F. BRITTEN AUSTIN
AUTHOR OF M IN ACTION," " THE SHAPING OF LAVINIA
HODDER AND STOUGHTON
LONDON NEW YORK TORONTO
IN HIS PRIVATE AFFECTIONS
THE PATTERN OF STINTLESS FRIENDSHIP
IN HIS SELFLESS PATRIOTISM
THE MODEL OF A TRUE ENGLISHMAN
THE8E SKETCHES OF HUMANITY AT STRIFE
IN THE GRATITUDE OF A LONG MEMORY
The Battery (1914)
Pro Patria ....
Nerves ! .
The Air SeouT (1914) .
Kultur (1915) ....
The Magio of Muhammed Din .
The Other Side ....
Per la Piu Grande Italia !
Nach Verdun !
The Chatelaine of Lysbois^e
They Come Back ....
Practically all these stories have appeared in the
Strand Magazine, Pearson's Magazine, Pall Mall
Magazine, or The Sphere. To the Editors of these
periodicals I tender my acknowledgments.
It is fair to state that some of these stories, in
particular " The Battery," " The Air Scout," " Pro
Patria," " Nerves," were written and in some cases
appeared before the present War.
THE BATTERY (1914)
The sun hung in the mists of morning, swollen,
blood-red, a symbol of augury, as the artillery
brigade pulled out of the village where it had been
billeted for the night. At the tail of its long line of
slowly moving vehicles marched a compact column
of brown-clad infantry. In front moved a squadron
of cavalry. The lieutenant-colonel commanding the
brigade trotted smartly past the batteries with his
staff. Fresh from an interview with the divisional
artillery commander, he tried not to look pre-
occupied and anxious as he met the searching eyes
of his men. From an unknown distance a dull thud,
irregularly repeated, vibrated through the dense
atmosphere. The colonel raised his head sharply
to listen. The men in the column exchanged glances
full of meaning.
The dull concussions continued, but the column
did not increase its pace. The long line of guns and
wagons rolled onward at a steady walk, amid a
jangle of chains and harness. The gunners on the
limbers smoked and talked. Occasionally there was
a burst of laughter. It seemed that that ominous
thudding was a summons which concerned them not
at all. In the fog which drifted in patches across the
road its origin seemed enormously remote.
2/ ' ; !'; y\0 tHE BATTERY (1914)
The junior subaltern of the third and last battery
in the column heard the sound with less indifference.
Each of those muffled shocks came to him like a
knock upon his heart. He listened for them anxiously
and shuddered, in spite of himself, as the air vibrated
on his ears. He needed none to tell him their mean-
ing, novel though the sound was to him. They were
the first long shots of the opening battle. As he
listened, blindfold as it were in that fog, his animal
tissues shrunk at this menace of an untried experience,
while at the same time another part of him, the
dominant, grew fretfully anxious lest the battery
was too far in rear, lest they should be too late. The
conflict of these opposing impulses in him made him
nervous and fidgety. He wanted to talk to someone,
to discuss the situation, to exchange opinions upon a
host of possibilities. He looked longingly at the
No. 1 of the leading gun of his section as he
walked his horse at the side of the leaders and chatted
quietly to the driver. The sergeant appeared so
calm, so strong with already acquired experience.
He felt almost irresistibly impelled to enter into
conversation with him — opening phrases kept coming
to his tongue — but a shame at the weakness of his
own nerve restrained him. He braced himself with a
thought of his rank and responsibilities and remained
silent. The subaltern was new to war and new to
the battery. He had come straight from the " Shop "
with a draft of men to replace the wastage of the last
battle. He was very young and, until that morning,
very proud of himself.
Unexpectedly, the column halted. Why ? The
THE BATTERY (1914) 3
subaltern chafed. It was intolerable to idle there
upon the road with that urgent summons momen-
tarily shaking the air. The concussions followed one
another much more quickly now and came with a
sharper sound. They seemed to run all along a wide
arc stretched far to right and left in front of him.
Occasionally they came in heavy salvos that swal-
lowed the noise of isolated shots. He could see
nothing. The fog lay thick upon the road, a white
curtain against which danced black specks as he
strained his eyes at it. The column stood still and
silent. Only a jingling of chains arose as the horses
nosed at each other. Presently, as the passengers in
a fog-bound train hear the rumble of the other train
for which they wait, a sound came to him out of the
mist and explained the halt. It was the hollow
rhythmic tramp of infantry. The sound increased
and then maintained itself at a uniform pitch. In
the distance the artillery salvos followed one another
ever more quickly, peal on peal of thunder. Still the
hollow beat of boots upon the road continued. The
subaltern swore to himself. Were they to wait there
while the entire army passed ? At last the hollow
sound diminished, died down, ceased. A sharply
uttered order ran down the column. The line of
vehicles moved on again.
For a long time they marched through the fog,
drawing ever nearer to the cannonade. There were
no more halts. Nevertheless it seemed to the sub-
altern that their progress was wilfully, culpably slow.
As a matter of fact, the column, responding to the
magnetism of battle, had involuntarily quickened
4 THE BATTERY (1914)
pace. The physical anxiety of the subaltern com-
municated itself to, and was misinterpreted by, his
brain. He imagined that he was concerned wholly
for the fate of the army if deprived of the valuable
support of the brigade to which he was attached. He
conceived enormous disasters hinging on their non-
appearance. Suddenly he noticed, with surprise, that
his knees were trembling against the saddle, his hands
shaking as they held the reins. This discovery startled
him. His anxiety for the army was obliterated by
another. Could he be sure of himself ? A spasm of
alarm shot through him. Would that calm mysterious
higher self in him lose control ? He had a glimpse of
himself in a whirlwind of sensations, a maddened
animal dashing to escape. It must not be. He exer-
cised his volition as an athlete exercises a muscle,
testing it. Desperately, he willed himself to immo-
bility. The tremor in his limbs did not cease. He
agonised lest someone should perceive it. Sweat
broke out on his forehead. Nevertheless his brain
was clear. He held fast to that. Never mind what
his body did, at all costs his brain must be kept clear
and cool. Engaged in these introspections he forgot
the fog, forgot the lagging brigade, forgot the ever-
swelling uproar in front of him.
Suddenly the mist broke, rolled away from a sunlit
landscape. They were at the summit of a slight eleva-
tion. About them was open country, dotted with
trees and farms. In front the road dropped and then
mounted. He looked over the heads of the artillery-
men before him and saw a long column of infantrymen
ascending the further hill. It was for that column that
THE BATTERY (1914) 5
the brigade had waited. The recognition of the fact
reawakened perception through a linked memory. He
heard again the pealing thunder of the guns, to which
for some minutes he had been oblivious. Instantly
an intense, anxious curiosity took possession of him.
Where were they fighting ? In the fog his mind had
formed a picture of lines of guns coughing out flame
and noise at each other, desperately in conflict, just
at the other side of the curtain drawn before his eyes.
Now, the veil dropped, he looked at reality and only
so much of the picture persisted as to puzzle him.
Save for the column marching ahead there was no
sign of life in that open countryside. Yet the air was
full of sound. No longer was it a series of dull con-
cussions. It was one vast, continuous, ringing roar,
broken at intervals by the sound of violent fracture
as a puff of wind came to his cheek. Excitedly, he
strained his eyes at the distances, seeking some point
where he could localise the conflict. There was
nothing. Yes ! Far ahead of him, beyond the hill which
the infantry were climbing, a faint haze of smoke hung
in the air. In that haze tiny puffs sprang into being
and spread lazily. There, then ! Encouraged, his
gaze searched the landscape. Far to his left, over a
little wood that closed the view, hung another such
haze, and, as his eyes ranged over the country, he saw
a line of smoke-puffs leap from nowhere above a hill
to his right. The line was constantly renewed until
the smoke trailed across the blue sky like a cloud. A
thrill ran through him. He forgot himself, lost all
memory of his doubts. He quivered, but it was with
eagerness to rush into the fight. Oh, to mount that
6 THE BATTERY (1914)
hill and see what was happening ! The infantry drew
up over it, disappeared beyond the summit like a
snake drawing in its tail. The artillery crawled
He was calculating the minutes that must elapse
before their arrival on the crest when suddenly his
hopes were dashed. The brigade was turning off
along a by-road to the left. Baulked of his desire, he
swore savagely, almost with tears. A man on the
limber near him looked up in sharp surprise. He
desisted, clenching his teeth. Inwardly he raged. As
he too swung round the corner, his back to the direc-
tion of the smoke-cloud he had so excitedly watched,
it seemed that he was turning out of the battle. The
brigade moved for some distance along that road and
then halted, drawn close in to the hedge. Behind
them swelled the noise of tramping infantry, growing
louder. The men who had followed them were going
to pass. They came, swinging along at a good pace,
steadily rhythmic. They passed, endlessly. The sub-
altern found himself gazing curiously at the faces of
men in the stream. Some were stern and set, some
laughed carelessly, some shouted jokes to the artillery-
men, many were strangely haggard and drawn. He
noticed one man who gazed at nothing with a rapt
expression. His lips were moving. He was praying.
They were going into battle. The subaltern was again
aware of the thunder of the guns.
The brigade waited. The tramp of the infantry
had long since ceased. They seemed alone, forgotten,
on the road. Suddenly an order was passed down
the column. The subaltern repeated it, almost before
THE BATTERY (1914) 7
he was aware that he had heard it. " No. 3 Section —
Prepare for action ! " Instantly the gun detachments
leaped to the ground. The breech and muzzle covers
were removed and strapped to the front of the gun
shields. The breech, the firing mechanism, the
ranging gear, the sights were swiftly examined. The
men on the ammunition wagons tested the opening
of the lids, looked to the fuse indicator, saw that the
fuses were at safety. These things done, they re-
sumed their seats. The subaltern's heart beat fast.
Minute after minute passed. The brigade waited
in all readiness to move. Presently the order came.
" Walk !— March !— Trot ! " They passed quickly
along the road. The subaltern looked ahead, saw his
battery leader turn through a gate into a broad
meadow on the right. The other batteries were
turning into the field further up. He lost sight of
one of them. He arrived at the gate, wheeled into it.
" By the left— Form Battery Column ! " The sub-
sections of single guns drew out and up level with the
other gun of the section, each with its following wagon.
The first line or reserve wagons dropped behind. The
battery trotted smartly forward across the field. It
was a large meadow, unintersected by hedge or ditch,
rising gently to the ridge whereto their original road
had climbed. At the summit was a small copse. Far
in front the subaltern saw a group of horsemen riding
swiftly towards it. He knew it for the colonel and
his staff. Between him and them was a mounted
figure, halted, and, some distance further away,
another figure. It was the battery commander and
8 THE BATTERY (1914)
the sergeant-major marking the position of the
battery and the line of fire. The battery went on.
The ridge was looming up close in front. " By the
left — Form Line ! " The guns wheeled into a long
line. Their accompanying wagons slackened speed,
fell some forty yards in rear. " Walk ! — Halt ! —
Action Front ! " The guns stopped. The detach-
ments leaped down. Two men seized the gun -trail,
unhooked it from the limber, gave the order " Limber
drive on ! " The horses trotted quickly round in a
half-circle and went to the rear. The trail was carried
round, reversing the gun. A moment later the atten-
dant wagon came up, placing itself close on the left,
its axle a little in rear of the gun-axle. About each
gun in the line there was a second or two of busy
movement. The No. 1 threw back the traversing
lever, laid the gun approximately in the true direction,
noted the level of the wheels. Others lowered the
shield, put on the brakes, fixed the sights. Two
others opened the ammunition wagon and half with-
drew a number of rounds in readiness. The subaltern's
horseholder came up. As he surrendered his mount
he felt that he was stepping into the arena.
He looked along the line of guns. The detachments
of each were in position, motionless — No. 1 kneeling
on the left side of the trail, 2 on the seat on the right-
hand side, 3 on the left, 4 kneeling behind 3, 5 and 6
kneeling in rear of the wagon by the gun. At the
right-hand end of the line was the battery commander.
In front of him a wagon-limber had been placed for
his protection. Up the hill-side men were swiftly
paying out a telephone wire. A lieutenant and a
THE BATTERY (1914) 9
couple of look-out men were cantering up to join the
party now halted at the side of the copse.
The subaltern turned to see the captain of the
battery at his side. He smiled and nodded. " How
do you feel ? " he asked. " Shivery ? " The captain
was in command of the first-line wagons in reserve.
He stood near the battery to watch the expenditure
The subaltern placed himself behind the wagon of
his gun nearest the commander, and waited, stiffly
erect. He felt himself tingling with eagerness, yet he
could scarcely bring himself to believe that this was
battle. It might have been parade. He forgot the
all -swallowing roar about him, remembered only that
he was in command of those two guns, was respon-
sible that they dealt out death coolly, accurately,
The telephone was complete. A man knelt on the
ground near the battery commander, the receiver to
his ear. Almost immediately there was a sharp
order. " Lines of Fire ! " From each gun a man
ran out quickly towards the ridge with a couple of
black and white posts. He planted them in line and
ran back. The angle of sight was passed down the
battery. The gun-barrels moved slightly, aiming at
the invisible enemy. Despite the ceaseless roar with
which the air trembled, a hush of expectancy seemed
to lie over the line of guns. Other orders came quickly
down the battery from the commander. " Angle of
sight 1*25' elevation."—" Collective."—" Corrector
154."—" 4100." No. 6 of each gun called out the
fuze. Five set it, passed the shell to 4 who pushed
10 THE BATTERY (1914)
it into the breech. Two closed the breech and ad-
justed the range indicator. Three laid the gun and
sat with his hand on the firing lever. " Ready."
" Fire ! " The No. 1 of the first gun repeated the
order. Three pulled the lever sharply upwards. A
long tongue of flame spurted out of the muzzle with
a deafening report. The gun-barrel shot violently
back under its hydraulic buffer and was in place
again ere the eye could well note the movement.
The other two guns of the right half-battery fired
successively at three seconds' interval. The men at
the telephone received a message. It was trans-
mitted as orders to the battery. " No. 1 — 30 degrees
more right. No. 2 — 20 degrees more right, No. 3
— 30 degrees more right." "Left half — 30 degrees
more right. — Corrector 162. — 4300." The three
shells already fired had gone too far to the left.
" Fire." The subaltern heard the order of the
sergeant on his right. "No. 4 — Fire ! " Then
his own sergeants, "No. 5 — Fire ! " "No. 6 —
Fire ! " He thrilled at the loud explosions. He
was in action ! He was flattered to find how clear
his mind was, how steady his nerve. He supervised
the laying of the guns as the next order came down
the line. " Corrector 158 — 4350. — One round battery
fire." At five seconds' interval the six guns fired one
after the other. There was a wait. Had they found
the range ? Yes ! " Section Fire — 10 seconds."
He was engrossed with his two guns as they were
swiftly loaded and fired at the interval ordered.
Away to his left the other two batteries of the
brigade were firing likewise. The rapid, violent
THE BATTERY (1914) 11
reports of the line of guns overlapped, merged into
one long-drawn-out explosion that intensified spas-
modically as two or more fired at the same instant.
The clamour of the general battle was obscured,
forgotten. The subaltern glanced at the bare hill
in front of him, over which the shells from the brigade
were streaming at the rate of one hundred and eight
a minute. On what were they falling, two and a
half miles away ? A straggling thought in him found
leisure for the question while yet the main forces of
his mind were concentrated on the busy detachments
and the guns they served. He had scarce noted it
when an order was passed down the battery. " Stand
fast." Immediately there was silence. Only a faint
haze spread and thinned between the gun-muzzles
and the ridge to show that they had been at work.
What of the distant, invisible target ? The captain,
who had been standing by the battery commander,
passed on his way to the wagons. The subaltern
" What was it ? " he asked.
" Battery coming into action — just caught 'em —
wiped out," answered the captain laconically and
The subaltern stared — horror-stricken involun-
tarily. Wiped out ! He tried to imagine the wreckage
of that battery overwhelmed in a few instants by a
rain of shells coming from they knew not whence.
He failed. In that meadow, strangely quiet now
despite a terrific din that welled up from over the
ridge, he could not picture it. The hill in front was
a wall across his vision.
12 THE BATTERY (1914)
The brigade waited, but no further orders came.
For the moment their work was done. The guns
stretched across the field, their muzzles elevated,
like a row of silent, expectant dogs. The lieutenant
commanding the adjacent section came up and asked
the subaltern for a cigarette. The subaltern gave
it, repressing a smile. That lieutenant never had
As he relaxed from the strain of those few furious
minutes the subaltern felt suddenly hungry. He
remembered that he had filled a pocket with biscuits
and munched at one as he gazed idly along the battery.
Fitfully his mind returned to the brief activity of his
guns and he contemplated the recollection with
comfort. Never had he lost mastery over himself.
He was a man tried and proved.
With a vague dull curiosity he watched the group
by the wood on the hill above him. Members of it
were moving to and fro. He noticed one figure
standing with both hands up to his face, his elbows
sticking out. He was examining something through
his glasses. The subaltern wondered whether it was
the colonel and the thought came to him that on a
word from that man he and his fellows might be
hurried to death as if to execution. Every minute,
orderlies rode at speed up to the group.
Presently an order came to the battery. It opened
fire again, this time deliberately, without haste, at
2500 yards and in a slightly different direction. Again
the subaltern appealed to the captain for information.
" Infantry advancing. We've only got a screen
there. Sixth Corps coming into action on our right.
THE BATTERY (1914) 13
We're filling the gap between it and the Second
Corps. Enemy are trying to break through."
" Oh," said the subaltern, " we're in for a hot
time, I suppose." He said it carelessly, without any
idea of what was coming.
" We most certainly are," said the captain. The
emphasis of the reply startled the subaltern, made
him feel uneasy. He devoted himself to his guns in
an effort to banish the anxiety which threatened him.
The gun-squads were working with unhurried pre-
cision. A man kneeling behind the wagon drew out
the long projectile, set the fuze, passed the shell to
his fellow at the gun, the breech was closed, the lever
pulled, and the gun spoke with an exactly equal
interval between rounds. They might have been
feeding a machine in a factory, so regular, so un-
emotional was the operation. Behind the wagon
the ground was littered with the canvas cartridge
clips. Behind the gun the flung-back brass cartridge
cases mounted to a heap. In front the air was blurry
with gases. Away to the right a new series of reports
broke out. More batteries had evidently come into
action. Coalescing all individual sounds the general
clamour of the battle swelled in surges of hideous
noise from one deep-toned, continuous roar. The
subaltern became habituated to it, scarcely noticed it.
Happening to look round he saw a howitzer battery
coming into the field. A few minutes later the regular
sequence of its detonations told him it had got to
work. It was evident that troops were being hurried
up to meet the threatened attack. Along the hill-
side to the right a line of infantry was strung out,
14 THE BATTERY (1914)
advancing towards the wood. Another followed it.
When he turned again he saw more infantry entering
the field and deploying. He got a glimpse of the
road filled with brown caps that just showed above
the hedges. Almost immediately the battery ceased
fire. Only the periodic discharges of the howitzers
continued. The battery commander was kneeling
over a map spread upon the ground. Up by the little
wood a heliograph was flashing rapidly. A little
further on a couple of men were flag-wagging with
vigour. Some crisis was approaching. Behind him
the infantry commenced to advance. On his left
front a couple of men spurred horses up the flank of
the bare hill -side.
The infantry passed the battery in their advance,
the company that had remained in column to avoid
the guns deploying into the line. Another line of
supports followed and behind them another. They
went steadily up the hill, the two scouts from the
battery passing through them as they galloped back.
The subaltern thrilled with a sense of imminent
danger. As yet he had seen no shell burst. Now it
was going to begin. The howitzer battery still fired
over the heads of the advancing troops.
Up and up went the first line. The subaltern
watched it with a throbbing heart. It opened its files
as it went, and, when nearly to the crest, brolce into
a steady run. It reached the summit. For a moment
it showed black against the sky. Now ? Nothing.
The line disappeared over the hill. The second line
mounted, doubled, showed against the sky and in-
stantly a crowd of smoke -puffs leaped into the air
THE BATTERY (1914) 15
above it. He saw tiny figures knocked all ways to the
ground and immediately afterwards a run of sharp
crashes came to his ears. The line disappeared over
the hill, leaving behind figures that lay still and
figures that tried to crawl out of the way of the third
line. He watched them, fascinated, through his
glasses. The third line advanced, undaunted. The
crowd of smoke -puffs broke out again ere it reached
the summit and continued while it passed. When it
had gone, the subaltern noted an increase in the
number of prostrate figures. Behind him more in-
fantry collected in the field but no more advanced.
The hostile shrapnel continued to burst over an empty
hill-side. Presently it ceased. From the other side
of the hill arose a furious, feverish crackling, notice-
able even in the general uproar. The battery waited
for it knew not what.
Slightly wounded men began to trickle down the
hill-side. One passed close to the subaltern, lurching