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Over the Front in an Aeroplane and Scenes Inside t

Went the General in his baggy red riding breeches


He

said he would begin by himself taking us to an observation-point at the top of a high hill, whence we could follow the whole sweep of front from about the point where it had yesterday run out of our sight, on for many miles to the Aisne and well beyond it.

Up the hill we went at about as fast a walk as I have ever used on a stiff up-grade. Beside me, setting the pace, went the General in his baggy red riding-breeches, his tight-fitting black tunic, his well-polished black-leather puttees and shapely boots. As we climbed at top speed he talked a steady and most interesting stream. I began to listen for any symptoms of the pace affecting his breath. But not a bit of it; on he walked and on he talked. It was a hot day and the sweat began to drip off of me in spite of my cool khaki clothes. But the General in his black-cloth tunic and red breeches remained as cool as a cucumber. By the time we legged it over the crest of the hill I would have been willing to back him in a walking contest against any one of the twenty thousand men in his division.

Now we walked along a level path through woods till we came to an open space on the hillside.

The General stopped abruptly. "Don't go further here," he snapped out, "the Germans might see us through their glasses. They've got them constantly trained on this hill to try to locate my observation-post. They have not struck it yet, though

the other day they happened to drop a shell not far from it which killed two of my officers."

So we retraced our steps a short distance and took another path which avoided the open place on the hillside.

Finally we reached the observation-post, carefully screened by an artificial bower of pine boughs. Maps were tacked on a rude table, while a big telescope stuck its muzzle surreptitiously out between the boughs.

The young General pointed out the two white trench lines pursuing each other league on league across the face of the summer landscape below us, now abruptly approaching, now coyly withdrawing from each other in their deadly courtship. He ran swiftly over the various features of interest: That white scar on the slope down yonder was where the French had recently exploded a great mine under the Germans. Particularly bloody fighting had been going on at that point. Those roofs in the hollow the other side of that little hill were the village of Bery-au-Bac, which so frequently appeared in the official communiques as the scene of desperate attacks. Over there beyond the canal in that angle between it and the Aisne for perhaps half a kilometre there was a complete gap in the trench lines which were popularly supposed to run uninterruptedly from the North Sea to the Alps. Still further over yonder the hostile trenches approached each other so closely that one of those houses had one end occupied by the French and the other by the Germans.

"Over there," said the General with a sweep of his hand and a shake of his head, "occurred one of the great misfortunes of the battle of the Marne. Our troops there had hurled the Germans back across the Aisne and clear back over those hills. But the French troops over here more to the left had had their advance checked by the retreating Germans. Now those troops to the right were so far ahead that they had lost touch with the ones to the left. Had they been veteran troops they could easily have manoeuvred the backward troops up into line with themselves, and had they done this, with the Germans forced back beyond that line of natural defense, the Craonne plateau positions would have been turned and there is no knowing how far the German retreat might have been compelled to continue. But alas! they were green troops, and when they had waited and found that the troops to their left were not linking up with them they fell back from their precious territory to form a line with their fellows. And that is why we are here to-day."


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