The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart (1901)/Chapter 20

CHAPTER XX

THE ESTATE OF SOLDIERY

(The Cruelty of Man.)

We then enter the last street, and on the first market-place I see no few men clothed in red; approaching them, I hear that they are deliberating among themselves as to how they could give wings to Death, so that she could in a moment penetrate everywhere both near and far; item, how that which had been built during many years could be destroyed in an hour. And I become afeard on hearing such speech, for hitherto, wherever I had looked at the deeds of men, the education and the increase of mankind, and the furthering of the comforts of human life, had alone been talked of and striven for. But these men deliberated on the destruction of the lives and of the comforts of men. Then the interpreter said: "The endeavours of these men also tend to that purpose, but by a somewhat different path—to wit, they remove that which is harmful. Later thou wilt understand this."

(Recruiting.)

2. Meanwhile we come to a gate, where, instead of gate-keepers, there stood some with drums, who asked each one who wished to enter whether he had a purse. Then when he showed and opened it, they put some silver into it, and said: "Let this hide be considered as paid for." Then they bid the man enter what appeared to be a vault, and afterwards again conducted him out, loaded with iron and fire-arms; then they ordered him to proceed farther into the market-place.

(The Arsenal, or Armoury.)

And now becoming desirous to see what was in this vault, I immediately enter it. And behold, there lay there on the ground an endless mass of cruel weapons that thousands of carts could not have transported. There were weapons for stabbing, chopping, cutting, pricking, hacking, stinging, cutting down, tearing, burning; there were altogether so many instruments destined to destroy life, fashioned out of iron, lead, wood, and stone, that terror befell me, and I exclaimed: "Against what wild beasts are they preparing all these things?" "Against men," the interpreter answered. "Against men!" quoth I. "Alas! I had thought it was against some mad animal, or wild, furious beasts. But, in the name of God, what cruelty this is that men should devise such terrible things against other men!" "Thou art too fastidious," he said, laughing.

(The Life of Soldiers is licentious.)

4. And going onward, we come to a market-place, where I see herds of these men who were clothed in iron, and had horns and claws, and were fettered together in troops. They were crouching before what seemed troughs and jugs, into which that which they were to eat and drink was strewn and poured out for them; and they, one after the other, gobbled and lapped it up. And I said: "Are hogs, then, being here fattened for butchery? I see, indeed, the appearances of men, but swinish deeds." "That is no inconvenience for men of that estate," said the interpreter. Meanwhile, they rise from these troughs, give themselves to frolics and dancing, skipping and shouting. And the interpreter further: "Well, dost thou see the delights of this life? About what need they be anxious? Is it not merry to be here?" "I shall await what will befall later," quoth I. But they now begin to pursue and harry every man whom they met, who was not of their own estate. Then, wallowing on the earth, they committed —— and every infamy, without any shame or fear of God. Then I blushed and said: "Assuredly they should not be allowed to do this." "They must be allowed," said the interpreter, "for this estate claims much liberty." They then sat down and began to gobble, and after they had crammed themselves with food and drink till they were speechless, they stretched themselves out on the earth and snored. Then they were led into the market-place, where rain, snow, hail, frost, sleet, thirst, hunger, and every sort of filth rained on them. Then no few trembled, panted, tottered, perished, the food of all dogs and crows. Yet others heeded not, and continued to revel.

(Description of a Battle.)

5. Then suddenly the drums beat, the trumpet resounds; then behold, all rise up, seize daggers, cutlasses, bayonets, or whatever they have, and strike mercilessly at one another, till blood spurts out. They hack and hew at one another more savagely than the most savage animals. Then the cries increase in every direction; one could hear the tramping of horses, the clashing of armour, the clattering of swords, the growl of the artillery, the whistle of shots and bullets round our ears, the sound of trumpets, the crash of drums, the cries of those who urged on the soldiers, the shouting of the victors, the shrieking of the wounded and dying. An awful leaden hail-storm could be seen; dreadful fiery thunder and lightning could be heard; now this, now that man's arm, head, leg flew away; here one fell over the other, while everything swam in blood. "Almighty God," quoth I, "what is happening? Must the whole world perish?"

Hardly had I somewhat recovered consciousness than I fled this spot, I know not how, nor whither I went. When I had somewhat recovered my breath, I said, though still trembling, to my guides: "Whither, then, have you led me?" The interpreter answered: "Oh, on thee, effeminate one! To let others feel your power, that is what makes a man of you." "What have they then done to each other?" I said. He answered: "The lords fell out, and then the matter had to be settled." "What! do these men then settle it?" quoth I. "Certainly," the interpreter answered, "by such means; for who could make great lords, kings, and kingdoms that have no judge above them agree? They must decide the differences between them by means of the sword. He who surpasses the other in the usage of iron and fire takes the first place." "Oh, barbarity! oh, beastliness!" quoth I. "Was there then no other way to reconcile them? Wild beasts should thus settle their differences, not men."

(Those who remain after the Battle.)

6. Meanwhile, I see that they lead and carry from the battlefield many whose hands, arms, head, nose had been cut off, whose bodies had been transpierced, whose skin was in tatters, and who were everywhere dabbled with blood. While I could, from pity, scarce look at these men, the interpreter said: "All this will be healed; a soldier must be hardy." "What, then," quoth I, "of those who lost their lives here?" He answered: "Their hides had already been paid for." "How this?" said I. "Hast thou, then, not seen how many pleasant things were previously granted them?" "And what unpleasant things also had they to endure?" quoth I; "and even if only delights had previously been their lot, it is a wretched thing to give food to a man only that he may be forced to go to the shambles directly afterwards. It is an ugly estate in any case. I like it not! I like it not! Let us go hence."