While most of them have no direct experience of World War I,
the Gates and Warshinsky families remain acutely aware of its
progress. For Jed Gates and David Warshinsky, members of the
US armed forces, the war is no abstract thing but a daily reality
that threatens to overwhelm them body and soul.
Jed seeks to prove himself through battle --- to demonstrate to
himself and his family that he has indeed been endowed with
greatness. Some have defined bravery as the ability to
overcome fear. That is especially true in Jed's case, for
despite his faith in God --- and David --- he cannot rid himself of
the terror that strikes him on the battlefield.
For David, the war has been an escape from a world he never felt
part of. At ease among his fellow soldiers, still surprised
at the pleasure he finds in Jed's friendship, David has begun to
truly merit his self-confidence.
Jed awoke just past dawn to the sound of birds. He lay with
his eyes closed, breathing slowly, savoring the sweetness of the
French spring air. He loved being up so early, when the light
was delicate and the air was clear, not yet full of the dust of the
Division's activities. A new day stretched before him, rife
with possibilities. Jed was happy. As he had every
morning since the first days of training camp, he woke feeling
Their time in France had been easy so far. The regiment had
been attached to the U.S. 2nd Division, hunkered down and waiting,
just southeast of Verdun. They were in a bon secteur,
where the lines had remained stable for three long years and the
2nd had dug out a very domesticated existence for themselves.
Conditions in the trenches were more than livable: beds with
mattresses, tables and chairs, stoves, electricity, even some
wooden floors. And no fighting.
There had been one brief period after they'd arrived during which
Jed's unadulterated happiness had faltered. The couple of
months of training with live grenades and sharp bayonets had put a
metallic taste of fear into his mouth. After handling nothing
but dummy wooden rifles through all his years in the Knickerbocker
Greys and during training camp, Jed was panic-stricken by the stink
of the explosives and the evil gleam of the deadly blades. In
a shocking second, the simplicity of the Army's physical
expectations became a horrendously complex matter of life and
death. It didn't help him to know that his fear was normal.
He had not expected to be frightened. He was unprepared
for it, and his own emotions terrified him as much as the grenades
While the other men talked about their fear, joked about it, used
it to feel close to one another, Jed said nothing. He pushed
himself harder and harder in an effort to deny his own panic.
He became the most zealous trainee in the regiment. Any
lingering, unspoken suspicion that Jed's swift rise to officer
status was driven by his influential grandfather was forever
abandoned; it no longer mattered how he got there. He was a
soldier everyone could count on to lead well and do what was
When the special training ended, Jed's fear slowly
dissipated. Daily, the men heard news of skirmishes to the
north and east, battles fought by the British and French troops
they were here to support. They even began hearing, little by
little, of other American divisions becoming involved in some raids
and line-holding. But it didn't seem real.
Jed stretched and opened his eyes. Sunlight moved like water
on the ceiling of the tent.
"Ah, you're finally awake."
Jed turned his head toward the tent's shadowed interior.
David was dressed and sitting on the bed next to him, one leg
bouncing up and down, looking restless in that explosive way that
only David could. Jed knew what that meant. It meant
that David was going to go into town, without him.
Jed quickly sat up. "Give me a minute to get my clothes on
and we'll go get some breakfast. Then how about we play some
cards? You look like you need some diversion."
"I don't think cards will do the trick. I'm going into
"Don't you want to eat something first?"
"They've got food there, better than what we have." David
gave him a mischievous look. "I'm sure Delphine will be happy
to feed me."
Jed looked away. "I'm sure she will."
David laughed. "Come on, Jed. Come with me, for
once." The one leg stopped bouncing, and the other started
up. "Listen to me, I woke up feeling really weird this
morning. I think something's about to happen. We might
die tomorrow. What are you saving yourself for?
Delphine's friend Sylvie really likes you."
"We're not going to die tomorrow and no, I'm not going with
you! You know I don't do that. It's not the way I was
raised. It's fine for you, but honestly, I don't want
David looked off into the distance again and sighed. "Me, I
like women. Ahh, God, I love women." His voice had gone
soft and vulnerable and his eyes had lost their focus.
"They're so beautiful. That spot, where the back of the thigh
curves up into the ass..." He tilted his head back and opened
his mouth. "And they taste so good." He exhaled.
"Oh fuck, that's it. I've got to find the lovely and willing
Mademoiselle Delphine before I bust a gut."
David jumped up and grinned at Jed. "Don't pay any attention
to me. I'm a bad role model. There's nothing wrong with
sticking with your moral convictions. You stay here and be
good for the both of us. I'll go find Vern. He's
probably at the mess by now."
Jed felt a pain like a hot poker in his stomach. Cooper was
attached to David like a fifth limb, though he had other
friends. But Jed couldn't stand him, although no one would
ever know it from his behavior. And he couldn't stand the
thought of him going into town with David.
Jed pulled on his scratchy uniform, laced up his hob-nailed boots
and left the tent, headed for the latrine and then mess. As
soon as he stepped out of the dug-out, he felt it. David was
right, something had changed. The war had found them, Jed
could sense it in the air. There were too many men up and out
too early, their movements no longer sluggish with boredom. A
voice filled with exuberance carried on the tender morning
air. "Lieutenant! Hey! We're moving out!
We're moving out!"
Jed didn't turn to see who was calling to him. A sudden knot
of panic constricted his chest. He hurried on to the
mess. David was there, sitting with the core group of their
infantry regiment, his hands wrapped around a metal cup full of
steaming black coffee. Jed slipped in beside him. A
chorus of "Hey, Lieutenant"s greeted him.
"What's happening?" Jed asked, pleased at how authoritative his
David turned to him, eyes filled with excitement of a different
sort; no longing for Miss Delphine visible in them anymore.
"It looks like we're finally getting into it, Jed. No one
seems to know exactly what's going on, but we've gotten orders to
Peterson heard rumors from Captain Hummel that the Germans broke
through the line of the French Sixth somewhere north of
"Yeah, and I heard that about two hundred guys from the First were
killed in some town up near there --- Cantigny, I don't know how
the hell you pronounce it," Private Peterson added, mangling the
lyrical name of the French town. "I think they're sending us
Jed felt a balloon expanding inside his head. The table in
front of him was receding at a rapid pace.
David glanced at Jed's averted face. He pushed the cup in
Jed's direction. "Here, have some. I'm jumpy
Jed reached for the coffee with an unnatural slowness. David
looked at him carefully. Jed's face was expressionless, his
blue eyes like clear pools of undisturbed water. David leaned
closer and spoke so quietly that only Jed could hear him.
"Jed, are you all right?"
Jed turned, instinct putting a smile on his face. "Sure, this
is what we've been waiting for." He looked at David and, all
of a sudden, he was all right. The golden lights flickering
in the depths of David's eyes held him, steadied him, burned away
the eerie distance that had sprung up between himself and the rest
of the world. Looking into David's eyes was like staring into
a banked fire. Jed could feel the power and the warmth
waiting there. When he needed it, David would light that fire
and let Jed draw strength from it. He sipped at the
coffee. "God. This is strong enough to float a tank
"Yeah, it's our new secret weapon," Vern Cooper whispered, and
everyone burst out laughing. It wasn't so funny, but it broke
Jed laughed along with the others. Everyone was scared, it
was obvious. They'd all be fine once they got started.
It was not knowing what to expect that was so hard. The image
of himself standing triumphant over the fallen enemy rose in his
mind and he thought of his grandfather's parting words to
him. Make me proud, Jed. Lead well. Don't show
your fear, set the example for your men to follow.
"Listen," he said, his voice strong, "we have to watch out for each
other from now on."
"Don't worry, Lieutenant, I'm sticking close to you," Peterson
replied. "You were the coolest thing I ever saw in
training. If I'm near you, I'm gonna be okay."
Jed smiled at the score of faces turned toward him. "We're
going to be great. We're going to be the best infantry
regiment in the whole damned American Expeditionary Forces!"
"I'm glad to hear that, Lieutenant." Captain Hummel
materialized behind Jed and clapped a hand on his shoulder.
Amusement tinged his voice. "Now I can sit back and
"What's the word, Captain?"
"All I know is that there's a caravan of trucks coming in here to
take us out. Even General Harbord doesn't know where we're
going. But we've got to break camp, get ready to load
up. So..." Hummel rubbed his hands together, "let's get to
it. Gates, you seem to be the voice of authority among this
motley crew. See if you can get them ready for the real
world." The Captain was always easy with his men and they
responded well to him. He stood quietly with them for a
moment, then said simply, "Good luck, all of you," and left them to
Jed sat cramped between David and Vern, his eyes closed, rocking
gently against one and then the other. They were in one of
the lead trucks bumping slowly along the road north toward
Paris. He pictured the U.S. 2nd Division caravan, fourteen
miles long, stretched out behind them like a snake rattling its way
toward dangerous prey. Jed opened his eyes and stared at the
roof of the truck.
He turned his head and looked out the open back. How
sad. The beauty of the French spring was lost to him
forever. All he saw now was dust and the seemingly endless
stream of refugees fleeing south. This afternoon a group of
ragged, spiritless French soldiers were mixed in with the
civilians. One of them cried vehemently, "La guerre finie" as
he rushed away from the front.
"If only the war were over," David said quietly. After three
months in France, David spoke the language like a native, better
than Jed after his years of schooling.
Yes, then I could go home, Jed thought.
"Things must be really bad on the front."
Jed looked down at David's hands, his slim fingers beautifully
bronzed from the spring sun. They were crawling up and down
his legs. "Are you scared, David?"
David grunted. "Of course I'm scared. I want my bones
to rest in some rich man's cemetery in New York, years from now,
not in a battlefield in France." He squirmed on the hard
bench until he was facing Jed. "Jed," he whispered urgently,
"let's stick together. Let's make sure that we get out of
"Sounds good to me."
"God, how can you act so calm?"
"David? Did some overprotective brother really give you that
scar?" Jed's eyes were glued to David's face.
David looked hard at Jed. "Yes. That's exactly what
"You wouldn't lie to me?"
David stared into Jed's eyes. The fear was there.
"No. I wouldn't lie to you." David pressed his
knee. "Jed, we're going to be okay."
Jed nodded. He couldn't say anything. He could not
begin to express what he felt. I'm floating, he
thought, nothing to hold me down. Nothing but the feel
of David's hot hand on his leg. He scrabbled in his mind for
his self-assurance. Everyone always told him he had it in
abundance; where was it hiding? Strangely, what he found was
an image of his father looking at him with calm green eyes, seeing
him with utter clarity.
They crept through the fields in a heavy, early-morning fog.
Retreating French soldiers slid through their advancing ranks,
appearing suddenly like creatures formed out of the damp mist
itself. No words were spoken; the gratitude on the faces of
the poilus was more eloquent than anything they could have
said. It was an eerie dream, silent and smokey. The
dense mist swirled around the men's faces and blanketed all
sound. Jed heard a muffled tittering from behind him, someone
--- Cooper --- saying spookily "Hey fellas, we've risen from our
Their graves. He'd dug his yesterday, a shallow body-length
trench scraped out of the dry, dusty ground with his bayonet and
mess-kit lid. They'd been told to dig in, to hold the
line. He'd finished his before anyone else, jabbing at the
ground with savage speed. He'd flopped into his grave and
prepared to shoot anything that came within his fifteen yards of
territory. He'd lain there rigidly all night with his eyes
wide open, staring into the darkness in the direction of the
front. He'd heard the pounding of German boots coming nearer
and nearer but no soldiers ever appeared. After an eternity
he'd realized it was the beating of his heart. There had been
no attack. They were ordered to move on, to find and engage
Jed groped his way blindly, dimly aware of his regiment's presence
around him, of foliage brushing at his legs. He bumped into
someone in front of him. "Listen!" David hissed. Jed
listened. Distant booms and crackings. "This is
it!" David was gone.
Jed followed. He became aware of light; the fog was burning
off. A brilliant shaft of sunlight hit his face and suddenly
he was moving through a dazzling emerald sea of waving buckwheat,
rippling sweetly in the June breeze. God, it was
gorgeous! He stood up tall and looked around him in
"Put your head down Jed!"
But David, it's so beautiful.
"Don't stand up like that, you're a moving target! Let your
helmet protect your neck, for God's sake! Jed, get
He put his head down. There were explosions, men
screaming. Jed fell to the ground, his heart beating
madly. He got up again and ran. Jesus, men were
dropping but where were the Germans? He heard Captain
Hummel's voice echoing all around him, Drop and fire! They're
using machine guns! Stay down, crawl and fire! Jed ran,
shooting, falling, up, shoot, down. Tears were leaking from
his eyes. The clear air was filled with fog again, not the
cool wet morning mist but hot, stinking smoke. Jed ran
through it, feeling the wheat slap at his legs. He tripped
and fell over on top of something. He looked down and saw
Peterson, half his head blown away. Jed shrieked and clawed
at the ground. He stood up screaming and ran, his breath
bellowing between screams, firing into the blue smoke ahead of
It was so quiet. Where was everyone? He was lying on
the ground on his back, looking up through the green shafts of
wheat at a darkening sky the color of those deep blue violets his
father grew in little pots in early spring. Ah, there was the
evening star! He was so comfortable. A face in the
twilight above him. David! Looking so sad.
David fell to his knees next to Jed's supine body. His eyes
glistened with angry tears. He grabbed Jed's shoulders and
hugged him to his chest. "I've been looking all over for you,
goddamnit! I thought for sure you were dead the way you ran
right toward them. You must have shot a million
Germans. What are you doing just lying here?"
"Look at that sky, David. Beautiful, isn't it?" He was
croaking. Why was his throat so raw? Why was he shaking
like that? He grabbed onto David and they held each other so
tightly they could scarcely breathe.
"Come on, we're retreating for the night, we have to get
back." David dragged Jed to his feet.
Jed staggered after him. "Peterson is dead, you know. I
fell over him."
David shivered so hard he almost stumbled. "I know.
Vern and I buried him. We buried a lot of guys since the
Jed saw David's shoulders shake; he was sobbing. An
unbearable panic rose up from Jed's guts and spread through his
chest. He opened his mouth to let it out. It floated
away. "David, don't cry." He reached out and took
They half-crawled, half-ran back toward safety in the wan light of
a newly-risen crescent moon. As they scrambled across the
battlefield, Jed wrinkled up his nose. "What's that
"Oh, Jed," David moaned, "what do you think it is?"
Jed was about to say he didn't know, but then he realized it was
the stench of death.
Jed wandered through the hastily-erected encampment, stepping
around the bodies of the wounded waiting to be taken out to the
advance dressing stations and hospitals. In the week they
hadn't been fighting, he did what everyone else did. He ate
and slept and joked and waited. No one seemed to notice that
he wasn't really there. He wondered if maybe everyone felt
like he did inside, all foggy and detached.
"Gates, go get something to eat and some rest." Captain
Hummel appeared beside him and gently took Jed by the arm, led him
toward the mess tent. Rich kid, he didn't have to be here at
all, but look at him. He'd fought like a machine for a
month. He'd dug his buddies' graves and dragged the wounded
back in from the field. No wonder he seemed a little
dazed. Well, shit, everyone was so tired even Cooper's
frantic attempts to get a baseball game going had met with total
Jed nodded. "It's hot," he said, tugging at his jacket
"It's the end of July, Jed," Hummel said lightly. "It's
supposed to be hot."
July, Jed thought vaguely. What happened to
June? Wasn't it just June?
"Come on, Jed. Go find your buddies and get some sleep.
We're moving into place during the night. Tomorrow's the big
offensive along the Marne."
Jed woke to rain falling on his upturned face. Up and
moving. No fires, no coffee. Cold bully beef,
inedible. Not hot anymore, cold, cold rain. Marching
silently along roads so dark they seemed like tunnels. Into
the woods, feet sinking into thick mud, sucking at ankles.
Slogging five miles, endless hours through the murky muck.
Legs aching, shoulders aching. Dropping like stones into
place in a ravine, David on one side, Vern on the other. Like
sacks of wet flour, thudding onto the ground, three bundles of
exhaustion lying inert until dawn. Hundreds of bundles
littering the ravine for miles on either side.
Dawn, clear glorious rain-washed sky, light rays coming up over the
eastern horizon like a chorus of angels. Sudden puffs of
smoke dirtied the air; the morning quiet was broken by the rolling
thunder of cannons and artillery up ahead. Tanks were
rumbling in front of them. The earth trembled beneath their
feet. Up! Up and out! Here we go! The hum
in Jed's brain turned into a roar. He shook his head hard and
it subsided. They ran across the broken ground, following
their tanks. Cannon fire burst all around them.
Everyone dropped at the same instant, everyone minus someone got up
again. Musical chairs. Over and over. How many
"Gates, take your group, get through that trench. Knock out
those damned cannons!" Hummel's voice boomed in his
The Gates Brigade, what was left of it. Running full tilt,
zig-zagging across the field, dropping, waiting, up again.
Pouring over the lip of a trench, shocked German faces staring up
at the gleaming tips of their poised bayonets. Jed opened his
mouth and screamed. He looked into the blue eyes of a
baby-faced boy, staring up at him in horror. He screamed
louder and plunged his bayonet into the boy's chest. Blood
sprayed everywhere. The blue eyes grew grey and filmy, but
the horror remained. Jed whirled, blue eyes all around
him! He jabbed in all directions.
"Jed, that's enough! The cannons, let's go!"
David's hand on his back, pushing him up. Jed scrambled out
of the trench, feeling his boots slipping on wetness as he pushed
off against flesh. Someone threw a grenade and through the
smoke they leaped onto the cannon crew.
"We got one!" Cooper's coarse voice.
Where the hell was the sun? Jed tried to find it on the
horizon through the yellow-brown smoke. What was it doing way
overhead? He started wandering back the way they'd
"Jed, where are you going?"
It's late David, we have to get back home. He started
trotting toward the trenches.
David ran after Jed, Vern close behind, struggling to see through
the thick, acrid smoke. He fell into the German trench.
There were bodies everywhere. He scrabbled up the far side
and vomited without breaking stride. "Jed, you bastard, where
are you!" There. Running off to the left.
Suddenly, the earth under David's feet disappeared and he flew up
into the haze. He clutched at the Star around his neck.
His father was laughing into his face, throwing him up in the air
and catching him. He smiled as he sailed in the sky. He
was smiling when he slammed into the ground. His fist opened
and the Star of David fell into the blood-soaked dirt.
Something hit Jed's back and kicked him over, knocked the breath
out of him. He lay for a moment with his face in the
muck. I'm not supposed to get dirty! I'll say Lucy
pushed me! He got up and headed for a line of trees off
to his left. He leaned his back against one and slid down to
sit in the shade of its branches. He brushed the dirt off his
clothes. He looked up and saw a strange shape lurching toward
him through the smoke. Something moving, hunched over
something on the ground... He got up and walked slowly toward
it. Oh, no! Someone was dragging David across the
field, cruelly bouncing his limp body on the rough terrain.
Stop, stop! Leave him alone! Jed grabbed his
rifle and ran at full pitch. Get away from
Blue Eyes standing over David's body. No more! No more
Blue Eyes! Jed ran with his bayonet at the ready, his mouth
open wide, his tortured throat spewing out an unrecognizable
inhuman screeching that filled the sky. In the deadly silence
beneath the blanketing sound, he stabbed with all his
strength. Get away from him, get away, get away!
The Blue Eyes tumbled back and fell, pouring blood all over
David. Jed threw his rifle aside and dropped to the
ground. He pushed the Blue Eyes away, his hand covered in hot
blood, and put his head to David's chest. Alive! He
turned to stone. His own blue eyes stared into dead eyes
fixed on him from across David's body. They weren't Blue
Eyes. They were Minnesota-sky blue eyes set into Vernon
Cooper's stupid, ugly, loyal, hated, dead face.
Panic burned through Jed's torso. He crept backward, shaking
his head. He coughed, hacking furiously, trying to dislodge
the panic as though it were a physical thing. It wouldn't
move. It was filling every space in his body. No more
of this! He was going to die. He couldn't get any
air. He scuttled like a crab under the trees, groping for his
rifle. Why couldn't he see anything? He wiped at his
eyes and face with a sleeve and it came away soaking wet.
Sweat, blood, salty tears. His arm hit the rifle. He
grabbed it in both hands, turning the bayonet point toward
himself. He raised up onto his knees and blindly jabbed down,
again and again, twisting and stabbing. He didn't feel
anything and yet he heard himself screaming as though with
pain. He flung the rifle away and started crawling. It
took forever, but he got there. He curled up next to David
and closed his eyes. Where their bodies touched, he could
feel the beating of David's heart. Now, finally, he could
have some peace.
Excerpted from HIDDEN © Copyright 2011 by Victoria
Lustbader. Reprinted with permission by Forge Books, an imprint of
Tom Doherty Associates, LLC. All rights reserved.