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The Glory of the Trenches Coningsby Dawson

The Growing Of The Vision

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The Belgian soldier, in his tattered uniform, was leaning out, as though to bridge the space that divided him from his ghostly tormentors. The dazed look was gone from his expression and his eyes were focussed in the fixity of a cruel purpose--to kill, and kill, and kill the smoke-grey hordes of tyrants so long as his life should last. He shrieked imprecations at them, calling upon God and snatching epithets from the gutter in his furious endeavour to curse them. He was dragged away by friends in khaki, overpowered, struggling, smothered but still cursing.

I learnt afterwards that he, with his mother and two brothers, had been the proprietors of one of the best hotels in Brussels. Both his brothers had been called to arms and were dead. Anything might have happened to his mother--he had not heard from her. He himself had escaped in the general retreat and was going back to France as interpreter with an English regiment. He had lost everything; it was the sight of his ruined hotel, flung by chance on the screen, that had provoked his demonstration. He was dead to every emotion except revenge--to accomplish which he was returning.

The moving-pictures still went on; nobody had the heart to see more of them. The house rose, fumbling for its coats and hats; the place was soon empty.

Just as I was leaving a recruiting sergeant touched my elbow, "Going to enlist, sonny?"

I shook my head. "Not to-night. Want to think it over."

"You will," he said. "Don't wait too long. We can make a man of you. If I get you in my squad I'll give you hell."

I didn't doubt it.

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I don't know that I'm telling these events in their proper sequence as they led up to the growing of the vision. That doesn't matter--the point is that the conviction was daily strengthening that I was needed out there. The thought was grotesque that I could ever make a soldier--I whose life from the day of leaving college had been almost wholly sedentary. In fights at school I could never hurt the other boy until by pain he had stung me into madness. Moreover, my idea of war was grimly graphic; I thought it consisted of a choice between inserting a bayonet into some one else's stomach or being yourself the recipient. I had no conception of the long-distance, anonymous killing that marks our modern methods, and is in many respects more truly awful. It's a fact that there are hosts of combatants who have never once identified the bodies of those for whose death they are personally responsible. My ideas of fighting were all of hand-to-hand encounters--the kind of bloody fighting that rejoiced the hearts of pirates. I considered that it took a brutal kind of man to do such work. For myself I felt certain that, though I got the upper-hand of a fellow who had tried to murder me, I should never have the callousness to return the compliment. The thought of shedding blood was nauseating.

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The Glory of the Trenches
Coningsby Dawson

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