The War in the Air – Day 72 of 115

“You’ll be all right,” said Bert, after a queer pause.

“No!” said Kurt, “I’m going to be killed. I didn’t know it before, but this morning, at dawn, I knew it–as though I’d been told.”


“I tell you I know.”

“But ’ow could you know?”

“I know.”

“Like being told?”

“Like being certain.

“I know,” he repeated, and for a time they walked in silence towards the waterfall.

Kurt, wrapped in his thoughts, walked heedlessly, and at last broke out again. “I’ve always felt young before, Smallways, but this morning I feel old–old. So old! Nearer to death than old men feel. And I’ve always thought life was a lark. It isn’t…. This sort of thing has always been happening, I suppose–these things, wars and earthquakes, that sweep across all the decency of life. It’s just as though I had woke up to it all for the first time. Every night since we were at New York I’ve dreamt of it…. And it’s always been so–it’s the way of life. People are torn away from the people they care for; homes are smashed, creatures full of life, and memories, and little peculiar gifts are scalded and smashed, and torn to pieces, and starved, and spoilt. London! Berlin! San Francisco! Think of all the human histories we ended in New York!… And the others go on again as though such things weren’t possible. As I went on! Like animals! Just like animals.”

He said nothing for a long time, and then he dropped out, “The Prince is a lunatic!”

They came to a place where they had to climb, and then to a long peat level beside a rivulet. There a quantity of delicate little pink flowers caught Bert’s eye. “Gaw!” he said, and stooped to pick one. “In a place like this.”

Kurt stopped and half turned. His face winced.

“I never see such a flower,” said Bert. “It’s so delicate.”

“Pick some more if you want to,” said Kurt.

Bert did so, while Kurt stood and watched him.

“Funny ’ow one always wants to pick flowers,” said Bert.

Kurt had nothing to add to that.

They went on again, without talking, for a long time.

At last they came to a rocky hummock, from which the view of the waterfall opened out. There Kurt stopped and seated himself on a rock.

“That’s as much as I wanted to see,” he explained. “It isn’t very like, but it’s like enough.”

“Like what?”

“Another waterfall I knew.”

He asked a question abruptly. “Got a girl, Smallways?”

“Funny thing,” said Bert, “those flowers, I suppose.–I was jes’ thinking of ’er.”

“So was I.”

What! Edna?”

“No. I was thinking of my Edna. We’ve all got Ednas, I suppose, for our imaginations to play about. This was a girl. But all that’s past for ever. It’s hard to think I can’t see her just for a minute–just let her know I’m thinking of her.”

“Very likely,” said Bert, “you’ll see ’er all right.”

“No,” said Kurt with decision, “I know.”

“I met her,” he went on, “in a place like this–in the Alps–Engstlen Alp. There’s a waterfall rather like this one–a broad waterfall down towards Innertkirchen. That’s why I came here this morning. We slipped away and had half a day together beside it. And we picked flowers. Just such flowers as you picked. The same for all I know. And gentian.”

“I know” said Bert, “me and Edna–we done things like that. Flowers. And all that. Seems years off now.”

“She was beautiful and daring and shy, Mein Gott! I can hardly hold myself for the desire to see her and hear her voice again before I die. Where is she?… Look here, Smallways, I shall write a sort of letter–And there’s her portrait.” He touched his breast pocket.

“You’ll see ’er again all right,” said Bert.

“No! I shall never see her again…. I don’t understand why people should meet just to be torn apart. But I know she and I will never meet again. That I know as surely as that the sun will rise, and that cascade come shining over the rocks after I am dead and done…. Oh! It’s all foolishness and haste and violence and cruel folly, stupidity and blundering hate and selfish ambition–all the things that men have done–all the things they will ever do. Gott! Smallways, what a muddle and confusion life has always been–the battles and massacres and disasters, the hates and harsh acts, the murders and sweatings, the lynchings and cheatings. This morning I am tired of it all, as though I’d just found it out for the first time. I have found it out. When a man is tired of life, I suppose it is time for him to die. I’ve lost heart, and death is over me. Death is close to me, and I know I have got to end. But think of all the hopes I had only a little time ago, the sense of fine beginnings!… It was all a sham. There were no beginnings…. We’re just ants in ant-hill cities, in a world that doesn’t matter; that goes on and rambles into nothingness. New York–New York doesn’t even strike me as horrible. New York was nothing but an ant-hill kicked to pieces by a fool!

“Think of it, Smallways: there’s war everywhere! They’re smashing up their civilisation before they have made it. The sort of thing the English did at Alexandria, the Japanese at Port Arthur, the French at Casablanca, is going on everywhere. Everywhere! Down in South America even they are fighting among themselves! No place is safe–no place is at peace. There is no place where a woman and her daughter can hide and be at peace. The war comes through the air, bombs drop in the night. Quiet people go out in the morning, and see air-fleets passing overhead–dripping death–dripping death!”

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