"I tell you, fellers," he said, "war ain't no picnic."
Chrisfield stood up and grabbed at an apple. His teeth crunched into it.
"Sweet," he said.
"Sweet, nauthin'," mumbled Judkins, "war ain't no picnic.... I tell you, buddy, if you take any prisoners"—he hiccoughed— "after what the Colonel said, I'll lick the spots out of you, by God I will.... Rip up their guts that's all, like they was dummies. Rip up their guts." His voice suddenly changed to one of childish dismay. "Gee, Chris, I'm going to be sick," he whispered.
"Look out," said Chrisfield, pushing him away. Judkins leaned against a tree and vomited.
The full moon had risen above the clouds and filled the apple orchard with chilly golden light that cast a fantastic shadow pattern of interlaced twigs and branches upon the bare ground littered with apples. The sound of the guns had grown nearer. There were loud eager rumbles as of bowls being rolled very hard on a bowling alley, combined with a continuous roar like sheets of iron being shaken.
"Ah bet it's hell out there," said Chrisfield.
"I feel better," said Judkins. "Let's go get some more cognac."
"Ah'm hungry," said Chrisfield. "Let's go an' get that ole woman to cook us some aigs."
"Too damn late," growled Judkins.
"How the hell late is it?"
"Dunno, I sold my watch."
They were walking at random through the orchard. They came to a field full of big pumpkins that gleamed in the moonlight and cast shadows black as holes. In the distance they could see wooded hills.
Chrisfield picked up a medium-sized pumpkin and threw it as hard as he could into the air. It split into three when it landed with a thud on the ground, and the moist yellow seeds spilled out.
"Some strong man, you are," said Judkins, tossing up a bigger one.
"Say, there's a farmhouse, maybe we could get some aigs from the hen-roost."
"Hell of a lot of hens...."
At that moment the crowing of a rooster came across the silent fields. They ran towards the dark farm buildings.
"Look out, there may be officers quartered there."
They walked cautiously round the square, silent group of buildings. There were no lights. The big wooden door of the court pushed open easily, without creaking. On the roof of the barn the pigeon-cot was etched dark against the disc of the moon. A warm smell of stables blew in their faces as the two men tiptoed into the manure-littered farmyard. Under one of the sheds they found a table on which a great many pears were set to ripen. Chrisfield put his teeth into one. The rich sweet juice ran down his chin. He ate the pear quickly and greedily, and then bit into another.
"Fill yer pockets with 'em," whispered Judkins.
"They might ketch us."
"Ketch us, hell. We'll be goin' into the offensive in a day or two."
"Ah sure would like to git some aigs."
Chrisfield pushed open the door of one of the barns. A smell of creamy milk and cheeses filled his nostrils.
"Come here," he whispered. "Want some cheese?"
A lot of cheeses ranged on a board shone silver in the moonlight that came in through the open door.
"Hell, no, ain't fit te eat," said Judkins, pushing his heavy fist into one of the new soft cheeses.
"Doan do that."
"Well, ain't we saved 'em from the Huns?"
"War ain't no picnic, that's all," said Judkins.
In the next door they found chickens roosting in a small room with straw on the floor. The chickens ruffled their feathers and made a muffled squeaking as they slept.
Suddenly there was a loud squawking and all the chickens were cackling with terror.
"Beat it," muttered Judkins, running for the gate of the farmyard.
There were shrill cries of women in the house. A voice shrieking, "C'est les Boches, C'est les Boches," rose above the cackling of chickens and the clamor of guinea-hens. As they ran, they heard the rasping cries of a woman in hysterics, rending the rustling autumn night.
"God damn," said Judkins breathless, "they ain't got no right, those frogs ain't, to carry on like that."
They ducked into the orchard again. Above the squawking of the chicken Judkins still held, swinging it by its legs, Chrisfield could hear the woman's voice shrieking. Judkins dexterously wrung the chicken's neck. Crushing the apples underfoot they strode fast through the orchard. The voice faded into the distance until it could not be heard above the sound of the guns.
"Gee, Ah'm kind o' cut up 'bout that lady," said Chrisfield.
"Well, ain't we saved her from the Huns?"
"Andy don't think so."
"Well, if you want to know what I think about that guy Andy I don't think much of him. I think he's yaller, that's all," said Judkins.
"No, he ain't."
"I heard the lootenant say so. He's a goddam yeller dawg."
Chrisfield swore sullenly.
"Well, you juss wait 'n see. I tell you, buddy, war ain't no picnic."
"What the hell are we goin' to do with that chicken?" said Judkins.
"You remember what happened to Eddie White?"
"Hell, we'd better leave it here."
Judkins swung the chicken by its neck round his head and threw it as hard as he could into the bushes.
They were walking along the road between chestnut trees that led to their village. It was dark except for irregular patches of bright moonlight in the centre that lay white as milk among the indentated shadows of the leaves. All about them rose a cool scent of woods, of ripe fruits and of decaying leaves, of the ferment of the autumn countryside.
The lieutenant sat at a table in the sun, in the village street outside the company office. In front of him sparkled piles of money and daintily tinted banknotes. Beside him stood Sergeant Higgins with an air of solemnity and the second sergeant and the corporal. The men stood in line and as each came before the table he saluted with deference, received his money and walked away with a self-conscious air. A few villagers looked on from the small windows with grey frames of their rambling whitewashed houses. In the ruddy sunshine the line of men cast an irregular blue-violet shadow, like a gigantic centipede, on the yellow gravel road.
From the table by the window of the cafe of "Nos Braves Poilus" where Small and Judkins and Chrisfield had established themselves with their pay crisp in their pockets, they could see the little front garden of the house across the road, where, behind a hedge of orange marigolds, Andrews sat on the doorstep talking to an old woman hunched on a low chair in the sun just inside the door, who leant her small white head over towards his yellow one.
"There ye are," said Judkins in a solemn tone. "He don't even go after his pay. That guy thinks he's the whole show, he does."
Chrisfield flushed, but said nothing. "He don't do nothing all day long but talk to that ole lady," said Small with a grin. "Guess she reminds him of his mother, or somethin'."
"He always does go round with the frogs all he can. Looks to me like he'd rather have a drink with a frog than with an American."
"Reckon he wants to learn their language," said Small. "He won't never come to much in this army, that's what I'm telling yer," said Judkins.
The little houses across the way had flushed red with the sunset. Andrews got to his feet slowly and languidly and held out his hand to the old woman. She stood up, a small tottering figure in a black silk shawl. He leaned over towards her and she kissed both his cheeks vigorously several times. He walked down the road towards the billets, with his fatigue cap in his hand, looking at the ground.
"He's got a flower behind his ear, like a cigarette," said Judkins, with a disgusted snort.
"Well, I guess we'd better go," said Small. "We got to be in quarters at six."
They were silent a moment. In the distance the guns kept up a continual tomtom sound.
"Guess we'll be in that soon," said Small.
Chrisfield felt a chill go down his spine. He moistened his lips with his tongue.
"Guess it's hell out there," said Judkins. "War ain't no picnic."
"Ah doan give a hoot in hell," said Chrisfield.
The men were lined up in the village street with their packs on, waiting for the order to move. Thin wreaths of white mist still lingered in the trees and over the little garden plots. The sun had not yet risen, but ranks of clouds in the pale blue sky overhead were brilliant with crimson and gold. The men stood in an irregular line, bent over a little by the weight of their equipment, moving back and forth, stamping their feet and beating their arms together, their noses and ears red from the chill of the morning. The haze of their breath rose above their heads.
Down the misty road a drab-colored limousine appeared, running slowly. It stopped in front of the line of men. The lieutenant came hurriedly out of the house opposite, drawing on a pair of gloves. The men standing in line looked curiously at the limousine. They could see that two of the tires were flat and that the glass was broken. There were scratches on the drab paint and in the door three long jagged holes that obliterated the number. A little murmur went down the line of men. The door opened with difficulty, and a major in a light buff-colored coat stumbled out. One arm, wrapped in bloody bandages, was held in a sling made of a handkerchief. His face was white and drawn into a stiff mask with pain. The lieutenant saluted.
"For God's sake where's a repair station?" he asked in a loud shaky voice.
"There's none in this village, Major."
"Where the hell is there one?"
"I don't know," said the lieutenant in a humble tone.
"Why the hell don't you know? This organization's rotten, no good.... Major Stanley's just been killed. What the hell's the name of this village?"
"Where the hell's that?"
The chauffeur had leaned out. He had no cap and his hair was full of dust.
"You see, Lootenant, we wants to get to Chalons—"
"Yes, that's it. Chalons sur...Chalons-sur-Marne," said the Major.
"The billeting officer has a map," said the lieutenant, "last house to the left."
"O let's go there quick," said the major. He fumbled with the fastening of the door.
The lieutenant opened it for him.
As he opened the door, the men nearest had a glimpse of the interior of the car. On the far side was a long object huddled in blankets, propped up on the seat.
Before he got in the major leaned over and pulled a woollen rug out, holding it away from him with his one good arm. The car moved off slowly, and all down the village street the men, lined up waiting for orders, stared curiously at the three jagged holes in the door.
The lieutenant looked at the rug that lay in the middle of the road. He touched it with his foot. It was soaked with blood that in places had dried into clots.
The lieutenant and the men of his company looked at it in silence. The sun had risen and shone on the roofs of the little whitewashed houses behind them. Far down the road a regiment had begun to move.
At the brow of the hill they rested. Chrisfield sat on the red clay bank and looked about him, his rifle between his knees. In front of him on the side of the road was a French burying ground, where the little wooden crosses, tilting in every direction, stood up against the sky, and the bead wreaths glistened in the warm sunlight. All down the road as far as he could see was a long drab worm, broken in places by strings of motor trucks, a drab worm that wriggled down the slope, through the roofless shell of the village and up into the shattered woods on the crest of the next hills. Chrisfield strained his eyes to see the hills beyond. They lay blue and very peaceful in the moon mist. The river glittered about the piers of the wrecked stone bridge, and disappeared between rows of yellow poplars. Somewhere in the valley a big gun fired. The shell shrieked into the distance, towards the blue, peaceful hills.
Chrisfield's regiment was moving again. The men, their feet slipping in the clayey mud, went downhill with long strides, the straps of their packs tugging at their shoulders.
"Isn't this great country?" said Andrews, who marched beside him.
"Ah'd liever be at an O. T. C. like that bastard Anderson."
"Oh, to hell with that," said Andrews. He still had a big faded orange marigold in one of the buttonholes of his soiled tunic. He walked with his nose in the air and his nostrils dilated, enjoying the tang of the autumnal sunlight.
Chrisfield took the cigarette, that had gone out half-smoked, from his mouth and spat savagely at the heels of the man in front of him.
"This ain't no life for a white man," he said.
"I'd rather be this than...than that," said Andrews bitterly. He tossed his head in the direction of a staff car full of officers that was stalled at the side of the road. They were drinking something out of a thermos bottle that they passed round with the air of Sunday excursionists. They waved, with a conscious relaxation of discipline, at the men as they passed. One, a little lieutenant with a black mustache with pointed ends, kept crying: "They're running like rabbits, fellers; they're running like rabbits." A wavering half-cheer would come from the column now and then where it was passing the staff car.
The big gun fired again. Chrisfield was near it this time and felt the concussion like a blow in the head.
"Some baby," said the man behind him.
Someone was singing:
"Good morning, mister Zip Zip Zip, With your hair cut just as short as, With your hair cut just as short as, With your hair cut just as short as mi-ine."
Everybody took it up. Their steps rang in rhythm in the paved street that zigzagged among the smashed houses of the village. Ambulances passed them, big trucks full of huddled men with grey faces, from which came a smell of sweat and blood and carbolic. Somebody went on:
"O ashes to ashes An' dust to dust..."
"Can that," cried Judkins, "it ain't lucky."
But everybody had taken up the song. Chrisfield noticed that Andrews's eyes were sparkling. "If he ain't the damnedest," he thought to himself. But he shouted at the top of his lungs with the rest:
"O ashes to ashes An' dust to dust; If the gasbombs don't get yer The eighty-eights must."
They were climbing the hill again. The road was worn into deep ruts and there were many shell holes, full of muddy water, into which their feet slipped. The woods began, a shattered skeleton of woods, full of old artillery emplacements and dugouts, where torn camouflage fluttered from splintered trees. The ground and the road were littered with tin cans and brass shell-cases. Along both sides of the road the trees were festooned, as with creepers, with strand upon strand of telephone wire.
When next they stopped Chrisfield was on the crest of the hill beside a battery of French seventy-fives. He looked curiously at the Frenchmen, who sat about on logs in their pink and blue shirt- sleeves playing cards and smoking. Their gestures irritated him.
"Say, tell 'em we're advancin'," he said to Andrews.
"Are we?" said Andrews. "All right.... Dites-donc, les Boches courent-ils comme des lapins?" he shouted.
One of the men turned his head and laughed.
"He says they've been running that way for four years," said Andrews. He slipped his pack off, sat down on it, and fished for a cigarette. Chrisfield took off his helmet and rubbed a muddy hand through his hair. He took a bite of chewing tobacco and sat with his hands clasped over his knees.
"How the hell long are we going to wait this time?" he muttered. The shadows of the tangled and splintered trees crept slowly across the road. The French artillerymen were eating their supper. A long train of motor trucks growled past, splashing mud over the men crowded along the sides of the road. The sun set, and a lot of batteries down in the valley began firing, making it impossible to talk. The air was full of a shrieking and droning of shells overhead. The Frenchmen stretched and yawned and went down into their dugout. Chrisfield watched them enviously. The stars were beginning to come out in the green sky behind the tall lacerated trees. Chrisfield's legs ached with cold. He began to get crazily anxious for something to happen, for something to happen, but the column waited, without moving, through the gathering darkness. Chrisfield chewed steadily, trying to think of nothing but the taste of the tobacco in his mouth.
The column was moving again; as they reached the brow of another hill Chrisfield felt a curious sweetish smell that made his nostrils smart. "Gas," he thought, full of panic, and put his hand to the mask that hung round his neck. But he did not want to be the first to put it on. No order came. He marched on, cursing the sergeant and the lieutenant. But maybe they'd been killed by it. He had a vision of the whole regiment sinking down in the road suddenly, overcome by the gas.
"Smell anythin', Andy?" he whispered cautiously.
"I can smell a combination of dead horses and tube roses and banana oil and the ice cream we used to have at college and dead rats in the garret, but what the hell do we care now?" said Andrews, giggling. "This is the damnedest fool business ever...."
"He's crazy," muttered Chrisfield to himself. He looked at the stars in the black sky that seemed to be going along with the column on its march. Or was it that they and the stars were standing still while the trees moved away from them, waving their skinny shattered arms? He could hardly hear the tramp of feet on the road, so loud was the pandemonium of the guns ahead and behind. Every now and then a rocket would burst in front of them and its red and green lights would mingle for a moment with the stars. But it was only overhead he could see the stars. Everywhere else white and red glows rose and fell as if the horizon were on fire.
As they started down the slope, the trees suddenly broke away and they saw the valley between them full of the glare of guns and the white light of star shells. It was like looking into a stove full of glowing embers. The hillside that sloped away from them was full of crashing detonations and yellow tongues of flame. In a battery near the road, that seemed to crush their skulls each time a gun fired, they could see the dark forms of the artillerymen silhouetted in fantastic attitudes against the intermittent red glare. Stunned and blinded, they kept on marching down the road. It seemed to Chrisfield that they were going to step any minute into the flaring muzzle of a gun.
At the foot of the hill, beside a little grove of uninjured trees, they stopped again. A new train of trucks was crawling past them, huge blots in the darkness. There were no batteries near, so they could hear the grinding roar of the gears as the trucks went along the uneven road, plunging in and out of shellholes.
Chrisfield lay down in the dry ditch, full of bracken, and dozed with his head on his pack. All about him were stretched other men. Someone was resting his head on Chrisfield's thigh. The noise had subsided a little. Through his doze he could hear men's voices talking in low crushed tones, as if they were afraid of speaking aloud. On the road the truck-drivers kept calling out to each other shrilly, raspingly. The motors stopped running one after another, making almost a silence, during which Chrisfield fell asleep.
Something woke him. He was stiff with cold and terrified. For a moment he thought he had been left alone, that the company had gone on, for there was no one touching him.
Overhead was a droning as of gigantic mosquitoes, growing fast to a loud throbbing. He heard the lieutenant's voice calling shrilly:
"Sergeant Higgins, Sergeant Higgins!"
The lieutenant stood out suddenly black against a sheet of flame. Chrisfield could see his fatigue cap a little on one side and his trench coat, drawn in tight at the waist and sticking out stiffly at the knees. He was shaken by the explosion. Everything was black again. Chrisfield got to his feet, his ears ringing. The column was moving on. He heard moaning near him in the darkness. The tramp of feet and jingle of equipment drowned all other sound. He could feel his shoulders becoming raw under the tugging of the pack. Now and then the flare from aeroplane bombs behind him showed up wrecked trucks on the side of the road. Somewhere a machine gun spluttered. But the column tramped on, weighed down by the packs, by the deadening exhaustion.
The turbulent flaring darkness was calming to the grey of dawn when Chrisfield stopped marching. His eyelids stung as if his eyeballs were flaming hot. He could not feel his feet and legs. The guns continued incessantly like a hammer beating on his head. He was walking very slowly in a single file, now and then stumbling against the man ahead of him. There was earth on both sides of him, clay walls that dripped moisture. All at once he stumbled down some steps into a dugout, where it was pitch-black. An unfamiliar smell struck him, made him uneasy; but his thoughts seemed to reach him from out of a great distance. He groped to the wall. His knees struck against a bunk with blankets in it. In another second he was sunk fathoms deep in sleep.
When he woke up his mind was very clear. The roof of the dugout was of logs. A bright spot far away was the door. He hoped desperately that he wasn't on duty. He wondered where Andy was; then he remembered that Andy was crazy,—"a yeller dawg," Judkins had called him. Sitting up with difficulty he undid his shoes and puttees, wrapped himself in his blanket. All round him were snores and the deep breathing of exhausted sleep. He closed his eyes.
He was being court-martialled. He stood with his hands at his sides before three officers at a table. All three had the same white faces with heavy blue jaws and eyebrows that met above the nose. They were reading things out of papers aloud, but, although he strained his ears, he couldn't make out what they were saying. All he could hear was a faint moaning. Something had a curious un- familiar smell that troubled him. He could not stand still at attention, although the angry eyes of officers stared at him from all round. "Anderson, Sergeant Anderson, what's that smell?" he kept asking in a small whining voice. "Please tell a feller what that smell is." But the three officers at the table kept reading from their papers, and the moaning grew louder and louder in his ears until he shrieked aloud. There was a grenade in his hand. He pulled the string out and threw it, and he saw the lieutenant's trench coat stand out against a sheet of flame. Someone sprang at him. He was wrestling for his life with Anderson, who turned into a woman with huge flabby breasts. He crushed her to him and turned to defend himself against three officers who came at him, their trench coats drawn in tightly at the waist until they looked like wasps. Everything faded, he woke up.
His nostrils were still full of the strange troubling smell. He sat on the edge of the bunk, wriggling in his clothes, for his body crawled with lice.
"Gee, it's funny to be in where the Fritzies were not long ago," he heard a voice say.
"Kiddo! we're advancin'," came another voice.
"But, hell, this ain't no kind of an advance. I ain't seen a German yet."
"Ah kin smell 'em though," said Chrisfield, getting suddenly to his feet.
Sergeant Higgins' head appeared in the door. "Fall in," he shouted. Then he added in his normal voice, "It's up and at 'em, fellers."
Chrisfield caught his puttee on a clump of briars at the edge of the clearing and stood kicking his leg back and forth to get it free. At last he broke away, the torn puttee dragging behind him. Out in the sunlight in the middle of the clearing he saw a man in olive-drab kneeling beside something on the ground. A German lay face down with a red hole in his back. The man was going through his pockets. He looked up into Chrisfield's face.
"Souvenirs," he said.
"What outfit are you in, buddy?"
"143rd," said the man, getting to his feet slowly.
"Where the hell are we?"
"Damned if I know."
The clearing was empty, except for the two Americans and the German with the hole in his back. In the distance they heard a sound of artillery and nearer the "put, put, put" of isolated machine guns. The leaves of the trees about them, all shades of brown and crimson and yellow, danced in the sunlight.
"Say, that damn money ain't no good, is it?" asked Chrisfield.
"German money? Hell, no.... I got a watch that's a peach though." The man held out a gold watch, looking suspiciously at Chrisfield all the while through half-closed eyes.
"Ah saw a feller had a gold-handled sword," said Chrisfield.
"Back there in the wood"; he waved his hand vaguely.
"Ah've got to find ma outfit; comin' along?" Chrisfield started towards the other edge of the clearing.
"Looks to me all right here," said the other man, lying down on the grass in the sun.
The leaves rustled underfoot as Chrisfield strode through the wood. He was frightened by being alone. He walked ahead as fast as he could, his puttee still dragging behind him. He came to a barbed-wire entanglement half embedded in fallen beech leaves. It had been partly cut in one place, but in crossing he tore his thigh on a barb. Taking off the torn puttee, he wrapped it round the outside of his trousers and kept on walking, feeling a little blood trickle down his leg.
Later he came to a lane that cut straight through the wood where there were many ruts through the putty-coloured mud puddles; Down the lane in a patch of sunlight he saw a figure, towards which he hurried. It was a young man with red hair and a pink-and-white face. By a gold bar on the collar of his shirt Chrisfield saw that he was a lieutenant. He had no coat or hat and there was greenish slime all over the front of his clothes as if he had lain on his belly in a mud puddle.
"Where you going?"
"All right, come along." The lieutenant started walking as fast as he could up the lane, swinging his arms wildly.
"Seen any machine-gun nests?"
"Not a one."
He followed the lieutenant, who walked so fast he had difficulty keeping up, splashing recklessly through the puddles.
"Where's the artillery? That's what I want to know," cried the lieutenant, suddenly stopping in his tracks and running a hand through his red hair. "Where the hell's the artillery?" He looked at Chrisfield savagely out of green eyes. "No use advancing without artillery." He started walking faster than ever.
All at once they saw sunlight ahead of them and olive-drab uniforms. Machine guns started firing all around them in a sudden gust. Chrisfield found himself running forward across a field full of stubble and sprouting clover among a group of men he did not know. The whip-like sound of rifles had chimed in with the stuttering of the machine guns. Little white clouds sailed above him in a blue sky, and in front of him was a group of houses that had the same color, white with lavender-grey shadows, as the clouds.
He was in a house, with a grenade like a tin pineapple in each hand. The sudden loneliness frightened him again. Outside the house was a sound of machine-gun firing, broken by the occasional bursting; of a shell. He looked at the red-tiled roof and at a chromo of a woman nursing a child that hung on the whitewashed wall opposite him. He was in a small kitchen. There was a fire in the hearth where something boiled in a black pot. Chrisfield tiptoed over and looked in. At the bottom of the bubbling water he saw five potatoes. At the other end of the kitchen, beyond two broken chairs, was a door. Chrisfield crept over to it, the tiles seeming to sway under foot. He put his finger to the latch and took it off again suddenly. Holding in his breath he stood a long time looking at the door. Then he pulled it open recklessly. A young man with fair hair was sitting at a table, his head resting on his hands. Chrisfield felt a spurt of joy when he saw that the man's uniform was green. Very coolly he pressed the spring, held the grenade a second and then threw it, throwing himself backwards into the middle of the kitchen. The light-haired man had not moved; his blue eyes still stared straight before him.
In the street Chrisfield ran into a tall man who was running. The man clutched him by the arm and said:
"The barrage is moving up."
"Our barrage; we've got to run, we're ahead of it." His voice came in wheezy pants. There were red splotches on his face. They ran together down the empty village street. As they ran they passed the little red-haired lieutenant, who leaned against a whitewashed wall, his legs a mass of blood and torn cloth. He was shouting in a shrill delirious voice that followed them out along the open road.
"Where's the artillery? That's what I want to know; where's the artillery?"
The woods were grey and dripping with dawn. Chrisfield got stiffly to his feet from the pile of leaves where he had slept. He felt numb with cold and hunger, lonely and lost away from his outfit. All about him were men of another division. A captain with a sandy mustache was striding up and down with a blanket about him, on the road just behind a clump of beech trees. Chrisfield had watched him passing back and forth, back and forth, behind the wet clustered trunks of the trees, ever since it had been light. Stamping his feet among the damp leaves, Chrisfield strolled away from the group of men. No one seemed to notice him. The trees closed about him. He could see nothing but moist trees, grey-green and black, and the yellow leaves of saplings that cut off the view in every direction. He was wondering dully why he was walking off that way. Somewhere in the back of his mind there was a vague idea of finding his outfit. Sergeant Higgins and Andy and Judkins and Small—he wondered what had become of them. He thought of the company lined up for mess, and the smell of greasy food that came from the field-kitchen. He was desperately hungry. He stopped and leaned against the moss-covered trunk of a tree. The deep scratch in his leg was throbbing as if all the blood in his body beat through it. Now that his rustling footsteps had ceased, the woods were absolutely silent, except for the dripping of dew from the leaves and branches. He strained his ears to hear some other sound. Then he noticed that he was staring at a tree full of small red crab apples. He picked a handful greedily, but they were hard and sour and seemed to make him hungrier. The sour flavour in his mouth made him furiously angry. He kicked at the thin trunk of the tree while tears smarted in his eyes. Swearing aloud in a whining singsong voice, he strode off through the woods with his eyes on the ground. Twigs snapped viciously in his face, crooked branches caught at him, but he plunged on. All at once he stumbled against something hard that bounced among the leaves.
He stopped still, looking about him, terrified. Two grenades lay just under his foot, a little further on a man was propped against a tree with his mouth open. Chrisfield thought at first he was asleep, as his eyes were closed. He looked at the grenades carefully. The fuses had not been sprung. He put one in each pocket, gave a glance at the man who seemed to be asleep, and strode off again, striking another alley in the woods, at the end of which he could see sunlight. The sky overhead was full of heavy purple clouds, tinged here and there with yellow. As he walked towards the patch of sunlight, the thought came to him that he ought to have looked in the pockets of the man he had just passed to see if he had any hard bread. He stood still a moment in hesitation, but started walking again doggedly towards the patch of sunlight.
Something glittered in the irregular fringe of sun and shadow. A man was sitting hunched up on the ground with his fatigue cap pulled over his eyes so that the little gold bar just caught the horizontal sunlight. Chrisfield's first thought was that he might have food on him.
"Say, Lootenant," he shouted, "d'you know where a fellow can get somethin' to eat."
The man lifted his head slowly. Chrisfield turned cold all over when he saw the white heavy face of Anderson; an unshaven beard was very black on his square chin; there was a long scratch clotted with dried blood from the heavy eyebrow across the left cheek to the corner of the mouth.
"Give me some water, buddy," said Anderson in a weak voice.
Chrisfield handed him his canteen roughly in silence. He noticed that Anderson's arm was in a sling, and that he drank greedily, spilling the water over his chin and his wounded arm.
"Where's Colonel Evans?" asked Anderson in a thin petulant voice.
Chrisfield did not reply but stared at him sullenly. The canteen had dropped from his hand and lay on the ground in front of him. The water gleamed in the sunlight as it ran out among the russet leaves. A wind had come up, making the woods resound. A shower of yellow leaves dropped about them.
"First you was a corporal, then you was a sergeant, and now you're a lootenant," said Chrisfield slowly.
"You'ld better tell me where Colonel Evans is.... You must know.... He's up that road somewhere," said Anderson, struggling to get to his feet.
Chrisfield walked away without answering. A cold hand was round the grenade in his pocket. He walked away slowly, looking at his feet.
Suddenly he found he had pressed the spring of the grenade. He struggled to pull it out of his pocket. It stuck in the narrow pocket. His arm and his cold fingers that clutched the grenade seemed paralyzed. Then a warm joy went through him. He had thrown it.
Anderson was standing up, swaying backwards and forwards. The explosion made the woods quake. A thick rain of yellow leaves came down. Anderson was flat on the ground. He was so flat he seemed to have sunk into the ground.
Chrisfield pressed the spring of the other grenade and threw it with his eyes closed. It burst among the thick new-fallen leaves.
A few drops of rain were falling. Chrisfield kept on along the lane, walking fast, feeling full of warmth and strength. The rain beat hard and cold against his back.
He walked with his eyes to the ground. A voice in a strange language stopped him. A ragged man in green with a beard that was clotted with mud stood in front of him with his hands up. Chrisfield burst out laughing.
"Come along," he said, "quick!"
The man shambled in front of him; he was trembling so hard he nearly fell with each step.
Chrisfield kicked him.
The man shambled on without turning round. Chrisfield kicked him again, feeling the point of the man's spine and the soft flesh of his rump against his toes with each kick, laughing so hard all the while that he could hardly see where he was going.
"Halt!" came a voice.
"Ah've got a prisoner," shouted Chrisfield still laughing.
"He ain't much of a prisoner," said the man, pointing his bayonet at the German. "He's gone crazy, I guess. I'll take keer o' him...ain't no use sendin' him back."
"All right," said Chrisfield still laughing. "Say, buddy, where can Ah' git something to eat? Ah ain't had nothin' fur a day an a half."
"There's a reconnoitrin' squad up the line; they'll give you somethin'.... How's things goin' up that way?" The man pointed up the road.
"Gawd, Ah doan know. Ah ain't had nothin' to eat fur a day and a half."
The warm smell of a stew rose to his nostrils from the mess-kit. Chrisfield stood, feeling warm and important, filling his mouth with soft greasy potatoes and gravy, while men about him asked him questions. Gradually he began to feel full and content, and a desire to sleep came over him. But he was given a gun, and had to start advancing again with the reconnoitering squad. The squad went cautiously up the same lane through the woods.
"Here's an officer done for," said the captain, who walked ahead. He made a little clucking noise of distress with his tongue. "Two of you fellows go back and git a blanket and take him back to the cross-roads. Poor fellow." The captain walked on again, still making little clucking noises with his tongue.
Chrisfield looked straight ahead of him. He did not feel lonely any more now that he was marching in ranks again. His feet beat the ground in time with the other feet. He would not have to think whether to go to the right or to the left. He would do as the others did.
PART FOUR: RUST
There were tiny green frogs in one of the putty-colored puddles by the roadside. John Andrews fell out of the slowly advancing column a moment to look at them. The frogs' triangular heads stuck out of the water in the middle of the puddle. He leaned over, his hands on his knees, easing the weight of the equipment on his back. That way he could see their tiny jewelled eyes, topaz-colored. His eyes felt as if tears were coming to them with tenderness towards the minute lithe bodies of the frogs. Something was telling him that he must run forward and fall into line again, that he must shamble on through the mud, but he remained staring at the puddle, watching the frogs. Then he noticed his reflection in the puddle. He looked at it curiously. He could barely see the outlines of a stained grimacing mask, and the silhouette of the gun barrel slanting behind it. So this was what they had made of him. He fixed his eyes again on the frogs that swam with elastic, leisurely leg strokes in the putty-colored water.
Absently, as if he had no connection with all that went on about him, he heard the twang of bursting shrapnel down the road. He had straightened himself wearily and taken a step forward, when he found himself sinking into the puddle. A feeling of relief came over him. His legs sunk in the puddle; he lay without moving against the muddy bank. The frogs had gone, but from somewhere a little stream of red was creeping out slowly into the putty-colored water. He watched the irregular files of men in olive-drab shambling by. Their footsteps drummed in his ears. He felt triumphantly separated from them, as if he were in a window somewhere watching soldiers pass, or in a box of a theater watching some dreary monotonous play. He drew farther and farther away from them until they had become very small, like toy soldiers forgotten among the dust in a garret. The light was so dim he couldn't see, he could only hear their feet tramping interminably through the mud.
John Andrews was on a ladder that shook horribly. A gritty sponge in his hand, he was washing the windows of a barracks. He began in the left hand corner and soaped the small oblong panes one after the other. His arms were like lead and he felt that he would fall from the shaking ladder, but each time he turned to look towards the ground before climbing down he saw the top of the general's cap and the general's chin protruding from under the visor, and a voice snarled: "Attention," terrifying him so that the ladder shook more than ever; and he went on smearing soap over the oblong panes with the gritty sponge through interminable hours, though every joint in his body was racked by the shaking of the ladder. Bright light flared from inside the windows which he soaped, pane after pane, methodically. The windows were mirrors. In each pane he saw his thin face, in shadow, with the shadow of a gun barrel slanting beside it. The jolting stopped suddenly. He sank into a deep pit of blackness.
A shrill broken voice was singing in his ear:
"There's a girl in the heart of Maryland With a heart that belongs to me-e."
John Andrews opened his eyes. It was pitch black, except for a series of bright yellow oblongs that seemed to go up into the sky, where he could see the stars. His mind became suddenly acutely conscious. He began taking account of himself in a hurried frightened way. He craned his neck a little. In the darkness he could make out the form of a man stretched out flat beside him who kept moving his head strangely from side to side, singing at the top of his lungs in a shrill broken voice. At that moment Andrews noticed that the smell of carbolic was overpoweringly strong, that it dominated all the familiar smells of blood and sweaty clothes. He wriggled his shoulders so that he could feel the two poles of the stretcher. Then he fixed his eyes again in the three bright yellow oblongs, one above the other, that rose into the darkness. Of course, they were windows; he was near a house.
He moved his arms a little. They felt like lead, but unhurt. Then he realized that his legs were on fire. He tried to move them; everything went black again in a sudden agony of pain. The voice was still shrieking in his ears:
"There's a girl in the heart of Maryland With a heart that belongs to me-e."
But another voice could be heard, softer, talking endlessly in tender clear tones:
"An' he said they were goin' to take me way down south where there was a little house on the beach, all so warm an' quiet..."
The song of the man beside him rose to a tuneless shriek, like a phonograph running down:
"An' Mary-land was fairy-land When she said that mine she'd be..."
Another voice broke in suddenly in short spurts of whining groans that formed themselves into fragments of drawn-out intricate swearing. And all the while the soft voice went on. Andrews strained his ears to hear it.
It soothed his pain as if some cool fragrant oil were being poured over his body.
"An' there'll be a garden full of flowers, roses an' hollyhocks, way down there in the south, an' it'll be so warm an' quiet, an' the sun'll shine all day, and the sky'll be so blue..."
Andrews felt his lips repeating the words like lips following a prayer.
"—An' it'll be so warm an' quiet, without any noise at all. An' the garden'll be full of roses an'..."
But the other voices kept breaking in, drowning out the soft voice with groans, and strings of whining oaths.
"An' he said I could sit on the porch, an' the sun'll be so warm an' quiet, an' the garden'll smell so good, an' the beach'll be all white, an' the sea..."
Andrews felt his head suddenly rise in the air and then his feet. He swung out of the darkness into a brilliant white corridor. His legs throbbed with flaming agony. The face of a man with a cigarette in his mouth peered close to his. A hand fumbled at his throat, where the tag was, and someone read:
But he was listening to the voice out in the dark, behind him, that shrieked in rasping tones of delirium:
"There's a girl in the heart of Mary-land With a heart that belongs to me-e."
Then he discovered that he was groaning. His mind became entirely taken up in the curious rhythm of his groans. The only parts of his body that existed were his legs and something in his throat that groaned and groaned. It was absorbing. White figures hovered about him, he saw the hairy forearms of a man in shirt sleeves, lights glared and went out, strange smells entered at his nose and circulated through his whole body, but nothing could distract his attention from the singsong of his groans.
Rain fell in his face. He moved his head from side to side, suddenly feeling conscious of himself. His mouth was dry, like leather; he put out his tongue to try to catch raindrops in it. He was swung roughly about in the stretcher. He lifted his head cautiously, feeling a great throb of delight that he still could lift his head.
"Keep yer head down, can't yer?" snarled a voice beside him. He had seen the back of a man in a gleaming wet slicker at the end of the stretcher.
"Be careful of my leg, can't yer?" he found himself whining over and over again. Then suddenly there was a lurch that rapped his head against the crosspiece of the stretcher, and he found himself looking up at a wooden ceiling from which the white paint had peeled in places. He smelt gasoline and could hear the throb of an engine. He began to think back; how long was it since he had looked at the little frogs in the puddle? A vivid picture came to his mind of the puddle with its putty-colored water and the little triangular heads of the frogs. But it seemed as long ago as a memory of childhood; all of his life before that was not so long as the time that had gone by since the car had started. And he was jolting and swinging about in the stretcher, clutching hard with his hands at the poles of the stretcher. The pain in his legs grew worse; the rest of his body seemed to shrivel under it. From below him came a rasping voice that cried out at every lurch of the ambulance. He fought against the desire to groan, but at last he gave in and lay lost in the monotonous singsong of his groans.
The rain was in his face again for a moment, then his body was tilted. A row of houses and russet trees and chimney pots against a leaden sky swung suddenly up into sight and were instantly replaced by a ceiling and the coffred vault of a staircase. Andrews was still groaning softly, but his eyes fastened with sudden interest on the sculptured rosettes of the coffres and the coats of arms that made the center of each section of ceiling. Then he found himself staring in the face of the man who was carrying the lower end of the stretcher. It was a white face with pimples round the mouth and good-natured, watery blue eyes. Andrews looked at the eyes and tried to smile, but the man carrying the stretcher was not looking at him.
Then after more endless hours of tossing about on the stretcher, lost in a groaning agony of pain, hands laid hold of him roughly and pulled his clothes off and lifted him on a cot where he lay gasping, breathing in the cool smell of disinfectant that hung about the bedclothes. He heard voices over his head.
"Isn't bad at all...this leg wound.... I thought you said we'd have to amputate?"
"Well, what's the matter with him, then?"
A cold sweat of terror took hold of Andrews. He lay perfectly still with his eyes closed. Spasm after spasm of revolt went through him. No, they hadn't broken him yet; he still had hold of his nerves, he kept saying to himself. Still, he felt that his hands, clasped across his belly, were trembling. The pain in his legs disappeared in the fright in which he lay, trying desperately to concentrate his mind on something outside himself. He tried to think of a tune to hum to himself, but he only heard again shrieking in his ears the voice which, it seemed to him months and years ago, had sung:
"There's a girl in the heart of Maryland With a heart that belo-ongs to me-e."
The voice shrieking the blurred tune and the pain in his legs mingled themselves strangely, until they seemed one and the pain seemed merely a throbbing of the maddening tune.
He opened his eyes. Darkness fading into a faint yellow glow. Hastily he took stock of himself, moved his head and his arms. He felt cool and very weak and quiet; he must have slept a long time. He passed his rough dirty, hand over his face. The skin felt soft and cool. He pressed his cheek on the pillow and felt himself smiling contentedly, he did not know why.
The Queen of Sheba carried a parasol with little vermilion bells all round it that gave out a cool tinkle as she walked towards him. She wore her hair in a high headdress thickly powdered with blue iris powder, and on her long train, that a monkey held up at the end, were embroidered in gaudy colors the signs of the zodiac. She was not the Queen of Sheba, she was a nurse whose face he could not see in the obscurity, and, sticking an arm behind his head in a deft professional manner, she gave him something to drink from a glass without looking at him. He said "Thank you," in his natural voice, which surprised him in the silence; but she went off without replying and he saw that it was a trayful of glasses that had tinkled as she had come towards him.
Dark as it was he noticed the self-conscious tilt of the nurse's body as she walked silently to the next cot, holding the tray of glasses in front of her. He twisted his head round on the pillow to watch how gingerly she put her arm under the next man's head to give him a drink.
"A virgin," he said to himself, "very much a virgin," and he found himself giggling softly, notwithstanding the twinges of pain from his legs. He felt suddenly as if his spirit had awakened from a long torpor. The spell of dejection that had deadened him for months had slipped off. He was free. The thought came to him gleefully, that as long as he stayed in that cot in the hospital no one would shout orders at him. No one would tell him to clean his rifle. There would be no one to salute. He would not have to worry about making himself pleasant to the sergeant. He would lie there all day long, thinking his own thoughts.
Perhaps he was badly enough wounded to be discharged from the army. The thought set his heart beating like mad. That meant that he, who had given himself up for lost, who had let himself be trampled down unresistingly into the mud of slavery, who had looked for no escape from the treadmill but death, would live. He, John Andrews, would live.
And it seemed inconceivable that he had ever given himself up, that he had ever let the grinding discipline have its way with him. He saw himself vividly once more as he had seen himself before his life had suddenly blotted itself out, before he had become a slave among slaves. He renumbered the garden where, in his boyhood, he had sat dreaming through the droning summer afternoons under the crepe myrtle bushes, while the cornfields beyond rustled and shimmered in the heat. He remembered the day he had stood naked in the middle of a base room while the recruiting sergeant prodded him and measured him. He wondered suddenly what the date was. Could it be that it was only a year ago? Yet in that year all the other years of his life had been blotted out. But now he would begin living again. He would give up this cowardly cringing before external things. He would be recklessly himself.
The pain in his legs was gradually localizing itself into the wounds. For a while he struggled against it to go on thinking, but its constant throb kept impinging in his mind until, although he wanted desperately to comb through his pale memories to remember, if ever so faintly, all that had been vivid and lusty in his life, to build himself a new foundation of resistance against the world from which he could start afresh to live, he became again the querulous piece of hurt flesh, the slave broken on the treadmill; he began to groan.
Cold steel-gray light filtered into the ward, drowning the yellow glow which first turned ruddy and then disappeared. Andrews began to make out the row of cots opposite him, and the dark beams of the ceiling above his head. "This house must be very old," he said to himself, and the thought vaguely excited him. Funny that the Queen of Sheba had come to his head, it was ages since he'd thought of all that. From the girl at the cross-roads singing under her street-lamp to the patrician pulling roses to pieces from the height of her litter, all the aspects' half-guessed, all the imaginings of your desire... that was the Queen of Sheba. He whispered the words aloud, "la reine de Saba, la reine de Saba"; and, with a tremor of anticipation of the sort he used to feel when he was a small boy the night before Christmas, with a sense of new; things in store for him, he pillowed his head on his arm and went quietly to sleep.
"Ain't it juss like them frawgs te make a place like this' into a hauspital?" said the orderly, standing with his feet wide apart and his hands on his hips, facing a row of cots and talking to anyone who felt well enough to listen. "Honest, I doan see why you fellers doan all cash in yer! checks in this hole.... There warn't even electric light till we put it in.... What d'you think o' that? That shows how much the goddam frawgs care...." The orderly was a short man with a sallow, lined face and large yellow teeth. When he smiled the horizontal lines in his forehead and the lines that ran from the sides of his nose to the ends of his mouth deepened so that his face looked as if it were made up to play a comic part in the movies.
"It's kind of artistic, though, ain't it?" said Applebaum, whose cot was next Andrews's,—a skinny man with large, frightened eyes and an inordinately red face that looked as if the skin had been peeled off. "Look at the work there is on that ceiling. Must have cost some dough when it was noo."
"Wouldn't be bad as a dance hall with a little fixin' up, but a hauspital; hell!"
Andrews lay, comfortable in his cot, looking into the ward out of another world. He felt no connection with the talk about him, with the men who lay silent or tossed about groaning in the rows of narrow cots that filled the Renaissance hall. In the yellow glow of the electric lights, looking beyond the orderly's twisted face and narrow head, he could see very faintly, where the beams of the ceiling sprung from the wall, a row of half-obliterated shields supported by figures carved out of the grey stone of the wall, handed satyrs with horns and goats' beards and deep-set eyes, little squat figures of warriors and townsmen in square hats with swords between their bent knees, naked limbs twined in scrolls of spiked acanthus leaves, all seen very faintly, so that when the electric lights swung back and forth in the wind made by the orderly's hurried passing, they all seemed to wink and wriggle in shadowy mockery of the rows of prostrate bodies in the room beneath them. Yet they were familiar, friendly to Andrews. He kept feeling a half-formulated desire to be up there too, crowded under a beam, grimacing through heavy wreaths of pomegranates and acanthus leaves, the incarnation of old rich lusts, of clear fires that had sunk to dust ages since. He felt at home in that spacious hall, built for wide gestures and stately steps, in which all the little routine of the army seemed unreal, and the wounded men discarded automatons, broken toys laid away in rows.
Andrews was snatched out of his thoughts. Applebaum was speaking to him; he turned his head.
"How d'you loike it bein' wounded, buddy?"
"Foine, I should think it was.... Better than doin' squads right all day."
"Where did you get yours?"
"Ain't got only one arm now.... I don't give a damn.... I've driven my last fare, that's all."
"How d'you mean?"
"I used to drive a taxi."
"That's a pretty good job, isn't it?"
"You bet, big money in it, if yer in right."
"So you used to be a taxi-driver, did you?" broke in the orderly. "That's a fine job.... When I was in the Providence Hospital half the fractures was caused by taxis. We had a little girl of six in the children's ward had her feet cut clean off at the ankles by a taxi. Pretty yellow hair she had, too. Gangrene.... Only lasted a day.... Well, I'm going off, I guess you guys wish you was going to be where I'm goin' to be tonight.... That's one thing you guys are lucky in, don't have to worry about propho." The orderly wrinkled his face up and winked elaborately.
"Say, will you do something for me?" asked Andrews.
"Sure, if it ain't no trouble."
"Will you buy me a book?"
"Ain't ye got enough with all the books at the 'Y'?"
"No.... This is a special book," said Andrews smiling, "a French book."
"A French book, is it? Well, I'll see what I can do. What's it called?"
"By Flaubert.... Look, if you've got a piece of paper and a pencil, I'll write it down."
Andrews scrawled the title on the back of an order slip.
"What the hell? Who's Antoine? Gee whiz, I bet that's hot stuff. I wish I could read French. We'll have you breakin' loose out o' here an' going down to number four, roo Villiay, if you read that kind o' book."
"Has it got pictures?" asked Applebaum. "One feller did break out o' here a month ago,... Couldn't stand it any longer, I guess. Well, his wound opened an' he had a hemorrhage, an' now he's planted out in the back lot.... But I'm goin'. Goodnight." The orderly bustled to the end of the ward and disappeared.
The lights went out, except for the bulb over the nurse's desk at the end, beside the ornate doorway, with its wreathed pinnacles carved out of the grey stone, which could be seen above the white canvas screen that hid the door.
"What's that book about, buddy?" asked Applebaum, twisting his head at the end of his lean neck so as to look Andrews full in the face.
"Oh, it's about a man who wants everything so badly that he decides there's nothing worth wanting."
"I guess youse had a college edication," said Applebaum sarcastically.
"Well, I was goin' to tell youse about when I used to drive a taxi. I was makin' big money when I enlisted. Was you drafted?"
"Well, so was I. I doan think nauthin o' them guys that are so stuck up 'cause they enlisted, d'you?"
"Not a hell of a lot."
"Don't yer?" came a voice from the other side of Andrews, a thin voice that stuttered. "W-w-well, all I can say is, it'ld have sss-spoiled my business if I hadn't enlisted. No, sir, nobody can say I didn't enlist."
"Well, that's your look-out," said Applebaum.
"You're goddam right, it was."
"Well, ain't your business spoiled anyway?"
"No, sir. I can pick it right up where I left off. I've got an established reputation."
"I'm an undertaker by profession; my dad was before me."
"Gee, you were right at home!" said Andrews.
"You haven't any right to say that, young feller," said the undertaker angrily. "I'm a humane man. I won't never be at home in this dirty butchery."
The nurse was walking by their cots.
"How can you say such dreadful things?" she said. "But lights are out. You boys have got to keep quiet.... And you," she plucked at the undertaker's bedclothes, "just remember what the Huns did in Belgium.... Poor Miss Cavell, a nurse just like I am."
Andrews closed his eyes. The ward was quiet except for the rasping sound of the snores and heavy breathing of the shattered men all about him. "And I thought she was the Queen of Sheba," he said to himself, making a grimace in the dark. Then he began to think of the music he had intended to write about the Queen of Sheba before he had stripped his life off in the bare room where they had measured him and made a soldier of him. Standing in the dark in the desert of his despair, he would hear the sound of a caravan in the distance, tinkle of bridles, rasping of horns, braying of donkeys, and the throaty voices of men singing the songs of desolate roads. He would look up, and before him he would see, astride their foaming wild asses, the three green horsemen motionless, pointing at him with their long forefingers. Then the music would burst in a sudden hot whirlwind about him, full of flutes and kettledrums and braying horns and whining bagpipes, and torches would flare red and yellow, making a tent of light about him, on the edges of which would crowd the sumpter mules and the brown mule drivers, and the gaudily caparisoned camels, and the elephants glistening with jewelled harness. Naked slaves would bend their gleaming backs before him as they laid out a carpet at his feet; and, through the flare of torchlight, the Queen, of Sheba would advance towards him, covered with emeralds and dull-gold ornaments, with a monkey hopping behind holding up the end of her long train. She would put her hand with its slim fantastic nails on his shoulder; and, looking into her eyes, he would suddenly feel within reach all the fiery imaginings of his desire. Oh, if he could only be free to work. All the months he had wasted in his life seemed to be marching like a procession of ghosts before his eyes. And he lay in his cot, staring with wide open eyes at the ceiling, hoping desperately that his wounds would be long in healing.
Applebaum sat on the edge of his cot, dressed in a clean new uniform, of which the left sleeve hung empty, still showing the creases in which it had been folded.
"So you really are going," said Andrews, rolling his head over on his pillow to look at him.
"You bet your pants I am, Andy.... An' so could you, poifectly well, if you'ld talk it up to 'em a little."
"Oh, I wish to God I could. Not that I want to go home, now, but ...if I could get out of uniform."
"I don't blame ye a bit, kid; well, next time, we'll know better.... Local Board Chairman's going to be my job."
"If I wasn't a sucker...."
"You weren't the only wewe-one," came the undertaker's stuttering voice from behind Andrews.
"Hell, I thought you enlisted, undertaker."
"Well, I did, by God. but I didn't think it was going to be like this."
"What did ye think it was goin' to be, a picnic?"
"Hell, I doan care about that, or gettin' gassed, and smashed up, or anythin', but I thought we was goin' to put things to rights by comin' over here.... Look here, I had a lively business in the undertaking way, like my father had had before me.... We did all the swellest work in Tilletsville...."
"Where?" interrupted Applebaum, laughing.
"Tilletsville; don't you know any geography?"
"Go ahead, tell us about Tilletsville," said Andrews soothingly.
"Why, when Senator Wallace d-d-deceased there, who d'you think had charge of embalming the body and taking it to the station an' seeing everything was done fitting? We did.... And I was going to be married to a dandy girl, and I knowed I had enough pull to get fixed up, somehow, or to get a commission even, but there I went like a sucker an' enlisted in the infantry, too.... But, hell, everybody was saying that we was going to fight to make the world safe for democracy, and that, if a feller didn't go, no one'ld trade with him any more."
He started coughing suddenly and seemed unable to stop. At last he said weakly, in a thin little voice between coughs:
"Well, here I am. There ain't nothing to do about it."
"Democracy.... That's democracy, ain't it: we eat stinkin' goolash an' that there fat 'Y' woman goes out with Colonels eatin' chawklate soufflay.... Poifect democracy!... But I tell you what: it don't do to be the goat."
"But there's so damn many more goats than anything else," said Andrews.
"There's a sucker born every minute, as Barnum said. You learn that drivin' a taxicab, if ye don't larn nothin' else.... No, sir, I'm goin' into politics. I've got good connections up Hundred and Twenty-fif' street way.... You see, I've got an aunt, Mrs. Sallie Schultz, owns a hotel on a Hundred and Tirty-tird street. Heard of Jim O'Ryan, ain't yer? Well, he's a good friend o' hers; see? Bein' as they're both Catholics... But I'm goin' out this afternoon, see what the town's like... an ole Ford says the skirts are just peaches an' cream."
"He juss s-s-says that to torment a feller," stuttered the undertaker.
"I wish I were going with you," said Andrews. "You'll get well plenty soon enough, Andy, and get yourself marked Class A, and get given a gun, an—'Over the top, boys!'...to see if the Fritzies won't make a better shot next time.... Talk about suckers! You're the most poifect sucker I ever met.... What did you want to tell the loot your legs didn't hurt bad for? They'll have you out o' here before you know it.... Well, I'm goin' out to see what the mamzelles look like."
Applebaum, the uniform hanging in folds about his skinny body, swaggered to the door, followed by the envious glances of the whole ward.
"Gee, guess he thinks he's goin' to get to be president," said the undertaker bitterly.
"He probably will," said Andrews.
He settled himself in his bed again, sinking back into the dull contemplation of the teasing, smarting pain where the torn ligaments of his thighs were slowly knitting themselves together. He tried desperately to forget the pain; there was so much he wanted to think out. If he could only lie perfectly quiet, and piece together the frayed ends of thoughts that kept flickering to the surface of his mind. He counted up the days he had been in the hospital; fifteen! Could it be that long? And he had not thought of anything yet. Soon, as Applebaum said, they'd be putting him in Class A and sending him back to the treadmill, and he would not have reconquered his courage, his dominion over himself. What a coward he had been anyway, to submit. The man beside him kept coughing. Andrews stared for a moment at the silhouette of the yellow face on the pillow, with its pointed nose and small greedy eyes. He thought of the swell undertaking establishment, of the black gloves and long faces and soft tactful voices. That man and his father before him lived by pretending things they didn't feel, by swathing reality with all manner of crepe and trumpery. For those people, no one ever died, they passed away, they deceased. Still, there had to be undertakers. There was no more stain about that than about any other trade. And it was so as not to spoil his trade that the undertaker had enlisted, and to make the world safe for democracy, too. The phrase came to Andrews's mind amid an avalanche of popular tunes; of visions of patriotic numbers on the vaudeville stage. He remembered the great flags waving triumphantly over Fifth Avenue, and the crowds dutifully cheering. But those were valid reasons for the undertaker; but for him, John Andrews, were they valid reasons? No. He had no trade, he had not been driven into the army by the force of public opinion, he had not been carried away by any wave of blind confidence in the phrases of bought propagandists. He had not had the strength to live. The thought came to him of all those who, down the long tragedy of history, had given themselves smilingly for the integrity of their thoughts. He had not had the courage to move a muscle for his freedom, but he had been fairly cheerful about risking his life as a soldier, in a cause he believed useless. What right had a man to exist who was too cowardly to stand up for what he thought and felt, for his whole makeup, for everything that made him an individual apart from his fellows, and not a slave to stand cap in hand waiting for someone of stronger will to tell him to act?
Like a sudden nausea, disgust surged up in him. His mind ceased formulating phrases and thoughts. He gave himself over to disgust as a man who has drunk a great deal, holding on tight to the reins of his will, suddenly gives himself over pellmell to drunkenness.
He lay very still, with his eyes closed, listening to the stir of the ward, the voices of men talking and the fits of coughing that shook the man next him. The smarting pain throbbed monotonously. He felt hungry and wondered vaguely if it were supper time. How little they gave you to eat in the hospital!
He called over to the man in the opposite cot:
"Hay, Stalky, what time is it?"
"It's after messtime now. Got a good appetite for the steak and onions and French fried potatoes?"
A rattling of tin dishes at the other end of the ward made Andrews wriggle up further on his pillow. Verses from the "Shropshire Lad" jingled mockingly through his head:
"The world, it was the old world yet, I was I, my things were wet, And nothing now remained to do But begin the game anew."
After he had eaten, he picked up the "Tentation de Saint Antoine," that lay on the cot beside his immovable legs, and buried himself in it, reading the gorgeously modulated sentences voraciously, as if the book were a drug in which he could drink deep forgetfulness of himself.
He put the book down and closed his eyes. His mind was full of intangible floating glow, like the ocean on a warm night, when every wave breaks into pale flame, and mysterious milky lights keep rising to the surface out of the dark waters and gleaming and vanishing. He became absorbed in the strange fluid harmonies that permeated his whole body, as a grey sky at nightfall suddenly becomes filled with endlessly changing patterns of light and color and shadow.
When he tried to seize hold of his thoughts, to give them definite musical expression in his mind, he found himself suddenly empty, the way a sandy inlet on the beach that has been full of shoals of silver fishes, becomes suddenly empty when a shadow crosses the water, and the man who is watching sees wanly his own reflection instead of the flickering of thousands of tiny silver bodies.
John Andrews awoke to feel a cold hand on his head.
"Feeling all right?" said a voice in his ear.
He found himself looking in a puffy, middle-aged face, with a lean nose and grey eyes, with dark rings under them. Andrews felt the eyes looking him over inquisitively. He saw the red triangle on the man's khaki sleeve.
"Yes," he said.
"If you don't mind, I'd like to talk to you a little while, buddy."
"Not a bit; have you got a chair?" said Andrews smiling.
"I don't suppose it was just right of me to wake you up, but you see it was this way.... You were the next in line, an' I was afraid I'd forget you, if I skipped you."
"I understand," said Andrews, with a sudden determination to take the initiative away from the "Y" man.
"How long have you been in France? D'you like the war?" he asked hurriedly.
The "Y" man smiled sadly.
"You seem pretty spry," he said. "I guess you're in a hurry to get back at the front and get some more Huns." He smiled again, with an air of indulgence.
Andrews did not answer.
"No, sonny, I don't like it here," the "Y" man said, after a pause. "I wish I was home—but it's great to feel you're doing your duty."
"It must be," said Andrews.
"Have you heard about the great air raids our boys have pulled off? They've bombarded Frankfort; now if they could only wipe Berlin off the map."
"Say, d'you hate 'em awful hard?" said Andrews in a low voice. "Because, if you do, I can tell you something will tickle you most to death.... Lean over."
The "Y" man leant over curiously. "Some German prisoners come to this hospital at six every night to get the garbage; now all you need to do if you really hate 'em so bad is borrow a revolver from one of your officer friends, and just shoot up the convoy...."
"Say...where were you raised, boy?" The "Y" man sat up suddenly with a look of alarm on his face. "Don't you know that prisoners are sacred?"
"D'you know what our colonel told us before going into the Argonne offensive? The more prisoners we took, the less grub there'ld be; and do you know what happened to the prisoners that were taken? Why do you hate the Huns?"
"Because they are barbarians, enemies of civilization. You must have enough education to know that," said the "Y" man, raising his voice angrily. "What church do you belong to?"
"But you must have been connected with some church, boy. You can't have been raised a heathen in America. Every Christian belongs or has belonged to some church or other from baptism."
"I make no pretensions to Christianity."
Andrews closed his eyes and turned his head away. He could feel the "Y" man hovering over him irresolutely. After a while he opened his eyes. The "Y" man was leaning over the next bed.
Through the window at the opposite side of the ward he could see a bit of blue sky among white scroll-like clouds, with mauve shadows. He stared at it until the clouds, beginning to grow golden into evening, covered it. Furious, hopeless irritation consumed him. How these people enjoyed hating! At that rate it was better to be at the front. Men were more humane when they were killing each other than when they were talking about it. So was civilization nothing but a vast edifice of sham, and the war, instead of its crumbling, was its fullest and most ultimate expression. Oh, but there must be something more in the world than greed and hatred and cruelty. Were they all shams, too, these gigantic phrases that floated like gaudy kites high above mankind? Kites, that was it, contraptions of tissue paper held at the end of a string, ornaments not to be taken seriously. He thought of all the long procession of men who had been touched by the unutterable futility of the lives of men, who had tried by phrases to make things otherwise, who had taught unworldliness. Dim enigmatic figures they were—Democritus, Socrates, Epicurus, Christ; so many of them, and so vague in the silvery mist of history that he hardly knew that they were not his own imagining; Lucretius, St. Francis, Voltaire, Rousseau, and how many others, known and unknown, through the tragic centuries; they had wept, some of them, and some of them had laughed, and their phrases had risen glittering, soap bubbles to dazzle men for a moment, and had shattered. And he felt a crazy desire to join the forlorn ones, to throw himself into inevitable defeat, to live his life as he saw it in spite of everything, to proclaim once more the falseness of the gospels under the cover of which greed and fear filled with more and yet more pain the already unbearable agony of human life.
As soon as he got out of the hospital he would desert; the determination formed suddenly in his mind, making the excited blood surge gloriously through his body. There was nothing else to do; he would desert. He pictured himself hobbling away in the dark on his lame legs, stripping his uniform off, losing himself in some out of the way corner of France, or slipping by the sentries to Spain and freedom. He was ready to endure anything, to face any sort of death, for the sake of a few months of liberty in which to forget the degradation of this last year. This was his last run with the pack.
An enormous exhilaration took hold of him. It seemed the first time in his life he had ever determined to act. All the rest had been aimless drifting. The blood sang m his ears. He fixed his eyes on the half-obliterated figures that supported the shields under the beams in the wall opposite. They seemed to be wriggling out of their contorted positions and smiling encouragement to him. He imagined them, warriors out of old tales, on their way to clay dragons in enchanted woods, clever-fingered guildsmen and artisans, cupids and satyrs and fauns, jumping from their niches and carrying him off with them in a headlong rout, to a sound of flutes, on a last forlorn assault on the citadels of pain.
The lights went out, and an orderly came round with chocolate that poured with a pleasant soothing sound into the tin cups. With a greasiness of chocolate in his mouth and the warmth of it in his stomach, John Andrews went to sleep.
There was a stir in the ward when he woke up. Reddish sunlight filtered in through the window opposite, and from outside came a confused noise, a sound of bells ringing and whistles blowing. Andrews looked past his feet towards Stalky's cot opposite. Stalky was sitting bolt upright in bed, with his eyes round as quarters.
"Fellers, the war's over!"
"Put him out."
"Pull the chain."
"Tie that bull outside," came from every side of the ward.
"Fellers," shouted Stalky louder than ever, "it's straight dope, the war's over. I just dreamt the Kaiser came up to me on Fourteenth Street and bummed a nickel for a glass of beer. The war's over. Don't you hear the whistles?"
"All right; let's go home."
"Shut up, can't you let a feller sleep?"
The ward quieted down again, but all eyes were wide open, men lay strangely still in their cots, waiting, wondering.
"All I can say," shouted Stalky again, "is that she was some war while she lasted.... What did I tell yer?"
As he spoke the canvas screen in front of the door collapsed and the major appeared with his cap askew over his red face and a brass bell in his hand, which he rang frantically as he advanced into the ward.
"Men," he shouted in the deep roar of one announcing baseball scores, "the war ended at 4:03 A.M. this morning.... The Armistice is signed. To hell with the Kaiser!" Then he rang the dinner bell madly and danced along the aisle between the rows of cots, holding the head nurse by one hand, who held a little yellow-headed lieutenant by the other hand, who, in turn, held another nurse, and so on. The line advanced jerkily into the ward; the front part was singing "The Star Spangled Banner," and the rear the "Yanks are Coming," and through it all the major rang his brass bell. The men who were well enough sat up in bed and yelled. The others rolled restlessly about, sickened by the din.
They made the circuit of the ward and filed out, leaving confusion behind them. The dinner bell could be heard faintly in the other parts of the building.
"Well, what d'you think of it, undertaker?" said Andrews.
The undertaker turned his small black eyes on Andrews and looked him straight in the face.
"You know what's the matter with me, don't yer, outside o' this wound?"
"Coughing like I am, I'd think you'd be more observant. I got t.b., young feller."
"How do you know that?"
"They're going to move me out o' here to a t.b. ward tomorrow."
"The hell they are!" Andrews's words were lost in the paroxysm of coughing that seized the man next to him.
"Home, boys, home; it's home we want to be,"
Those well enough were singing, Stalky conducting, standing on the end of his cot in his pink Red Cross pajamas, that were too short and showed a long expanse of skinny leg, fuzzy with red hairs. He banged together two bed pans to beat time.
"Home.... I won't never go home," said the undertaker when the noise had subsided a little. "D'you know what I wish? I wish the war'd gone on and on until everyone of them bastards had been killed in it."
"The men who got us fellers over here." He began coughing again weakly.
"But they'll be safe if every other human being...." began Andrews. He was interrupted by a thundering voice from the end of the ward.
"Home, boys, home; it's home we want to be,"
went on the song. Stalky glanced towards the end of the ward, and seeing it was the major, dropped the bed pans that smashed at the foot of his cot, and got as far as possible under his blankets.
"Attention!" thundered the major again. A sudden uncomfortable silence fell upon the ward; broken only by the coughing of the man next to Andrews.
"If I hear any more noise from this ward, I'll chuck everyone of you men out of this hospital; if you can't walk you'll have to crawl.... The war may be over, but you men are in the Army, and don't you forget it."
The major glared up and down the lines of cots. He turned on his heel and went out of the door, glancing angrily as he went at the overturned screen. The ward was still. Outside whistles blew and churchbells rang madly, and now and then there was a sound of singing.
The snow beat against the windows and pattered on the tin roof of the lean-to, built against the side of the hospital, that went by the name of sun parlor. It was a dingy place, decorated by strings of dusty little paper flags that one of the "Y" men had festooned about the slanting beams of the ceiling to celebrate Christmas. There were tables with torn magazines piled on them, and a counter where cracked white cups were ranged waiting for one of the rare occasions when cocoa could be bought. In the middle of the room, against the wall of the main building, a stove was burning, about which sat several men in hospital denims talking in drowsy voices. Andrews watched them from his seat by the window, looking at their broad backs bent over towards the stove and at the hands that hung over their knees, limp from boredom. The air was heavy with a smell of coal gas mixed with carbolic from men's clothes, and stale cigarette smoke. Behind the cups at the counter a "Y" man, a short, red-haired man with freckles, read the Paris edition of the New York Herald. Andrews, in his seat by the window, felt permeated by the stagnation about him: He had a sheaf of pencilled music-papers on his knees, that he rolled and unrolled nervously, staring at the stove and the motionless backs of the men about it. The stove roared a little, the "Y" man's paper rustled, men's voices came now and then in a drowsy whisper, and outside the snow beat evenly and monotonously against the window panes. Andrews pictured himself vaguely walking fast through the streets, with the snow stinging his face and the life of a city swirling about him, faces flushed by the cold, bright eyes under hatbrims, looking for a second into his and passing on; slim forms of women bundled in shawls that showed vaguely the outline of their breasts and hips. He wondered if he would ever be free again to walk at random through city streets. He stretched his legs out across the floor in front of him; strange, stiff, tremulous legs they were, but it was not the wounds that gave them their leaden weight. It was the stagnation of the life about him that he felt sinking into every crevice of his spirit, so that he could never shake it off, the stagnation of dusty ruined automatons that had lost all life of their own, whose limbs had practised the drill manual so long that they had no movements of their own left, who sat limply, sunk in boredom, waiting for orders.
Andrews was roused suddenly from his thoughts; he had been watching the snowflakes in their glittering dance just outside the window pane, when the sound of someone rubbing his hands very close to him made him look up. A little man with chubby cheeks and steel-grey hair very neatly flattened against his skull, stood at the window rubbing his fat little white hands together and making a faint unctuous puffing with each breath. Andrews noticed that a white clerical collar enclosed the little man's pink neck, that starched cuffs peeped from under the well-tailored sleeves of his officer's uniform. Sam Brown belt and puttees, too, were highly polished. On his shoulder was a demure little silver cross. Andrews' glance had reached the pink cheeks again, when he suddenly found a pair of steely eyes looking sharply into his.
"You look quite restored, my friend," said a chanting clerical voice.
"I suppose I am."
"Splendid, splendid.... But do you mind moving into the end of the room.... That's it." He followed Andrews, saying in a deprecatory tone: "We're going to have just a little bit of a prayer and then I have some interesting things to tell you boys."
The red-headed "Y" man had left his seat and stood in the center of the room, his paper still dangling from his hand, saying in a bored voice: "Please fellows, move down to the end.... Quiet, please.... Quiet, please."
The soldiers shambled meekly to the folding chairs at the end of the room and after some chattering were quiet. A couple of men left, and several tiptoed in and sat in the front row. Andrews sank into a chair with a despairing sort of resignation, and burying his face in his hands stared at the floor between his feet.
"Fellers," went on the bored voice of the "Y" man, "let me introduce the Reverend Dr. Skinner, who—" the "Y" man's voice suddenly took on deep patriotic emotion—"who has just come back from the Army of Occupation in Germany."
At the words "Army of Occupation," as if a spring had been touched, everybody clapped and cheered.
The Reverend Dr. Skinner looked about his audience with smiling confidence and raised his hands for silence, so that the men could see the chubby pink palms.
"First, boys, my dear friends, let us indulge in a few moments of silent prayer to our Great Creator," his voice rose and fell in the suave chant of one accustomed to going through the episcopal liturgy for the edification of well-dressed and well-fed congregations. "Inasmuch as He has vouchsafed us safety and a mitigation of our afflictions, and let us pray that in His good time He may see fit to return us whole in limb and pure in heart to our families, to the wives, mothers, and to those whom we will some day honor with the name of wife, who eagerly await our return; and that we may spend the remainder of our lives in useful service of the great country for whose safety and glory we have offered up our youth a willing sacrifice.... Let us pray!"
Silence fell dully on the room. Andrews could hear the self- conscious breathing of the men about him, and the rustling of the snow against the tin roof. A few feet scraped. The voice began again after a long pause, chanting:
"Our Father which art in Heaven..."
At the "Amen" everyone lifted his head cheerfully. Throats were cleared, chairs scraped. Men settled themselves to listen.
"Now, my friends, I am going to give you in a few brief words a little glimpse into Germany, so that you may be able to picture to yourselves the way your comrades of the Army of Occupation manage to make themselves comfortable among the Huns.... I ate my Christmas dinner in Coblenz. What do you think of that? Never had I thought that a Christmas would find me away from my home and loved ones. But what unexpected things happen to us in this world! Christmas in Coblenz under the American flag!"
He paused a moment to allow a little scattered clapping to subside.
"The turkey was fine, too, I can tell you.... Yes, our boys in Germany are very, very comfortable, and just waiting for the word, if necessary, to continue their glorious advance to Berlin. For I am sorry to say, boys, that the Germans have not undergone the change of heart for which we had hoped. They have, indeed, changed the name of their institutions, but their spirit they have not changed.... How grave a disappointment it must be to our great President, who has exerted himself so to bring the German people to reason, to make them understand the horror that they alone have brought deliberately upon the world! Alas! Far from it. Indeed, they have attempted with insidious propaganda to undermine the morale of our troops...." A little storm of muttered epithets went through the room. The Reverend Dr. Skinner elevated his chubby pink palms and smiled benignantly..."to undermine the morale of our troops; so that the most stringent regulations have had to be made by the commanding general to prevent it. Indeed, my friends, I very much fear that we stopped too soon in our victorious advance; that Germany should have been utterly crushed. But all we can do is watch and wait, and abide by the decision of those great men who in a short time will be gathered together at the Conference at Paris.... Let me, boys, my dear friends, express the hope that you may speedily be cured of your wounds, ready again to do willing service in the ranks of the glorious army that must be vigilant for some time yet, I fear, to defend, as Americans and Christians, the civilization you have so nobly saved from a ruthless foe.... Let us all join together in singing the hymn, 'Stand up, stand up for Jesus,' which I am sure you all know."
The men got to their feet, except for a few who had lost their legs, and sang the first verse of the hymn unsteadily. The second verse petered out altogether, leaving only the "Y" man and the Reverend Dr. Skinner singing away at the top of their lungs.
The Reverend Dr. Skinner pulled out his gold watch and looked at it frowning.
"Oh, my, I shall miss the train," he muttered. The "Y" man helped him into his voluminous trench coat and they both hurried out of the door.
"Those are some puttees he had on, I'll tell you," said the legless man who was propped in a chair near the stove.
Andrews sat down beside him, laughing. He was a man with high cheekbones and powerful jaws to whose face the pale brown eyes and delicately pencilled lips gave a look of great gentleness. Andrews did not look at his body.
"Somebody said he was a Red Cross man giving out cigarettes.... Fooled us that time," said Andrews.
"Have a butt? I've got one," said the legless man. With a large shrunken hand that was the transparent color of alabaster he held out a box of cigarettes.
"Thanks." When Andrews struck a match he had to lean over the legless man to light his cigarette for him. He could not help glancing down the man's tunic at the drab trousers that hung limply from the chair. A cold shudder went through him; he was thinking of the zigzag scars on his own thighs.