Edna Ferber.

Cheerful—By Request online

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higher than the other side. In one corner a bookshelf. He had made it
himself at manual training. When he had finished it - the planing, the
staining, the polishing - Chippendale himself, after he had designed and
executed his first gracious, wide-seated, back-fitting chair, could have
felt no finer creative glow. As for the books it held, just to run your
eye over them was like watching Tyler Kamps grow up. Stella Kamps had
been a Kansas school teacher in the days before she met and married
Clint Kamps. And she had never quite got over it. So the book case
contained certain things that a fond mother (with a teaching past) would
think her small son ought to enjoy. Things like "Tom Brown At Rugby" and
"Hans Brinker, Or the Silver Skates." He had read them, dutifully, but
they were as good as new. No thumbed pages, no ragged edges, no creases
and tatters where eager boy hands had turned a page over - hastily. No,
the thumb-marked, dog's-eared, grimy ones were, as always, "Tom Sawyer"
and "Huckleberry Finn" and "Marching Against the Iroquois."

A hot enough little room in the Texas summers. A cold enough little
room in the Texas winters. But his own. And quiet. He used to lie there
at night, relaxed, just before sleep claimed him, and he could almost
feel the soft Texas night enfold him like a great, velvety, invisible
blanket, soothing him, lulling him. In the morning it had been pleasant
to wake up to its bare, clean whiteness, and to the tantalising
breakfast smells coming up from the kitchen below. His mother calling
from the foot of the narrow wooden stairway:

"Ty-_ler_!," rising inflection. "_Ty_-ler," falling inflection. "Get up,
son! Breakfast'll be ready."

It was always a terrific struggle between a last delicious stolen five
minutes between the covers, and the scent of the coffee and bacon.

"Ty-_ler_! You'll be late!"

A mighty stretch. A gathering of his will forces. A swing of his long
legs over the side of the bed so that they described an arc in the air.

"Been up years."

Breakfast had won.

Until he came to the Great Central Naval Training Station Tyler's
nearest approach to the nautical life had been when, at the age of six,
he had sailed chips in the wash tub in the back yard. Marvin, Texas, is
five hundred miles inland. And yet he had enlisted in the navy as
inevitably as though he had sprung from a long line of Vikings. In his
boyhood his choice of games had always been pirate. You saw him, a red
handkerchief binding his brow, one foot advanced, knee bent, scanning
the horizon for the treasure island from the vantage point of the
woodshed roof, while the crew, gone mad with thirst, snarled and
shrieked all about him, and the dirt yard below became a hungry, roaring
sea. His twelve-year-old vocabulary boasted such compound difficulties
as mizzentopsail-yard and main-topgallantmast. He knew the intricate
parts of a full-rigged ship from the mainsail to the deck, from the
jib-boom to the chart-house. All this from pictures and books. It was
the roving, restless spirit of his father in him, I suppose. Clint Kamps
had never been meant for marriage. When the baby Tyler was one year old
Clint had walked over to where his wife sat, the child in her lap, and
had tilted her head back, kissed her on the lips, and had gently pinched
the boy's roseleaf cheek with a quizzical forefinger and thumb. Then,
indolently, negligently, gracefully, he had strolled out of the house,
down the steps, into the hot and dusty street and so on and on and out
of their lives. Stella Kamps had never seen him again. Her letters back
home to her folks in Kansas were triumphs of bravery and bare-faced
lying. The kind of bravery, and the kind of lying that only a woman
could understand. She managed to make out, somehow, at first. And later,
very well indeed. As the years went on she and the boy lived together in
a sort of closed corporation paradise of their own. At twenty-one Tyler,
who had gone through grammar school, high school and business college
had never kissed a girl or felt a love-pang. Stella Kamps kept her age
as a woman does whose brain and body are alert and busy. When Tyler
first went to work in the Texas State Savings Bank of Marvin the girls
would come in on various pretexts just for a glimpse of his charming
blondeur behind the little cage at the rear. It is difficult for a
small-town girl to think of reasons for going into a bank. You have to
be moneyed to do it. They say that the Davies girl saved up nickels
until she had a dollar's worth and then came into the bank and asked to
have a bill in exchange for it. They gave her one - a crisp, new, crackly
dollar bill. She reached for it, gropingly, her eyes fixed on a point at
the rear of the bank. Two days later she came in and brazenly asked to
have it changed into nickels again. She might have gone on indefinitely
thus if Tyler's country hadn't given him something more important to do
than to change dollars into nickels and back again.

On the day he left for the faraway naval training station Stella Kamps
for the second time in her life had a chance to show the stuff she was
made of, and showed it. Not a whimper. Down at the train, standing at
the car window, looking up at him and smiling, and saying futile,
foolish, final things, and seeing only his blond head among the many
thrust out of the open window.

"... and Tyler, remember what I said about your feet. You know. Dry....
And I'll send a box every week, only don't eat too many of the nut
cookies. They're so rich. Give some to the other - yes, I know you will.
I was just ... Won't it be grand to be right there on the water all the
time! My!... I'll write every night and then send it twice a week....
I don't suppose you ... Well once a week, won't you, dear?...
You're - you're moving. The train's going! Good-b - " she ran along with
it for a few feet, awkwardly, as a woman runs. Stumblingly.

And suddenly, as she ran, his head always just ahead of her, she
thought, with a great pang:

"O my God, how young he is! How young he is, and he doesn't know
anything. I should have told him.... Things.... He doesn't know anything
about ... and all those other men - "

She ran on, one arm outstretched as though to hold him a moment longer
while the train gathered speed. "Tyler!" she called, through the din and
shouting. "Tyler, be good! Be good!" He only saw her lips moving, and
could not hear, so he nodded his head, and smiled, and waved, and was
gone.

So Tyler Kamps had travelled up to Chicago. Whenever they passed a
sizable town they had thrown open the windows and yelled, "Youp! Who-ee!
Yow!"

People had rushed to the streets and had stood there gazing after the
train. Tyler hadn't done much youping at first, but in the later stages
of the journey he joined in to keep his spirits up. He, who had never
been more than a two-hours' ride from home was flashing past villages,
towns, cities - hundreds of them.

The first few days had been unbelievably bad, what with typhoid
inoculations, smallpox vaccinations, and loneliness. The very first day,
when he had entered his barracks one of the other boys, older in
experience, misled by Tyler's pink and white and gold colouring, had
leaned forward from amongst a group and had called in glad surprise, at
the top of a leathery pair of lungs:

"Why, hello, sweetheart!" The others had taken it up with cruelty of
their age. "Hello, sweetheart!" It had stuck. Sweetheart. In the hard
years that followed - years in which the blood-thirsty and piratical
games of his boyhood paled to the mildest of imaginings - the nickname
still clung, long after he had ceased to resent it; long after he had
stripes and braid to refute it.

But in that Tyler Kamps we are not interested. It is the boy Tyler Kamps
with whom we have to do. Bewildered, lonely, and a little resentful.
Wondering where the sea part of it came in. Learning to say "on the
station" instead of "at the station," the idea being that the great
stretch of land on which the station was located was not really land,
but water; and the long wooden barracks not really barracks at all, but
ships. Learning to sleep in a hammock (it took him a full week).
Learning to pin back his sailor collar to save soiling the white braid
on it (that meant scrubbing). Learning - but why go into detail? One
sentence covers it.

Tyler met Gunner Moran. Moran, tattooed, hairy-armed, hairy-chested as a
gorilla and with something of the sadness and humour of the gorilla in
his long upper lip and short forehead. But his eyes did not bear out the
resemblance. An Irish blue; bright, unravaged; clear beacon lights in a
rough and storm-battered countenance. Gunner Moran wasn't a gunner at
all, or even a gunner's mate, but just a seaman who knew the sea from
Shanghai to New Orleans; from Liverpool to Barcelona. His knowledge of
knots and sails and rifles and bayonets and fists was a thing to strike
you dumb. He wasn't the stuff of which officers are made. But you should
have seen him with a Springfield! Or a bayonet! A bare twenty-five,
Moran, but with ten years' sea experience. Into those ten years he had
jammed a lifetime of adventure. And he could do expertly all the things
that Tyler Kamps did amateurishly. In a barrack, or in a company street,
the man who talks the loudest is the man who has the most influence. In
Tyler's barrack Gunner Moran was that man.

Because of what he knew they gave him two hundred men at a time and made
him company commander, without insignia or official position. In rank,
he was only a "gob" like the rest of them. In influence a captain. Moran
knew how to put the weight lunge behind the bayonet. It was a matter of
balance, of poise, more than of muscle.

Up in the front of his men, "G'wan," he would yell. "Whatddye think
you're doin'! Tickling 'em with a straw! That's a bayonet you got there,
not a tennis rackit. You couldn't scratch your initials on a Fritz that
way. Put a little guts into it. Now then!"

He had been used to the old Krag, with a cam that jerked out, and threw
back, and fed one shell at a time. The new Springfield, that was a
gloriously functioning thing in its simplicity, he regarded with a sort
of reverence and ecstasy mingled. As his fingers slid lightly,
caressingly along the shining barrel they were like a man's fingers
lingering on the soft curves of a woman's throat. The sight of a rookie
handling this metal sweetheart clumsily filled him with fury.

"Whatcha think you got there, you lubber, you! A section o' lead pipe!
You ought t' be back carryin' a shovel, where you belong. Here. Just a
touch. Like that. See? Easy now."

He could box like a professional. They put him up against Slovatsky, the
giant Russian, one day. Slovatsky put up his two huge hands, like hams,
and his great arms, like iron beams and looked down on this lithe, agile
bantam that was hopping about at his feet. Suddenly the bantam crouched,
sprang, and recoiled like a steel trap. Something had crashed up against
Slovatsky's chin. Red rage shook him. He raised his sledge-hammer right
for a slashing blow. Moran was directly in the path of it. It seemed
that he could no more dodge it than he could hope to escape an onrushing
locomotive, but it landed on empty air, with Moran around in back of the
Russian, and peering impishly up under his arm. It was like an elephant
worried by a mosquito. Then Moran's lightning right shot out again,
smartly, and seemed just to tap the great hulk on the side of the chin.
A ludicrous look of surprise on Slovatsky's face before he crumpled and
crashed.

This man it was who had Tyler Kamps' admiration. It was more than
admiration. It was nearer adoration. But there was nothing unnatural or
unwholesome about the boy's worship of this man. It was a legitimate
thing, born of all his fatherless years; years in which there had been
no big man around the house who could throw farther than Tyler, and eat
more, and wear larger shoes and offer more expert opinion. Moran
accepted the boy's homage with a sort of surly graciousness.

In Tyler's third week at the Naval Station mumps developed in his
barracks and they were quarantined. Tyler escaped the epidemic but he
had to endure the boredom of weeks of quarantine. At first they took it
as a lark, like schoolboys. Moran's hammock was just next Tyler's. On
his other side was a young Kentuckian named Dabney Courtney. The
barracks had dubbed him Monicker the very first day. Monicker had a
rather surprising tenor voice. Moran a salty bass. And Tyler his
mandolin. The trio did much to make life bearable, or unbearable,
depending on one's musical knowledge and views. The boys all sang a
great deal. They bawled everything they knew, from "Oh, You Beautiful
Doll" and "Over There" to "The End of a Perfect Day." The latter, _ad
nauseum_. They even revived "Just Break the News to Mother" and seemed
to take a sort of awful joy in singing its dreary words and mournful
measures. They played everything from a saxophone to a harmonica. They
read. They talked. And they grew so sick of the sight of one another
that they began to snap and snarl.

Sometimes they gathered round Moran and he told them tales they only
half believed. He had been in places whose very names were exotic and
oriental, breathing of sandalwood, and myrrh, and spices and aloes. They
were places over which a boy dreams in books of travel. Moran bared the
vivid tattooing on hairy arms and chest - tattooing representing anchors,
and serpents, and girls' heads, and hearts with arrows stuck through
them. Each mark had its story. A broad-swathed gentleman indeed, Gunner
Moran. He had an easy way with him that made you feel provincial and
ashamed. It made you ashamed of not knowing the sort of thing you used
to be ashamed of knowing.

Visiting day was the worst. They grew savage, somehow, watching the
mothers and sisters and cousins and sweethearts go streaming by to the
various barracks. One of the boys to whom Tyler had never even spoken
suddenly took a picture out of his blouse pocket and showed it to Tyler.
It was a cheap little picture - one of the kind they sell two for a
quarter if one sitter; two for thirty-five if two. This was a twosome.
The boy, and a girl. A healthy, wide-awake wholesome looking small-town
girl, who has gone through high school and cuts out her own shirtwaists.

"She's vice-president of the Silver Star Pleasure Club back home," the
boy confided to Tyler. "I'm president. We meet every other Saturday."

Tyler looked at the picture seriously and approvingly. Suddenly he
wished that he had, tucked away in his blouse, a picture of a
clear-eyed, round-cheeked vice-president of a pleasure club. He took out
his mother's picture and showed it.

"Oh, yeh," said the boy, disinterestedly.

The dragging weeks came to an end. The night of Tyler's restlessness was
the last night of quarantine. To-morrow morning they would be free. At
the end of the week they were to be given shore leave. Tyler had made up
his mind to go to Chicago. He had never been there.

Five thirty. Reveille.

Tyler awoke with the feeling that something was going to happen.
Something pleasant. Then he remembered, and smiled. Dabney Courtney, in
the next hammock, was leaning far over the side of his perilous perch
and delivering himself of his morning speech. Tyler did not quite
understand this young southern elegant. Monicker had two moods, both of
which puzzled Tyler. When he awoke feeling gay he would lean over the
extreme edge of his hammock and drawl, with an affected English accent:

"If this is Venice, where are the canals?"

In his less cheerful moments he would groan, heavily, "There ain't no
Gawd!"

This last had been his morning observation during their many weeks of
durance vile. But this morning he was, for the first time in many days,
enquiring about Venetian waterways.

Tyler had no pal. His years of companionship with his mother had bred in
him a sort of shyness, a diffidence. He heard the other boys making
plans for shore leave. They all scorned Waukegan, which was the first
sizable town beyond the Station. Chicago was their goal. They were like
a horde of play-hungry devils after their confinement. Six weeks of
restricted freedom, six weeks of stored-up energy made them restive as
colts.

"Goin' to Chicago, kid?" Moran asked him, carelessly. It was Saturday
morning.

"Yes. Are you?" eagerly.

"Kin a duck swim?"

At the Y.M.C.A. they had given him tickets to various free amusements
and entertainments. They told him about free canteens, and about other
places where you could get a good meal, cheap. One of the tickets was
for a dance. Tyler knew nothing of dancing. This dance was to be given
at some kind of woman's club on Michigan Boulevard. Tyler read the card,
glumly. A dance meant girls. He knew that. Why hadn't he learned to
dance?

Tyler walked down to the station and waited for the train that would
bring him to Chicago at about one o'clock. The other boys, in little
groups, or in pairs, were smoking and talking. Tyler wanted to join
them, but he did not. They seemed so sufficient unto themselves,
with their plans, and their glib knowledge of places, and amusements,
and girls. On the train they all bought sweets from the train
butcher - chocolate maraschinos, and nut bars, and molasses kisses - and
ate them as greedily as children, until their hunger for sweets was
surfeited.

Tyler found himself in the same car with Moran. He edged over to a
seat near him, watching him narrowly. Moran was not mingling with the
other boys. He kept aloof, his sea-blue eyes gazing out at the flat
Illinois prairie. All about him swept and eddied the currents and
counter-currents of talk.

"They say there's a swell supper in the Tower Building for fifty cents."

"Fifty nothing. Get all you want in the Library canteen for nix."

"Where's this dance, huh?"

"Search _me_."

"Heh, Murph! I'll shoot you a game of pool at the club."

"Naw, I gotta date."

Tyler's glance encountered Moran's, and rested there. Scorn curled the
Irishman's broad upper lip. "Navy! This ain't no navy no more. It's a
Sunday school, that's what! Phonographs, an' church suppers, an' pool
an' dances! It's enough t' turn a fella's stomick. Lot of Sunday school
kids don't know a sail from a tablecloth when they see it."

He relapsed into contemptuous silence.

Tyler, who but a moment before had been envying them their familiarity
with these very things now nodded and smiled understanding at Moran.
"That's right," he said. Moran regarded him a moment, curiously. Then he
resumed his staring out of the window. You would never have guessed that
in that bullet head there was bewilderment and resentment almost
equalling Tyler's, but for a much different reason. Gunner Moran was of
the old navy - the navy that had been despised and spat upon. In those
days his uniform alone had barred him from decent theatres, decent
halls, decent dances, contact with decent people. They had forced him to
a knowledge of the burlesque houses, the cheap theatres, the shooting
galleries, the saloons, the dives. And now, bewilderingly, the public
had right-about faced. It opened its doors to him. It closed its saloons
to him. It sought him out. It offered him amusement. It invited him to
its home, and sat him down at its table, and introduced him to its
daughter.

"Nix!" said Gunner Moran, and spat between his teeth. "Not f'r me. I
pick me own lady friends."

Gunner Moran was used to picking his own lady friends. He had picked
them in wicked Port Said, and in Fiume; in Yokohama and Naples. He had
picked them unerringly, and to his taste, in Cardiff, and Hamburg, and
Vladivostok.

When the train drew in at the great Northwestern station shed he was
down the steps and up the long platform before the wheels had ceased
revolving.

Tyler came down the steps slowly. Blue uniforms were streaming past
him - a flood of them. White leggings twinkled with the haste of their
wearers. Caps, white or blue, flowed like a succession of rippling waves
and broke against the great doorway, and were gone.

In Tyler's town, back home in Marvin, Texas, you knew the train numbers
and their schedules, and you spoke of them by name, familiarly and
affectionately, as Number Eleven and Number Fifty-five. "I reckon
Fifty-five'll be late to-day, on account of the storm."

Now he saw half a dozen trains lined up at once, and a dozen more tracks
waiting, empty. The great train shed awed him. The vast columned waiting
room, the hurrying people, the uniformed guards gave him a feeling of
personal unimportance. He felt very negligible, and useless, and alone.
He stood, a rather dazed blue figure, in the vastness of that shining
place. A voice - the soft, cadenced voice of the negro - addressed him.

"Lookin' fo' de sailors' club rooms?"

Tyler turned. A toothy, middle-aged, kindly negro in a uniform and red
cap. Tyler smiled friendlily. Here was a human he could feel at ease
with. Texas was full of just such faithful, friendly types of negro.

"Reckon I am, uncle. Show me the way?"

Red Cap chuckled and led the way. "Knew you was f'om de south minute Ah
see yo'. Cain't fool me. Le'ssee now. You-all f'om - ?"

"I'm from the finest state in the Union. The most glorious state in
the - "

"H'm - Texas," grinned Red Cap.

"How did you know!"

"Ah done heah 'em talk befoh, son. Ah done heah 'em talk be-foh."

It was a long journey through the great building to the section that had
been set aside for Tyler and boys like him. Tyler wondered how any one
could ever find it alone. When the Red Cap left him, after showing him
the wash rooms, the tubs for scrubbing clothes, the steam dryers, the
bath-tubs, the lunch room, Tyler looked after him regretfully. Then he
sped after him and touched him on the arm.

"Listen. Could I - would they - do you mean I could clean up in there - as
much as I wanted? And wash my things? And take a bath in a bathtub, with
all the hot water I want?"

"Yo' sho' kin. On'y things look mighty grabby now. Always is Sat'days.
Jes' wait aroun' an' grab yo' tu'n."

Tyler waited. And while he waited he watched to see how the other boys
did things. He saw how they scrubbed their uniforms with scrubbing
brushes, and plenty of hot water and soap. He saw how they hung them
carefully, so that they might not wrinkle, in the dryers. He saw them
emerge, glowing, from the tub rooms. And he waited, the fever of
cleanliness burning in his eye.

His turn came. He had waited more than an hour, reading, listening to
the phonograph and the electric piano, and watching.

Now he saw his chance and seized it. And then he went through a ceremony
that was almost a ritual. Stella Kamps, could she have seen it, would
have felt repaid for all her years of soap-and-water insistence.

First he washed out the stationary tub with soap, and brush, and
scalding water. Then he scalded the brush. Then the tub again. Then,
deliberately, and with the utter unconcern of the male biped he divested
himself, piece by piece, of every stitch of covering wherewith his body
was clothed. And he scrubbed them all. He took off his white leggings
and his white cap and scrubbed those, first. He had seen the other boys
follow that order of procedure. Then his flapping blue flannel trousers,
and his blouse. Then his underclothes, and his socks. And finally he
stood there, naked and unabashed, slim, and pink and silver as a
mountain trout. His face, as he bent over the steamy tub, was very red,
and moist and earnest. His yellow hair curled in little damp ringlets
about his brow. Then he hung his trousers and blouse in the dryers
without wringing them (wringing, he had been told, wrinkled them). He
rinsed and wrung, and flapped the underclothes, though, and shaped his
cap carefully, and spread his leggings, and hung those in the dryer,
too. And finally, with a deep sigh of accomplishment, he filled one of
the bathtubs in the adjoining room - filled it to the slopping-over point
with the luxurious hot water, and he splashed about in this, and
reclined in it, gloriously, until the waiting ones threatened to pull
him out. Then he dried himself and issued forth all flushed and rosy. He
wrapped himself in a clean coarse sheet, for his clothes would not be
dry for another half hour. Swathed in the sheet like a Roman senator he
lay down on one of the green velvet couches, relics of past Pullman
glories, and there, with the rumble and roar of steel trains overhead,
with the smart click of the billiard balls sounding in his ears, with
the phonograph and the electric piano going full blast, with the boys


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Online LibraryEdna FerberCheerful—By Request → online text (page 19 of 20)