The fields and the misty blue-green woods slipped by slowly as the box car rumbled and jolted over the rails, now stopping for hours on sidings amid meadows, where it was quiet and where above the babel of voices of the regiment you could hear the skylarks, now clattering fast over bridges and along the banks of jade-green rivers where the slim poplars were just coming into leaf and where now and then a fish jumped. The men crowded in the door, grimy and tired, leaning on each other’s shoulders and watching the plowed lands slip by and the meadows where the golden-green grass was dappled with buttercups, and the villages of huddled red roofs lost among pale budding trees and masses of peach blossom. Through the smells of steam and coal smoke and of unwashed bodies in uniforms came smells of moist fields and of manure from fresh-sowed patches and of cows and pasture lands just coming into flower.
“Must be right smart o’craps in this country.... Ain’t like that damn Polignac, Andy?” said Chrisfield.
“Well, they made us drill so hard there wasn’t any time for the grass to grow.”
“You’re damn right there warn’t.”
“Ah’d lak te live in this country a while,” said Chrisfield.
“We might ask ‘em to let us off right here.”
“Can’t be that the front’s like this,” said Judkins, poking his head out between Andrews’s and Chrisfield’s heads so that the bristles of his unshaven chin rubbed against Chrisfield’s cheek. It was a large square head with closely cropped light hair and porcelain-blue eyes under lids that showed white in the red sunburned face, and a square jaw made a little grey by the sprouting beard.
“Say, Andy, how the hell long have we all been in this goddam train?... Ah’ve done lost track o’ the time....”
“What’s the matter; are you gettin’ old, Chris?” asked Judkins laughing.
Chrisfield had slipped out of the place he held and began poking himself in between Andrews and Judkins.
“We’ve been on this train four days and five nights, an’ we’ve got half a day’s rations left, so we must be getting somewhere,” said Andrews.
“It can’t be like this at the front.”
“It must be spring there as well as here,” said Andrews.
It was a day of fluffy mauve-tinted clouds that moved across the sky, sometimes darkening to deep blue where a small rainstorm trailed across the hills, sometimes brightening to moments of clear sunlight that gave blue shadows to the poplars and shone yellow on the smoke of the engine that puffed on painfully at the head of the long train.
“Funny, ain’t it? How li’l everythin’ is,” said Chrisfield. “Out Indiana way we wouldn’t look at a cornfield that size. But it sort o’ reminds me the way it used to be out home in the spring o’ the year.”
“I’d like to see Indiana in the springtime,” said Andrews.
“Well you’ll come out when the war’s over and us guys is all home... won’t you, Andy?”
“You bet I will.”
They were going into the suburbs of a town. Rows and clusters of little brick and stucco houses were appearing along the roads. It began to rain from a sky full of lights of amber and lilac color. The slate roofs and the pinkish-grey streets of the town shone cheerfully in the rain. The little patches of garden were all vivid emerald-green. Then they were looking at rows and rows of red chimney pots over wet slate roofs that reflected the bright sky. In the distance rose the purple-grey spire of a church and the irregular forms of old buildings. They passed through a station.
“Dijon,” read Andrews. On the platform were French soldiers in their blue coats and a good sprinkling of civilians.
“Gee, those are about the first real civies I’ve seen since I came overseas,” said Judkins. “Those goddam country people down at Polignac didn’t look like real civilians. There’s folks dressed like it was New York.”
They had left the station and were rumbling slowly past interminable freight trains. At last the train came to a dead stop.
A whistle sounded.
“Don’t nobody get out,” shouted the sergeant from the car ahead.
“Hell! They keep you in this goddam car like you was a convict,” muttered Chrisfield.
“I’d like to get out and walk around Dijon.”
“I swear I’d make a bee line for a dairy lunch,” said Judkins.
“Hell of a fine dairy lunch you’ll find among those goddam frogs. No, vin blank is all you’ld get in that goddam town.”
“Ah’m goin’ to sleep,” said Chrisfield. He stretched himself out on the pile of equipment at the end of the car. Andrews sat down near him and stared at his mud-caked boots, running one of his long hands, as brown as Chrisfield’s now, through his light short-cut hair.
Chrisfield lay looking at the gaunt outline of Andrews’s face against the light through half-closed eyes. And he felt a warm sort of a smile inside him as he said to himself: “He’s a damn good kid.” Then he thought of the spring in the hills of southern Indiana and the mocking-bird singing in the moonlight among the flowering locust trees behind the house. He could almost smell the heavy sweetness of the locust blooms, as he used to smell them sitting on the steps after supper, tired from a day’s heavy plowing, while the clatter of his mother’s housework came from the kitchen. He didn’t wish he was back there, but it was pleasant to think of it now and then, and how the yellow farmhouse looked and the red barn where his father never had been able to find time to paint the door, and the tumble-down cowshed where the shingles were always coming off. He wondered dully what it would be like out there at the front. It couldn’t be green and pleasant, the way the country was here. Fellows always said it was hell out there. Well, he didn’t give a damn. He went to sleep.
He woke up gradually, the warm comfort of sleep giving place slowly to the stiffness of his uncomfortable position with the hobnails of a boot from the back of a pack sticking into his shoulder. Andrews was sitting in the same position, lost in thought. The rest of the men sat at the open doors or sprawled over the equipment.
Chrisfield got up, stretched himself, yawned, and went to the door to look out. There was a heavy important step on the gravel outside. A large man with black eyebrows that met over his nose and a very black stubbly beard passed the car. There were a sergeants stripes on his arm.
“Say, Andy,” cried Chrisfield, “that bastard is a sergeant.”
“Who’s that?” asked Andrews getting up with a smile, his blue eyes looking mildly into Chrisfield’s black ones.
“You know who Ah mean.”
Under their heavy tan Chrisfield’s rounded cheeks were flushed. His eyes snapped under their long black lashes. His fists were clutched.
“Oh, I know, Chris. I didn’t know he was in this regiment.”
“God damn him!” muttered Chrisfield in a low voice, throwing himself down on his packs again.
“Hold your horses, Chris,” said Andrews. “We may all cash in our checks before long... no use letting things worry us.”
“I don’t give a damn if we do.”
“Nor do I, now.” Andrews sat down beside Chrisfield again.
After a while the train got jerkily into motion. The wheels rumbled and clattered over the rails and the clots of mud bounced up and down on the splintered boards of the floor. Chrisfield pillowed his head on his arm and went to sleep again, still smarting from the flush of his anger.
Andrews looked out through his fingers at the swaying black box car, at the men sprawled about on the floor, their heads nodding with each jolt, and at the mauve-grey clouds and bits of sparkling blue sky that he could see behind the silhouettes of the heads and shoulders of the men who stood in the doors. The wheels ground on endlessly.
The car stopped with a jerk that woke up all the sleepers and threw one man off his feet. A whistle blew shrilly outside.
“All right, out of the cars! Snap it up; snap it up!” yelled the sergeant.
The men piled out stiffly, handing the equipment out from hand to hand till it formed a confused heap of packs and rifles outside. All down the train at each door there was a confused pile of equipment and struggling men.
“Snap it up.... Full equipment.... Line up!” the sergeant yelled.
The men fell into line slowly, with their packs and rifles. Lieutenants hovered about the edges of the forming lines, tightly belted into their stiff trench coats, scrambling up and down the coal piles of the siding. The men were given “at ease” and stood leaning on their rifles staring at a green water-tank on three wooden legs, over the top of which had been thrown a huge piece of torn grey cheesecloth. When the confused sound of tramping feet subsided, they could hear a noise in the distance, like someone lazily shaking a piece of heavy sheet-iron. The sky was full of little dabs of red, purple and yellow and the purplish sunset light was over everything.
The order came to march. They marched down a rutted road where the puddles were so deep they had continually to break ranks to avoid them. In a little pine-wood on one side were rows of heavy motor trucks and ammunition caissons; supper was cooking in a field kitchen about which clustered the truck drivers in their wide visored caps. Beyond the wood the column turned off into a field behind a little group of stone and stucco houses that had lost their roofs. In the field they halted. The grass was brilliant emerald and the wood and the distant hills were shades of clear deep blue. Wisps of pale-blue mist lay across the field. In the turf here and there were small clean bites, that might have been made by some strange animal. The men looked at them curiously.
“No lights, remember we’re in sight of the enemy. A match might annihilate the detachment,” announced the lieutenant dramatically after having given the orders for the pup tents to be set up.
When the tents were ready, the men stood about in the chilly white mist that kept growing denser, eating their cold rations. Everywhere were grumbling snorting voices.
“God, let’s turn in, Chris, before our bones are frozen,” said Andrews.
Guards had been posted and walked up and down with a business-like stride, peering now and then suspiciously into the little wood where the truck-drivers were.
Chrisfield and Andrews crawled into their little tent and rolled up together in their blankets, getting as close to each other as they could. At first it was very cold and hard, and they squirmed about restlessly, but gradually the warmth from their bodies filled their thin blankets and their muscles began to relax. Andrews went to sleep first and Chrisfield lay listening to his deep breathing. There was a frown on his face. He was thinking of the man who had walked past the train at Dijon. The last time he had seen that man Anderson was at training camp. He had only been a corporal then. He remembered the day the man had been made corporal. It had not been long before that that Chrisfield had drawn his knife on him, one night in the barracks. A fellow had caught his hand just in time. Anderson had looked a bit pale that time and had walked away. But he’d never spoken a word to Chrisfield since. As he lay with his eyes closed, pressed close against Andrew’s limp sleeping body, Chrisfield could see the man’s face, the eyebrows that joined across the nose and the jaw, always blackish from the heavy beard, that looked blue when he had just shaved. At last the tenseness of his mind slackened; he thought of women for a moment, of a fair-haired girl he’d seen from the train, and then suddenly crushing sleepiness closed down on him and everything went softly warmly black, as he drifted off to sleep with no sense but the coldness of one side and the warmth of his bunkie’s body on the other.
In the middle of the night he awoke and crawled out of the tent. Andrews followed him. Their teeth chattered a little, and they stretched their legs stiffly. It was cold, but the mist had vanished. The stars shone brilliantly. They walked out a little way into the field away from the bunch of tents to make water. A faint rustling and breathing noise, as of animals herded together, came from the sleeping regiment. Somewhere a brook made a shrill gurgling. They strained their ears, but they could hear no guns. They stood side by side looking up at the multitudes of stars.
“That’s Orion,” said Andrews.
“That bunch of stars there is called Orion. D’you see ‘em. It’s supposed to look like a man with a bow, but he always looks to me like a fellow striding across the sky.”
“Some stars tonight, ain’t there? Gee, what’s that?”
Behind the dark hills a glow rose and fell like the glow in a forge.
“The front must be that way,” said Andrews, shivering. “I guess we’ll know tomorrow.”
“Yes; tomorrow night we’ll know more about it,” said Andrews. They stood silent a moment listening to the noise the brook made.
“God, it’s quiet, ain’t it? This can’t be the front. Smell that?”
“What is it?”
“Smells like an apple tree in bloom somewhere.... Hell, let’s git in, before our blankets git cold.”
Andrews was still staring at the group of stars he had said was Orion.
Chrisfield pulled him by the arm. They crawled into their tent again, rolled up together and immediately were crushed under an exhausted sleep.
As far ahead of him as Chrisfield could see were packs and heads with caps at a variety of angles, all bobbing up and down with the swing of the brisk marching time. A fine warm rain was falling, mingling with the sweat that ran down his face. The column had been marching a long time along a straight road that was worn and scarred with heavy traffic. Fields and hedges where clusters of yellow flowers were in bloom had given place to an avenue of poplars. The light wet trunks and the stiff branches hazy with green filed by, interminable, as interminable as the confused tramp of feet and jingle of equipment that sounded in his ears.
“Say, are we goin’ towards the front?”
“Goddamned if I know.”
“Ain’t no front within miles.”
Men’s sentences came shortly through their heavy breathing.
The column shifted over to the side of the road to avoid a train of motor trucks going the other way. Chrisfield felt the heavy mud spurt up over him as truck after truck rumbled by. With the wet back of one hand he tried to wipe it off his face, but the grit, when he rubbed it, hurt his skin, made tender by the rain. He swore long and whiningly, half aloud. His rifle felt as heavy as an iron girder.
They entered a village of plaster-and-timber houses. Through open doors they could see into comfortable kitchens where copper pots gleamed and where the floors were of clean red tiles. In front of some of the houses were little gardens full of crocuses and hyacinths where box-bushes shone a very dark green in the rain. They marched through the square with its pavement of little yellow rounded cobbles, its grey church with a pointed arch in the door, its cafes with names painted over them. Men and women looked out of doors and windows. The column perceptibly slackened its speed, but kept on, and as the houses dwindled and became farther apart along the road the men’s hope of stopping vanished. Ears were deafened by the confused tramp of feet on the macadam road. Men’s feet seemed as lead, as if all the weight of the pack hung on them. Shoulders, worn callous, began to grow tender and sore under the constant sweating. Heads drooped. Each man’s eyes were on the heels of the man ahead of him that rose and fell, rose and fell endlessly. Marching became for each man a personal struggle with his pack, that seemed to have come alive, that seemed something malicious and overpowering, wrestling to throw him.
The rain stopped and the sky brightened a little, taking on pale yellowish lights as if the clouds that hid the sun were growing thin.
The column halted at the edge of a group of farms and barns that scattered along the road. The men sprawled in all directions along the roadside hiding the bright green grass with the mud-color of their uniforms.
Chrisfield lay in the field beside the road, pressing his hot face into the wet sprouting clover. The blood throbbed through his ears. His arms and legs seemed to cleave to the ground, as if he would never be able to move them again. He closed his eyes. Gradually a cold chill began stealing through his body. He sat up and slipped his arms out of the harness of his pack. Someone was handing him a cigarette, and he sniffed a little acrid sweet smoke.
Andrews was lying beside him, his head propped against his pack, smoking, and poking a cigarette towards his friend with a muddy hand. His blue eyes looked strangely from out the flaming red of his mud-splotched face.
Chrisfield took the cigarette, and fumbled in his pocket for a match.
“That nearly did it for me,” said Andrews.
Chrisfield grunted. He pulled greedily on the cigarette.
A whistle blew.
Slowly the men dragged themselves off the ground and fell into line, drooping under the weight of their equipment.
The companies marched off separately.
Chrisfield overheard the lieutenant saying to a sergeant:
“Damn fool business that. Why the hell couldn’t they have sent us here in the first place?”
“So we ain’t goin’ to the front after all?” said the sergeant.
“Front, hell!” said the lieutenant. The lieutenant was a small man who looked like a jockey with a coarse red face which, now that he was angry, was almost purple.
“I guess they’re going to quarter us here,” said somebody.
Immediately everybody began saying: “We’re going to be quartered here.”
They stood waiting in formation a long while, the packs cutting into their backs and shoulders. At last the sergeant shouted out:
“All right, take yer stuff upstairs.” Stumbling on each others’ heels they climbed up into a dark loft, where the air was heavy with the smell of hay and with an acridity of cow manure from the stables below. There was a little straw in the corners, on which those who got there first spread their blankets.
Chrisfield and Andrews tucked themselves in a corner from which through a hole where the tiles had fallen off the roof, they could see down into the barnyard, where white and speckled chickens pecked about with jerky movements. A middle-aged woman stood in the doorway of the house looking suspiciously at the files of khaki-clad soldiers that shuffled slowly into the barns by every door.
An officer went up to her, a little red book in his hand. A conversation about some matter proceeded painfully. The officer grew very red. Andrews threw back his head and laughed, luxuriously rolling from side to side in the straw. Chrisfield laughed too, he hardly knew why. Over their heads they could hear the feet of pigeons on the roof, and a constant drowsy rou-cou-cou-cou.
Through the barnyard smells began to drift... the greasiness of food cooking in the field kitchen.
“Ah hope they give us somethin’ good to eat,” said Chrisfield. “Ah’m hongry as a thrasher.”
“So am I,” said Andrews.
“Say, Andy, you kin talk their language a li’l’, can’t ye?”
Andrews nodded his head vaguely.
“Well, maybe we kin git some aigs or somethin’ out of the lady down there. Will ye try after mess?”
They both lay back in the straw and closed their eyes. Their cheeks still burned from the rain. Everything seemed very peaceful; the men sprawled about talking in low drowsy voices. Outside, another shower had come up and beat softly on the tiles of the roof. Chrisfield thought he had never been so comfortable in his life, although his soaked shoes pinched his cold feet and his knees were wet and cold. But in the drowsiness of the rain and of voices talking quietly about him, he fell asleep.
He dreamed he was home in Indiana, but instead of his mother cooking at the stove in the kitchen, there was the Frenchwoman who had stood in the farmhouse door, and near her stood a lieutenant with a little red book in his hand. He was eating cornbread and syrup off a broken plate. It was fine cornbread with a great deal of crust on it, crisp and hot, on which the butter was cold and sweet to his tongue. Suddenly he stopped eating and started swearing, shouting at the top of his lungs: “You goddam...” he started, but he couldn’t seem to think of anything more to say. “You goddam...” he started again. The lieutenant looked towards him, wrinkling his black eyebrows that met across his nose. He was Sergeant Anderson. Chris drew his knife and ran at him, but it was Andy his bunkie he had run his knife into. He threw his arms round Andy’s body, crying hot tears.... He woke up. Mess kits were clinking all about the dark crowded loft. The men had already started piling down the stairs.
The larks filled the wine-tinged air with a constant chiming of little bells. Chrisfield and Andrews were strolling across a field of white clover that covered the brow of a hill. Below in the valley they could see a cluster of red roofs of farms and the white ribbon of the road where long trains of motor trucks crawled like beetles. The sun had just set behind the blue hills the other side of the shallow valley. The air was full of the smell of clover and of hawthorn from the hedgerows. They took deep breaths as they crossed the field.
“It’s great to get away from that crowd,” Andrews was saying.
Chrisfield walked on silently, dragging his feet through the matted clover. A leaden dullness weighed like some sort of warm choking coverlet on his limbs, so that it seemed an effort to walk, an effort to speak. Yet under it his muscles were taut and trembling as he had known them to be before when he was about to get into a fight or to make love to a girl.
“Why the hell don’t they let us git into it?” he said suddenly.
“Yes, anything’ld be better than this... wait, wait, wait.”
They walked on, hearing the constant chirrup of the larks, the brush of their feet through the clover, the faint jingle of some coins in Chrisfield’s pocket, and in the distance the irregular snoring of an aeroplane motor. As they walked Andrews leaned over from time to time and picked a couple of the white clover flowers.
The aeroplane came suddenly nearer and swooped in a wide curve above the field, drowning every sound in the roar of its exhaust. They made out the figures of the pilot and the observer before the plane rose again and vanished against the ragged purple clouds of the sky. The observer had waved a hand at them as he passed. They stood still in the darkening field, staring up at the sky, where a few larks still hung chirruping.
“Ah’d lahk to be one o’ them guys,” said Chrisfield.
“God damn it, Ah’d do anything to git out o’ this hellish infantry. This ain’t no sort o’ life for a man to be treated lahk he was a nigger.”
“No, it’s no sort of life for a man.”
“If they’d let us git to the front an’ do some fightin’ an’ be done with it.... But all we do is drill and have grenade practice an’ drill again and then have bayonet practice an’ drill again. ‘Nough to drive a feller crazy.”
“What the hell’s the use of talking about it, Chris? We can’t be any lower than we are, can we?” Andrews laughed.
“There’s that plane again.”
“There, just goin’ down behind the piece o’ woods.”
“That’s where their field is.”
“Ah bet them guys has a good time. Ah put in an application back in trainin’ camp for Aviation. Ain’t never heard nothing from it though. If Ah had, Ah wouldn’t be lower than dirt in this hawg-pen.”
“It’s wonderful up here on the hill this evening,” said Andrews, looking dreamily at the pale orange band of light where the sun had set. “Let’s go down and get a bottle of wine.”
“Now yo’re talkin’. Ah wonder if that girl’s down there tonight.”
“Um-hum.... Boy, Ah’d lahk to have her all by ma-self some night.”
Their steps grew brisker as they strode along a grass-grown road that led through high hedgerows to a village under the brow of the hill. It was almost dark under the shadow of the bushes on either side. Overhead the purple clouds were washed over by a pale yellow light that gradually faded to grey. Birds chirped and rustled among the young leaves.
Andrews put his hand on Chrisfield’s shoulder.
“Let’s walk slow,” he said, “we don’t want to get out of here too soon.” He grabbed carelessly at little cluster of hawthorn flowers as he passed them, and seemed reluctant to untangle the thorny branches that caught in his coat and on his loosely wound puttees.
“Hell, man,” said Chrisfield, “we won’t have time to get a bellyful. It must be gettin’ late already.”
They hastened their steps again and came in a moment to the first tightly shuttered houses of the village.
In the middle of the road was an M.P., who stood with his legs wide apart, waving his “billy” languidly. He had a red face, his eyes were fixed on the shuttered upper window of a house, through the chinks of which came a few streaks of yellow light. His lips were puckered up as if to whistle, but no sound came. He swayed back and forth indecisively. An officer came suddenly out of the little green door of the house in front of the M.P., who brought his heels together with a jump and saluted, holding his hand a long while to his cap. The officer flicked a hand up hastily to his hat, snatching his cigar out of his mouth for an instant. As the officer’s steps grew fainter down the road, the M.P. gradually returned to his former position.
Chrisfield and Andrews had slipped by on the other side, and gone in at the door of a small ramshackle house of which the windows were closed by heavy wooden shutters.
“I bet there ain’t many of them bastards at the front,” said Chris.
“Not many of either kind of bastards,” said Andrews laughing, as he closed the door behind them. They were in a room that had once been the parlor of a farmhouse. The chandelier with its bits of crystal and the orange-blossoms on a piece of dusty red velvet under a bell glass on the mantelpiece denoted that. The furniture had been taken out, and four square oak tables crowded in. At one of the tables sat three Americans and at another a very young olive-skinned French soldier, who sat hunched over his table looking moodily down into his glass of wine.
A girl in a faded frock of some purplish material that showed the strong curves of her shoulders and breasts slouched into the room, her hands in the pocket of a dark blue apron against which her rounded forearms showed golden brown. Her face had the same golden tan under a mass of dark blonde hair. She smiled when she saw the two soldiers, drawing her thin lips away from her ugly yellow teeth.
“Ca va bien, Antoinette?” asked Andrews.
“Oui,” she said, looking beyond their heads at the French soldier who sat at the other side of the little room.
“A bottle of vin rouge, vite,” said Chrisfield.
“Ye needn’t be so damn vite about it tonight, Chris,” said one of the men at the other table.
“Ain’t a-goin’ to be no roll call. Corporal tole me his-self. Sarge’s gone out to git stewed, an’ the Loot’s away.”
“Sure,” said another man, “we kin stay out as late’s we goddam please tonight.”
“There’s a new M.P. in town,” said Chrisfield.... “Ah saw him maself.... You did, too, didn’t you, Andy?”
Andrews nodded. He was looking at the Frenchman, who sat with his face in shadow and his black lashes covering his eyes. A purplish flash had suffused the olive skin at his cheekbones.
“Oh, boy,” said Chrisfield. “That ole wine sure do go down fast.... Say, Antoinette, got any cognac?”
“I’m going to have some more wine,” said Andrews.
“Go ahead, Andy; have all ye want. Ah want some-thin’ to warm ma guts.”
Antoinette brought a bottle of cognac and two small glasses and sat down in an empty chair with her red hands crossed on her apron. Her eyes moved from Chrisfield to the Frenchman and back again.
Chrisfield turned a little round in his chair and looked at the Frenchman, feeling in his eyes for a moment a glance of the man’s yellowish-brown eyes.
Andrews leaned back against the wall sipping his dark-colored wine, his eyes contracted dreamily, fixed on the shadow of the chandelier, which the cheap oil-lamp with its tin reflector cast on the peeling plaster of the wall opposite.
Chrisfield punched him.
“Wake up, Andy, are you asleep?”
“No,” said Andy smiling.
“Have a li’l mo’ cognac.”
Chrisfield poured out two more glasses unsteadily. His eyes were on Antoinette again. The faded purple frock was hooked at the neck. The first three hooks were undone revealing a V-shape of golden brown skin and a bit of whitish underwear.
“Say, Andy,” he said, putting his arm round his friend’s neck and talking into his ear, “talk up to her for me, will yer, Andy?... Ah won’t let that goddam frog get her, no, I won’t, by Gawd. Talk up to her for me, Andy.”
“I’ll try,” he said. “But there’s always the Queen of Sheba, Chris.”
“Antoinette, j’ai un ami,” started Andrews, making a gesture with a long dirty hand towards Chris.
Antoinette showed her bad teeth in a smile.
“Joli garcon,” said Andrews.
Antoinette’s face became impassive and beautiful again. Chrisfield leaned back in his chair with an empty glass in his hand and watched his friend admiringly.
“Antoinette, mon ami vous... vous admire,” said Andrews in a courtly voice.
A woman put her head in the door. It was the same face and hair as Antoinette’s, ten years older, only the skin, instead of being golden brown, was sallow and wrinkled.
“Viens,” said the woman in a shrill voice.
Antoinette got up, brushed heavily against Chrisfield’s leg as she passed him and disappeared. The Frenchman walked across the room from his corner, saluted gravely and went out.
Chrisfield jumped to his feet. The room was like a white box reeling about him.
“That frog’s gone after her,” he shouted.
“No, he ain’t, Chris,” cried someone from the next table. “Sit tight, ole boy. We’re bettin’ on yer.”
“Yes, sit down and have a drink, Chris,” said Andy. “I’ve got to have somethin’ more to drink. I haven’t had a thing to drink all the evening.” He pulled him back into his chair. Chrisfield tried to get up again. Andrews hung on him so that the chair upset. Then both sprawled on the red tiles of the floor.
“The house is pinched!” said a voice.
Chrisfield saw Judkins standing over him, a grin on his large red face. He got to his feet and sat sulkily in his chair again. Andrews was already sitting opposite him, looking impassive as ever.
The tables were full now. Someone was singing in a droning voice.
“O the oak and the ash and the weeping willow tree,
O green grows the grass in God’s countree!”
“Ole Indiana,” shouted Chris. “That’s the only God’s country I know.” He suddenly felt that he could tell Andy all about his home and the wide corn-fields shimmering and rustling under the July sun, and the creek with red clay banks where he used to go in swimming. He seemed to see it all before him, to smell the winey smell of the silo, to see the cattle, with their chewing mouths always stained a little with green, waiting to get through the gate to the water trough, and the yellow dust and roar of wheat-thrashing, and the quiet evening breeze cooling his throat and neck when he lay out on a shack of hay that he had been tossing all day long under the tingling sun. But all he managed to say was:
“Indiana’s God’s country, ain’t it, Andy?”
“Oh, he has so many,” muttered Andrews.
“Ah’ve seen a hailstone measured nine inches around out home, honest to Gawd, Ah have.”
“Must be as good as a barrage.”
“Ah’d like to see any goddam barrage do the damage one of our thunder an’ lightnin’ storms’ll do,” shouted Chris.
“I guess all the barrage we’re going to see’s grenade practice.”
“Don’t you worry, buddy,” said somebody across the room.
“You’ll see enough of it. This war’s going to last damn long....”
“Ah’d lak to get in some licks at those Huns tonight; honest to Gawd Ah would, Andy,” muttered Chris in a low voice. He felt his muscles contract with a furious irritation. He looked through half-closed eyes at the men in the room, seeing them in distorted white lights and reddish shadows. He thought of himself throwing a grenade among a crowd of men. Then he saw the face of Anderson, a ponderous white face with eyebrows that met across his nose and a bluish, shaved chin.
“Where does he stay at, Andy? I’m going to git him.”
Andrews guessed what he meant.
“Sit down and have a drink, Chris,” he said, “Remember you’re going to sleep with the Queen of Sheba tonight.”
“Not if I can’t git them goddam....” his voice trailed off into an inaudible muttering of oaths.
“O the oak and the ash and the weeping willow tree,
O green grows the grass in God’s countree!”
somebody sang again.
Chrisfield saw a woman standing beside the table with her back to him, collecting the bottles. Andy was paying her.
“Antoinette,” he said. He got to his feet and put his arms round her shoulders. With a quick movement of the elbows she pushed him back into his chair. She turned round. He saw the sallow face and thin breasts of the older sister. She looked in his eyes with surprise. He was grinning drunkenly. As she left the room she made a sign to him with her head to follow her. He got up and staggered out the door, pulling Andrews after him.
In the inner room was a big bed with curtains where the women slept, and the fireplace where they did their cooking. It was dark except for the corner where he and Andrews stood blinking in the glare of a candle on the table. Beyond they could only see ruddy shadows and the huge curtained bed with its red coverlet.
The Frenchman, somewhere in the dark of the room, said something several times.
“Avions boches... ss-t!”
They were quiet.
Above them they heard the snoring of aeroplane motors, rising and falling like the buzzing of a fly against a window pane.
They all looked at each other curiously. Antoinette was leaning against the bed, her face expressionless. Her heavy hair had come undone and fell in smoky gold waves about her shoulders.
The older woman was giggling.
“Come on, let’s see what’s doing, Chris,” said Andrews.
They went out into the dark village street.
“To hell with women, Chris, this is the war!” cried Andrews in a loud drunken voice as they reeled arm in arm up the street.
“You bet it’s the war.... Ah’m a-goin’ to beat up....”
Chrisfield felt his friend’s hand clapped over his mouth. He let himself go limply, feeling himself pushed to the side of the road.
Somewhere in the dark he heard an officer’s voice say:
“Bring those men to me.”
“Yes, sir,” came another voice.
Slow heavy footsteps came up the road in their direction. Andrews kept pushing him back along the side of a house, until suddenly they both fell sprawling in a manure pit.
“Lie still for God’s sake,” muttered Andrews, throwing an arm over Chrisfield’s chest. A thick odor of dry manure filled their nostrils.
They heard the steps come nearer, wander about irresolutely and then go off in the direction from which they had come.
Meanwhile the throb of motors overhead grew louder and louder.
“Well?” came the officer’s voice.
“Couldn’t find them, sir,” mumbled the other voice.
“Nonsense. Those men were drunk,” came the officer’s voice.
“Yes, sir,” came the other voice humbly.
Chrisfield started to giggle. He felt he must yell aloud with laughter.
The nearest motor stopped its singsong roar, making the night seem deathly silent.
Andrews jumped to his feet.
The air was split by a shriek followed by a racking snorting explosion. They saw the wall above their pit light up with a red momentary glare.
Chrisfield got to his feet, expecting to see flaming ruins. The village street was the same as ever. There was a little light from the glow the moon, still under the horizon, gave to the sky. A window in the house opposite showed yellow. In it was a blue silhouette of an officer’s cap and uniform.
A little group stood in the street below.
“What was that?” the form in the window was shouting in a peremptory voice.
“German aeroplane just dropped a bomb, Major,” came a breathless voice in reply.
“Why the devil don’t he close that window?” a voice was muttering all the while. “Juss a target for ‘em to aim at... a target to aim at.”
“Any damage done?” asked the major.
Through the silence the snoring of the motors sing-songed ominously overhead, like giant mosquitoes.
“I seem to hear more,” said the major, in his drawling voice.
“O yes sir, yes sir, lots,” answered an eager voice.
“For God’s sake tell him to close the window, Lieutenant,” muttered another voice.
“How the hell can I tell him? You tell him.”
“We’ll all be killed, that’s all there is about it.”
“There are no shelters or dugouts,” drawled the major from the window. “That’s Headquarters’ fault.”
“There’s the cellar!” cried the eager voice, again.
“Oh,” said the major.
Three snorting explosions in quick succession drowned everything in a red glare. The street was suddenly filled with a scuttle of villagers running to shelter.
“Say, Andy, they may have a roll call,” said Chrisfield.
“We’d better cut for home across country,” said Andrews.
They climbed cautiously out of their manure pit. Chrisfield was surprised to find that he was trembling. His hands were cold.
It was with difficulty he kept his teeth from chattering.
“God, we’ll stink for a week.”
“Let’s git out,” muttered Chrisfield, “o’ this goddam village.”
They ran out through an orchard, broke through a hedge and climbed up the hill across the open fields.
Down the main road an anti-aircraft gun had started barking and the sky sparkled with exploding shrapnel. The “put, put, put” of a machine gun had begun somewhere. Chrisfield strode up the hill in step with his friend. Behind them bomb followed bomb, and above them the air seemed full of exploding shrapnel and droning planes. The cognac still throbbed a little in their blood. They stumbled against each other now and then as they walked. From the top of the hill they turned and looked back. Chrisfield felt a tremendous elation thumping stronger than the cognac through his veins. Unconsciously he put his arm round his friend’s shoulders. They seemed the only live things in a reeling world.
Below in the valley a house was burning brightly. From all directions came the yelp of anti-aircraft guns, and overhead unperturbed continued the leisurely singsong of the motors.
Suddenly Chrisfield burst out laughing. “By God, Ah always have fun when Ah’m out with you, Andy,” he said.
They turned and hurried down the other slope of the hill towards the farms where they were quartered.
As far as he could see in every direction were the grey trunks of beeches bright green with moss on one side. The ground was thick with last year’s leaves that rustled maddeningly with every step. In front of him his eyes followed other patches of olive-drab moving among the tree trunks. Overhead, through the mottled light and dark green of the leaves he could see now and then a patch of heavy grey sky, greyer than the silvery trunks that moved about him in every direction as he walked. He strained his eyes down each alley until they were dazzled by the reiteration of mottled grey and green. Now and then the rustling stopped ahead of him, and the olive-drab patches were still. Then, above the clamour of the blood in his ears, he could hear batteries “pong, pong, pong” in the distance, and the woods ringing with a sound like hail as a heavy shell hurtled above the tree tops to end in a dull rumble miles away.
Chrisfield was soaked with sweat, but he could not feel his arms or legs. Every sense was concentrated in eyes and ears, and in the consciousness of his gun. Time and again he pictured himself taking sight at something grey that moved, and firing. His forefinger itched to press the trigger. He would take aim very carefully, he told himself; he pictured a dab of grey starting up from behind a grey tree trunk, and the sharp detonation of his rifle, and the dab of grey rolling among the last year’s leaves.
A branch carried his helmet off his head so that it rolled at his feet and bounced with a faint metallic sound against the root of a tree.
He was blinded by the sudden terror that seized him. His heart seemed to roll from side to side in his chest. He stood stiff, as if paralyzed for a moment before he could stoop and pick the helmet up. There was a curious taste of blood in his mouth.
“Ah’ll pay ‘em fer that,” he muttered between clenched teeth.
His fingers were still trembling when he stooped to pick up the helmet, which he put on again very carefully, fastening it with the strap under his chin. Furious anger had taken hold of him. The olive-drab patches ahead had moved forward again. He followed, looking eagerly to the right and the left, praying he might see something. In every direction were the silvery trunk of the beeches, each with a vivid green streak on one side. With every step the last year’s russet leaves rustled underfoot, maddeningly loud.
Almost out of sight among the moving tree trunks was a log. It was not a log; it was a bunch of grey-green cloth. Without thinking Chrisfield strode towards it. The silver trunks of the beeches circled about him, waving jagged arms. It was a German lying full length among the leaves.
Chrisfield was furiously happy in the angry pumping of blood through his veins.
He could see the buttons on the back of the long coat of the German, and the red band on his cap.
He kicked the German. He could feel the ribs against his toes through the leather of his boot. He kicked again and again with all his might. The German rolled over heavily. He had no face. Chrisfield felt the hatred suddenly ebb out of him. Where the face had been was a spongy mass of purple and yellow and red, half of which stuck to the russet leaves when the body rolled over. Large flies with bright shiny green bodies circled about it. In a brown clay-grimed hand was a revolver.
Chrisfield felt his spine go cold; the German had shot himself.
He ran off suddenly, breathlessly, to join the rest of the reconnoitering squad. The silent beeches whirled about him, waving gnarled boughs above his head. The German had shot himself. That was why he had no face.
Chrisfield fell into line behind the other men. The corporal waited for him.
“See anything?” he asked.
“Not a goddam thing,” muttered Chrisfield almost inaudibly. The corporal went off to the head of the line. Chrisfield was alone again. The leaves rustled maddeningly loud underfoot.
Chrisfield’s eyes were fixed on the leaves at the tops of the walnut trees, etched like metal against the bright colorless sky, edged with flicks and fringes of gold where the sunlight struck them. He stood stiff and motionless at attention, although there was a sharp pain in his left ankle that seemed swollen enough to burst the worn boot. He could feel the presence of men on both sides of him, and of men again beyond them. It seemed as if the stiff line of men in olive-drab, standing at attention, waiting endlessly for someone to release them from their erect paralysis, must stretch unbroken round the world. He let his glance fall to the trampled grass of the field where the regiment was drawn up. Somewhere behind him he could hear the clinking of spurs at some officer’s heels. Then there was the sound of a motor on the road suddenly shut off, and there were steps coming down the line of men, and a group of officers passed hurriedly, with a businesslike stride, as if they did nothing else all their lives. Chrisfield made out eagles on tight khaki shoulders, then a single star and a double star, above which was a red ear and some grey hair; the general passed too soon for him to make out his face. Chrisfield swore to himself a little because his ankle hurt so. His eyes travelled back to the fringe of the trees against the bright sky. So this was what he got for those weeks in dugouts, for all the times he had thrown himself on his belly in the mud, for the bullets he had shot into the unknown at grey specks that moved among the grey mud. Something was crawling up the middle of his back. He wasn’t sure if it were a louse or if he were imagining it. An order had been shouted. Automatically he had changed his position to parade rest. Somewhere far away a little man was walking towards the long drab lines. A wind had come up, rustling the stiff leaves of the grove of walnut trees. The voice squeaked above it, but Chrisfield could not make out what it said. The wind in the trees made a vast rhythmic sound like the churning of water astern of the transport he had come over on. Gold flicks and olive shadows danced among the indented clusters of leaves as they swayed, as if sweeping something away, against the bright sky. An idea came into Chrisfield’s head. Suppose the leaves should sweep in broader and broader curves until they should reach the ground and sweep and sweep until all this was swept away, all these pains and lice and uniforms and officers with maple leaves or eagles or single stars or double stars or triple stars on their shoulders. He had a sudden picture of himself in his old comfortable overalls, with his shirt open so that the wind caressed his neck like a girl blowing down it playfully, lying on a shuck of hay under the hot Indiana sun. Funny he’d thought all that, he said to himself. Before he’d known Andy he’d never have thought of that. What had come over him these days?
The regiment was marching away in columns of fours. Chrisfield’s ankle gave him sharp hot pain with every step. His tunic was too tight and the sweat tingled on his back. All about him were sweating irritated faces; the woollen tunics with their high collars were like straight-jackets that hot afternoon. Chrisfield marched with his fists clenched; he wanted to fight somebody, to run his bayonet into a man as he ran it into the dummy in that everlasting bayonet drill, he wanted to strip himself naked, to squeeze the wrists of a girl until she screamed.
His company was marching past another company that was lined up to be dismissed in front of a ruined barn which had a roof that sagged in the middle like an old cow’s back. The sergeant stood in front of them with his arms crossed, looking critically at the company that marched past. He had a white heavy face and black eyebrows that met over his nose. Chrisfield stared hard at him as he passed, but Sergeant Anderson did not seem to recognize him. It gave him a dull angry feeling as if he’d been cut by a friend.
The company melted suddenly into a group of men unbuttoning their shirts and tunics in front of the little board shanty where they were quartered, which had been put up by the French at the time of the Marne, years before, so a man had told Andy.
“What are you dreamin’ about, Indiana?” said Judkins, punching Chrisfield jovially in the ribs.
Chrisfield doubled his fists and gave him a smashing blow in the jaw that Judkins warded of just in time.
Judkins’s face flamed red. He swung with a long bent arm.
“What the hell d’you think this is?” shouted somebody. “What’s he want to hit me for?” spluttered Judkins, breathless.
Men had edged in between them.
“Lemme git at him.”
“Shut up, you fool,” said Andy, drawing Chrisfield away. The company scattered sullenly. Some of the men lay down in the long uncut grass in the shade of the ruins of the house, one of the walls of which made a wall of the shanty where they lived. Andrews and Chrisfield strolled in silence down the road, kicking their feet into the deep dust. Chrisfield was limping. On both sides of the road were fields of ripe wheat, golden under the sun. In the distance were low green hills fading to blue, pale yellow in patches with the ripe grain. Here and there a thick clump of trees or a screen of poplars broke the flatness of the long smooth hills. In the hedgerows were blue cornflowers and poppies in all colors from carmine to orange that danced in the wind on their wiry stalks. At the turn in the road they lost the noise of the division and could hear the bees droning in the big dull purple cloverheads and in the gold hearts of the daisies.
“You’re a wild man, Chris. What the hell came over you to try an’ smash poor old Judkie’s jaw? He could lick you anyway. He’s twice as heavy as you are.”
Chrisfield walked on in silence.
“God, I should think you’ld have had enough of that sort of thing.... I should think you’ld be sick of wanting to hurt people. You don’t like pain yourself, do you?”
Andrews spoke in spurts, bitterly, his eyes on the ground.
“Ah think Ah sprained ma goddam ankle when Ah tumbled off the back o’ the truck yesterday.”
“Better go on sick call.... Say, Chris, I’m sick of this business.... Almost like you’d rather shoot yourself than keep on.”
“Ah guess you’re gettin’ the dolefuls, Andy. Look... let’s go in swimmin’. There’s a lake down the road.”
“I’ve got my soap in my pocket. We can wash a few cooties off.”
“Don’t walk so goddam fast...Andy, you got more learnin’ than I have. You ought to be able to tell what it is makes a feller go crazy like that.... Ah guess Ah got a bit o’ the devil in me.”
Andrews was brushing the soft silk of a poppy petal against his face.
“I wonder if it’ld have any effect if I ate some of these,” he said.
“They say you go to sleep if you lie down in a poppy-field. Wouldn’t you like to do that, Chris, an’ not wake up till the war was over and you could be a human being again.”
Andrews bit into the green seed capsule he held in his hand. A milky juice came out.
“It’s bitter...I guess it’s the opium,” he said.
“A stuff that makes you go to sleep and have wonderful dreams. In China....”
“Dreams,” interrupted Chrisfield. “Ah had one of them last night. Dreamed Ah saw a feller that had shot hisself that I saw one time reconnoitrin’ out in the Bringy Wood.”
“What was that?”
“Nawthin’, juss a Fritzie had shot hisself.”
“Better than opium,” said Andrews, his voice trembling with sudden excitement.
“Ah dreamed the flies buzzin’ round him was aeroplanes.... Remember the last rest village?”
“And the major who wouldn’t close the window? You bet I do!”
They lay down on the grassy bank that sloped from the road to the pond. The road was hidden from them by the tall reeds through which the wind lisped softly. Overhead huge white cumulus clouds, piled tier on tier like fantastic galleons in full sail, floated, changing slowly in a greenish sky. The reflection of clouds in the silvery glisten of the pond’s surface was broken by clumps of grasses and bits of floating weeds. They lay on their backs for some time before they started taking their clothes off, looking up at the sky, that seemed vast and free, like the ocean, vaster and freer than the ocean.
“Sarge says a delousin’ machine’s comin’ through this way soon.”
“We need it, Chris.”
Andrews pulled his clothes off slowly.
“It’s great to feel the sun and the wind on your body, isn’t it, Chris?”
Andrews walked towards the pond and lay flat on his belly on the fine soft grass near the edge.
“It’s great to have your body there, isn’t it?” he said in a dreamy voice. “Your skin’s so soft and supple, and nothing in the world has the feel a muscle has.... Gee, I don’t know what I’d do without my body.”
“Look how ma ole ankle’s raised.... Found any cooties yet?” he said.
“I’ll try and drown ‘em,” said Andrews. “Chris, come away from those stinking uniforms and you’ll feel like a human being with the sun on your flesh instead of like a lousy soldier.”
“Hello, boys,” came a high-pitched voice unexpectedly. A “Y” man with sharp nose and chin had come up behind them.
“Hello,” said Chrisfield sullenly, limping towards the water.
“Want the soap?” said Andrews.
“Going to take a swim, boys?” asked the “Y” man. Then he added in a tone of conviction, “That’s great.”
“Better come in, too,” said Andrews.
“Thanks, thanks.... Say, if you don’t mind my suggestion, why don’t you fellers get under the water.... You see there’s two French girls looking at you from the road.” The “Y” man giggled faintly.
“They don’t mind,” said Andrews soaping, himself vigorously.
“Ah reckon they lahk it,” said Chrisfield.
“I know they haven’t any morals.... But still.”
“And why should they not look at us? Maybe there won’t be many people who get a chance.”
“What do you mean?”
“Have you ever seen what a little splinter of a shell does to a feller’s body?” asked Andrews savagely. He splashed into the shallow water and swam towards the middle of the pond.
“Ye might ask ‘em to come down and help us pick the cooties off,” said Chrisfield and followed in Andrews’s wake. In the middle he lay on a sand bank in the warm shallow water and looked back at the “Y” man, who still stood on the bank. Behind him were other men undressing, and soon the grassy slope was filled with naked men and yellowish grey underclothes, and many dark heads and gleaming backs were bobbing up and down in the water. When he came out, he found Andrews sitting cross-legged near his clothes. He reached for his shirt and drew it on him.
“God, I can’t make up my mind to put the damn thing on again,” said Andrews in a low voice, almost as if he were talking to himself; “I feel so clean and free. It’s like voluntarily taking up filth and slavery again.... I think I’ll just walk off naked across the fields.”
“D’you call serving your country slavery, my friend?” The “Y” man, who had been roaming among the bathers, his neat uniform and well-polished boots and puttees contrasting strangely with the mud-clotted, sweat-soaked clothing of the men about him, sat down on the grass beside Andrews.
“You’re goddam right I do.”
“You’ll get into trouble, my boy, if you talk that way,” said the “Y” man in a cautious voice.
“Well, what is your definition of slavery?”
“You must remember that you are a voluntary worker in the cause of democracy.... You’re doing this so that your children will be able to live peaceful....”
“Ever shot a man?”
“No.... No, of course not, but I’d have enlisted, really I would. Only my eyes are weak.”
“I guess so,” said Andrews under his breath. “Remember that your women folks, your sisters and sweethearts and mothers, are praying for you at this instant.”
“I wish somebody’d pray me into a clean shirt,” said Andrews, starting to get into his clothes. “How long have you been over here?”
“Just three months.” The man’s sallow face, with its pinched nose and chin lit up. “But, boys, those three months have been worth all the other years of my min—” he caught himself—“life.... I’ve heard the great heart of America beat. O boys, never forget that you are in a great Christian undertaking.”
“Come on, Chris, let’s beat it.” They left the “Y” man wandering among the men along the bank of the pond, to which the reflection of the greenish silvery sky and the great piled white clouds gave all the free immensity of space. From the road they could still hear his high pitched voice.
“And that’s what’ll survive you and me,” said Andrews.
“Say, Andy, you sure can talk to them guys,” said Chris admiringly.
“What’s the use of talking? God, there’s a bit of honeysuckle still in bloom. Doesn’t that smell like home to you, Chris?”
“Say, how much do they pay those ‘Y’ men, Andy?”
“Damned if I know.”
They were just in time to fall into line for mess. In the line everyone was talking and laughing, enlivened by the smell of food and the tinkle of mess-kits. Near the field kitchen Chrisfield saw Sergeant Anderson talking with Higgins, his own sergeant. They were laughing together, and he heard Anderson’s big voice saying jovially, “We’ve pulled through this time, Higgins.... I guess we will again.” The two sergeants looked at each other and cast a paternal, condescending glance over their men and laughed aloud.
Chrisfield felt powerless as an ox under the yoke. All he could do was work and strain and stand at attention, while that white-faced Anderson could lounge about as if he owned the earth and laugh importantly like that. He held out his plate. The K.P. splashed the meat and gravy into it. He leaned against the tar-papered wall of the shack, eating his food and looking sullenly over at the two sergeants, who laughed and talked with an air of leisure while the men of their two companies ate hurriedly as dogs all round them.
Chrisfield glanced suddenly at Anderson, who sat in the grass at the back of the house, looking out over the wheat fields, while the smoke of a cigarette rose in spirals about his face and his fair hair. He looked peaceful, almost happy. Chrisfield clenched his fists and felt the hatred of that other man rising stingingly within him.
“Guess Ah got a bit of the devil in me,” he thought.
The windows were so near the grass that the faint light had a greenish color in the shack where the company was quartered. It gave men’s faces, tanned as they were, the sickly look of people who work in offices, when they lay on their blankets in the bunks made of chicken wire, stretched across mouldy scantlings. Swallows had made their nests in the peak of the roof, and their droppings made white dobs and blotches on the floorboards in the alley between the bunks, where a few patches of yellow grass had not yet been completely crushed away by footsteps. Now that the shack was empty, Chrisfield could hear plainly the peep-peep of the little swallows in their mud nests. He sat quiet on the end of one of the bunks, looking out of the open door at the blue shadows that were beginning to lengthen on the grass of the meadow behind. His hands, that had got to be the color of terra cotta, hung idly between his legs. He was whistling faintly. His eyes, in their long black eyelashes, were fixed on the distance, though he was not thinking. He felt a comfortable unexpressed well-being all over him. It was pleasant to be alone in the barracks like this, when the other men were out at grenade practice. There was no chance of anyone shouting orders at him.
A warm drowsiness came over him. From the field kitchen alongside came the voice of a man singing:
“O my girl’s a lulu, every inch a lulu,
Is Lulu, that pretty lil’ girl o’ mi-ine.”
In their mud nests the young swallows twittered faintly overhead. Now and then there was a beat of wings and a big swallow skimmed into the shack. Chrisfield’s cheeks began to feel very softly flushed. His head drooped over on his chest. Outside the cook was singing over and over again in a low voice, amid a faint clatter of pans:
“O my girl’s a lulu, every inch a lulu,
Is Lulu, that pretty lil’ girl o’ mi-ine.”
Chrisfield fell asleep.
He woke up with a start. The shack was almost dark. A tall man stood out black against the bright oblong of the door.
“What are you doing here?” said a deep snarling voice.
Chrisfield’s eyes blinked. Automatically he got to his feet; it might be an officer. His eyes focussed suddenly. It was Anderson’s face that was between him and the light. In the greenish obscurity the skin looked chalk-white in contrast to the heavy eyebrows that met over the nose and the dark stubble on the chin.
“How is it you ain’t out with the company?”
“Ah’m barracks guard,” muttered Chrisfield. He could feel the blood beating in his wrists and temples, stinging his eyes like fire. He was staring at the floor in front of Anderson’s feet.
“Orders was all the companies was to go out an’ not leave any guard.”
“We’ll see about that when Sergeant Higgins comes in. Is this place tidy?”
“You say Ah’m a goddamed liar, do ye?” Chrisfield felt suddenly cool and joyous. He felt anger taking possession of him. He seemed to be standing somewhere away from himself watching himself get angry.
“This place has got to be cleaned up.... That damn General may come back to look over quarters,” went on Anderson coolly.
“You call me a goddam liar,” said Chrisfield again, putting as much insolence as he could summon into his voice. “Ah guess you doan’ remember me.”
“Yes, I know, you’re the guy tried to run a knife into me once,” said Anderson coolly, squaring his shoulders. “I guess you’ve learned a little discipline by this time. Anyhow you’ve got to clean this place up. God, they haven’t even brushed the birds’ nests down! Must be some company!” said Anderson with a half laugh.
“Ah ain’t agoin’ to neither, fur you.”
“Look here, you do it or it’ll be the worse for you,” shouted the sergeant in his deep rasping voice.
“If ever Ah gits out o’ the army Ah’m goin’ to shoot you. You’ve picked on me enough.” Chrisfield spoke slowly, as coolly as Anderson.
“Well, we’ll see what a court-martial has to say to that.”
“Ah doan give a hoot in hell what ye do.”
Sergeant Anderson turned on his heel and went out, twisting the corner button of his tunic in his big fingers. Already the sound of tramping feet was heard and the shouted order, “Dis-missed.” Then men crowded into the shack, laughing and talking. Chrisfield sat still on the end of the bunk, looking at the bright oblong of the door. Outside he saw Anderson talking to Sergeant Higgins. They shook hands, and Anderson disappeared. Chrisfield heard Sergeant Higgins call after him.
“I guess the next time I see you I’ll have to put my heels together an’ salute.”
Andersen’s booming laugh faded as he walked away.
Sergeant Higgins came into the shack and walked straight up to Chrisfield, saying in a hard official voice:
“You’re under arrest.... Small, guard this man; get your gun and cartridge belt. I’ll relieve you so you can get mess.”
He went out. Everyone’s eyes were turned curiously on Chrisfield. Small, a red-faced man with a long nose that hung down over his upper lip, shuffled sheepishly over to his place beside Chrisfield’s cot and let the butt of his rifle come down with a bang on the floor. Somebody laughed. Andrews walked up to them, a look of trouble in his blue eyes and in the lines of his lean tanned cheeks.
“What’s the matter, Chris?” he asked in a low voice.
“Tol’ that bastard Ah didn’t give a hoot in hell what he did,” said Chrisfield in a broken voice.
“Say, Andy, I don’t think I ought ter let anybody talk to him,” said Small in an apologetic tone. “I don’t see why Sarge always gives me all his dirty work.”
Andrews walked off without replying.
“Never mind, Chris; they won’t do nothin’ to ye,” said Jenkins, grinning at him good-naturedly from the door.
“Ah doan give a hoot in hell what they do,” said Chrisfield again.
He lay back in his bunk and looked at the ceiling. The barracks was full of a bustle of cleaning up. Judkins was sweeping the floor with a broom made of dry sticks. Another man was knocking down the swallows’ nests with a bayonet. The mud nests crumbled and fell on the floor and the bunks, filling the air with a flutter of feathers and a smell of birdlime. The little naked bodies, with their orange bills too big for them, gave a soft plump when they hit the boards of the floor, where they lay giving faint gasping squeaks. Meanwhile, with shrill little cries, the big swallows flew back and forth in the shanty, now and then striking the low roof.
“Say, pick ‘em up, can’t yer?” said Small. Judkins was sweeping the little gasping bodies out among the dust and dirt.
A stoutish man stooped and picked the little birds up one by one, puckering his lips into an expression of tenderness. He made his two hands into a nest-shaped hollow, out of which stretched the long necks and the gaping orange mouths. Andrews ran into him at the door.
“Hello, Dad,” he said. “What the hell?”
“I just picked these up.”
“So they couldn’t let the poor little devils stay there? God! it looks to me as if they went out of their way to give pain to everything, bird, beast or man.”
“War ain’t no picnic,” said Judkins.
“Well, God damn it, isn’t that a reason for not going out of your way to raise more hell with people’s feelings than you have to?”
A face with peaked chin and nose on which was stretched a parchment-colored skin appeared in the door.
“Hello, boys,” said the “Y” man. “I just thought I’d tell you I’m going to open the canteen tomorrow, in the last shack on the Beaucourt road. There’ll be chocolate, ciggies, soap, and everything.”
Everybody cheered. The “Y” man beamed.
His eye lit on the little birds in Dad’s hands.
“How could you?” he said. “An American soldier being deliberately cruel. I would never have believed it.”
“Ye’ve got somethin’ to learn,” muttered Dad, waddling out into the twilight on his bandy legs.
Chrisfield had been watching the scene at the door with unseeing eyes. A terrified nervousness that he tried to beat off had come over him. It was useless to repeat to himself again and again that he didn’t give a damn; the prospect of being brought up alone before all those officers, of being cross-questioned by those curt voices, frightened him. He would rather have been lashed. Whatever was he to say, he kept asking himself; he would get mixed up or say things he didn’t mean to, or else he wouldn’t be able to get a word out at all. If only Andy could go up with him, Andy was educated, like the officers were; he had more learning than the whole shooting-match put together. He’d be able to defend himself, and defend his friends, too, if only they’d let him.
“I felt just like those little birds that time they got the bead on our trench at Boticourt,” said Jenkins, laughing.
Chrisfield listened to the talk about him as if from another world. Already he was cut off from his outfit. He’d disappear and they’d never know or care what became of him.
The mess-call blew and the men filed out. He could hear their talk outside, and the sound of their mess-kits as they opened them. He lay on his bunk staring up into the dark. A faint blue light still came from outside, giving a curious purple color to Small’s red face and long drooping nose at the end of which hung a glistening drop of moisture.
Chrisfield found Andrews washing a shirt in the brook that flowed through the ruins of the village the other side of the road from the buildings where the division was quartered. The blue sky flicked with pinkish-white clouds gave a shimmer of blue and lavender and white to the bright water. At the bottom could be seen battered helmets and bits of equipment and tin cans that had once held meat. Andrews turned his head; he had a smudge of mud down his nose and soapsuds on his chin.
“Hello, Chris,” he said, looking him in the eyes with his sparkling blue eyes, “how’s things?” There was a faint anxious frown on his forehead.
“Two-thirds of one month’s pay an’ confined to quarters,” said Chrisfield cheerfully.
“Gee, they were easy.”
“Um-hum, said Ah was a good shot an’ all that, so they’d let me off this time.”
Andrews started scrubbing at his shirt again.
“I’ve got this shirt so full of mud I don’t think I ever will get it clean,” he said.
“Move ye ole hide away, Andy. Ah’ll wash it. You ain’t no good for nothin’.”
“Hell no, I’ll do it.”
“Move ye hide out of there.”
Andrews got to his feet and wiped the mud off his nose with his bare forearm.
“Ah’m goin’ to shoot that bastard,” said Chrisfield, scrubbing at the shirt.
“Don’t be an ass, Chris.”
“Ah swear to God Ah am.”
“What’s the use of getting all wrought up. The thing’s over. You’ll probably never see him again.”
“Ah ain’t all het up.... Ah’m goin’ to do it though.” He wrung the shirt out carefully and flipped Andrews in the face with it. “There ye are,” he said.
“You’re a good fellow, Chris, even if you are an ass.”
“Tell me we’re going into the line in a day or two.”
“There’s been a devil of a lot of artillery going up the road; French, British, every old kind.”
“Tell me they’s raisin’ hell in the Oregon forest.”
They walked slowly across the road. A motorcycle despatch-rider whizzed past them.
“It’s them guys has the fun,” said Chrisfield.
“I don’t believe anybody has much.”
“What about the officers?”
“They’re too busy feeling important to have a real hell of a time.”
The hard cold rain beat like a lash in his; face. There was no light anywhere and no sound but the hiss of the rain in the grass. His eyes strained to see through the dark until red and yellow blotches danced before them. He walked very slowly and carefully, holding something very gently in his hand under his raincoat. He felt himself full of a strange subdued fury; he seemed to be walking behind himself spying on his own actions, and what he saw made him feel joyously happy, made him want to sing.
He turned so that the rain beat against his cheek. Under his helmet he felt his hair full of sweat that ran with the rain down his glowing face. His fingers clutched very carefully the smooth stick he had in his hand.
He stopped and shut his eyes for a moment; through the hiss of the rain he had heard a sound of men talking in one of the shanties. When he shut his eyes he saw the white face of Anderson before him, with its unshaven chin and the eyebrows that met across the nose.
Suddenly he felt the wall of a house in front of him. He put out his hand. His hand jerked back from the rough wet feel of the tar paper, as if it had touched something dead. He groped along the wall, stepping very cautiously. He felt as he had felt reconnoitering in the Bringy Wood. Phrases came to his mind as they had then. Without thinking what they meant, the words Make the world safe for Democracy formed themselves in his head. They were very comforting. They occupied his thoughts. He said them to himself again and again. Meanwhile his free hand was fumbling very carefully with the fastening that held the wooden shutter over a window. The shutter opened a very little, creaking loudly, louder than the patter of rain on the roof of the shack. A stream of water from the roof was pouring into his face.
Suddenly a beam of light transformed everything, cutting the darkness in two. The rain glittered like a bead curtain. Chrisfield was looking into a little room where a lamp was burning. At a table covered with printed blanks of different size sat a corporal; behind him was a bunk and a pile of equipment. The corporal was reading a magazine. Chrisfield looked at him a long time; his fingers were tight about the smooth stick. There was no one else in the room.
A sort of panic seized Chrisfield; he strode away noisily from the window and pushed open the door of the shack.
“Where’s Sergeant Anderson?” he asked in a breathless voice of the first man he saw.
“Corp’s there if it’s anything important,” said the man. “Anderson’s gone to an O. T. C. Left day before yesterday.”
Chrisfield was out in the rain again. It was beating straight in his face, so that his eyes were full of water. He was trembling. He had suddenly become terrified. The smooth stick he held seemed to burn him. He was straining his ears for an explosion. Walking straight before him down the road, he went faster and faster as if trying to escape from it. He stumbled on a pile of stones. Automatically he pulled the string out of the grenade and threw it far from him.
There was a minute’s pause.
Red flame spurted in the middle of the wheatfield. He felt the sharp crash in his eardrums.
He walked fast through the rain. Behind him, at the door of the shack, he could hear excited voices. He walked recklessly on, the rain blinding him. When he finally stepped into the light he was so dazzled he could not see who was in the wine shop.
“Well, I’ll be damned, Chris,” said Andrews’s voice. Chrisfield blinked the rain out of his lashes. Andrews sat writing with a pile of papers before him and a bottle of champagne. It seemed to Chrisfield to soothe his nerves to hear Andy’s voice. He wished he would go on talking a long time without a pause.
“If you aren’t the crowning idiot of the ages,” Andrews went on in a low voice. He took Chrisfield by the arm and led him into the little back room, where was a high bed with a brown coverlet and a big kitchen table on which were the remnants of a meal.
“What’s the matter? Your arm’s trembling like the devil. But why.... O pardon, Crimpette. C’est un ami.... You know Crimpette, don’t you?” He pointed to a youngish woman who had just appeared from behind the bed. She had a flabby rosy face and violet circles under her eyes, dark as if they’d been made by blows, and untidy hair. A dirty grey muslin dress with half the hooks off held in badly her large breasts and flabby figure. Chrisfield looked at her greedily, feeling his furious irritation flame into one desire.
“What’s the matter with you, Chris? You’re crazy to break out of quarters this way?”
“Say, Andy, git out o’ here. Ah ain’t your sort anyway.... Git out o’ here.”
“You’re a wild man. I’ll grant you that.... But I’d just as soon be your sort as anyone else’s.... Have a drink.”
Andrews sat down with his bottle and his papers, pushing away the broken plates full of stale food to make a place on the greasy table. He took a gulp out of the bottle, that made him cough, then put the end of his pencil in his mouth and stared gravely at the paper.
“No, I’m your sort, Chris,” he said over his shoulder, “only they’ve tamed me. O God, how tame I am.”
Chrisfield did not listen to what he was saying. He stood in front of the woman, staring in her face. She looked at him in a stupid frightened way. He felt in his pockets for some money. As he had just been paid he had a fifty-franc note. He spread it out carefully before her. Her eyes glistened. The pupils seemed to grow smaller as they fastened on the bit of daintily colored paper. He crumpled it up suddenly in his fist and shoved it down between her breasts.
Some time later Chrisfield sat down in front of Andrews. He still had his wet slicker on.
“Ah guess you think Ah’m a swine,” he said in his normal voice. “Ah guess you’re about right.”
“No, I don’t,” said Andrews. Something made him put his hand on Chrisfield’s hand that lay on the table. It had a feeling of cool health.
“Say, why were you trembling so when you came in here? You seem all right now.”
“Oh, Ah dunno,’” said Chrisfield in a soft resonant voice.
They were silent for a long while. They could hear the woman’s footsteps going and coming behind them.
“Let’s go home,” said Chrisfield.
“All right.... Bonsoir, Crimpette.”
Outside the rain had stopped. A stormy wind had torn the clouds to rags. Here and there clusters of stars showed through. They splashed merrily through the puddles. But here and there reflected a patch of stars when the wind was not ruffling them.
“Christ, Ah wish Ah was like you, Andy,” said Chrisfield.
“You don’t want to be like me, Chris. I’m no sort of a person at all. I’m tame. O you don’t know how damn tame I am.”
“Learnin’ sure do help a feller to git along in the world.”
“Yes, but what’s the use of getting along if you haven’t any world to get along in? Chris, I belong to a crowd that just fakes learning. I guess the best thing that can happen to us is to get killed in this butchery. We’re a tame generation.... It’s you that it matters to kill.”
“Ah ain’t no good for anythin’.... Ah doan give a damn.... Lawsee, Ah feel sleepy.”
As they slipped in the door of their quarters, the sergeant looked at Chrisfield searchingly. Andrews spoke up at once.
“There’s some rumors going on at the latrine, Sarge. The fellows from the Thirty-second say we’re going to march into hell’s halfacre about Thursday.”
“A lot they know about it.”
“That’s the latest edition of the latrine news.”
“The hell it is! Well, d’you want to know something, Andrews.... It’ll be before Thursday, or I’m a Dutchman.”
Sergeant Higgins put on a great air of mystery.
Chrisfield went to his bunk, undressed quietly and climbed into his blankets. He stretched his arms languidly a couple of times, and while Andrews was still talking to the sergeant, fell asleep.
The moon lay among clouds on the horizon, like a big red pumpkin among its leaves.
Chrisfield squinted at it through the boughs of the apple trees laden with apples that gave a winey fragrance to the crisp air. He was sitting on the ground, his legs stretched limply before him, leaning against the rough trunk of an apple tree. Opposite him, leaning against another tree, was the square form, surmounted by a large long-jawed face, of Judkins. Between them lay two empty cognac bottles. All about them was the rustling orchard, with its crooked twigs that made a crackling sound rubbing together in the gusts of the autumn wind, that came heavy with a smell of damp woods and of rotting fruits and of all the ferment of the overripe fields. Chrisfield felt it stirring the moist hair on his forehead and through the buzzing haze of the cognac heard the plunk, plunk, plunk of apples dropping that followed each gust, and the twanging of night insects, and, far in the distance, the endless rumble of guns, like tomtoms beaten for a dance.
“Ye heard what the Colonel said, didn’t ye?” said Judkins in a voice hoarse from too much drink.
Chrisfield belched and nodded his head vaguely. He remembered Andrews’s white fury after the men had been dismissed, how he had sat down on the end of a log by the field kitchen, staring at the patch of earth he beat into mud with the toe of his boot.
“Then,” went on Judkins, trying to imitate the Colonel’s solemn efficient voice, “‘On the subject of prisoners’”—he hiccoughed and made a limp gesture with his hand—“‘On the subject of prisoners, well, I’ll leave that to you, but juss remember... juss remember what the Huns did to Belgium, an’ I might add that we have barely enough emergency rations as it is, and the more prisoners you have the less you fellers’ll git to eat.’”
“That’s what he said, Judkie; that’s what he said.”
“‘An the more prisoners ye have, the less youse’ll git to eat,’” chanted Judkins, making a triumphal flourish with his hand.
Chrisfield groped for the cognac bottle; it was empty; he waved it in the air a minute and then threw it into the tree opposite him. A shower of little apples fell about Judkins’s head. He got unsteadily to his feet.
“I tell you, fellers,” he said, “war ain’t no picnic.”
Chrisfield stood up and grabbed at an apple. His teeth crunched into it.
“Sweet,” he said.
“Sweet, nauthin’,” mumbled Judkins, “war ain’t no picnic.... I tell you, buddy, if you take any prisoners”—he hiccoughed—“after what the Colonel said, I’ll lick the spots out of you, by God I will.... Rip up their guts that’s all, like they was dummies. Rip up their guts.” His voice suddenly changed to one of childish dismay. “Gee, Chris, I’m going to be sick,” he whispered.
“Look out,” said Chrisfield, pushing him away. Judkins leaned against a tree and vomited.
The full moon had risen above the clouds and filled the apple orchard with chilly golden light that cast a fantastic shadow pattern of interlaced twigs and branches upon the bare ground littered with apples. The sound of the guns had grown nearer. There were loud eager rumbles as of bowls being rolled very hard on a bowling alley, combined with a continuous roar like sheets of iron being shaken.
“Ah bet it’s hell out there,” said Chrisfield.
“I feel better,” said Judkins. “Let’s go get some more cognac.”
“Ah’m hungry,” said Chrisfield. “Let’s go an’ get that ole woman to cook us some aigs.”
“Too damn late,” growled Judkins.
“How the hell late is it?”
“Dunno, I sold my watch.”
They were walking at random through the orchard. They came to a field full of big pumpkins that gleamed in the moonlight and cast shadows black as holes. In the distance they could see wooded hills.
Chrisfield picked up a medium-sized pumpkin and threw it as hard as he could into the air. It split into three when it landed with a thud on the ground, and the moist yellow seeds spilled out.
“Some strong man, you are,” said Judkins, tossing up a bigger one.
“Say, there’s a farmhouse, maybe we could get some aigs from the hen-roost.”
“Hell of a lot of hens....”
At that moment the crowing of a rooster came across the silent fields. They ran towards the dark farm buildings.
“Look out, there may be officers quartered there.”
They walked cautiously round the square, silent group of buildings. There were no lights. The big wooden door of the court pushed open easily, without creaking. On the roof of the barn the pigeon-cot was etched dark against the disc of the moon. A warm smell of stables blew in their faces as the two men tiptoed into the manure-littered farmyard. Under one of the sheds they found a table on which a great many pears were set to ripen. Chrisfield put his teeth into one. The rich sweet juice ran down his chin. He ate the pear quickly and greedily, and then bit into another.
“Fill yer pockets with ‘em,” whispered Judkins.
“They might ketch us.”
“Ketch us, hell. We’ll be goin’ into the offensive in a day or two.”
“Ah sure would like to git some aigs.”
Chrisfield pushed open the door of one of the barns. A smell of creamy milk and cheeses filled his nostrils.
“Come here,” he whispered. “Want some cheese?”
A lot of cheeses ranged on a board shone silver in the moonlight that came in through the open door.
“Hell, no, ain’t fit te eat,” said Judkins, pushing his heavy fist into one of the new soft cheeses.
“Doan do that.”
“Well, ain’t we saved ‘em from the Huns?”
“War ain’t no picnic, that’s all,” said Judkins.
In the next door they found chickens roosting in a small room with straw on the floor. The chickens ruffled their feathers and made a muffled squeaking as they slept.
Suddenly there was a loud squawking and all the chickens were cackling with terror.
“Beat it,” muttered Judkins, running for the gate of the farmyard.
There were shrill cries of women in the house. A voice shrieking, “C’est les Boches, C’est les Boches,” rose above the cackling of chickens and the clamor of guinea-hens. As they ran, they heard the rasping cries of a woman in hysterics, rending the rustling autumn night.
“God damn,” said Judkins breathless, “they ain’t got no right, those frogs ain’t, to carry on like that.”
They ducked into the orchard again. Above the squawking of the chicken Judkins still held, swinging it by its legs, Chrisfield could hear the woman’s voice shrieking. Judkins dexterously wrung the chicken’s neck. Crushing the apples underfoot they strode fast through the orchard. The voice faded into the distance until it could not be heard above the sound of the guns.
“Gee, Ah’m kind o’ cut up ‘bout that lady,” said Chrisfield.
“Well, ain’t we saved her from the Huns?”
“Andy don’t think so.”
“Well, if you want to know what I think about that guy Andy I don’t think much of him. I think he’s yaller, that’s all,” said Judkins.
“No, he ain’t.”
“I heard the lootenant say so. He’s a goddam yeller dawg.”
Chrisfield swore sullenly.
“Well, you juss wait ‘n see. I tell you, buddy, war ain’t no picnic.”
“What the hell are we goin’ to do with that chicken?” said Judkins.
“You remember what happened to Eddie White?”
“Hell, we’d better leave it here.”
Judkins swung the chicken by its neck round his head and threw it as hard as he could into the bushes.
They were walking along the road between chestnut trees that led to their village. It was dark except for irregular patches of bright moonlight in the centre that lay white as milk among the indentated shadows of the leaves. All about them rose a cool scent of woods, of ripe fruits and of decaying leaves, of the ferment of the autumn countryside.
The lieutenant sat at a table in the sun, in the village street outside the company office. In front of him sparkled piles of money and daintily tinted banknotes. Beside him stood Sergeant Higgins with an air of solemnity and the second sergeant and the corporal. The men stood in line and as each came before the table he saluted with deference, received his money and walked away with a self-conscious air. A few villagers looked on from the small windows with grey frames of their rambling whitewashed houses. In the ruddy sunshine the line of men cast an irregular blue-violet shadow, like a gigantic centipede, on the yellow gravel road.
From the table by the window of the cafe of “Nos Braves Poilus” where Small and Judkins and Chrisfield had established themselves with their pay crisp in their pockets, they could see the little front garden of the house across the road, where, behind a hedge of orange marigolds, Andrews sat on the doorstep talking to an old woman hunched on a low chair in the sun just inside the door, who leant her small white head over towards his yellow one.
“There ye are,” said Judkins in a solemn tone. “He don’t even go after his pay. That guy thinks he’s the whole show, he does.”
Chrisfield flushed, but said nothing. “He don’t do nothing all day long but talk to that ole lady,” said Small with a grin. “Guess she reminds him of his mother, or somethin’.”
“He always does go round with the frogs all he can. Looks to me like he’d rather have a drink with a frog than with an American.”
“Reckon he wants to learn their language,” said Small. “He won’t never come to much in this army, that’s what I’m telling yer,” said Judkins.
The little houses across the way had flushed red with the sunset. Andrews got to his feet slowly and languidly and held out his hand to the old woman. She stood up, a small tottering figure in a black silk shawl. He leaned over towards her and she kissed both his cheeks vigorously several times. He walked down the road towards the billets, with his fatigue cap in his hand, looking at the ground.
“He’s got a flower behind his ear, like a cigarette,” said Judkins, with a disgusted snort.
“Well, I guess we’d better go,” said Small. “We got to be in quarters at six.”
They were silent a moment. In the distance the guns kept up a continual tomtom sound.
“Guess we’ll be in that soon,” said Small.
Chrisfield felt a chill go down his spine. He moistened his lips with his tongue.
“Guess it’s hell out there,” said Judkins. “War ain’t no picnic.”
“Ah doan give a hoot in hell,” said Chrisfield.
The men were lined up in the village street with their packs on, waiting for the order to move. Thin wreaths of white mist still lingered in the trees and over the little garden plots. The sun had not yet risen, but ranks of clouds in the pale blue sky overhead were brilliant with crimson and gold. The men stood in an irregular line, bent over a little by the weight of their equipment, moving back and forth, stamping their feet and beating their arms together, their noses and ears red from the chill of the morning. The haze of their breath rose above their heads.
Down the misty road a drab-colored limousine appeared, running slowly. It stopped in front of the line of men. The lieutenant came hurriedly out of the house opposite, drawing on a pair of gloves. The men standing in line looked curiously at the limousine. They could see that two of the tires were flat and that the glass was broken. There were scratches on the drab paint and in the door three long jagged holes that obliterated the number. A little murmur went down the line of men. The door opened with difficulty, and a major in a light buff-colored coat stumbled out. One arm, wrapped in bloody bandages, was held in a sling made of a handkerchief. His face was white and drawn into a stiff mask with pain. The lieutenant saluted.
“For God’s sake where’s a repair station?” he asked in a loud shaky voice.
“There’s none in this village, Major.”
“Where the hell is there one?”
“I don’t know,” said the lieutenant in a humble tone.
“Why the hell don’t you know? This organization’s rotten, no good.... Major Stanley’s just been killed. What the hell’s the name of this village?”
“Where the hell’s that?”
The chauffeur had leaned out. He had no cap and his hair was full of dust.
“You see, Lootenant, we wants to get to Chalons—”
“Yes, that’s it. Chalons sur...Chalons-sur-Marne,” said the Major.
“The billeting officer has a map,” said the lieutenant, “last house to the left.”
“O let’s go there quick,” said the major. He fumbled with the fastening of the door.
The lieutenant opened it for him.
As he opened the door, the men nearest had a glimpse of the interior of the car. On the far side was a long object huddled in blankets, propped up on the seat.
Before he got in the major leaned over and pulled a woollen rug out, holding it away from him with his one good arm. The car moved off slowly, and all down the village street the men, lined up waiting for orders, stared curiously at the three jagged holes in the door.
The lieutenant looked at the rug that lay in the middle of the road. He touched it with his foot. It was soaked with blood that in places had dried into clots.
The lieutenant and the men of his company looked at it in silence. The sun had risen and shone on the roofs of the little whitewashed houses behind them. Far down the road a regiment had begun to move.
At the brow of the hill they rested. Chrisfield sat on the red clay bank and looked about him, his rifle between his knees. In front of him on the side of the road was a French burying ground, where the little wooden crosses, tilting in every direction, stood up against the sky, and the bead wreaths glistened in the warm sunlight. All down the road as far as he could see was a long drab worm, broken in places by strings of motor trucks, a drab worm that wriggled down the slope, through the roofless shell of the village and up into the shattered woods on the crest of the next hills. Chrisfield strained his eyes to see the hills beyond. They lay blue and very peaceful in the moon mist. The river glittered about the piers of the wrecked stone bridge, and disappeared between rows of yellow poplars. Somewhere in the valley a big gun fired. The shell shrieked into the distance, towards the blue, peaceful hills.
Chrisfield’s regiment was moving again. The men, their feet slipping in the clayey mud, went downhill with long strides, the straps of their packs tugging at their shoulders.
“Isn’t this great country?” said Andrews, who marched beside him.
“Ah’d liever be at an O. T. C. like that bastard Anderson.”
“Oh, to hell with that,” said Andrews. He still had a big faded orange marigold in one of the buttonholes of his soiled tunic. He walked with his nose in the air and his nostrils dilated, enjoying the tang of the autumnal sunlight.
Chrisfield took the cigarette, that had gone out half-smoked, from his mouth and spat savagely at the heels of the man in front of him.
“This ain’t no life for a white man,” he said.
“I’d rather be this than... than that,” said Andrews bitterly. He tossed his head in the direction of a staff car full of officers that was stalled at the side of the road. They were drinking something out of a thermos bottle that they passed round with the air of Sunday excursionists. They waved, with a conscious relaxation of discipline, at the men as they passed. One, a little lieutenant with a black mustache with pointed ends, kept crying: “They’re running like rabbits, fellers; they’re running like rabbits.” A wavering half-cheer would come from the column now and then where it was passing the staff car.
The big gun fired again. Chrisfield was near it this time and felt the concussion like a blow in the head.
“Some baby,” said the man behind him.
Someone was singing:
“Good morning, mister Zip Zip Zip,
With your hair cut just as short as,
With your hair cut just as short as,
With your hair cut just as short as mi-ine.”
Everybody took it up. Their steps rang in rhythm in the paved street that zigzagged among the smashed houses of the village. Ambulances passed them, big trucks full of huddled men with grey faces, from which came a smell of sweat and blood and carbolic. Somebody went on:
“O ashes to ashes
An’ dust to dust...”
“Can that,” cried Judkins, “it ain’t lucky.”
But everybody had taken up the song. Chrisfield noticed that Andrews’s eyes were sparkling. “If he ain’t the damnedest,” he thought to himself. But he shouted at the top of his lungs with the rest:
“O ashes to ashes
An’ dust to dust;
If the gasbombs don’t get yer
The eighty-eights must.”
They were climbing the hill again. The road was worn into deep ruts and there were many shell holes, full of muddy water, into which their feet slipped. The woods began, a shattered skeleton of woods, full of old artillery emplacements and dugouts, where torn camouflage fluttered from splintered trees. The ground and the road were littered with tin cans and brass shell-cases. Along both sides of the road the trees were festooned, as with creepers, with strand upon strand of telephone wire.
When next they stopped Chrisfield was on the crest of the hill beside a battery of French seventy-fives. He looked curiously at the Frenchmen, who sat about on logs in their pink and blue shirtsleeves playing cards and smoking. Their gestures irritated him.
“Say, tell ‘em we’re advancin’,” he said to Andrews.
“Are we?” said Andrews. “All right.... Dites-donc, les Boches courent-ils comme des lapins?” he shouted.
One of the men turned his head and laughed.
“He says they’ve been running that way for four years,” said Andrews. He slipped his pack off, sat down on it, and fished for a cigarette. Chrisfield took off his helmet and rubbed a muddy hand through his hair. He took a bite of chewing tobacco and sat with his hands clasped over his knees.
“How the hell long are we going to wait this time?” he muttered. The shadows of the tangled and splintered trees crept slowly across the road. The French artillerymen were eating their supper. A long train of motor trucks growled past, splashing mud over the men crowded along the sides of the road. The sun set, and a lot of batteries down in the valley began firing, making it impossible to talk. The air was full of a shrieking and droning of shells overhead. The Frenchmen stretched and yawned and went down into their dugout. Chrisfield watched them enviously. The stars were beginning to come out in the green sky behind the tall lacerated trees. Chrisfield’s legs ached with cold. He began to get crazily anxious for something to happen, for something to happen, but the column waited, without moving, through the gathering darkness. Chrisfield chewed steadily, trying to think of nothing but the taste of the tobacco in his mouth.
The column was moving again; as they reached the brow of another hill Chrisfield felt a curious sweetish smell that made his nostrils smart. “Gas,” he thought, full of panic, and put his hand to the mask that hung round his neck. But he did not want to be the first to put it on. No order came. He marched on, cursing the sergeant and the lieutenant. But maybe they’d been killed by it. He had a vision of the whole regiment sinking down in the road suddenly, overcome by the gas.
“Smell anythin’, Andy?” he whispered cautiously.
“I can smell a combination of dead horses and tube roses and banana oil and the ice cream we used to have at college and dead rats in the garret, but what the hell do we care now?” said Andrews, giggling. “This is the damnedest fool business ever....”
“He’s crazy,” muttered Chrisfield to himself. He looked at the stars in the black sky that seemed to be going along with the column on its march. Or was it that they and the stars were standing still while the trees moved away from them, waving their skinny shattered arms? He could hardly hear the tramp of feet on the road, so loud was the pandemonium of the guns ahead and behind. Every now and then a rocket would burst in front of them and its red and green lights would mingle for a moment with the stars. But it was only overhead he could see the stars. Everywhere else white and red glows rose and fell as if the horizon were on fire.
As they started down the slope, the trees suddenly broke away and they saw the valley between them full of the glare of guns and the white light of star shells. It was like looking into a stove full of glowing embers. The hillside that sloped away from them was full of crashing detonations and yellow tongues of flame. In a battery near the road, that seemed to crush their skulls each time a gun fired, they could see the dark forms of the artillerymen silhouetted in fantastic attitudes against the intermittent red glare. Stunned and blinded, they kept on marching down the road. It seemed to Chrisfield that they were going to step any minute into the flaring muzzle of a gun.
At the foot of the hill, beside a little grove of uninjured trees, they stopped again. A new train of trucks was crawling past them, huge blots in the darkness. There were no batteries near, so they could hear the grinding roar of the gears as the trucks went along the uneven road, plunging in and out of shellholes.
Chrisfield lay down in the dry ditch, full of bracken, and dozed with his head on his pack. All about him were stretched other men. Someone was resting his head on Chrisfield’s thigh. The noise had subsided a little. Through his doze he could hear men’s voices talking in low crushed tones, as if they were afraid of speaking aloud. On the road the truck-drivers kept calling out to each other shrilly, raspingly. The motors stopped running one after another, making almost a silence, during which Chrisfield fell asleep.
Something woke him. He was stiff with cold and terrified. For a moment he thought he had been left alone, that the company had gone on, for there was no one touching him.
Overhead was a droning as of gigantic mosquitoes, growing fast to a loud throbbing. He heard the lieutenant’s voice calling shrilly:
“Sergeant Higgins, Sergeant Higgins!”
The lieutenant stood out suddenly black against a sheet of flame. Chrisfield could see his fatigue cap a little on one side and his trench coat, drawn in tight at the waist and sticking out stiffly at the knees. He was shaken by the explosion. Everything was black again. Chrisfield got to his feet, his ears ringing. The column was moving on. He heard moaning near him in the darkness. The tramp of feet and jingle of equipment drowned all other sound. He could feel his shoulders becoming raw under the tugging of the pack. Now and then the flare from aeroplane bombs behind him showed up wrecked trucks on the side of the road. Somewhere a machine gun spluttered. But the column tramped on, weighed down by the packs, by the deadening exhaustion.
The turbulent flaring darkness was calming to the grey of dawn when Chrisfield stopped marching. His eyelids stung as if his eyeballs were flaming hot. He could not feel his feet and legs. The guns continued incessantly like a hammer beating on his head. He was walking very slowly in a single file, now and then stumbling against the man ahead of him. There was earth on both sides of him, clay walls that dripped moisture. All at once he stumbled down some steps into a dugout, where it was pitch-black. An unfamiliar smell struck him, made him uneasy; but his thoughts seemed to reach him from out of a great distance. He groped to the wall. His knees struck against a bunk with blankets in it. In another second he was sunk fathoms deep in sleep.
When he woke up his mind was very clear. The roof of the dugout was of logs. A bright spot far away was the door. He hoped desperately that he wasn’t on duty. He wondered where Andy was; then he remembered that Andy was crazy,—“a yeller dawg,” Judkins had called him. Sitting up with difficulty he undid his shoes and puttees, wrapped himself in his blanket. All round him were snores and the deep breathing of exhausted sleep. He closed his eyes.
He was being court-martialled. He stood with his hands at his sides before three officers at a table. All three had the same white faces with heavy blue jaws and eyebrows that met above the nose. They were reading things out of papers aloud, but, although he strained his ears, he couldn’t make out what they were saying. All he could hear was a faint moaning. Something had a curious unfamiliar smell that troubled him. He could not stand still at attention, although the angry eyes of officers stared at him from all round. “Anderson, Sergeant Anderson, what’s that smell?” he kept asking in a small whining voice. “Please tell a feller what that smell is.” But the three officers at the table kept reading from their papers, and the moaning grew louder and louder in his ears until he shrieked aloud. There was a grenade in his hand. He pulled the string out and threw it, and he saw the lieutenant’s trench coat stand out against a sheet of flame. Someone sprang at him. He was wrestling for his life with Anderson, who turned into a woman with huge flabby breasts. He crushed her to him and turned to defend himself against three officers who came at him, their trench coats drawn in tightly at the waist until they looked like wasps. Everything faded, he woke up.
His nostrils were still full of the strange troubling smell. He sat on the edge of the bunk, wriggling in his clothes, for his body crawled with lice.
“Gee, it’s funny to be in where the Fritzies were not long ago,” he heard a voice say.
“Kiddo! we’re advancin’,” came another voice.
“But, hell, this ain’t no kind of an advance. I ain’t seen a German yet.”
“Ah kin smell ‘em though,” said Chrisfield, getting suddenly to his feet.
Sergeant Higgins’ head appeared in the door. “Fall in,” he shouted. Then he added in his normal voice, “It’s up and at ‘em, fellers.”
Chrisfield caught his puttee on a clump of briars at the edge of the clearing and stood kicking his leg back and forth to get it free. At last he broke away, the torn puttee dragging behind him. Out in the sunlight in the middle of the clearing he saw a man in olive-drab kneeling beside something on the ground. A German lay face down with a red hole in his back. The man was going through his pockets. He looked up into Chrisfield’s face.
“Souvenirs,” he said.
“What outfit are you in, buddy?”
“143rd,” said the man, getting to his feet slowly.
“Where the hell are we?”
“Damned if I know.”
The clearing was empty, except for the two Americans and the German with the hole in his back. In the distance they heard a sound of artillery and nearer the “put, put, put” of isolated machine guns. The leaves of the trees about them, all shades of brown and crimson and yellow, danced in the sunlight.
“Say, that damn money ain’t no good, is it?” asked Chrisfield.
“German money? Hell, no.... I got a watch that’s a peach though.” The man held out a gold watch, looking suspiciously at Chrisfield all the while through half-closed eyes.
“Ah saw a feller had a gold-handled sword,” said Chrisfield.
“Back there in the wood”; he waved his hand vaguely.
“Ah’ve got to find ma outfit; comin’ along?” Chrisfield started towards the other edge of the clearing.
“Looks to me all right here,” said the other man, lying down on the grass in the sun.
The leaves rustled underfoot as Chrisfield strode through the wood. He was frightened by being alone. He walked ahead as fast as he could, his puttee still dragging behind him. He came to a barbed-wire entanglement half embedded in fallen beech leaves. It had been partly cut in one place, but in crossing he tore his thigh on a barb. Taking off the torn puttee, he wrapped it round the outside of his trousers and kept on walking, feeling a little blood trickle down his leg.
Later he came to a lane that cut straight through the wood where there were many ruts through the putty-coloured mud puddles; Down the lane in a patch of sunlight he saw a figure, towards which he hurried. It was a young man with red hair and a pink-and-white face. By a gold bar on the collar of his shirt Chrisfield saw that he was a lieutenant. He had no coat or hat and there was greenish slime all over the front of his clothes as if he had lain on his belly in a mud puddle.
“Where you going?”
“All right, come along.” The lieutenant started walking as fast as he could up the lane, swinging his arms wildly.
“Seen any machine-gun nests?”
“Not a one.”
He followed the lieutenant, who walked so fast he had difficulty keeping up, splashing recklessly through the puddles.
“Where’s the artillery? That’s what I want to know,” cried the lieutenant, suddenly stopping in his tracks and running a hand through his red hair. “Where the hell’s the artillery?” He looked at Chrisfield savagely out of green eyes. “No use advancing without artillery.” He started walking faster than ever.
All at once they saw sunlight ahead of them and olive-drab uniforms. Machine guns started firing all around them in a sudden gust. Chrisfield found himself running forward across a field full of stubble and sprouting clover among a group of men he did not know. The whip-like sound of rifles had chimed in with the stuttering of the machine guns. Little white clouds sailed above him in a blue sky, and in front of him was a group of houses that had the same color, white with lavender-grey shadows, as the clouds.
He was in a house, with a grenade like a tin pineapple in each hand. The sudden loneliness frightened him again. Outside the house was a sound of machine-gun firing, broken by the occasional bursting; of a shell. He looked at the red-tiled roof and at a chromo of a woman nursing a child that hung on the whitewashed wall opposite him. He was in a small kitchen. There was a fire in the hearth where something boiled in a black pot. Chrisfield tiptoed over and looked in. At the bottom of the bubbling water he saw five potatoes. At the other end of the kitchen, beyond two broken chairs, was a door. Chrisfield crept over to it, the tiles seeming to sway under foot. He put his finger to the latch and took it off again suddenly. Holding in his breath he stood a long time looking at the door. Then he pulled it open recklessly. A young man with fair hair was sitting at a table, his head resting on his hands. Chrisfield felt a spurt of joy when he saw that the man’s uniform was green. Very coolly he pressed the spring, held the grenade a second and then threw it, throwing himself backwards into the middle of the kitchen. The light-haired man had not moved; his blue eyes still stared straight before him.
In the street Chrisfield ran into a tall man who was running. The man clutched him by the arm and said:
“The barrage is moving up.”
“Our barrage; we’ve got to run, we’re ahead of it.” His voice came in wheezy pants. There were red splotches on his face. They ran together down the empty village street. As they ran they passed the little red-haired lieutenant, who leaned against a whitewashed wall, his legs a mass of blood and torn cloth. He was shouting in a shrill delirious voice that followed them out along the open road.
“Where’s the artillery? That’s what I want to know; where’s the artillery?”
The woods were grey and dripping with dawn. Chrisfield got stiffly to his feet from the pile of leaves where he had slept. He felt numb with cold and hunger, lonely and lost away from his outfit. All about him were men of another division. A captain with a sandy mustache was striding up and down with a blanket about him, on the road just behind a clump of beech trees. Chrisfield had watched him passing back and forth, back and forth, behind the wet clustered trunks of the trees, ever since it had been light. Stamping his feet among the damp leaves, Chrisfield strolled away from the group of men. No one seemed to notice him. The trees closed about him. He could see nothing but moist trees, grey-green and black, and the yellow leaves of saplings that cut off the view in every direction. He was wondering dully why he was walking off that way. Somewhere in the back of his mind there was a vague idea of finding his outfit. Sergeant Higgins and Andy and Judkins and Small—he wondered what had become of them. He thought of the company lined up for mess, and the smell of greasy food that came from the field-kitchen. He was desperately hungry. He stopped and leaned against the moss-covered trunk of a tree. The deep scratch in his leg was throbbing as if all the blood in his body beat through it. Now that his rustling footsteps had ceased, the woods were absolutely silent, except for the dripping of dew from the leaves and branches. He strained his ears to hear some other sound. Then he noticed that he was staring at a tree full of small red crab apples. He picked a handful greedily, but they were hard and sour and seemed to make him hungrier. The sour flavour in his mouth made him furiously angry. He kicked at the thin trunk of the tree while tears smarted in his eyes. Swearing aloud in a whining singsong voice, he strode off through the woods with his eyes on the ground. Twigs snapped viciously in his face, crooked branches caught at him, but he plunged on. All at once he stumbled against something hard that bounced among the leaves.
He stopped still, looking about him, terrified. Two grenades lay just under his foot, a little further on a man was propped against a tree with his mouth open. Chrisfield thought at first he was asleep, as his eyes were closed. He looked at the grenades carefully. The fuses had not been sprung. He put one in each pocket, gave a glance at the man who seemed to be asleep, and strode off again, striking another alley in the woods, at the end of which he could see sunlight. The sky overhead was full of heavy purple clouds, tinged here and there with yellow. As he walked towards the patch of sunlight, the thought came to him that he ought to have looked in the pockets of the man he had just passed to see if he had any hard bread. He stood still a moment in hesitation, but started walking again doggedly towards the patch of sunlight.
Something glittered in the irregular fringe of sun and shadow. A man was sitting hunched up on the ground with his fatigue cap pulled over his eyes so that the little gold bar just caught the horizontal sunlight. Chrisfield’s first thought was that he might have food on him.
“Say, Lootenant,” he shouted, “d’you know where a fellow can get somethin’ to eat.”
The man lifted his head slowly. Chrisfield turned cold all over when he saw the white heavy face of Anderson; an unshaven beard was very black on his square chin; there was a long scratch clotted with dried blood from the heavy eyebrow across the left cheek to the corner of the mouth.
“Give me some water, buddy,” said Anderson in a weak voice.
Chrisfield handed him his canteen roughly in silence. He noticed that Anderson’s arm was in a sling, and that he drank greedily, spilling the water over his chin and his wounded arm.
“Where’s Colonel Evans?” asked Anderson in a thin petulant voice.
Chrisfield did not reply but stared at him sullenly. The canteen had dropped from his hand and lay on the ground in front of him. The water gleamed in the sunlight as it ran out among the russet leaves. A wind had come up, making the woods resound. A shower of yellow leaves dropped about them.
“First you was a corporal, then you was a sergeant, and now you’re a lootenant,” said Chrisfield slowly.
“You’ld better tell me where Colonel Evans is.... You must know.... He’s up that road somewhere,” said Anderson, struggling to get to his feet.
Chrisfield walked away without answering. A cold hand was round the grenade in his pocket. He walked away slowly, looking at his feet.
Suddenly he found he had pressed the spring of the grenade. He struggled to pull it out of his pocket. It stuck in the narrow pocket. His arm and his cold fingers that clutched the grenade seemed paralyzed. Then a warm joy went through him. He had thrown it.
Anderson was standing up, swaying backwards and forwards. The explosion made the woods quake. A thick rain of yellow leaves came down. Anderson was flat on the ground. He was so flat he seemed to have sunk into the ground.
Chrisfield pressed the spring of the other grenade and threw it with his eyes closed. It burst among the thick new-fallen leaves.
A few drops of rain were falling. Chrisfield kept on along the lane, walking fast, feeling full of warmth and strength. The rain beat hard and cold against his back.
He walked with his eyes to the ground. A voice in a strange language stopped him. A ragged man in green with a beard that was clotted with mud stood in front of him with his hands up. Chrisfield burst out laughing.
“Come along,” he said, “quick!”
The man shambled in front of him; he was trembling so hard he nearly fell with each step.
Chrisfield kicked him.
The man shambled on without turning round. Chrisfield kicked him again, feeling the point of the man’s spine and the soft flesh of his rump against his toes with each kick, laughing so hard all the while that he could hardly see where he was going.
“Halt!” came a voice.
“Ah’ve got a prisoner,” shouted Chrisfield still laughing.
“He ain’t much of a prisoner,” said the man, pointing his bayonet at the German. “He’s gone crazy, I guess. I’ll take keer o’ him... ain’t no use sendin’ him back.”
“All right,” said Chrisfield still laughing. “Say, buddy, where can Ah’ git something to eat? Ah ain’t had nothin’ fur a day an a half.”
“There’s a reconnoitrin’ squad up the line; they’ll give you somethin’.... How’s things goin’ up that way?” The man pointed up the road.
“Gawd, Ah doan know. Ah ain’t had nothin’ to eat fur a day and a half.”
The warm smell of a stew rose to his nostrils from the mess-kit. Chrisfield stood, feeling warm and important, filling his mouth with soft greasy potatoes and gravy, while men about him asked him questions. Gradually he began to feel full and content, and a desire to sleep came over him. But he was given a gun, and had to start advancing again with the reconnoitering squad. The squad went cautiously up the same lane through the woods.
“Here’s an officer done for,” said the captain, who walked ahead. He made a little clucking noise of distress with his tongue. “Two of you fellows go back and git a blanket and take him back to the cross-roads. Poor fellow.” The captain walked on again, still making little clucking noises with his tongue.
Chrisfield looked straight ahead of him. He did not feel lonely any more now that he was marching in ranks again. His feet beat the ground in time with the other feet. He would not have to think whether to go to the right or to the left. He would do as the others did.