NACH VERDUN ! 229
general far over there in the terrible distance. As
suddenly as it had commenced, the vast bombard-
ment ceased. There was an uncanny silence. All
knew its significance. The German infantry was
advancing to the assault. With what resistance
would it be met ? Every ear was at strain â machine-
guns ? There was no sound. Suddenly the bom-
bardment opened again, as violent as before. The
German guns were putting a screen of death behind
the doomed positions, barring off all help. Far away
huge shells were crashing down from a curve that
was four miles high at its zenith, making an inferno
of a once quiet cathedral town, wrecking the bridges
across a flooded river, blocking every avenue of
supply to the defenders agonising on the plateau.
That night in the Army Headquarters was a night
of jubilation. Courtier soldiers â who none the less
laboured into the small hours at the intricate calcula-
tions and orders that would improve the victory on
the morrow â glanced at a youngish, very exalted
personage and murmured platitudes about the par-
donable intoxication of success. An even more
exalted personage strode from general to general in
the great tapestried, map-hung apartment and gave
instructions that were received as the inspiration of
genius and then merged, lost sight of, nullified in the
mass of orders that emanated from those fiercely
The distinguished guest sat at the table with the
keen-eyed, white-browed general, had everything
patiently explained to him.
" All has gone exactly according to schedule," said
230 NACH VERDUN !
the German. " The first line positions are ours.
There has been a counter-attack in the Bois de
Caures, but we have stemmed it. Elsewhere there
has been no serious opposition. The first day has
been a brilliant success. We have pierced the line
where we intended to pierce it. If the French maintain
their flank positions their disaster is certain. The
battle will be developed to-morrow. We shall drive
right through to the Ornes-Louvemont road. The
French defence is dead, was annihilated by our bom-
bardment. To-morrow disintegration will set in and
our progress will be rapid. On the third day we shall
take Fort Douaumont â the key to Verdun."
" And on the fourth day ? " queried the neutral,
his dark eyes gazing at the map in front of him.
" We shall be in Verdun ! " said the German.
" Verdun ! Verdun ! Nach Verdun â Paris I "
chanted an unsteady voice across the room, finished
in a suspicious resemblance to a hiccup. There was
a moment of tense, awkward silence in the great
apartment, and then a buzz of low voices earnestly
Day followed day, surcharged with fateful issues.
Men who flung themselves down, utterly wearied,
to snatch a brief sleep, woke from it with an oppres-
sion of the breast, a tremor of the nerves. Their
fiercely excited brains begrudged an instant's uncon-
sciousness where every minute was a vehicle of
destiny, once ahead never to be overtaken. Strenu-
ously, night and day, laboured the Staffs in the Army
NACH VERDUN ! 231
Headquarters, in the Corps, Divisions, Artillery
Groups â desperately, for after the second day they
were behind their time-table. On that second day
the French defence they had fondly thought anni-
hilated woke to sternly resisting life. There had
been terrific fighting on the whole front from Brabant
to Ornes. Once more a frightful bombardment had
opened with the dawn. Once more the German
infantry had advanced in masses. They found the
trenches in front of them weakly held, had occupied
them. But en route a storm of shells had rained down
on the swarming columns, had strewn the ground
with dead and dying. Further advance was barred
by sheets of rifle-fire, torrents of machine-gun bullets.
There were ugly rumours as to losses. The day's
objective had not been reached. Counter-attacks
had flung the grey infantry out of positions already
During the black night of the 22nd-23rd, while the
gun-teams of the German batteries strained and
stumbled forward over a shell -torn ground to new
positions, the French left flank had fallen back from
Brabant. The German guns hurled an avalanche of
projectiles blindly upon the new lines of defence, more
or less at hazard since no longer did they have them
accurately marked upon the map. Once more the
grey masses swept forward, once more the hail of
shells beat them down. The end of that day saw the
centre pushed in with wild confusion, but the French
resistance still alive, determined to perish rather than
break. Once more the objective had not been
attained. Douaumont was not even menaced. The
232 NACH^VERDUN !
time-table was hopelessly out. That night the
French fell back on both flanks, withdrew from
The fourth day dawned â the appointed day for
final victory â and still the struggle continued, fiercer
than ever. Slowly, slowly, the German infantry
pressed forward, leaving behind them a sea of help-
less bodies; â a grey carpet as perceived from a distance.
The artillery fire swelled and mounted in paroxysms
of incredible violence, the German guns hammering
in savage persistence, the French batteries lurking
for their target, overwhelming it in a deluge. On
and on pressed the grey infantry, thrust dangerously
as night fell straight at the heart, towards Fort Douau-
mont. A fierce conflict â body to body, rifles that
flashed in the face of the victim, bayonets perforce
shortened for the thrust, griping fingers clutching at
the throat as men wrestled and swayed â raved and
roared in an indescribable tumult upon the Ornes-
Louvemont road. The defenders had made a supreme
rally. The Germans fought like men who grasp at
victory, maddened that it is withheld. The French
fought like heroes, desperately outnumbered, who
know their duty is to die. When night fell the defence
was still intact, but the French had withdrawn to
their last line, covering Douaumont.
" We have still one more day," said the German
general to the distinguished neutral that night in
the great map-hung apartment. " We allowed that
margin of time. To-morrow will see our greatest
effort, Douaumont in our hands, Verdun untenable."
The dark eyes of the neutral read a certain nervous-
NACH VERDUN ! 233
ness in the German's face, despite the confident
" It has proved rather more difficult than you
expected ? "
" The French field-guns have been terrible â
terrible," replied the German. " Without them "
He waved an expressive hand. " But to-morrow we
shall deliver the coup de grdce. We have not boasted
idly, Excellenz." His eyes looked searchingly
through their pince-nez on the calmly interested face
of the neutral. " When Germany threatens she
On the morning of the 25th the German guns
roared over white fields of snow, through veils of the
softly falling flakes that fluttered inexhaustibly from
the leaden sky. Their thunder swelled louder and
ever louder as the batteries which had changed
position, consequently upon the French withdrawal
during the night, got to work, searching for their
target, more or less accurately finding it despite the
difficulty of observation. Not a minute was to be lost.
The anxious German staff knew that the reinforce-
ments of their foes must be hurrying â hurrying.
Some perhaps had already arrived. If night fell
without definite victory, the morrow would surely
see fresh masses against them, reinvigorating the
defence. Victory to-day â complete victory â
Douaumont captured, the pursuit pressed into the
streets of Verdun â meant victory indeed. Mighty
therefore was the effort. By noon every German
battery was firing at its maximum. Under the leaden
sky, over the white ground, in the still cold of a bitter
234 NACH VERDUN !
frost, their thunder swelled and crashed, roaring in
a never-ending frenzy. Eighteen German divisions
were massed to break down all opposition. Already
they had attacked â again and again. Again and
again, the rapid detonations of the French guns had
leaped into the din, smiting desperately, frantically,
to stay them. Over there, in the mist-hung gullies of
the plateau, on its bare open spaces between the
woods, the snow had ceased to be white â save
where it fell freshly upon the huddled bodies of the
In the afternoon the weather cleared somewhat.
More distant views were possible. On the higher of
the Twins of Ornes, the knolls just south-west of the
Foret de Spincourt, stood the figure who more than
any other individual would have to dare the answer
for all the agony rolled out there before him, for all
the agony that no eye could measure, spread over
continents, crying to strange stars. Spiked helmet
on his head, long grey cavalry-cloak wrapped about
him, his field-glasses held to his eyes by the right hand
only, he gazed upon the now distant conflict. At his
side stood a younger figure, his face masked also by
binoculars. Behind them was a group of dignitaries,
generals of high position, the distinguished neutral
and the Oberst who never quitted him. All gazed
to the wooded scarp of the Heights of the Meuse,
their glasses pointing south-south-west.
The great masses of woodland rose dark from the
snow of the plain a long stretch of undulating, climb-
ing tree-tops. Beyond them the bare bulk of the
plateau humped itself yet higher, dirty grey against
NACH VERDUN ! 235
the sky. It rose to a culminating knoll â Douaumont !
All that bare plateau was whelmed in a drifting reek,
but the highest point was like a volcano in eruption.
Great founts of smoke shot up from it incessantly,
spread in the air in heavy plumes that overhung. It
was the objective of the 3rd Corps (Brandenburgers),
attacking under the eye of the Kaiser so particularly
their chief. Their orders were that Douaumont was
to be taken at all costs. On the Twin of Ornes
operators from Army Headquarters had taken over
the telephone dug-out. Behind them the line was
clear to Berlin â waiting â waiting for the trumphant
announcement that should thrill the world.
Somewhat impatiently the neutral scanned the
lofty distances where the great drama was being
enacted. Innumerable puffs of bursting shells indi-
cated the conflict but gave no hint of its varying
fortunes. The professional instinct was strong within
him, the report to his Government an ideal to which
it strove. To perfect that report he must see the fight
at closer quarters, must describe the effects of the
French fire as a complement to the already written
minute on the German batteries. His keen eye
picked out a position of vantage on the Heights. Then
he waited for an opportunity, alert for the moment
when the eye of majesty should rest itself from the
distant view, should fall upon him. The opportunity
occurred. The glance of the All-Highest swept over
him, preoccupied. The neutral stepped forward,
saluted, indicated the far-off point.
M Ich bitte um Erlaubnis, Majestat"* he said.
* " I beg permission, Your Majesty."
236 NACH VERDUN !
A frowning glance rested upon him for an instant,
intolerant of aught save the mighty contest whose
issue was the fate of nations.
" Gestattet,"* was the curt, indifferent reply.
The German Oberst, standing behind the neutral,
changed colour. He had no option but to accompany
this damnable foreigner in his mad adventure into
unnecessary danger. He, too, saluted " Majestat,"
followed the neutral to the spot where a number of
orderlies stood at the heads of saddled horses. They
had been sent forward in case the dignitaries should
In a few moments the two officers, followed by
mounted attendants, were slithering down the snowy
side of the knoll, were cantering across the valley
High above them towered the dark Bois de la
Chaume as they threaded the debris -covered street
of the wrecked village. It was packed with Branden-
burger infantry waiting to advance. They followed
the road southward, at the foot of the hills, towards
Bezonvaux. Everywhere the infantry stood thick,
waiting. The cannonade mounted to a frightful
intensity, appalling even the ears now habituated to
it, bewildering the senses, troubling the sight. French
shells came whining, screaming, rushing, to burst
with loud crashes in the woodland rising on their
right hand, on the road and the fields through which
it passed. Domes of dark smoke leaped upward from
the earth, preceding the stunning, metallic detona-
tion. White shrapnel puffs clustered thickly above
NACH VERDUN ! 237
the trees. Bezonvaux was a ruin. They turned off
from it to the right, up a rough track that climbed
into the woods. The snow on the track had been
trampled into a dirty slush. All about them lay
bodies, grey and blue ; weapons pell-mell as they had
fallen from a suddenly opened grasp. Their horses
shuddered, whinnied, jerked nervous ears, moved
disconcertingly sideways from red stains soaking
deep into the snow.
Just under the edge of the plateau the neutral
stopped, dismounted, threw his reins to an orderly.
The Oberst followed his example. His face was
blotchy white, he trembled in every limb.
" We shall see nothing, Excellenz â absolutely
nothing," he asseverated appealingly.
" We can at least try," replied his guest. " Some-
thing is happening over there."
Above them, some distance ahead, was a tremen-
dous uproar, a chaos of violent thudding slams,
splitting crashes, a faint troublous murmur of human
voices. Behind them, up the rough track, a column
of infantry was advancing, overtaking them. They
ascended with a steady progress, splashing through
the slush ; officers waving swords, shouting ; rank
upon rank of tense faces that had lost their humanity
in the tremulous brute ; glazed staring eyes under
the spiked helmets ; singing, singing like drugged,
doomed gladiators marching to the arena. They
The neutral, to whom his conductor had nerve-
lessly surrendered the initiative, led the way. They
left their horses behind them, struck off at a tangent
238 NACH VERDUN !
to the right, through the woods, climbing always.
They emerged upon the plateau, in a clearing. Across
the open space, from a whelm of smoke and noise in
the distance, groups of grey men were running swiftly
towards them, shouting inarticulately. Along the
edge of the woods was a line of pickets. Their
weapons rose to the shoulder. Sternly, every fugitive
but those wounded was driven again into the fight.
Those who hesitated, screaming under the menace
of the rifle, dropped shot.
The neutral hurried along the verge of the wood,
scanning every tall tree carefully, expectantly.
" Ah ! " He had found what he sought. Against
the green bark of a lofty beech dangled a rope ladder.
It was an abandoned French artillery observation
post. He scrambled up the ladder, followed by the
trembling, shivering Oberst. High up among the
topmost branches was a little platform.
The neutral settled himself, adjusted his binoculars,
pushed aside the twigs. He looked out over an un-
dulating terrain, dark with woods that ceased
raggedly in deep indentations short of a bare hog's
back that gathered itself into a hump. That bare
ground was smothered in a turmoil of smoke that
fumed to the grey sky, far to right and left. But
through it, in chance rifts, his glasses revealed a
dark mass upon the highest point. A reek of white
smoke drifted away from it as from burning buildings,
mingling with the darker clouds of incessant explo-
sions. He had a glimpse of a rounded cupola. It
was Douaumont !
The snow on the open space between the fort and
NACH VERDUN ! 239
the woods was grey. It was moving with crawling
life like the festering of a stagnant pool. Over it
burst occasional puffs of shrapnel.
" Ah ! " The cry was involuntary from both the
watching men. From the woods emerged masses of
running tiny grey figures, running, running towards
the fort. The open space was covered with them.
A moment of tense expectation when the heart
seemed to stop â and then, as by a terrible magic,
great fountains of dark smoke and darker objects
leaped up among those running figures, countless
explosions. A canopy of vicious little shrapnel bursts
in thousands spread itself over them. Under it
men sprawled in great patches, seemed to be fight-
ing the air ere they tumbled and fell. A horrid
screaming came faint through the uproar. More
masses rushed out, were beaten down. There was a
running to and fro of men bewildered â a headlong
The storm of fire did not cease. It rolled over the
plateau towards the woods, remorselessly following
the fugitives. Louder and louder, nearer and nearer,
the crashes, the fountains, the puffs â the great
mingled reek of the inferno â rolled towards the two
men in the observation post.
The Oberst clutched the neutral's arm.
44 Excellenz ! " he shouted stammeringly. " We
must go. I insist. I have superior authority â
written authority â my discretion â I insist ! " he
almost screamed. His hand groped for a scrap of
paper which he waved. " Arrest ! " he cried like a
maniac. " Arrest if you do not come ! "
240 NACH VERDUN !
The storm of French shells was a very near menace.
The neutral acquiesced with a shrug of his shoulders.
Nimbly they descended the ladder.
On the ground they found themselves among a
swarm of slightly wounded, terror-stricken men.
One of them, a tall, bearded Brandenburger, his
clothes torn to rags, was shrieking and laughing
in a manner horrible to hear. His comrades drew
away from him as he clutched at them. He was
" Only I am left ! " he cried. " Only I ! They are
all dead â dead â out there. They were meant to be
dead. They were dead men before we attacked â all
dead men running on â I could see it in their faces â
only I was alive ! And now they are still crawling â
crawling â dead men ! " His tone emphasised the
horror of his words, struck a chill. A sentry lowered
his rifle, irresolutely.
The maniac turned, waved a hand to the westward.
The sun, on the point of setting, showed itself in a rift
of the threatening snow clouds, sank, a great ball of
glowing fire, over the rim of the plateau. Its last
rays were lurid on the face of the madman, as he
stood, arm outstretched, his eyes naming, his tangled
beard falling upon his rags, like some antique prophet
of the wilderness.
" Woe ! woe ! " he shrieked. " Nach Verdun!
Nach Verdun â Verdunkelung ! "* He finished in a
scream of maniac laughter, glorying in the crazy
assonance of the words. " Nach Verdun â Verdun-
kelung ! "
* " To Verdun ! After Verdunâ Eclipse."
NACH VERDUN ! 241
The neutral and the Oberst hurried through the
woods to their horses.
A rapid ride with the German always in front, and
once more they ascended the Twin of Ornes. As they
arrived at the summit they found themselves among
wildly cheering men. " Douaumont ! Douaumont is
taken ! M Far away to the south-south-west, rocket
after rocket shot up into the darkening sky. Already
the great news had gone â electrical â to Berlin.
The crowd of dignitaries descended the steep path
in the gloom to where the motor-cars were ranked in
waiting. Along the road passed streams of wounded
who could walk, phantoms half-distinguished in the
dim light. Joyous were the voices of the War-Lords.
One, a familiar tone, chanted : " Nach Verdun !
Nach Verdun â Paris ! "*
Out of the darkness came a screamed reply, a
burst of insane laughter.
" Nach Verdun â Verdunkelung ! Nach Verdun â
Verdunkelung ! "
It was the voice of the crazed Brandenburger.
There was a scuffle, the sound of a man hurried away,
All through that dark journey as the car bumped
and lurched over the atrocious roads, the words
beat in a refrain through the mind of the neutral.
" Nach Verdun â Verdunkelung ! " He wondered.
Eclipse ? Was it the sun of Germany that set on
the French position ? The Oberst was loquaciously
That night, in the great map-hung apartment, the
* "To Verdun! After Verdunâ Paris ! "
242 NACH VERDUN !
War-Lords received the news that their further
advance was barred.
Next morning a furious counter-attack surrounded
a handful of defenders in the fort for which they had
paid so much. The French reinforcements had
THE CHATELAINE OF LYSBOISEE
(AN IDYLL BETWEEN THE TRENCHES, 1914)
(Note. â This story is founded upon an actual occurrence narrated by
Paul Grabein, " Im Auto durch Feindesland," Berlin, 1916.)
The sun set while a regiment of Zouaves was march-
ing across the plateau. The after -glow yet illumined
the sky when its leading files turned obliquely off to
the right along a rough track that presently dropped
abruptly into a deep ravine, sculped by one of the
streamlet tributaries of the Oise. Bare for a little
way below the lip, save for some scattered juniper
bushes stiffly perpendicular from the close-cropped
slope, the sides of the ravine were dark with a dense
growth of tree and thorn. The road plunged into it.
Down and down went the road in a gloomy tunnel
of arching boughs that scarce left an interstice for
the twilight sky. It reached the floor of the little
valley, followed it to the right in a more gentle
descent. On its left a brook fell swiftly through a
plantation of silver birch in a channel that brimmed
to the long, rank, water-flattened grass and anon
plashed over boulders in a miniature cascade. Save
for the steady tramp of the marching troops and the
occasional squawk of a frightened jay, there was no
sound in the valley.
244 THE CHATELAINE OF LYSBOISfiE
Mounted upon a magnificent black horse, the
colonel rode at the head of the column. Seen in
profile, his face was remarkable â virile, powerful,
and intellectual. When it turned to full face it fas-
cinated. Not the steel-grey eyes looked for under
those level brows, but a pair of full brown orbs,
romantic as those of an Arab, met the gaze. He
raised his hand as the column approached a pair of
high ornamental iron gates, set in a frame of lofty
arched stone and surmounted by a carved escutcheon,
on the left side of the road. " Halt ! "
Behind him there was a clatter of accoutrements
as the long column broke its ranks, settled itself in
seated groups, with piled arms, by the roadside. In
front, the advance-guard, receiving the order from
the connecting files, halted also. The colonel walked
his horse to the gates. The padlocked chain that
had held them closed hung broken from one of the
wrought -iron scrolls. The gates had evidently been
forced. He pressed his horse's flank against one of
them, slipped through the opening, and set off at a
trot down a long avenue of ancient poplars. His
capitaine-adjutant, cantering up from the leading
company, followed the wave of his hand.
Beyond the clearing of lawn and Cupid-crowned
fountain into which he emerged, lay a long white
stone mansion, picturesque but not remarkable in
its seventeenth-century architecture. Every window
was shuttered. Throwing the reins to his companion,
he dismounted and, with the stiff gait from long hours
in the saddle, ascended the broad curving steps to
the main entrance.
THE CHATELAINE OF LYSBOISfiE 245
Only at his second summons on the loud, harshly-
clanging bell was there any answering sign of life.
One of the great doors opened slightly until checked
by a chain, and a woman's voice asked : " Who is
" French officers, madame. Is the patronne at
home ? "
" I cannot see you," said the voice, evading the
The colonel placed himself so as to be visible
through the narrow aperture. " Attendez ! " said
the voice. The door closed again.
A minute or two of waiting in the chill, misty air
and once more the door opened, this time fully.
" Entrez, monsieur ! " said the voice.
He found himself in a large lofty hall, dimly illu-
mined by the candle held by a little bent old woman.
" Par ici, monsieur ! " she said.
She led him through salon after salon. In the
flickering light he could only just discern that they
were richly furnished. At last she stopped and
tapped at a closed door.
He was admitted into an apartment of costly and
tasteful comfort, lit with warm soft radiance from a
shaded pedestal lamp. Pine logs were burning on
the hearth of a high stone fireplace. To one side
stood a grand piano. A great dog, stretched before
the hearth, growled surlily. These were salient details
he was scarcely conscious of noting. His eyes were