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   Chapter 12 CAFARD

High Adventure By James Norman Hall Characters: 14752

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


It is mid-January, snowing, blowing, the thermometer below zero. We have done no flying for five days. We have read our most recent magazines from cover to cover, including the advertisements, many of which we find more interesting, better written, than the stories. We have played our latest phonograph record for the five hundred and ninety-eighth time. Now we are hugging our one stove, which is no larger than a length of good American stove-pipe, in the absurd hope of getting a fleeting promise of heat.

Boredom, insufferable boredom. There is no American expression-there will be soon, no doubt-for this disease which claims so many victims from the Channel coast to the borders of Switzerland. The British have it without giving it a name. They say "Fed up and far from home." The more inventive French call it "Cafard."

Our outlook upon life is warped, or, to use a more seasonable expression, frozen. We are not ourselves. We make sarcastic remarks about one another. We hold up for ridicule individual peculiarities of individuality. Some one, tiring of this form of indoor sports, starts the phonograph again.

Wind, wind, wind (the crank)

Kr-r-r-r-r-r-r (the needle on the disk)

La-dee-dum, dee-doodle, di-dee-day (the orchestral introduction)

Sometimes when I feel sad

And things look blue,

I wish the boy I had

Was one like you-

"For the love of Pete! Shut off that damn silly thing!"

"I admire your taste, Irving!"

"Can it!"

"Well, what will you have, then?"

"Play that Russian thing, the 'Danse des Buffons.'"

"Don't play anything."

"Lord! I wish some one would send us some new records."

"Yes, instead of knitted wristers-what?"

"And mufflers."

"Talking about wristers, how many pair do you think I've received? Eight!"

"You try to head 'em off. Doesn't do any good. They keep coming just the same."

"It's because they are easy to make. Working wristers and mufflers is a method of dodging the knitting draft."

"Well, now, I call that gratitude! You don't deserve to have any friends."

"Isn't it the truth? Have you ever known of a soldier or an aviator who wore wristers?"

"I give mine to my mechanician. He sends them home, and his wife unravels the yarn and makes sweaters for the youngsters."

"Think of the waste energy. Harness up the wrist-power and you could keep three aircraft factories going day and night."

"Oh, well, if it amuses the women, what's the difference?"

"That's not the way to look at it. They ought to be doing something useful."

"Plenty of them are; don't forget that, old son."

"Anybody got anything to read?"

"Now, if they would send us more books-"

"And magazines-"

"Two weeks ago, Blake, you were wishing they wouldn't send so many."

"What of it? We were having fine weather then."

"There ought to be some system about sending parcels to the front."

"The Germans have it, they say. Soldier wants a book, on engineering, for example, or a history, or an anthology of recent poetry. Gets it at once through Government channels."

"Say what you like about the Boches, they don't know the meaning of waste energy."

"But you can't have method and efficiency in a democracy."

"There you go! Same old fallacy!"

"No fallacy about it! Efficiency and personal freedom don't go together. They never have and they never will."

"And what does our personal freedom amount to? When you get down to brass tacks, personal freedom is a mighty poor name for it, speaking for four fifths of the population."

"Germany doesn't want it, our brand, and we can't force it on her."

"And without it, she has a mighty good chance of winning this war-"

When the talk begins with the uselessness of wristers, shifts from that to democratic inefficiency, and from that to the probability of Deutschland über Alles, you may be certain of the diagnosis. The disease is cafard.

The sound of a motor-car approaching. Dunham rushes to the window and then swears, remembering our greased-cloth window panes.

"Go and see who it is, Tiffin, will you? Hope it's the mail orderly."

Tiffin goes on outpost and reports three civilians approaching.

"Now, who can they be, I wonder?"

"Newspaper men probably."

"Good Lord! I hope not."

"Another American mission."

"That's my guess, too."

Rodman is right. It is another American mission coming to "study conditions" at the front.

"But unofficially, gentlemen, quite unofficially," says Mr. A., its head, a tall, melancholy-looking man, with a deep, bell-like voice. Mr. B., the second member of the mission, is in direct contrast, a birdlike little man, who twitters about the room, from group to group.

"Oh! If you boys only knew how splendid you are! How much we in America-You are our first representatives at the front, you know. You are the vanguard of the millions who-" etc.

Miller looks at me solemnly. His eyes are saying, "How long, O Lord, how long!"

Mr. C., the third member, is a silent man. He has keen, deep-set eyes. "There," we say, "is the brain of the mission."

Tea is served very informally. Mr. A. is restless. He has something on his mind. Presently he turns to Lieutenant Talbott.

"May I say a few words to your squadron?"

"Certainly," says Talbott, glancing at us uneasily.

Mr. A. rises, steps behind his chair, clears his throat, and looks down the table where ten pilots,-the others are taking a constitutional in the country,-caught in négligée attire by the unexpected visitors, are sitting in attitudes of polite attention.

"My friends-" the deep, bell-like voice. In fancy, I hear a great shifting of chairs, and following the melancholy eyes with my own, over the heads of my ten fellow pilots, beyond the limits of our poor little messroom, I see a long vista of polished shirt fronts, a diminishing track of snowy linen, shimmering wineglasses, shining silver.

"My friends, believe me when I say that this occasion is one of the proudest and happiest of my life. I am standing within sound of the guns which for three-long-years have been battering at the bulwarks of civilization. I hear them, as I utter these words, and I look into the faces of a little group of Americans who, day after day, and week after week" (increasing emphasis) "have been facing those guns for the honor and glory of democratic institutions" (rising inflection).

"We in America have heard them, faintly, perhaps, yet unmistakably, and now I come to tell you, in the words of that glorious old war song, 'We are coming, Father Woodrow, ONE HUN-DRED MIL-LION strong!'"

We listen through to the end, and Lieutenant Talbott, in his official capacity, begins to applaud. The rest of us join in timidly, self-consciously. I am surprised to find how awkwardly we do it. We have almost forgotten how to clap our hands! My sense of the spirit of place changes suddenly. I am in America. I am my old self there, with different thoughts, different emotions. I see everything from my old point of view. I am like a man who has forgotten his identity. I do not recover my old, or, better, my new one, until our guests have gone.

FROM A LETTER RECEIVED IN BOSTON,

OCTOBER 1, 1918

Offiziers-Kriegsgefangenen Lager,

Karlsruhe, Baden, Deutschland

July 27, 1918

I've been wondering about the ultimate fate of my poor old "Hig

h Adventure" story, whether it was published without those long promised concluding chapters which I really should have sent on had I not had the misfortune to be taken prisoner. I hope the book has been published, incomplete as it is. Not that I am particularly proud of it as a piece of literature!

I told you briefly, on my card, how I happened to be taken prisoner. We were a patrol of three and attacked a German formation at some distance behind their lines. I was diving vertically on an Albatross when my upper right plane gave way under the strain. Fortunately, the structure of the wing did not break. It was only the fabric covering it, which ripped off in great strips. I immediately turned toward our lines and should have reached them, I believe, even in my crippled condition; but by that time I was very low and under a heavy fire from the ground. A German anti-air craft battery made a direct hit on my motor. It was a terrific smash and almost knocked the motor out of the frame. My machine went down in a spin and I had another of those moments of intense fear common to the experience of aviators. Well, by Jove! I hardly know how I managed it, but I kept from crashing nose down. I struck the ground at an angle of about 30 degrees, the motor, which was just hanging on, spilled out, and I went skidding along, with the fuselage of the machine, the landing chassis having been snapped off as though the braces were so many toothpicks. One of my ankles was broken and the other one sprained, and my poor old nose received and withstood a severe contact with my wind-shield. I've been in hospital ever since until a week ago, when I was sent to this temporary camp to await assignment to a permanent one. I now hobble about fairly well with the help of a stick, although I am to be a lame duck for several months to come, I believe.

Needless to say, the lot of a prisoner of war is not a happy one. The hardest part of it is, of course, the loss of personal liberty. Oh! I shall know how to appreciate that when I have it again. But we are well treated here. Our quarters are comfortable and pleasant, and the food as good as we have any right to expect. My own experience as a prisoner of war and that of all the Frenchmen and Englishmen here with whom I have talked, leads me to believe that some of those tales of escaped or exchanged prisoners must have been highly imaginative. Not that we are enjoying all the comforts of home. On the contrary, a fifteen-cent lunch at a Child's restaurant would seem a feast to me, and a piece of milk chocolate-are there such luxuries as chocolate in the world? But for prisoners, I for one, up to this point, have no complaint to make with respect to our treatment. We have a splendid little library here which British and French officers who have preceded us have collected. I didn't realize, until I saw it, how book-hungry I was. Now I'm cramming history, biography, essays, novels. I know that I'm not reading with any judgment but I'll soon settle down to a more profitable enjoyment of my leisure. Yesterday and to-day I've been reading "The Spoils of Poynton," by Henry James. It is absurd to try cramming these. I've been longing for this opportunity to read Henry James, knowing that he was Joseph Conrad's master. "The Spoils of Poynton" has given me a foretaste of the pleasure I'm to have. A prisoner of war has his compensations. Here I've come out of the turmoil of a life of the most intense nervous excitement, a life lived day to day with no thought of to-morrow, into this other life of unlimited bookish leisure.

We are like monks in a convent. We're almost entirely out of touch with the outside world. We hear rumors of what is taking place at the front, and now and then get a budget of stale news from newly arrived prisoners. But for all this we are so completely out of it all that it seems as though the war must have come to an end. Until now this cloistered life has been very pleasant. I've had time to think and to make plans for a future which, comparatively speaking, seems assured. One has periods of restlessness, of course. When these come I console myself as best I may. Even for prisoners of war there are possibilities for quite interesting adventure, adventure in companionship. Thrown into such intimate relationships as we are here, and under these peculiar circumstances, we make rather surprising discoveries about ourselves and about each other. There are obvious superficial effects which I can trace back to causes quite easily. But there are others which have me guessing. By Jove! this is an interesting place! Conrad would find material here which would set him to work at once. I can imagine how he would revel in it.

Well, I'm getting to be a very wise man. I'm deeply learned in many kinds, or, better, phases, of human psychology and I'm increasing my fund of knowledge every day. Therefore, I've decided that, when the war is over, I'll be no more a wanderer. I'll settle down in Boston for nine months out of the year and create deathless literature. And for vacations, I've already planned the first one, which is to be a three months' jaunt by aeroplane up and down the United States east and west, north and south. You will see the possibilities of adventure in a trip of this sort. By limiting myself somewhat as to itinerary I can do the thing. I've found just the man here to share the journey with, an American in the British Air Force. He is enthusiastic about the plan. If only I can keep him from getting married for a year or so after getting home!

I had a very interesting experience, immediately after being taken prisoner on May 7th. I was taken by some German aviators to their aerodrome and had lunch with them before I was sent on to the hospital. Some of them spoke English and some of them French, so that there was no difficulty in conversing. I was suffering a good deal from my twisted ankles and had to be guarded in my remarks because of the danger of disclosing military information; but they were a fine lot of fellows. They respected my reticence, and did all they could to make me comfortable. It was with pilots from this squadron that we had been fighting only an hour or so before. One of their number had been killed in the combat by one of the boys who was flying with me. I sat beside the fellow whom I was attacking when my wing broke. I was right "on his tail," as we airmen say, when the accident occurred, and had just opened fire. Talking over the combat with him in their pleasant quarters, I was heartily glad that my affair ended as it did. I asked them to tell me frankly if they did not feel rather bitterly toward me as one of an enemy patrol which had shot down a comrade of theirs. They seemed to be surprised that I had any suspicions on this score. We had "a fair fight in an open field." Why should there be any bitterness about the result. One of them said to me, "Hauptmann, you'll find that we Germans are enemies of a country in war, but never of the individual." My experience thus far leads me to believe that this is true. There have been a few exceptions, but they were uneducated common soldiers. Bitterness toward America there certainly is everywhere, and an intense hatred of President Wilson quite equal in degree and kind to the hatred in America of the emperor....

Norman Hall.

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