I am leaning back and straining my ears for the sounds in the dim twilight of the building. Childhoods days rise before my eyes again. I am watching a little solemn-faced boy sitting crouched in a corner and listening to the divine service. The priest is standing in front of the altar, and is intoning the Exhortation devoutly. The choir in the gallery is chanting the responses. The organ thunders out and floods through the building majestically. I am rapt in an ecstasy of sweet terror, for the Lord God is coming down upon us. He is standing before me and touching my body, so that I have to close my eyes in a terror of shuddering ecstasy.
Strange! After all these years of doubt and unbelief, at this moment of lucid consciousness, the atmosphere of devoutness, long since dead, possesses me, and thrills me so passionately that I can hardly resist it. This is the same heavy twilightthese are the same yearning angel voicesthe same fearful sense of rapture
In the main and the side aisles below, and in the galleries above, nothing but soldiers in uniform, and all, with level faces, turned toward the altar, toward that pale man in his long dignified black gown, toward that sonorous, unctuous mouth, from whose lips flows the name of God.
Look! He is now stretching forth his hands. We incline our heads. He is pronouncing the Benediction over us in a voice that echoes from the tomb. He is blessing us in the name of God, the Merciful. He is blessing our rifles that they may not fail us; he is blessing the wire-drawn guns on their patent recoilless carriages; he is blessing every precious cartridge, lest a single bullet be wasted, lest any pass idly through the air; that each one may account for a hundred human beings, may shatter a hundred human beings simultaneously.
Father in Heaven! Thou art gazing down at us in such terrible silence. Dost Thou shudder at these sons of men? Thou poor and slight God! Thou couldst only rain Thy paltry pitch and sulphur on Sodom and Gomorrah. But we, Thy children, whom Thou hast created, we are going to exterminate them by high-pressure machinery, and butcher whole cities in factories. Here we stand, and while we stretch our hands to Thy Son in prayer, and cry Hosannah! we are hurling shells and shrapnel in the face of Thy Image, and shooting the Son of Man down from His Cross like a target at the rifle-butts.
How pale those cheeks look! And those eyes are the eyes as of one dead! Who was this Christ Who is to aid us, and Whose blood we drink? What was it they once taught us at school? Didst Thou not love mankind? And didst Thou not die for the whole human race? Stretch out Thine arms toward me. There is something I would fain ask of Thee. Ah! they have nailed Thy arms to the Cross, so that Thou canst not stretch out a finger toward us.
Shuddering, I fix my eyes on the corpse-like face and see that He died long ago, that He is nothing more than wood, nothing other than a puppet. Christ, it is no longer Thee to whom we pray. Look there! Look there! It is he. The new patron saint of a Christian State! Look there! It is he, the great Genghis Khan. Of him we know that he swept through the history of the world with fire and sword, and piled up pyramids of skulls. Yes, that is he. Let us heap up mountains of human heads, and pile up heaps of human entrails. Great Genghis Khan! Thou, our patron saint! Do thou bless us! Pray to thy blood-drenched father seated above the skies of Asia, that he may sweep with us through the clouds; that he may strike down that accursed nation till it writhes in its blood, till it never can rise again. A red mist swims before my eyes. Of a sudden I see nothing but blood before me. The heavens have opened, and the red flood pours in through the windows. Blood wells up on the altar. The walls run blood from the ceiling to the floor, andGod the Father steps out of the blood. Every scale of his skin stands erect, his beard and hair drip blood. A giant of blood stands before me. He seats himself backward on the altar, and is laughing from thick, coarse lipsthere sits the King of Dahomey, and he butchers his slaves. The black executioner raises his sword and whirls it above my head. Another moment and my head will roll down on the flooranother moment and the red jet will spurt from my neck. Murderers, murderers! None other than murderers! Lord God in Heaven!
We fall into line, and in our hob-nailed boots tramp in step down the street toward the barracks. When I see my mates marching beside me in their matter-of-fact and stolid way, I feel ashamed, and call myself a wretched coward. What a weak-nerved, hysterical breed, that can no longer look at blood without fainting! You neurasthenic offspring of your sturdy peasant forebears, who shouted for joy when they went out to fight!