I was helping Hutin to clean the gun.
“Well, Hutin, war’s a nice sort of show, isn’t it?”
” Well, if it consists in fooling about like this till the 22nd September, when my class will be discharged, I’d rather be in the field than the barracks. We’ve never been so well fed in our lives! If only that lasts! . . .”
“Yes, provided it lasts ! Only, there are Boches here.”
“And then, we don’t get many letters.”
“No, that’s true; we don’t get enough,” said Hutin with some bitterness, viciously shoving his sponge through the bore.
And he added: “And as for the letters we write ourselves, we can’t say where we are, nor what we are doing, nor even put a date. What is one to write?”
“Well, I simply say that it is fine and that I am still alive.”
Always the same silence along the lines. That has lasted for days now. What can it mean? For us, pawns on the great chessboard, this waiting is agonizing, and stretches our nerves to that painful tension which one feels sometimes when watching a leaden sky, waiting for the storm to break.
Today I saw General Boelle, whose motor stopped on the road quite close to our camp. He is a man with refined features, of cheerful expression, still youthful-looking despite his white hair and grizzled moustache.
The classic popularity of war trophies has not diminished. Quite a crowd collected round a cyclist who had brought back from Mangiennes two German cowskin bags and a Mauser rifle. It is astonishing how quickly instinct develops in war. All civilization disappears almost at once, and the relations between man and man become primitively direct. One’s first preoccupation is to make oneself respected.
This necessity is not implicitly recognized by all, but every one acts as if he recognized it. Then again, the sense of authority becomes transformed. The authority conferred on the Captain by his rank diminishes, while that which he owes to his character increases in proportion. Authority has, in fact, but one measure: the confidence of the men in the capability of their officer. For this reason our Captain, Bernard de Brisoult, in whom even the densest among us has recognized exceptional intelligence and decision under a great charm of manner and invariable courtesy, exercises, thanks to this confidence, a beneficial influence upon all. And yet his actual personality, as our chief, makes little impression upon, one at first. Captain de Brisoult never commands. He gives his orders in an ordinary conversational tone; but, a man of inborn tact and refinement, he always remains the Captain, even while living with his men upon terms of intimacy. It is hard to say whether he is more loved than respected, or more respected than loved. And soldiers know something about men.
In the rough masculine relations between the artillerymen among themselves there nevertheless remains a place for great friendships, but they become rarer. The ties of simple barrack comradeship either disappear or harden into tacit treaties of real friendship. The mainspring of this is rather egoism than a need of affection. One is vividly conscious of the necessity of having close at hand a man upon whose assistance one can always rely, and to whom one knows one can turn in no matter what circumstances. In the relationships thus solidly established, without any words, a choice is implied; they are not engendered by affinities of character alone. One learns to appreciate in one’s friend his value as a help and also his strength and courage.