bands on their arms; heavy ammunition wagons drawn by four horse; with a soldier outrider astride one of the leaders, and from time to time columns of reserves, older men for the most part, bound for guard duty, probably, shuffling along in loose order. Round and through these wagon-trains, in a swirl of dust, rumbled and swayed big motor-trucks, and once or twice, scattering everything with a lilting "Ta-te... Ta-da" the gray motor, the flash of scarlet, pale blue, and gold, and the bronzed, begoggled, imperial visage of some one high in command.
Once we passed a big Austrian mortar, covered with tarpaulin, by the side of the road, and again two big 20-centimetre guns, which had not had time to get up to Brest-Litovsk. This is where you find the heavy artillery nowadays, quite as likely as in a fort, on some hard highway, where it can easily be moved and sheltered, not behind concrete, but some innocent-looking apple-tree. Each fence corner was chalked with letters and numbers intelligible to the drivers, who passed that way; each bridge, down to the few boards across a ditch, had been examined by the pioneers, rebuilt if necessary, and a neat little sign set up on it, telling whether or not the heavy artillery could safely cross. Flowing back toward this huge, confident, onrushing organism, the peasants— timid, halting, weary, and dust-covered, with wagons heaped with furniture, beds, hay for the horses, with the littlest children and those too old to walk—were returning to the charred ruins of their homes. They, too—like the grass—had their unconquerable strength.
The same patience and quiet courage which had struck me in Antwerp as peculiarly Belgian, was here again in these Poles, Slovaks, and Ruthenians, whose boys, perhaps, were fighting with the armies which had driven the Belgians out. You would see peasant mothers with their children hanging from their shoulders—women who had been tramping for days, perhaps, and might have days yet to tramp before they reached the heap of charred bricks that had once been a home. Nearly all had a cow, sometimes pulling back on its halter and filling the air with lamentation, sometimes harnessed with the horse to the family wagon. They had their pet dogs and birds, the little girls their kittens; from the front of one wagon poked the foolish head of a colt. Babies scarcely big enough to sit up crammed their little fingers into their eyes to shut out the dust; bigger children, to whom the ride would be, no doubt, the event of their lives, laughed and clapped their hands, and old men on foot took off their caps, after the fashion of the country, and bowed gravely as we whirled past. It seemed as if it were we who should do the saluting.
From the fields, as we whirled into and out of layers of air, sharply, as one does in a motor, came now the odor of ripe straw, now a whiff of coffee from a "goulash cannon," steaming away behind its troop like the calliope in the old-fashioned circus, and now and then, from some thicket or across a clover field, the sharp, dismaying smell of rotting flesh. The countryside lay so tranquil under the August sun that it was only when one saw a dead animal lying in an open field that one recalled the fire that, a few days before, must have crisscrossed this whole country, as now, doubtless, in constant cavalry fights and rear-guard skirmishes, it was crisscrossing the country up ahead.
Half an hour short of Brest-Litovsk an unfinished bridge turned us off into a potato field. The soft ground had long since been pounded flat, as the army, swinging round to the north, had crossed on a pontoon a mile or two lower down. The motor plunged, snarled, and stopped, and again, as we shovelled in front and pushed behind, we knew why armies burn bridges behind them.
Past us, as we sweated there, the slow but surer wagon-trains ploughed forward. One, a German train, stopped beside us to bait their horses— officers of the Landwehr or Landsturm type, who looked as if they might be, as doubtless they were, lawyers, professors, or successful business men at home. They were from a class who, with us, would generally be helpless in the field, yet these bronzed, bearded, thoughtful-looking men seemed just as familiar with the details of their present job as with the work they had left behind.
Ever since we had crossed into Poland this sober, steel-gray stream had been mingling with and stiffening our lighter-hearted, more boyish, blue-gray stream of Austrians and Hungarians. Here were men who knew what they were doing, believed in it, and had the will to put it through. One thought of Emerson's "Earnest of the North Wind" whenever they came in sight.
Those who talk of "frightfulness" and get their notions of German soldiers from the vaporings of sedentary publicists, who know no more of them than may be seen through the pipe smoke of their own editorial rooms, are destined to a melancholy awakening. You may prefer your own ways, but you cannot make them prevail by blackguarding the other man's weaknesses; you must beat him where he is strong.
Lies and the snobbish ridicule with which our magazines and papers have been full, run off men like these like water off a duck. These men are in earnest. They have work to do. No one who has heard them singing the "Wacht am Rhein" through the starlight of garrisoned towns all the way from the Channel to the Carpathians, will talk of their being "stolid"; but they have, it is true, no coltishness. They are grown up. And this discipline of theirs does not mean, as so many people seem to think it does, being compelled to do what you don't want to do. It means doing what you are told to do as well as it possibly can be done, no matter how small it is nor who is looking on—a sense of duty which makes every switchman behind the lines act as if he were Von Hindenburg. The thing of theirs, this will-power and moral earnestness, is one of the things that last—something before which the merely frivolous has always gone down and always will.
The road down which we were going was, in a general way, the path already taken by the Austrian and Hungarian troops which had stormed the outer works at Kobilany two days before and been the first to enter the town. What happened was much like what had happened at Ivangorod. A German corps crossed the Bug to north and south and closed in on the rail-road, the Sixth Austro-Hungarian Corps under Corps General of Infantry Arz attacked the centre. The Russians sent the entire civil population eastward, removed their artillery and everything of value they could take, and set fire to the city. There was a brief artillery preparation to which the Russians, who all through this retreat appeared to be short in ammunition and artillery, replied for a time; then the outer forts were stormed, and when the Sixth Corps entered the burning city the Russians, except for the rear-guard prisoners, were gone.
We swung past a freight yard littered with over-turned cars, through a tangle of wagons—army wagons pushing one way and distracted peasants the other—over a pontoon across the narrow Bug and on into the town.
A city of sixty-five thousand people, with the exception of a church or two and houses that could almost be counted on one's fingers, was a waste of gaping windows and blackened chimneys. The Russians' purpose was not altogether clear, for the town was their town, and its destruction at this time of the year could not seriously embarrass a well-provisioned, confident enemy, but they had, at any rate, wiped it off the map. Not a woman, a child, a glimmer of peaceful life; only smouldering ruins, the occasional abandoned rifles and cartridge-boxes of the army that had retired, and the endless wagon-trains of the army pursuing them.
All the dust through which we had ridden since morning seemed to have gathered over that dismal wreck. It was a fog in the streets, on which darkness was already settling—streets without a lamp or a sound except that from the onflowing trains. Through this dust we tried to find the headquarters of the Sixth Army Corps. To its commander our passes took us and without him we had no reason for being in Brest-Litovsk. Nobody knew where the Sixth was. Two Hungarian officers, hurrying by in a commandeered carriage, shouted back something about the "church with a blue cupola"; somebody else said "near the schnapps factory"; a beaming young lieutenant, helping to disentangle wagon-trains at the main street comers, said that the Sixth had marched at three that morning. We had driven all day with nothing to eat but a bit of war bread and chocolate, we were black with dust, there was not a crumb in the place that did not belong to the army, and we sat there in the thickening dusk, almost as much adrift as a raft in mid-ocean,
The two armies—wagon-trains, that is to say—were crossing each other at that corner. The Germans were going one way, the Austro-Hungarians the other—tired, dust-covered horses and men, anonymous cogs in the vast machine, which had been following the man ahead since the day before, like enough, and might go on into another day before they could make camp.
Young Hungarian officers greeted one another gayly, and exchanged the day's adventures and news; young Germans rode by, slim, serious, and self-contained. Now the stream would stop as one line tried to break through the other, puzzled drivers would yank their horses back, then some determined section commander would come charging back, fling his horse into the tangle—wagon tongues jammed into the canopy in front, protestations in German, Hungarian, Polish, Slovak, goodness knows what, until at last one line gave way and the other shot forward through the dust again.
I had been in another captured city, with the besieged then, and when I think of Antwerp it is of the creepy, bright stillness during the bombardment—the autumn sun, the smell of dead leaves, the shuttered streets, without a sound except when a shell came screaming in from the country or, a block or so away, there was a detonation and some facade came rumbling down. But when I think of Brest-Litovsk it will be of dust—dust like fog and thickened with the smoke and twilight—and that strange, wild, creaking stream of wagons fighting through it as they might have fought in the days when Europe was young and whole races of men came pouring over the frontiers.
We started off finally on foot through streets silent as the grave—not a person, not a lamp, not so much as a barking dog, as queer and as creepy as some made-up thing in a theatre. Once we stumbled past a naked and dismembered trunk set up beside a doorway—a physician's manikin that chance or some sinister clown had left there. Once—and one of the strangest sounds I ever heard—behind the closed up-stair shutters of an apothecary's shop, whose powders and poisons were strewn over the sidewalk, a piano haltingly played with one finger.
At last a light, an open door, a sentry—and this was, indeed, theatrical—a lighted room and a long table set with candles, flowers, and wine. The commander of the Sixth Corps had just been decorated with the order "Pour le merite" and he and his officers were dining before taking up the march. He welcomed us in the true Hungarian style, grabbed me by the arms and asked if I was hungry, apologized for their frugal war-time fare, told how splendidly his men had behaved, had a word and a place for every-body, as if we were all old friends.
There were three rooms full of officers, and every-one half rose and bowed in military fashion as we made our way between the tables to our seats at the end of the third. An amiable young signal-officer who had been at his telephone some thirty kilometres away when the city was taken and was off at three next morning, sat opposite me and told with great spirit how the only common language between him and some of his polyglot men was the English he had learned in school and they had picked up in America.
We slept on commandeered mattresses that night on the floor of a vacant house, with a few Hungarian hussars still singing over the victory in the back yard, and got up to find the crowded town of the night before as empty as the old camp-ground the day after the circus.