by Henry van Dyke
Along the straight, glistening road, through a dim arcade of drooping trees, a tunnel of faded green and gold, dripping with the misty rain of a late October afternoon, a human tide was flowing, not swiftly, but slowly, with the patient, pathetic slowness of weary feet, and numb brains, and heavy hearts.
Yet they were in haste, all of these old men and women, fathers and mothers, and little children; they were flying as fast as they could; either away from something that they feared, or toward something that they desired.
That was the strange thing–the tide on the road flowed in two directions.
Some fled away from ruined homes to escape the perils of war. Some fled back to ruined homes to escape the desolation of exile. But all were fugitives, anxious to be gone, striving along the road one way or the other, and making no more speed than a creeping snail’s pace of unutterable fatigue. I saw many separate things in the tide, and remembered them without noting.
A boy straining to push a wheelbarrow with his pale mother in it, and his two little sisters trudging at his side. A peasant with his two girls driving their lean, dejected cows back to some unknown pasture. A bony horse tugging at a wagon heaped high with bedding and household gear, on top of which sat the wrinkled grandmother with the tiniest baby in her arms, while the rest of the family stumbled alongside–and the cat was curled up on the softest coverlet in the wagon. Two panting dogs, with red tongues hanging out, and splayed feet clawing the road, tugging a heavy-laden cart while the master pushed behind and the woman pulled in the shafts. Strange, antique vehicles crammed with passengers. Couples and groups and sometimes larger companies of foot-travellers. Now and then a solitary man or woman, old and shabby, bundle on back, eyes on the road, plodding through the mud and the mist, under the high archway of yellowing leaves.[Illustration: All were fugitives, anxious to be gone, … and making no more speed than a creeping snail’s pace of unutterable fatigue.]
All these distinct pictures I saw, yet it was all one vision–a vision of humanity with its dumb companions in flight–infinitely slow, painful, pitiful flight!
I saw no tears, I heard no cries of complaint. But beneath the numb and patient haste on all those dazed faces I saw a question.
_”What have we done? Why has this thing come upon us and our children?”_
Somewhere I heard a trumpet blown. The brazen spikes on the helmets of a little troop of German soldiers flashed for an instant, far down the sloppy road. Through the humid dusk came the dull, distant booming of the unseen guns of conquest in Flanders.
That was the only answer.