GREAT WHITE REACHES
GREAT WHITE REACHES
Lines Of Communication Guarded Well--Fast Travelling Pony Sleighs--Major Williams Describes Sled Trip--A Long Winter March--Visiting Three Hundred Year Old Monastery--Snowshoe Rabbit Story--Driving Through Fairyland--Lonely, Thoughtful Rides Under White North Star--Wonderful Aurora Borealis.
We left "F" Company in the winter, swirling snows guarding the many points of danger on the long lines of communication. They were in December scattered all the way from Archangel to Morjegorskaya. For a few weeks in January, Lieut. Sheridan with his platoon sat on the Bolo lidtilters in Leunova in the lower Pinega Valley and then was hurried down the Dvina to another threatened area. The Red success in pushing our forces out of Shenkursk and down the Vaga made the upper Dvina and Vaga roads constantly subject to raiding parties of the Bolsheviki.
Early in February "K" Company came up from Archangel and took station at Yemetskoe, one platoon being left at Kholmogori. "F" Company had been needed further to the front to support the first battalion companies hard pressed by the enemy. Nervous and suspected villages alike were vigilantly visited by strong patrols. On February 12th Captain Ramsay hurried up with two platoons to reinforce Shred Mekhrenga, traveling a distance of forty versts in one day. But the enemy retired mysteriously as he had oft before just when it seemed that he would overpower the British-Russian force that had been calling for help. So the Americans were free to go back to the more ticklish Vaga-Dvina area.
From here on the story of "F" Company on the lines of communication merges into the story of the stern rear guard actions and the final holding up of the advance of the Reds, and their gallant part will be read in the narrative related elsewhere.
Mention has already been made of the work of "G" and "M" Company platoons on the isolated Pinega Valley lines and of "H" Company guarding the very important Onega-Obozerskaya road, over which passed the mails and reinforcements from the outside world. The cluster of villages called Bolsheozerki was on this road. Late in March it was overpowered by a strong force of the Reds and before aid could come the Bolshevik Northern Army commander had wedged a heavy force in there, threatening the key-point Obozerskaya. This point on the line of communication had been guarded by detachments from the Railroad force at Obozerskaya, Americans alternating with French soldiers, and both making use of Russian Allied troops. At the time of its capture it was occupied by a section of French supported by Russian troops. The story of its recapture is told elsewhere.
The trail junction point Volshenitsa, between Seletskoe and Obozerskaya, was fitted up with quarters for soldiers and vigilantly guarded against surprise attacks by the Reds from 443, or Emtsa. Sometimes it was held by British and Russians from Seletskoe and sometimes by Americans from Obozerskaya.
It sounds easy to say "Guarding lines of communication." But any veteran of the North Russian expedition will tell you that the days and nights he spent at that duty were often severe tests. When that Russki thermometer was way below forty and the canteen on the hip was solid ice within twenty minutes of leaving the house, and the sleigh drivers' whiskers were a frozen Niagara, and your little party had fifteen versts to go before seeing another village, you wondered how long you would be able to handle your rifle if you should be ambushed by a party of Bolos.
With the settling down of winter the transportation along the great winter reaches of road became a matter of fast traveling pony sleighs with frequent exchange of horses. Officers and civil officials found this travel not unpleasant. The following story, taken from the Red Cross Magazine and adapted to this volume, will give the doughboy a pleasing recollection and the casual reader a vivid picture of the winter travel.
This might be the story of Captain Ramsay driving to Pinega in January to visit that front. Or it might be old "Three-Hair" Doc Laird sledging to Soyla to see "Military Pete" Primm's sturdy platoon. Or it might be Colonel Stewart on his remarkable trip to the river winter fronts. However, it is the story of the active American Red Cross Major Williams, who hit the long trails early and showed the rest the way.
"I have just returned from a trip by sled up the Pinega River, to the farthest point on that section where American troops are located. The trip consumed six days and this, with the trip to the Dvina front, makes a total of twenty days journeying by sled and about eight hundred miles covered. Horses and not reindeer are used for transport. The Russian horse, like the peasant, must be a stout breed to stand the strain and stress of existence. They are never curried, are left standing in the open for hours, and usually in spots exposed to cruel winds when there is a semblance of shelter available within a few feet. The peasants do not believe in 'mollycoddling' their animals, nor themselves.
"On the return trip from Dvina I had a fine animal killed almost instantly by his breaking his neck. It was about five o'clock in the afternoon, pitch dark of course, and our Russian driver who, clad in reindeer skin and hood, resembled for all the world a polar bear on the front of the sled shouted meaningless and unnecessary words to our two horses to speed them on their way.
"All sexes and ages look alike in these reindeer parkis. We were in a semi-covered sled with narrow runner, but with safety skids to prevent it from completely capsizing. At the foot of every Russian hill the road makes a sharp turn. For a solid week we had been holding on at these turns, but finally had become accustomed, or perhaps I should say resigned, to them. Going down a long hill the horse holds back as long as he can, the driver assisting in retarding the movement of the sled. But on steep hills, where this is not possible, it is a case of a run for life.
"Our horse shied sharply at a sleeping bag which had been thrown from baggage sled ahead. The safety skids could not save us, but made the angle of our overturn more complete. Kirkpatrick, several pieces of his luggage, and an abnormal quantity of hay added to my discomfort. His heavy blanket roll, which he had been using as a back rest, was thrown twenty feet. The top of the sled acted as an ideal snow scoop and my head was rubbed in the snow thoroughly before our little driver, who was hanging on to the reins (b-r-r b-r-r b-r-r) could hold down the horse. It was not until an hour later, when our driver was bringing in our baggage, that I discovered that our lives had been in the hands of a thirteen-year-old girl.
"After a trip of this sort one becomes more and more enthusiastic about his blanket roll. Sleeping at all times upon the floor, and occasionally packed in like sardines with members of peasant families all in the same room, separated only by an improvised curtain, we kept our health, appetites and humor.
"A small village of probably two hundred houses. The American soldiers have been in every house. At first the villagers distrusted them. Now they are the popular men of the community with the elders as well as children. Their attitude toward the Russian peasant is helpful, conciliatory, and sympathetic. One of these men told me that on the previous day he had seen a woman crying on the street, saying that their rations would not hold out and they would be forced to eat straw. The woman showed me a piece of bread, hardly a square meal for three persons, which she produced carefully wrapped as if worth its weight in gold from a box in the corner. They had been improvident in the use of their monthly ration of fifteen pounds of flour per person and the end of the month, with yet three days to go, found them in a serious dilemma. When the hard tack and sugar were produced they were speechless with astonishment. And the satisfaction of the American soldier was great to see.
"Up on the Pinega River, many miles from any place, we passed a considerable body of American soldiers headed to the front. Every man was the picture of health, cheeks aglow, head up, and on the job. These same men were on the railroad front--four hundred miles in another direction--when I had seen them last. There they were just coming out of the front line trenches and block houses, wearing on their heads their steel hats and carrying on their backs everything but the kitchen stove.
"Now they were rigged more for long marching, in fur caps, khaki coats of new issue with woollen lining, and many carried Alpine poles, for in some places the going was hard.
"From our sled supply every man was given a package of Red Cross cigarettes, and every man was asked if he had received his Christmas stocking. They all had. I dined, by the way, with General Ironside last night, and he was very strong in his praise for this particular body of men who have seen strenuous service and are in for more."
One of the most memorable events in the history of a company of Americans in Russia was the march from Archangel to Pinega, one hundred and fifty miles in dead of winter. The first and fourth platoons made the forced march December 18th to 27th inclusive, hurrying to the relief of two platoons of another company with its back to the wall.
Two weeks later the second and third platoons came through the same march even faster, although it was forty degrees below zero on three days, for it was told at Archangel that the other half of "M" Company was in imminent danger of extermination.
The last instructions for the march, given in the old Smolny barracks, are typical of march orders to American soldiers:
"We march tomorrow on Pinega. Many versts but not all in one day. We shall quarter at night in villages, some friendly, some hostile. We may meet enemy troops. We march one platoon ahead, one behind the 60-sleigh convoy. Alert advance and rear parties to protect the column from surprise.
"Ours is a two-fold mission: First, to reinforce a half of another company which is now outnumbered ten to one; second, to raise a regiment of loyal Russian troops in the great Pinega Valley where half the people are loyal and half are Bolo sympathizers. We hold the balance of power. Hold up your chins and push out your chests and bear your arms proudly when passing among the Russian people. You represent the nation that was slow to wrath but irresistible in might when its soldiers hit the Hindenburg Line. Make Russians respect your military bearing. The loyal will breathe more freely because you have come. The treacherous Bolo sympathizers will be compelled to wipe off their scowls and will fear to try any dirty work.
"And further, just as important, remember not only to bear yourselves as soldiers of a powerful people, but bear yourselves as men of a courteous, generous, sympathetic, chivalrous people. Treat these simple people right and you win their devoted friendship. Respect their oddities. Do not laugh at them as do untactful soldiers of another nation. Molest no man's property except of military necessity. You will discover likable traits in the character of these Russians. Here, as everywhere in the world, in spite of differences of language and customs, of dress and work and play and eating and housing, strangers among foreign people will find that in the essentials of life folks is folks.
"You will wear your American field shoes and Arctics in preference to the clumsy and slippery bottomed Shackleton boot. Overcoats will be piled loosely on top of sleighs so as to be available when delay is long. Canteens will be filled each evening at Company "G-I" can. Drink no water in villager's home. You may buy milk. Everyone must protect his health. We have no medical man and only a limited supply of number nines.
"Tomorrow at noon we march. Prepare carefully and cheerfully."
The following account of the march is copied from the daily story written in an officer's diary:
To OUIMA--FIRST DAY, DECEMBER 18TH
After the usual delay with sleigh drivers, with shoutings and "brrs" and shoving and pullings, the convoy was off at 11:55 a. m. December 18. The trail was an improved government road. The sun was on our right hand but very low. The fire station of Smolny at last dropped out of the rearward view. The road ran crooked, like the Dvina along whose hilly banks it wound. A treat to our boys to see rolling, cleared country. Fish towns and lumber towns on the right. Hay stacks and fields on the left, backed by forests. Here the trail is bareswept by the wind from across the river. Again it is snow blown and men and ponies slacken speed in the drifts. Early sets the sun, but the white snow affords us light enough. The point out of sight in front, the rear party is lost behind the curve. Tiny specks on the ice below and distant are interpreted to be sledges bound for some river port. Nets are exposed to the air and wait now for June suns to move out the fetters of ice. Decent looking houses and people face the strange cavalcade as it passes village after village. It is a new aspect of Russia to the Americans who for many weeks have been in the woods along the Vologda railroad.
Well, halting is a wonderful performance. The headman--starosta--must be hunted up to quarter officers and men. He is not sure about the drivers. Perhaps he fears for the great haystacks in his yard. We cannot wait. In we go and Buffalo Bill's men never had anything on these Russki drivers. But it all works out, Slava Bogga for army sergeants. American soldiers are quick to pull things through anyway. Without friction we get all in order. Guard is mounted over the sleighs. Now we find out that Mr. Poole was right in talking about "friendly Russians." Our lowly hosts treat us royally. Tea from the samovar steams us a welcome. It is clean homes, mostly, soldiers find themselves in,--clean clothing, clean floors, oil lamps, pictures on the walls.
To LIABLSKAYA--SECOND DAY, DECEMBER 19TH
Crawled out of our sheepskin sleeping bags about 6:00 o'clock well rested. Breakfasted on bacon and bread and coffee. Gave headman ten roubles. Every soldier reported very hospitable treatment. Tea for all. Milk for many. Some delay caused by the sledge drivers who joined us late at night from Bakaritza with oats. Left at 8:40. Billeting party given an hour's start, travelling ahead of the point to get billets and dinner arranged. Marching hard. Cold sleet from southeast with drifting snow. The Shackelton boot tricky. Men find it hard to navigate. Road very hilly. Cross this inlet here. Down the long hill and up a winding hill to the crest again which overhangs the stream that soon empties into the big Dvina. To the left on the ice-locked beach are two scows. It is warmer now for the road winds between the pines on both sides. The snow ceases gradually but we do not see the least brightness in the sky to show location of old Sol. We are making four versts an hour in spite of the hills and the cumbrous boots. The drivers are keeping up well. Only once is the advance party able to look back to the rear guard, the caravan being extended more than a verst. Here is another steep hill. See the crazy Russki driver give his pony his head to dash down the incline. Disaster hangs in a dizzy balance as he whirls round and round and the heavily loaded sled pulls horse backwards down the hill. Now we meet a larger party of dressed-up folks going to church. It is holy day for Saint Nicholas.
The long hill leading into Liablskaya is a good tester for courage. Some of the men are playing out--eight versts more will be tough marching. Here is the billeting officer to tell us that the eight versts is a mistake--it is nineteen instead. We must halt for the night. No one is sorry. There is the blazing cook's fire and dinner will be ready soon. It is only 12:15, but it seems nearly night. Men are quickly assigned to quarters by the one-eyed old headman, Kardacnkov, who marks the building and then goes in to announce to the householder that so many Amerikanski soldats will sleep there. Twenty-five minutes later the rear guard is in. Our host comes quickly with samovar of hot water and a pot of tea. He is a clerical man from Archangel, a soldier from the Caucasus. With our M. & V. we have fresh milk.
It is dark before 3:00 p.m. We need a lamp. All the men are well quartered and are trying to dry their shoes. We find the sergeants in a fine home. A bos'n of a Russian vessel is home on leave. We must sit in their party and drink a hop-ferment substitute for beer. Their coffee and cakes are delicious and we hold converse on the political situation. "American soldiers are here to stop the war and give Russia peace" is our message. In another home we find a war prisoner from Germany, back less than a week from Petrograd front. He had to come around the Bolsheviki lines on the Vologda R. R. He says the B. government is on its last legs at Petrograd.
To KOSKOGOR--THIRD DAY, DECEMBER 20TH
Oh, you silvery moon, are you interested in that bugle call? It is telling our men to come to breakfast at once--6:45, for we start for Koskogor at 8:00 a. m. or before. The start is made at 7:45. Road is fine--well-beaten yesterday by marketing convoys and by Russians bound for church to celebrate Saint Nick's Day. Between the pines our road winds. Not a breath of air has stirred since the fine snow came in the night and "ridged each twig inch deep with pearl." What a sight it would have been if the sun had come up. Wisconsin, we think of you as we traverse these bluffs. You tenth verst, you break a beautiful scene on us with your trail across the valley. You courageous little pony, you deserve to eat all that hay you are lugging up that hill. Your load is not any worse than that of the pony behind who hauls a giant log on two sleds. You deserve better treatment, Loshad. When Russia grows up to an educated nation animal power will be conserved.
Here we see the primitive saw mill. Perched high on a pair of horses is a great log. Up and down cuts the long-toothed saw. Up pulls the man on top. Down draws the man on the ground. Something is lacking--it is the snap-ring that we so remember from boyhood wood-cutting days in Michigan.
Here we are back to the river again and another picturesque scene with its formidable hill--Verst 18. But we get on fast for the end is in sight. The windmill for grinding grain tells us a considerable village is near. We arrive and stop on the top of the hill in the home of a merchant-peasant, Lopatkin: a fine home--house plants and a big clock and a gramophone. It is cold, for the Russian stove has not been fired since morning--great economy of fuel in a land of wood.
To KHOLMOGORA--FOURTH DAY, DECEMBER 21ST
Harbinger of hope! Oh you red sky line! Shall we see the sun today?
It is 8:00 a. m. and from our hill top the wide red horizon in the south affords a wonderful scene. In the distance, headlands on the Dvina cut bold figures into the red. Far, far away stretches the flat river. Now we are safely down the long, steep hill and assembled on the river. Sergeant Getzloff narrowly escapes death from a reckless civilian's pony and sleigh. We crawl along the east shore for a verst and then cross squarely to the other side, facing a cold, harsh wind. What a wonderful subject for a picture. Tall pines--tallest we have yet seen in Russia, on the island lift their huge trunks against the red, the broad red band on the skyline. And now, too, the upland joins itself to the scene.
The going is drifty and sternly cold. Broad areas allow the biting wind full sweep. Ears are covered and hands are thrashed. That "stolen horse" pole there may be a verst post. Sure enough, and "5," it says, "16 to go." Look now for the barber poles. We are too late to get a glimpse of the sun. Red is the horizon yet but the sun has risen behind a low cloud screen. The advance guard has outwalked the convoy and while ponies toil up the hill, we seek shelter in the lee of a house to rest, to smoke. The convoy at last comes up. One animal has a ball of ice on his foot. We make the drivers rest their ponies and look after their feet. Ten minutes and then on.
It is a desperate cold. A driver's ears are tipped with white. The bugler's nose is frozen on the windward side. Everyone with yarn mittens only is busy keeping fingers from freezing. Here it is good going for the long straight road is flanked by woods that protect road from drifts and traveller from icy blasts. This road ends in a half mile of drifts before a town on the bank of a tributary to the Dvina. We descend to the river.
So there you are, steamboat, till the spring break-up frees you and then you will steam up and down the river with logs and lumber and hemp and iron and glass and soldiers perhaps--but no Americans, I hope. What is this train that has come through our point? Bolshevik? Those uniforms of the Russki M. P.'s are alarmingly like those we have been shooting at. Go on with your prisoners. Now it is noon. The sun is only a hand high in the sky. The day has grown grey and colder. Or is it lack of food that makes us more susceptible to winter's blasts? A bit of hard tack now during this rest while we admire the enduring red of the sky. We are nearing our objective. For several versts we have skirted the edge of the river and watched the spires and domes of the city come nearer to us. We wind into the old river town and pass on for a verst and a half to an old monastery where we find quarters in a subsidiary building which once was an orphan's home. The old women are very kind and hospitable. The rooms are clean and airy and warm.
AT MONASTERY--FIFTH DAY, DECEMBER 22ND
We spend the day at rest. Men are contented to lie on the warm floors and ease their feet and ankles. We draw our rations of food, forage and cigarettes. It is bitterly cold and we dread the morrow. The Madam Botchkoreva, leader of the famous women's Battalion of Death, comes to call on us. She excites only mild interest among the soldiers.
To UST PINEGA--SIXTH DAY, DECEMBER 23RD
Zero is here on the edge of a cutting wind. But we dash around and reorganize our convoy. Five sleds and company property are left at the monastery in charge of two privates who are not fit to march further. Five horses are unfit to go. Billeting party leaves about 8:00 a. m. The convoy starts at 8:40. Along the river's edge we move. A big twelve-verst horseshoe takes us till noon. Men suffer from cold but do not complain. We put up in village. People are friendly. Officers are quartered with a good-natured peasant. Call up Pinega on long distance phone. We are needed badly. Officer will try to get sleighs to come to meet us forty versts out of Pinega. Maj. Williams, Red Cross, came in to see us after we had gone to bed, on his way to Pinega.
To VERKHNE PALENGA--SEVENTH DAY, DECEMBER 24TH
At breakfast telegram came from Pinega promising one hundred horses and Red Cross Christmas dinners. Get away at 7:50 a. m. The lane is full of snow but the winding road through the pines is a wonderfully fine road. For thirteen versts there is hardly a drift. The hills are very moderate. Wood haulers are dotting the river. Stores are evidently collecting for scow transport in the summer. No, do not take to the ice. Keep on to the left, along the river. This hill is not so bad. We lost our point on a tortuous road, but find that we have avoided a ravine. The fourteenth verst takes us across the river--follow the telephone wires there. Come back, you point, and take the road to the left that climbs that steep bluff yonder. What a sight from the top! The whole convoy lies extended from advance guard on the hill to rear guard on the river.
Up and down our winding pine-flanked road takes us. It is hard going but the goal is only a few versts away. Now we are in sight of the village and see many little fields. Oh boy! see that ravine. This town is in two parts. Hospitable is the true word. Men turn out and cut notches in the ice to help the ponies draw the sleds up the hill. It is some show. Several of the ponies are barely able to make the grade. The big man of the village is Cukov. We stay in his home--fine home. Headman Zelenian comes to see us. Opened our Red Cross Christmas stockings and doughboys share their meagre sweets with Russki children.
To LEUNOVO--EIGHTH DAY, DECEMBER 25TH
Up at 6:00 for a Merry Christmas march. Away at 8:05. Good road for thirteen versts, to Uzinga. Here we stop and call for the headman who gets his men to help us down the hill to the river. Not cold. Holes in the river for washing clothes. Officer reported seeing women actually washing clothes. Found out what the high fences are for. Hang their flax up to dry. The twenty-fourth verst into Leunovo is a hard drag. Quarters are soon found. People sullen. Forester, Polish man who lives in house apart at north end of village, tells me there are many Bolsheviki sympathizers in the town. Also that Ostrov and Kuzomen are affected similarly. This place will have to be garrisoned by American soldiers to protect our rear from treachery.
TO GBACH--NINTH DAY, DECEMBER 26TH
Delay in starting due to necessity for telephoning to Pinega in regard to rations and sleighs. Some error in calculations. They had sleighs waiting us at Gbach this morning instead of tomorrow morning. Snow falling as we start on the river road at 8:25. We find it glada (level) nearly all the way but drifty and hard walking. Nevertheless we arrive at end of our twenty-one verst march at 1:25. Met by friendly villagers and well quartered. These people need phone and a guard the same as at Verkne Palenga. Find that people here view the villages of Ostrov and Kuzomen with distrust. Kulikoff, a prominent leader in the Bolo Northern army, hails from one of these villages. Spent an hour with the village schoolmaster. Had a big audience of men and boys. Sgt. Young and interpreter came through from Pinega to untangle the sleigh situation. We find that it is again all set here for an early start with one hundred sleighs. A spoiled can of M. & V. makes headquarters party desperately sick.
TO PINEGA--TENTH DAY, DECEMBER 27TH
Hard to get up this morning. Horses and sleighs came early as promised. Put one man and his barrack bag and equipment into each sleigh and in many sleighs added a light piece of freight to lighten our regular convoy sleds. Got away at 9:00 a. m. Nice day for driving. The Russian sleigh runs smoothly and takes the bumps gracefully. It is the first time these solders have ridden in sleighs. Urgency impels us. Light ball snow falls. Much hay cut along this valley. We meet the genial Red Cross man who passes out cigarettes and good cheer to all the men.
Arrive at Soyla at noon. Some mistake made. The hundred horses left yesterday and the headman goes out to get them again for us to go on this evening. Seventeen sleighs got away at 3:00 p. m. Twenty-five more at 7:00 p. m. At 9:30 we got away with the remainder of company. Have a good sleigh and can sleep. Here is Yural and I must awake and telephone to Pinega to see how situation stands. Loafer in telegraph office informs us of the battle today resulting in defeat of White Guards, the volunteers of Pinega who were supporting the hundred Americans. Bad news. It is desperately cold. No more sleeping. The river road is bleak. We arrive at last--3:00 a. m. In the frosty night the hulks of boats and the bluffs of Pinega loom large. So endeth diary of the remarkable march.
No group of healthy men anywhere in the world, no matter what the danger and hardships, will long forego play. It is the safety valve. It may be expressed in outdoor sports, or indoor games, or in hunting, fishing or in some simple diversion. It may be in a tramp or a ride into some new scenery to drink in beauty, or what not, even to getting the view-points of strange peoples. What soldier will ever forget the ride up to the old three-hundred-year-old monastery and the simple feed that the monks set out for them. Or who will forget the dark night at Kodish when the orator called out to the Americans and they joshed him back with great merriment.
Often the soldier on the great line of communication duty whiled away an hour helping some native with her chores. "Her" is the right word, for in that area nearly every able-bodied man was either in the army, driving transport, working in warehouses, or working on construction, or old and disabled. Practically never was a strong man found at home except on furlough or connected with the common job of the peasants, keeping the Bolo out of the district.
For a matter of several weeks in weather averaging twenty-four degrees below zero three American soldiers were responsible for the patrol of seven versts of trail leading out from a village on the line of communication toward a Bolo position which was threatening it. One or all of them made this patrol by sleigh every six or eight hours, inspecting a cross-trail and a rest shack which Bolo patrols might use. Their plan was never to disturb the snow except on the path taken by themselves, so that any other tracks could be easily detected. One day there were suspicious signs and one of the men tramped a circle around the shack inspecting it from all sides before entering it.
Next morning, before daylight, another one of the trio made the patrol and being informed of the circle about the shack, saw what he took to be additional tracks leading out and into the shack and proceeded to burn the shack as his orders were, if the shack were ever visited and promised to be of use to the enemy. Later by daylight a comrade making the patrol came back with the joke on his buddie who in the darkness had mistaken a huge snowshoe rabbit's tracks, made out of curiosity smelling out the man's tracks. Often the patrol sled would travel for hours through a fairy land. The snow-laden trees would be interlaced over the trail, so that the sled travelled in a wonderful crystal, grey, green and golden tunnel. Filtering beams of sunlight ahead of it. A mist of disturbed snow behind it. No sound save from the lightly galloping pony, the ooh-chee-chee of the driver or the bump of the sleigh against a tree or a root, or the occasional thunder of a rabchik or wild turkey in partridge-like flight. Beside the trail or crossing might be seen the tracks of fox and wolf and in rare instances of reindeer.
Or on the open road in the night: solemn again the mood of the doughboy as he recollects some of those lonely night rides. Here on his back in the hay of the little sled he reclines muffled in blankets and robes, his driver hidden in his great bearskin parki, or greatcoat, hidden all but his two piercing eyes, his nose and whiskers that turned up to shield his face. With a jerk the fiery little pony pulls out, sending the two gleaming sled tracks to running rearward in distant meeting points, the woods to flying past the sleigh and the snow to squealing faintly under the runners; sending the great starry heavens to sweep through the tops of the pine forest and sending the doughboy to long thoughts and solemn as he looks up at the North Star right above him and thinks of what his father said when he left home:
"Son, you look at the North Star and I'll look at it and every time we will think of one another while you are away, and if you never come back, I'll look at the North Star and know that it is looking down at your grave where you went with a purpose as fixed as the great star and a motive as pure as its white light." Oh, those wonderful night heavens to the thoughtful man!
Every veteran at this point in the narrative thinks now of the wonderful nights when the Northern Lights held him in their spell. Always the sentry called to his mates to come and see. It cannot be pictured by brush or pen, this Aurora Borealis. It has action, it has color, sheets of light, spires, shafts, beams and broad finger-like spreadings, that come and go, filmy veils of light winding and drifting in, weaving in and out among the beams and shafts, now glowing, now fading. It may be low in the north or spread over more than half the heavens. It may shift from east to western quarter of the northern heaven. Never twice the same, never repeating the delicate pattern, nor staying a minute for the admirer, it brightens or glimmers, advances or retreats, dies out gradually or vanishes quickly. Always a phenomenon of wonder to the soldier who never found a zero night too cold for him to go and see, was the Aurora Borealis.
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