Men in War by Andreas Latzko Book, page 1 / 105
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MEN IN WAR
MEN IN WAR (μετάφραση στα αγγλικά από το πρωτότυπο)
BY ANDREAS LATZKO
DEDICATED TO FRIEND AND FOE
_"I am convinced the time will come when all will think as I do."_
I OFF TO WAR
II BAPTISM OF FIRE
III THE VICTOR
IV MY COMRADE
V A HERO'S DEATH
VI HOME AGAIN
OFF TO WAR
The time was late in the autumn of the second year of the war; the place, the garden of a war hospital in a small Austrian town, which lay at the base of wooded hills, sequestered as behind a Spanish wall, and still preserving its sleepy contented outlook upon existence.
Day and night the locomotives whistled by. Some of them hauled to the front trains of soldiers singing and hallooing, high-piled bales of hay, bellowing cattle and ammunition in tightly-closed, sinister-looking cars. The others, in the opposite direction, came creeping homeward slowly, marked by the bleeding cross that the war has thrown upon all walls and the people behind them. But the great madness raced through the town like a hurricane, without disturbing its calm, as though the low, brightly colored houses with the old-fashioned ornate facades had tacitly come to the sensible agreement to ignore with aristocratic reserve this arrogant, blustering fellow, War, who turned everything topsy-turvy.
In the parks the children played unmolested with the large russet leaves of the old chestnut trees. Women stood gossiping in front of the shops, and somewhere in every street a girl with a bright kerchief on her head could be seen washing windows. In spite of the hospital flags waving from almost every house, in spite of innumerable bulletin boards, notices and sign-posts that the intruder had thrust upon the defenseless town, peace still seemed to prevail here, scarcely fifty miles away from the butchery, which on clear nights threw its glow on the horizon like an artificial illumination. When, for a few moments at a time, there was a lull in the stream of heavy, snorting automobile trucks and rattling drays, and no train happened to be rumbling over the railroad bridge and no signal of trumpet or clanking of sabres sounded the strains of war, then the obstinate little place instantly showed up its dull but good- natured provincial face, only to hide it again in resignation behind its ill-fitting soldier's mask, when the next automobile from the general staff came dashing around the corner with a great show of importance.
To be sure the cannons growled in the distance, as if a gigantic dog were crouching way below the ground ready to jump up at the heavens, snarling and snapping. The muffled barking of the big mortars came from over there like a bad fit of coughing from a sickroom, frightening the watchers who sit with eyes red with crying, listening for every sound from the dying man. Even the long, low rows of houses shrank together with a rattle and listened horrorstruck each time the coughing convulsed the earth, as though the stress of war lay on the world's chest like a nightmare.
The streets exchanged astonished glances, blinking sleepily in the reflection of the night-lamps that inside cast their merrily dancing shadows over close rows of beds. The rooms, choke-full of misery, sent piercing shrieks and wails and groans out into the night. Every human sound coming through the windows fell upon the silence like a furious attack. It was a wild denunciation of the war that out there at the front was doing its work, discharging mangled human bodies like so much offal and filling all the houses with its bloody refuse.
But the beautiful wrought-iron fountains continued to gurgle and murmur complacently, prattling with soothing insistence of the days of their youth, when men still had the time and the care for noble lines and curves, and war was the affair of princes and adventurers. Legend popped out of every corner and every gargoyle, and ran on padded soles through all the narrow little streets, like an invisible gossip whispering of peace and comfort. And the ancient chestnut trees nodded assent, and with the shadows of their outspread fingers stroked the frightened facades to calm them. The past grew so lavishly out of the fissured walls that any one coming within their embrace heard the plashing of the fountains above the thunder of the artillery; and the sick and wounded men felt soothed and listened from their fevered couches to the talkative night outside. Pale men, who had been carried through the town on swinging stretchers, forgot the hell they had come from; and even the heavily laden victims tramping through the place on a forced march by night became softened for a space, as if they had encountered Peace and their own unarmed selves in the shadow of the columns and the flower- filled bay-windows.
The same thing took place with the war in this town as with the stream that came down from out of the mountains in the north, foaming with rageat each pebble it rolled over. At the other end of the town, on passing the last houses, it took a tender leave, quite tamed and subdued, murmuring very gently, as if treading on tiptoe, as if drowsy with all the dreaminess it had reflected. Between wide banks, it stepped out into the broad meadowland, and circled about the war hospital, making almost an island of the ground it stood on. Thick-stemmed sycamores cast their shadow on the hospital, and from three sides came the murmur of the slothful stream mingled with the rustling of the leaves, as if the garden, when twilight fell, was moved by compassion and sang a slumber song for the lacerated men, who had to suffer in rank and file, regimented up to their very death, up to the grave, into which they-- unfortunate cobblers, tinkers, peasants, and clerks--were shoved to the accompaniment of salvos from big-mouthed cannon.
The sound of taps had just died away, and the watchmen were making their rounds, when they discovered three men in the deep shadow of the broad avenue, and drove them into the house.
"Are you officers, eh?" the head-watchman, a stocky corporal of the landsturm, with grey on his temples, growled and blustered good- naturedly. "Privates must be in bed by nine o'clock." To preserve a show of authority he added with poorly simulated bearishness: "Well, are you going or not?"
He was about to give his usual order, "Quick, take to your legs!" but caught himself just in time, and made a face as though he had swallowed something.
The three men now hobbling toward the entrance for inmates, would have been only too glad to carry out such an order. However, they had only two legs and six clattering crutches between them. It was like a living picture posed by a stage manager who has an eye for symmetry. On the right went the one whose right leg had been saved, on the left went his counterpart, hopping on his left leg, and in the middle the miserable left-over of a human body swung between two high crutches, his empty trousers raised and pinned across his chest, so that the whole man could have gone comfortably into a cradle.
The corporal followed the group with his eyes, his head bent and his fists clenched, as if bowed down beneath the burden of the sight. He muttered a not exactly patriotic oath and spat out a long curve of saliva with a hiss from between his front teeth. As he was about to turn and go on his round again, a burst of laughter came from the direction of the officers' wing. He stood still and drew in his head as if from a blow on the back of his neck, and a gleam of ungovernable hatred flitted over his broad, good-natured peasant face. He spat out again, to soothe his feelings, then took a fresh start and passed the merry company with a stiff salute.
The gentlemen returned the salute carelessly. Infected by the coziness that hung over the whole of the town like a light cloud, they were sitting chatting in front of the hospital on benches moved together to form a square. They spoke of the war and--laughed, laughed like happy schoolboys discussing the miseries of examinations just gone through. Each had done his duty, each had had his ordeal, and now, under the protection of his wound, each sat there in the comfortable expectation of returning home, of seeing his people again, of being feted, and for at least two whole weeks, of living the life of a man who is not tagged with a number.
The loudest of the laughers was the young lieutenant whom they had nicknamed the Mussulman because of the Turkish turban he wore as officer of a regiment of Bosnians. A shell had broken his leg, and done its work thoroughly. For weeks already the shattered limb had been tightly encased in a plaster cast, and its owner, who went about on crutches, cherished it carefully, as though it were some precious object that had been confided to his care.
On the bench opposite the Mussulman sat two gentlemen, a cavalry officer, the only one on the active list, and an artillery officer, who in civil life was a professor of philosophy, and so was called "Philosopher" for short. The cavalry captain had received a cut across his right arm, and the Philosopher's upper lip had been ripped by a splinter from a grenade. Two ladies were sitting on the bench that leaned against the wall of the hospital, and these three men were monopolizing the conversation with them, because the fourth man sat on his bench without speaking. He was lost in his own thoughts, his limbs twitched, and his eyes wandered unsteadily. In the war he was a lieutenant of the landsturm, in civil life a well-known composer. He had been brought to the hospital a week before, suffering from severe shock. Horror still gloomed in his eyes, and he kept gazing ahead of him darkly. He always allowed the attendants at the hospital to do whatever they wanted to him without resistance, and he went to bed or sat in the garden, separated from the others as by an invisible wall, at which he stared and stared. Even the unexpected arrival of his pretty, fair wife had not resulted in dispelling for so much as a second the vision of the awful occurrence that had unbalanced his mind. With his chin on his chest he sat without a smile, while she murmured words of endearment; and whenever she tried to touch his poor twitching hands with the tips of her fingers, full of infinite love, he would jerk away as if seized by a convulsion, or under torture.
Tears rolled down the little woman's cheeks--cheeks hungry for caresses. She had fought her way bravely through the zones barred to civilians until she finally succeeded in reaching this hospital in the war zone. And now, after the great relief and joy of finding her husband alive and unmutilated, she suddenly sensed an enigmatic resistance, an unexpected obstacle, which she could not beg away or cry away, as she had used to do. There was a something there that separated her mercilessly from the man she had so yearned to see.
She sat beside him impatiently, tortured by her powerlessness to find an explanation for the hostility that he shed around him. Her eyes pierced the darkness, and her hands always went the same way, groping forward timidly, then quickly withdrawing as though scorched when his shrinking away in hatred threw her into despair again.
It was hard to have to choke down her grief like this, and not burst out in reproach and tear this secret from her husband, which he in his misery still interposed so stubbornly between himself and his one support. And it was hard to simulate happiness and take part in the airy conversation; hard always to have to force some sort of a reply, and hard not to lose patience with the other woman's perpetual giggling. It was easy enough for _her_. She knew that her husband, a major- general, was safe behind the lines on the staff of a high command. She had fled from the ennui of a childless home to enter into the eventful life of the war hospital.
The major's wife had been sitting in the garden with the gentlemen ever since seven o'clock, always on the point of leaving, quite ready to go
in her hat and jacket, but she let herself be induced again and again to remain a little longer. She kept up her flirtatious conversation in the gayest of spirits, as if she had no knowledge of all the torments she had seen during the day in the very house against which she was leaning her back. The sad little woman breathed a sigh of relief when it grew so dark that she could move away from the frivolous chatterbox unnoticed.
And yet in spite of her titillating conversation and the air of importance with which she spoke of her duties as a nurse, the Frau Major was penetrated by a feeling that, without her being conscious of it, raised her high above herself. The great wave of motherliness that had swept over all the women when the fatal hour struck for the men, had borne her aloft, too. She had seen the three men with whom she was now genially exchanging light nothings come to the hospital--like thousands of others--streaming with blood, helpless, whimpering with pain. And something of the joy of the hen whose brood has safely hatched warmed her coquetry.
Since the men have been going for months, crouching, creeping on all fours, starving, carrying their own death as mothers carry their children; since suffering and waiting and the passive acceptance of danger and pain have reversed the sexes, the women have felt strong, and even in their sensuality there has been a little glimmer of the new passion for mothering.
The melancholy wife, just arrived from a region in which the war exists in conversation only, and engrossed in the one man to the exclusion of the others, suffered from the sexless familiarity that they so freely indulged in there in the shadow of death and agony. But the others were at home in the war. They spoke its language, which in the men was a mixture of obstinate greed for life and a paradoxical softness born of a surfeit of brutality; while in the woman it was a peculiar, garrulous cold-bloodedness. She had heard so much of blood and dying that her endless curiosity gave the impression of hardness and hysterical cruelty.
The Mussulman and the cavalry officer were chaffing the Philosopher and poking fun at the phrase-mongers, hair-splitters, and other wasters of time. They took a childish delight in his broad smile of embarrassment at being teased in the Frau Major's presence, and she, out of feminine
politeness, came to the Philosopher's rescue, while casting amorous looks at the others who could deal such pert blows with their tongues.
"Oh, let the poor man alone," she laughed and cooed. "He's right. War is horrible. These two gentlemen are just trying to get your temper up." She twinkled at the Philosopher to soothe him. His good nature made him so helpless.
The Philosopher grinned phlegmatically and said nothing. The Mussulman, setting his teeth, shifted his leg, which in its white bandage was the only part of him that was visible, and placed it in a more comfortable position on the bench.
"The Philosopher?" he laughed. "As a matter of fact, what does the Philosopher know about war? He's in the artillery. And war is conducted by the infantry. Don't you know that, Mrs. ----?"
"I am not Mrs. here. Here I am Sister Engelberta," she cut in, and for a moment the expression on her face became almost serious.
"I beg your pardon, Sister Engelberta. Artillery and infantry, you see, are like husband and wife. We infantrymen must bring the child into the world when a victory is to be born. The artillery has only the pleasure, just like a man's part in love. It is not until after the child has been baptized that he comes strutting out proudly. Am I not right, Captain?" he asked, appealing to the cavalry officer. "You are an equestrian on foot now, too."
The captain boomed his assent. In his summary view, members of the Reichstag who refused to vote enough money for the military, Socialists, pacifists, all men, in brief, who lectured or wrote or spoke superfluous stuff and lived by their brains belonged in the same category as the Philosopher. They were all "bookworms."
"Yes, indeed," he said in his voice hoarse from shouting commands. "A philosopher like our friend here is just the right person for the artillery. Nothing to do but wait around on the top of a hill and look on. If only they don't shoot up our own men! It is easy enough to dispose of the fellows on the other side, in front of us. But I always have a devilish lot of respect for you assassins in the back. But let's stop talking of the war. Else I'll go off to bed. Here we are at last with two charming ladies, when it's been an age since we've seen a face that isn't covered with stubble, and you still keep talking of that damned shooting. Good Lord, when I was in the hospital train and the first girl came in with a white cap on her curly light hair, I'd have liked to hold her hand and just keep looking and looking at her. Upon my word of honor, Sister Engelberta, after a while the shooting gets to be a nuisance. The lice are worse. But the worst thing of all is the complete absence of the lovely feminine. For five months to see nothing but men--and then all of a sudden to hear a dear clear woman's voice! That's the finest thing of all. It's worth going to war for."
The Mussulman pulled his mobile face flashing with youth into a grimace.
"The finest thing of all! No, sir. To be quite frank, the finest thing of all is to get a bath and a fresh bandage, and be put into a clean white bed, and know that for a few weeks you're going to have a rest. It's a feeling like--well, there's no comparison for it. But, of course, it is very nice, too, to be seeing ladies again."
The Philosopher had tilted his round fleshy Epicurean head to one side, and a moist sheen came into his small crafty eyes. He glanced at the place where a bright spot in the almost palpable darkness suggested the Frau Major's white dress, and began to tell what he thought, very slowly in a slight sing-song.
"The finest thing of all, I think, is the quiet--when you have been lying up there in the mountains where every shot is echoed back and forth five times, and all of a sudden it turns absolutely quiet--no whistling, no howling, no thundering--nothing but a glorious quiet that you can listen to as to a piece of music! The first few nights I sat up the whole time and kept my ears cocked for the quiet, the way you try to catch a tune at a distance. I believe I even howled a bit, it was so delightful to listen to no sound."
The captain of cavalry sent his cigarette flying through the night like a comet scattering sparks, and brought his hand down with a thump on his knee.
"There, there, Sister Engelberta, did you get that?" he cried sarcastically. "'Listen to no sound.' You see, that's what's called philosophy. I know something better than that, Mr. Philosopher, namely, not to hear what you hear, especially when it's such philosophical rubbish."
They laughed, and the man they were teasing smiled good-naturedly. He, too, was permeated by the peacefulness that floated into the garden from the sleeping town. The cavalryman's aggressive jokes glided off without leaving a sting, as did everything else that might have lessened the sweetness of the few days still lying between him and the front. He wanted to make the most of his time, and take everything easily with his eyes tight shut, like a child who has to enter a dark room.
The Frau Major leaned over to the Philosopher.
"So opinions differ as to what was the finest thing," she said; and her breath came more rapidly. "But, tell me, what was the most awful thing you went through out there? A lot of the men say the drumfire is the worst, and a lot of them can't get over the sight of the first man they saw killed. How about you?"
The Philosopher looked tortured. It was a theme that did not fit into his programme. He was casting about for an evasive reply when an unintelligible wheezing exclamation drew all eyes to the corner in which the landsturm officer and his wife were sitting. The others had almost forgotten them in the darkness and exchanged frightened glances when they heard a voice that scarcely one of them knew, and the man with the glazed eyes and uncertain gestures, a marionette with broken joints, began to speak hastily in a falsetto like the crowing of a rooster.
"What was the most awful thing? The only awful thing is the going off. You go off to war--and they let you go. That's the awful thing."
A cold sickening silence fell upon the company. Even the Mussulman's face lost its perpetually happy expression and stiffened in embarrassment. It had come so unexpectedly and sounded so unintelligible. It caught them by the throat and set their pulses bounding--perhaps because of the vibrating of the voice that issued from the twitching body, or because of the rattling that went along with it, and made it sound like a voice broken by long sobbing.The Frau Major jumped up. She had seen the landsturm officer brought to the hospital strapped fast to the stretcher, because his sobbing wrenched and tore his body so that the bearers could not control him otherwise. Something inexpressibly hideous--so it was said--had half robbed the poor devil of his reason, and the Frau Major suddenly dreaded a fit of insanity. She pinched the cavalryman's arm and exclaimed with a pretense of great haste:
"My goodness! There's the gong of the last car. Quick, quick," addressing the sick man's wife, "quick! We must run."
They all rose. The Frau Major passed her arm through the unhappy little woman's and urged with even greater insistence:
"We'll have a whole hour's walk back to town if we miss the car."
The little wife, completely at a loss, her whole body quivering, bent over her husband again to take leave. She was certain that his outburst had reference to her and held a grim deadly reproach, which she did not comprehend. She felt her husband draw back and start convulsively under the touch of her lips. And she sobbed aloud at the awful prospect of spending an endless night in the chilly neglected room in the hotel, left alone with this tormenting doubt. But the Frau Major drew her along, forcing her to run, and did not let go her arm until they had passed the sentinel at the gate and were out on the street. The gentlemen followed them with their eyes, saw them reappear once again on the street in the lamplight, and listened to the sound of the car receding in the distance. The Mussulman picked up his crutches, and winked at the Philosopher significantly, and said something with a yawn about going to bed. The cavalry officer looked down at the sick man curiously and felt sorry for him. Wanting to give the poor devil a bit of pleasure, he tapped him on his shoulder and said in his free and easy way:
"You've got a chic wife, I must say. I congratulate you."
The next instant he drew back startled. The pitiful heap on the bench jumped up suddenly, as though a force just awakened had tossed him up from his seat. "Chic wife? Oh, yes. Very dashing!" came sputtering from his twitching lips with a fury that cast out the words like a seething stream. "She didn't shed a single tear when I left on the train. Oh, they were all very dashing when we went off. Poor Dill's wife was, too. Very plucky! She threw roses at him in the train and she'd been his wife for only two months." He chuckled disdainfully and clenched his teeth, fighting hard to suppress the tears burning in his threat. "Roses! He-he! And 'See you soon again!' They were all so patriotic! Our colonel congratulated Dill because his wife had restrained herself so well--as if he were simply going off to maneuvers."
The lieutenant was now standing up. He swayed on his legs, which he held wide apart, and supported himself on the cavalry captain's arm, and looked up into his face expectantly with unsteady eyes.
"Do you know what happened to him--to Dill? I was there. Do you know what?"
The captain looked at the others in dismay.
"Come on--come on to bed. Don't excite yourself," he stammered in embarrassment.
With a howl of triumph the sick man cut him short and snapped in an unnaturally high voice:
"You don't know what happened to Dill, you don't? We were standing just the way we are now, and he was just going to show me the new photograph that his wife had sent him--his brave wife, he-he, his restrained wife. Oh yes, restrained! That's what they all were--all prepared for anything. And while we were standing there, he about to show me the picture, a twenty-eighter struck quite a distance away from us, a good two-hundred yards. We didn't even look that way. Then all of a sudden I saw something black come flying through the air--and Dill fell over with his dashing wife's picture in his hand and a boot, a leg, a boot with the leg of a baggage soldier sticking in his head--a soldier that the twenty-eighter had blown to pieces far away from where we stood."
He stopped for an instant and stared at the captain triumphantly. Then he went on with a note of spiteful pride in his voice, though every now and then interrupted by a peculiar gurgling groan.
"Poor Dill never said another word--Dill with the spur sticking in his skull, a regular cavalry spur, as big as a five-crown piece. He only turned up the whites of his eyes a little and looked sadly at his wife's picture, that she should have permitted such a thing as that. Such a thing as that! Such a thing! It took four of us to pull the boot out-- four of us. We had to turn it and twist it, until a piece of his brain came along--like roots pulled up--like a jellyfish--a dead one--sticking to the spur."
"Shut up!" the captain yelled furiously, and tore himself away and walked into the house cursing.
The other two looked after him longingly, but they could not let the unfortunate man stay there by himself. When the captain had withdrawn his arm, he had fallen down on the bench again and sat whimpering like a whipped child, with his head leaning on the back. The Philosopher touched his shoulder gently, and was about to speak to him kindly and induce him to go into the house when he started up again and broke out into an ugly, snarling laugh.
"But we tore her out of him, his dashing wife. Four of us had to tug and pull until she came out. I got him rid of her. Out with her! She's gone. All of them are gone. Mine is gone, too. Mine is torn out, too. All are being torn out. There's no wife any more! No wife any more, no--"
His head bobbed and fell forward. Tears slowly rolled down his sad, sad face.
The captain reappeared followed by the little assistant physician, who was on night duty.
"You must go to bed now, Lieutenant," the physician said with affected severity.
The sick man threw his head up and stared blankly at the strange face. When the physician repeated the order in a raised voice, his eyes suddenly gleamed, and he nodded approvingly.
"Must go, of course," he repeated eagerly, and drew a deep sigh. "We all must go. The man who doesn't go is a coward, and they have no use for a coward. That's the very thing. Don't you understand? Heroes are the style now. The chic Mrs. Dill wanted a hero to match her new hat. Ha-ha! That's why poor Dill had to go and lose his brains. I, too--you, too--we must go die. You must let yourself be trampled on--your brains trampled on, while the women look on--chic--because it's the style now."
He raised his emaciated body painfully, holding on to the back of the bench, and eyed each man in turn, waiting for assent.
"Isn't it sad?" he asked softly. Then his voice rose suddenly to a shriek again, and the sound of his fury rang out weirdly in the garden. "Weren't they deceiving us, eh? I'd like to know--weren't they cheats? Was I an assassin? Was I a ruffian? Didn't I suit her when I sat at the piano playing? We were expected to be gentle and considerate! Considerate! And all at once, because the fashion changed, they had to have murderers. Do you understand? Murderers!"
He broke away from the physician, and stood swaying again, and his voice gradually sank to a complaining sound like the thick strangulated utterance of a drunkard.
"My wife was in fashion too, you know. Not a tear! I kept waiting and waiting for her to begin to scream and beg me at last to get out of the train, and not go with the others--beg me to be a coward for her sake. Not one of them had the courage to. They just wanted to be in fashion. Mine, too! Mine, too! She waved her handkerchief just like all the rest."
His twitching arms writhed upwards, as though he were calling the heavens to witness.
"You want to know what was the most awful thing?" he groaned, turning to the Philosopher abruptly. "The disillusionment was the most awful thing --the going off. The war wasn't. The war is what it has to be. Did it surprise you to find out that war is horrible? The only surprising thing was the going off. To find out that the women are horrible--that was the surprising thing. That they can smile and throw roses, that they can give up their men, their children, the boys they have put to bed a thousand times and pulled the covers over a thousand times, and petted and brought up to be men. That was the surprise! That they gave us up-- that they sent us--_sent_ us! Because every one of them would have been ashamed to stand there without a hero. That was the great disillusionment. Do you think we should have gone if they had not sent us? Do you think so? Just ask the stupidest peasant out there why he'd like to have a medal before going back on furlough. Because if he has a medal his girl will like him better, and the other girls will run after him, and he can use his medal to hook other men's women away from under their noses. That's the reason, the only reason. The women sent us. No general could have made us go if the women hadn't allowed us to be stacked on the trains, if they had screamed out that they would never look at us again if we turned into murderers. Not a single man would have gone off if they had sworn never to give themselves to a man who has split open other men's skulls and shot and bayoneted human beings. Not one man, I tell you, would have gone. I didn't want to believe that they could stand it like that. 'They're only pretending,' I thought. 'They're just restraining themselves. But when the first whistle blows, they'll begin to scream and tear us out of the train, and rescue us.' _Once_ they had the chance to protect us, but all they cared about was being in style--nothing else in the world but just being in style."
He sank down on the bench again and sat as though he were all broken up. His body was shaken by a low weeping, and his head rolled to and fro on his panting chest. A little circle of people had gathered behind his back. The old landsturm corporal was standing beside the physician with four sentries ready to intervene at a moment's notice. All the windows in the officers' wing had lighted up, and scantily clad figures leaned out, looking down into the garden curiously.
The sick man eagerly scrutinized the indifferent faces around him. He was exhausted.
His hoarse throat no longer gave forth a sound. His hand reached out for help to the Philosopher, who stood beside him, all upset.
The physician felt the right moment had come to lead him away.
"Come, Lieutenant, let's go to sleep," he said with a clumsy affectation of geniality. "That's the way women are once for all, and there's nothing to be done about it."
The physician wanted to go on talking and in conversing lure the sick man into the house unawares. But the very next sentence remained sticking in his throat, and he stopped short in amazement. The limp wobbling skeleton that only a moment before had sat there as in a faint and let himself be raised up by the physician and the Philosopher, suddenly jumped up with a jerk, and tore his arms away so violently that the two men who were about to assist him were sent tumbling up against the others. He bent over with crooked knees, staggering like a man carrying a heavy load on his back. His veins swelled, and he panted with fury:
"That's the way women are once for all, are they? Since when, eh? Have you never heard of the suffragettes who boxed the ears of prime ministers, and set fire to museums, and let themselves be chained to lamp-posts for the sake of the vote? For the sake of the vote, do you hear? But for the sake of their men? No. Not one sound. Not one single outcry!"
He stopped to take breath, overcome by a wild suffocating despair. Then he pulled himself together once more and with difficulty suppressing the sobs, which kept bringing a lump into his throat, he screamed in deepest misery like a hunted animal:
"Have you heard of one woman throwing herself in front of a train for the sake of her husband? Has a single one of them boxed the ears of a prime minister or tied herself to a railroad track for us? There wasn't one that had to be torn away. Not one fought for us or defended us. Not one moved a little finger for us in the whole wide world! They drove us out! They gagged us! They gave us the spur, like poor Dill. They sent us to murder, they sent us to die--for their vanity. Are you going to defend them? No! They must be pulled out! Pulled out like weeds, by the roots! Four of you together must pull the way we had to do with Dill. Four of you together! Then she'll have to come out. Are you the doctor? There! Do it to my head. I don't want a wife! Pull--pull her out!"
He flung out his arm and his fist came down like a hammer on his own skull, and his crooked fingers clutched pitilessly at the sparse growth of hair on the back of his head, until he held up a whole handful torn out by the roots, and howled with pain.
The doctor gave a sign, and the next moment the four sentries were on him, panting. He screamed, gnashed his teeth, beat about him, kicked himself free, shook off his assailants like burrs. It was not until the old corporal and the doctor came to their assistance that they succeeded in dragging him into the house.
As soon as he was gone the people left the garden. The last to go were the Mussulman and the Philosopher. The Mussulman stopped at the door, and in the light of the lantern looked gravely down at his leg, which, in its plaster cast, hung like a dead thing between his two crutches.
"Do you know, Philosopher," he said, "I'd much rather have this stick of mine. The worst thing that can happen to one out there is to go crazy like that poor devil. Rather off with one's head altogether and be done with it. Or do you think he still has a chance?"
The Philosopher said nothing. His round good-natured face had gone ashen pale, and his eyes were swimming with tears. He shrugged his shoulders and helped his comrade up the steps without speaking. On entering the ward they heard the banging of doors somewhere far away in the house and a muffled cry.
Then everything was still. One by one the lights went out in the windows of the officers' wing. Soon the garden lay like a bushy black island in the river's silent embrace. Only now and then a gust of wind brought from the west the coughing of the guns like a faint echo.
Once more a crunching sound was heard on the gravel. It was the four sentries marching back to the watch-house. One soldier was cursing under his breath as he tried to refasten his torn blouse. The others were breathing heavily and were wiping the sweat from their red foreheads with the backs of their hands. The old corporal brought up the rear, his pipe in the corner of his mouth, his head bent low. As he turned into the main walk a bright sheet of light lit up the sky, and a prolonged rumbling that finally sank into the earth with a growl shook all the windows of the hospital. The old man stood still and listened until the rumbling had died away. Then he shook his clenched fist, and sent out a long curve of saliva from between his set teeth, and muttered in a disgust that came from the depths of his soul:
(Men in War by Andreas Latzko Book, page 1 / 105)
MEN IN WAR, "OFF TO WAR", BY ANDREAS LATZKO