It was purplish dusk outside the window. The rain fell steadily making long flashing stripes on the cracked panes, beating a hard monotonous tattoo on the tin roof overhead. Fuselli had taken off his wet slicker and stood in front of the window looking out dismally at the rain. Behind him was the smoking stove into which a man was poking wood, and beyond that a few broken folding chairs on which soldiers sprawled in attitudes of utter boredom, and the counter where the “Y” man stood with a set smile doling out chocolate to a line of men that filed past.
“Gee, you have to line up for everything here, don’t you?” Fuselli muttered.
“That’s about all you do do in this hell-hole, buddy,” said a man beside him.
The man pointed with his thumb at the window and said again:
“See that rain? Well, I been in this camp three weeks and it ain’t stopped rainin’ once. What d’yer think of that fer a country?”
“It certainly ain’t like home,” said Fuselli. “I’m going to have some chauclate.”
“It’s damn rotten.”
“I might as well try it once.”
Fuselli slouched over to the end of the line and stood waiting his turn. He was thinking of the steep streets of San Francisco and the glimpses he used to get of the harbor full of yellow lights, the color of amber in a cigarette holder, as he went home from work through the blue dusk. He had begun to think of Mabe handing him the five-pound box of candy when his attention was distracted by the talk of the men behind him. The man next to him was speaking with hurried nervous intonation. Fuselli could feel his breath on the back of his neck.
“I’ll be goddamned,” the man said, “was you there too? Where d’you get yours?”
“In the leg; it’s about all right, though.”
“I ain’t. I won’t never be all right. The doctor says I’m all right now, but I know I’m not, the lyin’ fool.”
“Some time, wasn’t it?”
“I’ll be damned to hell if I do it again. I can’t sleep at night thinkin’ of the shape of the Fritzies’ helmets. Have you ever thought that there was somethin’ about the shape of them goddam helmets...?”
“Ain’t they just or’nary shapes?” asked Fuselli, half turning round. “I seen ‘em in the movies.” He laughed apologetically.
“Listen to the rookie, Tub, he’s seen ‘em in the movies!” said the man with the nervous twitch in his voice, laughing a croaking little laugh. “How long you been in this country, buddy?”
“Well, we only been here two months, ain’t we, Tub?”
“Four months; you’re forgettin’, kid.”
The “Y” man turned his set smile on Fuselli while he filled his tin cup up with chocolate.
“A franc; one of those looks like a quarter,” said the “Y” man, his well-fed voice full of amiable condescension.
“That’s a hell of a lot for a cup of chauclate,” said Fuselli.
“You’re at the war, young man, remember that,” said the “Y” man severely. “You’re lucky to get it at all.”
A cold chill gripped Fuselli’s spine as he went back to the stove to drink the chocolate. Of course he mustn’t crab. He was in the war now. If the sergeant had heard him crabbing, it might have spoiled his chances for a corporalship. He must be careful. If he just watched out and kept on his toes, he’d be sure to get it.
“And why ain’t there no more chocolate, I want to know?” the nervous voice of the man who had stood in line behind Fuselli rose to a sudden shriek. Everybody looked round. The “Y” man was moving his head from side to side in a flustered way, saying in a shrill little voice:
“I’ve told you there’s no more. Go away!”
“You ain’t got no right to tell me to go away. You got to get me some chocolate. You ain’t never been at the front, you goddam slacker.” The man was yelling at the top of his lungs. He had hold of the counter with two hands and swayed from side to side. His friend was trying to pull him away.
“Look here, none of that, I’ll report you,” said the “Y” man. “Is there a non-commissioned officer in the hut?”
“Go ahead, you can’t do nothin’. I can’t never have nothing done worse than what’s been done to me already.” The man’s voice had reached a sing-song fury.
“Is there a non-commissioned officer in the room?” The “Y” man kept looking from side to side. His little eyes were hard and spiteful and his lips were drawn up in a thin straight line.
“Keep quiet, I’ll get him away,” said the other man in a low voice. “Can’t you see he’s not...?”
A strange terror took hold of Fuselli. He hadn’t expected things to be like that. When he had sat in the grandstand in the training camp and watched the jolly soldiers in khaki marching into towns, pursuing terrified Huns across potato fields, saving Belgian milk-maids against picturesque backgrounds.
“Does many of ‘em come back that way?” he asked a man beside him.
“Some do. It’s this convalescent camp.” The man and his friend stood side by side near the stove talking in low voices.
“Pull yourself together, kid,” the friend was saying.
“All right, Tub; I’m all right now, Tub. That slacker got my goat, that was all.”
Fuselli was looking at him curiously. He had a yellow parchment face and a high, gaunt forehead going up to sparse, curly brown hair. His eyes had a glassy look about them when they met Fuselli’s. He smiled amiably.
“Oh, there’s the kid who’s seen Fritzies’ helmets in the movies.... Come on, buddy, come and have a beer at the English canteen.”
“Can you get beer?”
“Sure, over in the English camp.” They went out into the slanting rain. It was nearly dark, but the sky had a purplish-red color that was reflected a little on the slanting sides of tents and on the roofs of the rows of sheds that disappeared into the rainy mist in every direction. A few lights gleamed, a very bright polished yellow. They followed a board-walk that splashed mud up from the puddles under the tramp of their heavy boots.
At one place they flattened themselves against the wet flap of a tent and saluted as an officer passed waving a little cane jauntily.
“How long does a fellow usually stay in these rest camps?” asked Fuselli.
“Depends on what’s goin’ on out there,” said Tub, pointing carelessly to the sky beyond the peaks of the tents.
“You’ll leave here soon enough. Don’t you worry, buddy,” said the man with the nervous voice. “What you in?”
“Medical Replacement Unit.”
“A medic are you? Those boys didn’t last long at the Chateau, did they, Tub?”
“No, they didn’t.”
Something inside Fuselli was protesting; “I’ll last out though. I’ll last out though.”
“Do you remember the fellers went out to get poor ole Corporal Jones, Tub? I’ll be goddamned if anybody ever found a button of their pants.” He laughed his creaky little laugh. “They got in the way of a torpedo.”
The “wet” canteen was full of smoke and a cosy steam of beer. It was crowded with red-faced men, with shiny brass buttons on their khaki uniforms, among whom was a good sprinkling of lanky Americans.
“Tommies,” said Fuselli to himself.
After standing in line a while, Fuselli’s cup was handed back to him across the counter, foaming with beer.
“Hello, Fuselli,” Meadville clapped him on the shoulder. “You found the liquor pretty damn quick, looks like to me.”
“May I sit with you fellers?”
“Sure, come along,” said Fuselli proudly, “these guys have been to the front.”
“You have?” asked Meadville. “The Huns are pretty good scrappers, they say. Tell me, do you use your rifle much, or is it mostly big gun work?”
“Naw; after all the months I spent learnin’ how to drill with my goddam rifle, I’ll be a sucker if I’ve used it once. I’m in the grenade squad.”
Someone at the end of the room had started singing:
“O Mademerselle from Armenteers, Parley voo!”
The man with the nervous voice went on talking, while the song roared about them.
“I don’t spend a night without thinkin’ o’ them funny helmets the Fritzies wear. Have you ever thought that there was something goddam funny about the shape o’ them helmets?”
“Can the helmets, kid,” said his friend. “You told us all about them onct.”
“I ain’t told you why I can’t forgit ‘em, have I?”
“A German officer crossed the Rhine;
A German officer crossed the Rhine;
He loved the women and liked the wine;
Hanky Panky, parley voo.... ”
“Listen to this, fellers,” said the man in his twitching nervous voice, staring straight into Fuselli’s eyes. “We made a little attack to straighten out our trenches a bit just before I got winged. Our barrage cut off a bit of Fritzie’s trench an’ we ran right ahead juss about dawn an’ occupied it. I’ll be goddamned if it wasn’t as quiet as a Sunday morning at home.”
“It was!” said his friend.
“An’ I had a bunch of grenades an’ a feller came runnin’ up to me, whisperin’, ‘There’s a bunch of Fritzies playin’ cards in a dugout. They don’t seem to know they’re captured. We’d better take ‘em pris’ners!”
“‘Pris’ners, hell,’ says I, ‘We’ll go and clear the buggars out.’ So we crept along to the steps and looked down.... ”
The song had started again:
“O Mademerselle from Armenteers,
“Their helmets looked so damn like toadstools I came near laughin’. An’ they sat round the lamp layin’ down the cards serious-like, the way I’ve seen Germans do in the Rathskeller at home.”
“He loved the women and liked the wine,
“I lay there lookin’ at ‘em for a hell of a time, an’ then I clicked a grenade an’ tossed it gently down the steps. An’ all those funny helmets like toadstools popped up in the air an’ somebody gave a yell an’ the light went out an’ the damn grenade went off. Then I let ‘em have the rest of ‘em an’ went away ‘cause one o’ ‘em was still moanin’-like. It was about that time they let their barrage down on us and I got mine.”
“The Yanks are havin’ a hell of a time,
“An’ the first thing I thought of when I woke up was how those goddam helmets looked. It upsets a feller to think of a thing like that.” His voice ended in a whine like the broken voice of a child that has been beaten.
“You need to pull yourself together, kid,” said his friend.
“I know what I need, Tub. I need a woman.”
“You know where you get one?” asked Meadville. “I’d like to get me a nice little French girl a rainy night like this.”
“It must be a hell of a ways to the town.... They say it’s full of M. P.‘s too,” said Fuselli.
“I know a way,” said the man with the nervous voice, “Come on; Tub.”
“No, I’ve had enough of these goddam frog women.”
They all left the canteen.
As the two men went off down the side of the building, Fuselli heard the nervous twitching voice through the metallic patter of the rain:
“I can’t find no way of forgettin’ how funny the helmets looked all round the lamp... I can’t find no way.... ”
Bill Grey and Fuselli pooled their blankets and slept together. They lay on the hard floor of the tent very close to each other, listening to the rain pattering endlessly on the drenched canvas that slanted above their heads.
“Hell, Bill, I’m gettin’ pneumonia,” said Fuselli, clearing his nose.
“That’s the only thing that scares me in the whole goddam business. I’d hate to die o’ sickness... an’ they say another kid’s kicked off with that—what d’they call it?—menegitis.”
“Was that what was the matter with Stein?”
“The corporal won’t say.”
“Ole Corp. looks sort o’ sick himself,” said Fuselli.
“It’s this rotten climate” whispered Bill Grey, in the middle of a fit of coughing.
“For cat’s sake quit that coughin’. Let a feller sleep,” came a voice from the other side of the tent.
“Go an’ get a room in a hotel if you don’t like it.”
“That’s it, Bill, tell him where to get off.”
“If you fellers don’t quit yellin’, I’ll put the whole blame lot of you on K. P.,” came the sergeant’s good-natured voice.
“Don’t you know that taps has blown?”
The tent was silent except for the fast patter of the rain and Bill Grey’s coughing.
“That sergeant gives me a pain in the neck,” muttered Bill Grey peevishly, when his coughing had stopped, wriggling about under the blankets.
After a while Fuselli said in a very low voice, so that no one but his friend should hear:
“Say, Bill, ain’t it different from what we thought it was going to be?”
“I mean fellers don’t seem to think about beatin’ the Huns at all, they’re so busy crabbin’ on everything.”
“It’s the guys higher up that does the thinkin’,” said Grey grandiloquently.
“Hell, but I thought it’d be excitin’ like in the movies.”
“I guess that was a lot o’ talk.”
Fuselli went to sleep on the hard floor, feeling the comfortable warmth of Grey’s body along the side of him, hearing the endless, monotonous patter of the rain on the drenched canvas above his head. He tried to stay awake a minute to remember what Mabe looked like, but sleep closed down on him suddenly.
The bugle wrenched them out of their blankets before it was light. It was not raining. The air was raw and full of white mist that was cold as snow against their faces still warm from sleep. The corporal called the roll, lighting matches to read the list. When he dismissed the formation the sergeant’s voice was heard from the tent, where he still lay rolled in his blankets.
“Say, Corp, go an’ tell Fuselli to straighten out Lieutenant Stanford’s room at eight sharp in Officers’ Barracks, Number Four.”
“Did you hear, Fuselli?”
“All right,” said Fuselli. His blood boiled up suddenly. This was the first time he’d had to do servants’ work. He hadn’t joined the army to be a slavey to any damned first loot. It was against army regulations anyway. He’d go and kick. He wasn’t going to be a slavey.... He walked towards the door of the tent, thinking what he’d say to the sergeant. But he noticed the corporal coughing into his handkerchief with an expression of pain on his face. He turned and strolled away. It would get him in wrong if he started kicking like that. Much better shut his mouth and put up with it. The poor old corp couldn’t last long at this rate. No, it wouldn’t do to get in wrong.
At eight, Fuselli, with a broom in his hand, feeling dull fury pounding and fluttering within him, knocked on the unpainted board door.
“To clean the room, sir,” said Fuselli. “Come back in about twenty minutes,” came the voice of the lieutenant.
“All right, sir.”
Fuselli leaned against the back of the barracks and smoked a cigarette. The air stung his hands as if they had been scraped by a nutmeg-grater. Twenty minutes passed slowly. Despair seized hold of him. He was so far from anyone who cared about him, so lost in the vast machine. He was telling himself that he’d never get on, would never get up where he could show what he was good for. He felt as if he were in a treadmill. Day after day it would be like this,—the same routine, the same helplessness. He looked at his watch. Twenty-five minutes had passed. He picked up his broom and moved round to the lieutenant’s room.
“Come in,” said the lieutenant carelessly. He was in his shirtsleeves, shaving. A pleasant smell of shaving soap filled the dark clapboard room, which had no furniture but three cots and some officers’ trunks. He was a red-faced young man with flabby cheeks and dark straight eyebrows. He had taken command of the company only a day or two before.
“Looks like a decent feller,” thought Fuselli.
“What’s your name?” asked the lieutenant, speaking into the small nickel mirror, while he ran the safety razor obliquely across his throat. He stuttered a little. To Fuselli he seemed to speak like an Englishman.
“Italian parentage, I presume?”
“Yes,” said Fuselli sullenly, dragging one of the cots away from the wall.
“You mean, do I speak Eyetalian? Naw, sir,” said Fuselli emphatically, “I was born in Frisco.”
“Indeed? But get me some more water, will you, please?”
When Fuselli came back, he stood with his broom between his knees, blowing on his hands that were blue and stiff from carrying the heavy bucket. The lieutenant was dressed and was hooking the top hook of the uniform carefully. The collar made a red mark on his pink throat.
“All right; when you’re through, report back to the Company.” The lieutenant went out, drawing on a pair of khaki-colored gloves with a satisfied and important gesture.
Fuselli walked back slowly to the tents where the Company was quartered, looking about him at the long lines of barracks, gaunt and dripping in the mist, at the big tin sheds of the cook shacks where the cooks and K. P.‘s in greasy blue denims were slouching about amid a steam of cooking food.
Something of the gesture with which the lieutenant drew on his gloves caught in the mind of Fuselli. He had seen peoople make gestures like that in the movies, stout dignified people in evening suits. The president of the Company that owned the optical goods store, where he had worked, at home in Frisco, had had something of that gesture about him.
And he pictured himself drawing on a pair of gloves that way, importantly, finger by finger, with a little wave, of self-satisfaction when the gesture was completed.... He’d have to get that corporalship.
“There’s a long, long trail a-winding Through no man’s land in France.”
The company sang lustily as it splashed through the mud down a grey road between high fences covered with great tangles of barbed wire, above which peeked the ends of warehouses and the chimneys of factories.
The lieutenant and the top sergeant walked side by side chatting, now and then singing a little of the song in a deprecating way. The corporal sang, his eyes sparkling with delight. Even the sombre sergeant who rarely spoke to anyone, sang. The company strode along, its ninety-six legs splashing jauntily through the deep putty-colored puddles. The packs swayed merrily from side to side as if it were they and not the legs that were walking.
“There’s a long, long trail a-winding Through no man’s land in France.”
At last they were going somewhere. They had separated from the contingent they had come over with. They were all alone now. They were going to be put to work. The lieutenant strode along importantly. The sergeant strode along importantly. The corporal strode along importantly. The right guard strode along more importantly than anyone. A sense of importance, of something tremendous to do, animated the company like wine, made the packs and the belts seem less heavy, made their necks and shoulders less stiff from struggling with the weight of the packs, made the ninety-six legs tramp jauntily in spite of the oozy mud and the deep putty-colored puddles.
It was cold in the dark shed of the freight station where they waited. Some gas lamps flickered feebly high up among the rafters, lighting up in a ghastly way white piles of ammunition boxes and ranks and ranks of shells that disappeared in the darkness. The raw air was full of coal smoke and a smell of freshly-cut boards. The captain and the top sergeant had disappeared. The men sat about, huddled in groups, sinking as far as they could into their overcoats, stamping their numb wet feet on the mud-covered cement of the floor. The sliding doors were shut. Through them came a monotonous sound of cars shunting, of buffers bumping against buffers, and now and then the shrill whistle of an engine.
“Hell, the French railroads are rotten,” said someone.
“How d’you know?” snapped Eisenstein, who sat on a box away from the rest with his lean face in his hands staring at his mud-covered boots.
“Look at this,” Bill Grey made a disgusted gesture towards the ceiling. “Gas. Don’t even have electric light.”
“Their trains run faster than ours,” said Eisenstein.
“The hell they do. Why, a fellow back in that rest camp told me that it took four or five days to get anywhere.”
“He was stuffing you,” said Eisenstein. “They used to run the fastest trains in the world in France.”
“Not so fast as the ‘Twentieth Century.’ Goddam, I’m a railroad man and I know.”
“I want five men to help me sort out the eats,” said the top sergeant, coming suddenly out of the shadows. “Fuselli, Grey, Eisenstein, Meadville, Williams... all right, come along.”
“Say, Sarge, this guy says that frog trains are faster than our trains. What d’ye think o’ that?”
The sergeant put on his comic expression. Everybody got ready to laugh.
“Well, if he’d rather take the side-door Pullmans we’re going to get aboard tonight than the ‘Sunset Limited,’ he’s welcome. I’ve seen ‘em. You fellers haven’t.”
Everybody laughed. The top sergeant turned confidentially to the five men who followed him into a small well-lighted room that looked like a freight office.
“We’ve got to sort out the grub, fellers. See those cases? That’s three days’ rations for the outfit. I want to sort it into three lots, one for each car. Understand?”
Fuselli pulled open one of the boxes. The cans of bully beef flew under his fingers. He kept looking out of the corner of his eye at Eisenstein, who seemed very skilful in a careless way. The top sergeant stood beaming at them with his legs wide apart. Once he said something in a low voice to the corporal. Fuselli thought he caught the words: “privates first-class,” and his heart started thumping hard. In a few minutes the job was done, and everybody stood about lighting cigarettes.
“Well, fellers,” said Sergeant Jones, the sombre man who rarely spoke, “I certainly didn’t reckon when I used to be teachin’ and preachin’ and tendin’ Sunday School and the like that I’d come to be usin’ cuss words, but I think we got a damn good company.”
“Oh, we’ll have you sayin’ worse things than ‘damn’ when we get you out on the front with a goddam German aeroplane droppin’ bombs on you,” said the top sergeant, slapping him on the back. “Now, I want you five men to look out for the grub.” Fuselli’s chest swelled. “The company’ll be in charge of the corporal for the night. Sergeant Jones and I have got to be with the lieutenant, understand?”
They all walked back to the dingy room where the rest of the company waited huddled in their coats, trying to keep their importance from being too obvious in their step.
“I’ve really started now,” thought Fuselli to himself. “I’ve really started now.”
The bare freight car clattered and rumbled monotonously over the rails. A bitter cold wind blew up through the cracks in the grimy splintered boards of the floor. The men huddled in the corners of the car, curled up together like puppies in a box. It was pitch black. Fuselli lay half asleep, his head full of curious fragmentary dreams, feeling through his sleep the aching cold and the unending clattering rumble of the wheels and the bodies and arms and legs muffled in coats and blankets pressing against him. He woke up with a start. His teeth were chattering. The clanking rumble of wheels seemed to be in his head. His head was being dragged along, bumping over cold iron rails. Someone lighted a match. The freight car’s black swaying walls, the packs piled in the center, the bodies heaped in the corners where, out of khaki masses here and there gleamed an occasional white face or a pair of eyes—all showed clear for a moment and then vanished again in the utter blackness. Fuselli pillowed his head in the crook of someone’s arm and tried to go to sleep, but the scraping rumble of wheels over rails was too loud; he stayed with open eyes staring into the blackness, trying to draw his body away from the blast of cold air that blew up through a crack in the floor.
When the first greyness began filtering into the car, they all stood up and stamped and pounded each other and wrestled to get warm.
When it was nearly light, the train stopped and they opened the sliding doors. They were in a station, a foreign-looking station where the walls were plastered with unfamiliar advertisements. “V-E-R-S-A-I-L-L-E-S”; Fuselli spelt out the name.
“Versales,” said Eisenstein. “That’s where the kings of France used to live.”
The train started moving again slowly. On the platform stood the top sergeant.
“How d’ye sleep,” he shouted as the car passed him. “Say, Fuselli, better start some grub going.”
“All right, Sarge,” said Fuselli.
The sergeant ran back to the front of the car and climbed on. With a delicious feeling of leadership, Fuselli divided up the bread and the cans of bully beef and the cheese. Then he sat on his pack eating dry bread and unsavoury beef, whistling joyfully, while the train rumbled and clattered along through a strange, misty-green countryside,—whistling joyfully because he was going to the front, where there would be glory and excitement, whistling joyfully because he felt he was getting along in the world.
It was noon. A pallid little sun like a toy balloon hung low in the reddish-grey sky. The train had stopped on a siding in the middle of a russet plain. Yellow poplars, faint as mist, rose slender against the sky along a black shining stream that swirled beside the track. In the distance a steeple and a few red roofs were etched faintly in the greyness.
The men stood about balancing first on one foot and then on the other, stamping to get warm. On the other side of the river an old man with an oxcart had stopped and was looking sadly at the train.
“Say, where’s the front?” somebody shouted to him.
Everybody took up the cry; “Say, where’s the front?”
The old man waved his hand, shook his head and shouted to the oxen. The oxen took up again their quiet processional gait and the old man walked ahead of them, his eyes on the ground.
“Say, ain’t the frogs dumb?”
“Say, Dan,” said Bill Grey, strolling away from a group of men he had been talking to. “These guys say we are going to the Third Army.”
“Say, fellers,” shouted Fuselli. “They say we’re going to the Third Army.”
“In the Oregon forest,” ventured somebody.
“That’s at the front, ain’t it?”
At that moment the lieutenant strode by. A long khaki muffler was thrown carelessly round his neck and hung down his back.
“Look here, men,” he said severely, “the orders are to stay in the cars.”
The men slunk back into the cars sullenly.
A hospital train passed, clanking slowly over the cross-tracks. Fuselli looked fixedly at the dark enigmatic windows, at the red crosses, at the orderlies in white who leaned out of the doors, waving their hands. Somebody noticed that there were scars on the new green paint of the last car.
“The Huns have been shooting at it.”
“D’ye hear that? The Huns tried to shoot up that hospital train.”
Fuselli remembered the pamphlet “German Atrocities” he had read one night in the Y. M. C. A. His mind became suddenly filled with pictures of children with their arms cut off, of babies spitted on bayonets, of women strapped on tables and violated by soldier after soldier. He thought of Mabe. He wished he were in a combatant service; he wanted to fight, fight. He pictured himself shooting dozens of men in green uniforms, and he thought of Mabe reading about it in the papers. He’d have to try to get into a combatant service. No, he couldn’t stay in the medics.
The train had started again. Misty russet fields slipped by and dark clumps of trees that gyrated slowly waving branches of yellow and brown leaves and patches of black lace-work against the reddish-grey sky. Fuselli was thinking of the good chance he had of getting to be corporal.
At night. A dim-lighted station platform. The company waited in two lines, each man sitting on his pack. On the opposite platform crowds of little men in blue with mustaches and long, soiled overcoats that reached almost to their feet were shouting and singing. Fuselli watched them with a faint disgust.
“Gee, they got funny lookin’ helmets, ain’t they?”
“They’re the best fighters in the world,” said Eisenstein, “not that that’s sayin’ much about a man.”
“Say, that’s an M. P.,” said Bill Grey, catching Fuselli’s arm. “Let’s go ask him how near the front we are. I thought I heard guns a minute ago.”
“Did you? I guess we’re in for it now,” said Fuselli. “Say, buddy, how near the front are we?” they spoke together excitedly.
“The front?” said the M. P., who was a red-faced Irishman with a crushed nose. “You’re ‘way back in the middle of France.” The M. P. spat disgustedly. “You fellers ain’t never goin’ to the front, don’t you worry.”
“Hell!” said Fuselli.
“I’ll be goddamned if I don’t get there somehow,” said Bill Grey, squaring his jaw.
A fine rain was falling on the unprotected platform. On the other side the little men in blue were singing a song Fuselli could not understand, drinking out of their ungainly-looking canteens.
Fuselli announced the news to the company. Everybody clustered round him cursing. But the faint sense of importance it gave him did not compensate for the feeling he had of being lost in the machine, of being as helpless as a sheep in a flock. Hours passed. They stamped about the platform in the fine rain or sat in a row on their packs, waiting for orders. A grey belt appeared behind the trees. The platform began to take on a silvery gleam. They sat in a row on their packs, waiting.
The company stood at attention lined up outside of their barracks, a long wooden shack covered with tar paper, in front of them was a row of dishevelled plane trees with white trunks that looked like ivory in the faint ruddy sunlight. Then there was a rutted road on which stood a long line of French motor trucks with hunched grey backs like elephants. Beyond these were more plane trees and another row of barracks covered with tar paper, outside of which other companies were lined up standing at attention.
A bugle was sounding far away.
The lieutenant stood at attention very stiffly. Fuselli’s eyes followed the curves of his brilliantly-polished puttees up to the braid on his sleeves.
“Parade rest!” shouted the lieutenant in a muffled voice.
Feet and hands moved in unison.
Fuselli was thinking of the town. After retreat you could go down the irregular cobbled street from the old fair-ground where the camp was to a little square where there was a grey stone fountain and a gin-mill where you could sit at an oak table and have beer and eggs and fried potatoes served you by a girl with red cheeks and plump white appetizing arms.
Feet and hands moved in unison again. They could hardly hear the bugle, it was so faint.
“Men, I have some appointments to announce,” said the lieutenant, facing the company and taking on an easy conversational tone. “At rest!... You’ve done good work in the storehouse here, men. I’m glad I have such a willing bunch of men under me. And I certainly hope that we can manage to make as many promotions as possible—as many as possible.”
Fuselli’s hands were icy, and his heart was pumping the blood so fast to his ears that he could hardly hear.
“The following privates to private first-class, read the lieutenant in a routine voice: “Grey, Appleton, Williams, Eisenstein, Porter...Eisenstein will be company clerk.... “ Fuselli was almost ready to cry. His name was not on the list. The sergeant’s voice came after a long pause, smooth as velvet.
“You forget Fuselli, sir.”
“Oh, so I did,” the lieutenant laughed—a small dry laugh.—“And Fuselli.”
“Gee, I must write Mabe tonight,” Fuselli was saying to himself. “She’ll be a proud kid when she gets that letter.”
“Companee dis... missed!”, shouted the sergeant genially.
“O Madermoiselle from Armenteers,
O Madermoiselle from Armenteers,
struck up the sergeant in his mellow voice.
The front room of the cafe was full of soldiers. Their khaki hid the worn oak benches and the edges of the square tables and the red tiles of the floor. They clustered round the tables, where glasses and bottles gleamed vaguely through the tobacco smoke. They stood in front of the bar, drinking out of bottles, laughing, scraping their feet on the floor. A stout girl with red cheeks and plump white arms moved contentedly among them, carrying away empty bottles, bringing back full ones, taking the money to a grim old woman with a grey face and eyes like bits of jet, who stared carefully at each coin, fingered it with her grey hands and dropped it reluctantly into the cash drawer. In the corner sat Sergeant Olster with a flush on his face, and the corporal who had been on the Red Sox outfield and another sergeant, a big man with black hair and a black mustache. About them clustered, with approbation and respect in their faces, Fuselli, Bill Grey and Meadville the cowboy, and Earl Williams, the blue-eyed and yellow-haired drug-clerk.
“O the Yanks are having the hell of a time, Parley voo?”
They pounded their bottles on the table in time to the song.
“It’s a good job,” the top sergeant said, suddenly interrupting the song. “You needn’t worry about that, fellers. I saw to it that we got a good job.... And about getting to the front, you needn’t worry about that. We’ll all get to the front soon enough.... Tell me—this war is going to last ten years.”
“I guess we’ll all be generals by that time, eh, Sarge?” said Williams. “But, man, I wish I was back jerkin’ soda water.”
“It’s a great life if you don’t weaken,” murmured Fuselli automatically.
“But I’m beginnin’ to weaken,” said Williams. “Man, I’m homesick. I don’t care who knows it. I wish I could get to the front and be done with it.”
“Say, have a heart. You need a drink,” said the top sergeant, banging his fist on the table. “Say, mamselle, mame shows, mame shows!”
“I didn’t know you could talk French, Sarge,” said Fuselli.
“French, hell!” said the top sergeant. “Williams is the boy can talk French.”
“Voulay vous couchay aveck moy.... That’s all I know.”
“Hey, mamzelle,” cried the top sergeant. “Voulay vous couchay aveck moy? We We, champagne.” Everybody laughed, uproariously.
The girl slapped his head good-naturedly.
At that moment a man stamped noisily into the cafe, a tall broad-shouldered man in a loose English tunic, who had a swinging swagger that made the glasses ring on all the tables. He was humming under his breath and there was a grin on his broad red face. He went up to the girl and pretended to kiss her, and she laughed and talked familiarly with him in French.
“There’s wild Dan Cohan,” said the dark-haired sergeant. “Say, Dan, Dan.”
“Here, yer honor.”
“Come over and have a drink. We’re going to have some fizzy.”
“Never known to refuse.”
They made room for him on the bench.
“Well, I’m confined to barracks,” said Dan Cohan. “Look at me!” He laughed and gave his head a curious swift jerk to one side. “Compree?”
“Ain’t ye scared they’ll nab you?” said Fuselli.
“Nab me, hell, they can’t do nothin’ to me. I’ve had three court-martials already and they’re gettin’ a fourth up on me.”
Dan Cohan pushed his head to one side and laughed. “I got a friend. My old boss is captain, and he’s goin’ to fix it up. I used to alley around politics chez moy. Compree?”
The champagne came and Dan Cohan popped the cork up to the ceiling with dexterous red fingers.
“I was just wondering who was going to give me a drink,” he said. “Ain’t had any pay since Christ was a corporal. I’ve forgotten what it looks like.”
The champagne fizzed into the beer-glasses.
“This is the life,” said Fuselli.
“Ye’re damn right, buddy, if yer don’t let them ride yer,” said Dan.
“What they got yer up for now, Dan?”
“Murder, hell! How’s that?”
“That is, if that bloke dies.”
“The hell you say!”
“It all started by that goddam convoy down from Nantes...Bill Rees an’ me.... They called us the shock troops.—Hy! Marie! Ancore champagne, beaucoup.—I was in the Ambulance service then. God knows what rotten service I’m in now.... Our section was on repo and they sent some of us fellers down to Nantes to fetch a convoy of cars back to Sandrecourt. We started out like regular racers, just the chassis, savey? Bill Rees an’ me was the goddam tail of the peerade. An’ the loot was a hell of a blockhead that didn’t know if he was coming or going.”
“Where the hell’s Nantes?” asked the top sergeant, as if it had just slipped his mind.
“On the coast,” answered Fuselli. “I seen it on the map.”
“Nantes’s way off to hell and gone anyway,” said wild Dan Cohan, taking a gulp of champagne that he held in his mouth a moment, making his mouth move like a cow ruminating.
“An’ as Bill Rees an’ me was the tail of the peerade an’ there was lots of cafes and little gin-mills, Bill Rees an’ me’d stop off every now and then to have a little drink an’ say ‘Bonjour’ to the girls an’ talk to the people, an’ then we’d go like a bat out of hell to catch up. Well, I don’t know if we went too fast for ‘em or if they lost the road or what, but we never saw that goddam convoy from the time we went out of Nantes. Then we thought we might as well see a bit of the country, compree?... An’ we did, goddam it.... We landed up in Orleans, soused to the gills and without any gas an’ with an M. P; climbing up on the dashboard.”
“Did they nab you, then?”
“Not a bit of it,” said wild Dan Cohen, jerking his head to one side. “They gave us gas and commutation of rations an’ told us to go on in the mornin’. You see we put up a good line of talk, compree?... Well, we went to the swankiest restaurant.... You see we had on those bloody British uniforms they gave us when the O. D. gave out, an’ the M. P.‘s didn’t know just what sort o’ birds we were. So we went and ordered up a regular meal an’ lots o’ vin rouge an’ vin blank an’ drank a few cognacs an’ before we knew it we were eating dinner with two captains and a sergeant. One o’ the captains was the drunkest man I ever did see.... Good kid! We all had dinner and Bill Rees says, ‘Let’s go for a joy-ride.’ An’ the captains says, ‘Fine,’ and the sergeant would have said, ‘Fine,’ but he was so goggle-eyed drunk he couldn’t. An’ we started off!... Say, fellers, I’m dry as hell! Let’s order up another bottle.”
“Sure,” said everyone.
“Ban swar, ma cherie,
Comment allez vous?”
“Encore champagne, Marie, gentille!”
“Well,” he went on, “we went like a bat out of hell along a good state road, and it was all fine until one of the captains thought we ought to have a race. We did.... Compree? The flivvers flivved all right, but the hell of it was we got so excited about the race we forgot about the sergeant an’ he fell off an’ nobody missed him. An’ at last we all pull up before a gin-mill an’ one captain says, ‘Where’s the sergeant?’ an’ the other captain says there hadn’t been no sergeant. An’ we all had a drink on that. An’ one captain kept sayin’, ‘It’s all imagination. Never was a sergeant. I wouldn’t associate with a sergeant, would I, lootenant?’ He kept on calling me lootenant.... Well that was how they got this new charge against me. Somebody picked up the sergeant an’ he got concussion o’ the brain an’ there’s hell to pay, an’ if the poor buggar croaks.... I’m it.... Compree? About that time the captains start wantin’ to go to Paris, an’ we said we’d take ‘em, an’ so we put all the gas in my car an’ the four of us climbed on that goddam chassis an’ off we went like a bat out of hell! It’ld all have been fine if I wasn’t lookin’ cross-eyed.... We piled up in about two minutes on one of those nice little stone piles an’ there we were. We all got up an’ one o’ the captains had his arm broke, an’ there was hell to pay, worse than losing the sergeant. So we walked on down the road. I don’t know how it got to be daylight. But we got to some hell of a town or other an’ there was two M. P.‘s all ready to meet us.... Compree?... Well, we didn’t mess around with them captains. We just lit off down a side street an’ got into a little cafe an’ went in back an’ had a hell of a lot o’ cafe o’ lay. That made us feel sort o’ good an’ I says to Bill, ‘Bill, we’ve got to get to headquarters an’ tell ‘em that we accidentally smashed up our car, before the M. P.‘s get busy.’ An’ he says, ‘You’re goddamned right,’ an’ at that minute I sees an M. P. through a crack in the door comin’ into the cafe. We lit out into the garden and made for the wall. We got over that, although we left a good piece of my pants in the broken glass. But the hell of it was the M. P.‘s got over too an’ they had their pop-guns out. An’ the last I saw of Bill Rees was—there was a big fat woman in a pink dress washing clothes in a big tub, an’ poor ole Bill Rees runs head on into her an’ over they both goes into the washtub. The M. P.‘s got him all right. That’s how I got away. An’ the last I saw of Bill Rees he was squirming about on top of the washtub like he was swimmin’, an’ the fat woman was sittin’ on the ground shaking her fist at him. Bill Rees was the best buddy I ever had.”
He paused and poured the rest of the champagne in his glass and wiped the sweat off his face with his big red hand.
“You ain’t stringin’ us, are you?” asked Fuselli.
“You just ask Lieutenant Whitehead, who’s defending me in the court-martial, if I’m stringin’ yer. I been in the ring, kid, and you can bet your bottom dollar that a man’s been in the ring’ll tell the truth.”
“Go on, Dan,” said the sergeant.
“An’ I never heard a word about Bill Rees since. I guess they got him into the trenches and made short work of him.”
Dan Cohan paused to light a cigarette.
“Well, one o’ the M. P.‘s follows after me and starts shootin’. An’ don’t you believe I ran. Gee, I was scared! But I was in luck ‘cause a Frenchman had just started his camion an’ I jumped in and said the gendarmes were after me. He was white, that frog was. He shot the juice into her an’ went off like a bat out of hell an’ there was a hell of a lot of traffic on the road because there was some damn-fool attack or other goin’ on. So I got up to Paris.... An’ then it’ld all have been fine if I hadn’t met up with a Jane I knew. I still had five hundred francs on me, an’ so we raised hell until one day we was havin’ dinner in the cafe de Paris, both of us sort of jagged up, an’ we didn’t have enough money to pay the bill an’ Janey made a run for it, but an M. P. got me an’ then there was hell to pay.... Compree? They put me in the Bastille, great place.... Then they shipped me off to some damn camp or other an’ gave me a gun an’ made me drill for a week an’ then they packed a whole gang of us, all A. W. O. L’s, into a train for the front. That was nearly the end of little Daniel again. But when we was in Vitry-le-Francois, I chucked my rifle out of one window and jumped out of the other an’ got on a train back to Paris an’ went an’ reported to headquarters how I’d smashed the car an’ been in the Bastille an’ all, an’ they were sore as hell at the M. P.‘s an’ sent me out to a section an’ all went fine until I got ordered back an’ had to alley down to this goddam camp. Ah’ now I don’t know what they’re goin’ to do to me.”
“It’s a great war, I tell you, Sarge. It’s a great war. I wouldn’t have missed it.”
Across the room someone was singing.
“Let’s drown ‘em out,” said the top sergeant boisterously.
“O Mademerselle from Armenteers,
“Well, I’ve got to get the hell out of here,” said wild Dan Cohan, after a minute. “I’ve got a Jane waitin’ for me. I’m all fixed up,... Compree?”
He swaggered out singing:
“Bon soir, ma cherie,
Comment alley vous?
Si vous voulez
Couche avec moi....”
The door slammed behind him, leaving the cafe quiet.
Many men had left. Madame had taken up her knitting and Marie of the plump white arms sat beside her, leaning her head back among the bottles that rose in tiers behind the bars.
Fuselli was staring at a door on one side of the bar. Men kept opening it and looking in and closing it again with a peculiar expression on their faces. Now and then someone would open it with a smile and go into the next room, shuffling his feet and closing the door carefully behind him.
“Say, I wonder what they’ve got there,” said the top sergeant, who had been staring at the door. “Mush be looked into, mush be looked into,” he added, laughing drunkenly.
“I dunno,” said Fuselli. The champagne was humming in his head like a fly against a window pane. He felt very bold and important.
The top sergeant got to his feet unsteadily.
“Corporal, take charge of the colors,” he said, and walked to the door. He opened it a little, peeked in; winked elaborately to his friends and skipped into the other room, closing the door carefully behind him.
The corporal went over next. He said, “Well, I’ll be damned,” and walked straight in, leaving the door ajar. In a moment it was closed from the inside.
“Come on, Bill, let’s see what the hell they got in there,” said Fuselli.
“All right, old kid,” said Bill Grey. They went together over to the door. Fuselli opened it and looked in. He let out a breath through his teeth with a faint whistling sound.
“Gee, come in, Bill,” he said, giggling.
The room was small, nearly filled up by a dining table with a red cloth. On the mantel above the empty fireplace were candlesticks with dangling crystals that glittered red and yellow and purple in the lamplight, in front of a cracked mirror that seemed a window into another dingier room. The paper was peeling off the damp walls, giving a mortuary smell of mildewed plaster that not even the reek of beer and tobacco had done away with.
“Look at her, Bill, ain’t she got style?” whispered Fuselli.
Bill Grey grunted.
“Say, d’ye think the Jane that feller was tellin’ us he raised hell with in Paris was like that?”
At the end of the table, leaning on her elbows, was a woman with black frizzy hair cut short, that stuck out from her head in all directions. Her eyes were dark and her lips red with a faint swollen look. She looked with a certain defiance at the men who stood about the walls and sat at the table.
The men stared at her silently. A big man with red hair and a heavy jaw who sat next her kept edging up nearer. Someone knocked against the table making the bottles and liqueur glasses clustered in the center jingle.
“She ain’t clean; she’s got bobbed hair,” said the man next Fuselli.
The woman said something in French.
Only one man understood it. His laugh rang hollowly in the silent room and stopped suddenly.
The woman looked attentively at the faces round her for a moment, shrugged her shoulders, and began straightening the ribbon on the hat she held on her lap.
“How the hell did she get here? I thought the M. P.‘s ran them out of town the minute they got here,” said one man.
The woman continued plucking at her hat.
“You venay Paris?” said a boy with a soft voice who sat near her. He had blue eyes and a milky complexion, faintly tanned, that went strangely with the rough red and brown faces in the room.
“Oui; de Paris,” she said after a pause, glancing suddenly in the boy’s face.
“She’s a liar, I can tell you that,” said the red-haired man, who by this time had moved his chair very close to the woman’s.
“You told him you came from Marseilles, and him you came from Lyon,” said the boy with the milky complexion, smiling genially. “Vraiment de ou venay vous?”
“I come from everywhere,” she said, and tossed the hair back from her face.
“Travelled a lot?” asked the boy again.
“A feller told me,” said Fuselli to Bill Grey, “that he’d talked to a girl like that who’d been to Turkey an’ Egypt I bet that girl’s seen some life.”
The woman jumped to her feet suddenly screaming with rage. The man with the red hair moved away sheepishly. Then he lifted his large dirty hands in the air.
“Kamarad,” he said.
Nobody laughed. The room was silent except for feet scraping occasionally on the floor.
She put her hat on and took a little box from the chain bag in her lap and began powdering her face, making faces into the mirror she held in the palm of her hand.
The men stared at her.
“Guess she thinks she’s the Queen of the May,” said one man, getting to his feet. He leaned across the table and spat into the fireplace. “I’m going back to barracks.” He turned to the woman and shouted in a voice full of hatred, “Bon swar.”
The woman was putting the powder puff away in her jet bag. She did not look up; the door closed sharply.
“Come along,” said the woman, suddenly, tossing her head back. “Come along one at a time; who go with me first?”
Nobody spoke. The men stared at her silently. There was no sound except that of feet scraping occasionally on the floor.
The oatmeal flopped heavily into the mess-kit. Fuselli’s eyes were still glued together with sleep. He sat at the dark greasy bench and took a gulp of the scalding coffee that smelt vaguely of dish rags. That woke him up a little. There was little talk in the mess shack. The men, that the bugle had wrenched out of their blankets but fifteen minutes before, sat in rows, eating sullenly or blinking at each other through the misty darkness. You could hear feet scraping in the ashes of the floor and mess kits clattering against the tables and here and there a man coughing. Near the counter where the food was served out one of the cooks swore interminably in a whiny sing-sing voice.
“Gee, Bill, I’ve got a head,” said Fuselli.
“Ye’re ought to have,” growled Bill Grey. “I had to carry you up into the barracks. You said you were goin’ back and love up that goddam girl.”
“Did I?” said Fuselli, giggling.
“I had a hell of a time getting you past the guard.”
“Some cognac!... I got a hangover now,” said Fuselli.
“I’m goddamned if I can go this much longer.”
They were washing their mess-kits in the tub of warm water thick with grease from the hundred mess-kits that had gone before, in front of the shack. An electric light illumined faintly the wet trunk of a plane tree and the surface of the water where bits of oatmeal floated and coffee grounds,—and the garbage pails with their painted signs: WET GARBAGE, DRY GARBAGE; and the line of men who stood waiting to reach the tub.
“This hell of a life!” said Bill Grey, savagely.
“What d’ye mean?”
“Doin’ nothin’ but pack bandages in packin’ cases and take bandages out of packin’ cases. I’ll go crazy. I’ve tried gettin’ drunk; it don’t do no good.”
“Gee; I’ve got a head,” said Fuselli.
Bill Grey put his heavy muscular hand round Fuselli’s shoulder as they strolled towards the barracks.
“Say, Dan, I’m goin’ A. W. O. L.”
“Don’t ye do it, Bill. Hell, look at the chance we’ve got to get ahead. We can both of us get promoted if we don’t get in wrong.”
“I don’t give a hoot in hell for all that.... What d’ye think I got in this goddamed army for? Because I thought I’d look nice in the uniform?”
Bill Grey thrust his hands into his pockets and spat dismally in front of him.
“But, Bill, you don’t want to stay a buck private, do you?”
“I want to get to the front.... I don’t want to stay here till I get in the jug for being spiffed or get a court-martial.... Say, Dan, will you come with me?”
“Hell, Bill, you ain’t goin’. You’re just kiddin’, ain’t yer? They’ll send us there soon enough. I want to get to be a corporal,”—he puffed out his chest a little—“before I go to the front, so’s to be able to show what I’m good for. See, Bill?”
A bugle blew.
“There’s fatigue, an’ I ain’t done my bunk.”
“Me neither.... They won’t do nothin’, Dan.... Don’t let them ride yer, Dan.”
They lined up in the dark road feeling the mud slopping under their feet. The ruts were full of black water, in which gleamed a reflection of distant electric lights.
“All you fellows work in Storehouse A today,” said the sergeant, who had been a preacher, in his sad, drawling voice. “Lieutenant says that’s all got to be finished by noon. They’re sending it to the front today.”
Somebody let his breath out in a whistle of surprise.
“Who did that?”
“Dismissed!” snapped the sergeant disgustedly.
They straggled off into the darkness towards one of the lights, their feet splashing confusedly in the puddles.
Fuselli strolled up to the sentry at the camp gate. He was picking his teeth meditatively with the splinter of a pine board.
“Say, Phil, you couldn’t lend me a half a dollar, could you?” Fuselli stopped, put his hands in his pockets and looked at the sentry with the splinter sticking out of a corner of his mouth.
“Sorry, Dan,” said the other man; “I’m cleaned out. Ain’t had a cent since New Year’s.”
“Why the hell don’t they pay us?”
“You guys signed the pay roll yet?”
“Sure. So long!”
Fuselli strolled on down the dark road, where the mud was frozen into deep ruts, towards the town. It was still strange to him, this town of little houses faced with cracked stucco, where the damp made grey stains and green stains, of confused red-tiled roofs, and of narrow cobbled streets that zigzagged in and out among high walls overhung with balconies. At night, when it was dark except for where a lamp in a window spilt gold reflections out on the wet street or the light streamed out from a store or a cafe, it was almost frighteningly unreal. He walked down into the main square, where he could hear the fountain gurgling. In the middle he stopped indecisively, his coat unbuttoned, his hands pushed to the bottom of his trousers pockets, where they encountered nothing but the cloth. He listened a long time to the gurgling of the fountain and to the shunting of trains far away in the freight yards. “An’ this is the war,” he thought. “Ain’t it queer? It’s quieter than it was at home nights.” Down the street at the end of the square a band of white light appeared, the searchlight of a staff car. The two eyes of the car stared straight into his eyes, dazzling him, then veered off to one side and whizzed past, leaving a faint smell of gasoline and a sound of voices. Fuselli watched the fronts of houses light up as the car made its way to the main road. Then the town was dark and silent again.
He strolled across the square towards the Cheval Blanc, the large cafe where the officers went.
“Button yer coat,” came a gruff voice. He saw a stiff tall figure at the edge of the curve. He made out the shape of the pistol holster that hung like a thin ham at the man’s thigh. An M. P. He buttoned his coat hurriedly and walked off with rapid steps.
He stopped outside a cafe that had “Ham and Eggs” written in white paint on the window and looked in wistfully. Someone from behind him put two big hands over his eyes. He wriggled his head free.
“Hello, Dan,” he said. “How did you get out of the jug?”
“I’m a trusty, kid,” said Dan Cohan. “Got any dough?”
“Not a damn cent!”
“Me neither.... Come on in anyway,” said Cohan. “I’ll fix it up with Marie.” Fuselli followed doubtfully. He was a little afraid of Dan Cohan; he remembered how a man had been court-martialed last week for trying to bolt out of a cafe without paying for his drinks.
He sat down at a table near the door. Dan had disappeared into the back room. Fuselli felt homesick. He was thinking how long it was since, he had had a letter from Mabe. “I bet she’s got another feller,” he told himself savagely. He tried to remember how she looked, but he had to take out his watch and peep in the back before he could make out if her nose were straight or snub. He looked up, clicking the watch in his pocket. Marie of the white arms was coming laughing out of the inner room. Her large firm breasts, neatly held in by the close-fitting blouse, shook a little when she laughed. Her cheeks were very red and a strand of chestnut hair hung down along her neck. She picked it up hurriedly and caught it up with a hairpin, walking slowly into the middle of the room as she did so with her hands behind her head. Dan Cohan followed her into the room, a broad grin on his face.
“All right, kid,” he said. “I told her you’ld pay when Uncle Sam came across. Ever had any Kummel?”
“What the hell’s that?”
They sat down before a dish of fried eggs at the table in the corner, the favoured table, where Marie herself often sat and chatted, when wizened Madame did not have her eye upon her.
Several men drew up their chairs. Wild Dan Cohan always had an audience.
“Looks like there was going to be another offensive at Verdun,” said Dan Cohan. Someone answered vaguely.
“Funny how little we know about what’s going on out there,” said one man. “I knew more about the war when I was home in Minneapolis than I do here.”
“I guess we’re lightin’ into ‘em all right,” said Fuselli in a patriotic voice.
“Hell! Nothin’ doin’ this time o’ year anyway,” said Cohan. A grin spread across his red face. “Last time I was at the front the Boche had just made a coup de main and captured a whole trenchful.”
“Of Americans—of us!”
“The hell you say!”
“That’s a goddam lie,” shouted a black-haired man with an ill-shaven jaw, who had just come in. “There ain’t never been an American captured, an’ there never will be, by God!”
“How long were you at the front, buddy,” asked Cohan coolly. “I guess you been to Berlin already, ain’t yer?”
“I say that any man who says an American’ld let himself be captured by a stinkin’ Hun, is a goddam liar,” said the man with the ill-shaven jaw, sitting down sullenly.
“Well, you’d better not say it to me,” said Cohan laughing, looking meditatively at one of his big red fists.
There had been a look of apprehension on Marie’s face. She looked at Cohan’s fist and shrugged her shoulders and laughed.
Another crowd had just slouched into the cafe.
“Well if that isn’t wild Dan! Hello, old kid, how are you?”
A small man in a coat that looked almost like an officer’s coat, it was so well cut, was shaking hands effusively with Cohan. He wore a corporal’s stripes and a British aviator’s fatigue cap. Cohan made room for him on the bench.
“What are you doing in this hole, Dook?” The man twisted his mouth so that his neat black mustache was a slant.
“G. O. 42,” he said.
“Battle of Paris?” said Cohan in a sympathetic voice. “Battle of Nice! I’m going back to my section soon. I’d never have got a court-martial if I’d been with my outfit. I was in the Base Hospital 15 with pneumonia.”
“It was a hell of a note.”
“Say, Dook, your outfit was working with ours at Chamfort that time, wasn’t it?”
“You mean when we evacuated the nut hospital?”
“Yes, wasn’t that hell?” Dan Cohan gulped down half a glass of red wine, smacked his thick lips, and began in his story-telling voice:
“Our section had just come out of Verdun where we’d been getting hell for three weeks on the Bras road. There was one little hill where we’d have to get out and shove every damn time, the mud was so deep, and God, it stank there with the shells turning up the ground all full of mackabbies as the poilus call them.... Say, Dook, have you got any money?”
“I’ve got some,” said Dook, without enthusiasm.
“Well, the champagne’s damn good here. I’m part of the outfit in this gin mill; they’ll give it to you at a reduction.”
Dan Cohan turned round and whispered something to Marie. She laughed and dived down behind the curtain.
“But that Chamfort was worse yet. Everybody was sort o’ nervous because the Germans had dropped a message sayin’ they’d give ‘em three days to clear the hospital out, and that then they’d shell hell out of the place.”
“The Germans done that! Quit yer kiddin’,” said Fuselli.
“They did it at Souilly, too,” said Dook. “Hell, yes.... A funny thing happened there. The hospital was in a big rambling house, looked like an Atlantic City hotel.... We used to run our car in back and sleep in it. It was where we took the shell-shock cases, fellows who were roarin’ mad, and tremblin’ all over, and some of ‘em paralysed like.... There was a man in the wing opposite where we slept who kept laugh-in’. Bill Rees was on the car with me, and we laid in our blankets in the bottom of the car and every now and then one of us’ld turn over and whisper: ‘Ain’t this hell, kid?’ ‘cause that feller kept laughin’ like a man who had just heard a joke that was so funny he couldn’t stop laughin’. It wasn’t like a crazy man’s laugh usually is. When I first heard it I thought it was a man really laughin’, and I guess I laughed too. But it didn’t stop.... Bill Rees an’ me laid in our car shiverin’, listenin’ to the barrage in the distance with now and then the big noise of an aeroplane bomb, an’ that feller laughin’, laughin’, like he’d just heard a joke, like something had struck him funny.” Cohan took a gulp of champagne and jerked his head to one side. “An that damn laughin’ kept up until about noon the next day when the orderlies strangled the feller.... Got their goat, I guess.”
Fuselli was looking towards the other side of the room, where a faint murmur of righteous indignation was rising from the dark man with the unshaven jaw and his companions. Fuselli was thinking that it wasn’t good to be seen round too much with a fellow like Cohan, who talked about the Germans notifying hospitals before they bombarded them and who was waiting for a court-martial. Might get him in wrong. He slipped out of the cafe into the dark. A dank wind blew down the irregular street, ruffling the reflected light in the puddles, making a shutter bang interminably somewhere. Fuselli went to the main square again, casting an envious glance in the window of the Cheval Blanc, where he saw officers playing billiards in a well-lighted room painted white and gold, and a blond girl in a raspberry-colored shirtwaist enthroned haughtily behind the bar. He remembered the M. P. and automatically hastened his steps. In a narrow street the other side of the square he stopped before the window of a small grocery shop and peered inside, keeping carefully out of the oblong of light that showed faintly the grass-grown cobbles and the green and grey walls opposite. A girl sat knitting beside the small counter with her two little black feet placed demurely side by side on the edge of a box full of red beets. She was very small and slender. The lamplight gleamed on her black hair, done close to her head. Her face was in the shadow. Several soldiers lounged awkwardly against the counter and the jambs of the door, following her movements with their eyes as dogs watch a plate of meat being moved about in a kitchen.
After a little the girl rolled up her knitting and jumped to her feet, showing her face,—an oval white face with large dark lashes and an impertinent mouth. She stood looking at the soldiers who stood about her in a circle, then twisted up her mouth in a grimace and disappeared into the inner room.
Fuselli walked to the end of the street where there was a bridge over a small stream. He leaned on the cold stone rail and looked into the water that was barely visible gurgling beneath between rims of ice.
“O this is a hell of a life,” he muttered.
He shivered in the cold wind but remained leaning over the water. In the distance trains rumbled interminably, giving him a sense of vast desolate distances. The village clock struck eight. The bell had a soft note like the bass string of a guitar. In the darkness Fuselli could almost see the girl’s face grimacing with its broad impertinent lips. He thought of the sombre barracks and men sitting about on the end of their cots. Hell, he couldn’t go back yet. His whole body was taut with desire for warmth and softness and quiet. He slouched back along the narrow street cursing in a dismal monotone. Before the grocery store he stopped. The men had gone. He went in jauntily pushing his cap a little to one side so that some of his thick curly hair came out over his forehead. The little bell in the door clanged.
The girl came out of the inner room. She gave him her hand indifferently.
“Comment ca va! Yvonne? Bon?”
His pidgin-French made her show her little pearly teeth in a smile.
“Good,” she said in English.
They laughed childishly.
“Say, will you be my girl, Yvonne?”
She looked in his eyes and laughed.
“Non compris,” she said.
“We, we; voulez vous et’ ma fille?”
She shrieked with laughter and slapped him hard on the cheek. “Venez,” she said, still laughing. He followed her. In the inner room was a large oak table with chairs round it. At the end Eisenstein and a French soldier were talking excitedly, so absorbed in what they were saying that they did not notice the other two. Yvonne took the Frenchman by the hair and pulled his head back and told him, still laughing, what Fuselli had said. He laughed.
“No, you must not say that,” he said in English, turning to Fuselli.
Fuselli was angry and sat down sullenly at the end of the table, keeping his eyes on Yvonne. She drew the knitting out of the pocket of her apron and holding it up comically between two fingers, glanced towards the dark corner of the room where an old woman with a lace cap on her head sat asleep, and then let herself fall into a chair.
“Boom!” she said.
Fuselli laughed until the tears filled his eyes. She laughed too. They sat a long while looking at each other and giggling, while Eisenstein and the Frenchman talked. Suddenly Fuselli caught a phrase that startled him.
“What would you Americans do if revolution broke out in France?”
“We’d do what we were ordered to,” said Eisenstein bitterly. “We’re a bunch of slaves.” Fuselli noticed that Eisenstein’s puffy sallow face was flushed and that there was a flash in his eyes he had never seen before.
“How do you mean, revolution?” asked Fuselli in a puzzled voice.
The Frenchman turned black eyes searchingly upon him.
“I mean, stop the butchery,—overthrow the capitalist government.—The social revolution.”
“But you’re a republic already, ain’t yer?”
“As much as you are.”
“You talk like a socialist,” said Fuselli. “They tell me they shoot guys in America for talkin’ like that.”
“You see!” said Eisenstein to the Frenchman.
“Are they all like that?”
“Except a very few. It’s hopeless,” said Eisenstein, burying his face in his hands. “I often think of shooting myself.”
“Better shoot someone else,” said the Frenchman. “It will be more useful.”
Fuselli stirred uneasily in his chair.
“Where’d you fellers get that stuff anyway?” he asked. In his mind he was saying: “A kike and a frog, that’s a good combination.”
His eye caught Yvonne’s and they both laughed, Yvonne threw her knitting ball at him. It rolled down under the table and they both scrambled about under the chairs looking for it.
“Twice I have thought it was going to happen,” said the Frenchman.
“When was that?”
“A little while ago a division started marching on Paris.... And when I was in Verdun.... O there will be a revolution.... France is the country of revolutions.”
“We’ll always be here to shoot you down,” said Eisenstein.
“Wait till you’ve been in the war a little while. A winter in the trenches will make any army ready for revolution.”
“But we have no way of learning the truth. And in the tyranny of the army a man becomes a brute, a piece of machinery. Remember you are freer than we are. We are worse than the Russians!”
“It is curious!... O but you must have some feeling of civilization. I have always heard that Americans were free and independent. Will they let themselves be driven to the slaughter always?”
“O I don’t know.” Eisenstein got to his feet. “We’d better be getting to barracks. Coming, Fuselli?” he said.
“Guess so,” said Fuselli indifferently, without getting up.
Eisenstein and the Frenchman went out into the shop.
“Bon swar,” said Fuselli, softly, leaning across the table. “Hey, girlie?”
He threw himself on his belly on the wide table and put his arms round her neck and kissed her, feeling everything go blank in a flame of desire.
She pushed him away calmly with strong little arms.
“Stop!” she said, and jerked her head in the direction of the old woman in the chair in the dark corner of the room. They stood side by side listening to her faint wheezy snoring. He put his arms round her and kissed her long on the mouth.
“Demain,” he said.
She nodded her head.
Fuselli walked fast up the dark street towards the camp. The blood pounded happily through his veins. He caught up with Eisenstein.
“Say, Eisenstein,” he said in a comradely voice, “I don’t think you ought to go talking round like that. You’ll get yourself in too deep one of these days.”
“I don’t care!”
“But, hell, man, you don’t want to get in the wrong that bad. They shoot fellers for less than you said.”
“Christ, man, you don’t want to be a damn fool,” expostulated Fuselli.
“How old are you, Fuselli?”
“I’m twenty now.”
“I’m thirty. I’ve lived more, kid. I know what’s good and what’s bad. This butchery makes me unhappy.”
“God, I know. It’s a hell of a note. But who brought it on? If somebody had shot that Kaiser.”
Eisenstein laughed bitterly. At the entrance of camp Fuselli lingered a moment watching the small form of Eisenstein disappear with its curious waddly walk into the darkness.
“I’m going to be damn careful who I’m seen goin’ into barracks with,” he said to himself. “That damn kike may be a German spy or a secret-service officer.” A cold chill of terror went over him, shattering his mood of joyous self-satisfaction. His feet slopped in the puddles, breaking through the thin ice, as he walked up the road towards the barracks. He felt as if people were watching him from everywhere out of the darkness, as if some gigantic figure were driving him forward through the darkness, holding a fist over his head, ready to crush him.
When he was rolled up in his blankets in the bunk next to Bill Grey, he whispered to his friend:
“Say, Bill, I think I’ve got a skirt all fixed up in town.”
“Yvonne—don’t tell anybody.”
Bill Grey whistled softly.
“You’re some highflyer, Dan.”
“Hell, man, the best ain’t good enough for me.”
“Well, I’m going to leave you,” said Bill Grey.
“Damn soon. I can’t go this life. I don’t see how you can.”
Fuselli did not answer. He snuggled warmly into his blankets, thinking of Yvonne and the corporalship.
In the light of the one flickering lamp that made an unsteady circle of reddish glow on the station platform Fuselli looked at his pass. From Reveille on February fourth to Reveille on February fifth he was a free man. His eyes smarted with sleep as he walked up and down the cold station platform. For twenty-four hours he wouldn’t have to obey anybody’s orders. Despite the loneliness of going away on a train in a night like this in a strange country Fuselli was happy. He clinked the money in his pocket.
Down the track a red eye appeared and grew nearer. He could hear the hard puffing of the engine up the grade. Huge curves gleamed as the engine roared slowly past him. A man with bare arms black with coal dust was leaning out of the cab, lit up from behind by a yellowish red glare. Now the cars were going by, flat cars with guns, tilted up like the muzzles of hunting dogs, freight cars out of which here and there peered a man’s head. The train almost came to a stop. The cars clanged one against the other all down the train. Fuselli was looking into a pair of eyes that shone in the lamplight; a hand was held out to him.
“So long, kid,” said a boyish voice. “I don’t know who the hell you are, but so long; good luck.”
“So long,” stammered Fuselli. “Going to the front?”
“Yer goddam right,” answered another voice.
The train took up speed again; the clanging of car against car ceased and in a moment they were moving fast before Fuselli’s eyes. Then the station was dark and empty again, and he was watching the red light grow smaller and paler while the train rumbled on into the darkness.
A confusion of gold and green and crimson silks and intricate designs of naked pink-fleshed cupids filled Fuselli’s mind, when, full of wonder, he walked down the steps of the palace out into the faint ruddy sunlight of the afternoon. A few names, Napoleon, Josephine, the Empire, that had never had significance in his mind before, flared with a lurid gorgeous light in his imagination like a tableau of living statues at a vaudeville theatre.
“They must have had a heap of money, them guys,” said the man who was with him, a private in Aviation. “Let’s go have a drink.”
Fuselli was silent and absorbed in his thoughts. Here was something that supplemented his visions of wealth and glory that he used to tell Al about, when they’d sit and watch the big liners come in, all glittering with lights, through the Golden Gate.
“They didn’t mind having naked women about, did they?” said the private in Aviation, a morose foul-mouthed little man who had been in the woolen business. “D’ye blame them?”
“No, I can’t say’s I do.... I bet they was immoral, them guys,” he continued vaguely.
They wandered about the streets of Fontainebleau listlessly, looking into shop windows, staring at women, lolling on benches in the parks where the faint sunlight came through a lacework of twigs purple and crimson and yellow, that cast intricate lavender-grey shadows on the asphalt.
“Let’s go have another drink,” said the private in Aviation.
Fuselli looked at his watch; they had hours before train time.
A girl in a loose dirty blouse wiped off the table.
“Vin blank,” said the other man.
“Mame shows,” said Fuselli.
His head was full of gold and green mouldings and silk and crimson velvet and intricate designs in which naked pink-fleshed cupids writhed indecently. Some day, he was saying to himself, he’d make a hell of a lot of money and live in a house like that with Mabe; no, with Yvonne, or with some other girl.
“Must have been immoral, them guys,” said the private in Aviation, leering at the girl in the dirty blouse.
Fuselli remembered a revel he’d seen in a moving picture of “Quo Vadis,” people in bath robes dancing around with large cups in their hands and tables full of dishes being upset.
“Cognac, beaucoup,” said the private in Aviation.
“Mame shows,” said Fuselli.
The cafe was full of gold and green silks, and great brocaded beds with heavy carvings above them, beds in which writhed, pink-fleshed and indecent, intricate patterns of cupids.
Somebody said, “Hello, Fuselli.”
He was on the train; his ears hummed and his head had an iron band round it. It was dark except for the little light that flickered in the ceiling. For a minute he thought it was a goldfish in a bowl, but it was a light that flickered in the ceiling.
“Hello, Fuselli,” said Eisenstein. “Feel all right?”
“Sure,” said Fuselli with a thick voice. “Why shouldn’t I?”
“How did you find that house?” said Eisenstein seriously.
“Hell, I don’t know,” muttered Fuselli. “I’m goin’ to sleep.”
His mind was a jumble. He remembered vast halls full of green and gold silks, and great beds with crowns over them where Napoleon and Josephine used to sleep. Who were they? O yes, the Empire,—or was it the Abdication? Then there were patterns of flowers and fruits and cupids, all gilded, and a dark passage and stairs that smelt musty, where he and the man in Aviation fell down. He remembered how it felt to rub his nose hard on the gritty red plush carpet of the stairs. Then there were women in open-work skirts standing about, or were those the pictures on the walls? And there was a bed with mirrors round it. He opened his eyes. Eisenstein was talking to him. He must have been talking to him for some time.
“I look at it this way,” he was saying. “A feller needs a little of that to keep healthy. Now, if he’s abstemious and careful...”
Fuselli went to sleep. He woke up again thinking suddenly: he must borrow that little blue book of army regulations. It would be useful to know that in case something came up. The corporal who had been in the Red Sox outfield had been transferred to a Base Hospital. It was t. b. so Sergeant Osier said. Anyway they were going to appoint an acting corporal. He stared at the flickering little light in the ceiling.
“How did you get a pass?” Eisenstein was asking.
“Oh, the sergeant fixed me up with one,” answered Fuselli mysteriously.
“You’re in pretty good with the sergeant, ain’t yer?” said Eisenstein.
Fuselli smiled deprecatingly.
“Say, d’ye know that little kid Stockton?”
“The white-faced little kid who’s clerk in that outfit that has the other end of the barracks?”
“That’s him,” said Eisenstein. “I wish I could do something to help that kid. He just can’t stand the discipline.... You ought to see him wince when the red-haired sergeant over there yells at him.... The kid looks sicker every day.”
“Well, he’s got a good soft job: clerk,” said Fuselli.
“Ye think it’s soft? I worked twelve hours day before yesterday getting out reports,” said Eisenstein, indignantly. “But the kid’s lost it and they keep ridin’ him for some reason or other. It hurts a feller to see that. He ought to be at home at school.”
“He’s got to take his medicine,” said Fuselli.
“You wait till we get butchered in the trenches. We’ll see how you like your medicine,” said Eisenstein.
“Damn fool,” muttered Fuselli, composing himself to sleep again.
The bugle wrenched Fuselli out of his blankets, half dead with sleep.
“Say, Bill, I got a head again,” he muttered. There was no answer. It was only then that he noticed that the cot next to his was empty. The blankets were folded neatly at the foot. Sudden panic seized him. He couldn’t get along without Bill Grey, he said to himself, he wouldn’t have anyone to go round with. He looked fixedly at the empty cot.
The company was lined up in the dark with their feet in the mud puddles of the road. The lieutenant strode up and down in front of them with the tail of his trench coat sticking out behind. He had a pocket flashlight that he kept flashing at the gaunt trunks of trees, in the faces of the company, at his feet, in the puddles of the road.
“If any man knows anything about the whereabouts of Private 1st-class William Grey, report at once, as otherwise we shall have to put him down A. W. O. L. You know what that means?” The lieutenant spoke in short shrill periods, chopping off the ends of his words as if with a hatchet.
No one said anything.
“I guess he’s S. O. L.”; this from someone behind Fuselli.
“And I have one more announcement to make, men,” said the lieutenant in his natural voice. “I’m going to appoint Fuselli, 1st-class private, acting corporal.”
Fuselli’s knees were weak under him. He felt like shouting and dancing with joy. He was glad it was dark so that no one could see how excited he was.
“Sergeant, dismiss the company,” said the lieutenant bringing his voice back to its military tone.
“Companee dis-missed!” said out the sergeant jovially.
In groups, talking with crisp voices, cheered by the occurrence of events, the company straggled across the great stretch of mud puddles towards the mess shack.
Yvonne tossed the omelette in the air. It landed sizzling in the pan again, and she came forward into the light, holding the frying pan before her. Behind her was the dark stove and above it a row of copper kettles that gleamed through the bluish obscurity. She flicked the omelette out of the pan into the white dish that stood in the middle of the table, full in the yellow lamplight.
“Tiens,” she said, brushing a few stray hairs off her forehead with the back of her hand.
“You’re some cook,” said Fuselli getting to his feet. He had been sprawling on a chair in the other end of the kitchen, watching Yvonne’s slender body in tight black dress and blue apron move in and out of the area of light as she got dinner ready. A smell of burnt butter with a faint tang of pepper in it, filled the kitchen, making his mouth water.
“This is the real stuff,” he was saying to himself,—“like home.”
He stood with his hands deep in his pockets and his head thrown back, watching her cut the bread, holding the big loaf to her chest and pulling the knife towards her, she brushed some crumbs off her dress with a thin white hand.
“You’re my girl, Yvonne; ain’t yer?” Fuselli put his arms round her.
“Sale bete,” she said, laughing and pushing him away.
There was a brisk step outside and another girl came into the kitchen, a thin yellow-faced girl with a sharp nose and long teeth.
“Ma cousine.... Mon ‘tit americain.” They both laughed. Fuselli blushed as he shook the girl’s hand.
“Il est beau, hein?” said Yvonne gruffly.
“Mais, ma petite, il est charmant, vot’ americain!” They laughed again. Fuselli who did not understand laughed too, thinking to himself, “They’ll let the dinner get cold if they don’t sit down soon.”
“Get maman, Dan,” said Yvonne. Fuselli went into the shop through the room with the long oak table. In the dim light that came from the kitchen he saw the old woman’s white bonnet. Her face was in shadow but there was a faint gleam of light in her small beady eyes.
“Supper, ma’am,” he shouted.
Grumbling in her creaky little voice, the old woman followed him back into the kitchen.
Steam, gilded by the lamplight, rose in pillars to the ceiling from the big tureen of soup.
There was a white cloth on the table and a big loaf of bread at the end. The plates, with borders of little roses on them, seemed, after the army mess, the most beautiful things Fuselli had ever seen. The wine bottle was black beside the soup tureen and the wine in the glasses cast a dark purple stain on the cloth.
Fuselli ate his soup silently understanding very little of the French that the two girls rattled at each other. The old woman rarely spoke and when she did one of the girls would throw her a hasty remark that hardly interrupted their chatter.
Fuselli was thinking of the other men lining up outside the dark mess shack and the sound the food made when it flopped into the mess kits. An idea came to him. He’d have to bring Sarge to see Yvonne. They could set him up to a feed. “It would help me to stay in good with him,” He had a minute’s worry about his corporalship. He was acting corporal right enough, but he wanted them to send in his appointment.
The omelette melted in his mouth.
“Damn bon,” he said to Yvonne with his mouth full.
She looked at him fixedly.
“Bon, bon,” he said again.
“You.... Dan, bon,” she said and laughed. The cousin was looking from one to the other enviously, her upper lip lifted away from her teeth in a smile.
The old woman munched her bread in a silent preoccupied fashion.
“There’s somebody in the store,” said Fuselli after a long pause. “Je irey.” He put his napkin down and went out wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. Eisenstein and a chalky-faced boy were in the shop.
“Hullo! are you keepin’ house here?” asked Eisenstein.
“Sure,” said Fuselli conceitedly.
“Have you got any chawclit?” asked the chalky-faced boy in a thin bloodless voice.
Fuselli looked round the shelves and threw a cake of chocolate down on the counter.
“Nothing, thank you, corporal. How much is it?”
Whistling “There’s a long, long trail a-winding,” Fuselli strode back into the inner room.
“Combien chocolate?” he asked.
When he had received the money, he sat down at his place at table again, smiling importantly. He must write Al about all this, he was thinking, and he was wondering vaguely whether Al had been drafted yet.
After dinner the women sat a long time chatting over their coffee, while Fuselli squirmed uneasily on his chair, looking now and then at his watch. His pass was till twelve only; it was already getting on to ten. He tried to catch Yvonne’s eye, but she was moving about the kitchen putting things in order for the night, and hardly seemed to notice him. At last the old woman shuffled into the shop and there was the sound of a key clicking hard in the outside door. When she came back, Fuselli said good-night to everyone and left by the back door into the court. There he leaned sulkily against the wall and waited in the dark, listening to the sounds that came from the house. He could see shadows passing across the orange square of light the window threw on the cobbles of the court. A light went on in an upper window, sending a faint glow over the disorderly tiles of the roof of the shed opposite. The door opened and Yvonne and her cousin stood on the broad stone doorstep chattering. Fuselli had pushed himself in behind a big hogshead that had a pleasant tang of old wood damp with sour wine. At last the heads of the shadows on the cobbles came together for a moment and the cousin clattered across the court and out into the empty streets. Her rapid footsteps died away. Yvonne’s shadow was still in the door:
“Dan,” she said softly.
Fuselli came out from behind the hogshead, his whole body flushing with delight. Yvonne pointed to his shoes. He took them off, and left them beside the door. He looked at his watch. It was a quarter to eleven.
“Viens,” she said.
He followed her, his knees trembling a little from excitement, up the steep stairs.
The deep broken strokes of the town clock had just begun to strike midnight when Fuselli hurried in the camp gate. He gave up his pass jauntily to the guard and strolled towards his barracks. The long shed was pitch black, full of a sound of deep breathing and of occasional snoring. There was a thick smell of uniform wool on which the sweat had dried. Fuselli undressed without haste, stretching his arms luxuriously. He wriggled into his blankets feeling cool and tired, and went to sleep with a smile of self-satisfaction on his lips.
The companies were lined up for retreat, standing stiff as toy soldiers outside their barracks. The evening was almost warm. A little playful wind, oozing with springtime, played with the swollen buds on the plane trees. The sky was a drowsy violet color, and the blood pumped hot and stinging through the stiffened arms and legs of the soldiers who stood at attention. The voices of the non-coms were particularly harsh and metallic this evening. It was rumoured that a general was about. Orders were shouted with fury.
Standing behind the line of his company, Fuselli’s chest was stuck out until the buttons of his tunic were in danger of snapping off. His shoes were well-shined, and he wore a new pair of puttees, wound so tightly that his legs ached.
At last the bugle sounded across the silent camp.
“Parade rest!” shouted the lieutenant.
Fuselli’s mind was full of the army regulations which he had been studying assiduously for the last week. He was thinking of an imaginary examination for the corporalship, which he would pass, of course.
When the company was dismissed, he went up familiarly to the top sergeant:
“Say, Sarge, doin’ anything this evenin’?”
“What the hell can a man do when he’s broke?” said the top sergeant.
“Well, you come down town with me. I want to introjuce you to somebody.”
“Say, Sarge, have they sent that appointment in yet?”
“No, they haven’t, Fuselli,” said the top sergeant. “It’s all made out,” he added encouragingly.
They walked towards the town silently. The evening was silvery-violet. The few windows in the old grey-green houses that were lighted shone orange.
“Well, I’m goin’ to get it, ain’t I?”
A staff car shot by, splashing them with mud, leaving them a glimpse of officers leaning back in the deep cushions.
“You sure are,” said the top sergeant in his good-natured voice.
They had reached the square. They saluted stiffly as two officers brushed past them.
“What’s the regulations about a feller marryin’ a French girl?” broke out Fuselli suddenly.
“Thinking of getting hitched up, are you?”
“Hell, no.” Fuselli was crimson. “I just sort o’ wanted to know.”
“Permission of C. O., that’s all I know of.”
They had stopped in front of the grocery shop. Fuselli peered in through the window. The shop was full of soldiers lounging against the counter and the walls. In the midst of them, demurely knitting, sat Yvonne.
“Let’s go and have a drink an’ then come back,” said Fuselli.
They went to the cafe where Marie of the white arms presided. Fuselli paid for two hot rum punches.
“You see it’s this way, Sarge,” he said confidentially, “I wrote all my folks at home I’d been made corporal, an’ it’ld be a hell of a note to be let down now.”
The top sergeant was drinking his hot drink in little sips. He smiled broadly and put his hand paternal-fashion on Fuselli’s knee.
“Sure; you needn’t worry, kid. I’ve got you fixed up all right,” he said; then he added jovially, “Well, let’s go see that girl of yours.”
They went out into the dark streets, where the wind, despite the smell of burnt gasolene and army camps, had a faint suavity, something like the smell of mushrooms; the smell of spring.
Yvonne sat under the lamp in the shop, her feet up on a box of canned peas, yawning dismally. Behind her on the counter was the glass case full of yellow and greenish-white cheeses. Above that shelves rose to the ceiling in the brownish obscurity of the shop where gleamed faintly large jars and small jars, cans neatly placed in rows, glass jars and vegetables. In the corner, near the glass curtained door that led to the inner room, hung clusters of sausages large and small, red, yellow, and speckled. Yvonne jumped up when Fuselli and the sergeant opened the door.
“You are good,” she said. “Je mourrais de cafard.” They laughed.
“You know what that mean—cafard?”
“It is only since the war. Avant la guerre on ne savais pas ce que c’etait le cafard. The war is no good.”
“Funny, ain’t it?” said Fuselli to the top sergeant, “a feller can’t juss figure out what the war is like.”
“Don’t you worry. We’ll all get there,” said the top sergeant knowingly.
“This is the sarjon, Yvonne,” said Fuselli.
“Oui, oui, je sais,” said Yvonne, smiling at the top sergeant. They sat in the little room behind the shop and drank white wine, and talked as best they could to Yvonne, who, very trim in her black dress and blue apron, perched on the edge of her chair with her feet in tiny pumps pressed tightly together, and glanced now and then at the elaborate stripes on the top sergeant’s arm.
Fuselli strode familiarly into the grocery shop, whistling, and threw open the door to the inner room. His whistling stopped in the middle of a bar.
“Hello,” he said in an annoyed voice.
“Hello, corporal,” said Eisenstein. Eisenstein, his French soldier friend, a lanky man with a scraggly black heard and burning black eyes, and Stockton, the chalky-faced boy, were sitting at the table that filled up the room, chatting intimately and gaily with Yvonne, who leaned against the yellow wall beside the Frenchman and showed all her little pearly teeth in a laugh. In the middle of the dark oak table was a pot of hyacinths and some glasses that had had wine in them. The odor of the hyacinths hung in the air with a faint warm smell from the kitchen.
After a second’s hesitation, Fuselli sat down to wait until the others should leave. It was long after pay-day and his pockets were empty, so he had nowhere else to go.
“How are they treatin’ you down in your outfit now?” asked Eisenstein of Stockton, after a silence.
“Same as ever,” said Stockton in his thin voice, stuttering a little.... “Sometimes I wish I was dead.”
“Hum,” said Eisenstein, a curious expression of understanding on his flabby face. “We’ll be civilians some day.”
“I won’t” said Stockton.
“Hell,” said Eisenstein. “You’ve got to keep your upper lip stiff. I thought I was goin’ to die in that troopship coming over here. An’ when I was little an’ came over with the emigrants from Poland, I thought I was goin’ to die. A man can stand more than he thinks for.... I never thought I could stand being in the army, bein’ a slave like an’ all that, an’ I’m still here. No, you’ll live long and be successful yet.” He put his hand on Stockton’s shoulder. The boy winced and drew his chair away. “What for you do that? I ain’t goin’ to hurt you,” said Eisenstein.
Fuselli looked at them both with a disgusted interest.
“I’ll tell you what you’d better do, kid,” he said condescendingly. “You get transferred to our company. It’s an Al bunch, ain’t it, Eisenstein? We’ve got a good loot an’ a good top-kicker, an’ a damn good bunch o’ fellers.”
“Our top-kicker was in here a few minutes ago,” said Eisenstein.
“He was?” asked Fuselli. “Where’d he go?”
“Damned if I know.”
Yvonne and the French soldier were talking in low voices, laughing a little now and then. Fuselli leaned back in his chair looking at them, feeling out of things, wishing despondently that he knew enough French to understand what they were saying. He scraped his feet angrily back and forth on the floor. His eyes lit on the white hyacinths. They made him think of florists’ windows at home at Eastertime and the noise and bustle of San Francisco’s streets. “God, I hate this rotten hole,” he muttered to himself. He thought of Mabe. He made a noise with his lips. Hell, she was married by this time. Anyway Yvonne was the girl for him. If he could only have Yvonne to himself; far away somewhere, away from the other men and that damn frog and her old mother. He thought of himself going to the theatre with Yvonne. When he was a sergeant he would be able to afford that sort of thing. He counted up the months. It was March. Here he’d been in Europe five months and he was still only a corporal, and not that yet. He clenched his fists with impatience. But once he got to be a non-com it would go faster, he told himself reassuringly.
He leaned over and sniffed loudly at the hyacinths.
“They smell good,” he said. “Que disay vous, Yvonne?”
Yvonne looked at him as if she had forgotten that he was in the room. Her eyes looked straight into his, and she burst out laughing. Her glance had made him feel warm all over, and he leaned back in his chair again, looking at her slender body so neatly cased in its black dress and at her little head with its tightly-done hair, with a comfortable feeling of possession.
“Yvonne, come over here,” he said, beckoning with his head. She looked from him to the Frenchman provocatively. Then she came over and stood behind him.
Fuselli glanced at Eisenstein. He and Stockton were deep in excited conversation with the Frenchman again. Fuselli heard that uncomfortable word that always made him angry, he did not know why, “Revolution.”
“Yvonne,” he said so that only she could hear, “what you say you and me get married?”
“Marries.... moi et toi?” asked Yvonne in a puzzled voice.
She looked him in the eyes a moment, and then threw hack her head in a paroxysm of hysterical laughter.
Fuselli flushed scarlet, got to his feet and strode out, slamming the door behind him so that the glass rang. He walked hurriedly back to camp, splashed with mud by the long lines of grey motor trucks that were throbbing their way slowly through the main street, each with a yellow eye that lit up faintly the tailboards of the truck ahead. The barracks were dark and nearly empty. He sat down at the sergeant’s desk and began moodily turning over the pages of the little blue book of Army Regulations.
The moonlight glittered in the fountain at the end of the main square of the town. It was a warm dark night of faint clouds through which the moon shone palely as through a thin silk canopy. Fuselli stood by the fountain smoking a cigarette, looking at the yellow windows of the Cheval Blanc at the other end of the square, from which came a sound of voices and of billiard balls clinking. He stood quiet letting the acrid cigarette smoke drift out through his nose, his ears full of the silvery tinkle of the water in the fountain beside him. There were little drifts of warm and chilly air in the breeze that blew fitfully from the west. Fuselli was waiting. He took out his watch now and then and strained his eyes to see the time, but there was not light enough. At last the deep broken note of the bell in the church spire struck once. It must be half past ten.
He started walking slowly towards the street where Yvonne’s grocery shop was. The faint glow of the moon lit up the grey houses with the shuttered windows and tumultuous red roofs full of little dormers and skylights. Fuselli felt deliciously at ease with the world. He could almost feel Yvonne’s body in his arms and he smiled as he remembered the little faces she used to make at him. He slunk past the shuttered windows of the shop and dove into the darkness under the arch that led to the court. He walked cautiously, on tiptoe, keeping close to the moss-covered wall, for he heard voices in the court. He peeped round the edge of the building and saw that there were several people in the kitchen door talking. He drew his head back into the shadow. But he had caught a glimpse of the dark round form of the hogshead beside the kitchen door. If he only could get behind that as he usually did, he would be hidden until the people went away.
Keeping well in the shadow round the edge of the court, he slipped to the other side, and was just about to pop himself in behind the hogshead when he noticed that someone was there before him.
He caught his breath and stood still, his heart thumping. The figure turned and in the dark he recognised the top sergeant’s round face.
“Keep quiet, can’t you?” whispered the top sergeant peevishly.
Fuselli stood still with his fists clenched. The blood flamed through his head, making his scalp tingle.
Still the top sergeant was the top sergeant, came the thought. It would never do to get in wrong with him. Fuselli’s legs moved him automatically back into a corner of the court, where he leaned against the damp wall; glaring with smarting eyes at the two women who stood talking outside the kitchen door, and at the dark shadow behind the hogshead. At last, after several smacking kisses, the women went away and the kitchen door closed. The bell in the church spire struck eleven slowly and mournfully. When it had ceased striking, Fuselli heard a discreet tapping and saw the shadow of the top sergeant against the door. As he slipped in, Fuselli heard the top sergeant’s good-natured voice in a large stage whisper, followed by a choked laugh from Yvonne. The door closed and the light was extinguished, leaving the court in darkness except for a faint marbled glow in the sky.
Fuselli strode out, making as much noise as he could with his heels on the cobble stones. The streets of the town were silent under the pale moon. In the square the fountain sounded loud and metallic. He gave up his pass to the guard and strode glumly towards the barracks. At the door he met a man with a pack on his back.
“Hullo, Fuselli,” said a voice he knew. “Is my old bunk still there?”
“Damned if I know,” said Fuselli; “I thought they’d shipped you home.”
The corporal who had been on the Red Sox outfield broke into a fit of coughing.
“Hell, no,” he said. “They kep’ me at that goddam hospital till they saw I wasn’t goin’ to die right away, an’ then they told me to come back to my outfit. So here I am!”
“Did they bust you?” said Fuselli with sudden eagerness.
“Hell, no. Why should they? They ain’t gone and got a new corporal, have they?”
“No, not exactly,” said Fuselli.
Meadville stood near the camp gate, watching the motor trucks go by on the main road. Grey, lumbering, and mud-covered, they throbbed by sloughing in and out of the mud holes in the worn road in an endless train stretching as far as he could see into the town and as far as he could see up the road.
He stood with his legs far apart and spat into the center of the road; then he turned to the corporal who had been in the Red Sox outfield and said:
“I’ll be goddamed if there ain’t somethin’ doin’!”
“A hell of a lot doin’,” said the corporal, shaking his head.
“Seen that guy Daniels who’s been to the front?”
“Well, he says hell’s broke loose. Hell’s broke loose!”
“What’s happened?... Be gorry, we may see some active service,” said Meadville, grinning. “By God, I’d give the best colt on my ranch to see some action.”
“Got a ranch?” asked the corporal.
The motor trucks kept on grinding past monotonously; their drivers were so splashed with mud it was hard to see what uniform they wore.
“What d’ye think?” asked Meadville. “Think I keep store?”
Fuselli walked past them towards the town.
“Say, Fuselli,” shouted Meadville. “Corporal says hell’s broke loose out there. We may smell gunpowder yet.”
Fuselli stopped and joined them.
“I guess poor old Bill Grey’s smelt plenty of gunpowder by this time,” he said.
“I wish I had gone with him,” said Meadville. “I’ll try that little trick myself now the good weather’s come on if we don’t get a move on soon.”
“Too damn risky!”
“Listen to the kid. It’ll be too damn risky in the trenches.... Or do you think you’re goin’ to get a cushy job in camp here?”
“Hell, no! I want to go to the front. I don’t want to stay in this hole.”
“But ain’t no good throwin’ yerself in where it don’t do no good.... A guy wants to get on in this army if he can.”
“What’s the good o’ gettin’ on?” said the corporal. “Won’t get home a bit sooner.”
“Hell! but you’re a non-com.”
Another train of motor trucks went by, drowning their Talk.
Fuselli was packing medical supplies in a box in a great brownish warehouse full of packing cases where a little sun filtered in through the dusty air at the corrugated sliding tin doors. As he worked, he listened to Daniels talking to Meadville who worked beside him.
“An’ the gas is the goddamndest stuff I ever heard of,” he was saying. “I’ve seen fellers with their arms swelled up to twice the size like blisters from it. Mustard gas, they call it.”
“What did you get to go to the hospital?” said Meadville.
“Only pneumonia,” said Daniels, “but I had a buddy who was split right in half by a piece of a shell. He was standin’ as near me as you are an’ was whistlin’ ‘Tipperary’ under his breath when all at once there was a big spurt o’ blood an’ there he was with his chest split in half an’ his head hangin’ a thread like.”
Meadville moved his quid of tobacco from one cheek to the other and spat on to the sawdust of the floor. The men within earshot stopped working and looked admiringly at Daniels.
“Well; what d’ye reckon’s goin’ on at the front now?” said Meadville.
“Damned of I know. The goddam hospital at Orleans was so full up there was guys in stretchers waiting all day on the pavement outside. I know that.... Fellers there said hell’d broke loose for fair. Looks to me like the Fritzies was advancin’.”
Meadville looked at him incredulously.
“Those skunks?” said Fuselli. “Why they can’t advance. They’re starvin’ to death.”
“The hell they are,” said Daniels. “I guess you believe everything you see in the papers.”
Eyes looked at Daniels indignantly. They all went on working in silence.
Suddenly the lieutenant, looking strangely flustered, strode into the warehouse, leaving the tin door open behind him.
“Can anyone tell me where Sergeant Osler is?”
“He was here a few minutes ago,” spoke up Fuselli.
“Well, where is he now?” snapped the lieutenant angrily.
“I don’t know, sir,” mumbled Fuselli, flushing.
“Go and see if you can find him.”
Fuselli went off to the other end of the warehouse. Outside the door he stopped and bit off a cigarette in a leisurely fashion. His blood boiled sullenly. How the hell should he know where the top sergeant was? They didn’t expect him to be a mind-reader, did they? And all the flood of bitterness that had been collecting in his spirit seethed to the surface. They had not treated him right, He felt full of hopeless anger against this vast treadmill to which he was bound. The endless succession of the days, all alike, all subject to orders, to the interminable monotony of drills and line-ups, passed before his mind. He felt he couldn’t go on, yet he knew that he must and would go on, that there was no stopping, that his feet would go on beating in time to the steps of the treadmill.
He caught sight of the sergeant coming towards the warehouse, across the new green grass, scarred by the marks of truck wheels.
“Sarge,” he called. Then he went up to him mysteriously. “The loot wants to see you at once in Warehouse B.”
He slouched back to his work, arriving just in time to hear the lieutenant say in a severe voice to the sergeant:
“Sergeant, do you know how to draw up court-martial papers?”
“Yes, sir,” said the sergeant, a look of surprise on his face. He followed the precise steps of the lieutenant out of the door.
Fuselli had a moment of panic terror, during which he went on working methodically, although his hands trembled. He was searching his memory for some infringement of a regulation that might be charged against him. The terror passed as fast as it had come. Of course he had no reason to fear. He laughed softly to himself. What a fool he’d been to get scared like that, and a summary court-martial couldn’t do much to you anyway. He went on working as fast and as carefully as he could, through the long monotonous afternoon.
That night nearly the whole company gathered in a group at the end of the barracks. Both sergeants were away. The corporal said he knew nothing, and got sulkily into bed, where he lay, rolled in his blankets, shaken by fit after fit of coughing.
At last someone said:
“I bet that kike Eisenstein’s turned out to be a spy.”
“I bet he has too.”
“He’s foreign born, ain’t he? Born in Poland or some goddam place.”
“He always did talk queer.”
“I always thought,” said Fuselli, “he’d get into trouble talking the way he did.”
“How’d he talk?” asked Daniels.
“Oh, he said that war was wrong and all that goddamed pro-German stuff.”
“D’ye know what they did out at the front?” said Daniels. “In the second division they made two fellers dig their own graves and then shot ‘em for sayin’ the war was wrong.”
“Hell, they did?”
“You’re goddam right, they did. I tell you, fellers, it don’t do to monkey with the buzz-saw in this army.”
“For God’s sake shut up. Taps has blown. Meadville, turn the lights out!” said the corporal angrily. The barracks was dark, full of a sound of men undressing in their bunks, and of whispered talk.
The company was lined up for morning mess. The sun that had just risen was shining in rosily through the soft clouds of the sky. The sparrows kept up a great clattering in the avenue of plane trees. Their riotous chirping could be heard above the sound of motors starting that came from a shed opposite the mess shack.
The sergeant appeared suddenly; walking past with his shoulders stiff, so that everyone knew at once that something important was going on.
“Attention, men, a minute,” he said.
Mess kits clattered as the men turned round.
“After mess I want you to go immediately to barracks and roll your packs. After that every man must stand by his pack until orders come.” The company cheered and mess kits clattered together like cymbals.
“As you were,” shouted the top sergeant jovially.
Gluey oatmeal and greasy bacon were hurriedly bolted down, and every man in the company, his heart pounding, ran to the barracks to do up his pack, feeling proud under the envious eyes of the company at the other end of the shack that had received no orders.
When the packs were done up, they sat on the empty hunks and drummed their feet against the wooden partitions waiting.
“I don’t suppose we’ll leave here till hell freezes over,” said Meadville, who was doing up the last strap on his pack.
“It’s always like this.... You break your neck to obey orders an’...”
“Outside!” shouted the sergeant, poking his head in the door.
“Fall in! Atten-shun!”
The lieutenant in his trench coat and in a new pair of roll puttees stood facing the company, looking solemn.
“Men,” he said, biting off his words as a man bites through a piece of hard stick candy; “one of your number is up for courtmartial for possibly disloyal statements found in a letter addressed to friends at home. I have been extremely grieved to find anything of this sort in any company of mine; I don’t believe there is another man in the company... low enough to hold... entertain such ideas....”
Every man in the company stuck out his chest, vowing inwardly to entertain no ideas at all rather than run the risk of calling forth such disapproval from the lieutenant. The lieutenant paused:
“All I can say is if there is any such man in the company, he had better keep his mouth shut and be pretty damn careful what he writes home.... Dismissed!”
He shouted the order grimly, as if it were the order for the execution of the offender.
“That goddam skunk Eisenstein,” said someone.
The lieutenant heard it as he walked away. “Oh, sergeant,” he said familiarly; “I think the others have got the right stuff in them.”
The company went into the barracks and waited.
The sergeant-major’s office was full of a clicking of typewriters, and was overheated by a black stove that stood in the middle of the floor, letting out occasional little puffs of smoke from a crack in the stove pipe. The sergeant-major was a small man with a fresh boyish face and a drawling voice who lolled behind a large typewriter reading a magazine that lay on his lap.
Fuselli slipped in behind the typewriter and stood with his cap in his hand beside the sergeant-major’s chair.
“Well what do you want?” asked the sergeant-major gruffly.
“A feller told me, Sergeant-Major, that you was look-in’ for a man with optical experience;” Fuselli’s voice was velvety.
“I worked three years in an optical-goods store at home in Frisco.”
“What’s your name, rank, company?”
“Daniel Fuselli, Private 1st-class, Company C, medical supply warehouse.”
“All right, I’ll attend to it.”
“All right; out with what you’ve got to say, quick.” The sergeant-major fingered the leaves of his magazine impatiently.
“My company’s all packed up to go. The transfer’ll have to be today, sergeant.”
“Why the hell didn’t you come in earlier?... Stevens, make out a transfer to headquarters company and get the major to sign it when he goes through.... That’s the way it always is,” he cried, leaning back tragically in his swivel chair. “Everybody always puts everything off on me at the last minute.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Fuselli, smiling. The sergeant-major ran his hand through his hair and took up his magazine again peevishly.
Fuselli hurried back to barracks where he found the company still waiting. Several men were crouched in a circle playing craps. The rest lounged in their bare bunks or fiddled with their packs. Outside it had begun to rain softly, and a smell of wet sprouting earth came in through the open door. Fuselli sat on the floor beside his bunk throwing his knife down so that it stuck in the boards between his knees. He was whistling softly to himself. The day dragged on. Several times he heard the town clock strike in the distance.
At last the top sergeant came in, shaking the water off his slicker, a serious, important expression on his face.
“Inspection of medical belts,” he shouted. “Everybody open up their belt and lay it on the foot of their bunk and stand at attention on the left side.”
The lieutenant and a major appeared suddenly at one end of the barracks and came through slowly, pulling the little packets out of the belts. The men looked at them out of the corners of their eyes. As they examined the belts, they chatted easily, as if they had been alone.
“Yes,” said the major. “We’re in for it this time.... That damned offensive.”
“Well, we’ll be able to show ‘em what we’re good for,” said the lieutenant, laughing. “We haven’t had a chance yet.”
“Hum! Better mark that belt, lieutenant, and have it changed. Been to the front yet?”
“Hum, well.... You’ll look at things differently when you have,” said the major.
The lieutenant frowned.
“Well, on the whole, lieutenant, your outfit is in very good shape.... At ease, men!” The lieutenant and the major stood at the door a moment raising the collars of their coats; then they dove out into the rain.
A few minutes later the sergeant came in.
“All right, get your slickers on and line up.”
They stood lined up in the rain for a long while. It was a leaden afternoon. The even clouds had a faint coppery tinge. The rain beat in their faces, making them tingle. Fuselli was looking anxiously at the sergeant. At last the lieutenant appeared.
“Attention!” cried the sergeant.
The roll was called and a new man fell in at the end of the line, a tall man with large protruding eyes like a calf’s.
“Private 1st-class Daniel Fuselli, fall out and report to headquarters company!”
Fuselli saw a look of surprise come over men’s faces. He smiled wanly at Meadville.
“Sergeant, take the men down to the station.”
“Squads, right,” cried the sergeant. “March!”
The company tramped off into the streaming rain.
Fuselli went back to the barracks, took off his pack and slicker and wiped the water off his face.
The rails gleamed gold in the early morning sunshine above the deep purple cinders of the track. Fuselli’s eyes followed the track until it curved into a cutting where the wet clay was a bright orange in the clear light. The station platform, where puddles from the night’s rain glittered as the wind ruffled them, was empty. Fuselli started walking up and down with his hands in his pockets. He had been sent down to unload some supplies that were coming on that morning’s train. He felt free and successful since he joined the headquarters company! At last, he told himself, he had a job where he could show what he was good for. He walked up and down whistling shrilly.
A train pulled slowly into the station. The engine stopped to take water and the couplings clanked all down the line of cars. The platform was suddenly full of men in khaki, stamping their feet, running up and down shouting.
“Where you guys goin’?” asked Fuselli.
“We’re bound for Palm Beach. Don’t we look it?” someone snarled in reply.
But Fuselli had seen a familiar face. He was shaking hands with two browned men whose faces were grimy with days of travelling in freight cars.
“Hullo, Chrisfield. Hullo, Andrews!” he cried. “When did you fellows get over here?”
“Oh, ‘bout four months ago,” said Chrisfield, whose black eyes looked at Fuselli searchingly. “Oh! Ah ‘member you. You’re Fuselli. We was at trainin’ camp together. ‘Member him, Andy?”
“Sure,” said Andrews. “How are you makin’ out?”
“Fine,” said Fuselli. “I’m in the optical department here.”
“Where the hell’s that?”
“Right here.” Fuselli pointed vaguely behind the station.
“We’ve been training about four months near Bordeaux,” said Andrews; “and now we’re going to see what it’s like.”
The whistle blew and the engine started puffing hard. Clouds of white steam filled the station platform, where the soldiers scampered for their cars.
“Good luck!” said Fuselli; but Andrews and Chrisfield had already gone. He saw them again as the train pulled out, two brown and dirt-grimed faces among many other brown and dirt-grimed faces. The steam floated up tinged with yellow in the bright early morning air as the last car of the train disappeared round the curve into the cutting.
The dust rose thickly about the worn broom. As it was a dark morning, very little light filtered into the room full of great white packing cases, where Fuselli was sweeping. He stopped now and then and leaned on his broom. Far away he heard a sound of trains shunting and shouts and the sound of feet tramping in unison from the drill ground. The building where he was was silent. He went on sweeping, thinking of his company tramping off through the streaming rain, and of those fellows he had known in training Camp in America, Andrews and Chrisfield, jolting in box cars towards the front, where Daniel’s buddy had had his chest split in half by a piece of shell. And he’d written home he’d been made a corporal. What was he going to do when letters came for him, addressed Corporal Dan Fuselli? Putting the broom away, he dusted the yellow chair and the table covered with order slips that stood in the middle of the piles of packing boxes. The door slammed somewhere below and there was a step on the stairs that led to the upper part of the warehouse. A little man with a monkey-like greyish-brown face and spectacles appeared and slipped out of his overcoat, like a very small bean popping out of a very large pod.
The sergeant’s stripes looked unusually wide and conspicuous on his thin arm.
He grunted at Fuselli, sat down at the desk, and began at once peering among the order slips.
“Anything in our mailbox this morning?” he asked Fuselli in a hoarse voice.
“It’s all there, sergeant,” said Fuselli.
The sergeant peered about the desk some more.
“Ye’ll have to wash that window today,” he said after a pause. “Major’s likely to come round here any time.... Ought to have been done yesterday.”
“All right,” said Fuselli dully.
He slouched over to the corner of the room, got the worn broom and began sweeping down the stairs. The dust rose about him, making him cough. He stopped and leaned on the broom. He thought of all the days that had gone by since he’d last seen those fellows, Andrews and Chrisfield, at training camp in America; and of all the days that would go by. He started sweeping again, sweeping the dust down from stair to stair.
Fuselli sat on the end of his bunk. He had just shaved. It was a Sunday morning and he looked forward to having the afternoon off. He rubbed his face on his towel and got to his feet. Outside, the rain fell in great silvery sheets, so that the noise on the tarpaper roof of the barracks was almost deafening.
Fuselli noticed, at the other end of the row of bunks, a group of men who all seemed to be looking at the same thing. Rolling down his sleeves, with his tunic hitched over one arm, he walked down to see what was the matter. Through the patter of the rain, he heard a thin voice say:
“It ain’t no use, sergeant, I’m sick. I ain’t a’ goin’ to get up.”
“The kid’s crazy,” someone beside Fuselli said, turning away.
“You get up this minute,” roared the sergeant. He was a big man with black hair who looked like a lumberman. He stood over the bunk. In the bunk at the end of a bundle of blankets was the chalk-white face of Stockton. The boy’s teeth were clenched, and his eyes were round and protruding, it seemed from terror.
“You get out o’ bed this minute,” roared the sergeant again.
The boy; was silent; his white cheeks quivered.
“What the hell’s the matter with him?”
“Why don’t you yank him out yourself, Sarge?”
“You get out of bed this minute,” shouted the sergeant again, paying no attention.
The men gathered about walked away. Fuselli watched fascinated from a little distance.
“All right, then, I’ll get the lieutenant. This is a court-martial offence. Here, Morton and Morrison, you’re guards over this man.”
The boy lay still in his blankets. He closed his eyes. By the way the blanket rose and fell over his chest, they could see that he was breathing heavily.
“Say, Stockton, why don’t you get up, you fool?”’ said Fuselli. “You can’t buck the whole army.”
The boy didn’t answer.
Fuselli walked away.
“He’s crazy,” he muttered.
The lieutenant was a stoutish red-faced man who came in puffing followed by the tall sergeant. He stopped and shook the water off his Campaign hat. The rain kept up its deafening patter on the roof.
“Look here, are you sick? If you are, report sick call at once,” said the lieutenant in an elaborately kind voice.
The boy looked at him dully and did not answer.
“You should get up and stand at attention when an officer speaks to you.
“I ain’t goin’ to get up,” came the thin voice.
The officer’s red face became crimson.
“Sergeant, what’s the matter with the man?” he asked in a furious tone.
“I can’t do anything with him, lieutenant. I think he’s gone crazy.”
“Rubbish.... Mere insubordination.... You’re under arrest, d’ye hear?” he shouted towards the bed.
There was no answer. The rain pattered hard on the roof.
“Have him brought down to the guardhouse, by force if necessary,” snapped the lieutenant. He strode towards the door. “And sergeant, start drawing up court-martial papers at once.” The door slammed behind him.
“Now you’ve got to get him up,” said the sergeant to the two guards.
Fuselli walked away.
“Ain’t some people damn fools?” he said to a man at the other end of the barracks. He stood looking out of the window at the bright sheets of the rain.
“Well, get him up,” shouted the sergeant.
The boy lay with his eyes closed, his chalk-white face half-hidden by the blankets; he was very still.
“Well, will you get up and go to the guardhouse, or have we to carry you there?” shouted the sergeant.
The guards laid hold of him gingerly and pulled him up to a sitting posture.
“All right, yank him out of bed.”
The frail form in khaki shirt and whitish drawers was held up for a moment between the two men. Then it fell a limp heap on the floor.
“Say, Sarge, he’s fainted.”
“The hell he has.... Say, Morrison, ask one of the orderlies to come up from the Infirmary.”
“He ain’t fainted.... The kid’s dead,” said the other man.
“Give me a hand.”
The sergeant helped lift the body on the bed again. “Well, I’ll be goddamned,” said the sergeant.
The eyes had opened. They covered the head with a blanket.