Arthur Ruhl

A Year of the War on Many Fronts - and Behind Them

by Arthur Ruhl

 

Warsaw had fallen, and Ivangorod, and the centre of the German and Austro-Hungarian armies, sweeping across eastern Europe like beaters across a prairie, was now before Brest-Litovsk. This was the apex of this central triangle of Russian forts, a city and a rail-road centre as well as a fortress, and the last strongly fortified place on the direct road to Moscow. It seemed as if the Russians must make a stand here, and even though we were four or five days getting there, the heavy artillery was not yet up, and there might still be time.

The Germans had already entered Brussels, their scouts were reported on the outskirts of Ghent; a little farther now, over behind the horizon wind-mills, and we might at any moment come on them.

The Calais and Boulogne routes were already closed. Dieppe and Havre might at any moment follow. You must go now, people said in London, if you want to get there at all.

At the end of the village the road climbed again from the ravine and emerged on open fields. A wall of timber, dark and impenetrable as the woods round an old chateau, rose at the farther end of these fields - the road cutting through it like a tunnel - and on the brow of the ravine, commanding the road and the little plain, was a line of trenches. Here evidently they had fought.

The storm which was to burst over Antwerp the following night was gathering fast when we arrived on Tuesday morning. Army motor-trucks loaded with dismantled aeroplanes, and the less essential impedimenta screamed through the streets bound away from, not toward, the front. The Queen, that afternoon, was seen in the Hotel St. Antoine receiving the good-bys of various friends. Consuls suddenly locked their doors and fled.

These notes began in a London fog and ended in the south of France. I had hoped, on reaching Calais, to work in toward the fighting along the Yser, but, finding it impossible, decided to turn about and travel away from the front instead of toward it - down to see Bordeaux while it was still the temporary capital, and to see what life might be like in the French provincial towns in war time.

They were playing "The Categorical Imperative" that evening at the Little Theatre in Unter den Linden. It is an old-fashioned comedy laid in the Vienna of 1815 - two love-stories, lightly and quaintly told, across which, through the chatter of a little Viennese salon, we dimly see Napoleon return from Elba and hear the thunder of Waterloo. A young cub of a Saxon schoolmaster, full of simple-hearted enthusiasm and philosophy, comes down to the Austrian capital, and, taken up by a kindly, coquettish young countess, becomes the tutor of her cousin, a girl as simple as he.

Visiting a prison camp is somewhat like touching at an island in the night - one of those tropical islands, for instance, whose curious and crowded life shows for an instant as your steamer leaves the mail or takes on a load of deck-hands, and then fades away into a few twinkling lights and the sound of a bell across the water. You may get permission to see a prison camp, but may not stay there, and you are not expected, generally, to talk to the prisoners.

We had come down from Berlin on-one of those excursions which the German General Staff arranges for the military observers and correspondents of neutral countries. You go out, a sort of zoo - our party included four or five Americans, a Greek, an Italian, a diminutive Spaniard, and a tall, preoccupied Swede - under the direction of some hapless officer of the General Staff.

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