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Over the Front in an Aeroplane and Scenes Inside t

Through a spider's web of barbed wire


Every

few yards, set in little recesses dug out from the back of the trench, stood fat bottles. They contained chemicals with which to soak the soldiers' mouth-coverings if attacked by poisoned gas.

The trench was nearly empty of men. But at the loophole nearest me stood the rigid figure of a soldier. His legs were invisible in the darkness. His body showed up vaguely. His face was brilliantly lighted by the thin blade of light through the rifle-slit. He stood silent and motionless, his eyes intently focussed out into the sunlight.

I looked through the next slit, through a spider's web of barbed wire, between stunted black posts, across two hundred yards of green grass and wild flowers, at another tangle of posts and barbed wire with a narrow furrow of white chalky soil running along just behind it--the German trenches.

Not a living thing was in sight in the sunny loneliness. There was silence except for the crack, crack, crack of striking bullets from inaudible German rifles. I looked back at the face of the "guetteur," the watcher. His eyes, fixed on the narrow white line, were puckered with intentness, but his lips were parted in an easy, good-humored smile, brightening a face young, clean-cut, alert, calm and very patient.

He seemed to symbolize the spirit of the new France, the France of endurance, of determination, of buoyancy, of patience,

the stoic France that can keep silent and motionless, the France that can stand in the darkness undismayed, watching and waiting till the moment comes to leap up and out into the light.

Early that morning, from the window of a chateau on the edge of a high plateau, a young staff-officer had shown me the great plain of Champagne stretching away to the low hills on the horizon. Miles away lay Rheims, made to seem squatty by the cathedral which towered in its midst.

Across the green fields of the panorama, over swelling hills, disappearing into dark woods, reappearing at the other end, I saw two tiny lines of white like the aimless tracing of a child's slate-pencil on a slate. They ran on across the landscape, now drawn boldly forward, now swerving with indecision, now zigzagging with perplexity. Sometimes the child's pencil had slipped and made short little lines at right angles. Sometimes the pencil had made three or four short starts parallel with each other before it finally got under way. Sometimes it had made a regular little maze of lines. But always the two white scratchings on the slate were drawn on and on till, wavering but always close abreast, the trenches of the two armies disappeared into the far distance.

Through powerful glasses the officer showed me little puffs of smoke floating up from the sunny, silent, peaceful landscape. They were from the exploding shells. To the right I saw a high cloud of smoke rising lazily into the air out of some woods. It was a house in the German lines fired by French shells. And, though the little puffs of smoke were only here and there on the landscape, everywhere I could see through the glasses the microscopic figures of peasants working busily in their fields, bringing in the harvest. Many were soldiers helping out, but very many were old men, boys and women. Again the scene seemed symbolical.


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