There were tiny green frogs in one of the putty-colored puddles by the roadside. John Andrews fell out of the slowly advancing column a moment to look at them. The frogs’ triangular heads stuck out of the water in the middle of the puddle. He leaned over, his hands on his knees, easing the weight of the equipment on his back. That way he could see their tiny jewelled eyes, topaz-colored. His eyes felt as if tears were coming to them with tenderness towards the minute lithe bodies of the frogs. Something was telling him that he must run forward and fall into line again, that he must shamble on through the mud, but he remained staring at the puddle, watching the frogs. Then he noticed his reflection in the puddle. He looked at it curiously. He could barely see the outlines of a stained grimacing mask, and the silhouette of the gun barrel slanting behind it. So this was what they had made of him. He fixed his eyes again on the frogs that swam with elastic, leisurely leg strokes in the putty-colored water.
Absently, as if he had no connection with all that went on about him, he heard the twang of bursting shrapnel down the road. He had straightened himself wearily and taken a step forward, when he found himself sinking into the puddle. A feeling of relief came over him. His legs sunk in the puddle; he lay without moving against the muddy bank. The frogs had gone, but from somewhere a little stream of red was creeping out slowly into the putty-colored water. He watched the irregular files of men in olive-drab shambling by. Their footsteps drummed in his ears. He felt triumphantly separated from them, as if he were in a window somewhere watching soldiers pass, or in a box of a theater watching some dreary monotonous play. He drew farther and farther away from them until they had become very small, like toy soldiers forgotten among the dust in a garret. The light was so dim he couldn’t see, he could only hear their feet tramping interminably through the mud.
John Andrews was on a ladder that shook horribly. A gritty sponge in his hand, he was washing the windows of a barracks. He began in the left hand corner and soaped the small oblong panes one after the other. His arms were like lead and he felt that he would fall from the shaking ladder, but each time he turned to look towards the ground before climbing down he saw the top of the general’s cap and the general’s chin protruding from under the visor, and a voice snarled: “Attention,” terrifying him so that the ladder shook more than ever; and he went on smearing soap over the oblong panes with the gritty sponge through interminable hours, though every joint in his body was racked by the shaking of the ladder. Bright light flared from inside the windows which he soaped, pane after pane, methodically. The windows were mirrors. In each pane he saw his thin face, in shadow, with the shadow of a gun barrel slanting beside it. The jolting stopped suddenly. He sank into a deep pit of blackness.
A shrill broken voice was singing in his ear:
“There’s a girl in the heart of Maryland
With a heart that belongs to me-e.”
John Andrews opened his eyes. It was pitch black, except for a series of bright yellow oblongs that seemed to go up into the sky, where he could see the stars. His mind became suddenly acutely conscious. He began taking account of himself in a hurried frightened way. He craned his neck a little. In the darkness he could make out the form of a man stretched out flat beside him who kept moving his head strangely from side to side, singing at the top of his lungs in a shrill broken voice. At that moment Andrews noticed that the smell of carbolic was overpoweringly strong, that it dominated all the familiar smells of blood and sweaty clothes. He wriggled his shoulders so that he could feel the two poles of the stretcher. Then he fixed his eyes again in the three bright yellow oblongs, one above the other, that rose into the darkness. Of course, they were windows; he was near a house.
He moved his arms a little. They felt like lead, but unhurt. Then he realized that his legs were on fire. He tried to move them; everything went black again in a sudden agony of pain. The voice was still shrieking in his ears:
“There’s a girl in the heart of Maryland
With a heart that belongs to me-e.”
But another voice could be heard, softer, talking endlessly in tender clear tones:
“An’ he said they were goin’ to take me way down south where there was a little house on the beach, all so warm an’ quiet...”
The song of the man beside him rose to a tuneless shriek, like a phonograph running down:
“An’ Mary-land was fairy-land
When she said that mine she’d be...”
Another voice broke in suddenly in short spurts of whining groans that formed themselves into fragments of drawn-out intricate swearing. And all the while the soft voice went on. Andrews strained his ears to hear it.
It soothed his pain as if some cool fragrant oil were being poured over his body.
“An’ there’ll be a garden full of flowers, roses an’ hollyhocks, way down there in the south, an’ it’ll be so warm an’ quiet, an’ the sun’ll shine all day, and the sky’ll be so blue...”
Andrews felt his lips repeating the words like lips following a prayer.
“—An’ it’ll be so warm an’ quiet, without any noise at all. An’ the garden’ll be full of roses an’...”
But the other voices kept breaking in, drowning out the soft voice with groans, and strings of whining oaths.
“An’ he said I could sit on the porch, an’ the sun’ll be so warm an’ quiet, an’ the garden’ll smell so good, an’ the beach’ll be all white, an’ the sea...”
Andrews felt his head suddenly rise in the air and then his feet. He swung out of the darkness into a brilliant white corridor. His legs throbbed with flaming agony. The face of a man with a cigarette in his mouth peered close to his. A hand fumbled at his throat, where the tag was, and someone read:
But he was listening to the voice out in the dark, behind him, that shrieked in rasping tones of delirium:
“There’s a girl in the heart of Mary-land
With a heart that belongs to me-e.”
Then he discovered that he was groaning. His mind became entirely taken up in the curious rhythm of his groans. The only parts of his body that existed were his legs and something in his throat that groaned and groaned. It was absorbing. White figures hovered about him, he saw the hairy forearms of a man in shirt sleeves, lights glared and went out, strange smells entered at his nose and circulated through his whole body, but nothing could distract his attention from the singsong of his groans.
Rain fell in his face. He moved his head from side to side, suddenly feeling conscious of himself. His mouth was dry, like leather; he put out his tongue to try to catch raindrops in it. He was swung roughly about in the stretcher. He lifted his head cautiously, feeling a great throb of delight that he still could lift his head.
“Keep yer head down, can’t yer?” snarled a voice beside him. He had seen the back of a man in a gleaming wet slicker at the end of the stretcher.
“Be careful of my leg, can’t yer?” he found himself whining over and over again. Then suddenly there was a lurch that rapped his head against the crosspiece of the stretcher, and he found himself looking up at a wooden ceiling from which the white paint had peeled in places. He smelt gasoline and could hear the throb of an engine. He began to think back; how long was it since he had looked at the little frogs in the puddle? A vivid picture came to his mind of the puddle with its putty-colored water and the little triangular heads of the frogs. But it seemed as long ago as a memory of childhood; all of his life before that was not so long as the time that had gone by since the car had started. And he was jolting and swinging about in the stretcher, clutching hard with his hands at the poles of the stretcher. The pain in his legs grew worse; the rest of his body seemed to shrivel under it. From below him came a rasping voice that cried out at every lurch of the ambulance. He fought against the desire to groan, but at last he gave in and lay lost in the monotonous singsong of his groans.
The rain was in his face again for a moment, then his body was tilted. A row of houses and russet trees and chimney pots against a leaden sky swung suddenly up into sight and were instantly replaced by a ceiling and the coffred vault of a staircase. Andrews was still groaning softly, but his eyes fastened with sudden interest on the sculptured rosettes of the coffres and the coats of arms that made the center of each section of ceiling. Then he found himself staring in the face of the man who was carrying the lower end of the stretcher. It was a white face with pimples round the mouth and good-natured, watery blue eyes. Andrews looked at the eyes and tried to smile, but the man carrying the stretcher was not looking at him.
Then after more endless hours of tossing about on the stretcher, lost in a groaning agony of pain, hands laid hold of him roughly and pulled his clothes off and lifted him on a cot where he lay gasping, breathing in the cool smell of disinfectant that hung about the bedclothes. He heard voices over his head.
“Isn’t bad at all... this leg wound.... I thought you said we’d have to amputate?”
“Well, what’s the matter with him, then?”
A cold sweat of terror took hold of Andrews. He lay perfectly still with his eyes closed. Spasm after spasm of revolt went through him. No, they hadn’t broken him yet; he still had hold of his nerves, he kept saying to himself. Still, he felt that his hands, clasped across his belly, were trembling. The pain in his legs disappeared in the fright in which he lay, trying desperately to concentrate his mind on something outside himself. He tried to think of a tune to hum to himself, but he only heard again shrieking in his ears the voice which, it seemed to him months and years ago, had sung:
“There’s a girl in the heart of Maryland
With a heart that belo-ongs to me-e.”
The voice shrieking the blurred tune and the pain in his legs mingled themselves strangely, until they seemed one and the pain seemed merely a throbbing of the maddening tune.
He opened his eyes. Darkness fading into a faint yellow glow. Hastily he took stock of himself, moved his head and his arms. He felt cool and very weak and quiet; he must have slept a long time. He passed his rough dirty, hand over his face. The skin felt soft and cool. He pressed his cheek on the pillow and felt himself smiling contentedly, he did not know why.
The Queen of Sheba carried a parasol with little vermilion bells all round it that gave out a cool tinkle as she walked towards him. She wore her hair in a high headdress thickly powdered with blue iris powder, and on her long train, that a monkey held up at the end, were embroidered in gaudy colors the signs of the zodiac. She was not the Queen of Sheba, she was a nurse whose face he could not see in the obscurity, and, sticking an arm behind his head in a deft professional manner, she gave him something to drink from a glass without looking at him. He said “Thank you,” in his natural voice, which surprised him in the silence; but she went off without replying and he saw that it was a trayful of glasses that had tinkled as she had come towards him.
Dark as it was he noticed the self-conscious tilt of the nurse’s body as she walked silently to the next cot, holding the tray of glasses in front of her. He twisted his head round on the pillow to watch how gingerly she put her arm under the next man’s head to give him a drink.
“A virgin,” he said to himself, “very much a virgin,” and he found himself giggling softly, notwithstanding the twinges of pain from his legs. He felt suddenly as if his spirit had awakened from a long torpor. The spell of dejection that had deadened him for months had slipped off. He was free. The thought came to him gleefully, that as long as he stayed in that cot in the hospital no one would shout orders at him. No one would tell him to clean his rifle. There would be no one to salute. He would not have to worry about making himself pleasant to the sergeant. He would lie there all day long, thinking his own thoughts.
Perhaps he was badly enough wounded to be discharged from the army. The thought set his heart beating like mad. That meant that he, who had given himself up for lost, who had let himself be trampled down unresistingly into the mud of slavery, who had looked for no escape from the treadmill but death, would live. He, John Andrews, would live.
And it seemed inconceivable that he had ever given himself up, that he had ever let the grinding discipline have its way with him. He saw himself vividly once more as he had seen himself before his life had suddenly blotted itself out, before he had become a slave among slaves. He renumbered the garden where, in his boyhood, he had sat dreaming through the droning summer afternoons under the crepe myrtle bushes, while the cornfields beyond rustled and shimmered in the heat. He remembered the day he had stood naked in the middle of a base room while the recruiting sergeant prodded him and measured him. He wondered suddenly what the date was. Could it be that it was only a year ago? Yet in that year all the other years of his life had been blotted out. But now he would begin living again. He would give up this cowardly cringing before external things. He would be recklessly himself.
The pain in his legs was gradually localizing itself into the wounds. For a while he struggled against it to go on thinking, but its constant throb kept impinging in his mind until, although he wanted desperately to comb through his pale memories to remember, if ever so faintly, all that had been vivid and lusty in his life, to build himself a new foundation of resistance against the world from which he could start afresh to live, he became again the querulous piece of hurt flesh, the slave broken on the treadmill; he began to groan.
Cold steel-gray light filtered into the ward, drowning the yellow glow which first turned ruddy and then disappeared. Andrews began to make out the row of cots opposite him, and the dark beams of the ceiling above his head. “This house must be very old,” he said to himself, and the thought vaguely excited him. Funny that the Queen of Sheba had come to his head, it was ages since he’d thought of all that. From the girl at the cross-roads singing under her street-lamp to the patrician pulling roses to pieces from the height of her litter, all the aspects’ half-guessed, all the imaginings of your desire... that was the Queen of Sheba. He whispered the words aloud, “la reine de Saba, la reine de Saba”; and, with a tremor of anticipation of the sort he used to feel when he was a small boy the night before Christmas, with a sense of new; things in store for him, he pillowed his head on his arm and went quietly to sleep.
“Ain’t it juss like them frawgs te make a place like this’ into a hauspital?” said the orderly, standing with his feet wide apart and his hands on his hips, facing a row of cots and talking to anyone who felt well enough to listen. “Honest, I doan see why you fellers doan all cash in yer! checks in this hole.... There warn’t even electric light till we put it in.... What d’you think o’ that? That shows how much the goddam frawgs care....” The orderly was a short man with a sallow, lined face and large yellow teeth. When he smiled the horizontal lines in his forehead and the lines that ran from the sides of his nose to the ends of his mouth deepened so that his face looked as if it were made up to play a comic part in the movies.
“It’s kind of artistic, though, ain’t it?” said Applebaum, whose cot was next Andrews’s,—a skinny man with large, frightened eyes and an inordinately red face that looked as if the skin had been peeled off. “Look at the work there is on that ceiling. Must have cost some dough when it was noo.”
“Wouldn’t be bad as a dance hall with a little fixin’ up, but a hauspital; hell!”
Andrews lay, comfortable in his cot, looking into the ward out of another world. He felt no connection with the talk about him, with the men who lay silent or tossed about groaning in the rows of narrow cots that filled the Renaissance hall. In the yellow glow of the electric lights, looking beyond the orderly’s twisted face and narrow head, he could see very faintly, where the beams of the ceiling sprung from the wall, a row of half-obliterated shields supported by figures carved out of the grey stone of the wall, handed satyrs with horns and goats’ beards and deep-set eyes, little squat figures of warriors and townsmen in square hats with swords between their bent knees, naked limbs twined in scrolls of spiked acanthus leaves, all seen very faintly, so that when the electric lights swung back and forth in the wind made by the orderly’s hurried passing, they all seemed to wink and wriggle in shadowy mockery of the rows of prostrate bodies in the room beneath them. Yet they were familiar, friendly to Andrews. He kept feeling a half-formulated desire to be up there too, crowded under a beam, grimacing through heavy wreaths of pomegranates and acanthus leaves, the incarnation of old rich lusts, of clear fires that had sunk to dust ages since. He felt at home in that spacious hall, built for wide gestures and stately steps, in which all the little routine of the army seemed unreal, and the wounded men discarded automatons, broken toys laid away in rows.
Andrews was snatched out of his thoughts. Applebaum was speaking to him; he turned his head.
“How d’you loike it bein’ wounded, buddy?”
“Foine, I should think it was.... Better than doin’ squads right all day.”
“Where did you get yours?”
“Ain’t got only one arm now.... I don’t give a damn.... I’ve driven my last fare, that’s all.”
“How d’you mean?”
“I used to drive a taxi.”
“That’s a pretty good job, isn’t it?”
“You bet, big money in it, if yer in right.”
“So you used to be a taxi-driver, did you?” broke in the orderly. “That’s a fine job.... When I was in the Providence Hospital half the fractures was caused by taxis. We had a little girl of six in the children’s ward had her feet cut clean off at the ankles by a taxi. Pretty yellow hair she had, too. Gangrene.... Only lasted a day.... Well, I’m going off, I guess you guys wish you was going to be where I’m goin’ to be tonight.... That’s one thing you guys are lucky in, don’t have to worry about propho.” The orderly wrinkled his face up and winked elaborately.
“Say, will you do something for me?” asked Andrews.
“Sure, if it ain’t no trouble.”
“Will you buy me a book?”
“Ain’t ye got enough with all the books at the ‘Y’?”
“No.... This is a special book,” said Andrews smiling, “a French book.”
“A French book, is it? Well, I’ll see what I can do. What’s it called?”
“By Flaubert.... Look, if you’ve got a piece of paper and a pencil, I’ll write it down.”
Andrews scrawled the title on the back of an order slip.
“What the hell? Who’s Antoine? Gee whiz, I bet that’s hot stuff. I wish I could read French. We’ll have you breakin’ loose out o’ here an’ going down to number four, roo Villiay, if you read that kind o’ book.”
“Has it got pictures?” asked Applebaum. “One feller did break out o’ here a month ago,... Couldn’t stand it any longer, I guess. Well, his wound opened an’ he had a hemorrhage, an’ now he’s planted out in the back lot.... But I’m goin’. Goodnight.” The orderly bustled to the end of the ward and disappeared.
The lights went out, except for the bulb over the nurse’s desk at the end, beside the ornate doorway, with its wreathed pinnacles carved out of the grey stone, which could be seen above the white canvas screen that hid the door.
“What’s that book about, buddy?” asked Applebaum, twisting his head at the end of his lean neck so as to look Andrews full in the face.
“Oh, it’s about a man who wants everything so badly that he decides there’s nothing worth wanting.”
“I guess youse had a college edication,” said Applebaum sarcastically.
“Well, I was goin’ to tell youse about when I used to drive a taxi. I was makin’ big money when I enlisted. Was you drafted?”
“Well, so was I. I doan think nauthin o’ them guys that are so stuck up ‘cause they enlisted, d’you?”
“Not a hell of a lot.”
“Don’t yer?” came a voice from the other side of Andrews, a thin voice that stuttered. “W-w-well, all I can say is, it’ld have sss-spoiled my business if I hadn’t enlisted. No, sir, nobody can say I didn’t enlist.”
“Well, that’s your look-out,” said Applebaum.
“You’re goddam right, it was.”
“Well, ain’t your business spoiled anyway?”
“No, sir. I can pick it right up where I left off. I’ve got an established reputation.”
“I’m an undertaker by profession; my dad was before me.”
“Gee, you were right at home!” said Andrews.
“You haven’t any right to say that, young feller,” said the undertaker angrily. “I’m a humane man. I won’t never be at home in this dirty butchery.”
The nurse was walking by their cots.
“How can you say such dreadful things?” she said. “But lights are out. You boys have got to keep quiet.... And you,” she plucked at the undertaker’s bedclothes, “just remember what the Huns did in Belgium.... Poor Miss Cavell, a nurse just like I am.”
Andrews closed his eyes. The ward was quiet except for the rasping sound of the snores and heavy breathing of the shattered men all about him. “And I thought she was the Queen of Sheba,” he said to himself, making a grimace in the dark. Then he began to think of the music he had intended to write about the Queen of Sheba before he had stripped his life off in the bare room where they had measured him and made a soldier of him. Standing in the dark in the desert of his despair, he would hear the sound of a caravan in the distance, tinkle of bridles, rasping of horns, braying of donkeys, and the throaty voices of men singing the songs of desolate roads. He would look up, and before him he would see, astride their foaming wild asses, the three green horsemen motionless, pointing at him with their long forefingers. Then the music would burst in a sudden hot whirlwind about him, full of flutes and kettledrums and braying horns and whining bagpipes, and torches would flare red and yellow, making a tent of light about him, on the edges of which would crowd the sumpter mules and the brown mule drivers, and the gaudily caparisoned camels, and the elephants glistening with jewelled harness. Naked slaves would bend their gleaming backs before him as they laid out a carpet at his feet; and, through the flare of torchlight, the Queen, of Sheba would advance towards him, covered with emeralds and dull-gold ornaments, with a monkey hopping behind holding up the end of her long train. She would put her hand with its slim fantastic nails on his shoulder; and, looking into her eyes, he would suddenly feel within reach all the fiery imaginings of his desire. Oh, if he could only be free to work. All the months he had wasted in his life seemed to be marching like a procession of ghosts before his eyes. And he lay in his cot, staring with wide open eyes at the ceiling, hoping desperately that his wounds would be long in healing.
Applebaum sat on the edge of his cot, dressed in a clean new uniform, of which the left sleeve hung empty, still showing the creases in which it had been folded.
“So you really are going,” said Andrews, rolling his head over on his pillow to look at him.
“You bet your pants I am, Andy.... An’ so could you, poifectly well, if you’ld talk it up to ‘em a little.”
“Oh, I wish to God I could. Not that I want to go home, now, but ... if I could get out of uniform.”
“I don’t blame ye a bit, kid; well, next time, we’ll know better.... Local Board Chairman’s going to be my job.”
“If I wasn’t a sucker....”
“You weren’t the only wewe-one,” came the undertaker’s stuttering voice from behind Andrews.
“Hell, I thought you enlisted, undertaker.”
“Well, I did, by God! but I didn’t think it was going to be like this.”
“What did ye think it was goin’ to be, a picnic?”
“Hell, I doan care about that, or gettin’ gassed, and smashed up, or anythin’, but I thought we was goin’ to put things to rights by comin’ over here.... Look here, I had a lively business in the undertaking way, like my father had had before me.... We did all the swellest work in Tilletsville....”
“Where?” interrupted Applebaum, laughing.
“Tilletsville; don’t you know any geography?”
“Go ahead, tell us about Tilletsville,” said Andrews soothingly.
“Why, when Senator Wallace d-d-deceased there, who d’you think had charge of embalming the body and taking it to the station an’ seeing everything was done fitting? We did.... And I was going to be married to a dandy girl, and I knowed I had enough pull to get fixed up, somehow, or to get a commission even, but there I went like a sucker an’ enlisted in the infantry, too.... But, hell, everybody was saying that we was going to fight to make the world safe for democracy, and that, if a feller didn’t go, no one’ld trade with him any more.”
He started coughing suddenly and seemed unable to stop. At last he said weakly, in a thin little voice between coughs:
“Well, here I am. There ain’t nothing to do about it.”
“Democracy.... That’s democracy, ain’t it: we eat stinkin’ goolash an’ that there fat ‘Y’ woman goes out with Colonels eatin’ chawklate soufflay.... Poifect democracy!... But I tell you what: it don’t do to be the goat.”
“But there’s so damn many more goats than anything else,” said Andrews.
“There’s a sucker born every minute, as Barnum said. You learn that drivin’ a taxicab, if ye don’t larn nothin’ else.... No, sir, I’m goin’ into politics. I’ve got good connections up Hundred and Twenty-fif’ street way.... You see, I’ve got an aunt, Mrs. Sallie Schultz, owns a hotel on a Hundred and Tirty-tird street. Heard of Jim O’Ryan, ain’t yer? Well, he’s a good friend o’ hers; see? Bein’ as they’re both Catholics... But I’m goin’ out this afternoon, see what the town’s like... an ole Ford says the skirts are just peaches an’ cream.”
“He juss s-s-says that to torment a feller,” stuttered the undertaker.
“I wish I were going with you,” said Andrews. “You’ll get well plenty soon enough, Andy, and get yourself marked Class A, and get given a gun, an—‘Over the top, boys!’... to see if the Fritzies won’t make a better shot next time.... Talk about suckers! You’re the most poifect sucker I ever met.... What did you want to tell the loot your legs didn’t hurt bad for? They’ll have you out o’ here before you know it.... Well, I’m goin’ out to see what the mamzelles look like.”
Applebaum, the uniform hanging in folds about his skinny body, swaggered to the door, followed by the envious glances of the whole ward.
“Gee, guess he thinks he’s goin’ to get to be president,” said the undertaker bitterly.
“He probably will,” said Andrews.
He settled himself in his bed again, sinking back into the dull contemplation of the teasing, smarting pain where the torn ligaments of his thighs were slowly knitting themselves together. He tried desperately to forget the pain; there was so much he wanted to think out. If he could only lie perfectly quiet, and piece together the frayed ends of thoughts that kept flickering to the surface of his mind. He counted up the days he had been in the hospital; fifteen! Could it be that long? And he had not thought of anything yet. Soon, as Applebaum said, they’d be putting him in Class A and sending him back to the treadmill, and he would not have reconquered his courage, his dominion over himself. What a coward he had been anyway, to submit. The man beside him kept coughing. Andrews stared for a moment at the silhouette of the yellow face on the pillow, with its pointed nose and small greedy eyes. He thought of the swell undertaking establishment, of the black gloves and long faces and soft tactful voices. That man and his father before him lived by pretending things they didn’t feel, by swathing reality with all manner of crepe and trumpery. For those people, no one ever died, they passed away, they deceased. Still, there had to be undertakers. There was no more stain about that than about any other trade. And it was so as not to spoil his trade that the undertaker had enlisted, and to make the world safe for democracy, too. The phrase came to Andrews’s mind amid an avalanche of popular tunes; of visions of patriotic numbers on the vaudeville stage. He remembered the great flags waving triumphantly over Fifth Avenue, and the crowds dutifully cheering. But those were valid reasons for the undertaker; but for him, John Andrews, were they valid reasons? No. He had no trade, he had not been driven into the army by the force of public opinion, he had not been carried away by any wave of blind confidence in the phrases of bought propagandists. He had not had the strength to live. The thought came to him of all those who, down the long tragedy of history, had given themselves smilingly for the integrity of their thoughts. He had not had the courage to move a muscle for his freedom, but he had been fairly cheerful about risking his life as a soldier, in a cause he believed useless. What right had a man to exist who was too cowardly to stand up for what he thought and felt, for his whole makeup, for everything that made him an individual apart from his fellows, and not a slave to stand cap in hand waiting for someone of stronger will to tell him to act?
Like a sudden nausea, disgust surged up in him. His mind ceased formulating phrases and thoughts. He gave himself over to disgust as a man who has drunk a great deal, holding on tight to the reins of his will, suddenly gives himself over pellmell to drunkenness.
He lay very still, with his eyes closed, listening to the stir of the ward, the voices of men talking and the fits of coughing that shook the man next him. The smarting pain throbbed monotonously. He felt hungry and wondered vaguely if it were supper time. How little they gave you to eat in the hospital!
He called over to the man in the opposite cot:
“Hay, Stalky, what time is it?”
“It’s after messtime now. Got a good appetite for the steak and onions and French fried potatoes?”
A rattling of tin dishes at the other end of the ward made Andrews wriggle up further on his pillow. Verses from the “Shropshire Lad” jingled mockingly through his head:
“The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.”
After he had eaten, he picked up the “Tentation de Saint Antoine,” that lay on the cot beside his immovable legs, and buried himself in it, reading the gorgeously modulated sentences voraciously, as if the book were a drug in which he could drink deep forgetfulness of himself.
He put the book down and closed his eyes. His mind was full of intangible floating glow, like the ocean on a warm night, when every wave breaks into pale flame, and mysterious milky lights keep rising to the surface out of the dark waters and gleaming and vanishing. He became absorbed in the strange fluid harmonies that permeated his whole body, as a grey sky at nightfall suddenly becomes filled with endlessly changing patterns of light and color and shadow.
When he tried to seize hold of his thoughts, to give them definite musical expression in his mind, he found himself suddenly empty, the way a sandy inlet on the beach that has been full of shoals of silver fishes, becomes suddenly empty when a shadow crosses the water, and the man who is watching sees wanly his own reflection instead of the flickering of thousands of tiny silver bodies.
John Andrews awoke to feel a cold hand on his head.
“Feeling all right?” said a voice in his ear.
He found himself looking in a puffy, middle-aged face, with a lean nose and grey eyes, with dark rings under them. Andrews felt the eyes looking him over inquisitively. He saw the red triangle on the man’s khaki sleeve.
“Yes,” he said.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk to you a little while, buddy.”
“Not a bit; have you got a chair?” said Andrews smiling.
“I don’t suppose it was just right of me to wake you up, but you see it was this way.... You were the next in line, an’ I was afraid I’d forget you, if I skipped you.”
“I understand,” said Andrews, with a sudden determination to take the initiative away from the “Y” man.
“How long have you been in France? D’you like the war?” he asked hurriedly.
The “Y” man smiled sadly.
“You seem pretty spry,” he said. “I guess you’re in a hurry to get back at the front and get some more Huns.” He smiled again, with an air of indulgence.
Andrews did not answer.
“No, sonny, I don’t like it here,” the “Y” man said, after a pause. “I wish I was home—but it’s great to feel you’re doing your duty.”
“It must be,” said Andrews.
“Have you heard about the great air raids our boys have pulled off? They’ve bombarded Frankfort; now if they could only wipe Berlin off the map.”
“Say, d’you hate ‘em awful hard?” said Andrews in a low voice. “Because, if you do, I can tell you something will tickle you most to death.... Lean over.”
The “Y” man leant over curiously. “Some German prisoners come to this hospital at six every night to get the garbage; now all you need to do if you really hate ‘em so bad is borrow a revolver from one of your officer friends, and just shoot up the convoy....”
“Say... where were you raised, boy?” The “Y” man sat up suddenly with a look of alarm on his face. “Don’t you know that prisoners are sacred?”
“D’you know what our colonel told us before going into the Argonne offensive? The more prisoners we took, the less grub there’ld be; and do you know what happened to the prisoners that were taken? Why do you hate the Huns?”
“Because they are barbarians, enemies of civilization. You must have enough education to know that,” said the “Y” man, raising his voice angrily. “What church do you belong to?”
“But you must have been connected with some church, boy. You can’t have been raised a heathen in America. Every Christian belongs or has belonged to some church or other from baptism.”
“I make no pretensions to Christianity.”
Andrews closed his eyes and turned his head away. He could feel the “Y” man hovering over him irresolutely. After a while he opened his eyes. The “Y” man was leaning over the next bed.
Through the window at the opposite side of the ward he could see a bit of blue sky among white scroll-like clouds, with mauve shadows. He stared at it until the clouds, beginning to grow golden into evening, covered it. Furious, hopeless irritation consumed him. How these people enjoyed hating! At that rate it was better to be at the front. Men were more humane when they were killing each other than when they were talking about it. So was civilization nothing but a vast edifice of sham, and the war, instead of its crumbling, was its fullest and most ultimate expression. Oh, but there must be something more in the world than greed and hatred and cruelty. Were they all shams, too, these gigantic phrases that floated like gaudy kites high above mankind? Kites, that was it, contraptions of tissue paper held at the end of a string, ornaments not to be taken seriously. He thought of all the long procession of men who had been touched by the unutterable futility of the lives of men, who had tried by phrases to make things otherwise, who had taught unworldliness. Dim enigmatic figures they were—Democritus, Socrates, Epicurus, Christ; so many of them, and so vague in the silvery mist of history that he hardly knew that they were not his own imagining; Lucretius, St. Francis, Voltaire, Rousseau, and how many others, known and unknown, through the tragic centuries; they had wept, some of them, and some of them had laughed, and their phrases had risen glittering, soap bubbles to dazzle men for a moment, and had shattered. And he felt a crazy desire to join the forlorn ones, to throw himself into inevitable defeat, to live his life as he saw it in spite of everything, to proclaim once more the falseness of the gospels under the cover of which greed and fear filled with more and yet more pain the already unbearable agony of human life.
As soon as he got out of the hospital he would desert; the determination formed suddenly in his mind, making the excited blood surge gloriously through his body. There was nothing else to do; he would desert. He pictured himself hobbling away in the dark on his lame legs, stripping his uniform off, losing himself in some out of the way corner of France, or slipping by the sentries to Spain and freedom. He was ready to endure anything, to face any sort of death, for the sake of a few months of liberty in which to forget the degradation of this last year. This was his last run with the pack.
An enormous exhilaration took hold of him. It seemed the first time in his life he had ever determined to act. All the rest had been aimless drifting. The blood sang m his ears. He fixed his eyes on the half-obliterated figures that supported the shields under the beams in the wall opposite. They seemed to be wriggling out of their contorted positions and smiling encouragement to him. He imagined them, warriors out of old tales, on their way to clay dragons in enchanted woods, clever-fingered guildsmen and artisans, cupids and satyrs and fauns, jumping from their niches and carrying him off with them in a headlong rout, to a sound of flutes, on a last forlorn assault on the citadels of pain.
The lights went out, and an orderly came round with chocolate that poured with a pleasant soothing sound into the tin cups. With a greasiness of chocolate in his mouth and the warmth of it in his stomach, John Andrews went to sleep.
There was a stir in the ward when he woke up. Reddish sunlight filtered in through the window opposite, and from outside came a confused noise, a sound of bells ringing and whistles blowing. Andrews looked past his feet towards Stalky’s cot opposite. Stalky was sitting bolt upright in bed, with his eyes round as quarters.
“Fellers, the war’s over!”
“Put him out.”
“Pull the chain.”
“Tie that bull outside,” came from every side of the ward.
“Fellers,” shouted Stalky louder than ever, “it’s straight dope, the war’s over. I just dreamt the Kaiser came up to me on Fourteenth Street and bummed a nickel for a glass of beer. The war’s over. Don’t you hear the whistles?”
“All right; let’s go home.”
“Shut up, can’t you let a feller sleep?”
The ward quieted down again, but all eyes were wide open, men lay strangely still in their cots, waiting, wondering.
“All I can say,” shouted Stalky again, “is that she was some war while she lasted.... What did I tell yer?”
As he spoke the canvas screen in front of the door collapsed and the major appeared with his cap askew over his red face and a brass bell in his hand, which he rang frantically as he advanced into the ward.
“Men,” he shouted in the deep roar of one announcing baseball scores, “the war ended at 4:03 A.M. this morning.... The Armistice is signed. To hell with the Kaiser!” Then he rang the dinner bell madly and danced along the aisle between the rows of cots, holding the head nurse by one hand, who held a little yellow-headed lieutenant by the other hand, who, in turn, held another nurse, and so on. The line advanced jerkily into the ward; the front part was singing “The Star Spangled Banner,” and the rear the “Yanks are Coming,” and through it all the major rang his brass bell. The men who were well enough sat up in bed and yelled. The others rolled restlessly about, sickened by the din.
They made the circuit of the ward and filed out, leaving confusion behind them. The dinner bell could be heard faintly in the other parts of the building.
“Well, what d’you think of it, undertaker?” said Andrews.
The undertaker turned his small black eyes on Andrews and looked him straight in the face.
“You know what’s the matter with me, don’t yer, outside o’ this wound?”
“Coughing like I am, I’d think you’d be more observant. I got t.b., young feller.”
“How do you know that?”
“They’re going to move me out o’ here to a t.b. ward tomorrow.”
“The hell they are!” Andrews’s words were lost in the paroxysm of coughing that seized the man next to him.
“Home, boys, home; it’s home we want to be.”
Those well enough were singing, Stalky conducting, standing on the end of his cot in his pink Red Cross pajamas, that were too short and showed a long expanse of skinny leg, fuzzy with red hairs. He banged together two bed pans to beat time.
“Home.... I won’t never go home,” said the undertaker when the noise had subsided a little. “D’you know what I wish? I wish the war’d gone on and on until everyone of them bastards had been killed in it.”
“The men who got us fellers over here.” He began coughing again weakly.
“But they’ll be safe if every other human being....” began Andrews. He was interrupted by a thundering voice from the end of the ward.
“Home, boys, home; it’s home we want to be.”
went on the song. Stalky glanced towards the end of the ward, and seeing it was the major, dropped the bed pans that smashed at the foot of his cot, and got as far as possible under his blankets.
“Attention!” thundered the major again. A sudden uncomfortable silence fell upon the ward; broken only by the coughing of the man next to Andrews.
“If I hear any more noise from this ward, I’ll chuck everyone of you men out of this hospital; if you can’t walk you’ll have to crawl.... The war may be over, but you men are in the Army, and don’t you forget it.”
The major glared up and down the lines of cots. He turned on his heel and went out of the door, glancing angrily as he went at the overturned screen. The ward was still. Outside whistles blew and churchbells rang madly, and now and then there was a sound of singing.
The snow beat against the windows and pattered on the tin roof of the lean-to, built against the side of the hospital, that went by the name of sun parlor. It was a dingy place, decorated by strings of dusty little paper flags that one of the “Y” men had festooned about the slanting beams of the ceiling to celebrate Christmas. There were tables with torn magazines piled on them, and a counter where cracked white cups were ranged waiting for one of the rare occasions when cocoa could be bought. In the middle of the room, against the wall of the main building, a stove was burning, about which sat several men in hospital denims talking in drowsy voices. Andrews watched them from his seat by the window, looking at their broad backs bent over towards the stove and at the hands that hung over their knees, limp from boredom. The air was heavy with a smell of coal gas mixed with carbolic from men’s clothes, and stale cigarette smoke. Behind the cups at the counter a “Y” man, a short, red-haired man with freckles, read the Paris edition of the New York Herald. Andrews, in his seat by the window, felt permeated by the stagnation about him: He had a sheaf of pencilled music-papers on his knees, that he rolled and unrolled nervously, staring at the stove and the motionless backs of the men about it. The stove roared a little, the “Y” man’s paper rustled, men’s voices came now and then in a drowsy whisper, and outside the snow beat evenly and monotonously against the window panes. Andrews pictured himself vaguely walking fast through the streets, with the snow stinging his face and the life of a city swirling about him, faces flushed by the cold, bright eyes under hatbrims, looking for a second into his and passing on; slim forms of women bundled in shawls that showed vaguely the outline of their breasts and hips. He wondered if he would ever be free again to walk at random through city streets. He stretched his legs out across the floor in front of him; strange, stiff, tremulous legs they were, but it was not the wounds that gave them their leaden weight. It was the stagnation of the life about him that he felt sinking into every crevice of his spirit, so that he could never shake it off, the stagnation of dusty ruined automatons that had lost all life of their own, whose limbs had practised the drill manual so long that they had no movements of their own left, who sat limply, sunk in boredom, waiting for orders.
Andrews was roused suddenly from his thoughts; he had been watching the snowflakes in their glittering dance just outside the window pane, when the sound of someone rubbing his hands very close to him made him look up. A little man with chubby cheeks and steel-grey hair very neatly flattened against his skull, stood at the window rubbing his fat little white hands together and making a faint unctuous puffing with each breath. Andrews noticed that a white clerical collar enclosed the little man’s pink neck, that starched cuffs peeped from under the well-tailored sleeves of his officer’s uniform. Sam Brown belt and puttees, too, were highly polished. On his shoulder was a demure little silver cross. Andrews’ glance had reached the pink cheeks again, when he suddenly found a pair of steely eyes looking sharply into his.
“You look quite restored, my friend,” said a chanting clerical voice.
“I suppose I am.”
“Splendid, splendid.... But do you mind moving into the end of the room.... That’s it.” He followed Andrews, saying in a deprecatory tone: “We’re going to have just a little bit of a prayer and then I have some interesting things to tell you boys.”
The red-headed “Y” man had left his seat and stood in the center of the room, his paper still dangling from his hand, saying in a bored voice: “Please fellows, move down to the end.... Quiet, please.... Quiet, please.”
The soldiers shambled meekly to the folding chairs at the end of the room and after some chattering were quiet. A couple of men left, and several tiptoed in and sat in the front row. Andrews sank into a chair with a despairing sort of resignation, and burying his face in his hands stared at the floor between his feet.
“Fellers,” went on the bored voice of the “Y” man, “let me introduce the Reverend Dr. Skinner, who—” the “Y” man’s voice suddenly took on deep patriotic emotion—“who has just come back from the Army of Occupation in Germany.”
At the words “Army of Occupation,” as if a spring had been touched, everybody clapped and cheered.
The Reverend Dr. Skinner looked about his audience with smiling confidence and raised his hands for silence, so that the men could see the chubby pink palms.
“First, boys, my dear friends, let us indulge in a few moments of silent prayer to our Great Creator,” his voice rose and fell in the suave chant of one accustomed to going through the episcopal liturgy for the edification of well-dressed and well-fed congregations. “Inasmuch as He has vouchsafed us safety and a mitigation of our afflictions, and let us pray that in His good time He may see fit to return us whole in limb and pure in heart to our families, to the wives, mothers, and to those whom we will some day honor with the name of wife, who eagerly await our return; and that we may spend the remainder of our lives in useful service of the great country for whose safety and glory we have offered up our youth a willing sacrifice.... Let us pray!”
Silence fell dully on the room. Andrews could hear the selfconscious breathing of the men about him, and the rustling of the snow against the tin roof. A few feet scraped. The voice began again after a long pause, chanting:
“Our Father which art in Heaven...”
At the “Amen” everyone lifted his head cheerfully. Throats were cleared, chairs scraped. Men settled themselves to listen.
“Now, my friends, I am going to give you in a few brief words a little glimpse into Germany, so that you may be able to picture to yourselves the way your comrades of the Army of Occupation manage to make themselves comfortable among the Huns.... I ate my Christmas dinner in Coblenz. What do you think of that? Never had I thought that a Christmas would find me away from my home and loved ones. But what unexpected things happen to us in this world! Christmas in Coblenz under the American flag!”
He paused a moment to allow a little scattered clapping to subside.
“The turkey was fine, too, I can tell you.... Yes, our boys in Germany are very, very comfortable, and just waiting for the word, if necessary, to continue their glorious advance to Berlin. For I am sorry to say, boys, that the Germans have not undergone the change of heart for which we had hoped. They have, indeed, changed the name of their institutions, but their spirit they have not changed.... How grave a disappointment it must be to our great President, who has exerted himself so to bring the German people to reason, to make them understand the horror that they alone have brought deliberately upon the world! Alas! Far from it. Indeed, they have attempted with insidious propaganda to undermine the morale of our troops....” A little storm of muttered epithets went through the room. The Reverend Dr. Skinner elevated his chubby pink palms and smiled benignantly..."to undermine the morale of our troops; so that the most stringent regulations have had to be made by the commanding general to prevent it. Indeed, my friends, I very much fear that we stopped too soon in our victorious advance; that Germany should have been utterly crushed. But all we can do is watch and wait, and abide by the decision of those great men who in a short time will be gathered together at the Conference at Paris.... Let me, boys, my dear friends, express the hope that you may speedily be cured of your wounds, ready again to do willing service in the ranks of the glorious army that must be vigilant for some time yet, I fear, to defend, as Americans and Christians, the civilization you have so nobly saved from a ruthless foe.... Let us all join together in singing the hymn, ‘Stand up, stand up for Jesus,’ which I am sure you all know.”
The men got to their feet, except for a few who had lost their legs, and sang the first verse of the hymn unsteadily. The second verse petered out altogether, leaving only the “Y” man and the Reverend Dr. Skinner singing away at the top of their lungs.
The Reverend Dr. Skinner pulled out his gold watch and looked at it frowning.
“Oh, my, I shall miss the train,” he muttered. The “Y” man helped him into his voluminous trench coat and they both hurried out of the door.
“Those are some puttees he had on, I’ll tell you,” said the legless man who was propped in a chair near the stove.
Andrews sat down beside him, laughing. He was a man with high cheekbones and powerful jaws to whose face the pale brown eyes and delicately pencilled lips gave a look of great gentleness. Andrews did not look at his body.
“Somebody said he was a Red Cross man giving out cigarettes.... Fooled us that time,” said Andrews.
“Have a butt? I’ve got one,” said the legless man. With a large shrunken hand that was the transparent color of alabaster he held out a box of cigarettes.
“Thanks.” When Andrews struck a match he had to lean over the legless man to light his cigarette for him. He could not help glancing down the man’s tunic at the drab trousers that hung limply from the chair. A cold shudder went through him; he was thinking of the zigzag scars on his own thighs.
“Did you get it in the legs, too, Buddy?” asked the legless man, quietly.
“Yes, but I had luck.... How long have you been here?”
“Since Christ was a corporal. Oh, I doan know. I’ve been here since two weeks after my outfit first went into the lines.... That was on November 16th, 1917.... Didn’t see much of the war, did I?... Still, I guess I didn’t miss much.”
“No.... But you’ve seen enough of the army.”
“That’s true.... I guess I wouldn’t mind the war if it wasn’t for the army.”
“They’ll be sending you home soon, won’t they?”
“Guess so.... Where are you from?”
“New York,” said Andrews.
“I’m from Cranston, Wisconsin. D’you know that country? It’s a great country for lakes. You can canoe for days an’ days without a portage. We have a camp on Big Loon Lake. We used to have some wonderful times there... lived like wild men. I went for a trip for three weeks once without seeing a house. Ever done much canoeing?”
“Not so much as I’d like to.”
“That’s the thing to make you feel fit. First thing you do when you shake out of your blankets is jump in an’ have a swim. Gee, it’s great to swim when the morning mist is still on the water an’ the sun just strikes the tops of the birch trees. Ever smelt bacon cooking? I mean out in the woods, in a frying pan over some sticks of pine and beech wood.... Some great old smell, isn’t it?... And after you’ve paddled all day, an’ feel tired and sunburned right to the palms of your feet, to sit around the fire with some trout roastin’ in the ashes and hear the sizzlin’ the bacon makes in the pan.... O boy!” He stretched his arms wide.
“God, I’d like to have wrung that damn little parson’s neck,” said Andrews suddenly.
“Would you?” The legless man turned brown eyes on Andrews with a smile. “I guess he’s about as much to blame as anybody is... guys like him.... I guess they have that kind in Germany, too.”
“You don’t think we’ve made the world quite as safe for Democracy as it might be?” said Andrews in a low voice.
“Hell, how should I know? I bet you never drove an ice wagon.... I did, all one summer down home.... It was some life. Get up at three o’clock in the morning an’ carry a hundred or two hundred pounds of ice into everybody’s ice box. That was the life to make a feller feel fit. I was goin’ around with a big Norwegian named Olaf, who was the strongest man I ever knew. An’ drink! He was the boy could drink. I once saw him put away twenty-five dry Martini cocktails an’ swim across the lake on top of it.... I used to weigh a hundred and eighty pounds, and he could pick me up with one hand and put me across his shoulder.... That was the life to make a feller feel fit. Why, after bein’ out late the night before, we’d jump up out of bed at three o’clock feeling springy as a cat.”
“What’s he doing now?” asked Andrews.
“He died on the transport coming ‘cross here. Died of the flu.... I met a feller came over in his regiment. They dropped him overboard when they were in sight of the Azores.... Well, I didn’t die of the flu. Have another butt?”
“No, thanks,” said Andrews.
They were silent. The fire roared in the stove. No one was talking. The men lolled in chairs somnolently. Now and then someone spat. Outside of the window Andrews could see the soft white dancing of the snowflakes. His limbs felt very heavy; his mind was permeated with dusty stagnation like the stagnation of old garrets and lumber rooms, where, among superannuated bits of machinery and cracked grimy crockery, lie heaps of broken toys.
John Andrews sat on a bench in a square full of linden trees, with the pale winter sunshine full on his face and hands. He had been looking up through his eyelashes at the sun, that was the color of honey, and he let his dazzled glance sink slowly through the black lacework of twigs, down the green trunks of the trees to the bench opposite where sat two nursemaids and, between them, a tiny girl with a face daintily colored and lifeless like a doll’s face, and a frilled dress under which showed small ivory knees and legs encased in white socks and yellow sandals. Above the yellow halo of her hair floated, with the sun shining through it, as through a glass of claret, a bright carmine balloon which the child held by a string. Andrews looked at her for a long time, enraptured by the absurd daintiness of the figure between the big bundles of flesh of the nursemaids. The thought came to him suddenly that months had gone by,—was it only months?—since his hands had touched anything soft, since he had seen any flowers. The last was a flower an old woman had given him in a village in the Argonne, an orange marigold, and he remembered how soft the old woman’s withered lips had been against his cheek when she had leaned over and kissed him. His mind suddenly lit up, as with a strain of music, with a sense of the sweetness of quiet lives worn away monotonously in the fields, in the grey little provincial towns, in old kitchens full of fragrance of herbs and tang of smoke from the hearth, where there are pots on the window-sill full of basil in flower.
Something made him go up to the little girl and take her hand. The child, looking up suddenly and seeing a lanky soldier with pale lean face and light, straw-colored hair escaping from under a cap too small for him, shrieked and let go the string of the balloon, which soared slowly into the air trembling a little in the faint cool wind that blew. The child wailed dismally, and Andrews, quailing under the furious glances of the nursemaids, stood before her, flushed crimson, stammering apologies, not knowing what to do. The white caps of the nursemaids bent over and ribbons fluttered about the child’s head as they tried to console her. Andrews walked away dejectedly, now and then looking up at the balloon, which soared, a black speck against the grey and topaz-colored clouds.
“Sale Americain!” he heard one nursemaid exclaim to the other. But this was the first hour in months he had had free, the first moment of solitude; he must live; soon he would be sent back to his division. A wave of desire for furious fleshly enjoyments went through him, making him want steaming dishes of food drenched in rich, spice-flavored sauces; making him want to get drunk on strong wine; to roll on thick carpets in the arms of naked, libidinous women. He was walking down the quiet grey street of the provincial town, with its low houses with red chimney pots, and blue slate roofs and its irregular yellowish cobbles. A clock somewhere was striking four with deep booming strokes, Andrews laughed. He had to be in hospital at six. Already he was tired; his legs ached.
The window of a pastry shop appeared invitingly before him, denuded as it was by wartime. A sign in English said: “Tea.” Walking in, he sat down in a fussy little parlor where the tables had red cloths, and a print, in pinkish and greenish colors, hung in the middle of the imitation brocade paper of each wall. Under a print of a poster bed with curtains in front of which eighteen to twenty people bowed, with the title of “Secret d’Amour,” sat three young officers, who cast cold, irritated glances at this private with a hospital badge on who invaded their tea shop. Andrews stared back at them, flaming with dull anger.
Sipping the hot, fragrant tea, he sat with a blank sheet of music paper before him, listening in spite of himself to what the officers were saying. They were talking about Ronsard. It was with irritated surprise that Andrews heard the name. What right had they to be talking about Ronsard? He knew more about Ronsard than they did. Furious, conceited phrases kept surging up in his mind. He was as sensitive, as humane, as intelligent, as well-read as they were; what right had they to the cold suspicious glance with which they had put him in his place when he had come into the room? Yet that had probably been as unconscious, as unavoidable as was his own biting envy. The thought that if one of those men should come over to him, he would have to stand up and salute and answer humbly, not from civility, but from the fear of being punished, was bitter as wormwood, filled him with a childish desire—to prove his worth to them, as when older boys had illtreated him at school and he had prayed to have the house burn down so that he might heroically save them all. There was a piano in an inner room, where in the dark the chairs, upside down, perched dismally on the table tops. He almost obeyed an impulse to go in there and start playing, by the brilliance of his playing to force these men, who thought of him as a coarse automaton, something between a man and a dog, to recognize him as an equal, a superior.
“But the war’s over. I want to start living. Red wine, streets of the nightingale cries to the rose,” said one of the officers.
“What do you say we go A.W.O.L. to Paris?”
“Well, what can they do? We are not enlisted men; they can only send us home. That’s just what I want.”
“I’ll tell you what; we’ll go to the Cochon Bleu and have a cocktail and think about it.”
“The lion and the lizard keep their courts where... what the devil was his name? Anyway, we’ll glory and drink deep, while Major Peabody keeps his court in Dijon to his heart’s content.”
Spurs jingled as the three officers went out. A fierce disgust took possession of John Andrews. He was ashamed of his spiteful irritation. If, when he had been playing the piano to a roomful of friends in New York, a man dressed as a laborer had shambled in, wouldn’t he have felt a moment of involuntary scorn? It was inevitable that the fortunate should hate the unfortunate because they feared them. But he was so tired of all those thoughts. Drinking down the last of his tea at a gulp, he went into the shop to ask the old woman, with little black whiskers over her bloodless lips, who sat behind the white desk at the end of the counter, if she minded his playing the piano.
In the deserted tea room, among the dismal upturned chairs, his crassened fingers moved stiffly over the keys. He forgot everything else. Locked doors in his mind were swinging wide, revealing forgotten sumptuous halls of his imagination. The Queen of Sheba, grotesque as a satyr, white and flaming with worlds of desire, as the great implacable Aphrodite, stood with her hand on his shoulder sending shivers of warm sweetness rippling through his body, while her voice intoned in his ears all the inexhaustible voluptuousness of life.
An asthmatic clock struck somewhere in the obscurity of the room. “Seven!” John Andrews paid, said good-bye to the old woman with the mustache, and hurried out into the street. “Like Cinderella at the ball,” he thought. As he went towards the hospital, down faintly lighted streets, his steps got slower and slower. “Why go back?” a voice kept saying inside him. “Anything is better than that.” Better throw himself in the river, even, than go back. He could see the olive-drab clothes in a heap among the dry bullrushes on the river bank.... He thought of himself crashing naked through the film of ice into water black as Chinese lacquer. And when he climbed out numb and panting on the other side, wouldn’t he be able to take up life again as if he had just been born? How strong he would be if he could begin life a second time! How madly, how joyously he would live now that there was no more war.... He had reached the door of the hospital. Furious shudders of disgust went through him.
He was standing dumbly humble while a sergeant bawled him out for being late.
Andrews stared for a long while at the line of shields that supported the dark ceiling beams on the wall opposite his cot. The emblems had been erased and the grey stone figures that crowded under the shields,—the satyr with his shaggy goat’s legs, the townsman with his square hat, the warrior with the sword between his legs,—had been clipped and scratched long ago in other wars. In the strong afternoon light they were so dilapidated he could hardly make them out. He wondered how they had seemed so vivid to him when he had lain in his cot, comforted by their comradeship, while his healing wounds itched and tingled. Still he glanced tenderly at the grey stone figures as he left the ward.
Downstairs in the office where the atmosphere was stuffy with a smell of varnish and dusty papers and cigarette smoke, he waited a long time, shifting his weight restlessly from one foot to the other.
“What do you want?” said a red-haired sergeant, without looking up from the pile of papers on his desk.
“Waiting for travel orders.”
“Aren’t you the guy I told to come back at three?”
“It is three.”
“H’m!” The sergeant kept his eyes fixed on the papers, which rustled as he moved them from one pile to another. In the end of the room a typewriter clicked slowly and jerkily. Andrews could see the dark back of a head between bored shoulders in a woolen shirt leaning over the machine. Beside the cylindrical black stove against the wall a man with large mustaches and the complicated stripes of a hospital sergeant was reading a novel in a red cover. After a long silence the red-headed sergeant looked up from his papers and said suddenly:
The man at the typewriter turned slowly round, showing a large red face and blue eyes.
“We-ell,” he drawled.
“Go in an’ see if the loot has signed them papers yet.”
The man got up, stretched himself deliberately, and slouched out through a door beside the stove. The red-haired sergeant leaned back in his swivel chair and lit a cigarette.
“Hell,” he said, yawning.
The man with the mustache beside the stove let the book slip from his knees to the floor, and yawned too.
“This goddam armistice sure does take the ambition out of a feller,” he said.
“Hell of a note,” said the red-haired sergeant. “D’you know that they had my name in for an O.T.C.? Hell of a note goin’ home without a Sam Browne.”
The other man came back and sank down into his chair in front of the typewriter again. The slow, jerky clicking recommenced.
Andrews made a scraping noise with his foot on the ground.
“Well, what about that travel order?” said the red-haired sergeant.
“Loot’s out,” said the other man, still typewriting.
“Well, didn’t he leave it on his desk?” shouted the red-haired sergeant angrily.
“Couldn’t find it.”
“I suppose I’ve got to go look for it.... God!” The red-haired sergeant stamped out of the room. A moment later he came back with a bunch of papers in his hand.
“Your name Jones?” he snapped to Andrews.
“No.... Andrews, John.”
“Why the hell couldn’t you say so?”
The man with the mustaches beside the stove got to his feet suddenly. An alert, smiling expression came over his face.
“Good afternoon, Captain Higginsworth,” he said cheerfully.
An oval man with a cigar slanting out of his broad mouth came into the room. When he talked the cigar wobbled in his mouth. He wore greenish kid gloves, very tight for his large hands, and his puttees shone with a dark lustre like mahogany.
The red-haired sergeant turned round and half-saluted.
“Goin’ to another swell party, Captain?” he asked.
The Captain grinned.
“Say, have you boys got any Red Cross cigarettes? I ain’t only got cigars, an’ you can’t hand a cigar to a lady, can you?” The Captain grinned again. An appreciative giggle went round.
“Will a couple of packages do you? Because I’ve got some here,” said the red-haired sergeant reaching in the drawer of his desk.
“Fine.” The captain slipped them into his pocket and swaggered out doing up the buttons of his buff-colored coat.
The sergeant settled himself at his desk again with an important smile.
“Did you find the travel order?” asked Andrews timidly. “I’m supposed to take the train at four-two.”
“Can’t make it.... Did you say your name was Anderson?”
“Andrews.... John Andrews.”
“Here it is.... Why didn’t you come earlier?”
The sharp air of the ruddy winter evening, sparkling in John Andrews’s nostrils, vastly refreshing after the stale odors of the hospital, gave him a sense of liberation. Walking with rapid steps through the grey streets of the town, where in windows lamps already glowed orange, he kept telling himself that another epoch was closed. It was with relief that he felt that he would never see the hospital again or any of the people in it. He thought of Chrisfield. It was weeks and weeks since Chrisfield had come to his mind at all. Now it was with a sudden clench of affection that the Indiana boy’s face rose up before him. An oval, heavily-tanned face with a little of childish roundness about it yet, with black eyebrows and long black eyelashes. But he did not even know if Chrisfield were still alive. Furious joy took possession of him. He, John Andrews, was alive; what did it matter if everyone he knew died? There were jollier companions than ever he had known, to be found in the world, cleverer people to talk to, more vigorous people to learn from. The cold air circulated through his nose and lungs; his arms felt strong and supple; he could feel the muscles of his legs stretch and contract as he walked, while his feet beat jauntily on the irregular cobblestones of the street. The waiting room at the station was cold and stuffy, full of a smell of breathed air and unclean uniforms. French soldiers wrapped in their long blue coats, slept on the benches or stood about in groups, eating bread and drinking from their canteens. A gas lamp in the center gave dingy light. Andrews settled himself in a corner with despairing resignation. He had five hours to wait for a train, and already his legs ached and he had a side feeling of exhaustion. The exhilaration of leaving the hospital and walking free through wine-tinted streets in the sparkling evening air gave way gradually to despair. His life would continue to be this slavery of unclean bodies packed together in places where the air had been breathed over and over, cogs in the great slow-moving Juggernaut of armies. What did it matter if the fighting had stopped? The armies would go on grinding out lives with lives, crushing flesh with flesh. Would he ever again stand free and solitary to live out joyous hours which would make up for all the boredom of the treadmill? He had no hope. His life would continue like this dingy, ill-smelling waiting room where men in uniform slept in the fetid air until they should be ordered-out to march or to stand in motionless rows, endlessly, futilely, like toy soldiers a child has forgotten in an attic.
Andrews got up suddenly and went out on the empty platform. A cold wind blew. Somewhere out in the freight yards an engine puffed loudly, and clouds of white steam drifted through the faintly lighted station. He was walking up and down with his chin sunk into his coat and his hands in his pockets, when somebody ran into him.
“Damn,” said a voice, and the figure darted through a grimy glass door that bore the sign: “Buvette.” Andrews followed absent-mindedly.
“I’m sorry I ran into you.... I thought you were an M.P., that’s why I beat it.” When he spoke, the man, an American private, turned and looked searchingly in Andrews’s face. He had very red cheeks and an impudent little brown mustache. He spoke slowly with a faint Bostonian drawl.
“That’s nothing,” said Andrews.
“Let’s have a drink,” said the other man. “I’m A.W.O.L. Where are you going?”
“To some place near Bar-le-Duc, back to my Division. Been in hospital.”
“Gee.... Have some Curacoa. It’ll do you good. You look pale.... My name’s Henslowe. Ambulance with the French Army.”
They sat down at an unwashed marble table where the soot from the trains made a pattern sticking to the rings left by wine and liqueur glasses.
“I’m going to Paris,” said Henslowe. “My leave expired three days ago. I’m going to Paris and get taken ill with peritonitis or double pneumonia, or maybe I’ll have a cardiac lesion.... The army’s a bore.”
“Hospital isn’t any better,” said Andrews with a sigh. “Though I shall never forget the night with which I realized I was wounded and out of it. I thought I was bad enough to be sent home.”
“Why, I wouldn’t have missed a minute of the war.... But now that it’s over...Hell! Travel is the password now. I’ve just had two weeks in the Pyrenees. Nimes, Arles, Les Baux, Carcassonne, Perpignan, Lourdes, Gavarnie, Toulouse! What do you think of that for a trip?... What were you in?”
“Must have been hell.”
“Been! It is.”
“Why don’t you come to Paris with me?”
“I don’t want to be picked up,” stammered Andrews.
“Not a chance.... I know the ropes.... All you have to do is keep away from the Olympia and the railway stations, walk fast and keep your shoes shined... and you’ve got wits, haven’t you?”
“Not many.... Let’s drink a bottle of wine. Isn’t there anything to eat to be got here?”
“Not a damn thing, and I daren’t go out of the station on account of the M.P. at the gate.... There’ll be a diner on the Marseilles express.”
“But I can’t go to Paris.”
“Sure.... Look, how do you call yourself?”
“Well, John Andrews, all I can say is that you’ve let ‘em get your goat. Don’t give in. Have a good time, in spite of ‘em. To hell with ‘em.” He brought the bottle down so hard on the table that it broke and the purple wine flowed over the dirty marble and dripped gleaming on the floor.
Some French soldiers who stood in a group round the bar turned round.
“V’la un gars qui gaspille le bon vin,” said a tall red-faced man, with long sloping whiskers.
“Pour vingt sous j’mangerai la bouteille,” cried a little man lurching forward and leaning drunkenly over the table.
“Done,” said Henslowe. “Say, Andrews, he says he’ll eat the bottle for a franc.”
He placed a shining silver franc on the table beside the remnants of the broken bottle. The man seized the neck of the bottle in a black, claw-like hand and gave it a preparatory flourish. He was a cadaverous little man, incredibly dirty, with mustaches and beard of a moth-eaten tow-color, and a purple flush on his cheeks. His uniform was clotted with mud. When the others crowded round him and tried to dissuade him, he said: “M’en fous, c’est mon metier,” and rolled his eyes so that the whites flashed in the dim light like the eyes of dead codfish.
“Why, he’s really going to do it,” cried Henslowe.
The man’s teeth flashed and crunched down on the jagged edge of the glass. There was a terrific crackling noise. He flourished the bottle-end again.
“My God, he’s eating it,” cried Henslowe, roaring with laughter, “and you’re afraid to go to Paris.”
An engine rumbled into the station, with a great hiss of escaping steam.
“Gee, that’s the Paris train! Tiens!” He pressed the franc into the man’s dirt-crusted hand.
“Come along, Andrews.”
As they left the buvette they heard again the crunching crackling noise as the man bit another piece off the bottle.
Andrews followed Henslowe across the steam-filled platform to the door of a first-class carriage. They climbed in. Henslowe immediately pulled down the black cloth over the half globe of the light. The compartment was empty. He threw himself down with a sigh of comfort on the soft buff-colored cushions of the seat.
“But what on earth?” stammered Andrews.
“M’en fous, c’est mon metier,” interrupted Henslowe.
The train pulled out of the station.
Henslowe poured wine from a brown earthen crock into the glasses, where it shimmered a bright thin red, the color of currants. Andrews leaned back in his chair and looked through half-closed eyes at the table with its white cloth and little burnt umber loaves of bread, and out of the window at the square dimly lit by lemon-yellow gas lamps and at the dark gables of the little houses that huddled round it.
At a table against the wall opposite a lame boy, with white beardless face and gentle violet-colored eyes, sat very close to the bareheaded girl who was with him and who never took her eyes off his face, leaning on his crutch all the while. A stove hummed faintly in the middle of the room, and from the half-open kitchen door came ruddy light and the sound of something frying. On the wall, in brownish colors that seemed to have taken warmth from all the rich scents of food they had absorbed since the day of their painting, were scenes of the Butte as it was fancied to have once been, with windmills and wide fields.
“I want to travel,” Henslowe was saying, dragging out his words drowsily. “Abyssinia, Patagonia, Turkestan, the Caucasus, anywhere and everywhere. What do you say you and I go out to New Zealand and raise sheep?”
“But why not stay here? There can’t be anywhere as wonderful as this.”
“Then I’ll put off starting for New Guinea for a week. But hell, I’d go crazy staying anywhere after this. It’s got into my blood... all this murder. It’s made a wanderer of me, that’s what it’s done. I’m an adventurer.”
“God, I wish it had made me into anything so interesting.”
“Tie a rock on to your scruples and throw ‘em off the Pont Neuf and set out.... O boy, this is the golden age for living by your wits.”
“You’re not out of the army yet.”
“I should worry.... I’ll join the Red Cross.”
“I’ve got a tip about it.”
A girl with oval face and faint black down on her upper lip brought them soup, a thick greenish colored soup, that steamed richly into their faces.
“If you tell me how I can get out of the army you’ll probably save my life,” said Andrews seriously.
“There are two ways...Oh, but let me tell you later. Let’s talk about something worth while...So you write music do you?”
An omelet lay between them, pale golden-yellow with flecks of green; a few amber bubbles of burnt butter still clustered round the edges.
“Talk about tone-poems,” said Henslowe.
“But, if you are an adventurer and have no scruples, how is it you are still a private?”
Henslowe took a gulp of wine and laughed uproariously.
“That’s the joke.”
They ate in silence for a little while. They could hear the couple opposite them talking in low soft voices. The stove purred, and from the kitchen came a sound of something being beaten in a bowl. Andrews leaned back in his chair.
“This is so wonderfully quiet and mellow,” he said.... “It is so easy to forget that there’s any joy at all in life.”
“Rot...It’s a circus parade.”
“Have you ever seen anything drearier than a circus parade? One of those jokes that aren’t funny.”
“Justine, encore du vin,” called Henslowe.
“So you know her name?”
“I live here.... The Butte is the boss on the middle of the shield. It’s the axle of the wheel. That’s why it’s so quiet, like the centre of a cyclone, of a vast whirling rotary circus parade!”
Justine, with her red hands that had washed so many dishes off which other people had dined well, put down between them a scarlet langouste, of which claws and feelers sprawled over the tablecloth that already had a few purplish stains of wine. The sauce was yellow and fluffy like the breast of a canary bird.
“D’you know,” said Andrews suddenly talking fast and excitedly while he brushed the straggling yellow hair off his forehead, “I’d almost be willing to be shot at the end of a year if I could live up here all that time with a piano and a million sheets of music paper...It would be worth it.”
“But this is a place to come back to. Imagine coming back here after the highlands of Thibet, where you’d nearly got drowned and scalped and had made love to the daughter of an Afghan chief... who had red lips smeared with loukoumi so that the sweet taste stayed in your mouth.” Henslowe stroked softly his little brown mustache.
“But what’s the use of just seeing and feeling things if you can’t express them?”
“What’s the use of living at all? For the fun of it, man; damn ends.”
“But the only profound fun I ever have is that...” Andrews’s voice broke. “O God, I would give up every joy in the world if I could turn out one page that I felt was adequate.... D’you know it’s years since I’ve talked to anybody?”
They both stared silently out of the window at the fog that was packed tightly against it like cotton wool, only softer, and a greenish-gold color.
“The M.P.‘s sure won’t get us tonight,” said Henslowe, banging his fist jauntily on the table. “I’ve a great mind to go to Rue St. Anne and leave my card on the Provost Marshal.... God damn! D’you remember that man who took the bite out of our wine-bottle...He didn’t give a hoot in hell, did he? Talk about expression. Why don’t you express that? I think that’s the turning point of your career. That’s what made you come to Paris; you can’t deny it.”
They both laughed loudly rolling about on their chairs.
Andrews caught glints of contagion in the pale violet eyes of the lame boy and in the dark eyes of the girl.
“Let’s tell them about it,” he said still laughing, with his face, bloodless after the months in hospital, suddenly flushed.
“Salut,” said Henslowe turning round and elevating his glass. “Nous rions parceque nous sommes gris de vin gris.” Then he told them about the man who ate glass. He got to his feet and recounted slowly in his drawling voice, with gestures. Justine stood by with a dish full of stuffed tomatoes of which the red skins showed vaguely through a mantle of dark brown sauce. When she smiled her cheeks puffed out and gave her face a little of the look of a white cat’s.
“And you live here?” asked Andrews after they had all laughed.
“Always. It is not often that I go down to town.... It’s so difficult.... I have a withered leg.” He smiled brilliantly like a child telling about a new toy.
“How could I be anywhere else?” answered the girl. “It’s a misfortune, but there it is.” She tapped with the crutch on the floor, making a sound like someone walking with it. The boy laughed and tightened his arm round her shoulder.
“I should like to live here,” said Andrews simply.
“Why don’t you?”
“But don’t you see he’s a soldier,” whispered the girl hurriedly.
A frown wrinkled the boy’s forehead.
“Well, it wasn’t by choice, I suppose,” he said.
Andrews was silent. Unaccountable shame took possession of him before these people who had never been soldiers, who would never be soldiers.
“The Greeks used to say,” he said bitterly, using as phrase that had been a long time on his mind, “that when a man became a slave, on the first day he lost one-half of his virtue.”
“When a man becomes a slave,” repeated the lame boy softly, “on the first day he loses one-half of his virtue.”
“What’s the use of virtue? It is love you need,” said the girl.
“I’ve eaten your tomato, friend Andrews,” said Henslowe. “Justine will get us some more.” He poured out the last of the wine that half filled each of the glasses with its thin sparkle, the color of red currants.
Outside the fog had blotted everything out in even darkness which grew vaguely yellow and red near the sparsely scattered street lamps. Andrews and Henslowe felt their way blindly down the long gleaming flights of steps that led from the quiet darkness of the Butte towards the confused lights and noises of more crowded streets. The fog caught in their throats and tingled in their noses and brushed against their cheeks like moist hands.
“Why did we go away from that restaurant? I’d like to have talked to those people some more,” said Andrews.
“We haven’t had any coffee either.... But, man, we’re in Paris. We’re not going to be here long. We can’t afford to stay all the time in one place.... It’s nearly closing time already....”
“The boy was a painter. He said he lived by making toys; he whittles out wooden elephants and camels for Noah’s Arks.... Did you hear that?”
They were walking fast down a straight, sloping street. Below them already appeared the golden glare of a boulevard.
Andrews went on talking, almost to himself. “What a wonderful life that would be to live up here in a small room that would overlook the great rosy grey expanse of the city, to have some absurd work like that to live on, and to spend all your spare time working and going to concerts.... A quiet mellow existence.... Think of my life beside it. Slaving in that iron, metallic, brazen New York to write ineptitudes about music in the Sunday paper. God! And this.”
They were sitting down at a table in a noisy cafe, full of yellow light flashing in eyes and on glasses and bottles, of red lips crushed against the thin hard rims of glasses.
“Wouldn’t you like to just rip it off?” Andrews jerked at his tunic with both hands where it bulged out over his chest. “Oh, I’d like to make the buttons fly all over the cafe, smashing the liqueur glasses, snapping in the faces of all those dandified French officers who look so proud of themselves that they survived long enough to be victorious.”
“The coffee’s famous here,” said Henslowe. “The only place I ever had it better was at a bistro in Nice on this last permission.”
“Somewhere else again!”
“That’s it.... For ever and ever, somewhere else! Let’s have some prunelle. Before the war prunelle.”
The waiter was a solemn man, with a beard cut like a prime minister’s. He came with the bottle held out before him, religiously lifted. His lips pursed with an air of intense application, while he poured the white glinting liquid into the glasses. When he had finished he held the bottle upside down with a tragic gesture; not a drop came out.
“It is the end of the good old times,” he said.
“Damnation to the good old times,” said Henslowe. “Here’s to the good old new roughhousy circus parades.”
“I wonder how many people they are good for, those circus parades of yours,” said Andrews.
“Where are you going to spend the night?” said Henslowe.
“I don’t know.... I suppose I can find a hotel or something.”
“Why don’t you come with me and see Berthe; she probably has friends.”
“I want to wander about alone, not that I scorn Berthe’s friends,” said Andrews...."But I am so greedy for solitude.”
John Andrews was walking alone down streets full of drifting fog. Now and then a taxi dashed past him and clattered off into the obscurity. Scattered groups of people, their footsteps hollow in the muffling fog, floated about him. He did not care which way he walked, but went on and on, crossing large crowded avenues where the lights embroidered patterns of gold and orange on the fog, rolling in wide deserted squares, diving into narrow streets where other steps sounded sharply for a second now and then and faded leaving nothing in his ears when he stopped still to listen but the city’s distant muffled breathing. At last he came out along the river, where the fog was densest and coldest and where he could hear faintly the sound of water gurgling past the piers of bridges. The glow of the lights glared and dimmed, glared and dimmed, as he walked along, and sometimes he could make out the bare branches of trees blurred across the halos of the lamps. The fog caressed him soothingly and shadows kept flicking past him, giving him glimpses of smooth curves of cheeks and glints of eyes bright from the mist and darkness. Friendly, familiar people seemed to fill the fog just out of his sight. The muffled murmur of the city stirred him like the sound of the voices of friends.
“From the girl at the cross-roads singing under her street-lamp to the patrician pulling roses to pieces from the height of her litter... all the imagining of your desire....”
The murmur of life about him kept forming itself into long modulated sentences in his ears,—sentences that gave him by their form a sense of quiet well-being as if he were looking at a low relief of people dancing, carved out of Parian in some workshop in Attica.
Once he stopped and leaned for a long while against the moisture-beaded stern of a street-lamp. Two shadows defined, as they strolled towards him, into the forms of a pale boy and a bareheaded girl, walking tightly laced in each other’s arms. The boy limped a little and his violet eyes were contracted to wistfulness. John Andrews was suddenly filled with throbbing expectation, as if those two would come up to him and put their hands on his arms and make some revelation of vast import to his life. But when they reached the full glow of the lamp, Andrews saw that he was mistaken. They were not the boy and girl he had talked to on the Butte.
He walked off hurriedly and plunged again into tortuous streets, where he strode over the cobblestone pavements, stopping now and then to peer through the window of a shop at the light in the rear where a group of people sat quietly about a table under a light, or into a bar where a tired little boy with heavy eyelids and sleeves rolled up from thin grey arms was washing glasses, or an old woman, a shapeless bundle of black clothes, was swabbing the floor. From doorways he heard talking and soft laughs. Upper windows sent yellow rays of light across the fog.
In one doorway the vague light from a lamp bracketed in the wall showed two figures, pressed into one by their close embrace. As Andrews walked past, his heavy army boots clattering loud on the wet pavement, they lifted their heads slowly. The boy had violet eyes and pale beardless cheeks; the girl was bareheaded and kept her brown eyes fixed on the boy’s face. Andrews’s heart thumped within him. At last he had found them. He made a step towards them, and then strode on losing himself fast in the cool effacing fog. Again he had been mistaken. The fog swirled about him, hiding wistful friendly faces, hands ready to meet his hands, eyes ready to take fire with his glance, lips cold with the mist, to be crushed under his lips. “From the girl at the singing under her street-lamp...”
And he walked on alone through the drifting fog.
Andrews left the station reluctantly, shivering in the raw grey mist under which the houses of the village street and the rows of motor trucks and the few figures of French soldiers swathed in long formless coats, showed as vague dark blurs in the confused dawnlight. His body felt flushed and sticky from a night spent huddled in the warm fetid air of an overcrowded compartment. He yawned and stretched himself and stood irresolutely in the middle of the street with his pack biting into his shoulders. Out of sight, behind the dark mass, in which a few ruddy lights glowed, of the station buildings, the engine whistled and the train clanked off into the distance. Andrews listened to its faint reverberation through the mist with a sick feeling of despair. It was the train that had brought him from Paris back to his division.
As he stood shivering in the grey mist he remembered the curious despairing reluctance he used to suffer when he went back to boarding school after a holiday. How he used to go from the station to the school by the longest road possible, taking frantic account of every moment of liberty left him. Today his feet had the same leaden reluctance as when they used to all but refuse to take him up the long sandy hill to the school.
He wandered aimlessly for a while about the silent village hoping to find a cafe where he could sit for a few minutes to take a last look at himself before plunging again into the grovelling promiscuity of the army. Not a light showed. All the shutters of the shabby little brick and plaster houses were closed. With dull springless steps he walked down the road they had pointed out to him from the R. T. O.
Overhead the sky was brightening giving the mist that clung to the earth in every direction ruddy billowing outlines. The frozen road gave out a faint hard resonance under his footsteps. Occasionally the silhouette of a tree by the roadside loomed up in the mist ahead, its uppermost branches clear and ruddy with sunlight.
Andrews was telling himself that the war was over, and that in a few months he would be free in any case. What did a few months more or less matter? But the same thoughts were swept recklessly away in the blind panic that was like a stampede of wild steers within him. There was no arguing. His spirit was contorted with revolt so that his flesh twitched and dark splotches danced before his eyes. He wondered vaguely whether he had gone mad. Enormous plans kept rising up out of the tumult of his mind and dissolving suddenly like smoke in a high wind. He would run away and if they caught him, kill himself. He would start a mutiny in his company, he would lash all these men to frenzy by his words, so that they too should refuse to form into Guns, so that they should laugh when the officers got red in the face shouting orders at them, so that the whole division should march off over the frosty hills, without arms, without flags, calling all the men of all the armies to join them, to march on singing, to laugh the nightmare out of their blood. Would not some lightning flash of vision sear people’s consciousness into life again? What was the good of stopping the war if the armies continued?
But that was just rhetoric. His mind was flooding itself with rhetoric that it might keep its sanity. His mind was squeezing out rhetoric like a sponge that he might not see dry madness face to face.
And all the while his hard footsteps along the frozen road beat in his ears bringing him nearer to the village where the division was quartered. He was climbing a long hill. The mist thinned about him and became brilliant with sunlight. Then he was walking in the full sun over the crest of a hill with pale blue sky above his head. Behind him and before him were mist-filled valleys and beyond other ranges of long hills, with reddish-violet patches of woodland, glowing faintly in the sunlight. In the valley at his feet he could see, in the shadow of the hill he stood on, a church tower and a few roofs rising out of the mist, as out of water.
Among the houses bugles were blowing mess-call.
The jauntiness of the brassy notes ringing up through the silence was agony to him. How long the day would be. He looked at his watch. It was seven thirty. How did they come to be having mess so late?
The mist seemed doubly cold and dark when he was buried in it again after his moment of sunlight. The sweat was chilled on his face and streaks of cold went through his clothes, soaked from the effort of carrying the pack. In the village street Andrews met a man he did not know and asked him where the office was. The man, who was chewing something, pointed silently to a house with green shutters on the opposite side of the street.
At a desk sat Chrisfield smoking a cigarette. When he jumped up Andrews noticed that he had a corporal’s two stripes on his arm.
They shook hands warmly.
“A’ you all right now, ole boy?”
“Sure, I’m fine,” said Andrews. A sudden constraint fell upon them.
“That’s good,” said Chrisfield.
“You’re a corporal now. Congratulations.”
“Um hum. Made me more’n a month ago.”
They were silent. Chrisfield sat down in his chair again.
“What sort of a town is this?”
“It’s a hell-hole, this dump is, a hell-hole.”
“Goin’ to move soon, tell me.... Army o’ Occupation. But Ah hadn’t ought to have told you that.... Don’t tell any of the fellers.”
“Where’s the outfit quartered?”
“Ye won’t know it; we’ve got fifteen new men. No account all of ‘em. Second draft men.”
“Civilians in the town?”
“You bet.... Come with me, Andy, an Ah’ll tell ‘em to give you some grub at the cookshack. No... wait a minute an’ you’ll miss the hike.... Hikes every day since the goddam armistice. They sent out a general order telling ‘em to double up on the drill.”
They heard a voice shouting orders outside and the narrow street filled up suddenly with a sound of boots beating the ground in unison. Andrews kept his back to the window. Something in his legs seemed to be tramping in time with the other legs.
“There they go,” said Chrisfield. “Loot’s with ‘em today.... Want some grub? If it ain’t been punk since the armistice.”
The “Y” hut was empty and dark; through the grimy windowpanes could be seen fields and a leaden sky full of heavy ocherous light, in which the leafless trees and the fields full of stubble were different shades of dead, greyish brown. Andrews sat at the piano without playing. He was thinking how once he had thought to express all the cramped boredom of this life; the thwarted limbs regimented together, lashed into straight lines, the monotony of servitude. Unconsciously as he thought of it, the fingers of one hand sought a chord, which jangled in the badly-tuned piano. “God, how silly!” he muttered aloud, pulling his hands away. Suddenly he began to play snatches of things he knew, distorting them, willfully mutilating the rhythm, mixing into them snatches of ragtime. The piano jangled under his hands, filling the empty hut with clamor. He stopped suddenly, letting his fingers slide from bass to treble, and began to play in earnest.
There was a cough behind him that had an artificial, discreet ring to it. He went on playing without turning round. Then a voice said:
Andrews turned to find himself staring into a face of vaguely triangular shape with a wide forehead and prominent eyelids over protruding brown eyes. The man wore a Y. M. C. A. uniform which was very tight for him, so that there were creases running from each button across the front of his tunic.
“Oh, do go on playing. It’s years since I heard any Debussy.”
“It wasn’t Debussy.”
“Oh, wasn’t it? Anyway it was just lovely. Do go on. I’ll just stand here and listen.”
Andrews went on playing for a moment, made a mistake, started over, made the same mistake, banged on the keys with his fist and turned round again.
“I can’t play,” he said peevishly.
“Oh, you can, my boy, you can.... Where did you learn? I would give a million dollars to play like that, if I had it.”
Andrews glared at him silently.
“You are one of the men just back from hospital, I presume.”
“Yes, worse luck.”
“Oh, I don’t blame you. These French towns are the dullest places; though I just love France, don’t you?” The “Y” man had a faintly whining voice.
“Anywhere’s dull in the army.”
“Look, we must get to know each other real well. My name’s Spencer Sheffield...Spencer B. Sheffield.... And between you and me there’s not a soul in the division you can talk to. It’s dreadful not to have intellectual people about one. I suppose you’re from New York.”
“Um hum, so am I. You’re probably read some of my things in Vain Endeavor.... What, you’ve never read Vain Endeavor? I guess you didn’t go round with the intellectual set.... Musical people often don’t.... Of course I don’t mean the Village. All anarchists and society women there....”
“I’ve never gone round with any set, and I never...”
“Never mind, we’ll fix that when we all get back to New York. And now you just sit down at that piano and play me Debussy’s ‘Arabesque.’... I know you love it just as much as I do. But first what’s your name?”
“Folks come from Virginia?”
“Yes.” Andrews got to his feet.
“Then you’re related to the Penneltons.”
“I may be related to the Kaiser for all I know.”
“The Penneltons... that’s it. You see my mother was a Miss Spencer from Spencer Falls, Virginia, and her mother was a Miss Pennelton, so you and I are cousins. Now isn’t that a coincidence?”
“Distant cousins. But I must go back to the barracks.”
“Come in and see me any time,” Spencer B. Sheffield shouted after him. “You know where; back of the shack; And knock twice so I’ll know it’s you.”
Outside the house where he was quartered Andrews met the new top sergeant, a lean man with spectacles and a little mustache of the color and texture of a scrubbing brush.
“Here’s a letter for you,” the top sergeant said. “Better look at the new K. P. list I’ve just posted.”
The letter was from Henslowe. Andrews read it with a smile of pleasure in the faint afternoon light, remembering Henslowe’s constant drawling talk about distant places he had never been to, and the man who had eaten glass, and the day and a half in Paris.
“Andy,” the letter began, “I’ve got the dope at last. Courses begin in Paris February fifteenth. Apply at once to your C. O. to study somethin’ at University of Paris. Any amount of lies will go. Apply all pull possible via sergeants, lieutenants and their mistresses and laundresses. Yours, Henslowe.”
His heart thumping, Andrews ran after the sergeant, passing, in his excitement, a lieutenant without saluting him.
“Look here,” snarled the lieutenant.
Andrews saluted, and stood stiffly at attention.
“Why didn’t you salute me?”
“I was in a hurry, sir, and didn’t see you. I was going on very urgent company business, sir.”
“Remember that just because the armistice is signed you needn’t think you’re out of the army; at ease.”
Andrews saluted. The lieutenant saluted, turned swiftly on his heel and walked away.
Andrews caught up to the sergeant.
“Sergeant Coffin. Can I speak to you a minute?”
“I’m in a hell of a hurry.”
“Have you heard anything about this army students’ corps to send men to universities here in France? Something the Y. M. C. A.‘s getting up.”
“Can’t be for enlisted men. No I ain’t heard a word about it. D’you want to go to school again?”
“If I get a chance. To finish my course.”
“College man, are ye? So am I. Well, I’ll let you know if I get any general order about it. Can’t do anything without getting a general order about it. Looks to me like it’s all bushwa.”
“I guess you’re right.”
The street was grey dark. Stung by a sense of impotence, surging with despairing rebelliousness, Andrews hurried back towards the buildings where the company was quartered. He would be late for mess. The grey street was deserted. From a window here and there ruddy light streamed out to make a glowing oblong on the wall of a house opposite.
“Goddam it, if ye don’t believe me, you go ask the lootenant.... Look here, Toby, didn’t our outfit see hotter work than any goddam engineers?”
Toby had just stepped into the cafe, a tall man with a brown bulldog face and a scar on his left cheek. He spoke rarely and solemnly with a Maine coast Yankee twang.
“I reckon so,” was all he said. He sat down on the bench beside the other man who went on bitterly:
“I guess you would reckon so.... Hell, man, you ditch diggers ain’t in it.”
“Ditch diggers!” The engineer banged his fist down on the table. His lean pickled face was a furious red. “I guess we don’t dig half so many ditches as the infantry does... an’ when we’ve dug ‘em we don’t crawl into ‘em an’ stay there like goddam cottontailed jackrabbits.”
“You guys don’t git near enough to the front....”
“Like goddam cottontailed jackrabbits,” shouted the pickle-faced engineer again, roaring with laughter. “Ain’t that so?” He looked round the room for approval. The benches at the two long tables were filled with infantry men who looked at him angrily. Noticing suddenly that he had no support, he moderated his voice.
“The infantry’s damn necessary, I’ll admit that; but where’d you fellers be without us guys to string the barbed wire for you?”
“There warn’t no barbed wire strung in the Oregon forest where we was, boy. What d’ye want barbed wire when you’re advancin’ for?”
“Look here...I’ll bet you a bottle of cognac my company had more losses than yourn did.”
“Tek him up, Joe,” said Toby, suddenly showing an interest in the conversation.
“All right, it’s a go.”
“We had fifteen killed and twenty wounded,” announced the engineer triumphantly.
“How badly wounded?”
“What’s that to you? Hand over the cognac?”
“Like hell. We had fifteen killed and twenty wounded too, didn’t we, Toby?”
“I reckon you’re right,” said Toby.
“Ain’t I right?” asked the other man, addressing the company generally.
“Sure, goddam right,” muttered voices.
“Well, I guess it’s all off, then,” said the engineer.
“No, it ain’t,” said Toby, “reckon up yer wounded. The feller who’s got the worst wounded gets the cognac. Ain’t that fair?”
“We’ve had seven fellers sent home already,” said the engineer.
“We’ve had eight. Ain’t we?”
“Sure,” growled everybody in the room.
“How bad was they?”
“Two of ‘em was blind,” said Toby.
“Hell,” said the engineer, jumping to his feet as if taking a trick at poker. “We had a guy who was sent home without arms nor legs, and three fellers got t.b. from bein’ gassed.”
John Andrews had been sitting in a corner of the room. He got up. Something had made him think of the man he had known in the hospital who had said that was the life to make a feller feel fit. Getting up at three o’clock in the morning, you jumped out of bed just like a cat.... He remembered how the olive-drab trousers had dangled, empty from the man’s chair.
“That’s nothing; one of our sergeants had to have a new nose grafted on....”
The village street was dark and deeply rutted with mud. Andrews wandered up and down aimlessly. There was only one other cafe. That would be just like this one. He couldn’t go back to the desolate barn where he slept. It would be too early to go to sleep. A cold wind blew down the street and the sky was full of vague movement of dark clouds. The partly-frozen mud clotted about his feet as he walked along; he could feel the water penetrating his shoes. Opposite the Y. M. C. A. hut at the end of the street he stopped. After a moment’s indecision he gave a little laugh, and walked round to the back where the door of the “Y” man’s room was.
He knocked twice, half hoping there would be no reply.
Sheffield’s whining high-pitched voice said: “Who is it?”
“Come right in.... You’re just the man I wanted to see.” Andrews stood with his hand on the knob.
“Do sit down and make yourself right at home.”
Spencer Sheffield was sitting at a little desk in a room with walls of unplaned boards and one small window. Behind the desk were piles of cracker boxes and cardboard cases of cigarettes and in the midst of them a little opening, like that of a railway ticket office, in the wall through which the “Y” man sold his commodities to the long lines of men who would stand for hours waiting meekly in the room beyond.
Andrews was looking round for a chair.
“Oh, I just forgot. I’m sitting in the only chair,” said Spencer Sheffield, laughing, twisting his small mouth into a shape like a camel’s mouth and rolling about his large protruding eyes.
“Oh, that’s all right. What I wanted to ask you was: do you know anything about...?”
“Look, do come with me to my room,” interrupted Sheffield. “I’ve got such a nice sitting-room with an open fire, just next to Lieutenant Bleezer.... An’ there we’ll talk... about everything. I’m just dying to talk to somebody about the things of the spirit.”
“Do you know anything about a scheme for sending enlisted men to French universities? Men who have not finished their courses.”
“Oh, wouldn’t that be just fine. I tell you, boy, there’s nothing like the U. S. government to think of things like that.”
“But have you heard anything about it?”
“No; but I surely shall.... D’you mind switching the light off?... That’s it. Now just follow me. Oh, I do need a rest. I’ve been working dreadfully hard since that Knights of Columbus man came down here. Isn’t it hateful the way they try to run down the ‘Y’?... Now we can have a nice long talk. You must tell me all about yourself.”
“But don’t you really know anything about that university scheme? They say it begins February fifteenth,” Andrews said in a low voice.
“I’ll ask Lieutenant Bleezer if he knows anything about it,” said Sheffield soothingly, throwing an arm around Andrews’s shoulder and pushing him in the door ahead of him.
They went through a dark hall to a little room where a fire burned brilliantly in the hearth, lighting up with tongues of red and yellow a square black walnut table and two heavy armchairs with leather backs and bottoms that shone like lacquer.
“This is wonderful,” said Andrews involuntarily.
“Romantic I call it. Makes you think of Dickens, doesn’t it, and Locksley Hall.”
“Yes,” said Andrews vaguely.
“Have you been in France long?” asked Andrews settling himself in one of the chairs and looking into the dancing flames of the log fire. “Will you smoke?” He handed Sheffield a crumpled cigarette.
“No, thanks, I only smoke special kinds. I have a weak heart. That’s why I was rejected from the army.... Oh, but I think it was superb of you to join as a private; It was my dream to do that, to be one of the nameless marching throng.”
“I think it was damn foolish, not to say criminal,” said Andrews sullenly, still staring into the fire.
“You can’t mean that. Or do you mean that you think you had abilities which would have been worth more to your country in another position?... I have many friends who felt that.”
“No.... I don’t think it’s right of a man to go back on himself.... I don’t think butchering people ever does any good ...I have acted as if I did think it did good... out of carelessness or cowardice, one or the other; that I think bad.”
“You mustn’t talk that way” said Sheffield hurriedly. “So you are a musician, are you?” He asked the question with a jaunty confidential air.
“I used to play the piano a little, if that’s what you mean,” said Andrews.
“Music has never been the art I had most interest in. But many things have moved me intensely.... Debussy and those beautiful little things of Nevin’s. You must know them.... Poetry has been more my field. When I was young, younger than you are, quite a lad...Oh, if we could only stay young; I am thirty-two.”
“I don’t see that youth by itself is worth much. It’s the most superb medium there is, though, for other things,” said Andrews. “Well, I must go,” he said. “If you do hear anything about that university scheme, you will let me know, won’t you?”
“Indeed I shall, dear boy, indeed I shall.”
They shook hands in jerky dramatic fashion and Andrews stumbled down the dark hall to the door. When he stood out in the raw night air again he drew a deep breath. By the light that streamed out from a window he looked at his watch. There was time to go to the regimental sergeant-major’s office before tattoo.
At the opposite end of the village street from the Y. M. C. A. hut was a cube-shaped house set a little apart from the rest in the middle of a broad lawn which the constant crossing and recrossing of a staff of cars and trains of motor trucks had turned into a muddy morass in which the wheel tracks crisscrossed in every direction. A narrow board walk led from the main road to the door. In the middle of this walk Andrews met a captain and automatically got off into the mud and saluted.
The regimental office was a large room that had once been decorated by wan and ill-drawn mural paintings in the manner of Puvis de Chavannes, but the walls had been so chipped and soiled by five years of military occupation that they were barely recognisable. Only a few bits of bare flesh and floating drapery showed here and there above the maps and notices that were tacked on the walls. At the end of the room a group of nymphs in Nile green and pastel blue could be seen emerging from under a French War Loan poster. The ceiling was adorned with an oval of flowers and little plaster cupids in low relief which had also suffered and in places showed the laths. The office was nearly empty. The littered desks and silent typewriters gave a strange air of desolation to the gutted drawing-room. Andrews walked boldly to the furthest desk, where a little red card leaning against the typewriter said “Regimental Sergeant-Major.”
Behind the desk, crouched over a heap of typewritten reports, sat a little man with scanty sandy hair, who screwed up his eyes and smiled when Andrews approached the desk.
“Well, did you fix it up for me?” he asked.
“Fix what?” said Andrews.
“Oh, I thought you were someone else.” The smile left the regimental sergeant-major’s thin lips. “What do you want?”
“Why, Regimental Sergeant-Major, can you tell me anything about a scheme to send enlisted men to colleges over here? Can you tell me who to apply to?”
“According to what general orders? And who told you to come and see me about it, anyway?”
“Have you heard anything about it?”
“No, nothing definite. I’m busy now anyway. Ask one of your own non-coms to find out about it.” He crouched once more over the papers.
Andrews was walking towards the door, flushing with annoyance, when he saw that the man at the desk by the window was jerking his head in a peculiar manner, just in the direction of the regimental sergeant-major and then towards the door. Andrews smiled at him and nodded. Outside the door, where an orderly sat on a short bench reading a torn Saturday Evening Post, Andrews waited. The hall was part of what must have been a ballroom, for it had a much-scarred hardwood floor and big spaces of bare plaster framed by gilt-and lavender-colored mouldings, which had probably held tapestries. The partition of unplaned boards that formed other offices cut off the major part of a highly decorated ceiling where cupids with crimson-daubed bottoms swam in all attitudes in a sea of pink-and blue-and lavender-colored clouds, wreathing themselves coyly in heavy garlands of waxy hothouse flowers, while cornucopias spilling out squashy fruits gave Andrews a feeling of distinct insecurity as he looked up from below.
“Say are you a Kappa Mu?”
Andrews looked down suddenly and saw in front of him the man who had signalled to him in the regimental sergeant-major’s office.
“Are you a Kappa Mu?” he asked again.
“No, not that I know of,” stammered Andrews puzzled.
“What school did you go to?”
“Harvard.... Guess we haven’t got a chapter there.... I’m from North Western. Anyway you want to go to school in France here if you can. So do I.”
“Don’t you want to come and have a drink?”
The man frowned, pulled his overseas cap down over his forehead, where the hair grew very low, and looked about him mysteriously. “Yes,” he said.
They splashed together down the muddy village street. “We’ve got thirteen minutes before tattoo.... My name’s Walters, what’s yours?” He spoke in a low voice in short staccato phrases.
“Andrews, you’ve got to keep this dark. If everybody finds out about it we’re through. It’s a shame you’re not a Kappa Mu, but college men have got to stick together, that’s the way I look at it.”
“Oh, I’ll keep it dark enough,” said Andrews.
“It’s too good to be true. The general order isn’t out yet, but I’ve seen a preliminary circular. What school d’you want to go to?”
“That’s the stuff. D’you know the back room at Baboon’s?”
Walters turned suddenly to the left up an alley, and broke through a hole in a hawthorn hedge.
“A guy’s got to keep his eyes and ears open if he wants to get anywhere in this army,” he said.
As they ducked in the back door of a cottage, Andrews caught a glimpse of the billowy line of a tile roof against the lighter darkness of the sky. They sat down on a bench built into a chimney where a few sticks made a splutter of flames.
“Monsieur desire?” A red-faced girl with a baby in her arms came up to them.
“That’s Babette; Baboon I call her,” said Walters with a laugh.
“Chocolat,” said Walters.
“That’ll suit me all right. It’s my treat, remember.”
“I’m not forgetting it. Now let’s get to business. What you do is this. You write an application. I’ll make that out for you on the typewriter tomorrow and you meet me here at eight tomorrow night and I’ll give it to you.... You sign it at once and hand it in to your sergeant. See?”
“This’ll just be a preliminary application; when the order’s out you’ll have to make another.”
The woman, this time without the baby, appeared out of the darkness of the room with a candle and two cracked bowls from which steam rose, faint primrose-color in the candle light. Walters drank his bowl down at a gulp, grunted and went on talking.
“Give me a cigarette, will you?... You’ll have to make it out darn soon too, because once the order’s out every son of a gun in the division’ll be making out to be a college man. How did you get your tip?”
“From a fellow in Paris.”
“You’ve been to Paris, have you?” said Walters admiringly. “Is it the way they say it is? Gee, these French are immoral. Look at this woman here. She’ll sleep with a feller soon as not. Got a baby too!”
“But who do the applications go in to?”
“To the colonel, or whoever he appoints to handle it. You a Catholic?”
“Neither am I. That’s the hell of it. The regimental sergeant-major is.”
“I guess you haven’t noticed the way things run up at divisional headquarters. It’s a regular cathedral. Isn’t a mason in it.... But I must beat it.... Better pretend you don’t know me if you meet me on the street; see?”
Walters hurried out of the door. Andrews sat alone looking at the flutter of little flames about the pile of sticks on the hearth, while he sipped chocolate from the warm bowl held between the palms of both hands.
He remembered a speech out of some very bad romantic play he had heard when he was very small.
“About your head I fling... the curse of Rome.”
He started to laugh, sliding back and forth on the smooth bench which had been polished by the breeches of generations warming their feet at the fire. The red-faced woman stood with her hands on her hips looking at him in astonishment, while he laughed and laughed.
“Mais quelle gaite, quelle gaite,” she kept saying.
The straw under him rustled faintly with every sleepy movement Andrews made in his blankets. In a minute the bugle was going to blow and he was going to jump out of his blankets, throw on his clothes and fall into line for roll call in the black mud of the village street. It couldn’t be that only a month had gone by since he had got back from hospital. No, he had spent a lifetime in this village being dragged out of his warm blankets every morning by the bugle, shivering as he stood in line for roll call, shuffling in a line that moved slowly past the cookshack, shuffling along in another line to throw what was left of his food into garbage cans, to wash his mess kit in the greasy water a hundred other men had washed their mess kits in; lining up to drill, to march on along muddy roads, splattered by the endless trains of motor trucks; lining up twice more for mess, and at last being forced by another bugle into his blankets again to sleep heavily while a smell hung in his nostrils of sweating woolen clothing and breathed-out air and dusty blankets. In a minute the bugle was going to blow, to snatch him out of even these miserable thoughts, and throw him into an automaton under other men’s orders. Childish spiteful desires surged into his mind. If the bugler would only die. He could picture him, a little man with a broad face and putty-colored cheeks, a small rusty mustache and bow-legs lying like a calf on a marble slab in a butcher’s shop on top of his blankets. What nonsense! There were other buglers. He wondered how many buglers there were in the army. He could picture them all, in dirty little villages, in stone barracks, in towns, in great camps that served the country for miles with rows of black warehouses and narrow barrack buildings standing with their feet a little apart; giving their little brass bugles a preliminary tap before putting out their cheeks and blowing in them and stealing a million and a half (or was it two million or three million) lives, and throwing the warm sentient bodies into coarse automatons who must be kept busy, lest they grow restive, till killing time began again.
The bugle blew with the last jaunty notes, a stir went through the barn.
Corporal Chrisfield stood on the ladder that led up from the yard, his head on a level with the floor shouting:
“Shake it up, fellers! If a guy’s late to roll call, it’s K. P. for a week.”
As Andrews, while buttoning his tunic, passed him on the ladder, he whispered:
“Tell me we’re going to see service again, Andy... Army o’ Occupation.”
While he stood stiffly at attention waiting to answer when the sergeant called his name, Andrews’s mind was whirling in crazy circles of anxiety. What if they should leave before the General Order came on the University plan? The application would certainly be lost in the confusion of moving the Division, and he would be condemned to keep up this life for more dreary weeks and months. Would any years of work and happiness in some future existence make up for the humiliating agony of this servitude?
He ran up the ladder to fetch his mess kit and in a few minutes was in line again in the rutted village street where the grey houses were just forming outlines as light crept slowly into the leaden sky, while a faint odor of bacon and coffee came to him, making him eager for food, eager to drown his thoughts in the heaviness of swiftly-eaten greasy food and in the warmth of watery coffee gulped down out of a tin-curved cup. He was telling himself desperately that he must do something—that he must make an effort to save himself, that he must fight against the deadening routine that numbed him.
Later, while he was sweeping the rough board floor of the company’s quarters, the theme came to him which had come to him long ago, in a former incarnation it seemed, when he was smearing windows with soap from a gritty sponge along the endless side of the barracks in the training camp. Time and time again in the past year he had thought of it, and dreamed of weaving it into a fabric of sound which would express the trudging monotony of days bowed under the yoke. “Under the Yoke”; that would be a title for it. He imagined the sharp tap of the conductor’s baton, the silence of a crowded hall, the first notes rasping bitterly upon the tense ears of men and women. But as he tried to concentrate his mind on the music, other things intruded upon it, blurred it. He kept feeling the rhythm of the Queen of Sheba slipping from the shoulders of her gaudily caparisoned elephant, advancing towards him through the torchlight, putting her hand, fantastic with rings and long gilded fingernails, upon his shoulders so that ripples of delight, at all the voluptuous images of his desire, went through his whole body, making it quiver like a flame with yearning for unimaginable things. It all muddled into fantastic gibberish—into sounds of horns and trombones and double basses blown off key while a piccolo shrilled the first bars of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
He had stopped sweeping and looked about him dazedly. He was alone. Outside, he heard a sharp voice call “Atten-shun!” He ran down the ladder and fell in at the end of the line under the angry glare of the lieutenant’s small eyes, which were placed very close together on either side of a lean nose, black and hard, like the eyes of a crab.
The company marched off through the mud to the drill field.
After retreat Andrews knocked at the door at the back of the Y. M. C. A., but as there was no reply, he strode off with a long, determined stride to Sheffield’s room.
In the moment that elapsed between his knock and an answer, he could feel his heart thumping. A little sweat broke out on his temples.
“Why, what’s the matter, boy? You look all wrought up,” said Sheffield, holding the door half open, and blocking, with his lean form, entrance to the room.
“May I come in? I want to talk to you,” said Andrews.
“Oh, I suppose it’ll be all right.... You see I have an officer with me...” then there was a flutter in Sheffield’s voice. “Oh, do come in”; he went on, with sudden enthusiasm. “Lieutenant Bleezer is fond of music too.... Lieutenant, this is the boy I was telling you about. We must get him to play for us. If he had the opportunities, I am sure he’d be a famous musician.”
Lieutenant Bleezer was a dark youth with a hooked nose and pincenez. His tunic was unbuttoned and he held a cigar in his hand. He smiled in an evident attempt to put this enlisted man at his ease.
“Yes, I am very fond of music, modern music,” he said, leaning against the mantelpiece. “Are you a musician by profession?”
“Not exactly... nearly.” Andrews thrust his hands into the bottoms of his trouser pockets and looked from one to the other with a certain defiance.
“I suppose you’ve played in some orchestra? How is it you are not in the regimental band?”
“No, except the Pierian.”
“The Pierian? Were you at Harvard?”
“So was I.”
“Isn’t that a coincidence?” said Sheffield. “I’m so glad I just insisted on your coming in.”
“What year were you?” asked Lieutenant Bleezer, with a faint change of tone, drawing a finger along his scant black moustache.
“I haven’t graduated yet,” said the lieutenant with a laugh.
“What I wanted to ask you, Mr. Sheffield....”
“Oh, my boy; my boy, you know you’ve known me long enough to call me Spence,” broke in Sheffield.
“I want to know,” went on Andrews speaking slowly, “can you help me to get put on the list to be sent to the University of Paris?... I know that a list has been made out, although the General Order has not come yet. I am disliked by most of the noncoms and I don’t see how I can get on without somebody’s help...I simply can’t go this life any longer.” Andrews closed his lips firmly and looked at the ground, his face flushing.
“Well, a man of your attainments certainly ought to go,” said Lieutenant Bleezer, with a faint tremor of hesitation in his voice. “I’m going to Oxford myself.”
“Trust me, my boy,” said Sheffield. “I’ll fix it up for you, I promise. Let’s shake hands on it.” He seized Andrews’s hand and pressed it warmly in a moist palm. “If it’s within human power, within human power,” he added.
“Well, I must go,” said Lieutenant Bleezer, suddenly striding to the door. “I promised the Marquise I’d drop in. Good-bye.... Take a cigar, won’t you?” He held out three cigars in the direction of Andrews.
“No, thank you.”
“Oh, don’t you think the old aristocracy of France is just too wonderful? Lieutenant Bleezer goes almost every evening to call on the Marquise de Rompemouville. He says she is just too spirituelle for words.... He often meets the Commanding Officer there.”
Andrews had dropped into a chair and sat with his face buried in his hands, looking through his fingers at the fire, where a few white fingers of flame were clutching intermittently at a grey beech log. His mind was searching desperately for expedients.
He got to his feet and shouted shrilly:
“I can’t go this life any more, do you hear that? No possible future is worth all this. If I can get to Paris, all right. If not, I’ll desert and damn the consequences.”
“But I’ve already promised I’ll do all I can....”
“Well, do it now,” interrupted Andrews brutally.
“All right, I’ll go and see the colonel and tell him what a great musician you are.”
“Let’s go together, now.”
“But that’ll look queer, dear boy.”
“I don’t give a damn, come along.... You can talk to him. You seem to be thick with all the officers.”
“You must wait till I tidy up,” said Sheffield.
Andrews strode up and down in the mud in front of the house, snapping his fingers with impatience, until Sheffield came out, then they walked off in silence.
“Now wait outside a minute,” whispered Sheffield when they came to the white house with bare grapevines over the front, where the colonel lived.
After a wait, Andrews found himself at the door of a brilliantly-lighted drawing room. There was a dense smell of cigar smoke. The colonel, an elderly man with a benevolent beard, stood before him with a coffee cup in his hand. Andrews saluted punctiliously.
“They tell me you are quite a pianist.... Sorry I didn’t know it before,” said the colonel in a kindly tone. “You want to go to Paris to study under this new scheme?”
“What a shame I didn’t know before. The list of the men going is all made out.... Of course perhaps at the last minute... if somebody else doesn’t go... your name can go in.”
The colonel smiled graciously and turned back into the room.
“Thank you, Colonel,” said Andrews, saluting.
Without a word to Sheffield, he strode off down the dark village street towards his quarters.
Andrews stood on the broad village street, where the mud was nearly dry, and a wind streaked with warmth ruffled the few puddles; he was looking into the window of the cafe to see if there was anyone he knew inside from whom he could borrow money for a drink. It was two months since he had had any pay, and his pockets were empty. The sun had just set on a premature spring afternoon, flooding the sky and the grey houses and the tumultuous tiled roofs with warm violet light. The faint premonition of the stirring of life in the cold earth, that came to Andrews with every breath he drew of the sparkling wind, stung his dull boredom to fury. It was the first of March, he was telling himself over and over again. The fifteenth of February, he had expected to be in Paris, free, or half-free; at least able to work. It was the first of March and here he was still helpless, still tied to the monotonous wheel of routine, incapable of any real effort, spending his spare time wandering like a lost dog up and down this muddy street, from the Y. M. C. A. hut at one end of the village to the church and the fountain in the middle, and to the Divisional Headquarters at the other end, then back again, looking listlessly into windows, staring in people’s faces without seeing them. He had given up all hope of being sent to Paris. He had given up thinking about it or about anything; the same dull irritation of despair droned constantly in his head, grinding round and round like a broken phonograph record.
After looking a long while in the window of the cafe of the Braves Allies, he walked a little down the street and stood in the same position staring into the Repos du Poilu, where a large sign “American spoken” blocked up half the window. Two officers passed. His hand snapped up to the salute automatically, like a mechanical signal. It was nearly dark. After a while he began to feel serious coolness in the wind, shivered and started to wander aimlessly down the street.
He recognised Walters coming towards him and was going to pass him without speaking when Walters bumped into him, muttered in his ear “Come to Baboon’s,” and hurried off with his swift business-like stride. Andrews, stood irresolutely for a while with his head bent, then went with unresilient steps up the alley, through the hole in the hedge and into Babette’s kitchen. There was no fire. He stared morosely at the grey ashes until he heard Walters’s voice beside him:
“I’ve got you all fixed up.”
“What do you mean?”
“Mean... are you asleep, Andrews? They’ve cut a name off the school list, that’s all. Now if you shake a leg and somebody doesn’t get in ahead of you, you’ll be in Paris before you know it.”
“That’s damn decent of you to come and tell me.”
“Here’s your application,” said Walters, drawing a paper out of his pocket. “Take it to the colonel; get him to O. K. it and then rush it up to the sergeant-major’s office yourself. They are making out travel orders now. So long.”
Walters had vanished. Andrews was alone again, staring at the grey ashes. Suddenly he jumped to his feet and hurried off towards headquarters. In the anteroom to the colonel’s office he waited a long while, looking at his boots that were thickly coated with mud. “Those boots will make a bad impression; those boots will make a bad impression,” a voice was saying over and over again inside of him. A lieutenant was also waiting to see the colonel, a young man with pink cheeks and a milky-white forehead, who held his hat in one hand with a pair of khaki-colored kid gloves, and kept passing a hand over his light well-brushed hair. Andrews felt dirty and ill-smelling in his badly-fitting uniform. The sight of this perfect young man in his whipcord breeches, with his manicured nails and immaculately polished puttees exasperated him. He would have liked to fight him, to prove that he was the better man, to outwit him, to make him forget his rank and his important air.... The lieutenant had gone in to see the colonel. Andrews found himself reading a chart of some sort tacked up on the wall. There were names and dates and figures, but he could not make out what it was about.
“All right! Go ahead,” whispered the orderly to him; and he was standing with his cap in his hand before the colonel who was looking at him severely, fingering the papers he had on the desk with a heavily veined hand.
Andrews saluted. The colonel made an impatient gesture.
“May I speak to you, Colonel, about the school scheme?”
“I suppose you’ve got permission from somebody to come to me.”
“No, sir.” Andrews’s mind was struggling to find something to say.
“Well, you’d better go and get it.”
“But, Colonel, there isn’t time; the travel orders are being made out at this minute. I’ve heard that there’s been a name crossed out on the list.”
“But, Colonel, you don’t know how important it is. I am a musician by trade; if I can’t get into practice again before being demobilized, I shan’t be able to get a job.... I have a mother and an old aunt dependent on me. My family has seen better days, you see, sir. It’s only by being high up in my profession that I can earn enough to give them what they are accustomed to. And a man in your position in the world, Colonel, must know what even a few months of study in Paris mean to a pianist.”
The colonel smiled.
“Let’s see your application,” he said.
Andrews handed it to him with a trembling hand. The colonel made a few marks on one corner with a pencil.
“Now if you can get that to the sergeant-major in time to have your name included in the orders, well and good.”
Andrews saluted, and hurried out. A sudden feeling of nausea had come over him. He was hardly able to control a mad desire to tear the paper up. “The sons of bitches... the sons of bitches,” he muttered to himself. Still he ran all the way to the square, isolated building where the regimental office was.
He stopped panting in front of the desk that bore the little red card, Regimental Sergeant-Major. The regimental sergeant-major looked up at him enquiringly.
“Here’s an application for School at the Sorbonne, Sergeant. Colonel Wilkins told me to run up to you with it, said he was very anxious to have it go in at once.”
“Too late,” said the regimental sergeant-major.
“But the colonel said it had to go in.”
“Can’t help it.... Too late,” said the regimental sergeant-major.
Andrews felt the room and the men in their olive-drab shirt sleeves at the typewriters and the three nymphs creeping from behind the French War Loan poster whirl round his head. Suddenly he heard a voice behind him:
“Is the name Andrews, John, Sarge?”
“How the hell should I know?” said the regimental sergeant-major.
“Because I’ve got it in the orders already.... I don’t know how it got in.” The voice was Walters’s voice, staccatto and businesslike.
“Well, then, why d’you want to bother me about it? Give me that paper.” The regimental sergeant-major jerked the paper out of Andrews’s hand and looked at it savagely.
“All right, you leave tomorrow. A copy of the orders’ll go to your company in the morning,” growled the regimental sergeant-major.
Andrews looked hard at Walters as he went out, but got no glance in return. When he stood in the air again, disgust surged up within him, bitterer than before. The fury of his humiliation made tears start in his eyes. He walked away from the village down the main road, splashing carelessly through the puddles, slipping in the wet clay of the ditches. Something within him, like the voice of a wounded man swearing, was whining in his head long strings of filthy names. After walking a long while he stopped suddenly with his fists clenched. It was completely dark, the sky was faintly marbled by a moon behind the clouds. On both sides of the road rose the tall grey skeletons of poplars. When the sound of his footsteps stopped, he heard a faint lisp of running water. Standing still in the middle of the road, he felt his feelings gradually relax. He said aloud in a low voice several times: “You are a damn fool, John Andrews,” and started walking slowly and thoughtfully back to the village.
Andrews felt an arm put round his shoulder.
“Ah’ve been to hell an’ gone lookin’ for you, Andy,” said Chrisfield’s voice in his ear, jerking him out of the reverie he walked in. He could feel in his face Chrisfield’s breath, heavy with cognac.
“I’m going to Paris tomorrow, Chris,” said Andrews.
“Ah know it, boy. Ah know it. That’s why I was that right smart to talk to you.... You doan want to go to Paris.... Why doan ye come up to Germany with us? Tell me they live like kings up there.”
“All right,” said Andrews, “let’s go to the back room at Babette’s.”
Chrisfield hung on his shoulder, walking unsteadily beside him. At the hole in the hedge Chrisfield stumbled and nearly pulled them both down. They laughed, and still laughing staggered into the dark kitchen, where they found the red-faced woman with her baby sitting beside the fire with no other light than the flicker of the rare flames that shot up from a little mass of wood embers. The baby started crying shrilly when the two soldiers stamped in. The woman got up and, talking automatically to the baby all the while, went off to get a light and wine.
Andrews looked at Chrisfield’s face by the firelight. His cheeks had lost the faint childish roundness they had had when Andrews had first talked to him, sweeping up cigarette butts off the walk in front of the barracks at the training camp.
“Ah tell you, boy, you ought to come with us to Germany... nauthin’ but whores in Paris.”
“The trouble is, Chris, that I don’t want to live like a king, or a sergeant or a major-general.... I want to live like John Andrews.”
“What yer goin’ to do in Paris, Andy?”
“Ah guess some day Ah’ll go into a movie show an’ when they turn on the lights, who’ll Ah see but ma ole frien’ Andy raggin’ the scales on the pyaner.”
“Something like that.... How d’you like being a corporal, Chris?”
“O, Ah doan know.” Chrisfield spat on the floor between his feet. “It’s funny, ain’t it? You an’ me was right smart friends onct.... Guess it’s bein’ a non-com.”
Andrews did not answer.
Chrisfield sat silent with his eyes on the fire.
“Well, Ah got him.... Gawd, it was easy,” he said suddenly.
“What do you mean?”
“Ah got him, that’s all.”
“Um-hum, in the Oregon forest,” he said.
Andrews said nothing. He felt suddenly very tired. He thought of men he had seen in attitudes of death.
“Ah wouldn’t ha’ thought it had been so easy,” said Chrisfield.
The woman came through the door at the end of the kitchen with a candle in her hand. Chrisfield stopped speaking suddenly.
“Tomorrow I’m going to Paris,” cried Andrews boisterously. “It’s the end of soldiering for me.”
“Ah bet it’ll be some sport in Germany, Andy.... Sarge says we’ll be goin’ up to Coab... what’s its name?”
Chrisfield poured a glass of wine out and drank it off, smacking his lips after it and wiping his mouth on the back of his hand.
“D’ye remember, Andy, we was both of us brushin’ cigarette butts at that bloody trainin’ camp when we first met up with each other?”
“Considerable water has run under the bridge since then.”
“Ah reckon we won’t meet up again, mos’ likely.”
“Hell, why not?”
They were silent again, staring at the fading embers of the fire. In the dim edge of the candlelight the woman stood with her hands on her hips, looking at them fixedly.
“Reckon a feller wouldn’t know what to do with himself if he did get out of the army... now, would he, Andy?”
“So long, Chris. I’m beating it,” said Andrews in a harsh voice, jumping to his feet.
“So long, Andy, ole man.... Ah’ll pay for the drinks.” Chrisfield was beckoning with his hand to the red-faced woman, who advanced slowly through the candlelight.
Andrews strode away from the door. A cold, needle-like rain was falling. He pulled up his coat collar and ran down the muddy village street towards his quarters.
In the opposite corner of the compartment Andrews could see Walters hunched up in an attitude of sleep, with his cap pulled down far over his eyes. His mouth was open, and his head wagged with the jolting of the train. The shade over the light plunged the compartment in dark-blue obscurity, which made the night sky outside the window and the shapes of trees and houses, evolving and pirouetting as they glided by, seem very near. Andrews felt no desire to sleep; he had sat a long time leaning his head against the frame of the window, looking out at the fleeing shadows and the occasional little red-green lights that darted by and the glow of the stations that flared for a moment and were lost in dark silhouettes of unlighted houses and skeleton trees and black hillsides. He was thinking how all the epochs in his life seemed to have been marked out by railway rides at night. The jolting rumble of the wheels made the blood go faster through his veins; made him feel acutely the clattering of the train along the gleaming rails, spurning fields and trees and houses, piling up miles and miles between the past and future. The gusts of cold night air when he opened the window and the faint whiffs of steam and coal gas that tingled in his nostrils excited him like a smile on a strange face seen for a moment in a crowded street. He did not think of what he had left behind. He was straining his eyes eagerly through the darkness towards the vivid life he was going to live. Boredom and abasement were over. He was free to work and hear music and make friends. He drew deep breaths; warm waves of vigor seemed flowing constantly from his lungs and throat to his finger tips and down through his body and the muscles of his legs. He looked at his watch: “One.” In six hours he would be in Paris. For six hours he would sit there looking out at the fleeting shadows of the countryside, feeling in his blood the eager throb of the train, rejoicing in every mile the train carried him away from things past.
Walters still slept, half slipping off the seat, with his mouth open and his overcoat bundled round his head. Andrews looked out of the window, feeling in his nostrils the tingle of steam and coal gas. A phrase out of some translation of the Iliad came to his head: “Ambrosial night, Night ambrosial unending.” But better than sitting round a camp fire drinking wine and water and listening to the boastful yarns of long-haired Achaeans, was this hustling through the countryside away from the monotonous whine of past unhappiness, towards joyousness and life.
Andrews began to think of the men he had left behind. They were asleep at this time of night, in barns and barracks, or else standing on guard with cold damp feet, and cold hands which the icy rifle barrel burned when they tended it. He might go far away out of sound of the tramp of marching, away from the smell of overcrowded barracks where men slept in rows like cattle, but he would still be one of them. He would not see an officer pass him without an unconscious movement of servility, he would not hear a bugle without feeling sick with hatred. If he could only express these thwarted lives, the miserable dullness of industrialized slaughter, it might have been almost worth while—for him; for the others, it would never be worth while. “But you’re talking as if you were out of the woods; you’re a soldier still, John Andrews.” The words formed themselves in his mind as vividly as if he had spoken them. He smiled bitterly and settled himself again to watch silhouettes of trees and hedges and houses and hillsides fleeing against the dark sky.
When he awoke the sky was grey. The train was moving slowly, clattering loudly over switches, through a town of wet slate roofs that rose in fantastic patterns of shadow above the blue mist. Walters was smoking a cigarette.
“God! These French trains are rotten,” he said when he noticed that Andrews was awake. “The most inefficient country I ever was in anyway.”
“Inefficiency be damned,” broke in Andrews, jumping up and stretching himself. He opened the window. “The heating’s too damned efficient.... I think we’re near Paris.”
The cold air, with a flavor of mist in it, poured into the stuffy compartment. Every breath was joy. Andrews felt a crazy buoyancy bubbling up in him. The rumbling clatter of the train wheels sang in his ears. He threw himself on his back on the dusty blue seat and kicked his heels in the air like a colt.
“Liven up, for God’s sake, man,” he shouted. “We’re getting near Paris.”
“We are lucky bastards,” said Walters, grinning, with the cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth. “I’m going to see if I can find the rest of the gang.”
Andrews, alone in the compartment, found himself singing at the top of his lungs.
As the day brightened the mist lifted off the flat linden-green fields intersected by rows of leafless poplars. Salmon-colored houses with blue roofs wore already a faintly citified air. They passed brick-kilns and clay-quarries, with reddish puddles of water in the bottom of them; crossed a jade-green river where a long file of canal boats with bright paint on their prows moved slowly. The engine whistled shrilly. They clattered through a small freight yard, and rows of suburban houses began to form, at first chaotically in broad patches of garden-land, and then in orderly ranks with streets between and shops at the corners. A dark-grey dripping wall rose up suddenly and blotted out the view. The train slowed down and went through several stations crowded with people on their way to work,—ordinary people in varied clothes with only here and there a blue or khaki uniform. Then there was more dark-grey wall, and the obscurity of wide bridges under which dusty oil lamps burned orange and red, making a gleam on the wet wall above them, and where the wheels clanged loudly. More freight yards and the train pulled slowly past other trains full of faces and silhouettes of people, to stop with a jerk in a station. And Andrews was standing on the grey cement platform, sniffing smells of lumber and merchandise and steam. His ungainly pack and blanket-roll he carried on his shoulder like a cross. He had left his rifle and cartridge belt carefully tucked out of sight under the seat.
Walters and five other men straggled along the platform towards him, carrying or dragging their packs.
There was a look of apprehension on Walters’s face.
“Well, what do we do now?” he said.
“Do!” cried Andrews, and he burst out laughing.
Prostrate bodies in olive drab hid the patch of tender green grass by the roadside. The company was resting. Chrisfield sat on a stump morosely whittling at a stick with a pocket knife. Judkins was stretched out beside him.
“What the hell do they make us do this damn hikin’ for, Corp?”
“Guess they’re askeered we’ll forgit how to walk.”
“Well, ain’t it better than loafin’ around yer billets all day, thinkin’ an’ cursin’ an’ wishin’ ye was home?” spoke up the man who sat the other side, pounding down the tobacco in his pipe with a thick forefinger.
“It makes me sick, trampin’ round this way in ranks all day with the goddam frawgs starin’ at us an’...”
“They’re laughin’ at us, I bet,” broke in another voice.
“We’ll be movin’ soon to the Army o’ Occupation,” said Chrisfield cheerfully. “In Germany it’ll be a reglar picnic.”
“An’ d’you know what that means?” burst out Judkins, sitting bolt upright. “D’you know how long the troops is goin’ to stay in Germany? Fifteen years.”
“Gawd, they couldn’t keep us there that long, man.”
“They can do anythin’ they goddam please with us. We’re the guys as is gettin’ the raw end of this deal. It ain’t the same with an’ edicated guy like Andrews or Sergeant Coffin or them. They can suck around after ‘Y’ men, an’ officers an’ get on the inside track, an’ all we can do is stand up an’ salute an’ say ‘Yes, lootenant’ an’ ‘No, lootenant’ an’ let ‘em ride us all they goddam please. Ain’t that gospel truth, corporal?”
“Ah guess you’re right, Judkie; we gits the raw end of the stick.”
“That damn yellar dawg Andrews goes to Paris an’ gets schoolin’ free an’ all that.”
“Hell, Andy waren’t yellar, Judkins.”
“Well, why did he go bellyachin’ around all the time like he knew more’n the lootenant did?”
“Ah reckon he did,” said Chrisfield.
“Anyway, you can’t say that those guys who went to Paris did a goddam thing more’n any the rest of us did.... Gawd, I ain’t even had a leave yet.”
“Well, it ain’t no use crabbin’.”
“No, onct we git home an’ folks know the way we’ve been treated, there’ll be a great ole investigation. I can tell you that,” said one of the new men.
“It makes you mad, though, to have something like that put over on ye.... Think of them guys in Paris, havin’ a hell of a time with wine an’ women, an’ we stay out here an’ clean our guns an’ drill.... God, I’d like to get even with some of them guys.”
The whistle blew. The patch of grass became unbroken green again as the men lined up along the side of the road.
“Fall in!” called the Sergeant.
“Front! God, you guys haven’t got no snap in yer.... Stick yer belly in, you. You know better than to stand like that.”
“Squads, right! March! Hep, hep, hep!”
The Company tramped off along the muddy road. Their steps were all the same length. Their arms swung in the same rhythm. Their faces were cowed into the same expression, their thoughts were the same. The tramp, tramp of their steps died away along the road.
Birds were singing among the budding trees. The young grass by the roadside kept the marks of the soldiers’ bodies.