Famous Modern Ghost Stories HTML version

The Bowmen
From The Bowmen, by Arthur Machen. Published in England by Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton,
Kent & Co., Ltd., and in America by G.P. Putnam's Sons. By permission of the publishers and
Arthur Machen.
It was during the Retreat of the Eighty Thousand, and the authority of the Censorship is
sufficient excuse for not being more explicit. But it was on the most awful day of that
awful time, on the day when ruin and disaster came so near that their shadow fell over
London far away; and, without any certain news, the hearts of men failed within them
and grew faint; as if the agony of the army in the battlefield had entered into their souls.
On this dreadful day, then, when three hundred thousand men in arms with all their
artillery swelled like a flood against the little English company, there was one point
above all other points in our battle line that was for a time in awful danger, not merely of
defeat, but of utter annihilation. With the permission of the Censorship and of the military
expert, this corner may, perhaps, be described as a salient, and if this angle were crushed
and broken, then the English force as a whole would be shattered, the Allied left would
be turned, and Sedan would inevitably follow.
All the morning the German guns had thundered and shrieked against this corner, and
against the thousand or so of men who held it. The men joked at the shells, and found
funny names for them, and had bets about them, and greeted them with scraps of music-
hall songs. But the shells came on and burst, and tore good Englishmen limb from limb,
and tore brother from brother, and as the heat of the day increased so did the fury of that
terrific cannonade. There was no help, it seemed. The English artillery was good, but
there was not nearly enough of it; it was being steadily battered into scrap iron.
There comes a moment in a storm at sea when people say to one another, "It is at its
worst; it can blow no harder," and then there is a blast ten times more fierce than any
before it. So it was in these British trenches.
There were no stouter hearts in the whole world than the hearts of these men; but even
they were appalled as this seven-times-heated hell of the German cannonade fell upon
them and overwhelmed them and destroyed them. And at this very moment they saw
from their trenches that a tremendous host was moving against their lines. Five hundred
of the thousand remained, and as far as they could see the German infantry was pressing
on against them, column upon column, a gray world of men, ten thousand of them, as it
appeared afterwards.
There was no hope at all. They shook hands, some of them. One man improvised a new
version of the battle-song, "Good-by, good-by to Tipperary," ending with "And we shan't
get there." And they all went on firing steadily. The officer pointed out that such an