Sunday, April 6, 2008

Eyes! Eyes! Eyes! part I

It was the morning after the Parvillers was captured, and Pete and I were out in a sort of fox hole we were using as a listening post. We figured that we were about half way across No Man's Land, but things were in such a jumble down there that we couldn't be sure.It was a jungle of old wire and trenches where the fighting the day before had been bloody and hard, and where our guns had smashed things completely.
The hole we were in was a pit like a well, deep enough for us to stand in, and big enough to let one sit down when he was on watch.There were big weeds and thistles all around the hole and we could look through them. I thought it was as good a place as any for the day, but Pete was nervous. During attack on the 8th he had nearly taken a bullet, and his nerves hadn't' quite recovered.
When it got real light I got up and did first sentry. I reached out and made little lanes through the weeds and we had a corking good field of observation. I watched to the right for a while at first, and it was one grand mess of rotting sandbags and jumbled timbers and and old trench revetting and broken brick. Pete got to his feet after a while and started to stare out on the left. Then he gasped and grabbed my arm. "Look-see," he gurgled.
To the left of out pit, seated in a hollow, was a Heinie (derogatory slang for a German soldier; colloquial corruption of Heinrich Henry) . His steel lid lay at his feet and his face was a pallid, pasty
bluish gray colour that nearly matched the tunic of his uniform. He was sitting among the rubble of a splintered plank, braced there as if something had drawn his attention, but to the contrary he was stone-dead! The throws of rigor supporting his lifeless frame as he had been at the time of his death.
There was a blood-clotted bandage lying beside him and we could see that he had been trying to dress an awful wound in his thigh. he must have died of shock and exsanguination as he sat there, or else a bullet had pierced him cleanly through the heart while he worked to save his own life. It was his eyes one could not help but notice and it was them that gave me an uneasy feeling that gnawed at my insides. They were dull and unobservant, but curiously disturbing, for they seemed to be focused full on us, as if here were watching us in a disinterested stare. Pete insisted on changing sides with me at once. "I can't stand the look f that man's eyes," he whispered, and his whisper was shrill.
I'll own I found it a test myself. I couldn't seem to avoid them, and their dull, unwinking stare was enough to give the steadiest of men the creeps. I tried looking away beyond him and studying other things. I tried to pick out Heinie's new lines, to see a machine gun post, to watch for aeroplanes, anything I could think of, but in five minutes it would be as if I were simply forced to look into those wide-open, expressionless eyes.

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