Headquarters Third Imperial Army, Before Port Arthur, Oct. 9th:
Often we dine with the Army’s leaders. To-day all the temporary
occupants of the headquarters village, which include the human
impedimenta of an army, such as the expert on international law,
the official photographer and the correspondents, were called to
the General’s house. My invitation read:
“Sir: I am desired by General Baron Nogi to write to you, and
tell you, with his compliments, that he will be happy if you will
favor him with your company at tiffin on Sunday, the 9th inst.,
at one o’clock. He wishes to become well acquainted with you by
having chit-chats. I have the honor to be, sir,
“Your Obedient Servant,
“Y. YOSHIOKA, Major Aide-de-Camp:
We went. There were some long tables peppered with aluminum ware,
fruit and wine under the pear trees of a Manchurian back yard.
We stood up to the cold luncheon, partly foreign, partly native,
charmingly served by soldiers. There was a crowd of dignitaries
distinguished by uniforms. They were of all ranks, from the three
stars and three stripes of the General of the forces to the single
star and stripe of the sub-lieutenant, who is commissary adjutant.
But it was not an affair of dress, so out of the crowd rose two
personalities who burned themselves into my consciousness, where
they hang yet, resplendent in energy. There was about them a
native dignity, a primal force, that indefinable something that
distinguishes great men.
One wore a pair of yellow boots and might have stepped from an
American fashion plate. There was American vitality and freshness
in him, too. He dispensed with ceremony, spoke keenly, decisively,
almost brusquely, and looked you square in the eye with a twinkle
that said he appreciated all the social gayety and yet kept back
his own opinion. He had a square jaw, thick neck, broad shoulders,
massive palms and a head long from chin to crown–all unusual
for a Japanese. This was Major Yamaoka, the _parliamentaire_ who
recently rode into Port Arthur with the Emperor’s offer of safety
to noncombatants. He is one of General Nogi’s most trusted aides,
a popular orator, a man of decision. He walks like a thoroughbred.
Had Cæsar seen Major Yamaoka walk across that Manchurian garden he
would surely have put him on his staff.
The other wore a pair of Pomeranian top boots, elegant and
serviceable as Yamaoka’s were fresh and hardy. They were pulled
snugly over his knees to keep out the bitter Manchurian wind. Above
were a pair of white kersey breeches, spectacular as Napoleon’s.
He was fond of rising on the toes of these boots and writhing
sinuously in them, like an acrobat testing, as he responded to
a toast or applauded the music and fun. Everything about him
indicated the strong man of action–the tensity of his muscles,
the flex of his waist, the sure set of his heels, the poise of his
head, the ease and power of his bearing, his well-knit mouth, his
regular, beautiful teeth, the clarity of his eyes, the sincerity
of his smile, even the straight, tough fiber of his hair. In
physique the opposite of Yamaoka, for he is five feet nine in
height, exceedingly tall for a Japanese, slender, and with delicate
hands, the two yet have the same vivacity and shrewdness, the same
kindliness touched with hauteur. But the second man is chief of the
army, not only in rank, for it was General Nogi, but in worth as
well. His mastery was easily felt to-day. He stands at the pinnacle
of a wonderful career and the world’s eyes center on him. How
handsome he was–and how simple and friendly, how easily pleased,
how innately courteous! Is he not also that ideal philosopher whom
the Roman Emperor Aurelius wrote about as bethinking him always
of his enemy’s comfort? I asked him how he would like to exchange
places with General Stoessel.
“I think often of General Stoessel,” he replied. “To be frank I
think of him every day. When I go to bed at night and when I get
up in the morning, and often between times I wonder about him, how
hard his position must be, and how well he defends it, and if he
is really injured as we have heard. Sometimes I put myself in his
place and imagine what I should do. Then I try to think that some
day I might be in just his position. And so I fight the battles all
over again from his side and from mine.”
“Does it teach you much?”
The General laughed heartily. “We have learned much from the
Russians. I am always pointing them out to my soldiers as model
fighters.” He took from the ground a pick whose handle had been
splintered by a shell, evidently found on the battlefield. Both
nose and heel had been worn half away, rounded with dullness and
rust. It was not like the Japanese picks, which are small and
“I assembled all the battalion commanders a few days ago,” he
continued, “and showed them this pick as an object lesson. It has
turned over many a hundred weight of earth and shows how expert
the Russians are at trench-making. Our soldiers do not like to dig
trenches. Many of them are of gentle blood and think it is coolie
work. Besides, they say: ‘We are going forward in the morning. Why
dig trenches to-night?’ The Russians have taught us tactics, too.”
Here Villiers interrupted. “Men who, like the Russians, build
trenches so they must show themselves on the skyline to shoot can’t
teach tactics,” he said. The talk slid on to the bonzais, mutual
promises to dine together next in Port Arthur, and au revoirs.
But I started to write of the Manchurian. He knows not, neither
does he learn. Yet you can scarcely ask who let down that shaggy
jaw and who sloped that head away, for he has a magnificent,
strong, clean jaw and his head is handsome and high. That he bathes
only once a year and cares not who owns the land so long as he
tills it; and that his wife and daughter sit on the stone fence
of his donkey stable picking the lice from one another’s heads,
doubtless has nothing to do with the question propounded by our
Nor is the Manchurian uncivilized. He has, indeed, reached quite
a state of development, for he is the abject slave of fashion–at
least his wife and daughter are. They bandage their feet until
where a No. 8 boot should go they wear baby 6’s. This, I dare
say, is a less harmful fashion than that other silly one of
corsets, for surely the organs beneath a shoe lace are not so
vital as those under a waistband, but it looks sillier. To see
women in the harvest fields, by the roadside washing clothing,
cleaning the donkey stable, baking bread, spanking boys, suckling
babies, attending husbands, all the time balancing themselves as
a _première danseuse_ on her toes, is to think of stake and rack!
They say that this is not real Manchuria, that up North, where
the other army is, the women do not bind their feet. The present
Dowager Empress of China, considered by many the most remarkable
living woman, is a native of northern Manchuria. In all this vast
country the women are noted for modesty and virtue. Ten years
ago, during the China-Japan War, many committed suicide to escape
expected ravishment. But it was well learned then that the Japanese
never outrage a woman. An incident of such atrocity by Japanese, in
either war, has yet to be recorded. It is said that the Russians
are different, though it is difficult to see how any Westerner
could look with more than curiosity on a Manchu woman. Certain
it is that they go about their lives here in complete freedom and
security. Not only do the Japanese respect women; they respect
property also. Here is a fertile country with rich crops sustaining
a vast army, yet no farmer has lost a bushel of grain, except when
the chance of battle has substituted shot for scythe.
Driven from home by shells which killed their father and mother,
these brothers tramped from camp to camp selling eggs.]
A son of the soil is the Manchurian, but not a friend of nature,
with whom he wars valiantly for his daily bread. He fights terrible
suns in summer and ghastly winds in winter. When the winds and
snows drive out the flies that eat him up, the lice come in until
the sun and flies can have another turn. So can you blame him
for being a money grabber? He thinks only of this season’s maize
crop and of next spring’s plowing. Whether the Russians or the
Japanese or the Chinese rule the land is much the same to him. He
will put his tax into the Governor’s coffer and go on with his
toil. Why should he bother? He remembers that Confucius was born
on the Liaotung and that Confucius taught to resist no violence
and remember the fathers. Consequently he fills the country with
tombstones and babes while other men fill it with war and nameless
graves. Over in the valley is a granite monolith erected in the
memory of one who honored his father and mother. A Russian shell
has struck it in the pit of the stomach and Japanese bullets have
shattered its back.
Patriotism? No. But he has his religion and it is this: to remember
the fathers and owe no man.
Recently the master of our house went out with us for a day to
carry supplies. A stray shell passed over us, perhaps twenty feet
above. We all ducked, but as soon as the coolie recovered he ran.
We called him, for we were without other help. He kept running. We
sent a soldier. The coolie came back grudgingly. Finally we gave
him a yen. But he shook the yen impudently in our faces, and fell
back simulating death, crying out: “Coolie dead, yen no good.”
He should be used to danger now. His neighbors are. The shells
and bullets are to them what blowsnakes and mosquitoes are to an
American country district. To-day I saw children playing among
corn stubble while three shells burst within a hundred yards. The
children did not look up. For three months the Russians were in the
land; now for three months the Japanese have been in the land. For
three months the Manchurian nonchalantly carried Russian wounded
into Port Arthur and buried Russian dead by the roadside for fifty
kopeks a day. For three months he has nonchalantly carried Japanese
wounded into Dalny and buried Japanese dead in the fields for fifty
sen a day. What concern is it of his which survivor he gives up sen
and kopek to afterwards?
General Nogi’s Headquarters Before Port Arthur, Oct. 22d: To-day
we went to the Eternal Dragon, and looked in on the bloody angle.
D’Adda was with me–the Marquis Lorenzo D’Adda of Rome, naval
expert, military engineer, designer of the _Niishin_ and _Kasuga_,
which, even now, on clear days, our spyglasses can discern held in
leash, ten miles off, by Togo.
Yesterday, from the Phœnix, D’Adda looked on the fortress–its two
mountain ranges, its stone wall, its chain of twenty forts, its
concrete glaces, its barbed wire morass, its artillery pregnant
with repose, its infantry hideous with secret might–and said:
“Eemposseebl! Eet ees eemposseebl–absolutelee. Zee Japonaise
can nevaire take. Eet ees stronger zan Sevastopol–stronger zan
To-day, from the foot of the Dragon, he looked down into a plain
lost to the husbandman who bears on his arm no red cross, yet
furrowed far deeper with vast and terrible furrows, its creased and
aching joints curled into the glaring sun. Up, he looked under the
muzzles of Russian cannon, useless now that the plain they were
wont to fill with dead is lost to them.
“Extraordinaire–colossal!” he cried. “Port Art–eet will be one
smoke puff zee nex attac.”
We had left the siege parallels and were climbing into the fort,
our backs bent low so that no Russian sharpshooter might give
his government cause to decorate the forgotten names of two
noncombatants. We had wormed our way, zigzag, a mile and a half
through the valley along a trench that a division might foot with
equal safety, four abreast. Lives precious, toil enormous, and
brains cunning and quick had hid their army from the enemy as
prairie dogs hide their spring litters. A clever attaché with the
Boers had shown how they who learned the tricks from the Kafirs,
hid vulnerable turnings with maize stalks. Another, schooled with
D’Adda in the arts that Julius Cæsar taught the legions in Gaul
and which have not been improved on to this day, had outlined the
most economic angles of advance, had shown how to take advantage of
every gully, how to hide behind every terrace tuft, how to cross
sodded planks above at equal distances until the way resembled the
weave of an Indian basket. All of this that we had passed was but a
sixth of the work of one division, of which the army holds three.
And it has been done in less than two months.
The Marquis continued to exclaim that since the invention of
gunpowder there has been no such engineering. “I know zee historee
well,” he said, “veree well. I know Plevna, Sevastopol, Dantzig,
Paris, Vicksburg, Metz, Ladysmith. Zay are no-thing. Port Art–eet
ees zee greatest. Zee world cannot comprehend.”
Halfway back we had passed a Chinese village, shattered by shells,
blackened by smoke, its tumbling walls utilized for the trench.
Earthen wine pots had been filled with shale and placed on the
sandbags to deceive the gunners beyond. Two days before there was
rain and in one part the trench was filled with muddy water. We
had to pick our way on submerged stones and planks. As I hurried
along, looking at my feet, I noticed that the water grew dull red
as though the wine pots above had burst. At that moment I stumbled
and caught the wall for steadiness. My hand struck something
flabby. I drew it back in horror and found sticking to the palm
a white piece of flesh dented with convolutions–a bit of human
brain. A pace away he lay, his feet toward me. A stray shell had
blown him off from brain base to nose bridge. He was still warm and
the officer called back shrilly for a soldier to come with pick and
shovel. Then we took notice of the shells bursting, some five miles
off, some a thousand yards away. This had happened within the hour.
As we came closer to the Dragon a stretcher was borne down by two
red cross men. A bullet had picked a private through a peephole.
Just ahead of us two soldiers were walking, one with his full
kit, rifle and shovel on his back, the other bareheaded and
barebacked. Both wore on their sleeves the two yellow stripes of
the distinguished soldier. The finger of the one who was to go was
held by the hand of the one who was to stay. Neither spoke. They
walked silently and slowly in the full sunlight. He of the full kit
was ordered into the thirty-minute trench to take the place of the
one who had passed out on the stretcher. He, too, is almost sure
to pass, ere long, the same way. As the two comrades walked toward
the place of death I saw how true Dickens is, for it was precisely
thus–finger in palm–that he sent Sydney Carton and the seamstress
to _la guillotine_ in “The Tale of Two Cities”; the one who was to
go clasping the finger of the one who was to stay, the one who was
to stay looking with kind, brave strength calmly into the face of
the one who was to go.
“Ah! Tragique!” cried D’Adda.
The officer said we might one at a time go into the front trench.
I started. It was a short climb over shale and debris of sundered
shells and of a sudden I hobbled into a hollow space, girt with
bags and silent, silent as is the place of execution the morning
of capital punishment. It was the redoubt, thrust into the air
like the maw of a dragon. The sun beat in beautiful and sure. The
rocks, with deadly glare, spat up their challenge. An occasional
bullet sang as a ripsaw tears through a pine knot. Then a machine
gun rattled and the shale beyond pattered. I was carried back to
a boiler factory and an automatic riveter. Of all war sounds that
of the machine gun is least poetic, is the most deadly; it has the
ring of business.
Silence, blankness, death. At first I could see no life, but the
officer spoke a low word–here all words are whispers as they are
beside the couches of those about to leave this world–and four
spots on the wall that had seemed monotonous and brown as the shale
moved. Four simple, peasant faces with the star of Nippon above
looked at me. Then one, attracted by something beyond, suddenly
kneeled, seized the rifle beside him, leveled it through a chink
and pulled the trigger. That deadly rip sawed its knot.
Boldened by the presence of soldiers kneeling as I was, I began
to look around. A groan, first aspirate, then low, as of an
asthmatic man snoring, brought my eyes across the bag-protected
dragon’s mouth and I saw two figures kneeling above a third.
Presently the two lifted the third into a stretcher and filed
past me with it. I saw a face blood-dabbed, the lips piteously
moving. A bandage across the eyes saved me the worst. The officer
beckoned for me to peek through the farther hole. The incident
was but a bit of the day’s work for him. I followed and saw a
shattered field glass under the parapet. It told the story. He
was–had been–a non-commissioned officer in charge of the sentry
squad and was looking across at the Russians when a sharpshooter
spotted the glass. I felt that I was hurt more than he, for I lay
awake thinking of it much of that night, only to remember that
the surgeon-general had told me that a man shot through the brain
is instantly unconscious, though his lips move and he moans for
“Each day–how many?” I asked the officer.
“And how many days?”
“How many to take the fort?”
“Four thousand six hundred and fifty-three.”
“With each night a battle to resist a sortie?”
“Yes. Each night a sortie, each night a battle.”
“Thus–by night–how many to hold this awful place?”
“Since the beginning? Perhaps a regiment, perhaps a few more.”
He motioned me to the corner hole–the hole through which a
minute before the bullet had sped into the officer’s eye. I
emulated neither bullet nor officer, but at a respectful two
feet glimpsed a ridge ghastly and glimmering in the sun like any
other ridge in this hell hole. Quite near enough to reach in a
short dash–200 yards, the officer said–a row of sandbags were
backed business-like toward me. Between us were five heaps of blue
clothes, four in a huddle and one a bit off–Russian dead killed
in the battle of Hatchimakiyama four days ago in the zone where
nothing lives. Grass withers there. Vermin alone germinate.
Behind those sandbags and behind these men crouch and have crouched
every minute for two months hunting game the most lordly and the
most cunning, the most deceitful and the most contemptible, the
boldest and the fiercest, the most inspired and the most depraved
this earth can boast.
The Russians on three sides held us in a vise. The bottom of the
crater was paved with empty cartridge shells and bullets flattened
on the rocks. Constantly more knots were being ripped by the saw
above. Except for that rasp–a rasp that bore in with crescendic
violence on the nerves–the silence was profound. Life was
everywhere–intelligence at the keenest pitch, ingenuity the most
diabolical, agility the most intense, sacrifice heroic, daring,
sublime–but not a sound, not a motion. Everywhere the silence
kept–the unendurable silence of the Eternal Dragon. Its insatiable
maw thrust up there in the ghastly sunlight, drenched in blood, yet
cried for more.
[Illustration: HUMAN BARNACLES
Clinging to the bases of the forts, like barnacles to a ship,
these sturdy Japanese existed in miserable quarters throughout the
summer, fall and half the winter.]
Sick with the thought that through this bloody angle, bought at so
dear a cost, held at so terrible a price, there must yet be fought
the supreme fight that will eventually reduce the citadel I turned
to go. At the top of the downward trench I paused, kneeling, where
three soldiers stood with rifles waiting to relieve the sentry on
duty. Down through the plain swept the ten-mile front of the
two armies–the might of Russia and the might of Japan, locked
in a struggle so desperate there was no sound but the asthmatic
wheeze of the ripsaw buzzing above. It was very close to the
other world–yet the resources of two empires centered there, the
heartthrobs of great people, raging like the wind in from two seas,
swept it all into a typhoon of gore and grief.
I felt my hand clasped by a palm moist and gentle with feeling,
friendly with comradeship. The eyes I looked into were not those
of a beast of prey. They were quite pleasant eyes, even lovable.
The face was touched with soil. I could see it came from the rice
paddies, yet it had sympathy, and pity, and much capacity for
happiness. Was there not also capacity for suffering? The low
word came and he went off, food for powder. Will he be one of the
twenty? The sun was quite as devilish as ever in the Dragon’s maw
as he stepped into it. As I scrambled into safety I saw him propped
against the wall, his rifle against a chink, his cheek to the
breech, “sniping.” It was a salute and an appeal that he pressed
into my hand, a reproach and a challenge. I was a white man, he a
yellow, and he was killing white. What difference was there between
us? Could I not also have found friends two hundred yards farther
on? Still the ripsaw buzzed the knots. Again the machine gun
rattled, without poetry, business-like and deadly.
“Tragique!” whispered D’Adda, as he came back from the same journey
and sat beside me. “Zis ees zee focal point–most eentense, most
sublime. Perhaps here Port Art will be taken–and by surprise. I
know zee historee. I study Plevna, Sevastopol, Metz, Gibraltar,
Vicksburg, Ladysmith. Always by surprise. Zee physical is but
zee one aspect of zee situation. Zere are zee three aspect–zee
physical, zee mental and zee moral. Zee moral aspect will
be–what you call it? zee final decidence. When what you call zee
psychologique mo-ment come–in zee wind, zee rain, zee storm, zee
quick rush–zen zee high spirit go low–phwaat! like zat–zen Port
Art fall. By a surprise. One sergeant he take Dalny, one private
soldier he will take Port Art.”
We loiter along the parallel on our way back. The ripsaw strikes
a knot above our heads and we shy to windward. D’Adda reminds
me that once when Skoboleff, greatest of all Russian soldiers,
thus ducked in giving way to a purely physical reflex action, he
immediately leaped to the parapet, and walked along in full view of
the enemy, until two members of his staff dragged him down as he
sputtered out his disgust with himself.
We stop, winded. Again the ripsaw. Again the shrink. Then, content
with what breath we have, fearful we may have no more, we hurry on,
our knees sprung, our heads drawn in, like turtles slinking through
the mud. We have no troops to encourage, no reputations to sustain.
We are not Skoboleffs.
Ho-o-zan (the Phœnix Mountain), Manchuria, August 28th:–Ninety-six
hours of almost incessant fighting–from sun to moon, from moon
to searchlight and from searchlight to dawn–is more than human
endurance, backed though it be by Japanese pluck, can stand, and
there was nothing to do last night but rest. Only an occasional
sentry pop or the roll off to the right of a wheezy cannon whose
shot traveled on wheels in need of grease, told us that the sublime
panorama of mountains and valleys lying before us hid a hundred
thousand armed and warring men.
Until last night the weather has been all sun and moonlight, with
dawns and sunsets tinted persimmon russet, and the valleys bright
twenty hours out of the twenty-four; fighting conditions ideal for
the defense, whose searchlights and star bombs made the other four
hours bright and left surprise as difficult as to a poker student
playing with his back to a mirror. But mirror or no mirror the
Japanese attacked. Night was day to them and daytime hell, as they
hurled themselves against that iron chain of forts, only to break
as the waves of the sea climb up to shatter upon the rocks. The
rocks disintegrate. Yes. Yet hard on the waves–and slow.
Losses? Officially it was admitted that more than twenty-five
thousand were done for. Not since Grant hurled his inefficient
brigades on Cold Harbor has there been such a slaughter against
a fortress. In the Ninth division, which lay in our immediate
front and which formed the center of the army, two regiments were
entirely decimated and a battalion and a company of artillery put
out of action, to a man. For a week the roads at the bases of our
mountain dribbled stretchers loaded with masses of flesh, clothes
and blood. The soldiers’ “bandaging places” overflowed, and the
living were so busy helping others to live, and still others to
die, there was no time to bury the dead.
And all for nothing. Not a single permanent fort had been taken,
not a prisoner, not a gun from the enemy was in our hands. The
opposing mountains, responsive with explosives to the touch, where
no art of the engineer was lost, held before us as always, grim,
monstrous, calm in mighty strength. On their under-features,
between the opposing outposts, lay thousands whom no first aid
dared reach, and other thousands whom no burial squad came near.
The men of words argued long that week. They could not agree
whether it was a reverse or a repulse. The anti-Japanese contended
that as we had not gained one point the action was a “reverse.” The
lenient were certain that as we had not been driven back no one
vain of military technique could call it more than a “repulse.”
The fifty thousand interested parents in Japan knew not if it was
victory or defeat; presently they are to find that it is death.
“Reverse” or “repulse” the commander cared not: he had disobeyed
an Imperial order, for the instructions were to enter Port Arthur
on the 21st of August. And the caterers of the treaty ports,
what cared they of “reverse” or “repulse”? The banquets had been
ordered, the five-dollar tickets sold, the day fireworks stored
for the fall of the eastern Gibraltar on this pre-ordained day. And
now the eggs were no longer strictly fresh, the vegetables were
stale, the meats off-color, while the back of Port Arthur was still
game and careless in all that brilliant weather.
With us, to meet an officer was to see a face drawn and grave.
Useless to utter sympathy, superfluous to express confidence. They
had underestimated a great foe, miscalculated his strength, and
were paying the price–a fearful one–with the “two o’clock in
the morning” courage of desperately determined men. They did not
waver or complain, but it was terrible to see them, calm, patient,
silent, suffering, still resolute to go on, meeting each salutation
with a hollow smile, ghastly with ache.
“What fine weather,” we say, wanting better speech.
“For him–yes. Bad for us.” “Him” is the enemy, on whom the sun
shone gayly and for whom the new moon was a few hours off.
Clouds came with last evening. Slowly the houses on the edge of the
old town disappeared against the murky hills. Then the new town
went. The huge cranes that marked the western harbor, where lay the
hunted warships, evaporated, the docks faded away, the stone quarry
was lost. At length the tall factory chimney on the outskirts,
which for days had been our chief landmark, went out in the haze.
That was the last we saw of the complete Port Arthur, whose
beleaguered, respected front had mocked us for eight desperate days.
The moon had a hard time. She came up with a huge cigar in her
face–shocking in a lady moon!–which choked her till she spewed
and sputtered and went out. She was a new moon and died gamely,
filling the air with impudence and bravado, so it was some time
after midnight before the rain pattered her off about her business
with that silly cigar behind the clouds, and filled the valley
with mist. Thus, the rain was our friend and we welcomed it,
casting happy and fragrant remarks into the rising storm, singing
the mountain to sleep with our lullaby of content, for we knew
that “his” searchlights could do little, perhaps nothing, against
our soldier boys, already sore and tired, but valiant down there
in the huge night. Foiled in the light, we looked for them to do
something in the dark.
But even before that we knew the night was big with promise, for
eight officers climbed up at dusk to stay the night with us. We lay
at length under rubber blankets and rough oiled paper used in Japan
for cart covers, with our noses stuck between the rocks, scenting
for excitement as deer are fire-stalked in the great woods.
This mountain, the Phœnix, is directly in the rear center of Nogi’s
army and about a mile from his advance posts. Thus, with little
danger, we command as grand a battlefield as the world has yet
produced. From here we have seen, at the same time, exasperating as
a three-ring circus, two infantry assaults, three artillery duels,
and a naval engagement. The human impetus we knew not until last
night. Until then we knew only the sound and color of battle, and
its wild glory. So we fell asleep, the rain pattering.
Past midnight and only stray sentry shots have carried out that
promise of something big. With difficulty we keep awake, yet the
officers behind lie expectant and the night is young. The fresh
rain dapples delicious coolness and filters mosquitoes–tiger
mosquitoes–more terrible than war. I hear deep breathing–then
Rain pelting in my face wakes me to greet a flash of lightning.
I tuck in the rubber blanket, reach for my watch and by the next
flash see the hands at seven minutes past three. I snuggle myself
into a ball and crunch the rocks closer. Another flash behind and
I spasmodically close my eyes, but open them in time to see the
mountain side and road below livid. Two horses are lying in the
road, killed, I suppose, by the flash. But, no, I remember that a
shell laid them out yesterday. Ricalton cries:
“No,” I yell, “it’s the storm,” and my voice is lost in the thunder.
Is it thunder? Is it cannon? Who can tell? The vivid flashes, too
great for artillery, lighting up the whole mountain, come in now on
all sides and as fast as the lanyards of a battery could be pulled.
The horrid grandeur rises. Prayerfully thankful to be in it I
desperately resolve not to run. How the molten sheets drag me
from that hole in the rocks! Surely every glass in Port Arthur is
leveled here! The next instant the Russian fire will concentrate
on the Phœnix. Yes. There it is–a flash from Golden Mount, like a
dynamic spark from one electrode to another, pointed this way, lost
in the ink of night.
A double fear–the fear of shame and the fear of death–consumes
me. I shiver. But I grow brave, for I am not alone. Ricalton leaps
to his feet, wrapped in the trailing cart cover.
“Sublime!” he cries, waves his arms aloft, laughs at the storm.
More flashes from the Russian hills, the Japanese answer. The vast
night is hideously alive. Artillery flicks as fireflies spark,
spits tongues of flame, answering thunder with thunder, lightning
with lightning. The rain beats down a torrent.
In the intermittent flashes the ugly eye of the searchlight looks
in, licks phosphorus about us and ambles off into the valleys, as
a cow might run the fur of her tongue over a cocklebur and calmly
go to grass. No taste for rocks over there. They are out for softer
game. Six more fling their deviltry from the head of Cyclops and
down in the valley struggle with mist and rain.
Then, ’mid the sky’s and cannon’s belch, as a fairy into the land
of demons, a thin red line is tossed gracefully over the valley
from the Russian side. It reaches high over the mountains from
the sea forts and above the center of the great plain falls, as a
sailor casts a halyard over the yardarm on to the deck beyond. In
mid-air bursts the _feu de joie_, the delight of fireworks, in war
a spy. On other nights this deathly star bomb revealed all secret
movements, but now the Japanese have allies in the mist and rain.
Neither searchlight nor star bomb can penetrate the storm veil.
Now comes the crackle of infantry, followed by the pop, pop, pop,
of quick-firers, the clatter of Hotchkiss howitzers, the more
sprightly click of Maxims. Another assault–and they have had
eleven in a week! Will they win this time? They are going for the
Cock’s Comb, whose crest stands out ominously against the sky.
Boom! Bo-o-o-m! Far out of the distance a deep voice.
“The navy. That’s a twelve-inch gun. Togo’s with us to-night!”
Ricalton ought to know, but who can tell? Is it a Japanese siege
mortar, a Russian coast defender, field artillery, star bomb,
machine gun, howitzer, or that grand bombardment from the heavens?
They are all in action to-night. Is it defeat or victory? Can they
take the fort?
I can answer none of these questions. I only know that “a child
could understand the De’il had business on his hand.”
As the crashes increase, the wind rising, the furor mounting, I
throw the cart cover aside wrap the blanket more closely about me
and run down the mountain. Ricalton calls, but I hear him not. The
reality of this din must be known. Over my shoulder as I run the
Phœnix looms up monstrous, haughty, wise and terrible, silhouetted
as she was born, anon in fire.
At the foot a regiment is drawn along the road, the men squatting
on their heels, ponchos over heads, their rifle barrels,
brass-capped, peeping from the corners. I make for the valley.
Seeking a trench where I have been before, between the lines of
fire, I hurry for the village of Shuishiying, the location two days
before of our outposts. No living thing is to be seen, but overhead
the big bullets crash from behind and lumber in from the front.
Down here between the two lines of batteries the way grows long,
the village distant, the desire to return manifold. The artillery
of two armies centers on me; not a pleasant sensation! Not on me,
of course, but I am not a Christian Scientist–nor yet a veteran!
It gets on my nerves. I turn back. Then through the dark I feel a
file of soldiers near and go on.
Starting at every sound, in the purest darkness, not knowing
whether we or the enemy occupy the village, and yet so far by this
time I cannot return, I enter the village. A dull light around
the first corner shows me the headquarters of the infantry line
officers commanding the reserves–a place I had been two days
before. I go up. Only a sergeant is there answering the telephone.
“My friends? Where?”
He waves an arm toward the front. I tumble out of the village and
there are the advanced reserves drawn up, squatting on heels,
poncho-covered, rifles uncapped. A movement is beginning. I fall
in with the young lieutenant I know. The regiment quickly breaks
into charging formation–squads of twelve, and deploys single file
into the mealie fields to the left. I am discovered, ordered to
the rear. I protest. The sentry orders arms, bayonets fixed. I
go–back. The regiment goes–ahead.
But why be foiled? Why come halfway round the globe to be turned
back at the summit? There is another way–to the right. I hurry
along it as day begins to break. The mists are heavy, the rain
drizzling, the first light struggling. I find the conical hill in
the center of the plain, quite detached from the fortress proper,
taken by our troops the day before and called the Kuropatkin
battery. I struggle through battered abattis and entanglement
for the elevation. The foss is filled with water–the only moat
before Port Arthur that has the traditional morass. The place is
deserted and if I can reach the front trench the whole action will
lie before me like a chessboard. Across the parapet lies a line
sergeant, his head gone. There has been no time for the dead. The
trail is thick with khaki bodies. Picking my way slowly forward,
halting at each yard to be sure that I am not in range of the
musketry whose wild rattle is now filling the air, I at length find
myself near a bombproof partially splintered by shells. The plain
now luminous, I pause for rest and safety, the din not lessening.
But no sooner do I look around than I scramble quickly on–into
danger. Two figures are rigid there in the half-light of the
bombproof, one in khaki uniform, one in blue blouse and marengo
pants. The one in khaki has his teeth in the throat of the other,
whose eyes, popped like peas from the pod, peer over, rakishly
curious, at his limp hand dropped over the khaki back and holding a
pistol. The khaki hip is drenched with blood, partially dried. The
sun is come and gone and is now here again since that happened. The
faces are ghastly with bloat. I leave the half-light of the shelter
and go out where bullets are.
The star bombs cease, the searchlights die away, the artillery
flags, the infantry grows noisier. Then I see the reserves falling
back, the squads of twelve escaping from one terrace to another,
in good formation, continually firing, but still falling back.
This Kuropatkin battery may see other dramas like the bombproof
duel. I hasten down. In the village I find the lieutenant busy with
trenches, improvising the defense. He throws all his English at me
as I come up:
“The Russians–they come–I fix them. They are very wild. Our men
are very wild. Ah, it is a wild war.” The telephone rings. He runs
to speak with the general. Then the sergeant informs me.
They had attempted an assault in the rain and dark. Beginning with
shrapnel they had tried to find the searchlights. Charges burst
above two of them nearest the Cock’s Comb, and they expired, as
if hit. The guileless infantry then went in, supposing the way
clear. Halfway up the glacis every searchlight, including the
two apparently hit, converged on them, throwing them out, in
spite of the rain, clearly against the red earth. More. They
carried nippers able to cut wire theretofore found before Russian
positions, but here the wire was as thick as the little finger, not
cutable with their weapons. Thus, instead of a lump of dough to be
bowled over the first dark night the advance regiment had found,
even in the rain, that the Cock’s Comb stood out intact as a racing
yacht stripped for her tryout.
Yet another Russian dodge, for a battlefield is as full of
intrigue as a ballroom, completed the disaster. Under our fire of
the afternoon which preceded the rivalry with the storm Stoessel
had his batteries reply, but when we opened up with the storm he
ordered his guns to cease, one by one, battery by battery. Soon our
forces thought that like the searchlights the artillery was done
for. So when the advance, after creeping through the nipper-defying
barbed wire, expecting their job done, was about to leap with a
“Banzai” over the parapet, they were met by light and fire. Turning
to look for their comrades of the second regiment they found these
deep in the dunga, attempting, not to come on, but to cut their way
back, for a battery of pompoms and a regiment of sharpshooters
had sortied, almost segregating them from the command. The whole
brigade was threatened with annihilation and at this moment the
reserves I had joined were ordered to the relief.
The regiment under fire of the machine guns retreated
precipitately, leaving one-half its number on the slope. Turmoil
again through the barbed wire and plump into the rear of the
second regiment, also retreating, not into its own lines, but into
the Maxims and Nordenfeldts. Overwhelmed on all sides, tricked,
defeated, two-thirds of the men killed or wounded, grimy with sweat
and powder and almost fainting in the muggy August, the decimated
brigade, its regiments back to back, fought as Custer fought on the
Little Big Horn, with a coolness that comes to men in the supreme
Most of them died as Custer died, for out of that brigade of 6,000
men there are to-day uninjured but 640. These were saved by the
reserves from Shuishiying, my lieutenant and his comrades, who, as
dawn came in, hammered the Russian rear and drove the Siberians,
sullen with the joy of successful trickery, up into their trenches.
Wandering back toward Ho-o-zan, the forenoon well on, the rain
almost finished, I wondered was it “reverse” or “repulse”? Coming
to a place where the rear guard had been at my descent of the
mountain before dawn I looked for them in vain. Instead of the
greeting I expected from the side of the road the dust about me,
here and there, was flicked up, as if stones were thrown at me.
“Is this a bit of soldier fun?” The pelting kept up. One of the
stones struck a few inches from my toe, when I heard the well-known
voice of Ricalton yelling from behind a shoulder of rock:
“Here–out of that, you young ass!”
Then I saw him frantically waving, from behind his shelter. But why
should he look for shelter there? The artillery fire was down. All
I could hear was a counter-attack of infantry a mile and a half in
my rear. But as soon as I got near him he ran out and dragged me
into the ditch at his side.
[Illustration: AMMUNITION FOR THE FRONT]
“Where are the soldiers?” I asked. Then I saw his fun. “You were
tossing things at me,” I cried.
“Those! Spent bullets! You —-!”
At this moment an orderly galloping along fell from his horse
several hundred yards up the road, and crawled into the ditch ahead
of us. We wormed up to him and found a slug had traveled from
shoulder to trunk under his ribs and into his thigh.
They were fighting down the reverse slope of the Eternal Dragon,
an outwork of the Cock’s Comb, and the Russian bullets, aimed at
the foe above, cut a parabola in the air, and came down with their
initial velocity two miles off across the plain–where we stood.
The Russians on the reverse, the Rising Sun must be above the
It is now noon. We are back on Ho-o-zan, looking out to sea. Twelve
warships are on the horizon. From one, the nearest in, comes an
occasional puff of white smoke, then a low, long bo-o-om! A shell
drops into the town. The eye follows.
Now we see how the brigade is avenged. The houses of the old town
are charred and broken. The new town is gutted and smoldering. A
shell has carried away the factory chimney. One leg of the crane is
demolished and the other sags. The rain has put out the flames and
a dirty brown smoke fills the gap from Golden Mount to Tiger’s Tail.
Between sun and sun the navy, brother of the army, has laid a heavy
paw upon the place. Its claws away, the deep scratches show where
Port Arthur bleeds.