One of Ours
Part 5 out of 8
felt that he would never get it out. There was something in the
way the mint bed burned and floated that made one a
fatalist,--afraid to meddle. But after he was far away, he would
regret; uncertainty would tease him like a splinter in his thumb.
He rose suddenly and said without apology: "Gladys, I wish I
could feel sure you'd never marry my brother."
She did not reply, but sat in her easy chair, looking up at him
with a strange kind of calmness.
"I know all the advantages," he went on hastily, "but they
wouldn't make it up to you. That sort of a--compromise would make
you awfully unhappy. I know."
"I don't think I shall ever marry Bayliss," Gladys spoke in her
usual low, round voice, but her quick breathing showed he had
touched something that hurt. "I suppose I have used him. It gives
a school-teacher a certain prestige if people think she can marry
the rich bachelor of the town whenever she wants to. But I am
afraid I won't marry him,--because you are the member of the
family I have always admired."
Claude turned away to the window. "A fine lot I've been to
admire," he muttered.
"Well, it's true, anyway. It was like that when we went to High
School, and it's kept up. Everything you do always seems exciting
Claude felt a cold perspiration on his forehead. He wished now
that he had never come. "But that's it, Gladys. What HAVE I ever
done, except make one blunder after another?"
She came over to the window and stood beside him. "I don't know;
perhaps it's by their blunders that one gets to know people,--by
what they can't do. If you'd been like all the rest, you could
have got on in their way. That was the one thing I couldn't have
Claude was frowning out into the flaming garden. He had not heard
a word of her reply. "Why didn't you keep me from making a fool
of myself?" he asked in a low voice.
"I think I tried--once. Anyhow, it's all turning out better than
I thought. You didn't get stuck here. You've found your place.
You're sailing away. You've just begun."
"And what about you?"
She laughed softly. "Oh, I shall teach in the High School!"
Claude took her hands and they stood looking searchingly at each
other in the swimming golden light that made everything
transparent. He never knew exactly how he found his hat and made
his way out of the house. He was only sure that Gladys did not
accompany him to the door. He glanced back once, and saw her head
against the bright window.
She stood there, exactly where he left her, and watched the
evening come on, not moving, scarcely breathing. She was thinking
how often, when she came downstairs, she would see him standing
here by the window, or moving about in the dusky room, looking at
last as he ought to look,--like his convictions and the choice he
had made. She would never let this house be sold for taxes now.
She would save her salary and pay them off. She could never like
any other room so well as this. It had always been a refuge from
Frankfort; and now there would be this vivid, confident figure,
an image as distinct to her as the portrait of her grandfather
upon the wall.
Sunday was Claude's last day at home, and he took a long walk
with Ernest and Ralph. Ernest would have preferred to lose
Ralph, but when the boy was out of the harvest field he stuck to
his brother like a burr. There was something about Claude's new
clothes and new manner that fascinated him, and he went through
one of those sudden changes of feeling that often occur in
families. Although they had been better friends ever since
Claude's wedding, until now Ralph had always felt a little
ashamed of him. Why, he used to ask himself, wouldn't Claude
"spruce up and be somebody"? Now, he was struck by the fact that
he was somebody.
On Monday morning Mrs. Wheeler wakened early, with a faintness in
her chest. This was the day on which she must acquit herself
well. Breakfast would be Claude's last meal at home. At eleven
o'clock his father and Ralph would take him to Frankfort to catch
the train. She was longer than usual in dressing. When she got
downstairs Claude and Mahailey were already talking. He was
shaving in the washroom, and Mahailey stood watching him, a side
of bacon in her hand.
"You tell 'em over there I'm awful sorry about them old women,
with their dishes an' their stove all broke up."
"All right. I will." Claude scraped away at his chin.
She lingered. "Maybe you can help 'em mend their things, like you
do mine fur me," she suggested hopefully.
"Maybe," he murmured absently. Mrs. Wheeler opened the stair
door, and Mahailey dodged back to the stove.
After breakfast Dan went out to the fields with the harvesters.
Ralph and Claude and Mr. Wheeler were busy with the car all
Mrs. Wheeler kept throwing her apron over her head and going down
the hill to see what they were doing. Whether there was really
something the matter with the engine, or whether the men merely
made it a pretext for being together and keeping away from the
house, she did not know. She felt that her presence was not much
desired, and at last she went upstairs and resignedly watched
them from the sitting-room window. Presently she heard Ralph run
up to the third storey. When he came down with Claude's bags in
his hands, he stuck his head in at the door and shouted
cheerfully to his mother:
"No hurry. I'm just taking them down so they'll be ready."
Mrs. Wheeler ran after him, calling faintly, "Wait, Ralph! Are
you sure he's got everything in? I didn't hear him packing."
"Everything ready. He says he won't have to go upstairs again.
He'll be along pretty soon. There's lots of time." Ralph shot
down through the basement.
Mrs. Wheeler sat down in her reading chair. They wanted to keep
her away, and it was a little selfish of them. Why couldn't they
spend these last hours quietly in the house, instead of dashing
in and out to frighten her? Now she could hear the hot water
running in the kitchen; probably Mr. Wheeler had come in to wash
his hands. She felt really too weak to get up and go to the west
window to see if he were still down at the garage. Waiting was
now a matter of seconds, and her breath came short enough as it
She recognized a heavy, hob-nailed boot on the stairs, mounting
quickly. When Claude entered, carrying his hat in his hand, she
saw by his walk, his shoulders, and the way he held his head,
that the moment had come, and that he meant to make it short. She
rose, reaching toward him as he came up to her and caught her in
his arms. She was smiling her little, curious intimate smile,
with half-closed eyes.
"Well, is it good-bye?" she murmured. She passed her hands over
his shoulders, down his strong back and the close-fitting sides
of his coat, as if she were taking the mould and measure of his
mortal frame. Her chin came just to his breast pocket, and she
rubbed it against the heavy cloth. Claude stood looking down at
her without speaking a word. Suddenly his arms tightened and he
almost crushed her.
"Mother!" he whispered as he kissed her. He ran downstairs and
out of the house without looking back.
She struggled up from the chair where she had sunk and crept to
the window; he was vaulting down the hill as fast as he could go.
He jumped into the car beside his father. Ralph was already at
the wheel, and Claude had scarcely touched the cushions when they
were off. They ran down the creek and over the bridge, then up
the long hill on the other side. As they neared the crest of the
hill, Claude stood up in the car and looked back at the house,
waving his cone-shaped hat. She leaned out and strained her
sight, but her tears blurred everything. The brown, upright
figure seemed to float out of the car and across the fields, and
before he was actually gone, she lost him. She fell back against
the windowsill, clutching her temples with both hands, and broke
into choking, passionate speech. "Old eyes," she cried, "why do
you betray me? Why do you cheat me of my last sight of my
Book Four: The Voyage of the Anchises
A long train of crowded cars, the passengers all of the same sex,
almost of the same age, all dressed and hatted alike, was slowly
steaming through the green sea-meadows late on a summer
afternoon. In the cars, incessant stretching of cramped legs,
shifting of shoulders, striking of matches, passing of
cigarettes, groans of boredom; occasionally concerted laughter
about nothing. Suddenly the train stops short. Clipped heads and
tanned faces pop out at every window. The boys begin to moan and
shout; what is the matter now?
The conductor goes through the cars, saying something about a
freight wreck on ahead; he has orders to wait here for half an
hour. Nobody pays any attention to him. A murmur of astonishment
rises from one side of the train. The boys crowd over to the
south windows. At last there is something to look at,--though
what they see is so strangely quiet that their own exclamations
are not very loud.
Their train is lying beside an arm of the sea that reaches far
into the green shore. At the edge of the still water stand the
hulls of four wooden ships, in the process of building. There is
no town, there are no smoke-stacks--very few workmen. Piles of
lumber lie about on the grass. A gasoline engine under a
temporary shelter is operating a long crane that reaches down
among the piles of boards and beams, lifts a load, silently and
deliberately swings it over to one of the skeleton vessels, and
lowers it somewhere into the body of the motionless thing. Along
the sides of the clean hulls a few riveters are at work; they sit
on suspended planks, lowering and raising themselves with
pulleys, like house painters. Only by listening very closely can
one hear the tap of their hammers. No orders are shouted, no thud
of heavy machinery or scream of iron drills tears the air. These
strange boats seem to be building themselves.
Some of the men got out of the cars and ran along the tracks,
asking each other how boats could be built off in the grass like
this. Lieutenant Claude Wheeler stretched his legs upon the
opposite seat and sat still at his window, looking down on this
strange scene. Shipbuilding, he had supposed, meant noise and
forges and engines and hosts of men. This was like a dream.
Nothing but green meadows, soft grey water, a floating haze of
mist a little rosy from the sinking sun, spectre-like seagulls,
flying slowly, with the red glow tinging their wings--and those
four hulls lying in their braces, facing the sea, deliberating by
Claude knew nothing of ships or shipbuilding, but these craft did
not seem to be nailed together,--they seemed all of a piece, like
sculpture. They reminded him of the houses not made with hands;
they were like simple and great thoughts, like purposes forming
slowly here in the silence beside an unruffled arm of the
Atlantic. He knew nothing about ships, but he didn't have to; the
shape of those hulls--their strong, inevitable lines--told their
story, WAS their story; told the whole adventure of man with the
Wooden ships! When great passions and great aspirations stirred a
country, shapes like these formed along its shores to be the
sheath of its valour. Nothing Claude had ever seen or heard or
read or thought had made it all so clear as these untried wooden
bottoms. They were the very impulse, they were the potential act,
they were the "going over," the drawn arrow, the great unuttered
cry, they were Fate, they were tomorrow! . . .
The locomotive screeched to her scattered passengers, like an old
turkey-hen calling her brood. The soldier boys came running back
along the embankment and leaped aboard the train. The conductor
shouted they would be in Hoboken in time for supper.
It was midnight when the men had got their supper and began
unrolling their blankets to sleep on the floor of the long dock
waiting-rooms,--which in other days had been thronged by people
who came to welcome home-coming friends, or to bid them God-speed
to foreign shores. Claude and some of his men had tried to look
about them; but there was little to be seen. The bow of a boat,
painted in distracting patterns of black and white, rose at one
end of the shed, but the water itself was not visible. Down in
the cobble-paved street below they watched for awhile the long
line of drays and motor trucks that bumped all night into a vast
cavern lit by electricity, where crates and barrels and
merchandise of all kinds were piled, marked American
Expeditionary Forces; cases of electrical machinery from some
factory in Ohio, parts of automobiles, gun-carriages, bath-tubs,
hospital supplies, bales of cotton, cases of canned food, grey
metal tanks full of chemical fluids. Claude went back to the
waiting room, lay down and fell asleep with the glare of an
arc-light shining full in his face.
He was called at four in the morning and told where to report to
headquarters. Captain Maxey, stationed at a desk on one of the
landings, explained to his lieutenants that their company was to
sail at eight o'clock on the Anchises. It was an English boat, an
old liner pulled off the Australian trade, that could carry only
twenty-five hundred men. The crew was English, but part of the
stores,--the meat and fresh fruit and vegetables,--were furnished
by the United States Government. The Captain had been over the
boat during the night, and didn't like it very well. He had
expected to be scheduled for one of the fine big Hamburg-American
liners, with dining-rooms finished in rosewood, and ventilation
plants and cooling plants, and elevators running from top to
bottom like a New York office building. "However," he said,
"we'll have to make the best of it. They're using everything
that's got a bottom now."
The company formed for roll-call at one end of the shed, with
their packs and rifles. Breakfast was served to them while they
waited. After an hour's standing on the concrete, they saw
encouraging signs. Two gangplanks were lowered from the vessel at
the end of the slip, and up each of them began to stream a close
brown line of men in smart service caps. They recognized a
company of Kansas Infantry, and began to grumble because their
own service caps hadn't yet been given to them; they would have
to sail in their old Stetsons. Soon they were drawn into one of
the brown lines that went continuously up the gangways, like
belting running over machinery. On the deck one steward directed
the men down to the hold, and another conducted the officers to
their cabins. Claude was shown to a four-berth state-room. One of
his cabin mates, Lieutenant Fanning, of his own company, was
already there, putting his slender luggage in order. The steward
told them the officers were breakfasting in the dining saloon.
By seven o'clock all the troops were aboard, and the men were
allowed on deck. For the first time Claude saw the profile of New
York City, rising thin and gray against an opal-coloured morning
sky. The day had come on hot and misty. The sun, though it was
now high, was a red ball, streaked across with purple clouds. The
tall buildings, of which he had heard so much, looked
unsubstantial and illusionary,--mere shadows of grey and pink and
blue that might dissolve with the mist and fade away in it. The
boys were disappointed. They were Western men, accustomed to the
hard light of high altitudes, and they wanted to see the city
clearly; they couldn't make anything of these uneven towers that
rose dimly through the vapour. Everybody was asking questions.
Which of those pale giants was the Singer Building? Which the
Woolworth? What was the gold dome, dully glinting through the
fog? Nobody knew. They agreed it was a shame they could not have
had a day in New York before they sailed away from it, and that
they would feel foolish in Paris when they had to admit they had
never so much as walked up Broadway. Tugs and ferry boats and
coal barges were moving up and down the oily river, all novel
sights to the men. Over in the Canard and French docks they saw
the first examples of the "camouflage" they had heard so much
about; big vessels daubed over in crazy patterns that made the
eyes ache, some in black and white, some in soft rainbow colours.
A tug steamed up alongside and fastened. A few moments later a
man appeared on the bridge and began to talk to the captain.
Young Fanning, who had stuck to Claude's side, told him this was
the pilot, and that his arrival meant they were going to start.
They could see the shiny instruments of a band assembling in the
"Let's get on the other side, near the rail if we can," said
Fanning. "The fellows are bunching up over here because they want
to look at the Goddess of Liberty as we go out. They don't even
know this boat turns around the minute she gets into the river.
They think she's going over stern first!"
It was not easy to cross the deck; every inch was covered by a
boot. The whole superstructure was coated with brown uniforms;
they clung to the boat davits, the winches, the railings and
ventilators, like bees in a swarm. Just as the vessel was backing
out, a breeze sprang up and cleared the air. Blue sky broke
overhead, and the pale silhouette of buildings on the long island
grew sharp and hard. Windows flashed flame-coloured in their grey
sides, the gold and bronze tops of towers began to gleam where
the sunlight struggled through. The transport was sliding down
toward the point, and to the left the eye caught the silver
cobweb of bridges, seen confusingly against each other.
"There she is!" "Hello, old girl!" "Good-bye, sweetheart!"
The swarm surged to starboard. They shouted and gesticulated to
the image they were all looking for,--so much nearer than they
had expected to see her, clad in green folds, with the mist
streaming up like smoke behind. For nearly every one of those
twenty-five hundred boys, as for Claude, it was their first
glimpse of the Bartholdi statue. Though she was such a definite
image in their minds, they had not imagined her in her setting of
sea and sky, with the shipping of the world coming and going at
her feet, and the moving cloud masses behind her. Post-card
pictures had given them no idea of the energy of her large
gesture, or how her heaviness becomes light among the vapourish
elements. "France gave her to us," they kept saying, as they
saluted her. Before Claude had got over his first thrill, the
Kansas band in the bow began playing "Over There." Two thousand
voices took it up, booming out over the water the gay,
indomitable resolution of that jaunty air.
A Staten Island ferry-boat passed close under the bow of the
transport. The passengers were office-going people, on their way
to work, and when they looked up and saw these hundreds of faces,
all young, all bronzed and grinning, they began to shout and wave
their handkerchiefs. One of the passengers was an old clergyman,
a famous speaker in his day, now retired, who went over to the
City every morning to write editorials for a church paper. He
closed the book he was reading, stood by the rail, and taking off
his hat began solemnly to quote from a poet who in his time was
still popular. "Sail on," he quavered,
"Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State, Humanity, with all its
fears, With all its hopes of future years, Is hanging breathless
on thy fate."
As the troop ship glided down the sea lane, the old man still
watched it from the turtle-back. That howling swarm of brown arms
and hats and faces looked like nothing, but a crowd of American
boys going to a football game somewhere. But the scene was
ageless; youths were sailing away to die for an idea, a
sentiment, for the mere sound of a phrase . . . and on their
departure they were making vows to a bronze image in the sea.
All the first morning Tod Fanning showed Claude over the
boat,--not that Fanning had ever been on anything bigger than a
Lake Michigan steamer, but he knew a good deal about machinery,
and did not hesitate to ask the deck stewards to explain anything
he didn't know. The stewards, indeed all the crew, struck the
boys as an unusually good-natured and obliging set of men.
The fourth occupant of number 96, Claude's cabin, had not turned
up by noon, nor had any of his belongings, so the three who had
settled their few effects there began to hope they would have the
place to themselves. It would be crowded enough, at that. The
third bunk was assigned to an officer from the Kansas regiment,
Lieutenant Bird, a Virginian, who had been working in his uncle's
bank in Topeka when he enlisted. He and Claude sat together at
mess. When they were at lunch, the Virginian said in his very
"Lieutenant, I wish you'd explain Lieutenant Fanning to me. He
seems very immature. He's been telling me about a submarine
destroyer he's invented, but it looks to me like foolishness."
Claude laughed. "Don't try to understand Fanning. Just let him
sink in, and you'll come to like him. I used to wonder how he
ever got a commission. You never can tell what crazy thing he'll
Fanning had, for instance, brought on board a pair of white
flannel pants, his first and only tailor-made trousers, because
he had a premonition that the boat would make a port and that he
would be asked to a garden party! He had a way of using big words
in the wrong place, not because he tried to show off, but because
all words sounded alike to him. In the first days of their
acquaintance in camp he told Claude that this was a failing he
couldn't help, and that it was called "anaesthesia." Sometimes
this failing was confusing; when Fanning sententiously declared
that he would like to be on hand when the Crown Prince settled
his little account with Plato, Claude was perplexed until
subsequent witticisms revealed that the boy meant Pluto.
At three o'clock there was a band concert on deck. Claude fell
into talk with the bandmaster, and was delighted to find that he
came from Hillport, Kansas, a town where Claude had once been
with his father to buy cattle, and that all his fourteen men came
from Hillport. They were the town band, had enlisted in a body,
had gone into training together, and had never been separated.
One was a printer who helped to get out the Hillport Argus every
week, another clerked in a grocery store, another was the son of
a German watch repairer, one was still in High School, one worked
in an automobile livery. After supper Claude found them all
together, very much interested in their first evening at sea, and
arguing as to whether the sunset on the water was as fine as
those they saw every night in Hillport. They hung together in a
quiet, determined way, and if you began to talk to one, you soon
found that all the others were there.
When Claude and Fanning and Lieutenant Bird were undressing in
their narrow quarters that night, the fourth berth was still
unclaimed. They were in their bunks and almost asleep, when the
missing man came in and unceremoniously turned on the light. They
were astonished to see that he wore the uniform of the Royal
Flying Corps and carried a cane. He seemed very young, but the
three who peeped out at him felt that he must be a person of
consequence. He took off his coat with the spread wings on the
collar, wound his watch, and brushed his teeth with an air of
special personal importance. Soon after he had turned out the
light and climbed into the berth over Lieutenant Bird, a heavy
smell of rum spread in the close air.
Fanning, who slept under Claude, kicked the sagging mattress
above him and stuck his head out. "Hullo, Wheeler! What have you
got up there?"
"Nothing smells pretty good to me. I'll have some with anybody
that asks me."
No response from any quarter. Bird, the Virginian, murmured,
"Don't make a row," and they went to sleep.
In the morning, when the bath steward came, he edged his way into
the narrow cabin and poked his head into the berth over Bird's.
"I'm sorry, sir, I've made careful search for your luggage, and
it's not to be found, sir."
"I tell you it must be found," fumed a petulant voice overhead.
"I brought it over from the St. Regis myself in a taxi. I saw it
standing on the pier with the officers' luggage,--a black cabin
trunk with V.M. lettered on both ends. Get after it."
The steward smiled discreetly. He probably knew that the aviator
had come on board in a state which precluded any very accurate
observation on his part. "Very well, sir. Is there anything I can
get you for the present?"
"You can take this shirt out and have it laundered and bring it
back to me tonight. I've no linen in my bag."
Claude and Fanning got on deck as quickly as possible and found
scores of their comrades already there, pointing to dark smudges
of smoke along the clear horizon. They knew that these vessels
had come from unknown ports, some of then: far away, steaming
thither under orders known only to their commanders. They would
all arrive within a few hours of each other at a given spot on
the surface of the ocean. There they would fall into place,
flanked by their destroyers, and would proceed in orderly
formation, without changing their relative positions. Their
escort would not leave them until they were joined by gunboats
and destroyers off whatever coast they were bound for,--what that
coast was, not even their own officers knew as yet.
Later in the morning this meeting was actually accomplished.
There were ten troop ships, some of them very large boats, and
six destroyers. The men stood about the whole morning, gazing
spellbound at their sister transports, trying to find out their
names, guessing at their capacity. Tanned as they already were,
their lips and noses began to blister under the fiery sunlight.
After long months of intensive training, the sudden drop into an
idle, soothing existence was grateful to them. Though their pasts
were neither long or varied, most of them, like Claude Wheeler,
felt a sense of relief at being rid of all they had ever been
before and facing something absolutely new. Said Tod Fanning, as
he lounged against the rail, "Whoever likes it can run for a
train every morning, and grind his days out in a Westinghouse
works; but not for me any more!"
The Virginian joined them. "That Englishman ain't got out of bed
yet. I reckon he's been liquouring up pretty steady. The place
smells like a bar. The room steward was just coming out, and he
winked at me. He was slipping something in his pocket, looked
like a banknote."
Claude was curious, and went down to the cabin. As he entered,
the air-man, lying half-dressed in his upper berth, raised
himself on one elbow and looked down at him. His blue eyes were
contracted and hard, his curly hair disordered, but his cheeks
were as pink as a girl's, and the little yellow humming-bird
moustache on his upper lip was twisted sharp.
"You're missing fine weather," said Claude affably.
"Oh, there'll be a great deal of weather before we get over, and
damned little of anything else!" He drew a bottle from under his
pillow. "Have a nip?"
"I don't mind if I do," Claude put out his hand.
The other laughed and sank back on his pillow, drawling lazily,
"Brave boy! Go ahead; drink to the Kaiser."
"Why to him in particular?"
"It's not particular. Drink to Hindenburg, or the High Command,
or anything else that got you out of the cornfield. That's where
they did get you, didn't they?"
"Well, it's a good guess, anyhow. Where did they get you?"
"Crystal Lake, Iowa. I think that was the place." He yawned and
folded his hands over his stomach.
"Why, we thought you were an Englishman."
"Not quite. I've served in His Majesty's army two years, though."
"Have you been flying in France?"
"Yes. I've been back and forth all the time, England and France.
Now I've wasted two months at Fort Worth. Instructor. That's not
my line. I may have been sent over as a reprimand. You can't tell
about my Colonel, though; may have been his way of getting me out
Claude glanced up at him, shocked at such an idea.
The young man in the berth smiled with listless compassion. "Oh,
I don't mean Bosch planes! There are dangers and dangers. You'll
find you got bloody little information about this war, where they
trained you. They don't communicate any details of importance.
Claude hadn't intended to, but at this suggestion he pulled back
"One moment," called the aviator. "Can't you keep that
long-legged ass who bunks under you quiet?"
"Fanning? He's a good kid. What's the matter with him?"
"His general ignorance and his insufferably familiar tone,"
snapped the other as he turned over.
Claude found Fanning and the Virginian playing checkers, and told
them that the mysterious air-man was a fellow countryman. Both
"Pshaw!" exclaimed Lieutenant Bird.
"He can't put on airs with me, after that," Fanning declared.
"Crystal Lake! Why it's no town at all!"
All the same, Claude wanted to find out how a youth from Crystal
Lake ever became a member of the Royal Flying Corps. Already,
from among the hundreds of strangers, half-a-dozen stood out as
men he was determined to know better. Taking them altogether the
men were a fine sight as they lounged about the decks in the
sunlight, the petty rivalries and jealousies of camp days
forgotten. Their youth seemed to flow together, like their brown
uniforms. Seen in the mass like this, Claude thought, they were
rather noble looking fellows. In so many of the faces there was a
look of fine candour, an expression of cheerful expectancy and
There was on board a solitary Marine, with the stripes of Border
service on his coat. He had been sick in the Navy Hospital in
Brooklyn when his regiment sailed, and was now going over to join
it. He was a young fellow, rather pale from his recent illness,
but he was exactly Claude's idea of what a soldier ought to look
like. His eye followed the Marine about all day.
The young man's name was Albert Usher, and he came from a little
town up in the Wind River mountains, in Wyoming, where he had
worked in a logging camp. He told Claude these facts when they
found themselves standing side by side that evening, watching the
broad purple sun go down into a violet coloured sea.
It was the hour when the farmers at home drive their teams in
after the day's work. Claude was thinking how his mother would be
standing at the west window every evening now, watching the sun
go down and following him in her mind. When the young Marine came
up and joined him, he confessed to a pang of homesickness.
"That's a kind of sickness I don't have to wrastle with," said
Albert Usher. "I was left an orphan on a lonesome ranch,, when I
was nine, and I've looked out for myself ever since."
Claude glanced sidewise at the boy's handsome head, that came up
from his neck with clean, strong lines, and thought he had done a
pretty good job for himself. He could not have said exactly what
it was he liked about young Usher's face, but it seemed to him a
face that had gone through things,--that had been trained down
like his body, and had developed a definite character. What
Claude thought due to a manly, adventurous life, was really due
to well-shaped bones; Usher's face was more "modelled" than most
of the healthy countenances about him.
When questioned, the Marine went on to say that though he had no
home of his own, he had always happened to fall on his feet,
among kind people. He could go back to any house in Pinedale or
Du Bois and be welcomed like a son.
"I suppose there are kind women everywhere," he said, "but in
that respect Wyoming's got the rest of the world beat. I never
felt the lack of a home. Now the U. S. Marines are my family.
Wherever they are, I'm at home."
"Were you at Vera Cruz?" Claude asked.
"I guess! We thought that was quite a little party at the time,
but I suppose it will seem small potatoes when we get over there.
I'm figuring on seeing some first-rate scrapping. How long have
you been in the army?"
"Year ago last April. I've had hard luck about getting over. They
kept me jumping about to train men."
"Then yours is all to come. Are you a college graduate?"
"No. I went away to school, but I didn't finish."
Usher frowned at the gilded path on the water where the sun lay
half submerged, like a big, watchful eye, closing. "I always
wanted to go to college, but I never managed it. A man in Laramie
offered to stake me to a course in the University there, but I
was too restless. I guess I was ashamed of my handwriting." He
paused as if he had run against some old regret. A moment later
he said suddenly, "Can you parlez-vous?"
"No. I know a few words, but I can't put them together."
"Same here. I expect to pick up some. I pinched quite a little
Spanish down on the Border."
By this time the sun had disappeared, and all over the west the
yellow sky came down evenly, like a gold curtain, on the still
sea that seemed to have solidified into a slab of dark blue
stone,--not a twinkle on its immobile surface. Across its dusky
smoothness were two long smears of pale green, like a robin's
"Do you like the water?" Usher asked, in the tone of a polite
host. "When I first shipped on a cruiser I was crazy about it. I
still am. But, you know, I like them old bald mountains back in
Wyoming, too. There's waterfalls you can see twenty miles off
from the plains; they look like white sheets or something,
hanging up there on the cliffs. And down in the pine woods, in
the cold streams, there's trout as long as my fore-arm."
That evening Claude was on deck, almost alone; there was a
concert down in the ward room. To the west heavy clouds had come
up, moving so low that they flapped over the water like a black
washing hanging on the line.
The music sounded well from below. Four Swedish boys from the
Scandinavian settlement at Lindsborg, Kansas, were singing "Long,
Long Ago." Claude listened from a sheltered spot in the stern.
What were they, and what was he, doing here on the Atlantic? Two
years ago he had seemed a fellow for whom life was over; driven
into the ground like a post, or like those Chinese criminals who
are planted upright in the earth, with only their heads left out
for birds to peck at and insects to sting. All his comrades had
been tucked away in prairie towns, with their little jobs and
their little plans. Yet here they were, attended by unknown ships
called in from the four quarters of the earth. How had they come
to be worth the watchfulness and devotion of so many men and
machines, this extravagant consumption of fuel and energy? Taken
one by one, they were ordinary fellows like himself. Yet here
they were. And in this massing and movement of men there was
nothing mean or common; he was sure of that. It was, from first
to last, unforeseen, almost incredible. Four years ago, when the
French were holding the Marne, the wisest men in the world had
not conceived of this as possible; they had reckoned with every
fortuity but this. "Out of these stones can my Father raise up
seed unto Abraham."
Downstairs the men began singing "Annie Laurie." Where were those
summer evenings when he used to sit dumb by the windmill,
wondering what to do with his life?
The morning of the third day; Claude and the Virginian and the
Marine were up very early, standing in the bow, watching the
Anchises mount the fresh blowing hills of water, her prow, as it
rose and fell, always a dull triangle against the glitter. Their
escorts looked like dream ships, soft and iridescent as shell in
the pearl-coloured tints of the morning. Only the dark smudges of
smoke told that they were mechanical realities with stokers and
While the three stood there, a sergeant brought Claude word that
two of his men would have to report at sick-call. Corporal
Tannhauser had had such an attack of nose-bleed during the night
that the sergeant thought he might die before they got it
stopped. Tannhauser was up now, and in the breakfast line, but
the sergeant was sure he ought not to be. This Fritz Tannhauser
was the tallest man in the company, a German-American boy who,
when asked his name, usually said that his name was Dennis and
that he was of Irish descent. Even this morning he tried to joke,
and pointing to his big red face told Claude he thought he had
measles. "Only they ain't German measles, Lieutenant," he
Medical inspection took a long while that morning. There seemed
to be an outbreak of sickness on board. When Claude brought his
two men up to the Doctor, he told them to go below and get into
bed. As they left he turned to Claude.
"Give them hot tea, and pile army blankets on them. Make them
sweat if you can." Claude remarked that the hold wasn't a very
cheerful place for sick men.
"I know that, Lieutenant, but there are a number of sick men this
morning, and the only other physician on board is the sickest of
the lot. There's the ship's doctor, of course, but he's only
responsible for the crew, and so far he doesn't seem interested.
I've got to overhaul the hospital and the medical stores this
"Is there an epidemic of some sort?"
"Well, I hope not. But I'll have plenty to do today, so I count
on you to look after those two." The doctor was a New Englander
who had joined them at Hoboken. He was a brisk, trim man, with
piercing eyes, clean-cut features, and grey hair just the colour
of his pale face. Claude felt at once that he knew his business,
and he went below to carry out instructions as well as he could.
When he came up from the hold, he saw the aviator--whose name, he
had learned, was Victor Morse--smoking by the rail. This
cabin-mate still piqued his curiosity.
"First time you've been up, isn't it?"
The aviator was looking at the distant smoke plumes over the
quivering, bright water. "Time enough. I wish I knew where we are
heading for. It will be awfully awkward for me if we make a
"I thought you said you were to report in France."
"I am. But I want to report in London first." He continued to
gaze off at the painted ships. Claude noticed that in standing he
held his chin very high. His eyes, now that he was quite sober,
were brilliantly young and daring; they seemed scornful of things
about him. He held himself conspicuously apart, as if he were not
among his own kind.
Claude had seen a captured crane, tied by its leg to a hencoop,
behave exactly like that among Mahailey's chickens; hold its
wings to its sides, and move its head about quickly and glare.
"I suppose you have friends in London?" he asked.
"Rather!" the aviator replied with feeling.
"Do you like it better than Paris?"
"I shouldn't imagine anything was much better than London. I've
not been in Paris; always went home when I was on leave. They
work us pretty hard. In the infantry and artillery our men get
only a fortnight off in twelve months. I understand the Americans
have leased the Riviera,--recuperate at Nice and Monte Carlo. The
only Cook's tour we had was Gallipoli," he added grimly.
Victor had gone a good way toward acquiring an English accent,
the boys thought. At least he said 'necess'ry' and 'dysent'ry'
and called his suspenders 'braces'. He offered Claude a
cigarette, remarking that his cigars were in his lost trunk.
"Take one of mine. My brother sent me two boxes just before we
sailed. I'll put a box in your bunk next time I go down. They're
The young man turned and looked him over with surprise. "I say,
that's very decent of you! Yes, thank you, I will."
Claude had tried yesterday, when he lent Victor some shirts, to
make him talk about his aerial adventures, but upon that subject
he was as close as a clam. He admitted that the long red scar on
his upper arm had been drilled by a sharpshooter from a German
Fokker, but added hurriedly that it was of no consequence, as he
had made a good landing. Now, on the strength of the cigars,
Claude thought he would probe a little further. He asked whether
there was anything in the lost trunk that couldn't be replaced,
"There's one thing that's positively invaluable; a Zeiss lens, in
perfect condition. I've got several good photographic outfits
from time to time, but the lenses are always cracked by
heat,--the things usually come down on fire. This one I got out
of a plane I brought down up at Bar-le-Duc, and there's not a
scratch on it; simply a miracle."
"You get all the loot when you bring down a machine, do you?"
Claude asked encouragingly.
"Of course. I've a good collection; alimeters and compasses and
glasses. This lens I always carry with me, because I'm afraid to
leave it anywhere."
"I suppose it makes a fellow feel pretty fine to bring down one
of those German planes."
"Sometimes. I brought down one too many, though; it was very
unpleasant." Victor paused, frowning. But Claude's open,
credulous face was too much for his reserve. "I brought down a
woman once. She was a plucky devil, flew a scouting machine and
had bothered us a bit, going over our lines. Naturally, we didn't
know it was a woman until she came down. She was crushed
underneath things. She lived a few hours and dictated a letter to
her people. I went out and dropped it inside their lines. It was
nasty business. I was quite knocked out. I got a fortnight's
leave in London, though. Wheeler," he broke out suddenly, "I wish
I knew we were going there now!"
"I'd like it well enough if we were."
Victor shrugged. "I should hope so!" He turned his chin in
Claude's direction. "See here, if you like, I'll show you London!
It's a promise. Americans never see it, you know. They sit in a Y
hut and write to their Pollyannas, or they go round hunting for
the Tower. I'll show you a city that's alive; that is, unless
you've a preference for museums."
His listener laughed. "No, I want to see life, as they say."
"Umph ! I'd like to set you down in some places I can think of.
Very well, I invite you to dine with me at the Savoy, the first
night we're in London. The curtain will rise on this world for
you. Nobody admitted who isn't in evening dress. The jewels will
dazzle you. Actresses, duchesses, all the handsomest women in
"But I thought London was dark and gloomy since the war."
Victor smiled and teased his small straw-coloured moustache with
his thumb and middle finger. "There are a few bright spots left,
thank you!" He began to explain to a novice what life at the
front was really like. Nobody who had seen service talked about
the war, or thought about it; it was merely a condition under
which they lived. Men talked about the particular regiment they
were jealous of, or the favoured division that was put in for all
the show fighting. Everybody thought about his own game, his
personal life that he managed to keep going in spite of
discipline; his next leave, how to get champagne without paying
for it, dodging the guard, getting into scrapes with women and
getting out again. "Are you quick with your French?" he asked.
Claude grinned. "Not especially."
"You'd better brush up on it if you want to do anything with
French girls. I hear your M.P.'s are very strict. You must be
able to toss the word the minute you see a skirt, and make your
date before the guard gets onto you."
"I suppose French girls haven't any scruples?" Claude remarked
Victor shrugged his narrow shoulders. "I haven't found that girls
have many, anywhere. When we Canadians were training in England,
we all had our week-end wives. I believe the girls in Crystal
Lake used to be more or less fussy,--but that's long ago and far
away. You won't have any difficulty."
When Victor was in the middle of a tale of amorous adventure, a
little different from any Claude had ever heard, Tod Fanning
joined them. The aviator did not acknowledge the presence of a
new listener, but when he had finished his story, walked away
with his special swagger, his eyes fixed upon the distance.
Fanning looked after him with disgust. "Do you believe him? I
don't think he's any such heart-smasher. I like his nerve,
calling you `Leftenant' ! When he speaks to me he'll have to say
Lootenant, or I'll spoil his beauty."
That day the men remembered long afterward, for it was the end of
the fine weather, and of those first long, carefree days at sea.
In the afternoon Claude and the young Marine, the Virginian and
Fanning, sat together in the sun watching the water scoop itself
out in hollows and pile itself up in blue, rolling hills. Usher
was telling his companions a long story about the landing of the
Marines at Vera Cruz.
"It's a great old town," he concluded. "One thing there I'll
never forget. Some of the natives took a few of us out to the old
prison that stands on a rock in the sea. We put in the whole day
there, and it wasn't any tourist show, believe me! We went down
into dungeons underneath the water. where they used to keep State
prisoners, kept them buried alive for years. We saw all the old
instruments of torture; rusty iron cages where a man couldn't lie
down or stand up, but had to sit bent over till he grew crooked.
It made you feel queer when you came up, to think how people had
been left to rot away down there, when there was so much sun and
water outside. Seems like something used to be the matter with
the world." He said no more, but Claude thought from his serious
look that he believed he and his countrymen who were pouring
overseas would help to change all that.
That night the Virginian, who berthed under Victor Morse, had an
alarming attack of nose-bleed, and by morning he was so weak that
he had to be carried to the hospital. The Doctor said they might
as well face the facts; a scourge of influenza had broken out on
board, of a peculiarly bloody and malignant type.* Everybody was
a little frightened. Some of the officers shut themselves up in
the smoking-room, and drank whiskey and soda and played poker all
day, as if they could keep contagion out.
* The actual outbreak of influenza on transports carrying United
States troops is here anticipated by several months.
Lieutenant Bird died late in the afternoon and was buried at
sunrise the next day, sewed up in a tarpaulin, with an eighteen
pound shell at his feet. The morning broke brilliantly clear and
bitter cold. The sea was rolling blue walls of water, and the
boat was raked by a wind as sharp as ice. Excepting those who
were sick, the boys turned out to a man. It was the first burial
at sea they had ever witnessed, and they couldn't help finding it
interesting. The Chaplain read the burial service while they
stood with uncovered heads. The Kansas band played a solemn
march, the Swedish quartette sang a hymn. Many a man turned his
face away when that brown sack was lowered into the cold, leaping
indigo ridges that seemed so destitute of anything friendly to
human kind. In a moment it was done, and they steamed on without
The glittering walls of water kept rolling in, indigo, purple,
more brilliant than on the days of mild weather. The blinding
sunlight did not temper the cold, which cut the face and made the
lungs ache. Landsmen began to have that miserable sense of being
where they were never meant to be. The boys lay in heaps on the
deck, trying to keep warm by hugging each other close. Everybody
was seasick. Fanning went to bed with his clothes on, so sick he
couldn't take off his boots. Claude lay in the crowded stern, too
cold, too faint to move. The sun poured over them like flame,
without any comfort in it. The strong, curling, foam-crested
waves threw off the light like millions of mirrors, and their
colour was almost more than the eye could bear. The water seemed
denser than before, heavy like melted glass, and the foam on the
edges of each blue ridge looked sharp as crystals. If a man
should fall into them, he would be cut to pieces.
The whole ocean seemed suddenly to have come to life, the waves
had a malignant, graceful, muscular energy, were animated by a
kind of mocking cruelty. Only a few hours ago a gentle boy had
been thrown into that freezing water and forgotten. Yes, already
forgotten; every one had his own miseries to think about.
Late in the afternoon the wind fell, and there was a sinister
sunset. Across the red west a small, ragged black cloud
hurried,--then another, and another. They came up out of the
sea,--wild, witchlike shapes that travelled fast and met in the
west as if summoned for an evil conclave. They hung there against
the afterglow, distinct black shapes, drawing together, devising
something. The few men who were left on deck felt that no good
could come out of a sky like that. They wished they were at home,
in France, anywhere but here.
The next morning Doctor Trueman asked Claude to help him at sick
call. "I've got a bunch of sergeants taking temperatures, but
it's too much for one man to oversee. I don't want to ask
anything of those dude officers who sit in there playing poker
all the time. Either they've got no conscience, or they're not
awake to the gravity of the situation."
The Doctor stood on deck in his raincoat, his foot on the rail to
keep his equilibrium, writing on his knee as the long string of
men came up to him. There were more than seventy in the line that
morning, and some of them looked as if they ought to be in a
drier place. Rain beat down on the sea like lead bullets. The old
Anchises floundered from one grey ridge to another, quite alone.
Fog cut off the cheering sight of the sister ships. The doctor
had to leave his post from time to time, when seasickness got the
better of his will. Claude, at his elbow, was noting down names
and temperatures. In the middle of his work he told the sergeants
to manage without him for a few minutes. Down near the end of the
line he had seen one of his own men misconducting himself,
snivelling and crying like a baby,--a fine husky boy of eighteen
who had never given any trouble. Claude made a dash for him and
clapped him on the shoulder.
"If you can't stop that, Bert Fuller, get where you won't be
seen. I don't want all these English stewards standing around to
watch an American soldier cry. I never heard of such a thing!"
"I can't help it, Lieutenant," the boy blubbered. "I've kept it
back just as long as I can. I can't hold in any longer!"
"What's the matter with you? Come over here and sit down on this
box and tell me."
Private Fuller willingly let himself be led, and dropped on the
box. "I'm so sick, Lieutenant!"
"I'll see how sick you are." Claude stuck a thermometer into his
mouth, and while he waited, sent the deck steward to bring a cup
of tea. "Just as I thought, Fuller. You've not half a degree of
fever. You're scared, and that's all. Now drink this tea. I
expect you didn't eat any breakfast."
"No, sir. I can't eat the awful stuff on this boat."
"It is pretty bad. Where are you from?"
"I'm from P-P-Pleasantville, up on the P-P-Platte," the boy
gulped, and his tears began to flow afresh.
"Well, now, what would they think of you, back there? I suppose
they got the band out and made a fuss over you when you went
away, and thought they were sending off a fine soldier. And I've
always thought you'd be a first rate soldier. I guess we'll forget
about this. You feel better already, don't you?"
"Yes, sir. This tastes awful good. I've been so sick to my
stomach, and last night I got pains in my chest. All my crowd is
sick, and you took big Tannhauser, I mean Corporal, away to the
hospital. It looks like we're all going to die out here."
"I know it's a little gloomy. But don't you shame me before these
"I won't do it again, sir," he promised.
When the medical inspection was over, Claude took the Doctor down
to see Fanning, who had been coughing and wheezing all night and
hadn't got out of his berth. The examination was short. The
Doctor knew what was the matter before he put the stethoscope on
him. "It's pneumonia, both lungs," he said when they came out
into the corridor. "I have one case in the hospital that will die
"What can you do for him, Doctor?"
"You see how I'm fixed; close onto two hundred men sick, and one
doctor. The medical supplies are wholly inadequate. There's not
castor oil enough on this boat to keep the men clean inside. I'm
using my own drugs, but they won't last through an epidemic like
this. I can't do much for Lieutenant Fanning. You can, though, if
you'll give him the time. You can take better care of him right
here than he could get in the hospital. We haven't an empty bed
Claude found Victor Morse and told him he had better get a berth
in one of the other staterooms. When Victor left with his
belongings, Fanning stared after him. "Is he going?"
"Yes. It's too crowded in here, if you've got to stay in bed."
"Glad of it. His stories are too raw for me. I'm no sissy, but
that fellow's a regular Don Quixote."
Claude laughed. "You mustn't talk. It makes you cough."
"Where's the Virginian?"
"Who, Bird?" Claude asked in astonishment,--Fanning had stood
beside him at Bird's funeral. "Oh, he's gone, too. You sleep if
After dinner Doctor Trueman came in and showed Claude how to give
his patient an alcohol bath. "It's simply a question of whether
you can keep up his strength. Don't try any of this greasy food
they serve here. Give him a raw egg beaten up in the juice of an
orange every two hours, night and day. Waken him out of his sleep
when it's time, don't miss a single two-hour period. I'll write
an order to your table steward, and you can beat the eggs up here
in your cabin. Now I must go to the hospital. It's wonderful what
those band boys are doing there. I begin to take some pride in
the place. That big German has been asking for you. He's in a
very bad way."
As there were no nurses on board, the Kansas band had taken over
the hospital. They had been trained for stretcher and first aid
work, and when they realized what was happening on the Anchises,
the bandmaster came to the Doctor and offered the services of his
men. He chose nurses and orderlies, divided them into night and
When Claude went to see his Corporal, big Tannhauser did not
recognize him. He was quite out of his head and was conversing
with his own family in the language of his early childhood. The
Kansas boys had singled him out for special attention. The mere
fact that he kept talking in a tongue forbidden on the surface of
the seas, made him seem more friendless and alone than the
>From the hospital Claude went down into the hold where
half-a-dozen of his company were lying ill. The hold was damp and
musty as an old cellar, so steeped in the smells and leakage of
innumerable dirty cargoes that it could not be made or kept
clean. There was almost no ventilation, and the air was fetid
with sickness and sweat and vomit. Two of the band boys were
working in the stench and dirt, helping the stewards. Claude
stayed to lend a hand until it was time to give Fanning his
nourishment. He began to see that the wrist watch, which he had
hitherto despised as effeminate and had carried in his pocket,
might be a very useful article. After he had made Fanning swallow
his egg, he piled all the available blankets on him and opened
the port to give the cabin an airing. While the fresh wind blew
in, he sat down on the edge of his berth and tried to collect his
wits. What had become of those first days of golden weather,
leisure and good-comradeship? The band concerts, the Lindsborg
Quartette, the first excitement and novelty of being at sea: all
that had gone by like a dream.
That night when the Doctor came in to see Fanning, he threw his
stethoscope on the bed and said wearily, "It's a wonder that
instrument doesn't take root in my ears and grow there." He sat
down and sucked his thermometer for a few minutes, then held it
out for inspection. Claude looked at it and told him he ought to
go to bed.
"Then who's to be up and around? No bed for me, tonight. But I
will have a hot bath by and by."
Claude asked why the ship's doctor didn't do anything and added
that he must be as little as he looked.
"Chessup? No, he's not half bad when you get to know him. He's
given me a lot of help about preparing medicines, and it's a
great assistance to talk the cases over with him. He'll do
anything for me except directly handle the patients. He doesn't
want to exceed his authority. It seems the English marine is very
particular about such things. He's a Canadian, and he graduated
first in his class at Edinburgh. I gather he was frozen out in
private practice. You see, his appearance is against him. It's an
awful handicap to look like a kid and be as shy as he is."
The Doctor rose, shored up his shoulders and took his bag.
"You're looking fine yourself, Lieutenant," he remarked.
"Parents both living? Were they quite young when you were born?
Well, then their parents were, probably. I'm a crank about that.
Yes, I'll get my bath pretty soon, and I will lie down for an
hour or two. With those splendid band boys running the hospital,
I get a little lee-way."
Claude wondered how the Doctor kept going. He knew he hadn't had
more than four hours sleep out of the last forty-eight, and he
was not a man of rugged constitution. His bath steward was, as he
said, his comfort. Hawkins was an old fellow who had held better
positions on better boats,--yes, in better times, too. He had
first gone to sea as a bath steward, and now, through the
fortunes of war, he had come hack where he began,--not a good
place for an old man. His back was bent meekly, and he shuffled
along with broken arches. He looked after the comfort of all the
officers, and attended the doctor like a valet; got out his clean
linen, persuaded him to lie down and have a hot drink after his
bath, stood on guard at his door to take messages for him in the
short hours when he was resting. Hawkins had lost two sons in the
war and he seemed to find a solemn consolation in being of
service to soldiers. "Take it a bit easy now, sir. You'll 'ave it
'ard enough over there," he used to say to one and another.
At eleven o'clock one of the Kansas men came to tell Claude that
his Corporal was going fast. Big Tannhauser's fever had left him,
but so had everything else. He lay in a stupor. His congested
eyeballs were rolled back in his head and only the yellowish
whites were visible. His mouth was open and his tongue hung out
at one side. From the end of the corridor Claude had heard the
frightful sounds that came from his throat, sounds like violent
vomiting, or the choking rattle of a man in strangulation,--and,
indeed, he was being strangled. One of the band boys brought
Claude a camp chair, and said kindly, "He doesn't suffer. It's
mechanical now. He'd go easier if he hadn't so much vitality. The
Doctor says he may have a few moments of consciousness just at
the last, if you want to stay."
"I'll go down and give my private patient his egg, and then I'll
come back." Claude went away and returned, and sat dozing by the
bed. After three o'clock the noise of struggle ceased; instantly
the huge figure on the bed became again his good-natured
corporal. The mouth closed, the glassy jellies were once more
seeing, intelligent human eyes. The face lost its swollen,
brutish look and was again the face of a friend. It was almost
unbelievable that anything so far gone could come back. He looked
up wistfully at his Lieutenant as if to ask him something. His
eyes filled with tears, and he turned his head away a little.
"Mein' arme Mutter!" he whispered distinctly.
A few moments later he died in perfect dignity, not struggling
under torture, but consciously, it seemed to Claude,- like a
brave boy giving back what was not his to keep.
Claude returned to his cabin, roused Fanning once more, and then
threw himself upon his tipping bunk. The boat seemed to wallow
and sprawl in the waves, as he had seen animals do on the farm
when they gave birth to young. How helpless the old vessel was
out here in the pounding seas, and how much misery she carried!
He lay looking up at the rusty water pipes and unpainted
joinings. This liner was in truth the "Old Anchises"; even the
carpenters who made her over for the service had not thought her
worth the trouble, and had done their worst by her. The new
partitions were hung to the joists by a few nails.
Big Tannhauser had been one of those who were most anxious to
sail. He used to grin and say, "France is the only climate that's
healthy for a man with a name like mine." He had waved his
good-bye to the image in the New York harbour with the rest,
believed in her like the rest. He only wanted to serve. It seemed
When Tannhauser first came to camp he was confused all the time,
and couldn't remember instructions. Claude had once stepped him
out in front of the line and reprimanded him for not knowing his
right side from his left. When he looked into the case, he found
that the fellow was not eating anything, that he was ill from
homesickness. He was one of those farmer boys who are afraid of
town. The giant baby of a long family, he had never slept away
from home a night in his life before he enlisted.
Corporal Tannhauser, along with four others, was buried at
sunrise. No band this time; the chaplain was ill, so one of the
young captains read the service. Claude stood by watching until
the sailors shot one sack, longer by half a foot than the other
four, into a lead-coloured chasm in the sea. There was not even a
splash. After breakfast one of the Kansas orderlies called him
into a little cabin where they had prepared the dead men for
burial. The Army regulations minutely defined what was to be done
with a deceased soldier's effects. His uniform, shoes, blankets,
arms, personal baggage, were all disposed of according to
instructions. But in each case there was a residue; the dead
man's toothbrushes, his razors, and the photographs he carried
upon his person. There they were in five pathetic little heaps;
what should be done with them?
Claude took up the photographs that had belonged to his corporal;
one was a fat, foolish-looking girl in a white dress that was too
tight for her, and a floppy hat, a little flag pinned on her
plump bosom. The other was an old woman, seated, her hands
crossed in her lap. Her thin hair was drawn back tight from a
hard, angular face--unmistakably an Old-World face--and her eyes
squinted at the camera. She looked honest and stubborn and
unconvinced, he thought, as if she did not in the least
"I'll take these," he said. "And the others--just pitch them
over, don't you think?"
B Company's first officer, Captain Maxey, was so seasick
throughout the voyage that he was of no help to his men in the
epidemic. It must have been a frightful blow to his pride, for
nobody was ever more anxious to do an officer's whole duty.
Claude had known Harris Maxey slightly in Lincoln; had met him at
the Erlichs' and afterward kept up a campus acquaintance with
him. He hadn't liked Maxey then, and he didn't like him now, but
he thought him a good officer. Maxey's family were poor folk from
Mississippi, who had settled in Nemaha county, and he was very
ambitious, not only to get on in the world, but, as he said, to
"be somebody." His life at the University was a feverish pursuit
of social advantages and useful acquaintances. His feeling for
the "right people" amounted to veneration. After his graduation,
Maxey served on the Mexican Border. He was a tireless drill
master, and threw himself into his duties with all the energy of
which his frail physique was capable. He was slight and
fair-skinned; a rigid jaw threw his lower teeth out beyond the
upper ones and made his face look stiff. His whole manner, tense
and nervous, was the expression of a passionate desire to excel.
Claude seemed to himself to be leading a double life these days.
When he was working over Fanning, or was down in the hold helping
to take care of the sick soldiers, he had no time to think,--did
mechanically the next thing that came to hand. But when he had an
hour to himself on deck, the tingling sense of ever-widening
freedom flashed up in him again. The weather was a continual
adventure; he had never known any like it before. The fog, and
rain, the grey sky and the lonely grey stretches of the ocean
were like something he had imagined long ago--memories of old sea
stories read in childhood, perhaps--and they kindled a warm spot
in his heart. Here on the Anchises he seemed to begin where
childhood had left off. The ugly hiatus between had closed up.
Years of his life were blotted out in the fog. This fog which had
been at first depressing had become a shelter; a tent moving
through space, hiding one from all that had been before, giving
one a chance to correct one's ideas about life and to plan the
future. The past was physically shut off; that was his illusion.
He had already travelled a great many more miles than were told
off by the ship's log. When Bandmaster Fred Max asked him to play
chess, he had to stop a moment and think why it was that game had
such disagreeable associations for him. Enid's pale, deceptive
face seldom rose before him unless some such accident brought it
up. If he happened to come upon a group of boys talking about
their sweethearts and war-brides, he listened a moment and then
moved away with the happy feeling that he was the least married
man on the boat.
There was plenty of deck room, now that so many men were ill
either from seasickness or the epidemic, and sometimes he and
Albert Usher had the stormy side of the boat almost to
themselves. The Marine was the best sort of companion for these
gloomy days; steady, quiet, self-reliant. And he, too, was always
looking forward. As for Victor Morse, Claude was growing
positively fond of him. Victor had tea in a special corner of the
officers' smoking-room every afternoon--he would have perished
without it--and the steward always produced some special
garnishes of toast and jam or sweet biscuit for him. Claude
usually managed to join him at that hour.
On the day of Tannhauser's funeral he went into the smoking-room
at four. Victor beckoned the steward and told him to bring a
couple of hot whiskeys with the tea. "You're very wet, you know,
Wheeler, and you really should. There," he said as he put down
his glass, "don't you feel better with a drink?"
"Very much. I think I'll have another. It's agreeable to be warm
"Two more, steward, and bring me some fresh lemon." The occupants
of the room were either reading or talking in low tones. One of
the Swedish boys was playing softly on the old piano. Victor
began to pour the tea. He had a neat way of doing it, and today
he was especially solicitous. "This Scotch mist gets into one's
bones, doesn't it? I thought you were looking rather seedy when I
passed you on deck."
"I was up with Tannhauser last night. Didn't get more than an
hour's sleep," Claude murmured, yawning.
"Yes, I heard you lost your big corporal. I'm sorry. I've had bad
news, too. It's out now that we're to make a French port. That
dashes all my plans. However, c'est la guerre!" He pushed back
his cup with a shrug. "Take a turn outside?"
Claude had often wondered why Victor liked him, since he was so
little Victor's kind. "If it isn't a secret," he said, "I'd like
to know how you ever got into the British army, anyway."
As they walked up and down in the rain, Victor told his story
briefly. When he had finished High School, he had gone into his
father's bank at Crystal Lake as bookkeeper. After banking hours
he skated, played tennis, or worked in the strawberry-bed,
according to the season. He bought two pairs of white pants every
summer and ordered his shirts from Chicago and thought he was a
swell, he said. He got himself engaged to the preacher's
daughter. Two years ado, the summer he was twenty, his father
wanted him to see Niagara Falls; so he wrote a modest check,
warned his son against saloons--Victor had never been inside
one--against expensive hotels and women who came up to ask the
time without an introduction, and sent him off, telling him it
wasn't necessary to fee porters or waiters. At Niagara Falls,
Victor fell in with some young Canadian officers who opened his
eyes to a great many things. He went over to Toronto with them.
Enlistment was going strong, and he saw an avenue of escape from
the bank and the strawberry bed. The air force seemed the most
brilliant and attractive branch of the service. They accepted
him, and here he was.
"You'll never go home again," Claude said with conviction. "I
don't see you settling down in any little Iowa town."
"In the air service," said Victor carelessly, "we don't concern
ourselves about the future. It's not worth while." He took out a
dull gold cigarette case which Claude had noticed before.
"Let me see that a minute, will you? I've often admired it. A
present from somebody you like, isn't it?"
A twitch of feeling, something quite genuine, passed over the
air-man's boyish face, and his rather small red mouth compressed
sharply. "Yes, a woman I want you to meet. Here," twitching his
chin over his high collar, "I'll write Maisie's address on my
card: `Introducing Lieutenant Wheeler, A.E.F.' That's all you'll
need. If you should get to London before I do, don't hesitate.
Call on her at once. Present this card, and she'll receive you."
Claude thanked him and put the card in his pocketbook, while
Victor lit a cigarette. "I haven't forgotten that you're dining
with us at the Savoy, if we happen in London together. If I'm
there, you can always find me. Her address is mine. It will
really be a great thing for you to meet a woman like Maisie.
She'll be nice to you, because you're my friend." He went on to
say that she had done everything in the world for him; had left
her husband and given up her friends on his account. She now had
a studio flat in Chelsea, where she simply waited his coming and
dreaded his going. It was an awful life for her. She entertained
other officers, of course, old acquaintances; but it was all
camouflage. He was the man.
Victor went so far as to produce her picture, and Claude gazed
without knowing what to say at a large moon-shaped face with
heavy-lidded, weary eyes,--the neck clasped by a pearl collar,
the shoulders bare to the matronly swell of the bosom. There was
not a line or wrinkle in that smooth expanse of flesh, but from
the heavy mouth and chin, from the very shape of the face, it was
easy to see that she was quite old enough to be Victor's mother.
Across the photograph was written in a large splashy hand, 'A
mon aigle!' Had Victor been delicate enough to leave him in any
doubt, Claude would have preferred to believe that his relations
with this lady were wholly of a filial nature.
"Women like her simply don't exist in your part of the world,"
the aviator murmured, as he snapped the photograph case. "She's a
linguist and musician and all that. With her. every-day living is
a fine art. Life, as she says, is what one makes it. In itself,
it's nothing. Where you came from it's nothing--a sleeping
Claude laughed. "I don't know that I agree with you, but I like
to hear you talk."
"Well; in that part of France that's all shot to pieces, you'll
find more life going on in the cellars than in your home town,
wherever that is. I'd rather be a stevedore in the London docks
than a banker-king in one of your prairie States. In London, if
you're lucky enough to have a shilling, you can get something for
"Yes, things are pretty tame at home," the other admitted.
"Tame? My God, it's death in life! What's left of men if you take
all the fire out of them? They're afraid of everything. I know
them; Sunday-school sneaks, prowling around those little towns
after dark!" Victor abruptly dismissed the subject. "By the way,
you're pals with the doctor, aren't you? I'm needing some
medicine that is somewhere in my lost trunk. Would you mind
asking him if he can put up this prescription? I don't want to go
to him myself. All these medicos blab, and he might report me.
I've been lucky dodging medical inspections. You see, I don't
want to get held up anywhere. Tell him it's not for you, of
When Claude presented the piece of blue paper to Doctor Trueman,
he smiled contemptuously. "I see; this has been filled by a
London chemist. No, we have nothing of this sort." He handed it
back. "Those things are only palliatives. If your friend wants
that, he needs treatment,--and he knows where he can get it."
Claude returned the slip of paper to Victor as they left the
dining-room after supper, telling him he hadn't been able to get
"Sorry," said Victor, flushing haughtily. "Thank you so much!"
Tod Fanning held out better than many of the stronger men; his
vitality surprised the doctor. The death list was steadily
growing; and the worst of it was that patients died who were not
very sick. Vigorous, clean-blooded young fellows of nineteen and
twenty turned over and died because they had lost their courage,
because other people were dying,--because death was in the air.
The corridors of the vessel had the smell of death about them.
Doctor Trueman said it was always so in an epidemic; patients
died who, had they been isolated cases, would have recovered.
"Do you know, Wheeler," the doctor remarked one day when they
came up from the hospital together to get a breath of air, "I
sometimes wonder whether all these inoculations they've been
having, against typhoid and smallpox and whatnot, haven't lowered
their vitality. I'll go off my head if I keep losing men! What
would you give to be out of it all, and safe back on the farm?"
Hearing no reply, he turned his head, peered over his raincoat
collar, and saw a startled, resisting look in the young man's
blue eyes, followed by a quick flush.
"You don't want to be back on the farm, do you! Not a little bit!
Well, well; that's what it is to be young!" He shook his head
with a smile which might have been commiseration, might have been
envy, and went back to his duties.
Claude stayed where he was, drawing the wet grey air into his
lungs and feeling vexed and reprimanded. It was quite true, he
realized; the doctor had caught him. He was enjoying himself all
the while and didn't want to be safe anywhere. He was sorry about
Tannhauser and the others, but he was not sorry for himself. The
discomforts and misfortunes of this voyage had not spoiled it for
him. He grumbled, of course, because others did. But life had
never seemed so tempting as it did here and now. He could come up
from heavy work in the hospital, or from poor Fanning and his
everlasting eggs, and forget all that in ten minutes. Something
inside him, as elastic as the grey ridges over which they were
tipping, kept bounding up and saying: "I am all here. I've left
everything behind me. I am going over."
Only on that one day, the cold day of the Virginian's funeral,
when he was seasick, had he been really miserable. He must be
heartless, certainly, not to be overwhelmed by the sufferings of
his own men, his own friends--but he wasn't. He had them on his
mind and did all he could for them, but it seemed to him just now
that he took a sort of satisfaction in that, too, and was
somewhat vain of his usefulness to Doctor Trueman. A nice
attitude! He awoke every morning with that sense of freedom and
going forward, as if the world were growing bigger each day and
he were growing with it. Other fellows were sick and dying, and
that was terrible,--but he and the boat went on, and always on.
Something was released that had been struggling for a long while,
he told himself. He had been due in France since the first battle
of the Marne; he had followed false leads and lost precious time
and seen misery enough, but he was on the right road at last, and
nothing could stop him. If he hadn't been so green, so bashful,
so afraid of showing what he felt, and so stupid at finding his
way about, he would have enlisted in Canada, like Victor, or run
away to France and joined the Foreign Legion. All that seemed
perfectly possible now. Why hadn't he?
Well, that was not "the Wheelers' way." The Wheelers were
terribly afraid of poking themselves in where they weren't
wanted, of pushing their way into a crowd where they didn't
belong. And they were even more afraid of doing anything that
might look affected or "romantic." They couldn't let themselves
adopt a conspicuous, much less a picturesque course of action,
unless it was all in the day's work. Well, History had
condescended to such as he; this whole brilliant adventure had
become the day's work. He had got into it after all, along with
Victor and the Marine and other fellows who had more imagination
and self-confidence in the first place. Three years ago he used
to sit moping by the windmill because he didn't see how a
Nebraska farmer boy had any "call," or, indeed, any way, to throw
himself into the struggle in France. He used enviously to read
about Alan Seeger and those fortunate American boys who had a
right to fight for a civilization they knew.
But the miracle had happened; a miracle so wide in its amplitude
that the Wheelers,--all the Wheelers and the roughnecks and the
low-brows were caught up in it. Yes, it was the rough-necks' own
miracle, all this; it was their golden chance. He was in on it,
and nothing could hinder or discourage him unless he were put
over the side himself--which was only a way of joking, for that
was a possibility he never seriously considered. The feeling of
purpose, of fateful purpose, was strong in his breast.
"Look at this, Doctor!" Claude caught Dr. Trueman on his way from
breakfast and handed him a written notice, signed D. T. Micks,
Chief Steward. It stated that no more eggs or oranges could be
furnished to patients, as the supply was exhausted.
The doctor squinted at the paper. "I'm afraid that's your
patient's death warrant. You'll never be able to keep him going
on anything else. Why don't you go and talk it over with Chessup?
He's a resourceful fellow. I'll join you there in a few minutes."
Claude had often been to Dr. Chessup's cabin since the epidemic
broke out,-rather liked to wait there when he went for medicines
or advice. It was a comfortable, personal sort of place with
cheerful chintz hangings. The walls were lined with books, held
in place by sliding wooden slats, padlocked at the ends. There
were a great many scientific works in German and English; the
rest were French novels in paper covers. This morning he found
Chessup weighing out white powders at his desk. In the rack over
his bunk was the book with which he had read himself to sleep
last night; the title, "Un Crime d'Amour," lettered in black on
yellow, caught Claude's eye. The doctor put on his coat and
pointed his visitor to the jointed chair in which patients were
sometimes examined. Claude explained his predicament.
The ship's doctor was a strange fellow to come from Canada, the
land of big men and rough. He looked like a schoolboy, with small
hands and feet and a pink complexion. On his left cheekbone was a
large brown mole, covered with silky hair, and for some reason
that seemed to make his face effeminate. It was easy to see why
he had not been successful in private practice. He was like
somebody trying to protect a raw surface from heat and cold; so
cursed with diffidence, and so sensitive about his boyish
appearance that he chose to shut himself up in an oscillating
wooden coop on the sea. The long run to Australia had exactly
suited him. A rough life and the pounding of bad weather had
fewer terrors for him than an office in town, with constant
exposure to human personalities.
"Have you tried him on malted milk?" he asked, when Claude had
told him how Farming's nourishment was threatened.
"Dr. Trueman hasn't a bottle left. How long do you figure we'll
be at sea?"
"Four days; possibly five."
"Then Lieutenant Wheeler will lose his pal," said Dr. Trueman,
who had just come in.
Chessup stood for a moment frowning and pulling nervously at the
brass buttons on his coat. He slid the bolt on his door and
turning to his colleague said resolutely: "I can give you some
information, if you won't implicate me. You can do as you like,
but keep my name out of it. For several hours last night cases of
eggs and boxes of oranges were being carried into the Chief
Steward's cabin by a flunky of his from the galley. Whatever port
we make, he can get a shilling each for the fresh eggs, and
perhaps sixpence for the oranges. They are your property, of
course, furnished by your government; but this is his customary
perquisite. I've been on this boat six years, and it's always
been so. About a week before we make port, the choicest of the
remaining stores are taken to his cabin, and he disposes of them
after we dock. I can't say just how he manages it, but he does.
The skipper may know of this custom, and there may be some reason
why he permits it. It's not my business to see anything. The
Chief Steward is a powerful man on an English vessel. If he has
anything against me, sooner or later he can lose my berth for me.
There you have the facts."
"Have I your permission to go to the Chief Steward?" Dr. Trueman
"Certainly not. But you can go without my knowledge. He's an ugly
man to cross, and he can make it uncomfortable for you and your
"Well, we'll say no more about it. I appreciate your telling me,
and I will see that you don't get mixed up in this. Will you go
down with me to look at that new meningitis case?"
Claude waited impatiently in his stateroom for the doctor's
return. He didn't see why the Chief Steward shouldn't be exposed
and dealt with like any other grafter. He had hated the man ever
since he heard him berating the old bath steward one morning.
Hawkins had made no attempt to defend himself, but stood like a
dog that has been terribly beaten, trembling all over, saying
"Yes, sir. Yes, sir," while his chief gave him a cold cursing in
a low, snarling voice. Claude had never heard a man or even an
animal addressed with such contempt. The Steward had a cruel
face,--white as cheese, with limp, moist hair combed back from a
high forehead,--the peculiarly oily hair that seems to grow only
on the heads of stewards and waiters. His eyes were exactly the
shape of almonds, but the lids were so swollen that the dull
pupil was visible only through a narrow slit. A long, pale
moustache hung like a fringe over his loose lips.
When Dr. Trueman came back from the hospital, he declared he was
now ready to call on Mr. Micks. "He's a nasty looking customer,
but he can't do anything to me."
They went to the Chief Steward's cabin and knocked.
"What's wanted?" called a threatening voice.
The doctor made a grimace to his companion and walked in. The
Steward was sitting at a big desk, covered with account books. He
turned in his chair. "I beg your pardon," he said coldly, "I do
not see any one here. I will be--"
The doctor held up his hand quickly. "That's all right, Steward.
I'm sorry to intrude, but I've something I must say to you in
private. I'll not detain you long." If he had hesitated for a
moment, Claude believed the Steward would have thrown him out,
but he went on rapidly. "This is Lieutenant Wheeler, Mr. Micks.
His fellow officer lies very ill with pneumonia in stateroom 96.
Lieutenant Wheeler has kept him alive by special nursing. He is
not able to retain anything in his stomach but eggs and orange
juice. If he has these, we may be able to keep up his strength
till the fever breaks, and carry him to a hospital in France. If
we can't get them for him, he will be dead within twenty-four
hours. That's the situation."
The steward rose and turned out the drop-light on his desk. "Have
you received notice that there are no more eggs and oranges on
board? Then I am afraid there is nothing I can do for you. I did
not provision this ship."
"No. I understand that. I believe the United States Government
provided the fruit and eggs and meat. And I positively know that
the articles I need for my patient are not exhausted. Without
going into the matter further, I warn you that I'm not going to
let a United States officer die when the means of saving him are
procurable. I'll go to the skipper, I'll call a meeting of the
army officers on board. I'll go any length to save this man."
"That is your own affair, but you will not interfere with me in
the discharge of my duties. Will you leave my cabin?"
"In a moment, Steward. I know that last night a number of cases
of eggs and oranges were carried into this room. They are here
now, and they belong to the A.E.F. If you will agree to provision
my man, what I know won't go any further. But if you refuse, I'll
get this matter investigated. I won't stop till I do."
The Steward sat down, and took up a pen. His large, soft hand
looked cheesy, like his face. "What is the number of the cabin?"
he asked indifferently.
"Exactly what do you require?"
"One dozen eggs and one dozen oranges every twenty-four hours, to
be delivered at any time convenient to you."
"I will see what I can do."
The Steward did not look up from his writing pad, and his
visitors left as abruptly as they had come.
At about four o'clock every morning, before even the bath
stewards were on duty, there was a scratching at Claude's door,
and a covered basket was left there by a messenger who was
unwashed, half-naked, with a sacking apron tied round his middle
and his hairy chest splashed with flour. He never spoke, had only
one eye and an inflamed socket. Claude learned that he was a
half-witted brother of the Chief Steward, a potato peeler and
dish-washer in the galley.
Four day after their interview with Mr. Micks, when they were at
last nearing the end of the voyage, Doctor Trueman detained
Claude after medical inspection to tell him that the Chief
Steward had come down with the epidemic. "He sent for me last
night and asked me to take his case,--won't have anything to do
with Chessup. I had to get Chessup's permission. He seemed very
glad to hand the case over to me."
"Is he very bad?"
"He hasn't a look-in, and he knows it. Complications; chronic
Bright's disease. It seems he has nine children. I'll try to get
him into a hospital when we make port, but he'll only live a few
days at most. I wonder who'll get the shillings for all the eggs
and oranges he hoarded away. Claude, my boy," the doctor spoke
with sudden energy, "if I ever set foot on land again, I'm going
to forget this voyage like a bad dream. When I'm in normal
health, I'm a Presbyterian, but just now I feel that even the
wicked get worse than they deserve."
A day came at last when Claude was wakened from sleep by a sense
of stillness. He sprang up with a dazed fear that some one had
died; but Fanning lay in his berth, breathing quietly.
Something caught his eye through the porthole,--a great grey
shoulder of land standing up in the pink light of dawn, powerful
and strangely still after the distressing instability of the sea.
Pale trees and long, low fortifications . . . close grey
buildings with red roofs . . . little sailboats bounding seaward
. . . up on the cliff a gloomy fortress.
He had always thought of his destination as a country shattered
and desolated,--"bleeding France"; but he had never seen anything
that looked so strong, so self-sufficient, so fixed from the
first foundation, as the coast that rose before him. It was like
a pillar of eternity. The ocean lay submissive at its feet, and
over it was the great meekness of early morning.
This grey wall, unshaken, mighty, was the end of the long
preparation, as it was the end of the sea. It was the reason for
everything that had happened in his life for the last fifteen
months. It was the reason why Tannhauser and the gentle
Virginian, and so many others who had set out with him, were
never to have any life at all, or even a soldier's death. They
were merely waste in a great enterprise, thrown overboard like
rotten ropes. For them this kind release,- trees and a still
shore and quiet water,- was never, never to be. How long would
their bodies toss, he wondered, in that inhuman kingdom of
darkness and unrest?
He was startled by a weak voice from behind.
"Claude, are we over?"
"Yes, Fanning. We're over."
Book Five: "Bidding the Eagles of the West Fly On"
At noon that day Claude found himself in a street of little
shops, hot and perspiring, utterly confused and turned about.
Truck drivers and boys on bell less bicycles shouted at him
indignantly, furiously. He got under the shade of a young plane
tree and stood close to the trunk, as if it might protect him.
His greatest care, at any rate, was off his hands. With the help
of Victor Morse he had hired a taxi for forty francs, taken
Fanning to the base hospital, and seen him into the arms of a big
orderly from Texas. He came away from the hospital with no idea
where he was going--except that he wanted to get to the heart of
the city. It seemed, however, to have no heart; only long, stony
arteries, full of heat and noise. He was still standing there,
under his plane tree, when a group of uncertain, lost-looking
brown figures, headed by Sergeant Hicks, came weaving up the
street; nine men in nine different attitudes of dejection, each
with a long loaf of bread under his arm. They hailed Claude with
joy, straightened up, and looked as if now they had found their
way! He saw that he must be a plane tree for somebody else.
Sergeant Hicks explained that they had been trudging about the
town, looking for cheese. After sixteen days of heavy, tasteless
food, cheese was what they all wanted. There was a grocery store
up the street, where there seemed to be everything else. He had
tried to make the old woman understand by signs.
"Don't these French people eat cheese, anyhow? What's their word
for it, Lieutenant? I'm damned if I know, and I've lost my phrase
book. Suppose you could make her understand?"
"Well, I'll try. Come along, boys."
Crowding close together, the ten men entered the shop. The
proprietress ran forward with an exclamation of despair.
Evidently she had thought she was done with them, and was not
pleased to see them coming back. When she paused to take breath,
Claude took off his hat respectfully, and performed the bravest
act of his life; uttered the first phrase-book sentence he had
ever spoken to a French person. His men were at his back; he had
to say something or run, there was no other course. Looking the
old woman in the eye, he steadily articulated:
"Avez-vous du fromage, Madame?" It was almost inspiration to add
the last word, he thought; and when it worked, he was as much
startled as if his revolver had gone off in his belt.
"Du fromage?" the shop woman screamed. Calling something to her
daughter, who was at the desk, she caught Claude by the sleeve,
pulled him out of the shop, and ran down the street with him. She
dragged him into a doorway darkened by a long curtain, greeted
the proprietress, and then pushed the men after their officer, as
if they were stubborn burros.
They stood blinking in the gloom, inhaling a sour, damp, buttery,
smear-kase smell, until their eyes penetrated the shadows and
they saw that there was nothing but cheese and butter in the
place. The shopkeeper was a fat woman, with black eyebrows that
met above her nose; her sleeves were rolled up, her cotton dress
was open over her white throat and bosom. She began at once to
tell them that there was a restriction on milk products; every
one must have cards; she could not sell them so much. But soon
there was nothing left to dispute about. The boys fell upon her
stock like wolves. The little white cheeses that lay on green
leaves disappeared into big mouths. Before she could save it,
Hicks had split a big round cheese through the middle and was
carving it up like a melon. She told them they were dirty pigs
and worse than the Boches, but she could not stop them.
"What's the matter with Mother, Lieutenant? What's she fussing
about? Ain't she here to sell goods?"
Claude tried to look wiser than he was. "From what I can make
out, there's some sort of restriction; you aren't allowed to buy
all you want. We ought to have thought about that; this is a war
country. I guess we've about cleaned her out."
"Oh, that's all right," said Hicks wiping his clasp-knife. "We'll
bring her some sugar tomorrow. One of the fellows who helped us
unload at the docks told me you can always quiet 'em if you give
They surrounded her and held out their money for her to take her
pay. "Come on, ma'm, don't be bashful. What's the matter, ain't
this good money?"
She was distracted by the noise they made, by their bronzed faces
with white teeth and pale eyes, crowding so close to her. Ten
large, well-shaped hands with straight fingers, the open palms
full of crumpled notes . . . . Holding the men off under the
pretence of looking for a pencil, she made rapid calculations.
The money that lay in their palms had no relation to these big,
coaxing, boisterous fellows; it was a joke to them; they didn't
know what it meant in the world. Behind them were shiploads of
money, and behind the ships . . . .
The situation was unfair. Whether she took much or little out of
their hands, couldn't possibly matter to the Americans, couldn't
even dash their good humour. But there was a strain on the
cheesewoman, and the standards of a lifetime were in jeopardy.
Her mind mechanically fixed upon two-and-a-half ; she would charge
them two-and-a-half times the market price of the cheese. With
this moral plank to cling to, she made change with conscientious
accuracy and did not keep a penny too much from anybody. Telling
them what big stupids they were, and that it was necessary to
learn to count in this world, she urged them out of her shop. She
liked them well enough, but she did not like to do business with
them. If she didn't take their money, the next one would. All the
same, fictitious values were distasteful to her, and made
everything seem flimsy and unsafe.
Standing in her doorway, she watched the brown band go ambling
down the street; as they passed in front of the old church of St.
Jacques, the two foremost stumbled on a sunken step that was
scarcely above the level of the pavement. She laughed aloud. They
looked back and waved to her. She replied with a smile that was
both friendly and angry. She liked them, but not the legend of
waste and prodigality that ran before them--and followed after.
It was superfluous and disintegrating in a world of hard facts.
An army in which the men had meat for breakfast, and ate more
every day than the French soldiers at the front got in a week!
Their moving kitchens and supply trains were the wonder of
France. Down below Arles, where her husband's sister had married,
on the desolate plain of the Crau, their tinned provisions were
piled like mountain ranges, under sheds and canvas. Nobody had
ever seen so much food before; coffee, milk, sugar, bacon, hams;
everything the world was famished for. They brought shiploads of
useless things, too. And useless people. Shiploads of women who
were not nurses; some said they came to dance with the officers,
so they would not be ennuyes.
All this was not war,--any more than having money thrust at you
by grown men who could not count, was business. It was an
invasion, like the other. The first destroyed material
possessions, and this threatened everybody's integrity. Distaste
of such methods, deep, recoiling distrust of them, clouded the
cheesewoman's brow as she threw her money into the drawer and
turned the key on it.
As for the doughboys, having once stubbed their toes on the
sunken step, they examined it with interest, and went in to
explore the church. It was in their minds that they must not let
a church escape, any more than they would let a Boche escape.
Within they came upon a bunch of their shipmates, including the
Kansas band, to whom they boasted that their Lieutenant could
"speak French like a native."
The Lieutenant himself thought he was getting on pretty well, but
a few hours later his pride was humbled. He was sitting alone in
a little triangular park beside another church,, admiring the
cropped locust trees and watching some old women who were doing
their mending in the shade. A little boy in a black apron, with a
close-shaved, bare head, came along, skipping rope. He hopped
lightly up to Claude and said in a most persuasive and confiding
"Voulez-vous me dire l'heure, s'il vous plaît, M'sieu' l'
Claude looked down into his admiring eyes with a feeling of
panic. He wouldn't mind being dumb to a man, or even to a pretty
girl, but this was terrible. His tongue went dry, and his face
grew scarlet. The child's expectant gaze changed to a look of
doubt, and then of fear. He had spoken before to Americans who
didn't understand, but they had not turned red and looked angry
like this one; this soldier must be ill, or wrong in his head.
The boy turned and ran away.
Many a serious mishap had distressed Claude less. He was
disappointed, too. There was something friendly in the boy's face
that he wanted . . . that he needed. As he rose he ground his
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