The uncovered garbage cans clattered as they were thrown one by one into the truck. Dust, and a smell of putrid things, hung in the air about the men as they worked. A guard stood by with his legs wide apart, and his rifle-butt on the pavement between them. The early mist hung low, hiding the upper windows of the hospital. From the door beside which the garbage cans were ranged came a thick odor of carbolic. The last garbage can rattled into place on the truck, the four prisoners and the guard clambered on, finding room as best they could among the cans, from which dripped bloody bandages, ashes, and bits of decaying food, and the truck rumbled off towards the incinerator, through the streets of Paris that sparkled with the gaiety of early morning.
The prisoners wore no tunics; their shirts and breeches had dark stains of grease and dirt; on their hands were torn canvas gloves. The guard was a sheepish, pink-faced youth, who kept grinning apologetically, and had trouble keeping his balance when the truck went round corners.
“How many days do they keep a guy on this job, Happy?” asked a boy with mild blue eyes and a creamy complexion, and reddish curly hair.
“Damned if I know, kid; as long as they please, I guess,” said the bull-necked man next him, who had a lined prize fighter’s face, with a heavy protruding jaw.
Then, after looking at the boy for a minute, with his face twisted into an astonished sort of grin, he went on: “Say, kid, how in hell did you git here? Robbin’ the cradle, Oi call it, to send you here, kid.”
“I stole a Ford,” the boy answered cheerfully.
“Like hell you did!”
“Sold it for five hundred francs.”
Happy laughed, and caught hold of an ash can to keep from being thrown out of the jolting truck.
“Kin ye beat that, guard?” he cried. “Ain’t that somethin’?”
The guard sniggered.
“Didn’t send me to Leavenworth ‘cause I was so young,” went on the kid placidly.
“How old are you, kid?” asked Andrews, who was leaning against the driver’s seat.
“Seventeen,” said the boy, blushing and casting his eyes down.
“He must have lied like hell to git in this goddam army,” boomed the deep voice of the truck driver, who had leaned over to spit s long squirt of tobacco juice.
The truck driver jammed the brakes on. The garbage cans banged against each other.
The Kid cried out in pain: “Hold your horses, can’t you? You nearly broke my leg.”
The truck driver was swearing in a long string of words.
“Goddam these dreamin’, skygazin’ sons of French bastards. Why don’t they get out of your way? Git out an’ crank her up, Happy.”
“Guess a feller’d be lucky if he’d break his leg or somethin’; don’t you think so, Skinny?” said the fourth prisoner in a low voice.
“It’ll take mor’n a broken leg to git you out o’ this labor battalion, Hoggenback. Won’t it, guard?” said Happy, as he climbed on again.
The truck jolted away, trailing a haze of cinder dust and a sour stench of garbage behind it. Andrews noticed all at once that they were going down the quais along the river. Notre Dame was rosy in the misty sunlight, the color of lilacs in full bloom. He looked at it fixedly a moment, and then looked away. He felt very far from it, like a man looking at the stars from the bottom of a pit.
“My mate, he’s gone to Leavenworth for five years,” said the Kid when they had been silent some time listening to the rattle of the garbage cans as the trucks jolted over the cobbles.
“Helped yer steal the Ford, did he?” asked Happy.
“Ford nothin’! He sold an ammunition train. He was a railroad man. He was a mason, that’s why he only got five years.”
“I guess five years in Leavenworth’s enough for anybody,” muttered Hoggenback, scowling. He was a square-shouldered dark man, who always hung his head when he worked.
“We didn’t meet up till we got to Paris; we was on a hell of a party together at the Olympia. That’s where they picked us up. Took us to the Bastille. Ever been in the Bastille?”
“I have,” said Hoggenback.
“Ain’t no joke, is it?”
“Christ!” said Hoggenback. His face flushed a furious red. He turned away and looked at the civilians walking briskly along the early morning streets, at the waiters in shirt sleeves swabbing off the cafe tables, at the women pushing handcarts full of bright-colored vegetables over the cobblestones.
“I guess they ain’t nobody gone through what we guys go through with,” said Happy. “It’d be better if the ole war was still a’ goin’, to my way o’ thinkin’. They’d chuck us into the trenches then. Ain’t so low as this.”
“Look lively,” shouted the truck driver, as the truck stopped in a dirty yard full of cinder piles. “Ain’t got all day. Five more loads to get yet.”
The guard stood by with angry face and stiff limbs; for he feared there were officers about, and the prisoners started unloading the garbage cans; their nostrils were full of the stench of putrescence; between their lips was a gritty taste of cinders.
The air in the dark mess shack was thick with steam from the kitchen at one end. The men filed past the counter, holding out their mess kits, into which the K. P.‘s splashed the food. Occasionally someone stopped to ask for a larger helping in an ingratiating voice. They ate packed together at long tables of roughly planed boards, stained from the constant spilling of grease and coffee and still wet from a perfunctory scrubbing. Andrews sat at the end of a bench, near the door through which came the glimmer of twilight, eating slowly, surprised at the relish with which he ate the greasy food, and at the exhausted contentment that had come over him almost in spite of himself. Hoggenback sat opposite him.
“Funny,” he said to Hoggenback, “it’s not really as bad as I thought it would be.”
“What d’you mean, this labor battalion? Hell, a feller can put up with anything; that’s one thing you learn in the army.”
“I guess people would rather put up with things than make an effort to change them.”
“You’re goddam right. Got a butt?”
Andrews handed him a cigarette. They got to their feet and walked out into the twilight, holding their mess kits in front of them. As they were washing their mess kits in a tub of greasy water, where bits of food floated in a thick scum, Hoggenback suddenly said in a low voice:
“But it all piles up, Buddy; some day there’ll be an accountin’. D’you believe in religion?”
“Neither do I. I come of folks as done their own accountin’. My father an’ my gran’father before him. A feller can’t eat his bile day after day, day after day.”
“I’m afraid he can, Hoggenback,” broke in Andrews. They walked towards the barracks.
“Goddam it, no,” cried Hoggenback aloud. “There comes a point where you can’t eat yer bile any more, where it don’t do no good to cuss. Then you runs amuck.” Hanging his head he went slowly into the barracks.
Andrews leaned against the outside of the building, staring up at the sky. He was trying desperately to think, to pull together a few threads of his life in this moment of respite from the nightmare. In five minutes the bugle would din in his ears, and he would be driven into the barracks. A tune came to his head that he played with eagerly for a moment, and then, as memory came to him, tried to efface with a shudder of disgust.
“There’s the smile that makes you happy,
There’s the smile that makes you sad.”
It was almost dark. Two men walked slowly by in front of him.
“Sarge, may I speak to you?” came a voice in a whisper.
The sergeant grunted.
“I think there’s two guys trying to break loose out of here.”
“Who? If you’re wrong it’ll be the worse for you, remember that.”
“Surley an’ Watson. I heard ‘em talkin’ about it behind the latrine.”
“They was sayin’ they’d rather be dead than keep up this life.”
“They did, did they?”
“Don’t talk so loud, Sarge. It wouldn’t do for any of the fellers to know I was talkin’ to yer. Say, Sarge...” the voice became whining, “don’t you think I’ve nearly served my time down here?”
“What do I know about that? ‘Tain’t my job.”
“But, Sarge, I used to be company clerk with my old outfit. Don’t ye need a guy round the office?” Andrews strode past them into the barracks. Dull fury possessed him. He took off his clothes and got silently into his blankets.
Hoggenback and Happy were talking beside his bunk.
“Never you mind,” said Hoggenback, “somebody’ll get that guy sooner or later.”
“Git him, nauthin’! The fellers in that camp was so damn skeered they jumped if you snapped yer fingers at ‘em. It’s the discipline. I’m tellin’ yer, it gits a feller in the end,” said Happy.
Andrews lay without speaking, listening to their talk, aching in every muscle from the crushing work of the day.
“They court-martialled that guy, a feller told me,” went on Hoggenback. “An’ what d’ye think they did to him? Retired on half pay. He was a major.”
“Gawd, if I iver git out o’ this army, I’ll be so goddam glad,” began Happy. Hoggenback interrupted:
“That you’ll forgit all about the raw deal they gave you, an’ tell everybody how fine ye liked it.”
Andrews felt the mocking notes of the bugle outside stabbing his ears. A non-com’s voice roared: “Quiet,” from the end of the building, and the lights went out. Already Andrews could hear the deep breathing of men asleep. He lay awake, staring into the darkness, his body throbbing with the monotonous rhythms of the work of the day. He seemed still to hear the sickening whine in the man’s voice as he talked to the sergeant outside in the twilight. “And shall I be reduced to that?” he was asking himself.
Andrews was leaving the latrine when he heard a voice call softly, “Skinny.”
“Yes,” he said.
“Come here, I want to talk to you.” It was the Kid’s voice. There was no light in the ill-smelling shack that served for a latrine. Outside they could hear the guard humming softly to himself as he went back and forth before the barracks door.
“Let’s you and me be buddies, Skinny.”
“Sure,” said Andrews.
“Say, what d’you think the chance is o’ cuttin’ loose?”
“Pretty damn poor,” said Andrews.
“Couldn’t you just make a noise like a hoop an’ roll away?”
They giggled softly.
Andrews put his hand on the boy’s arm.
“But, Kid, it’s too risky. I got in this fix by taking a risk. I don’t feel like beginning over again, and if they catch you, it’s desertion. Leavenworth for twenty years, or life. That’d be the end of everything.”
“Well, what the hell’s this?”
“Oh, I don’t know; they’ve got to let us out some day.”
Kid put his hand suddenly over Andrews’s mouth. They stood rigid, so that they could hear their hearts pounding.
Outside there was a brisk step on the gravel. The sentry halted and saluted. The steps faded into the distance, and the sentry’s humming began again.
“They put two fellers in the jug for a month for talking like we are.... In solitary,” whispered Kid.
“But, Kid, I haven’t got the guts to try anything now.”
“Sure you have, Skinny. You an’ me’s got more guts than all the rest of ‘em put together. God, if people had guts, you couldn’t treat ‘em like they were curs. Look, if I can ever get out o’ this, I’ve got a hunch I can make a good thing writing movie scenarios. I want to get on in the world, Skinny.”
“But, Kid, you won’t be able to go back to the States.”
“I don’t care. New Rochelle’s not the whole world. They got the movies in Italy, ain’t they?”
“Sure. Let’s go to bed.”
“All right. Look, you an’ me are buddies from now on, Skinny.”
Andrews felt the Kid’s hand press his arm.
In his dark, airless bunk, in the lowest of three tiers, Andrews lay awake a long time, listening to the snores and the heavy breathing about him. Thoughts fluttered restlessly in his head, but in his blank hopelessness he could only frown and bite his lips, and roll his head from side to side on the rolled-up tunic he used for a pillow, listening with desperate attention to the heavy breathing of the men who slept above him and beside him.
When he fell asleep he dreamed that he was alone with Genevieve Rod in the concert hall of the Schola Cantorum, and that he was trying desperately hard to play some tune for her on the violin, a tune he kept forgetting, and in the agony of trying to remember, the tears streamed down his cheeks. Then he had his arms round Genevieve’s shoulders and was kissing her, kissing her, until he found that it was a wooden board he was kissing, a wooden board on which was painted a face with broad forehead and great pale brown eyes, and small tight lips, and all the while a boy who seemed to be both Chrisfield and the Kid kept telling him to run or the M.P.‘s would get him. Then he sat frozen in icy terror with a bottle in his hand, while a frightful voice behind him sang very loud:
“There’s the smile that makes you happy,
There’s the smile that makes you sad.”
The bugle woke him, and he sat up with such a start that he hit his head hard against the bunk above him. He lay back cringing from the pain like a child. But he had to hurry desperately to get his clothes on in time for roll call. It was with a feeling of relief that he found that mess was not ready, and that men were waiting in line outside the kitchen shack, stamping their feet and clattering their mess kits as they moved about through the chilly twilight of the spring morning. Andrews found he was standing behind Hoggenback.
“How’s she comin’, Skinny?” whispered Hoggenback, in his low mysterious voice.
“Oh, we’re all in the same boat,” said Andrews with a laugh.
“Wish it’d sink,” muttered the other man. “D’ye know,” he went on after a pause, “I kinder thought an edicated guy like you’d be able to keep out of a mess like this. I wasn’t brought up without edication, but I guess I didn’t have enough.”
“I guess most of ‘em can; I don’t sec that it’s much to the point. A man suffers as much if he doesn’t know how to read and write as if he had a college education.”
“I dunno, Skinny. A feller who’s led a rough life can put up with an awful lot. The thing is, Skinny, I might have had a commission if I hadn’t been so damned impatient.... I’m a lumberman by trade, and my dad’s cleaned up a pretty thing in war contracts jus’ a short time ago. He could have got me in the engineers if I hadn’t gone off an’ enlisted.”
“Why did you?”
“I was restless-like. I guess I wanted to see the world. I didn’t care about the goddam war, but I wanted to see what things was like over here.”
“Well, you’ve seen,” said Andrews, smiling.
“In the neck,” said Hoggenback, as he pushed out his cup for coffee.
In the truck that was taking them to work, Andrews and the Kid sat side by side on the jouncing backboard and tried to talk above the rumble of the exhaust.
“Like Paris?” asked the Kid.
“Not this way,” said Andrews.
“Say, one of the guys said you could parlay French real well. I want you to teach me. A guy’s got to know languages to get along in this country.”
“But you must know some.”
“Bedroom French,” said the Kid, laughing.
“But if I want to write a movie scenario for an Eytalian firm, I can’t just write ‘voulay-vous couchezavecmoa’ over and over again.”
“But you’ll have to learn Italian, Kid.”
“I’m goin’ to. Say, ain’t they taking us a hell of a ways today, Skinny?”
“We’re goin’ to Passy Wharf to unload rock,” said somebody in a grumbling voice.
“No, it’s a cement... cement for the stadium we’re presentin’ the French Nation. Ain’t you read in the ‘Stars and Stripes’ about it?”
“I’d present ‘em with a swift kick, and a hell of a lot of other people, too.”
“So we have to sweat unloadin’ cement all day,” muttered Hoggenback, “to give these goddam frawgs a stadium.”
“If it weren’t that it’d be somethin’ else.”
“But, ain’t we got folks at home to work for?” cried Hoggenback. “Mightn’t all this sweat be doin’ some good for us? Building a stadium! My gawd!”
“Pile out there.... Quick!” rasped a voice from the driver’s seat.
Through the haze of choking white dust, Andrews got now and then a glimpse of the grey-green river, with its tugboats sporting their white cockades of steam and their long trailing plumes of smoke, and its blunt-nosed barges and its bridges, where people walked jauntily back and forth, going about their business, going where they wanted to go. The bags of cement were very heavy, and the unaccustomed work sent racking pains through his back. The biting dust stung under his finger nails, and in his mouth and eyes. All the morning a sort of refrain went through his head: “People have spent their lives... doing only this. People have spent their lives doing only this.” As he crossed and recrossed the narrow plank from the barge to the shore, he looked at the black water speeding seawards and took extraordinary care not to let his foot slip. He did not know why, for one-half of him was thinking how wonderful it would be to drown, to forget in eternal black silence the hopeless struggle. Once he saw the Kid standing before the sergeant in charge in an attitude of complete exhaustion, and caught a glint of his blue eyes as he looked up appealingly, looking like a child begging out of a spanking. The sight amused him, and he said to himself: “If I had pink cheeks and cupid’s bow lips, I might be able to go through life on my blue eyes”; and he pictured the Kid, a fat, cherubic old man, stepping out of a white limousine, the way people do in the movies, and looking about him with those same mild blue eyes. But soon he forgot everything in the agony of the heavy cement bags bearing down on his back and hips.
In the truck on the way back to the mess the Kid, looking fresh and smiling among the sweating men, like ghosts from the white dust, talking hoarsely above the clatter of the truck, sidled up very close to Andrews.
“D’you like swimmin’, Skinny?”
“Yes. I’d give a lot to get some of this cement dust off me,” said Andrews, without interest.
“I once won a boy’s swimmin’ race at Coney,” said the Kid. Andrews did not answer.
“Were you in the swimmin’ team or anything like that, Skinny, when you went to school?”
“No.... It would be wonderful to be in the water, though. I used to swim way out in Chesapeake Bay at night when the water was phosphorescent.”
Andrews suddenly found the Kid’s blue eyes, bright as flames from excitement, staring into his.
“God, I’m an ass,” he muttered.
He felt the Kid’s fist punch him softly in the back. “Sergeant said they was goin’ to work us late as hell tonight,” the Kid was saying aloud to the men round him.
“I’ll be dead if they do,” muttered Hoggenback.
“An’ you a lumberjack!”
“It ain’t that. I could carry their bloody bags two at a time if I wanted ter. A feller gets so goddam mad, that’s all; so goddam mad. Don’t he, Skinny?” Hoggenback turned to Andrews and smiled.
Andrews nodded his head.
After the first two or three bags Andrews carried in the afternoon, it seemed as if every one would be the last he could possibly lift. His back and thighs throbbed with exhaustion; his face and the tips of his fingers felt raw from the biting cement dust.
When the river began to grow purple with evening, he noticed that two civilians, young men with buff-colored coats and canes, were watching the gang at work.
“They says they’s newspaper reporters, writing up how fast the army’s being demobilized,” said one man in an awed voice.
“They come to the right place.”
“Tell ‘em we’re leavin’ for home now. Loadin’ our barracks bags on the steamer.”
The newspaper men were giving out cigarettes. Several men grouped round them. One shouted out:
“We’re the guys does the light work. Blackjack Pershing’s own pet labor battalion.”
“They like us so well they just can’t let us go.”
“Damn jackasses,” muttered Hoggenback, as, with his eyes to the ground, he passed Andrews. “I could tell ‘em some things’d make their goddam ears buzz.”
“Why don’t you?”
“What the hell’s the use? I ain’t got the edication to talk up to guys like that.”
The sergeant, a short, red-faced man with a mustache clipped very short, went up to the group round the newspaper men.
“Come on, fellers, we’ve got a hell of a lot of this cement to get in before it rains,” he said in a kindly voice; “the sooner we get it in, the sooner we get off.”
“Listen to that bastard, ain’t he juss too sweet for pie when there’s company?” muttered Hoggenback on his way from the barge with a bag of cement.
The Kid brushed past Andrews without looking at him.
“Do what I do, Skinny,” he said.
Andrews did not turn round, but his heart started thumping very fast. A dull sort of terror took possession of him. He tried desperately to summon his will power, to keep from cringing, but he kept remembering the way the room had swung round when the M.P. had hit him, and heard again the cold voice of the lieutenant saying: “One of you men teach him how to salute.” Time dragged out interminably.
At last, coming back to the edge of the wharf, Andrews saw that there were no more bags in the barge. He sat down on the plank, too exhausted to think. Blue-grey dusk was closing down on everything. The Passy bridge stood out, purple against a great crimson afterglow.
The Kid sat down beside him, and threw an arm trembling with excitement round his shoulders.
“The guard’s lookin’ the other way. They won’t miss us till they get to the truck.... Come on, Skinny,” he said in a low, quiet voice.
Holding on to the plank, he let himself down into the speeding water. Andrews slipped after him, hardly knowing what he was doing. The icy water closing about his body made him suddenly feel awake and vigorous. As he was swept by the big rudder of the barge, he caught hold of the Kid, who was holding on to a rope. They worked their way without speaking round to the outer side of the rudder. The swift river tugging savagely at them made it hard to hold on.
“Now they can’t see us,” said the Kid between clenched teeth. “Can you work your shoes an’ pants off?”’
Andrews started struggling with one boot, the Kid helping to hold him up with his free hand.
“Mine are off,” he said. “I was all fixed.” He laughed, though his teeth were chattering.
“All right. I’ve broken the laces,” said Andrews.
“Can you swim under water?”
“We want to make for that bunch of barges the other side of the bridge. The barge people’ll hide us.”
“How d’ye know they will?”
The Kid had disappeared.
Andrews hesitated a moment, then let go his hold and started swimming with the current for all his might.
At first he felt strong and exultant, but very soon he began to feel the icy grip of the water bearing him down; his arms and legs seemed to stiffen. More than against the water, he was struggling against paralysis within him, so that he thought that every moment his limbs would go rigid. He came to the surface and gasped for air. He had a second’s glimpse of figures, tiny like toy soldiers, gesticulating wildly on the deck of the barge. The report of a rifle snapped through the air. He dove again, without thinking, as if his body were working independently of his mind.
The next time he came up, his eyes were blurred from the cold. There was a taste of blood in his mouth. The shadow of the bridge was just above him. He turned on his back for a second. There were lights on the bridge. A current swept him past one barge and then another. Certainty possessed him that he was going to be drowned. A voice seemed to sob in his ears grotesquely: “And so John Andrews was drowned in the Seine, drowned in the Seine, in the Seine.”
Then he was kicking and fighting in a furious rage against the coils about him that wanted to drag him down and away. The black side of a barge was slipping up stream beside him with lightning speed. How fast those barges go, he thought. Then suddenly he found that he had hold of a rope, that his shoulders were banging against the bow of a small boat, while in front of him, against the dull purple sky, towered the rudder of the barge. A strong warm hand grasped his shoulder from behind, and he was being drawn up and up, over the bow of the boat that hurt his numbed body like blows, out of the clutching coils of the water.
“Hide me, I’m a deserter,” he said over and over again in French. A brown and red face with a bristly white beard, a bulbous, mullioned sort of face, hovered over him in the middle of a pinkish mist.
“Oh, qu’il est propre! Oh, qu’il a la peau blanche!” Women’s voices were shrilling behind the mist. A coverlet that felt soft and fuzzy against his skin was being put about him. He was very warm and torpid. But somewhere in his thoughts a black crawling thing like a spider was trying to reach him, trying to work its way through the pinkish veils of torpor. After a long while he managed to roll over, and looked about him.
“Mais reste tranquille,” came the woman’s shrill voice again.
“And the other one? Did you see the other one?” he asked in a choked whisper.
“Yes, it’s all right. I’m drying it by the stove,” came another woman’s voice, deep and growling, almost like a man’s.
“Maman’s drying your money by the stove. It’s all safe. How rich they are, these Americans!”
“And to think that I nearly threw it overboard with the trousers,” said the other woman again.
John Andrews began to look about him. He was in a dark low cabin. Behind him, in the direction of the voices, a yellow light flickered. Great dishevelled shadows of heads moved about on the ceiling. Through the close smell of the cabin came a warmth of food cooking. He could hear the soothing hiss of frying grease.
“But didn’t you see the Kid?” he asked in English, dazedly trying to pull himself together, to think coherently. Then he went on in French in a more natural voice:
“There was another one with me.”
“We saw no one. Rosaline, ask the old man,” said the older woman.
“No, he didn’t see anyone,” came the girl’s shrill voice. She walked over to the bed and pulled the coverlet round Andrews with an awkward gesture. Looking up at her, he had a glimpse of the bulge of her breasts and her large teeth that glinted in the lamplight, and very vague in the shadow, a mop of snaky, disordered hair.
“Qu’il parle bien francais,” she said, beaming at him. Heavy steps shuffled across the cabin as the older woman came up to the bed and peered in his face.
“Il va mieux,” she said, with a knowing air.
She was a broad woman with a broad flat face and a swollen body swathed in shawls. Her eyebrows were very bushy, and she had thick grey whiskers that came down to a point on either side of her mouth, as well as a few bristling hairs on her chin. Her voice was deep and growling, and seemed to come from far down inside her huge body.
Steps creaked somewhere, and the old man looked at him through spectacles placed on the end of his nose. Andrews recognized the irregular face full of red knobs and protrusions.
“Thanks very much,” he said.
All three looked at him silently for some time. Then the old man pulled a newspaper out of his pocket, unfolded it carefully, and fluttered it above Andrews’s eyes. In the scant light Andrews made out the name: “Libertaire.”
“That’s why,” said the old man, looking at Andrews fixedly, through his spectacles.
“I’m a sort of a socialist,” said Andrews.
“Socialists are good-for-nothings,” snarled the old man, every red protrusion on his face seeming to get redder.
“But I have great sympathy for anarchist comrades,” went on Andrews, feeling a certain liveliness of amusement go through him and fade again.
“Lucky you caught hold of my rope, instead of getting on to the next barge. He’d have given you up for sure. Sont des royalistes, ces salauds-la.”
“We must give him something to eat; hurry, Maman.... Don’t worry, he’ll pay, won’t you, my little American?”
Andrews nodded his head.
“All you want,” he said.
“No, if he says he’s a comrade, he shan’t pay, not a sou,” growled the old man.
“We’ll see about that,” cried the old woman, drawing her breath in with an angry whistling sound.
“It’s only that living’s so dear nowadays,” came the girl’s voice.
“Oh, I’ll pay anything I’ve got,” said Andrews peevishly, closing his eyes again.
He lay a long while on his back without moving.
A hand shoved in between his back and the pillow roused him. He sat up. Rosaline was holding a bowl of broth in front of him that steamed in his face.
“Mange ca,” she said.
He looked into her eyes, smiling. Her rusty hair was neatly combed. A bright green parrot with a scarlet splash in its wings, balanced itself unsteadily on her shoulder, looking at Andrews out of angry eyes, hard as gems.
“Il est jaloux, Coco,” said Rosaline, with a shrill little giggle.
Andrews took the bowl in his two hands and drank some of the scalding broth.
“It’s too hot,” he said, leaning back against the girl’s arm.
The parrot squawked out a sentence that Andrews did not understand.
Andrews heard the old man’s voice answer from somewhere behind him:
“Nom de Dieu!”
The parrot squawked again.
“It’s the old man who taught him that,” she said. “Poor Coco, he doesn’t know what he’s saying.”
“What does he say?” asked Andrews.
“‘Les bourgeois a la lanterne, nom de dieu!’ It’s from a song,” said Rosaline. “Oh, qu’il est malin, ce Coco!”
Rosaline was standing with her arms folded beside the bunk. The parrot stretched out his neck and rubbed it against her cheek, closing and unclosing his gem-like eyes. The girl formed her lips into a kiss, and murmured in a drowsy voice:
“Tu m’aimes, Coco, n’est-ce pas, Coco? Bon Coco.”
“Could I have something more, I’m awfully hungry,” said Andrews.
“Oh, I was forgetting,” cried Rosaline, running off with the empty bowl.
In a moment she came back without the parrot, with the bowl in her hand full of a brown stew of potatoes and meat.
Andrews ate it mechanically, and handed back the bowl.
“Thank you,” he said, “I am going to sleep.”
He settled himself into the bunk. Rosaline drew the covers up about him and tucked them in round his shoulders. Her hand seemed to linger a moment as it brushed past his cheek. But Andrews had already sunk into a torpor again, feeling nothing but the warmth of the food within him and a great stiffness in his legs and arms.
When he woke up the light was grey instead of yellow, and a swishing sound puzzled him. He lay listening to it for a long time, wondering what it was. At last the thought came with a sudden warm spurt of joy that the barge must be moving.
He lay very quietly on his back, looking up at the faint silvery light on the ceiling of the bunk, thinking of nothing, with only a vague dread in the back of his head that someone would come to speak to him, to question him.
After a long time he began to think of Genevieve Rod. He was having a long conversation with her about his music, and in his imagination she kept telling him that he must finish the “Queen of Sheba,” and that she would show it to Monsieur Gibier, who was a great friend of a certain concert director, who might get it played. How long ago it must be since they had talked about that. A picture floated through his mind of himself and Genevieve standing shoulder to shoulder looking at the Cathedral at Chartres, which stood up nonchalantly, above the tumultuous roofs of the town, with its sober tower and its gaudy towers and the great rose windows between. Inexorably his memory carried him forward, moment by moment, over that day, until he writhed with shame and revolt. Good god! Would he have to go on all his life remembering that? “Teach him how to salute,” the officer had said, and Handsome had stepped up to him and hit him. Would he have to go on all his life remembering that?
“We tied up the uniform with some stones, and threw it overboard,” said Rosaline, jabbing him in the shoulder to draw his attention.
“That was a good idea.”
“Are you going to get up? It’s nearly time to eat. How you have slept.”
“But I haven’t anything to put on,” said Andrews, laughing, and waved a bare arm above the bedclothes.
“Wait, I’ll find something of the old man’s. Say, do all Americans have skin so white as that? Look.”
She put her brown hand, with its grimed and broken nails, on Andrews’s arm, that was white with a few silky yellow hairs.
“It’s because I’m blond,” said Andrews. “There are plenty of blond Frenchmen, aren’t there?”
Rosaline ran off giggling, and came back in a moment with a pair of corduroy trousers and a torn flannel shirt that smelt of pipe tobacco.
“That’ll do for now,” she said. “It’s warm today for April. Tonight we’ll buy you some clothes and shoes. Where are you going?”
“By God, I don’t know.”
“We’re going to Havre for cargo.” She put both hands to her head and began rearranging her straggling rusty-colored hair. “Oh, my hair,” she said, “it’s the water, you know. You can’t keep respectable-looking on these filthy barges. Say, American, why don’t you stay with us a while? You can help the old man run the boat.”
He found suddenly that her eyes were looking into his with trembling eagerness.
“I don’t know what to do,” he said carelessly. “I wonder if it’s safe to go on deck.”
She turned away from him petulantly and led the way up the ladder.
“Oh, v’la le camarade,” cried the old man who was leaning with all his might against the long tiller of the barge. “Come and help me.”
The barge was the last of a string of four that were describing a wide curve in the midst of a reach of silvery river full of glittering patches of pale, pea-green lavender, hemmed in on either side by frail blue roots of poplars. The sky was a mottled luminous grey with occasional patches, the color of robins’ eggs. Andrews breathed in the dank smell of the river and leaned against the tiller when he was told to, answering the old man’s curt questions.
He stayed with the tiller when the rest of them went down to the cabin to eat. The pale colors and the swishing sound of the water and the blue-green banks slipping by and unfolding on either hand, were as soothing as his deep sleep had been. Yet they seemed only a veil covering other realities, where men stood interminably in line and marched with legs made all the same length on the drill field, and wore the same clothes and cringed before the same hierarchy of polished belts and polished puttees and stiff-visored caps, that had its homes in vast offices crammed with index cards and card catalogues; a world full of the tramp of marching, where cold voices kept saying:—“Teach him how to salute.” Like a bird in a net, Andrews’s mind struggled to free itself from the obsession.
Then he thought of his table in his room in Paris, with its piled sheets of ruled paper, and he felt he wanted nothing in the world except to work. It would not matter what happened to him if he could only have time to weave into designs the tangled skein of music that seethed through him as the blood seethed through his veins.
There he stood, leaning against the long tiller, watching the blue-green poplars glide by, here and there reflected in the etched silver mirror of the river, feeling the moist river wind flutter his ragged shirt, thinking of nothing.
After a while the old man came up out of the cabin, his face purplish, puffing clouds of smoke out of his pipe.
“All right, young fellow, go down and eat,” he said.
Andrews lay flat on his belly on the deck, with his chin resting on the back of his two hands. The barge was tied up along the river bank among many other barges. Beside him, a small fuzzy dog barked furiously at a yellow mongrel on the shore. It was nearly dark, and through the pearly mist of the river came red oblongs of light from the taverns along the bank. A slip of a new moon, shrouded in haze, was setting behind the poplar trees. Amid the round of despairing thoughts, the memory of the Kid intruded itself. He had sold a Ford for five hundred francs, and gone on a party with a man who’d stolen an ammunition train, and he wanted to write for the Italian movies. No war could down people like that. Andrews smiled, looking into the black water. Funny, the Kid was dead, probably, and he, John Andrews, was alive and free. And he lay there moping, still whimpering over old wrongs. “For God’s sake be a man!” he said to himself. He got to his feet.
At the cabin door, Rosaline was playing with the parrot.
“Give me a kiss, Coco,” she was saying in a drowsy voice, “just a little kiss. Just a little kiss for Rosaline, poor little Rosaline.”
The parrot, which Andrews could hardly see in the dusk, leaned towards her, fluttering his feathers, making little clucking noises.
Rosaline caught sight of Andrews.
“Oh, I thought you’d gone to have a drink with the old man,” she cried.
“No. I stayed here.”
“D’you like it, this life?”
Rosaline put the parrot back on his perch, where he swayed from side to side, squawking in protest: “Les bourgeois a la lanterne, nom de dieu!”
They both laughed.
“Oh, it must be a wonderful life. This barge seems like heaven after the army.”
“But they pay you well, you Americans.”
“Seven francs a day.”
“That’s luxury, that.”
“And be ordered around all day long!”
“But you have no expenses.... It’s clear gain.... You men are funny. The old man’s like that too.... It’s nice here all by ourselves, isn’t it, Jean?”
Andrews did not answer. He was wondering what Genevieve Rod would say when she found out he was a deserter.
“I hate it.... It’s dirty and cold and miserable in winter,” went on Rosaline. “I’d like to see them at the bottom of the river, all these barges.... And Paris women, did you have a good time with them?”
“I only knew one. I go very little with women.”
“All the same, love’s nice, isn’t it?”
They were sitting on the rail at the bow of the barge. Rosaline had sidled up so that her leg touched Andrews’s leg along its whole length.
The memory of Genevieve Rod became more and more vivid in his mind. He kept thinking of things she had said, of the intonations of her voice, of the blundering way she poured tea, and of her pale-brown eyes wide open on the world, like the eyes of a woman in an encaustic painting from a tomb in the Fayoum.
“Mother’s talking to the old woman at the Creamery. They’re great friends. She won’t be home for two hours yet,” said Rosaline.
“She’s bringing my clothes, isn’t she?”
“But you’re all right as you are.”
“But they’re your father’s.”
“What does that matter?”
“I must go back to Paris soon. There is somebody I must see in Paris.”
“But it’s not so bad, this life on the barge. I’m just lonesome and sick of the old people. That’s why I talk nastily about it.... We could have good times together if you stayed with us a little.”
She leaned her head on his shoulder and put a hand awkwardly on his bare forearm.
“How cold these Americans are!” she muttered, giggling drowsily.
Andrews felt her hair tickle his cheek.
“No, it’s not a bad life on the barge, honestly. The only thing is, there’s nothing but old people on the river. It isn’t life to be always with old people.... I want to have a good time.”
She pressed her cheek against his. He could feel her breath heavy in his face.
“After all, it’s lovely in summer to drowse on the deck that’s all warm with the sun, and see the trees and the fields and the little houses slipping by on either side.... If there weren’t so many old people.... All the boys go away to the cities.... I hate old people; they’re so dirty and slow. We mustn’t waste our youth, must we?”
Andrews got to his feet.
“What’s the matter?” she cried sharply.
“Rosaline,” Andrews said in a low, soft voice, “I can only think of going to Paris.”
“Oh, the Paris woman,” said Rosaline scornfully. “But what does that matter? She isn’t here now.”
“I don’t know.... Perhaps I shall never see her again anyway,” said Andrews.
“You’re a fool. You must amuse yourself when you can in this life. And you a deserter.... Why, they may catch you and shoot you any time.”
“Oh, I know, you’re right. You’re right. But I’m not made like that, that’s all.”
“She must be very good to you, your little Paris girl.”
“I’ve never touched her.”
Rosaline threw her head back and laughed raspingly.
“But you aren’t sick, are you?” she cried.
“Probably I remember too vividly, that’s all.... Anyway, I’m a fool, Rosaline, because you’re a nice girl.”
There were steps on the plank that led to the shore. A shawl over her head and a big bundle under her arm, the old woman came up to them, panting wheezily. She looked from one to the other, trying to make out their faces in the dark.
“It’s a danger... like that... youth,” she muttered between hard short breaths.
“Did you find the clothes?” asked Andrews in a casual voice.
“Yes. That leaves you forty-five francs out of your money, when I’ve taken out for your food and all that. Does that suit you?”
“Thank you very much for your trouble.”
“You paid for it. Don’t worry about that,” said the old woman. She gave him the bundle. “Here are your clothes and the forty-five francs. If you want, I’ll tell you exactly what each thing cost.”
“I’ll put them on first,” he said, with a laugh.
He climbed down the ladder into the cabin.
Putting on new, unfamiliar-shaped clothes made him suddenly feel strong and joyous. The old woman had bought him corduroy trousers, cheap cloth shoes, a blue cotton shirt, woollen socks, and a second-hand black serge jacket. When he came on deck she held up a lantern to look at him.
“Doesn’t he look fine, altogether French?” she said.
Rosaline turned away without answering. A little later she picked up the perch and carried the parrot, that swayed sleepily on the crosspiece, down the ladder.
“Les bourgeois a la lanterne, nom de dieu!” came the old man’s voice singing on the shore.
“He’s drunk as a pig,” muttered the old woman. “If only he doesn’t fall off the gang plank.”
A swaying shadow appeared at the end of the plank, standing out against the haze of light from the houses behind the poplar trees.
Andrews put out a hand to catch him, as he reached the side of the barge. The old man sprawled against the cabin.
“Don’t bawl me out, dearie,” he said, dangling an arm round Andrews’s neck, and a hand beckoning vaguely towards his wife.
“I’ve found a comrade for the little American.”
“What’s that?” said Andrews sharply. His mouth suddenly went dry with terror. He felt his nails pressing into the palms of his cold-hands.
“I’ve found another American for you,” said the old man in an important voice. “Here he comes.” Another shadow appeared at the end of the gangplank.
“Les bourgeois a la lanterne, nom de dieu!” shouted the old man.
Andrews backed away cautiously towards the other side of the barge. All the little muscles of his thighs were trembling. A hard voice was saying in his head: “Drown yourself, drown yourself. Then they won’t get you.”
The man was standing on the end of the plank. Andrews could see the contour of the uniform against the haze of light behind the poplar trees.
“God, if I only had a pistol,” he thought.
“Say, Buddy, where are you?” came an American voice.
The man advanced towards him across the deck.
Andrews stood with every muscle taut.
“Gee! You’ve taken off your uniform.... Say, I’m not an M.P. I’m A.W.O.L. too. Shake.” He held out his hand.
Andrews took the hand doubtfully, without moving from the edge of the barge.
“Say, Buddy, it’s a damn fool thing to take off your uniform. Ain’t you got any? If they pick you up like that it’s life, kid.”
“I can’t help it. It’s done now.”
“Gawd, you still think I’m an M.P., don’t yer?... I swear I ain’t. Maybe you are. Gawd, it’s hell, this life. A feller can’t put his trust in nobody.”
“What division are you from?”
“Hell, I came to warn you this bastard frawg’s got soused an’ has been blabbin’ in the gin mill there how he was an anarchist an’ all that, an’ how he had an American deserter who was an anarchist an’ all that, an’ I said to myself: ‘That guy’ll git nabbed if he ain’t careful,’ so I cottoned up to the old frawg an’ said I’d go with him to see the camarade, an’ I think we’d better both of us make tracks out o’ this burg.”
“It’s damn decent. I’m sorry I was so suspicious. I was scared green when I first saw you.”
“You were goddam right to be. But why did yous take yer uniform off?”
“Come along, let’s beat it. I’ll tell you about that.”
Andrews shook hands with the old man and the old woman. Rosaline had disappeared.
“Goodnight...Thank you,” he said, and followed the other man across the gangplank.
As they walked away along the road they heard the old man’s voice roaring:
“Les bourgeois a la lanterne, nom de dieu!”
“My name’s Eddy Chambers,” said the American.
“Mine’s John Andrews.”
“How long’ve you been out?”
Eddy let the air out through his teeth in a whistle.
“I got away from a labor battalion in Paris. They’d picked me up in Chartres without a pass.”
“Gee, I’ve been out a month an’ more. Was you infantry too?”
“Yes. I was in the School Detachment in Paris when I was picked up. But I never could get word to them. They just put me to work without a trial. Ever been in a labor battalion?”
“No, thank Gawd, they ain’t got my number yet.”
They were walking fast along a straight road across a plain under a clear star-powdered sky.
“I been out eight weeks yesterday. What’d you think o’ that?” said Eddy.
“Must have had plenty of money to go on.”
“I’ve been flat fifteen days.”
“How d’you work it?”
“I dunno. I juss work it though.... Ye see, it was this way. The gang I was with went home when I was in hauspital, and the damn skunks put me in class A and was goin’ to send me to the Army of Occupation. Gawd, it made me sick, goin’ out to a new outfit where I didn’t know anybody, an’ all the rest of my bunch home walkin’ down Water Street with brass bands an’ reception committees an’ girls throwing kisses at ‘em an’ all that. Where are yous goin’?”
“Gee, I wouldn’t. Risky.”
“But I’ve got friends there. I can get hold of some money.”
“Looks like I hadn’t got a friend in the world. I wish I’d gone to that goddam outfit now.... I ought to have been in the engineers all the time, anyway.”
“What did you do at home?”
“But gosh, man, with a trade like that you can always make a living anywhere.”
“You’re goddam right, I could, but a guy has to live underground, like a rabbit, at this game. If I could git to a country where I could walk around like a man, I wouldn’t give a damn what happened. If the army ever moves out of here an’ the goddam M.P.‘s, I’ll set up in business in one of these here little towns. I can parlee pretty well. I’d juss as soon marry a French girl an’ git to be a regular frawg myself. After the raw deal they’ve given me in the army, I don’t want to have nothin’ more to do with their damn country. Democracy!”
He cleared his throat and spat angrily on the road before him. They walked on silently. Andrews was looking at the sky, picking out constellations he knew among the glittering masses of stars.
“Why don’t you try Spain or Italy?” he said after a while.
“Don’t know the lingo. No, I’m going to Scotland.”
“But how can you get there?”
“Crossing on the car ferries to England from Havre. I’ve talked to guys has done it.”
“But what’ll you do when you do get there?”
“How should I know? Live around best I can. What can a feller do when he don’t dare show his face in the street?”
“Anyway, it makes you feel as if you had some guts in you to be out on your own this way,” cried Andrews boisterously.
“Wait till you’ve been at it two months, boy, and you’ll think what I’m tellin’ yer.... The army’s hell when you’re in it; but it’s a hell of a lot worse when you’re out of it, at the wrong end.”
“It’s a great night, anyway,” said Andrews.
“Looks like we ought to be findin’ a haystack to sleep in.”
“It’d be different,” burst out Andrews, suddenly, “if I didn’t have friends here.”
“O, you’ve met up with a girl, have you?” asked Eddy ironically.
“Yes. The thing is we really get along together, besides all the rest.”
“I bet you ain’t ever even kissed her,” he said. “Gee, I’ve had buddies has met up with that friendly kind. I know a guy married one, an’ found out after two weeks.”
“It’s silly to talk about it. I can’t explain it.... It gives you confidence in anything to feel there’s someone who’ll always understand anything you do.”
“I s’pose you’re goin’ to git married.”
“I don’t see why. That would spoil everything.”
Eddy whistled softly.
They walked along briskly without speaking for a long time, their steps ringing on the hard road, while the dome of the sky shimmered above their heads. And from the ditches came the singsong shrilling of toads. For the first time in months Andrews felt himself bubbling with a spirit of joyous adventure. The rhythm of the three green horsemen that was to have been the prelude to the Queen of Sheba began rollicking through his head.
“But, Eddy, this is wonderful. It’s us against the universe,” he said in a boisterous voice.
“You wait,” said Eddy.
When Andrews walked by the M.P. at the Gare-St. Lazare, his hands were cold with fear. The M.P. did not look at him. He stopped on the crowded pavement a little way from the station and stared into a mirror in a shop window. Unshaven, with a check cap on the side of his head and his corduroy trousers, he looked like a young workman who had been out of work for a month.
“Gee, clothes do make a difference,” he said to himself. He smiled when he thought how shocked Walters would be when he turned up in that rig, and started walking with leisurely stride across Paris, where everything bustled and jingled with early morning, where from every cafe came a hot smell of coffee, and fresh bread steamed in the windows of the bakeries. He still had three francs in his pocket. On a side street the fumes of coffee roasting attracted him into a small bar. Several men were arguing boisterously at the end of the bar. One of them turned a ruddy, tow-whiskered face to Andrews, and said:
“Et toi, tu vas chomer le premier mai?”
“I’m on strike already,” answered Andrews laughing.
The man noticed his accent, looked at him sharply a second, and turned back to the conversation, lowering his voice as he did so. Andrews drank down his coffee and left the bar, his heart pounding. He could not help glancing back over his shoulder now and then to see if he was being followed. At a corner he stopped with his fists clenched and leaned a second against a house wall.
“Where’s your nerve. Where’s your nerve?” He was saying to himself.
He strode off suddenly, full of bitter determination not to turn round again. He tried to occupy his mind with plans. Let’s see, what should he do? First he’d go to his room and look up old Henslowe and Walters. Then he would go to see Genevieve. Then he’d work, work, forget everything in his work, until the army should go back to America and there should be no more uniforms on the streets. And as for the future, what did he care about the future?
When he turned the corner into the familiar street where his room was, a thought came to him. Suppose he should find M.P.‘s waiting for him there? He brushed it aside angrily and strode fast up the sidewalk, catching up to a soldier who was slouching along in the same direction, with his hands in his pockets and eyes on the ground. Andrews stopped suddenly as he was about to pass the soldier and turned. The man looked up. It was Chrisfield.
Andrews held out his hand.
Chrisfield seized it eagerly and shook it for a long time. “Jesus Christ! Ah thought you was a Frenchman, Andy.... Ah guess you got yer dis-charge then. God, Ah’m glad.”
“I’m glad I look like a Frenchman, anyway.... Been on leave long, Chris?”
Two buttons were off the front of Chrisfield’s uniform; there were streaks of dirt on his face, and his puttees were clothed with mud. He looked Andrews seriously in the eyes, and shook his head.
“No. Ah done flew the coop, Andy,” he said in a low voice.
“Ah been out a couple o’ weeks. Ah’ll tell you about it, Andy. Ah was comin’ to see you now. Ah’m broke.”
“Well look, I’ll be able to get hold of some money tomorrow.... I’m out too.”
“What d’ye mean?”
“I haven’t got a discharge. I’m through with it all. I’ve deserted.”
“God damn! That’s funny that you an’ me should both do it, Andy. But why the hell did you do it?”
“Oh, it’s too long to tell here. Come up to my room.”
“There may be fellers there. Ever been at the Chink’s?”
“I’m stayin’ there. There’re other fellers who’s A.W. O.L. too. The Chink’s got a gin mill.”
“Where is it.”
“Eight, rew day Petee Jardings.”
“Way back of that garden where the animals are.”
“Look, I can find you there tomorrow morning, and I’ll bring some money.”
“Ah’ll wait for ye, Andy, at nine. It’s a bar. Ye won’t be able to git in without me, the kids is pretty scared of plainclothes men.”
“I think it’ll be perfectly safe to come up to my place now.”
“Now, Ah’m goin’ to git the hell out of here.”
“But Chris, why did you go A.W.O.L.?”
“Oh, Ah doan know.... A guy who’s in the Paris detachment got yer address for me.”
“But, Chris, did they say anything to him about me?”
“That’s funny.... Well, Chris, I’ll be there tomorrow, if I can find the place.”
“Man, you’ve got to be there.”
“Oh, I’ll turn up,” said Andrews with a smile.
They shook hands nervously.
“Say, Andy,” said Chrisfield, still holding on to Andrews’s hand, “Ah went A.W.O.L. ‘cause a sergeant...God damn it; it’s weighin’ on ma mind awful these days.... There’s a sergeant that knows.”
“What you mean?”
“Ah told ye about Anderson...Ah know you ain’t tole anybody, Andy.” Chrisfield dropped Andrews’s hand and looked at him in the face with an unexpected sideways glance. Then he went on through clenched teeth: “Ah swear to Gawd Ah ain’t tole another livin’ soul.... An’ the sergeant in Company D knows.”
“For God’s sake, Chris, don’t lose your nerve like that.”
“Ah ain’t lost ma nerve. Ah tell you that guy knows.”
Chrisfield’s voice rose, suddenly shrill.
“Look, Chris, we can’t stand talking out here in the street like this. It isn’t safe.”
“But mebbe you’ll be able to tell me what to do. You think, Andy. Mebbe, tomorrow, you’ll have thought up somethin’ we can do...So long.”
Chrisfield walked away hurriedly. Andrews looked after him a moment, and then went in through the court to the house where his room was.
At the foot of the stairs an old woman’s voice startled him.
“Mais, Monsieur Andre, que vous avez l’air etrange; how funny you look dressed like that.”
The concierge was smiling at him from her cubbyhole beside the stairs. She sat knitting with a black shawl round her head, a tiny old woman with a hooked bird-like nose and eyes sunk in depressions full of little wrinkles, like a monkey’s eyes.
“Yes, at the town where I was demobilized, I couldn’t get anything else,” stammered Andrews.
“Oh, you’re demobilized, are you? That’s why you’ve been away so long. Monsieur Valters said he didn’t know where you were.... It’s better that way, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” said Andrews, starting up the stairs.
“Monsieur Valters is in now,” went on the old woman, talking after him. “And you’ve got in just in time for the first of May.”
“Oh, yes, the strike,” said Andrews, stopping half-way up the flight.
“It’ll be dreadful,” said the old woman. “I hope you won’t go out. Young folks are so likely to get into trouble...Oh, but all your friends have been worried about your being away so long.”
“Have they?’” said Andrews. He continued up the stairs.
“Au revoir, Monsieur.”
“Au revoir, Madame.”
“No, nothing can make me go back now. It’s no use talking about it.”
“But you’re crazy, man. You’re crazy. One man alone can’t buck the system like that, can he, Henslowe?”
Walters was talking earnestly, leaning across the table beside the lamp. Henslowe, who sat very stiff on the edge of a chair, nodded with compressed lips. Andrews lay at full length on the bed, out of the circle of light.
“Honestly, Andy,” said Henslowe with tears in his voice, “I think you’d better do what Walters says. It’s no use being heroic about it.”
“I’m not being heroic, Henny,” cried Andrews, sitting up on the bed. He drew his feet under him, tailor fashion, and went on talking very quietly. “Look.. It’s a purely personal matter. I’ve got to a point where I don’t give a damn what happens to me. I don’t care if I’m shot, or if I live to be eighty...I’m sick of being ordered round. One more order shouted at my head is not worth living to be eighty... to me. That’s all. For God’s sake let’s talk about something else.”
“But how many orders have you had shouted at your head since you got in this School Detachment? Not one. You can put through your discharge application probably....” Walters got to his feet, letting the chair crash to the floor behind him. He stopped to pick it up. “Look here; here’s my proposition,” he went on. “I don’t think you are marked A.W.O.L. in the School office. Things are so damn badly run there. You can turn up and say you’ve been sick and draw your back pay. And nobody’ll say a thing. Or else I’ll put it right up to the guy who’s top sergeant. He’s a good friend of mine. We can fix it up on the records some way. But for God’s sake don’t ruin your whole life on account of a little stubbornness, and some damn fool anarchistic ideas or other a feller like you ought to have had more sense than to pick up....”
“He’s right, Andy,” said Henslowe in a low voice.
“Please don’t talk any more about it. You’ve told me all that before,” said Andrews sharply. He threw himself back on the bed and rolled over towards the wall.
They were silent a long time. A sound of voices and footsteps drifted up from the courtyard.
“But, look here, Andy,” said Henslowe nervously stroking his moustache. “You care much more about your work than any abstract idea of asserting your right of individual liberty. Even if you don’t get caught.... I think the chances of getting caught are mighty slim if you use your head.... But even if you don’t, you haven’t enough money to live for long over here, you haven’t....”
“Don’t you think I’ve thought of all that? I’m not crazy, you know. I’ve figured up the balance perfectly sanely. The only thing is, you fellows can’t understand. Have you ever been in a labor battalion? Have you ever had a man you’d been chatting with five minutes before deliberately knock you down? Good God, you don’t know what you are talking about, you two.... I’ve got to be free, now. I don’t care at what cost. Being free’s the only thing that matters.”
Andrews lay on his back talking towards the ceiling.
Henslowe was on his feet, striding nervously about the room.
“As if anyone was ever free,” he muttered.
“All right, quibble, quibble. You can argue anything away if you want to. Of course, cowardice is the best policy, necessary for survival. The man who’s got most will to live is the most cowardly... go on.” Andrews’s voice was shrill and excited, breaking occasionally like a half-grown boy’s voice.
“Andy, what on earth’s got hold of you?... God, I hate to go away this way,” added Henslowe after a pause.
“I’ll pull through all right, Henny. I’ll probably come to see you in Syria, disguised as an Arab sheik.” Andrews laughed excitedly.
“If I thought I’d do any good, I’d stay.... But there’s nothing I can do. Everybody’s got to settle their own affairs, in their own damn fool way. So long, Walters.”
Walters and Henslowe shook hands absently.
Henslowe came over to the bed and held out his hand to Andrews.
“Look, old man, you will be as careful as you can, won’t you? And write me care American Red Cross, Jerusalem. I’ll be damned anxious, honestly.”
“Don’t you worry, we’ll go travelling together yet,” said Andrews, sitting up and taking Henslowe’s hand.
They heard Henslowe’s steps fade down the stairs and then ring for a moment on the pavings of the courtyard.
Walters moved his chair over beside Andrews’s bed.
“Now, look, let’s have a man-to-man talk, Andrews. Even if you want to ruin your life, you haven’t a right to. There’s your family, and haven’t you any patriotism?... Remember, there is such a thing as duty in the world.”
Andrews sat up and said in a low, furious voice, pausing between each word:
“I can’t explain it.... But I shall never put a uniform on again.... So for Christ’s sake shut up.”
“All right, do what you goddam please; I’m through with you.”
Walters suddenly flashed into a rage. He began undressing silently. Andrews lay a long while flat on his back in the bed, staring at the ceiling, then he too undressed, put the light out, and got into bed.
The rue des Petits-Jardins was a short street in a district of warehouses. A grey, windowless wall shut out the light along all of one side. Opposite was a cluster of three old houses leaning together as if the outer ones were trying to support the beetling mansard roof of the center house. Behind them rose a huge building with rows and rows of black windows. When Andrews stopped to look about him, he found the street completely deserted. The ominous stillness that had brooded over the city during all the walk from his room near the Pantheon seemed here to culminate in sheer desolation. In the silence he could hear the light padding noise made by the feet of a dog that trotted across the end of the street. The house with the mansard roof was number eight. The front of the lower storey had once been painted in chocolate-color, across the top of which was still decipherable the sign: “Charbon, Bois. Lhomond.” On the grimed window beside the door, was painted in white: “Debit de Boissons.”
Andrews pushed on the door, which opened easily. Somewhere in the interior a bell jangled, startlingly loud after the silence of the street. On the wall opposite the door was a speckled mirror with a crack in it, the shape of a star, and under it a bench with three marble-top tables. The zinc bar filled up the third wall. In the fourth was a glass door pasted up with newspapers. Andrews walked over to the bar. The jangling of the bell faded to silence. He waited, a curious uneasiness gradually taking possession of him. Anyways, he thought, he was wasting his time; he ought to be doing something to arrange his future. He walked over to the street door. The bell jangled again when he opened it. At the same moment a man came out through the door the newspapers were pasted over. He was a stout man in a dirty white shirt stained to a brownish color round the armpits and caught in very tightly at the waist by the broad elastic belt that held up his yellow corduroy trousers. His face was flabby, of a greenish color; black eyes looked at Andrews fixedly through barely open lids, so that they seemed long slits above the cheekbones.
“That’s the Chink,” thought Andrews.
“Well,” said the man, taking his place behind the bar with his legs far apart.
“A beer, please,” said Andrews.
“There isn’t any.”
“A glass of wine then.”
The man nodded his head, and keeping his eyes fastened on Andrews all the while, strode out of the door again.
A moment later, Chrisfield came out, with rumpled hair, yawning, rubbing an eye with the knuckles of one fist.
“Lawsie, Ah juss woke up, Andy. Come along in back.”
Andrews followed him through a small room with tables and benches, down a corridor where the reek of ammonia bit into his eyes, and up a staircase littered with dirt and garbage. Chrisfield opened a door directly on the stairs, and they stumbled into a large room with a window that gave on the court. Chrisfield closed the door carefully, and turned to Andrews with a smile.
“Ah was right smart ‘askeered ye wouldn’t find it, Andy.”
“So this is where you live?”
“Um hum, a bunch of us lives here.”
A wide bed without coverings, where a man in olive-drab slept rolled in a blanket, was the only furniture of the room.
“Three of us sleeps in that bed,” said Chrisfield.
“Who’s that?” cried the man in the bed, sitting up suddenly.
“All right, Al, he’s a buddy o’ mine,” said Chrisfield. “He’s taken off his uniform.”
“Jesus, you got guts,” said the man in the bed.
Andrews looked at him sharply. A piece of towelling, splotched here and there with dried blood, was wrapped round his head, and a hand, swathed in bandages, was drawn up to his body. The man’s mouth took on a twisted expression of pain as he let his head gradually down to the bed again.
“Gosh, what did you do to yourself?” cried Andrews.
“I tried to hop a freight at Marseilles.”
“Needs practice to do that sort o’ thing,” said Chrisfield, who sat on the bed, pulling his shoes off. “Ah’m go-in’ to git back to bed, Andy. Ah’m juss dead tired. Ah chucked cabbages all night at the market. They give ye a job there without askin’ no questions.”
“Have a cigarette.” Andrews sat down on the foot of the bed and threw a cigarette towards Chrisfield. “Have one?” he asked Al.
“No. I couldn’t smoke. I’m almost crazy with this hand. One of the wheels went over it.... I cut what was left of the little finger off with a razor.” Andrews could see the sweat rolling down his cheek as he spoke.
“Christ, that poor beggar’s been havin’ a time, Andy. We was ‘askeert to get a doctor, and we all didn’t know what to do.”
“I got some pure alcohol an’ washed it in that. It’s not infected. I guess it’ll be all right.”
“Where are you from, Al?” asked Andrews.
“‘Frisco. Oh, I’m goin’ to try to sleep. I haven’t slept a wink for four nights.”
“Why don’t you get some dope?”
“Oh, we all ain’t had a cent to spare for anythin’, Andy.”
“Oh, if we had kale we could live like kings—not,” said Al in the middle of a nervous little giggle.
“Look, Chris,” said Andrews, “I’ll halve with you. I’ve got five hundred francs.”
“Jesus Gawd, man, don’t kid about anything like that.”
“Here’s two hundred and fifty.... It’s not so much as it sounds.”
Andrews handed him five fifty-franc notes.
“Say, how did you come to bust loose?” said Al, turning his head towards Andrews.
“I got away from a labor battalion one night. That’s all.”
“Tell me about it, buddy. I don’t feel my hand so much when I’m talking to somebody.... I’d be home now if it wasn’t for a gin mill in Alsace. Say, don’t ye think that big headgear they sport up there is awful good looking? Got my goat every time I saw one.... I was comin’ back from leave at Grenoble, an’ I went through Strasburg. Some town. My outfit was in Coblenz. That’s where I met up with Chris here. Anyway, we was raisin’ hell round Strasburg, an’ I went into a gin mill down a flight of steps. Gee, everything in that town’s plumb picturesque, just like a kid I used to know at home whose folks were Eytalian used to talk about when he said how he wanted to come overseas. Well, I met up with a girl down there, who said she’d just come down to a place like that to look for her brother who was in the foreign legion.”
Andrews and Chrisfield laughed.
“What you laughin’ at?” went on Al in an eager taut voice. “Honest to Gawd. I’m goin’ to marry her if I ever get out of this. She’s the best little girl I ever met up with. She was waitress in a restaurant, an’ when she was off duty she used to wear that there Alsatian costume.... Hell, I just stayed on. Every day, I thought I’d go away the next day.... Anyway, the war was over. I warn’t a damn bit of use.... Hasn’t a fellow got any rights at all? Then the M.P.‘s started cleanin’ up Strasburg after A.W.O.L.‘s, an’ I beat it out of there, an’ Christ, it don’t look as if I’d ever be able to get back.”
“Say, Andy,” said Chrisfield, suddenly, “let’s go down after some booze.”
“Say, Al, do you want me to get you anything at the drug store?”
“No. I won’t do anythin’ but lay low and bathe it with alcohol now and then, against infection. Anyways, it’s the first of May. You’ll be crazy to go out. You might get pulled. They say there’s riots going on.”
“Gosh, I forgot it was the first of May,” cried Andrews. “They’re running a general strike to protest against the war with Russia and....”
“A guy told me,” interrupted Al, in a shrill voice, “there might be a revolution.”
“Come along, Andy,” said Chris from the door.
On the stairs Andrews felt Chrisfield’s hand squeezing his arm hard.
“Say, Andy,” Chris put his lips close to Andrews’s ear and spoke in a rasping whisper. “You’re the only one that knows... you know what. You an’ that sergeant. Doan you say anythin’ so that the guys here kin ketch on, d’ye hear?”
“All right, Chris, I won’t, but man alive, you oughtn’t to lose your nerve about it. You aren’t the only one who ever shot an...”
“Shut yer face, d’ye hear?” muttered Chrisfield savagely.
They went down the stairs in silence. In the room next, to the bar they found the Chink reading a newspaper.
“Is he French?” whispered Andrews.
“Ah doan know what he is. He ain’t a white man, Ah’ll wager that,” said Chris, “but he’s square.”
“D’you know anything about what’s going on?” asked Andrews in French, going up to the Chink.
“Where?” The Chink got up, flashing a glance at Andrews out of the corners of his slit-like eyes.
“Outside, in the streets, in Paris, anywhere where people are out in the open and can do things. What do you think about the revolution?”
The Chink shrugged his shoulders.
“Anything’s possible,” he said.
“D’you think they really can overthrow the army and the government in one day, like that?”
“Who?” broke in Chrisfield.
“Why, the people, Chris, the ordinary people like you and me, who are tired of being ordered round, who are tired of being trampled down by other people just like them, who’ve had the luck to get in right with the system.”
“D’you know what I’ll do when the revolution comes?” broke in the Chink with sudden intensity, slapping himself on the chest with one hand. “I’ll go straight to one of those jewelry stores, rue Royale, and fill my pockets and come home with my hands full of diamonds.”
“What good’ll that do you?”
“What good? I’ll bury them back there in the court and wait. I’ll need them in the end. D’you know what it’ll mean, your revolution? Another system! When there’s a system there are always men to be bought with diamonds. That’s what the world’s like.”
“But they won’t be worth anything. It’ll only be work that is worth anything.”
“We’ll see,” said the Chink.
“D’you think it could happen, Andy, that there’d be a revolution, an’ there wouldn’t be any more armies, an’ we’d be able to go round like we are civilians? Ah doan think so. Fellers like us ain’t got it in ‘em to buck the system, Andy.”
“Many a system’s gone down before; it will happen again.”
“They’re fighting the Garde Republicaine now before the Gare de l’Est,” said the Chink in an expressionless voice. “What do you want down here? You’d better stay in the back. You never know what the police may put over on us.”
“Give us two bottles of vin blank, Chink,” said Chrisfield.
“When’ll you pay?”
“Right now. This guy’s given me fifty francs.”
“Rich, are you?” said the Chink with hatred in his voice, turning to Andrews. “Won’t last long at that rate. Wait here.”
He strode into the bar, closing the door carefully after him. A sudden jangling of the bell was followed by a sound of loud voices and stamping feet. Andrews and Chrisfield tiptoed into the dark corridor, where they stood a long time, waiting, breathing the foul air that stung their nostrils with the stench of plaster-damp and rotting wine. At last the Chink came back with three bottles of wine.
“Well, you’re right,” he said to Andrews. “They are putting up barricades on the Avenue Magenta.”
On the stairs they met a girl sweeping. She had untidy hair that straggled out from under a blue handkerchief tied under her chin, and a pretty-colored fleshy face. Chrisfield caught her up to him and kissed her, as he passed.
“We all calls her the dawg-faced girl,” he said to Andrews in explanation. “She does our work. Ah like to had a fight with Slippery over her yisterday.... Didn’t Ah, Slippery?”
When he followed Chrisfield into the room, Andrews saw a man sitting on the window ledge smoking. He was dressed as a second lieutenant, his puttees were brilliantly polished, and he smoked through a long, amber cigarette-holder. His pink nails were carefully manicured.
“This is Slippery, Andy,” said Chrisfield. “This guy’s an ole buddy o’ mine. We was bunkies together a hell of a time, wasn’t we, Andy?”
“You bet we were.”
“So you’ve taken your uniform off, have you? Mighty foolish,” said Slippery. “Suppose they nab you?”
“It’s all up now anyway. I don’t intend to get nabbed,” said Andrews.
“We got booze,” said Chrisfield.
Slippery had taken dice from his pocket and was throwing them meditatively on the floor between his feet, snapping his fingers with each throw.
“I’ll shoot you one of them bottles, Chris,” he said.
Andrews walked over to the bed. Al was stirring uneasily, his face flushed and his mouth twitching.
“Hello,” he said. “What’s the news?”
“They say they’re putting up barricades near the Gare de l’Est. It may be something.”
“God, I hope so. God, I wish they’d do everything here like they did in Russia; then we’d be free. We couldn’t go back to the States for a while, but there wouldn’t be no M.P.‘s to hunt us like we were criminals.... I’m going to sit up a while and talk.” Al giggled hysterically for a moment.
“Have a swig of wine?” asked Andrews.
“Sure, it may set me up a bit; thanks.” He drank greedily from the bottle, spilling a little over his chin.
“Say, is your face badly cut up, Al?”
“No, it’s just scotched, skin’s off; looks like beefsteak, I reckon.... Ever been to Strasburg?”
“Man, that’s the town. And the girls in that costume.... Whee!”
“Say, you’re from San Francisco, aren’t you?”
“Well, I wonder if you knew a fellow I knew at training camp, a kid named Fuselli from ‘Frisco?”
“Knew him! Jesus, man, he’s the best friend I’ve got.... Ye don’t know where he is now, do you?”
“I saw him here in Paris two months ago.”
“Well, I’ll be damned.... God, that’s great!” Al’s voice was staccato from excitement. “So you knew Dan at training camp? The last letter from him was ‘bout a year ago. Dan’d just got to be corporal. He’s a damn clever kid, Dan is, an’ ambitious too, one of the guys always makes good.... Gawd, I’d hate to see him this way. D’you know, we used to see a hell of a lot of each other in ‘Frisco, an’ he always used to tell me how he’d make good before I did. He was goddam right, too. Said I was too soft about girls.... Did ye know him real well?”
“Yes. I even remember that he used to tell me about a fellow he knew who was called Al.... He used to tell me about how you two used to go down to the harbor and watch the big liners come in at night, all aflare with lights through the Golden Gate. And he used to tell you he’d go over to Europe in one, when he’d made his pile.”
“That’s why Strasburg made me think of him,” broke in Al, tremendously excited. “‘Cause it was so picturesque like.... But honest, I’ve tried hard to make good in this army. I’ve done everything a feller could. An’ all I did was to get into a cushy job in the regimental office.... But Dan, Gawd, he may even be an officer by this time.”
“No, he’s not that,” said Andrews. “Look here, you ought to keep quiet with that hand of yours.”
“Damn my hand. Oh, it’ll heal all right if I forget about it. You see, my foot slipped when they shunted a car I was just climbing into, an’...I guess I ought to be glad I wasn’t killed. But, gee, when I think that if I hadn’t been a fool about that girl I might have been home by now....”
“The Chink says they’re putting up barricades on the Avenue Magenta.”
“That means business, kid!”
“Business nothin’,” shouted Slippery from where he and Chrisfield leaned over the dice on the tile floor in front of the window. “One tank an’ a few husky Senegalese’ll make your goddam socialists run so fast they won’t stop till they get to Dijon.... You guys ought to have more sense.” Slippery got to his feet and came over to the bed, jingling the dice in his hand. “It’ll take more’n a handful o’ socialists paid by the Boches to break the army. If it could be broke, don’t ye think people would have done it long ago?”
“Shut up a minute. Ah thought Ah heard somethin’,” said Chrisfield suddenly, going to the window.
They held their breath. The bed creaked as Al stirred uneasily in it.
“No, warn’t anythin’; Ah’d thought Ah’d heard people singin’.”
“The Internationale,” cried Al.
“Shut up,” said Chrisfield in a low gruff voice.
Through the silence of the room they heard steps on the stairs.
“All right, it’s only Smiddy,” said Slippery, and he threw the dice down on the tiles again.
The door opened slowly to let in a tall, stoop-shouldered man with a long face and long teeth.
“Who’s the frawg?” he asked in a startled way, with one hand on the door knob.
“All right, Smiddy; it ain’t a frawg; it’s a guy Chris knows. He’s taken his uniform off.”
“‘Lo, buddy,” said Smiddy, shaking Andrews’s hand. “Gawd, you look like a frawg.”
“That’s good,” said Andrews.
“There’s hell to pay,” broke out Smiddy breathlessly. “You know Gus Evans and the little black-haired guy goes ‘round with him? They been picked up. I seen ‘em myself with some M. P.‘s at Place de la Bastille. An’ a guy I talked to under the bridge where I slep’ last night said a guy’d tole him they were goin’ to clean the A. W. O. L.‘s out o’ Paris if they had to search through every house in the place.”
“If they come here they’ll git somethin’ they ain’t lookin’ for,” muttered Chrisfield.
“I’m goin’ down to Nice; getting too hot around here,” said Slippery. “I’ve got travel orders in my pocket now.”
“How did you get ‘em?”
“Easy as pie,” said Slippery, lighting a cigarette and puffing affectedly towards the ceiling. “I met up with a guy, a second loot, in the Knickerbocker Bar. We gets drunk together, an’ goes on a party with two girls I know. In the morning I get up bright an’ early, and now I’ve got five thousand francs, a leave slip and a silver cigarette case, an’ Lootenant J. B. Franklin’s runnin’ around sayin’ how he was robbed by a Paris whore, or more likely keepin’ damn quiet about it. That’s my system.”
“But, gosh darn it, I don’t see how you can go around with a guy an’ drink with him, an’ then rob him,” cried Al from the bed.
“No different from cleaning a guy up at craps.”
“An’ suppose that feller knew that I was only a bloody private. Don’t you think he’d have turned me over to the M. P.‘s like winkin’?”
“No, I don’t think so,” said Al. “They’re juss like you an me, skeered to death they’ll get in wrong, but they won’t light on a feller unless they have to.”
“That’s a goddam lie,” cried Chrisfield. “They like ridin’ yer. A doughboy’s less’n a dawg to ‘em. Ah’d shoot anyone of ‘em lake Ah’d shoot a nigger.”
Andrews was watching Chrisfield’s face; it suddenly flushed red. He was silent abruptly. His eyes met Andrews’s eyes with a flash of fear.
“They’re all sorts of officers, like they’re all sorts of us,” Al was insisting.
“But you damn fools, quit arguing,” cried Smiddy. “What the hell are we goin’ to do? It ain’t safe here no more, that’s how I look at it.”
They were silent.
At last Chrisfield said:
“What you goin’ to do, Andy?”
“I hardly know. I think I’ll go out to St. Germain to see a boy I know there who works on a farm to see if it’s safe to take a job there. I won’t stay in Paris. Then there’s a girl here I want to look up. I must see her.” Andrews broke off suddenly, and started walking back and forth across the end of the room.
“You’d better be damn careful; they’ll probably shoot you if they catch you,” said Slippery.
Andrews shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, I’d rather be shot than go to Leavenworth for twenty years, Gawd! I would,” cried Al.
“How do you fellers eat here?” asked Slippery.
“We buy stuff an’ the dawg-faced girl cooks it for us.”
“Got anything for this noon?”
“I’ll go see if I can buy some stuff,” said Andrews. “It’s safer for me to go out than for you.”
“All right, here’s twenty francs,” said Slippery, handing Andrews a bill with an offhand gesture.
Chrisfield followed Andrews down the stairs. When they reached the passage at the foot of the stairs, he put his hand on Andrews’s shoulder and whispered:
“Say, Andy, d’you think there’s anything in that revolution business? Ah hadn’t never thought they could buck the system thataway.”
“They did in Russia.”
“Then we’d be free, civilians, like we all was before the draft. But that ain’t possible, Andy; that ain’t possible, Andy.”
“We’ll see,” said Andrews, as, he opened the door to the bar.
He went up excitedly to the Chink, who sat behind the row of bottles along the bar.
“Well, what’s happening?”
“By the Gare de l’Est, where they were putting up barricades?”
“Barricades!” shouted a young man in a red sash who was drinking at a table. “Why, they tore down some of the iron guards round the trees, if you call that barricades. But they’re cowards. Whenever the cops charge they run. They’re dirty cowards.”
“D’you think anything’s going to happen?”
“What can happen when you’ve got nothing but a bunch of dirty cowards?”
“What d’you think about it?” said Andrews, turning to the Chink.
The Chink shook his head without answering. Andrews went out.
When he cams back he found Al and Chrisfield alone in their room. Chrisfield was walking up and down, biting his finger nails. On the wall opposite the window was a square of sunshine reflected from the opposite wall of the Court.
“For God’s sake beat it, Chris. I’m all right,” Al was saying in a weak, whining voice, his face twisted up by pain.
“What’s the matter?” cried Andrews, putting down a large bundle.
“Slippery’s seen a M. P. nosin’ around in front of the gin mill.”
“They’ve beat it.... The trouble is Al’s too sick.... Honest to gawd, Ah’ll stay with you, Al.”
“No. If you know somewhere to go, beat it, Chris. I’ll stay here with Al and talk French to the M. P.‘s if they come. We’ll fool ‘em somehow.” Andrews felt suddenly amused and joyous.
“Honest to gawd, Andy, Ah’d stay if it warn’t that that sergeant knows,” said Chrisfield in a jerky voice.
“Beat it, Chris. There may be no time to waste.”
“So long, Andy.” Chrisfield slipped out of the door.
“It’s funny, Al,” said Andrews, sitting on the edge of the bed and unwrapping the package of food, “I’m not a damn bit scared any more. I think I’m free of the army, Al.... How’s your hand?”
“I dunno. Oh, how I wish I was in my old bunk at Coblenz. I warn’t made for buckin’ against the world this way.... If we had old Dan with us.... Funny that you know Dan.... He’d have a million ideas for gettin’ out of this fix. But I’m glad he’s not here. He’d bawl me out so, for not havin’ made good. He’s a powerful ambitious kid, is Dan.”
“But it’s not the sort of thing a man can make good in, Al,” said Andrews slowly. They were silent. There was no sound in the courtyard, only very far away the clatter of a patrol of cavalry over cobblestones. The sky had become overcast and the room was very dark. The mouldy plaster peeling off the walls had streaks of green in it. The light from the courtyard had a greenish tinge that made their faces look pale and dead, like the faces of men that have long been shut up between damp prison walls.
“And Fuselli had a girl named Mabe,” said Andrews.
“Oh, she married a guy in the Naval Reserve. They had a grand wedding,” said Al.
“At last I’ve got to you!”
John Andrews had caught sight of Genevieve on a bench at the end of the garden under an arbor of vines. Her hair flamed bright in a splotch of sun as she got to her feet. She held out both hands to him.
“How good-looking you are like that,” she cried.
He was conscious only of her hands in his hands and of her pale-brown eyes and of the bright sun-splotches and the green shadows fluttering all about them.
“So you are out of prison,” she said, “and demobilized. How wonderful! Why didn’t you write? I have been very uneasy about you. How did you find me here?”
“Your mother said you were here.”
“And how do you like it, my Poissac?”
She made a wide gesture with her hand. They stood silent a moment, side by side, looking about them. In front of the arbor was a parterre of rounded box-bushes edging beds where disorderly roses hung in clusters of pink and purple and apricot-color. And beyond it a brilliant emerald lawn full of daisies sloped down to an old grey house with, at one end, a squat round tower that had an extinguisher-shaped roof. Beyond the house were tall, lush-green poplars, through which glittered patches of silver-grey river and of yellow sand banks. From somewhere came a drowsy scent of mown grass.
“How brown you are!” she said again. “I thought I had lost you.... You might kiss me, Jean.”
The muscles of his arms tightened about her shoulders. Her hair flamed in his eyes. The wind that rustled through broad grape-leaves made a flutter of dancing light and shadow about them.
“How hot you are with the sun!” she said. “I love the smell of the sweat of your body. You must have run very hard, coming here.”
“Do you remember one night in the spring we walked home from Pelleas and Melisande? How I should have liked to have kissed you then, like this!” Andrews’s voice was strange, hoarse, as if he spoke with difficulty.
“There is the chateau tres froid et tres profond,” she said with a little laugh.
“And your hair. ‘Je les tiens dans les doits, je les tiens dans la bouche.... Toute ta chevelure, toute ta chevelure, Melisande, est tombee de la tour.... D’you remember?”
“How wonderful you are.”
They sat side by side on the stone bench without touching each other.
“It’s silly,” burst out Andrews excitedly. “We should have faith in our own selves. We can’t live a little rag of romance without dragging in literature. We are drugged with literature so that we can never live at all, of ourselves.”
“Jean, how did you come down here? Have you been demobilized long?”’
“I walked almost all the way from Paris. You see, I am very dirty.”
“How wonderful! But I’ll be quiet. You must tell me everything from the moment you left me in Chartres.”
“I’ll tell you about Chartres later,” said Andrews gruffly. “It has been superb, one of the biggest weeks in my life, walking all day under the sun, with the road like a white ribbon in the sun over the hills and along river banks, where there were yellow irises blooming, and through woods full of blackbirds, and with the dust in a little white cloud round my feet, and all the time walking towards you, walking towards you.”
“And la Reine de Saba, how is it coming?”
“I don’t know. It’s a long time since I thought of it.... You have been here long?”
“Hardly a week. But what are you going to do?”
“I have a room overlooking the river in a house owned by a very fat woman with a very red face and a tuft of hair on her chin....”
“Of course. You must know everybody.... It’s so small.”
“And you’re going to stay here a long time?”
“Almost forever, and work, and talk to you; may I use your piano now and then?”
Genevieve Rod jumped to her feet. Then she stood looking at him, leaning against one of the twisted stems of the vines, so that the broad leaves fluttered about her face, A white cloud, bright as silver, covered the sun, so that the hairy young leaves and the wind-blown grass of the lawn took on a silvery sheen. Two white butterflies fluttered for a second about the arbor.
“You must always dress like that,” she said after a while.
“A little cleaner, I hope,” he said. “But there can’t be much change. I have no other clothes and ridiculously little money.”
“Who cares for money?” cried Genevieve. Andrews fancied he detected a slight affectation in her tone, but he drove the idea from his mind immediately.
“I wonder if there is a farm round here where I could get work.”
“But you couldn’t do the work of a farm labourer,” cried Genevieve, laughing.
“You just watch me.”
“It’ll spoil your hands for the piano.”
“I don’t care about that; but all that’s later, much later. Before anything else I must finish a thing I am working on. There is a theme that came to me when I was first in the army, when I was washing windows at the training camp.”
“How funny you are, Jean! Oh, it’s lovely to have you about again. But you’re awfully solemn today. Perhaps it’s because I made you kiss me.”
“But, Genevieve, it’s not in one day that you can unbend a slave’s back, but with you, in this wonderful place.... Oh, I’ve never seen such sappy richness of vegetation! And think of it, a week’s walking first across those grey rolling uplands, and then at Blois down into the haze of richness of the Loire.... D’you know Vendome? I came by a funny little town from Vendome to Blois. You see, my feet.... And what wonderful cold baths I’ve had on the sand banks of the Loire.... No, after a while the rhythm of legs all being made the same length on drill fields, the hopeless caged dullness will be buried deep in me by the gorgeousness of this world of yours!”
He got to his feet and crushed a leaf softly between his fingers.
“You see, the little grapes are already forming.... Look up there,” she said as she brushed the leaves aside just above his head. “These grapes here are the earliest; but I must show you my domain, and my cousins and the hen yard and everything.”
She took his hand and pulled him out of the arbor. They ran like children, hand in hand, round the box-bordered paths.
“What I mean is this,” he stammered, following her across the lawn. “If I could once manage to express all that misery in music, I could shove it far down into my memory. I should be free to live my own existence, in the midst of this carnival of summer.”
At the house she turned to him; “You see the very battered ladies over the door,” she said. “They are said to be by a pupil of Jean Goujon.”
“They fit wonderfully in the landscape, don’t they? Did I ever tell you about the sculptures in the hospital where I was when I was wounded?”
“No, but I want you to look at the house now. See, that’s the tower; all that’s left of the old building. I live there, and right under the roof there’s a haunted room I used to be terribly afraid of. I’m still afraid of it.... You see this Henri Quatre part of the house was just a fourth of the house as planned. This lawn would have been the court. We dug up foundations where the roses are. There are all sorts of traditions as to why the house was never finished.”
“You must tell me them.”
“I shall later; but now you must come and meet my aunt and my cousins.”
“Please, not just now, Genevieve.... I don’t feel like talking to anyone except you. I have so much to talk to you about.”
“But it’s nearly lunch time, Jean. We can have all that after lunch.”
“No, I can’t talk to anyone else now. I must go and clean myself up a little anyway.”
“Just as you like.... But you must come this afternoon and play to us. Two or three people are coming to tea.... It would be very sweet of you, if you’d play to us, Jean.”
“But can’t you understand? I can’t see you with other people now.”
“Just as you like,” said Genevieve, flushing, her hand on the iron latch of the door.
“Can’t I come to see you tomorrow morning? Then I shall feel more like meeting people, after talking to you a long while. You see, I....” He paused, with his eyes on the ground. Then he burst out in a low, passionate voice: “Oh, if I could only get it out of my mind... those tramping feet, those voices shouting orders.”
His hand trembled when he put it in Genevieve’s hand. She looked in his eyes calmly with her wide brown eyes.
“How strange you are today, Jean! Anyway, come back early tomorrow.”
She went in the door. He walked round the house, through the carriage gate, and went off with long strides down the road along the river that led under linden trees to the village.
Thoughts swarmed teasingly through his head, like wasps about a rotting fruit. So at last he had seen Genevieve, and had held her in his arms and kissed her. And that was all. His plans for the future had never gone beyond that point. He hardly knew what he had expected, but in all the sunny days of walking, in all the furtive days in Paris, he had thought of nothing else. He would see Genevieve and tell her all about himself; he would unroll his life like a scroll before her eyes. Together they would piece together the future. A sudden terror took possession of him. She had failed him. Floods of denial seethed through his mind. It was that he had expected so much; he had expected her to understand him without explanation, instinctively. He had told her nothing. He had not even told her he was a deserter. What was it that had kept him from telling her? Puzzle as he would, he could not formulate it. Only, far within him, the certainty lay like an icy weight: she had failed him. He was alone. What a fool he had been to build his whole life on a chance of sympathy? No. It was rather this morbid playing at phrases that was at fault. He was like a touchy old maid, thinking imaginary results. “Take life at its face value,” he kept telling himself. They loved each other anyway, somehow; it did not matter how. And he was free to work. Wasn’t that enough?
But how could he wait until tomorrow to see her, to tell her everything, to break down all the silly little barriers between them, so that they might look directly into each other’s lives?
The road turned inland from the river between garden walls at the entrance to the village. Through half-open doors Andrews got glimpses of neatly-cultivated kitchen-gardens and orchards where silver-leaved boughs swayed against the sky. Then the road swerved again into the village, crowded into a narrow paved street by the white and cream-colored houses with green or grey shutters and pale, red-tiled roofs. At the end, stained golden with lichen, the mauve-grey tower of the church held up its bells against the sky in a belfry of broad pointed arches. In front of the church Andrews turned down a little lane towards the river again, to come out in a moment on a quay shaded by skinny acacia trees. On the corner house, a ramshackle house with roofs and gables projecting in all directions, was a sign: “Rendezvous de la Marine.” The room he stepped into was so low, Andrews had to stoop under the heavy brown beams as he crossed it. Stairs went up from a door behind a worn billiard table in the corner. Mme. Boncour stood between Andrews and the stairs. She was a flabby, elderly woman with round eyes and a round, very red face and a curious smirk about the lips.
“Monsieur payera un petit peu d’advance, n’est-ce pas, Monsieur?”
“All right,” said Andrews, reaching for his pocketbook. “Shall I pay you a week in advance?”
The woman smiled broadly.
“Si Monsieur desire.... It’s that life is so dear nowadays. Poor people like us can barely get along.”
“I know that only too well,” said Andrews.
“Monsieur est etranger....” began the woman in a wheedling tone, when she had received the money.
“Yes. I was only demobilized a short time ago.”
“Aha! Monsieur est demobilise. Monsieur remplira la petite feuille pour la police, n’est-ce pas?”
The woman brought from behind her back a hand that held a narrow printed slip.
“All right. I’ll fill it out now,” said Andrews, his heart thumping.
Without thinking what he was doing, he put the paper on the edge of the billiard table and wrote: “John Brown, aged 23. Chicago Ill., Etats-Unis. Musician. Holder of passport No. 1,432,286.”
“Merci, Monsieur. A bientot, Monsieur. Au revoir, Monsieur.”
The woman’s singing voice followed him up the rickety stairs to his room. It was only when he had closed the door that he remembered that he had put down for a passport number his army number. “And why did I write John Brown as a name?” he asked himself.
“John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
But his soul goes marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
But his soul goes marching on.”
He heard the song so vividly that he thought for an instant someone must be standing beside him singing it. He went to the window and ran his hand through his hair. Outside the Loire rambled in great loops towards the blue distance, silvery reach upon silvery reach, with here and there the broad gleam of a sand bank. Opposite were poplars and fields patched in various greens rising to hills tufted with dense shadowy groves. On the bare summit of the highest hill a windmill waved lazy arms against the marbled sky.
Gradually John Andrews felt the silvery quiet settle about him. He pulled a sausage and a piece of bread out of the pocket of his coat, took a long swig of water from the pitcher on his washstand, and settled himself at the table before the window in front of a pile of ruled sheets of music paper. He nibbled the bread and the sausage meditatively for a long while, then wrote “Arbeit und Rhythmus” in a large careful hand at the top of the paper. After that he looked out of the window without moving, watching the plumed clouds sail like huge slow ships against the slate-blue sky. Suddenly he scratched out what he had written and scrawled above it: “The Body and Soul of John Brown.” He got to his feet and walked about the room with clenched hands.
“How curious that I should have written that name. How curious that I should have written that name!” he said aloud.
He sat down at the table again and forgot everything in the music that possessed him.
The next morning he walked out early along the river, trying to occupy himself until it should be time to go to see Genevieve. The memory of his first days in the army, spent washing windows at the training camp, was very vivid in his mind. He saw himself again standing naked in the middle of a wide, bare room, while the recruiting sergeant measured and prodded him. And now he was a deserter. Was there any sense to it all? Had his life led in any particular direction, since he had been caught haphazard in the treadmill, or was it all chance? A toad hopping across a road in front of a steam roller.
He stood still, and looked about him. Beyond a clover field was the river with its sand banks and its broad silver reaches. A boy was wading far out in the river catching minnows with a net. Andrews watched his quick movements as he jerked the net through the water. And that boy, too, would be a soldier; the lithe body would be thrown into a mould to be made the same as other bodies, the quick movements would be standardized into the manual at arms, the inquisitive, petulant mind would be battered into servility. The stockade was built; not one of the sheep would escape. And those that were not sheep? They were deserters; every rifle muzzle held death for them; they would not live long. And yet other nightmares had been thrown off the shoulders of men. Every man who stood up courageously to die loosened the grip of the nightmare.
Andrews walked slowly along the road, kicking his feet into the dust like a schoolboy. At a turning he threw himself down on the grass under some locust trees. The heavy fragrance of their flowers and the grumbling of the bees that hung drunkenly on the white racemes made him feel very drowsy. A cart passed, pulled by heavy white horses; an old man with his back curved like the top of a sunflower stalk hobbled after, using the whip as a walking stick. Andrews saw the old man’s eyes turned on him suspiciously. A faint pang of fright went through him; did the old man know he was a deserter? The cart and the old man had already disappeared round the bend in the road. Andrews lay a long while listening to the jingle of the harness thin into the distance, leaving him again to the sound of the drowsy bees among the locust blossoms.
When he sat up, he noticed that through a break in the hedge beyond the slender black trunks of the locusts, he could see rising above the trees the extinguisher-shaped roof of the tower of Genevieve Rod’s house. He remembered the day he had first seen Genevieve, and the boyish awkwardness with which she poured tea. Would he and Genevieve ever find a moment of real contact? All at once a bitter thought came to him. “Or is it that she wants a tame pianist as an ornament to a clever young woman’s drawing room?” He jumped to his feet and started walking fast towards the town again. He would go to see her at once and settle all that forever. The village clock had begun to strike; the clear notes vibrated crisply across the fields: ten.
Walking back to the village he began to think of money. His room was twenty francs a week. He had in his purse a hundred and twenty-four francs. After fishing in all his pockets for silver, he found three francs and a half more. A hundred and twenty-seven francs fifty. If he could live on forty francs a week, he would have three weeks in which to work on the “Body and Soul of John Brown.” Only three weeks; and then he must find work. In any case he would write Henslowe to send him money if he had any; this was no time for delicacy; everything depended on his having money. And he swore to himself that he would work for three weeks, that he would throw the idea that flamed within him into shape on paper, whatever happened. He racked his brains to think of someone in America he could write to for money, A ghastly sense of solitude possessed him. And would Genevieve fail him too?
Genevieve was coming out by the front door of the house when he reached the carriage gate beside the road.
She ran to meet him.
“Good morning. I was on my way to fetch you.”
She seized his hand and pressed it hard.
“How sweet of you!”
“But, Jean, you’re not coming from the village.”
“I’ve been walking.”
“How early you must get up!”
“You see, the sun rises just opposite my window, and shines in on my bed. That makes me get up early.”
She pushed him in the door ahead of her. They went through the hall to a long high room that had a grand piano and many old high-backed chairs, and in front of the French windows that opened on the garden, a round table of black mahogany littered with books. Two tall girls in muslin dresses stood beside the piano.
“These are my cousins.... Here he is at last. Monsieur Andrews, ma cousine Berthe et ma cousine Jeanne. Now you’ve got to play to us; we are bored to death with everything we know.”
“All right.... But I have a great deal to talk to you about later,” said Andrews in a low voice.
Genevieve nodded understandingly.
“Why don’t you play us La Reine de Saba, Jean?”
“Oh, do play that,” twittered the cousins.
“If you don’t mind, I’d rather play some Bach.”
“There’s a lot of Bach in that chest in the corner,” cried Genevieve. “It’s ridiculous; everything in the house is jammed with music.”
They leaned over the chest together, so that Andrews felt her hair brush against his cheek, and the smell of her hair in his nostrils. The cousins remained by the piano.
“I must talk to you alone soon,” whispered Andrews.
“All right,” she said, her face reddening as she leaned over the chest.
On top of the music was a revolver.
“Look out, it’s loaded,” she said, when he picked it up.
He looked at her inquiringly. “I have another in my room. You see Mother and I are often alone here, and then, I like firearms. Don’t you?”
“I hate them,” muttered Andrews.
“Here’s tons of Bach.”
“Fine.... Look, Genevieve,” he said suddenly, “lend me that revolver for a few days. I’ll tell you why I want it later.”
“Certainly. Be careful, because it’s loaded,” she said in an offhand manner, walking over to the piano with two volumes under each arm. Andrews closed the chest and followed her, suddenly bubbling with gaiety. He opened a volume haphazard.
“To a friend to dissuade him from starting on a journey,” he read. “Oh, I used to know that.”
He began to play, putting boisterous vigor into the tunes. In a pianissimo passage he heard one cousin whisper to the other: “Qu’il a l’air interessant.”
“Farouche, n’est-ce pas? Genre revolutionnaire,” answered the other cousin, tittering. Then he noticed that Mme. Rod was smiling at him. He got to his feet.
“Mais ne vous derangez pas,” she said.
A man with white flannel trousers and tennis shoes and a man in black with a pointed grey beard and amused grey eyes had come into the room, followed by a stout woman in hat and veil, with long white cotton gloves on her arms. Introductions were made. Andrews’s spirits began to ebb. All these people were making strong the barrier between him and Genevieve. Whenever he looked at her, some well-dressed person stepped in front of her with a gesture of politeness. He felt caught in a ring of well-dressed conventions that danced about him with grotesque gestures of politeness. All through lunch he had a crazy desire to jump to his feet and shout: “Look at me; I’m a deserter. I’m under the wheels of your system. If your system doesn’t succeed in killing me, it will be that much weaker, it will have less strength to kill others.” There was talk about his demobilization, and his music, and the Schola Cantorum. He felt he was being exhibited. “But they don’t know what they’re exhibiting,” he said to himself with a certain bitter joy.
After lunch they went out into the grape arbor, where coffee was brought. Andrews sat silent, not listening to the talk, which was about Empire furniture and the new taxes, staring up into the broad sun-splotched leaves of the grape vines, remembering how the sun and shade had danced about Genevieve’s hair when they had been in the arbor alone the day before, turning it all to red flame. Today she sat in shadow, and her hair was rusty and dull. Time dragged by very slowly.
At last Genevieve got to her feet.
“You haven’t seen my boat,” she said to Andrews. “Let’s go for a row. I’ll row you about.”
Andrews jumped up eagerly.
“Make her be careful, Monsieur Andrews, she’s dreadfully imprudent,’” said Madame Rod.
“You were bored to death,” said Genevieve, as they walked out on the road.
“No, but those people all seemed to be building new walls between you and me. God knows there are enough already.”
She looked him sharply in the eyes a second, but said nothing.
They walked slowly through the sand of the river edge, till they came to an old flat-bottomed boat painted green with an orange stripe, drawn up among the reeds.
“It will probably sink; can you swim?” she asked, laughing.
Andrews smiled, and said in a stiff voice:
“I can swim. It was by swimming that I got out of the army.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I deserted.”
“When you deserted?”
Genevieve leaned over to pull on the boat. Their heads almost touching, they pulled the boat down to the water’s edge, then pushed it half out on to the river.
“And if you are caught?”
“They might shoot me; I don’t know. Still, as the war is over, it would probably be life imprisonment, or at least twenty years.”
“You can speak of it as coolly as that?”
“It is no new idea to my mind.”
“What induced you to do such a thing?”
“I was not willing to submit any longer to the treadmill.”
“Come let’s go out on the river.”
Genevieve stepped into the boat and caught up the oars.
“Now push her off, and don’t fall in,” she cried.
The boat glided out into the water. Genevieve began pulling on the oars slowly and regularly. Andrews looked at her without speaking.
“When you’re tired, I’ll row,” he said after a while.
Behind them the village, patched white and buff-color and russet and pale red with stucco walls and steep, tiled roofs, rose in an irregular pyramid to the church. Through the wide pointed arches of the belfry they could see the bells hanging against the sky. Below in the river the town was reflected complete, with a great rift of steely blue across it where the wind ruffled the water. The oars creaked rhythmically as Genevieve pulled on them.
“Remember, when you are tired,” said Andrews again after a long pause.
Genevieve spoke through clenched teeth:
“Of course, you have no patriotism.”
“As you mean it, none.”
They rounded the edge of a sand bank where the current ran hard. Andrews put his hands beside her hands on the oars, and pushed with her. The bow of the boat grounded in some reeds under willows.
“We’ll stay here,” she said, pulling in the oars that flashed in the sun as she jerked them, dripping silver, out of the water.
She clasped her hands round her knees and leaned over towards him.
“So that is why you want my revolver.... Tell me all about it, from Chartres,” she said, in a choked voice.
“You see, I was arrested at Chartres and sent to a labor battalion, the equivalent for your army prison, without being able to get word to my commanding officer in the School Detachment....” He paused.
A bird was singing in the willow tree. The sun was under a cloud; beyond the long pale green leaves that fluttered ever so slightly in the wind, the sky was full of silvery and cream-colored clouds, with here and there a patch the color of a robin’s egg. Andrews began laughing softly.
“But, Genevieve, how silly those words are, those pompous, efficient words: detachment, battalion, commanding officer. It would have all happened anyway. Things reached the breaking point; that was all. I could not submit any longer to the discipline.... Oh, those long Roman words, what millstones they are about men’s necks! That was silly, too; I was quite willing to help in the killing of Germans, I had no quarrel with, out of curiosity or cowardice.... You see, it has taken me so long to find out how the world is. There was no one to show me the way.”
He paused as if expecting her to speak. The bird in the willow tree was still singing.
Suddenly a dangling twig blew aside a little so that Andrews could see him—a small grey bird, his throat all puffed out with song.
“It seems to me,” he said very softly, “that human society has been always that, and perhaps will be always that: organizations growing and stifling individuals, and individuals revolting hopelessly against them, and at last forming new societies to crush the old societies and becoming slaves again in their turn....”
“I thought you were a socialist,” broke in Genevieve sharply, in a voice that hurt him to the quick, he did not know why.
“A man told me at the labor battalion,” began Andrews again, “that they’d tortured a friend of his there once by making him swallow lighted cigarettes; well, every order shouted at me, every new humiliation before the authorities, was as great an agony to me. Can’t you understand?” His voice rose suddenly to a tone of entreaty.
She nodded her head. They were silent. The willow leaves shivered in a little wind. The bird had gone.
“But tell me about the swimming part of it. That sounds exciting.”
“We were working unloading cement at Passy—cement to build the stadium the army is presenting to the French, built by slave labor, like the pyramids.”
“Passy’s where Balzac lived. Have you ever seen his house there?”
“There was a boy working with me, the Kid, ‘le gosse,’ it’d be in French. Without him, I should never have done it. I was completely crushed.... I suppose that he was drowned.... Anyway, we swam under water as far as we could, and, as it was nearly dark, I managed to get on a barge, where a funny anarchist family took care of me. I’ve never heard of the Kid since. Then I bought these clothes that amuse you so, Genevieve, and came back to Paris to find you, mainly.”
“I mean as much to you as that?” whispered Genevieve.
“In Paris, too. I tried to find a boy named Marcel, who worked on a farm near St. Germain. I met him out there one day. I found he’d gone to sea.... If it had not been that I had to see you, I should have gone straight to Bordeaux or Marseilles. They aren’t too particular who they take as a seaman now.”
“But in the army didn’t you have enough of that dreadful life, always thrown among uneducated people, always in dirty, foulsmelling surroundings, you, a sensitive person, an artist? No wonder you are almost crazy after years of that.” Genevieve spoke passionately, with her eyes fixed on his face.
“Oh, it wasn’t that,” said Andrews with despair in his voice. “I rather like the people you call low. Anyway, the differences between people are so slight....” His sentence trailed away. He stopped speaking, sat stirring uneasily on the seat, afraid he would cry out. He noticed the hard shape of the revolver against his leg.
“But isn’t there something you can do about it? You must have friends,” burst out Genevieve. “You were treated with horrible injustice. You can get yourself reinstated and properly demobilised. They’ll see you are a person of intelligence. They can’t treat you as they would anybody.”
“I must be, as you say, a little mad, Genevieve,” said Andrews.
“But now that I, by pure accident, have made a gesture, feeble as it is, towards human freedom, I can’t feel that.... Oh, I suppose I’m a fool.... But there you have me, just as I am, Genevieve.”
He sat with his head drooping over his chest, his two hands clasping the gunwales of the boat. After a long while Genevieve said in a dry little voice:
“Well, we must go back now; it’s time for tea.”
Andrews looked up. There was a dragon fly poised on the top of a reed, with silver wings and a long crimson body.
“Look just behind you, Genevieve.”
“Oh, a dragon fly! What people was it that made them the symbol of life? It wasn’t the Egyptians. O, I’ve forgotten.”
“I’ll row,” said Andrews.
The boat was hurried along by the current. In a very few minutes they had pulled it up on the bank in front of the Rods’ house.
“Come and have some tea,” said Genevieve.
“No, I must work.”
“You are doing something new, aren’t you?”
“What’s its name?”
“The Soul and Body of John Brown.”
“Who’s John Brown?”
“He was a madman who wanted to free people. There’s a song about him.”
“It is based on popular themes?”
“Not that I know of.... I only thought of the name yesterday. It came to me by a very curious accident.”
“You’ll come tomorrow?”
“If you’re not too busy.”
“Let’s see, the Boileaus are coming to lunch. There won’t be anybody at tea time. We can have tea together alone.”
He took her hand and held it, awkward as a child with a new playmate.
“All right, at about four. If there’s nobody there, we’ll play music,” he said.
She pulled her hand from him hurriedly, made a curious formal gesture of farewell, and crossed the road to the gate without looking back. There was one idea in his head, to get to his room and lock the door and throw himself face down on the bed. The idea amused some distant part of his mind. That had been what he had always done when, as a child, the world had seemed too much for him. He would run upstairs and lock the door and throw himself face downward on the bed. “I wonder if I shall cry?” he thought.
Madame Boncour was coming down the stairs as he went up. He backed down and waited. When she got to the bottom, pouting a little, she said:
“So you are a friend of Mme. Rod, Monsieur?”
“How did you know that?”
A dimple appeared near her mouth in either cheek.
“You know, in the country, one knows everything,” she said.
“Au revoir,” he said, starting up the stairs.
“Mais, Monsieur. You should have told me. If I had known I should not have asked you to pay in advance. Oh, never. You must pardon me, Monsieur.”
“Monsieur est Americain? You see I know a lot.” Her puffy cheeks shook when she giggled. “And Monsieur has known Mme. Rod et Mlle. Rod a long time. An old friend. Monsieur is a musician.”
“Yes. Bon soir.” Andrews ran up the stairs.
“Au revoir, Monsieur.” Her chanting voice followed him up the stairs.
He slammed the door behind him and threw himself on the bed.
When Andrews awoke next morning, his first thought was how long he had to wait that day to see Genevieve. Then he remembered their talk of the day before. Was it worth while going to see her at all, he asked himself. And very gradually he felt cold despair taking hold of him. He felt for a moment that he was the only living thing in a world of dead machines; the toad hopping across the road in front of a steam roller. Suddenly he thought of Jeanne. He remembered her grimy, overworked fingers lying in her lap. He pictured her walking up and down in front of the Cafe de Rohan one Wednesday night, waiting for him. In the place of Genevieve, what would Jeanne have done? Yet people were always alone, really; however much they loved each other, there could be no real union. Those who rode in the great car could never feel as the others felt; the toads hopping across the road. He felt no rancour against Genevieve.
These thoughts slipped from him while he was drinking the coffee and eating the dry bread that made his breakfast; and afterwards, walking back and forth along the river bank, he felt his mind and body becoming as if fluid, and supple, trembling, bent in the rush of his music like a poplar tree bent in a wind. He sharpened a pencil and went up to his room again.
The sky was cloudless that day. As he sat at his table the square of blue through the window and the hills topped by their windmill and the silver-blue of the river, were constantly in his eyes. Sometimes he wrote notes down fast, thinking nothing, feeling nothing, seeing nothing; other times he sat for long periods staring at the sky and at the windmill vaguely happy, playing with unexpected thoughts that came and vanished, as now and then a moth fluttered in the window to blunder about the ceiling beams, and, at last, to disappear without his knowing how.
When the clock struck twelve, he found he was very hungry. For two days he had eaten nothing but bread, sausage and cheese. Finding Madame Boncour behind the bar downstairs, polishing glasses, he ordered dinner of her. She brought him a stew and a bottle of wine at once, and stood over him watching him eat it, her arms akimbo and the dimples showing in her huge red cheeks.
“Monsieur eats less than any young man I ever saw,” she said.
“I’m working hard,” said Andrews, flushing.
“But when you work you have to eat a great deal, a great deal.”
“And if the money is short?” asked Andrews with a smile.
Something in the steely searching look that passed over her eyes for a minute startled him.
“There are not many people here now, Monsieur, but you should see it on a market day.... Monsieur will take some dessert?”
“Cheese and coffee.”
“Nothing more? It’s the season of strawberries.”
“Nothing more, thank you.”
When Madame Boncour came back with the cheese, she said:
“I had Americans here once, Monsieur. A pretty time I had with them, too. They were deserters. They went away without paying, with the gendarmes after them I hope they were caught and sent to the front, those good-for-nothings.”
“There are all sorts of Americans,” said Andrews in a low voice. He was angry with himself because his heart beat so.
“Well, I’m going for a little walk. Au revoir, Madame.”
“Monsieur is going for a little walk. Amusez-vous bien, Monsieur. Au revoir, Monsieur,” Madame Boncour’s singsong tones followed him out.
A little before four Andrews knocked at the front door of the Rods’ house. He could hear Santo, the little black and tan, barking inside. Madame Rod opened the door for him herself.
“Oh, here you are,” she said. “Come and have some tea. Did the work go well to-day?”
“And Genevieve?” stammered Andrews.
“She went out motoring with some friends. She left a note for you. It’s on the tea-table.”
He found himself talking, making questions and answers, drinking tea, putting cakes into his mouth, all through a white dead mist. Genevieve’s note said:
“Jean:—I’m thinking of ways and means. You must get away to a neutral country. Why couldn’t you have talked it over with me first, before cutting off every chance of going back. I’ll be in tomorrow at the same time.
“Bien a vous. G. R.”
“Would it disturb you if I played the piano a few minutes, Madame Rod?” Andrews found himself asking all at once.
“No, go ahead. We’ll come in later and listen to you.”
It was only as he left the room that he realized he had been talking to the two cousins as well as to Madame Rod.
At the piano he forgot everything and regained his mood of vague joyousness. He found paper and a pencil in his pocket, and played the theme that had come to him while he had been washing windows at the top: of a step-ladder at training camp arranging it, modelling it, forgetting everything, absorbed in his rhythms and cadences. When he stopped work it was nearly dark. Genevieve Rod, a veil round her head, stood in the French window that led to the garden.
“I heard you,” she said. “Go on.”
“I’m through. How was your motor ride?”
“I loved it. It’s not often I get a chance to go motoring.”
“Nor is it often I get a chance to talk to you alone,” cried Andrews bitterly.
“You seem to feel you have rights of ownership over me. I resent it. No one has rights over me.” She spoke as if it were not the first time she had thought of the phrase.
He walked over and leaned against the window beside her.
“Has it made such a difference to you, Genevieve, finding out that I am a deserter?”
“No, of course not,” she said hastily.
“I think it has, Genevieve.... What do you want me to do? Do you think I should give myself up? A man I knew in Paris has given himself up, but he hadn’t taken his uniform off. It seems that makes a difference. He was a nice fellow. His name was Al, he was from San Francisco. He had nerve, for he amputated his own little finger when his hand was crushed by a freight car.”
“Oh, no, no. Oh, this is so frightful. And you would have been a great composer. I feel sure of it.”
“Why, would have been? The stuff I’m doing now’s better than any of the dribbling things I’ve done before, I know that.”
“Oh, yes, but you’ll need to study, to get yourself known.”
“If I can pull through six months, I’m safe. The army will have gone. I don’t believe they extradite deserters.”
“Yes, but the shame of it, the danger of being found out all the time.”
“I am ashamed of many things in my life, Genevieve. I’m rather proud of this.”
“But can’t you understand that other people haven’t your notions of individual liberty?”
“I must go, Genevieve.”
“You must come in again soon.”
“One of these days.”
And he was out in the road in the windy twilight, with his music papers crumpled in his hand. The sky was full of tempestuous purple clouds; between them were spaces of clear claret-colored light, and here and there a gleam of opal. There were a few drops of rain in the wind that rustled the broad leaves of the lindens and filled the wheat fields with waves like the sea, and made the river very dark between rosy sand banks. It began to rain. Andrews hurried home so as not to drench his only suit. Once in his room he lit four candles and placed them at the corners of his table. A little cold crimson light still filtered in through the rain from the afterglow, giving the candles a ghostly glimmer. Then he lay on his bed, and staring up at the flickering light on the ceiling, tried to think.
“Well, you’re alone now, John Andrews,” he said aloud, after a half-hour, and jumped jauntily to his feet. He stretched himself and yawned. Outside the rain pattered loudly and steadily. “Let’s have a general accounting,” he said to himself. “It’ll be easily a month before I hear from old Howe in America, and longer before I hear from Henslowe, and already I’ve spent twenty francs on food. Can’t make it this way. Then, in real possessions, I have one volume of Villon, a green book on counterpoint, a map of France torn in two, and a moderately well-stocked mind.”
He put the two books on the middle of the table before him, on top of his disorderly bundle of music papers and notebooks. Then he went on, piling his possessions there as he thought of them. Three pencils, a fountain pen. Automatically he reached for his watch, but he remembered he’d given it to Al to pawn in case he didn’t decide to give himself up, and needed money. A toothbrush. A shaving set. A piece of soap. A hairbrush and a broken comb. Anything else? He groped in the musette that hung on the foot of the bed. A box of matches. A knife with one blade missing, and a mashed cigarette. Amusement growing on him every minute, he contemplated the pile. Then, in the drawer, he remembered, was a clean shirt and two pairs of soiled socks. And that was all, absolutely all. Nothing saleable there. Except Genevieve’s revolver. He pulled it out of his pocket. The candlelight flashed on the bright nickel. No, he might need that; it was too valuable to sell. He pointed it towards himself. Under the chin was said to be the best place. He wondered if he would pull the trigger when the barrel was pressed against his chin. No, when his money gave out he’d sell the revolver. An expensive death for a starving man. He sat on the edge of the bed and laughed.
Then he discovered he was very hungry. Two meals in one day; shocking! He said to himself. Whistling joyfully, like a schoolboy, he strode down the rickety stairs to order a meal of Madame Boncour.
It was with a strange start that he noticed that the tune he was whistling was:
“John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
But his soul goes marching on.”
The lindens were in bloom. From a tree beside the house great gusts of fragrance, heavy as incense, came in through the open window. Andrews lay across the table with his eyes closed and his cheek in a mass of ruled papers. He was very tired. The first movement of the “Soul and Body of John Brown” was down on paper. The village clock struck two. He got to his feet and stood a moment looking absently out of the window. It was a sultry afternoon of swollen clouds that hung low over the river. The windmill on the hilltop opposite was motionless. He seemed to hear Genevieve’s voice the last time he had seen her, so long ago. “You would have been a great composer.” He walked over to the table and turned over some sheets without looking at them. “Would have been!” He shrugged his shoulders. So you couldn’t be a great composer and a deserter too in the year 1919. Probably Genevieve was right. But he must have something to eat.
“But how late it is,” expostulated Madame Boncour, when he asked for lunch.
“I know it’s very late. I have just finished a third of the work I’m doing.
“And do you get paid a great deal, when that is finished?” asked Madame Boncour, the dimples appearing in her broad cheeks.
“Some day, perhaps.”
“You will be lonely now that the Rods have left.”
“Have they left?”
“Didn’t you know? Didn’t you go to say goodby? They’ve gone to the seashore.... But I’ll make you a little omelette.”
When Madame Boncour cams back with the omelette and fried potatoes, she said to him in a mysterious voice:
“You didn’t go to see the Rods as often these last weeks.”
Madame Boncour stood staring at him, with her red arms folded round her breasts, shaking her head.
When he got up to go upstairs again, she suddenly shouted:
“And when are you going to pay me? It’s two weeks since you have paid me.”
“But, Madame Boncour, I told you I had no money. If you wait a day or two, I’m sure to get some in the mail. It can’t be more than a day or two.”
“I’ve heard that story before.”
“I’ve even tried to get work at several farms round here.”
Madame Boncour threw back her head and laughed, showing the blackened teeth of her lower jaw.
“Look here,” she said at length, “after this week, it’s finished. You either pay me, or...And I sleep very lightly, Monsieur.” Her voice took on suddenly its usual sleek singsong tone.
Andrews broke away and ran upstairs to his room.
“I must fly the coop tonight,” he said to himself. But suppose then letters came with money the next day. He writhed in indecision all the afternoon.
That evening he took a long walk. In passing the Rods’ house he saw that the shutters were closed. It gave him a sort of relief to know that Genevieve no longer lived near him. His solitude was complete, now.
And why, instead of writing music that would have been worth while if he hadn’t been a deserter, he kept asking himself, hadn’t he tried long ago to act, to make a gesture, however feeble, however forlorn, for other people’s freedom? Half by accident he had managed to free himself from the treadmill. Couldn’t he have helped others? If he only had his life to live over again. No; he had not lived up to the name of John Brown.
It was dark when he got back to the village. He had decided to wait one more day.
The next morning he started working on the second movement. The lack of a piano made it very difficult to get ahead, yet he said to himself that he should put down what he could, as it would be long before he found leisure again.
One night he had blown out his candle and stood at the window watching the glint of the moon on the river. He heard a soft heavy step on the landing outside his room. A floorboard creaked, and the key turned in the lock. The step was heard again on the stairs. John Andrews laughed aloud. The window was only twenty feet from the ground, and there was a trellis. He got into bed contentedly. He must sleep well, for tomorrow night he would slip out of the window and make for Bordeaux.
Another morning. A brisk wind blew, fluttering Andrews’s papers as he worked. Outside the river was streaked blue and silver and slate-colored. The windmill’s arms waved fast against the piled clouds. The scent of the lindens came only intermittently on the sharp wind. In spite of himself, the tune of “John Brown’s Body” had crept in among his ideas. Andrews sat with a pencil at his lips, whistling softly, while in the back of his mind a vast chorus seemed singing:
“John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
But his soul goes marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
But his soul goes marching on.”
If one could only find freedom by marching for it, came the thought.
All at once he became rigid, his hands clutched the table edge.
There was an American voice under his window:
“D’you think she’s kiddin’ us, Charley?”
Andrews was blinded, falling from a dizzy height. God, could things repeat themselves like that? Would everything be repeated? And he seemed to hear voices whisper in his ears: “One of you men teach him how to salute.”
He jumped to his feet and pulled open the drawer. It was empty. The woman had taken the revolver. “It’s all planned, then. She knew,” he said aloud in a low voice.
He became suddenly calm.
A man in a boat was passing down the river. The boat was painted bright green; the man wore a curious jacket of a burnt-brown color, and held a fishing pole.
Andrews sat in his chair again. The boat was out of sight now, but there was the windmill turning, turning against the piled white clouds.
There were steps on the stairs.
Two swallows, twittering, curved past the window, very near, so that Andrews could make out the marking on their wings and the way they folded their legs against their pale-grey bellies. There was a knock.
“Come in,” said Andrews firmly.
“I beg yer pardon,” said a soldier with his hat, that had a band, in his hand. “Are you the American?”
“Well, the woman down there said she thought your papers wasn’t in very good order.” The man stammered with embarrassment.
Their eyes met.
“No, I’m a deserter,” said Andrews.
The M. P. snatched for his whistle and blew it hard. There was an answering whistle from outside the window.
“Get your stuff together.”
“I have nothing.”
“All right, walk downstairs slowly in front of me.”
Outside the windmill was turning, turning, against the piled white clouds of the sky.
Andrews turned his eyes towards the door. The M. P. closed the door after them, and followed on his heels down the steps.
On John Andrews’s writing table the brisk wind rustled among the broad sheets of paper. First one sheet, then another, blew off the table, until the floor was littered with them.