Page:The forerunners.djvu/119

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"You are going to the front now?" he asked with a courteous smile, and responded to the journalist's enthusiastic "yes" with a melancholy sigh.

"Lucky man! I envy you. You see, the tragedy in the life of the modern general is that he cannot lead his men personally into the fray. He spends his whole life making ready for war; he is a soldier in body and mind, and yet he knows the excitement of battle only from hearsay."

Of course the correspondent is delighted that he will be able to depict this all-powerful warrior in the sympathetic role of renunciation.

The agreeable scene is disturbed by the intrusion of an infantry captain who is out of his mind and has escaped from hospital. His Excellency, though in a towering rage, controls his temper for the sake of appearances, and has the inconvenient visitor sent back in his own car. He turns the incident to account by uttering a few touching phrases concerning the impossibility for a general to do his duty if he had to witness all the misery at the front. He evades the correspondent's final question, "When does Your Excellency hope for peace?" by pointing across the square to the old cathedral, saying, "The only advice I can give you is to go over there and ask our Heavenly Father. No one else can answer that question."—Then His Excellency descends upon the hospital like a whirlwind, blusters at the old staff-surgeon, and reiterates the order to keep all the patients safely under lock and key. His wrath by now is slightly assuaged, but it is revived by a message from the front. A brigadier-general reports terrible losses, and declares that he cannot hold the line without reinforcements. It was part of His Excellency's plan that this brigade should be wiped out, after resisting the attack as long as possible. But he is angry that his victims should have any advice to offer, and sends curt orders, "The sector is to be held."—At length, the day's work being over, the great man drives home in his motor, still fiercely excogitating the correspondent's idiotic question, "When does Your Excellency hope for peace?"