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The memories of its troubled history and of how it had defended a passionate egoism on the threshold of an alien nation, spread upon the sunny air like a dark and bitter perfume. A regiment was marching along the high road towards the town. In the distance, looking towards Belgium, you could see it coming down the white road. It was a shadow moving across the bright surface of the country against the wind and against the shadows of the clouds. It looked like the shadow of a snake. There was, however, no snake visible in the lovely sky, and on a nearer view the shadow became a column of hunchbacks, a herd of deformed creatures driven on together, each one like another one.

It was a French territorial regiment. It had come out of the trenches that morning, and from the trenches it was marching toward the town. It was a moving mass of men covered over with the cloth of fatigue. Over them was their suffocating weariness, and under them was the dust of the road. They moved along, bending forward as if the space between the weight that lay on them and the dusty road under them was not wide enough to hold them upright.

They moved laboriously through the dust, as if they were dragging chains. But there was no sound from them save the dull sound of their feet tramping the road. The regiment was a regiment of old men. Their faces were old and their clothes were old and their bodies were old, and the spirit in them was old. There was no youth in any one of them. They marched steadily along the road.

Their gait was the steady jolting gait of weary animals. They did not look quite like men. One could not be certain what kind of men they were. One could only be certain that they were not young. They had not quite the colour nor the shape of men. The war had spread over them its own colour. They were dark against the bright mirage of summer.

They were of a deep, dull courageous hue. Their faces and their hands and their coats were all stained with the same stain, no longer blue, no longer brown. Fatigue and suffering and dirt had soaked through them and had made them this colour. And they were all deformed, and certainly their deformity was the deformity of the war.

They were not misshapen in different ways. They were all misshapen in the same way. Each one was deformed like the next one. Each one had been twisted and bent in the same way. Each one carried the same burden that bowed his back, the same knapsack, the same roll of blanket, the same flask, the same dangling box, the same gun. Each one dragged swollen feet in the same thick-crusted boots. The same machine had twisted and bent them all. They did not look quite like men, and yet they were men. Nor did they behave like men.

They did not look about them as they marched along the road. They did not talk as they marched close together. They did not stop marching, never for a moment did they stop marching. They did not shift their burdens to ease them. They did not notice the milestones as they passed.

They paid no attention to the signposts at the cross roads. They did not wipe the sweat off their faces. They did not behave like men walking through pleasant country, and yet they assuredly were men. I saw in their eyes that they were men. They marched with their eyes fixed on the rough bent backs of those in front, on the rough backs of their companions who were too old to be comrades. And in their deep fixed eyes, sunk under grizzled eyebrows, there was a strange expression, the expression of profound knowledge.

They were old men and they knew. There were many things they did not know; they did not know where they were going; they did not know why they were going there; they did not know how far they had to go, or how long they would rest there; but two things they did know; they knew that they were not going home, and they knew that they were condemned to death. They knew this; they had always known.

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They understood and they did not complain. France was at war. They were old men.

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Their sons had been killed. They were taking the place of their sons. There was no elasticity in them, nor any enthusiasm, nor any passion; but they were patient. Being old men, there was nothing they could not accept; there was nothing they could not endure. They had endured fatigue and cold and hunger and wet. They had endured so long that they had ceased to think about these things. Their weariness was a thing of such long standing that they thought of it no more. Their uncleanness had become a habit to them.

Suffering was a part of their rations. They were acclimatised to misery. Death was a part of the equipment they carried always with them. The war had no interest for them nor any terror. They accepted the war. It was a thing to be endured. They were enduring it. There was only one thing they wanted, and this thing they wanted without hope. They wanted to go home, and they knew they were not going home. Out of the deep comfort of the warm dear holes they had dug for themselves in the land they loved, these old men had been called to war, the bleak desert of death.

Each one had been torn up out of the deep place he had made. Like old trees, strong rooted, they had grown into the soil of France, and they had been torn up and carted away to die, and in the place each one had left there was a gaping hole. They remembered their homes as they marched along the road. They did not look about them as they walked through the bright country that was enjoying itself, because this country was not their home and they were too tired to look up. They were coming away from the trenches and they were tired. They were relieved of the strain of imminent death, but the relief made them only more tired.

And what was the good of coming away from the trenches if they were not going home? Long ago they had gone into the trenches. They had crawled laboriously into them, their old bodies creaking, their gouty souls wincing, and they had learned how to live in those ditches. Carefully with great caution they had learned how to endure them. They had smoked innumerable pipes in them and had chewed loaves of bread; they had slept and waked and received letters from home. Then, with the same creaking of their joints they had come out of the trenches.

Some of them had not come out, but those that were left had come out. They did not know where they were going; they only knew that they were not going home. It was all the same to them as long as they could not go home. The aeroplane, glittering in the sun, was still circling through the citadel of the sky.

High it flew. It flew high! It flew higher again, and still higher. The regiment was chained to the earth. The men were chained to the ground. They were heavy; they were fastened down. The mass of them jolted along, a dark weight scraping the road. Their flag alone was lifted. It moved fluttering above their heads, tattered and soiled. It was there for an emblem of hope. They ignored it. They did not see it. Long ago they had ceased to regard it. In the centre of the big sleepy square of the town was a group of fine little men in costume. They were waiting for the regiment that was marching along the road, and they were waiting for the General who commanded the army, the General-in-Chief, their own General.

These fine little men were officers. One could not be certain that they had anything to do with the war, but one could be certain that they were officers. Their trim figures, polished and clean and neatly put together and nicely covered in scarlet and blue cloth and brown leather, stood upright in the centre of the square.

The wide expanse of cobblestones on which they stood glistened like a sheet of opaque glass. From the four sides of the square the wise houses watched under ruminating brows. It was difficult to tell what the houses thought of the officers in the square. It was difficult to tell what the officers were doing there in the middle of the square.

Certainly they were waiting, but they seemed to be busily, nervously waiting. They could not keep still. They seemed conscious of the stare of the houses. They drew themselves up very straight. Their arms made quick gestures; their gloved hands twirled their moustaches; their neat heels tapped the pavement smartly. They bowed to one another elaborately.

There was variety among these officers. No one was like another one. Not one had gestures like another one. Not one had clothes like another one. Certainly they were individuals. One was a slim, graceful one; one was a flabby one; one was an elegant one; one a tall, very stiff one; one was a pot-bellied one. Each remained the same one he had been before the war.

They were varnished over with a military varnish, but beneath the varnish appeared distinctly the small individuality of each one. It was curious to see such fine shiny men in the centre of the old haggard town. Through the east gate of the town the regiment came into the town dragging its weight and its darkness, and it poured its darkness into the square.

It poured through the gap of the street into the square, and it came to a stand. It was a dark mass of tenacity, inert, incurious, obstinate, one man beside another man, each one like the next one, close packed together between the pale dreaming houses. The regiment brought truth into the square. It was a fact, a darkness, a weight filling one side of the square. The men of the regiment stood close packed together.

The mass of their round metal helmets gleamed like a beach of smooth pebbles before the windows of the houses, and their bayonets shot up like a forest of knives flashing in the sunlight. We are old. We want nothing since we cannot go home. We do not belong here. You are old, too, like us; but we are too tired to make friends with you, though we thank you.

The regiment didn't answer. It had nothing to say to the staff officers. It did not recognise them. Its own officers-yes; but these it did not know, and the staff officers were embarrassed by the obstinacy and the stupidity and weariness of the regiment. They fidgeted on the edge of its darkness. While the regiment and the officers waited in the square for the General, the aeroplane flew down from the cloud castles in the sky and circled over the town crying gaily:. Look at me, you heavy old ones, I can fly. The regiment did not look up. A bugle sounded, heralding the approach of the General, but instead of the General a woman came into the square.

She came in a motor with glass windows. Her shining car stopped in front of the regiment. She opened the door of the motor and put out her white foot and stepped down, and her delicate body dressed in the white uniform of a hospital was exposed to the view of the officers and the regiment. Her head was bound close with a white kerchief. A red cross burned on her forehead. She was a beautiful animal dressed as a nun and branded with a red cross. Her shadowy eyes said to the regiment:. The eyes of the officers followed the white shining woman as she moved through the sunlight.

The town said to itself: "This curious creature has gone astray. It has the appearance of being expensive. It must have escaped from its owner who, no doubt, prizes it highly; but that is none of our business. Suddenly a cry burst from the regiment, and a shout burst from the trumpets and horns and drums of the regiment. It rang through the square shivering against the houses. The little people of the town came to their doorways. The rosy faces of the comfortable women and the round children spread round the square like a smile, and the hoarse passionate voice of the old rusty regiment rose bravely in welcome.

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He appeared at the far end of the square, a small solid figure standing alone. He existed apart, isolated. He stood at a distance, a solitary man, concentrating the attention of the town. He came across the square alone, growing larger and larger as he came. He covered the ground with long strides. His gloved hand was on the hilt of his sword. When he reached the centre of the square, he wheeled and faced the regiment, a stone giant, solid as granite, commanding the attention of every man in the square.

He ignored the officers and faced the regiment. And the town watching saw a curious thing. The bodies of the hunchbacks straightened under the eyes of the General. It was as if the iron arm of the stone man raised to salute them had lifted the weariness from the deformed shoulders of those old ones. It was evident to the town that the General understood the regiment.

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It was evident that he knew what they knew. And with this dark knowledge he faced them. The trumpets and drums were hushed. A strange silence filled the square, and in silence the General summoned the regiment to meet his eyes. He took full in the face its dumb message. The weight he had lifted from it fell on him. The darkness drowning it flowed into him. He accepted it. He did not dodge it or bend under the weight of it. He stood rigid before the eyes of the regiment challenging its knowledge.

The weary eyes of the old territorials were fixed on his white head and deep stony face. They searched him, and they saw that he knew what they knew, that there was nothing about the war that he didn't know, and they were satisfied. Your sons have been killed. France had need of you and you came. You must die for France as your sons died. You left your homes to come to the war. You will never go home again. You will go back to the trenches. It is I who will send you back there.

Again and again you will go back to those ditches, by my orders, until you are killed as your sons were killed. You are mine for the war. I carry the weight of your obedience and your patience. You will be patient until death. I know you. We are here because our sons are gone to protect the homes we cannot go back to. You are the one we obey. A hundred years ago there came here such a one as this, and he was a great man.

We, too, are acquainted with war and with armies. We have seen thousands of little men, and we have seen some big men. We know that this is a great man. From the regiment the General turned to the officers and the town perceived that the relation of the General to his officers was a complex thing. It was as complicated as a formal dance or pantomime on a stage. The officers knew their steps. They had apparently rehearsed the performance. The General treated the officers with elaborate ceremony.

He was there to decorate them. The decorating of the officers was a ceremony, and he performed the ceremony with the skill of an actor. He played it with solemnity. He saluted each one in turn, the long one, and the pale one and the pot-bellied one. He drew his sword from its scabbard; it flashed in the sun as he laid it upon their shoulders. On the left shoulder and upon the right shoulder of the Colonel he laid his sword. He pinned a medal on the Colonel's elegant chest and then he kissed him on the left cheek and on the right cheek.

He did the same with each officer in turn. He called each one by name and addressed him in a loud voice of commendation. He laid on each one his sword and he kissed each one on both cheeks, and on the chest of each one he left a bit of ribbon and a bright medal. The regiment in the background was the chorus for this pretty play.

After each kiss and each decoration the trumpets and drums of the regiment cried aloud in congratulation. Kisses and bits of ribbon and a graceful flashing sword, these little things passed between the General and his officers. No truth passed between themnothing but a play. And the General went away as he had come, taking with him the pride and the courage that he had brought into the square. The face of the town grew dull as it watched him go. The women and the children disappeared into the dim houses. The white strange woman looked after him with vague, troubled eyes, not noticing the officers who advanced towards her, elaborately bowing.

The regiment lowered its bayonets at his going and bowed its shoulders. Its darkness grew more dark, and its weariness more heavy. When the General had gone it became again a shapeless mass of dark, weary hunchbacks. The clock in the church tower marked five o'clock when the regiment left the square. It marched out of the town and along the road as it had come.

They did not know where they were going. It did not matter to them where they were going. They did not look about them as they marched. They did not look before them, nor behind them. They did not look up at the cloudless sky, nor did they wonder where the clouds had gone. They did not remember the beautiful clouds of the morning that had sailed serenely over the enemy's country. They did not remember the sympathy of the town, nor the complacency of that fine little group of officers, nor the glittering of the bright medals, nor the insolence of the white woman who watched.

They did not very much remember the grandeur of the General, nor the pride they had known in the General. They remembered their homes. The sweat ran down their faces under their helmets. Their feet were heavy on the road. They marched steadily, jolting along, patient, weary animals who remembered. There was no sign of horror upon the earth. There was not a cloud in the sky.

The afternoon sunlight was golden over the land. The regiment passed like a shadow through the bright country and was lost to view. THE beach was long and smooth and the colour of cream. The woman sitting in the sun stroked the beach with the pink palm of her hand and said to herself, "The beach is perfect, the sun is perfect, the sea is perfect. How pretty the little waves are, curling up the beach. They are perfectly lovely. They are like a lace frill to the beach.

And the sea is a perfectly heavenly blue.

It is odd to think of how old the beach is and how old the sea is, and how much older that old, old fellow, the fiery sun. The face of the beach is smooth as cream and the sea to-day is a smiling infant, twinkling and dimpling, and the sun is delicious; it is burning hot, like youth itself.

It is good to he alive. It is good to be young. How many snails have left their shells behind them, do you think, to make all this fine powdery sand? A million billion? The man wriggled and hitched himself clumsily up in his chair ; an ugly grimace pulled his pale face to one side. He dared not look down over the arm of his wheel chair at the bright head of the woman sitting beside him.

Her hair burned in the sunlight; her cheeks were pink. He stole a timid, furtive look. Yes, she was as beautiful as a child. She was perfectly lovely. A groan escaped him, or was it only a sigh? She looked up quickly. Are you in pain? Are you tired? Shall we go back? Funny, isn't it, that it goes on throbbing.

They cut it off two months ago. The old foot begins the old game, then I look down and it's not there any more, and I'm fooled again.

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His laughter was such a tiny sound in the great murmur of the morning that it might have been a sand-fly laughing. He was thinking, "What will become of us? She is young and healthy. She is as beautiful as a child. What shall we do about it? So did she. She looked past him at the row of ugly villas above the beach. Narrow houses, each like a chimney, tightly wedged together, wedges of cheap brick and plaster with battered wooden balconies. They were new and shabby and derelict. All had their shutters up. All the doors were bolted.

How stuffy it must be in those deserted villas, in all those abandoned bedrooms and kitchens and parlours. Probably there were sand-shoes and bathing dresses and old towels and saucepans and blankets rotting inside them with the sand drifting in. Probably the window panes behind the shutters were broken and the mirrors cracked. Perhaps when the aeroplanes dropped bombs on the town, pictures fell down and mirrors and the china in the dark china closets cracked inside these pleasure houses. Who had built them? Now they're empty. The blighters have left them to rot there.

Rotten, I call it, leaving the swanky plage to go to the bad like that, just because there's a war on. A little jazz now and a baccarat table would make all the difference, wouldn't it? It would cheer us up. You'd dance and I'd have a go at the tables. That's the casino over there, that big thing; that's not empty, that's crowded, but I don't advise you to go there. I don't think you'd like it. It's not your kind of a crowd. It's all right for me, but not for you. No, it wouldn't do for younot even on a gala night.

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  • Funny sort of place. You should watch the motors drive up then. The rush begins about ten in the evening and goes on till morning. Quite like Deauville the night of the Grand Prix. You never saw such a crowd. They all rush there from the front, you knowthe way they do from the race-coursethough, to be sure, it is not quite the real thingnot a really smart crowd. No, not precisely, though the wasters in Deauville weren't much to look at, were they?

    Still, our crowd here aren't precisely wasters. Gamblers, of course, down and outs, wrecks all gone to pieces, parts of 'em missing, you know, tops of their heads gone, or one of their legs. When they take their places at the tables, the croupiersthat is to say, the doctorslook them over. Come closer, I'll whisper it. Some of them have no faces. If we can't walk in we get carried in. All that's needed is a ticket. It's tied to you like a luggage label. It has your name on it in case you don't remember your name. You needn't have a face, but a ticket you must have to get into our casino.

    There's a skating rink. You ought to see it. You go through the baccarat rooms and the dance hail to get to it. They're all full of beds. Rows of beds under the big crystal chandeliers, rows of beds under the big gilt mirrors, and the skating rink is full of beds, too. The sun blazes down through the glass roof. It's like a hot-house in Kew Gardens. There's that dank smell of a rotting swamp, the smell of gas gangrene.

    Men with gas gangrene turn green, you know, like rotting plants. Then he was silent. He looked at her cowering in the sand, her hands covering her face, and looked away again. He wondered why he had told her these things. He loved her. He hated her. He was afraid of her. He did not want her to be kind to him. He could never touch her again and he was tied to her. Each one was after his version of immortality, just as Achilles had decided upon, even to the forfeit of self preservation. Well off and educated Greeks worked at remaining at a constant temperature, cleaning their teeth, washing regularly, keeping fit, and eating healthily.

    Their aim was to keep the four humors in balance throughout the year. Greek doctors were strong believers in doing things in moderations.

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    Right now, I must begin a new one with the weight of sorrow, ashes, and the contradictory burden of absence right at the beginning. A footnote is how much I wish for a few first readers--not that any could equal Ms. Thank you Jess for this wonderfully witty, and scholarly piece of work. I have often thought about the metaphor of an entrance way when it comes to "Where shall I begin? This piece was exhilarating - many new poems to read!

    Prose Home Harriet Blog. Visit Home Events Exhibitions Library. Newsletter Subscribe Give. Poetry Foundation. Back to Previous. Where Shall I Begin? By Jessica Greenbaum. Matthew Ragan. Originally Published: February 18th, Read Full Biography. Related Content. Related Comments. Archibald Higbie. By Edgar Lee Masters.