Magick7's Moonlight Stories Index





An Imperial Monument


Lord Dunsany




It is an early summer's morning: the dew is all over France: the train is going eastwards. They are quite slow, those troop trains, and there are few embankments or cuttings in those flat plains, so that you seem to be meandering along through the very life of the people. The roads come right down to the railways, and the sun is shining brightly over the farms and the people going to work along the roads, so that you can see their faces clearly as the slow train passes them by.

They are all women and boys that work on the farms; sometimes perhaps you see a very old man, but nearly always women and boys; they are out working early. They straighten up from their work as we go by and lift their hands to bless us.

We pass by long rows of the tall French poplars, their branches cut away all up the trunk, leaving only an odd round tuft at the top of the tree; but little branches are growing all up the trunk now, and the poplars are looking unkempt. It would be the young men who would cut the branches of the poplars. They would cut them for some useful thrifty purpose that I do not know; and then they would cut them because they were always cut that way, as long ago as the times of the old men's tales about France; but chiefly, I expect, because youth likes to climb difficult trees; that is why they are clipped so very high. And the trunks are all unkempt now.

We go on by many farms with their shapely red-roofed houses; they stand there, having the air of the homes of an ancient people; they would not be out of keeping with any romance that might come, or any romance that has come in the long story of France, and the girls of those red-roofed houses work all alone in the fields.

We pass by many willows and come to a great marsh. In a punt on some open water an old man is angling. We come to fields again, and then to a deep wood. France smiles about us in the open sunlight.

But towards evening we pass over the border of this pleasant country into a tragical land of destruction and gloom. It is not only that murder has walked here to and fro for years, until all the fields are ominous with it, but the very fields themselves have been mutilated until they are unlike fields, the woods have been shattered right down to the anemones, and the houses have been piled in heaps of rubbish, and the heaps of rubbish have been scattered by shells. We see no more trees, no more houses, no more women, no cattle even now. We have come to the abomination of desolation. And over it broods, and will probably brood for ever, accursed by men and accursed by the very fields, the hyena-like memory of the Kaiser, who has whitened so many bones.

It may be some satisfaction to his selfishness to know that the monument to it cannot pass away, to know that the shell holes go too deep to be washed away by the healing rains of years, to know that the wasted German generations will not in centuries gather up what has been spilt on the Somme, or France recover in the sunshine of many summers from all the misery that his devilish folly has caused. It is likely to be to such as him a source of satisfaction, for the truly vain care only to be talked of in many mouths; they hysterically love to be thought of, and the notice of mankind is to them a mirror which reflects their futile postures. The admiration of fools they love, and the praise of a slavelike people, but they would sooner be hated by mankind than be ignored and forgotten as is their due. And the truly selfish care only for their imperial selves.

Let us leave him to pass in thought from ruin to ruin, from wasted field to field, from crater to crater; let us leave his fancy haunting cemeteries in the stricken lands of the world, to find what glee he can in this huge manifestation of his imperial will.

We neither know to what punishment he moves nor can even guess what fitting one is decreed. But the time is surely appointed and the place. Poor trifler with Destiny, who ever had so much to dread?