The Place of the Skull
DARKNESS came on rapidly. The old cemetery under the lindens was entirely dark, but around it was still twilight. In the valley the white mist was lying; from the valley rose a sullen confused noise. The boom of the artillery across the river had ceased. An icy wind began to blow. In the sky the first stars glimmered, and the moon rose beyond the hill across the river, big, murky, blood-colored.
‘Cheda, take care that the soldiers are through soon, and I will go to the other trench to see how much they have done.’
When I got there the men were in the trenches. They had finished. The sergeant came to me.
‘We are through, sir.’
‘Deep enough? The loopholes strong enough? Very well. You will send two soldiers who will hold the connection between the trenches.’
‘Mirko, I have nothing to say to you. You alone know what is your duty. I think we will have a terrible battle to-morrow, but you are an old soldier and you will know how to hold your men. One thing is certain: we must stay here until the last moment.’
‘ I know it, sir. Where should we go from here? This is our place — the cemetery!’ said the sergeant quietly, as if he were speaking of his fields. I laid my hand on his shoulder.
‘I know you are a brave man. We shall trust in God!’
Slowly I returned to the other position. The soldiers were in the trenches. They were quietly talking to each other, and one could see the glimmer of cigarettes. Bayonets protruded here and there from the deep trenches and glistened in the moonlight. Cheda was sitting near, his head sunk between his shoulders, his shikatcha drawn over his ears.
‘The machine-guns have come?’ I asked him.
‘Have you put them as I said — two at the right side of the trenches, and one at the left?’
‘Yes, sir. What do you think of tomorrow?’
‘If they have enough artillery, it will be bad. But if they do not, then we will kill them as the hail kills field-mice!’
‘I think so too, sir.’
‘Where is Bora?’ I asked him after a while.
‘There he is in the trench, sitting on the coffin.’
‘Sitting on the coffin, dreaming as usual. The soldier was right in saying the coffin is a real chair.’
The wind began to blow more strongly. It was very cold.
‘Let’s go down, Cheda; it will be warmer there. To-morrow you will be at the left wing of the trench. Bora and I will stay at the right, but to-night we can be together.’
Then we went down into the trench, into the cold, wet, nauseating graves. Some of the soldiers were sitting in the trench; others were lying on the wet ground, sleeping; others were standing with their heads leaning against the wall of the trench, their guns between their feet and held against their breasts. Standing thus, they were sleeping with open mouths. Their only rest for the whole night! How terribly pale their faces, and how ghastly in the moonlight! How like the faces of the dead!
We found Bora sitting on the coffin, but he got up when we came.
‘What! are you sitting on a corpse?’ said Cheda grimly.
‘I tell you it does not feel, and the heart in my breast does not feel,’answered Bora very seriously.
I sat down on the coffin, trying to be calm, but I felt a cold shudder run from my feet up my back and stiffen my neck. I tried to throw off my thoughts. I tried to calm myself. But my thoughts ran on. I was never wider awake. I thought: ‘I am sitting in a grave upon a corpse! I do not remember that I ever read or heard of anything like this. Can it be true? Can it be reality? Perhaps I am sick and this whole day is only the hallucination of a fever.’ But a gust swept in on us from the valley the distant sound of screams of pain, cries, and curses, which told me that it was all true.
Suddenly Bora clutched my hand. I turned round to him. The moonlight shone in his face, which was pale and haggard. His lips were quivering, his hand was outstretched, pointing to something beyond the trench. I saw that he wished to tell me something, but he could not; the words stuck in his throat.
‘ For Heaven’s sake, what is the matter with you, Bora? Why are you so frightened? ’
‘What ails him again?’ said Cheda, who was sitting beside me with his head between his knees.
‘Do you believe in ghosts?’ said Bora, whispering and shivering.
‘In ghosts, in spirits?’
‘Certainly a soldier is passing through the cemetery,’ said Cheda.
‘No! no, I am not crazy. Please get up and look,’ said Bora, pulling me to my feet.
At the same time the soldiers began to wake, to whisper, to get up. I looked out of the trench. A black shadow! It was moving round the old cemetery; from time to time it appeared in the moonlight which filtered through the lindens. It seemed to me to be very large. The soldiers became more restless.
‘Be silent!’ I cried to them.
Now the shadow emerged from the old cemetery. It was entirely in the moonlight. I saw it was a woman. She moved very quickly. She bent often, as though looking for something. Once in a while she would straighten herself, and we could hear her moan. As she came quite close to us we could hear her speaking to herself: ‘There is the grave of Mara, — there of friend Para,
— here of Caya, and here must be his !’ All of a sudden she screamed (oh, a terrible scream!) and fell upon what was left of the new grave of the soldier.
‘It is dug up, — it is broken down, destroyed!’ exclaimed the poor creature, writhing with grief, stretching her arms over the mound. ‘Why have you dug up his grave? He gave his young life for his country, but it is not yet enough; now he cannot have his rest. Why did you not find my heart to dig up rather than his grave? Why did you not first kill me? Jaoj, jaoj! All destroyed! Have you removed his coffin, have you taken him out, have you opened those terrible wounds on his dead body? Have you —?’ And not knowing what she was doing, she stumbled into the trench. We caught her and put her down near the coffin.
‘Here is the coffin,’ said Cheda, almost inaudibly.
She kneeled on the ground and quickly felt over the coffin with her hands, whispering many times, ‘Here it is, here it is!’ Then she shrieked again, fell on the coffin and began to embrace and kiss it, trembling in her whole body. Never in my life had I heard such cries. Soon they grew less and less and died away in a shuddering moan. Suddenly she weakened, her arms slipped to the ground, and she fell, her head striking on the coffin.
Bora drew in his breath with a sharp hissing sound. ‘Dead!’ he whispered.
Cheda ran to the woman first and raised her. Her shawl fell from her head and we could see her gray silvery hair. On her forehead was a great red bruise. Her eyes were closed.
‘She breathes,’ said Cheda; ‘give her water.’
I took a canteen and bathed her forehead and temples.
The soldiers crowded round us. I could hear them whispering, ‘That’s a mother! ’ ‘ Poor woman! ’ ‘ Poor mothers — all of ours!’
Finally the woman moved, and opened her eyes. Oh, dear mother’s eyes, how red and swollen they were! For a long time she looked round her; and then, as consciousness returned, she again put her arms around the coffin, placed her head upon it, and whispered in the faintest of voices, ‘My son, my dear son, my tender child! Did they hurt you?’
‘Is that your son?’ asked Bora.
‘Yes, my son, my only one. He was my hope, my happiness, my life. When I lost him I could not live myself. I did not love the sun, I had his eyes; I did not admire the flowers or smell them, I had his rosy cheeks and his hair; I did not love the sky, I had his forehead; I did not love the honey or sweetness of life, I listened to his voice; I did not care for the whole world, I had his gentle hands and his heart of gold! Oh, I had him, my only one, and that is all. He was my life. I loved him so much that now I cannot love sun, flowers, sky, world, life. All these were in him. I cannot, I cannot! ’ cried the poor mother in superhuman grief; and began to weep again.
It was more than terrible! It was inconceivable! The soldiers all left their places and gathered round us, round this poor mother. Cheda rose and motioned to them to go away. They went slowly back to their places. For a time I heard them talk and whisper, but soon they grew silent ; only the mother still wept. Presently she rose, took my hand, and in a frightened voice, said, —
‘Will you destroy his grave entirely? Will you really take him out that the dogs may eat him? Oh, no, no! I will not permit it. I am here. I am here to defend you, my dear little heart!’ cried the poor woman, clasping the coffin as if she wanted to take it to her breast and carry it somewhere far away.
Bora knelt beside her, lifted her, embraced her gently, and said to her tenderly, nearly in tears, —
‘No! good mother, we will not take out his coffin. On the contrary, we are here to defend it. We love your son too. He was a soldier, a warrior, a defender; he was our friend.’
The mother looked at Bora a few moments, astonished, with wide-open eyes, as if she did not understand him. Then she took his head in her hands and began to kiss him passionately, — on his hair, on his forehead, his cheeks, eyes, chin, — saying, —
‘Oh, I know it. Yes, you are his friend, his comrade. You are a soldier as he was. And you too have a mother, who is now weeping as I am. You are all my children. Yes, yes, you are the same as he was, only he is dead, and you, perhaps, will be to-morrow. Oh, my poor children! Have we borne you for this? Have we suffered, we mothers, so much, to lose you when we love you the most? Do not interrupt me. I know what you want to say. “Our native country is calling. We have to defend it, and defending it, we defend you, our mothers; thus we pay our debts.” Oh, I know it. I too thought it was so. The day when I parted with him, I did not weep. He said to me, “Do not weep, mother; be proud that you have a soldier son. You have kept me and cared for me more than twenty years. Now the time has come when I can defend you, and I will defend you, my good mother. Be happy!”
‘And he went with a song on his lips, happy in his strength and youth. I was proud.
‘Right away after, I went to a hospital. I wanted to be truly worthy of my son. I took care of the wounded and kissed them, for in caressing them I thought that I caressed my boy. He wrote to me often. He was happy and content. He always begged me not to worry too much, for he felt that my love defended him.
‘ One day — O God, God! One day, when I came to the hospital, I found another wounded soldier. His head was bandaged and he was lying perfectly still. I went closer to the bed. Suddenly I screamed and fell on the floor; I recognized my son. Oh, I cannot tell you all! His face was black, his eyes closed, and around them it was all blue and red. I kissed him, I spoke to him, I called him, I shook him. Slowly he raised his swollen eyelids, and showed his beautiful eyes from which he would never see any more, and a low painful groan came from his lips. Oh, my poor child! He had lost his sight and speech. Oh, I cannot tell you all.
‘One morning I went into the bandage-room when they dressed his wounds. He had no hair; his beautiful hair was shaved entirely off. Around his head was a wide-open gash from which the blood was running. 0 God, God! When the doctor pressed his head, his fingers sunk into the skin as if there was no bone beneath! Jaoj ! He died after a few days. He was never conscious. Oh, how terrible it was! I was insane with grief. He died in my arms without knowing that these were the hands of his mother which he loved so much and kissed so often. O my children, can you not see how unhappy I am? I am not angry at my native country. I, too, love my country. But when my son has died for it, I too must die. It is not life for a mother without her children. We mothers are useless for this world without our children. Oh, if I were the only mother who is weeping now, it would be nothing; but there are a million mothers who are weeping to-day. We will flood the whole world with our tears, with our mourning garments we will darken the sun, and with our sorrows we will poison life. O God! I beg you to kill me! I will not live without him, without my son, my heart, my soul!’
The poor woman ceased speaking, and began to weep sadly. We were silent. The hush of death fell.
Who can tell how long we sat there, dumb and stiff? It was terribly cold, but we did not feel it. The icy wind had blown dirt and dead leaves into our trenches, but we did not pay any attention to this; the dreadful sounds from the valley we did not hear; we were sitting in graves, but did not realize it; we were so near to death, yet no one was frightened! No one wished to think of the black present, or of the appalling future. It was impossible to think, for one would become insane. Every one, perhaps for the last time, was sunk in thoughts of the past. Every one had, perhaps for the last time, drawn from his sick heart dear and tender memories. Every one remembered beautiful past days, when everybody was so happy, when the sun always shone, and the world was full of love.
Suddenly, in the distance before us beyond the valley, a terrible light flamed out, as if the world was burning. Immediately a tremendous detonation shook the ground. This brought 11s back to reality. The mother, startled, asked,—
‘Our troops have at last crossed the Morava and blown up the bridge,’ said Bora. Then he added seriously, looking at me, ‘Now, the anvil is to feel the hammer-strokes.’
The seriousness of the present moment came over me. I bent over the mother and said to her tenderly, —
‘Now, mother, you have to go.’
She looked at me a moment and then she said with a bitter smile, —
‘What! go from here? Where? For nothing on earth will I go. I cannot leave him alone.’
‘But, good mother, you have to go from here. The battle will soon be on; soon there will be death here,’ said Bora.
‘That is what I want,’ said the poor mother in a whisper.
I was frightened and anxious. ‘If she really will not go from here!’ I thought! ‘A woman in the trench! If she were to die! Oh, no, no, it is impossible, unheard-of! It cannot be.’ I took her hands and said firmly; ‘Mother, I beg you to go. Go to your home.’ ‘Home? We mothers have no homes when our children are no longer there. Then, for us, a grave is our home. I am in it.’
‘ I beg you, mother, my dear mother, be reasonable. It is impossible. Come now, can’t you see—’ begged poor Bora, kissing her hands.
‘How, impossible? It is very natural. I am not insane. I know very well what I am doing, and I do not ask that which is impossible. O my dear children! Can’t you see that my son is again weak, frail, feeble, and little as when he was born? Can’t you see that again he needs my help and my defense?’
‘ But we are here to defend him!’
‘What do you know about little children? Nothing. Only a mother can help here. O my dear children, let me stay here.’
Suddenly she grasped my hands, fell on her knees and implored me, —
‘O my son, my dear son, please understand me. I am a miserable woman. I have lost my only little one, but you can bring me happiness — yes, happiness — if you will let me die beside him.’
I stood confused. For the first time in my life I felt what it means when the mind ceases to act. Truly I knew nothing of myself; I felt only that the wild, quick, emotional throbs of my heart said, ‘Let her stay, let her stay.’
Cheda, who stood waiting, now came up.
‘Mother, you must go from here!’
‘What? I must? I must? Never! What is the power that can send me from here? Who is the wretch who will take a mother from her only little one? Who is this cruel one? Who is this monster? We mothers are the kindest beings, but if somebody dares to hurt our little birds, then we strike, we bite, we scratch! Do you hear? We bite, we scratch!’ cried the poor mother, with changed voice and frightened eyes, with outstretched hands, showing her nails.
Cheda lost his temper.
‘The woman is crazy,’ he said. ‘Two soldiers here!’
‘What are you doing?’ I asked him.
‘I will order them to take this woman away.’
‘Sergeant, go to your place!’ I said to him sharply.
For the first time I was Cheda’s commanding officer. He looked at me, astonished, then straightened up, gave me the regular salute, and said in a firm voice, —
‘I understand, sir,’ and went to the left wing of the trench.
The mother remained. I never can describe her happiness. To-day, I thought, a human life is as cheap as a rusty parica, and the smallest pleasure is so expensive. Now an opportunity was given to me to give the greatest pleasure, and I gave it. I gave it to a Serbian mother.
The night dragged its endless length along. The first streaks of dawn were appearing, when suddenly, over the river, somewhere in the blue mountains, there rang out a shot, then another, a third, a fourth. Then came faint whistles, and again four shots somewhere on the right. The soldiers jumped, leaned on the wall of the trench, and grasped their guns. It was beginning.
The worst moments come at the beginning of the battle. The soldiers are like drunken men in darkness. Nothing is known, and no one will show his position first. But to-day the fighting developed very quickly. The Bulgarians, proud of their victories, wished to be ‘entirely quit with their brothers’ at once, and they began to shoot from all points with their artillery, following the German tactics: ‘wipe out first all before you and then march through the cleared place.’
At first I laughed at their wild shooting, for the shower of shells exploded far from us. But it grew serious. It seemed to me as if a muddy, turgid river, a raging flood, was rising up to swamp us. At first the Bulgarians had directed their fire only at the valley, wasting their ammunition. Or perhaps they wanted to clear their way through the valley by throwing aside the dead in it. Then they moved their fire to the pass, and then to the town. Nothing could be more appalling than to hear the hissing of the shells, which, as they flew through the pass like wild horses, lost their clear whistling sound, and became dull heavy thunder that shook the ground. Shortly after, behind us, over the hill back of the old cemetery, rose a thick black smoke.
‘They have set the town on fire, the black devils!’ said Bora.
‘We are their sure victims, but the people in the town might fly, and so they want to finish them first,’ I said, trembling with anger and rage.
‘ You see now that it is better that I remain here,’ said the mother with a sad smile.
Suddenly, before we expected, they turned their fire on the hills at both sides of the pass. It seemed to me as if the mouths of many wild beasts had opened and snarled at the same time. And the sound came toward us like a shrill screech, as when the ocean wind blows through the rigging of a lonely ship. At the same moment, the shells exploded with dreadful rapidity everywhere around us. We were deafened by the detonations. Immediately after, the wind blew a thick stinging smoke into the trench, which bit our eyes and suffocated us. And from all directions fell earth and dry leaves.
At the same time a black line rose from the bed of the river. The Bulgarians had crossed the Morava. Perhaps they had crossed last night and were hidden somewhere along the shore of the river. The line seemed endless, and thin as a thread. It moved quickly through the valley. I grasped the telephone : —
‘Hello! Fourth battery!’
It seemed as if a hundred men had spoken at the same time at the telephone.
I cried as loudly as I could, —
‘Hello! Fourth battery!’
‘Here!’ answered a voice.
I continued in the same loud tone, —
‘Direction river — forty-five hundred metres. Try with two cannon with a correction of two hundred metres.’
‘Don’t worry,’ answered the same voice.
After a few moments something thundered terribly behind us and whistled over our heads — something which flew through space, rending the air. At the same time something, like a sack full of sand, struck us in our backs so powerfully that we staggered. Our artillery had begun to fire. I took my field-glasses and looked into the valley. Two little white puffs of smoke showed there — one of them just over the black line.
Again I took the telephone, —
‘Correction excellent! Now to the right and the left from this point!’
It looked as though the gate of hell had opened wide behind us. The white smoke wreaths appeared with great rapidity over the black line. The ranks swerved, wavered, and broke into many small parts. Some of these parts were lost in the smoke; some were leveled to the ground; all the others ran forward. From the right side of the pass our artillery opened up fire, working confusion in the Bulgar ranks; but the dark line quickly came into the dead angle for our artillery.
Another line rose from the river. It appeared to me that the Bulgarians had directed all their cannon toward our Peaceful Hill, trying to find our battery. The shells struck the old cemetery, working tremendous havoc. The lindens were torn out by the roots and hurled into the air, the large stones of the monuments were cracked in pieces, and reduced to dust. The air was filled with mingled leaves and earth, and everything shook and trembled in that awful destruction.
The second wave of the Bulgar attack met the same fate as the first, but though disordered, broken, and massed in small parts, it made its way across the valley. Suddenly the men of their first line rose from among the bushes, stones, and grass at the foot of our hill. When did they creep up?
Our outposts at the bottom of the hill retreated little by little up the slope.
‘Quick firing! eight hundred metres!’ I shouted.
Bora ran along the trench crying the same. An unspeakable booming and crashing began.
Just then the third black line rose from the river. ‘Orderly!’ I cried, as loudly as I could, turning toward the old cemetery. A soldier, who had been hidden behind a grave not far away, crept toward me like a serpent. He was black with earth and leaves, and streams of dirty sweat ran down his face.
‘ Go tell the men at the machine-guns that I cannot come to give the order to fire.’
The soldier crept away.
Presently the machine-guns began firing. The sound was like that of a hundred kleplas being struck at the same moment. The bullets began to fly toward us. They came in millions, literally covering every foot of earth. The earth in front of the trench looked like a corn-popper. They flew all around our heads, close to our ears, like hissing, stinging serpents, striking with deadly venom.
Our fire and that of the machineguns quickly forced the first line back, and held the second one stationary. A swarm of shells flew over our trench. It was like a whirlwind of fire; it was as if the air had become a fluid in which stones, earth, trees, leaves, clothes, guns, parts of bodies, human flesh and blood boiled and mingled, splashing from all sides those who were yet alive. We were as in a great kettle of surging horror. Our ears felt as if hot oil had been poured into them; our mouths were dry, open, and full of dirt. Our minds were stunned. Everywhere sounded a tumult of breaking bones, crashing, crackling, splitting — indescribable disorder and dreadful horror. Then, above the roar of bombs, rang out heart-rending screams, shrieks of agony, calls for help, and the groans of the dying.
I ran through the trench encouraging the soldiers. Oh, the unspeakable scenes that I faced!
One of my men lay in the bottom of the trench. His head was a crushed and bloody mass mingled with the earth. The big black fellow who dug up the soldier’s grave had stepped upon this dead body without knowing it in his excited shooting; with every movement of his great boots the dark red blood flowed afresh from the crushed body.
A little farther, a soldier raised his left hand from his gun. It was fearfully burned by the red-hot barrel. He looked at his black and swollen hand, smiled indifferently, grasped his gun again, and began to fire.
Still farther, a soldier was leaning against the wall of the trench, apparently sitting quietly there. When I looked closely, my hair rose, my breath stopped. His eyes were glazed, his mouth open and filled with earth; his breast did not move. Both legs had been entirely shot away and his body remained leaning against the wall like a doll.
Another man was lying on his arm against the trench. He looked as if he were asleep.
‘Shoot!’ I said and shook him.
He fell. He was dead.
The wounded were the most heartrending. There were so many, and they were everywhere! Some were sitting in the trench, whimpering and trying to bind their wounds, from which the blood ran and fell upon their uniforms. Those who were standing stepped on their bodies, but they were past feeling.
Still the battle raged on and came to its culmination. The pure air of God had become close and dark as in a cave, through which ran a fiery river of melted iron in which terrible explosions boomed and thundered.
Those who lived were still firing. In the smoke and confusion they looked like large, black, bloody phantoms. Their faces were distorted, and streams of sweat ran down their cheeks. Their eyes were wide, glittering, and terrible. They were like stones. Did they breathe? I did not know, but they stood and fired.
Stepping over the dead and wounded, crying I know not what, I returned to the old place and looked for the mother. Why had I left her? The thought flashed through my head and I felt something clutch my throat. She had covered the coffin with her shawl and was leaning over it, her face hidden in her arms.
Bora was at the right wing of the trench. When he saw me coming through the smoke and dust he ran toward me. He was, as always in battle, smiling, singing, but very pale. He waved his hands to me, shouting something I could not hear.
Then, suddenly, between him and me something turned white, flashed like lightning, and exploded frightfully, as if the world had split in two. Something struck me heavily on my breast, threw me down, and flew above me. A dazzling light shone before my eyes for an instant, and then darkness —
‘It is nothing, sir! A little bruise! Why, it’s only a joke! ’ said the big soldier, lifting me. ‘But Bora—’ he added.
This brought me to my senses, as a dash of icy water.
‘Bora!’ I cried.
I leaped to my feet and ran down the trench. Through the smoke, dust, and ruin I saw him.
There are moments in our lives so horrible, so incomprehensible, so unspeakably terrible, that we have no feelings with which to understand or define them. And yet they are forever before our eyes.
Bora was lying in the arms of the poor mother. A soldier held his head, which was nearly severed from his body. A dreadful wound gaped upon his neck; his whole body seemed so crushed, so shattered, that only his clothing held it together. The mother was dumb, stiff and rigid as a stone. She scarcely breathed. She fixed a constant staring look upon the wound, as if she could stanch the blood with it. Her face was frightfully changed, all twisted and contorted with horror. Poor, poor mother! What did you think at this moment? What had your suffering mother’s heart felt? Oh, if you could tell this to the world, perhaps the world would change, would be different; perhaps it would be beautiful!
Bora did not die at once. Oh, the unhappy boy! In him was so much life, virile youth, so much strength and force, that death itself stopped before him. His beautiful eyes were still open but forever dead. His hair was wet with blood. A thin stream of blood ran from his nostrils. His mouth opened to make a path for his beautiful soul.
I howled like a wounded tiger; I jumped, raging as if insane and not knowing what I did. I kicked with all my strength at the earth before the trench. There is no need for any shelter now. Something terrible surged within my breast! It is impossible that they were men who did this. Why then should I be a man?
‘Shoot! Kill, kill!’ I cried hysterically. Then I seized a gun, but it seemed so little, so small before my rage, pain, desperation, and horror that I threw it away. I wished at that moment that I might have the thunder of Jupiter, with which, in one stroke, I could destroy all the murderers of my friend.
The battle raged on. Truly there was no air! All was changed, destroyed, heated! Those who were alive hardly knew if they were alive. Suddenly, in the midst of this boom and thunder, rose a terrible shouting from the valley, which sounded above everything else for a moment. There are no words or power to describe that sound. One might say that the devils in hell were singing! It was the howl of man when he becomes wild, enraged — when he yearns to drink hot blood.
In the smoky valley, there were no more black lines, but an immense black mass, which ran toward us like a flood —
‘Oorah, ooraaa-h !’ the yells rang out everywhere. So cry men who flesh their bayonets.
A strange sound came to me. For a moment I stood like a stone, then turned quickly. In the same moment the mother let go of Bora and fell. I ran and lifted her. From two places on her head ran blood, red blood on the white hair!
‘ Mother, mother, are you wounded ?’
A happy smile passed over her face. Then, in a weak voice, ‘I am happy! I knew that I would not be separated from my son for long! Now we will be again together forever. Oh, forever to be with him! Here, I am coming, my little one!’ And weakly she embraced the coffin and put her head on it. From her white hair the blood ran on to the coffin.
I leaned my head against the wall of the trench and was silent. I do not know if I breathed. I did not feel.
After a short time the mother lifted herself with great pain. Then slowly she unbuttoned her dress and put her hand in her bosom. Immediately she drew it out. The hand was covered with blood. Only then I saw that she was shot in the breast too. She lifted her hand and looked at the blood on it for a moment.
I felt my teeth chatter. The mother said, in a wonderfully clear voice, —
‘I have given to this world my greatest sacrifice, my only one. But it was not enough. Now I give my blood, my life. Oh! I give them very freely, but only, I beg you, kill each other no more! ’
She clasped her bloody hands and the tears fell from her eyes. Suddenly she grew weak. The mother’s last task was accomplished! She was no longer useful to this world! With her last effort she raised herself and fell upon the coffin.
Then I did not understand her words. Now I understand them very, very well.
Then I saw a terrible picture. Bora was lying at the bottom of the trench, in darkness, in dust, in filth, mingling the blood of his wounds with vile earth, cut, crushed, terrible, and horrible. The mother died beside her dead son, killed by the enemy’s bullet. It seemed to me that Serbia had died, too. It seemed to me that I looked on the death of Serbia and her children in the death of his mother and this son!
With one leap I was out of the trench. There is no more trench, no more shelter, no more world, no man, no humanity! Nothing but raging lions waiting, and beasts, who, growling, are ascending the hill.
What had been the new cemetery became very quickly an old one, for a third one, newer and much larger, had been created.
- An earlier episode of Lieutenant Krunich’s narrative appeared in the June Atlantic, under the title, ‘The Graveyard by the Morava.’↩