John Dos Passos.

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First published in 1920.

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One Man s Initiation 1 917


IN the huge shed of the wharf, piled with
crates and baggage, broken by gang
planks leading up to ships on either side,
a band plays a tinselly Hawaiian tune ;
people are dancing in and out among the piles
of trunks and boxes. There is a scattering of
khaki uniforms, and many young men stand
in groups laughing and talking in voices
pitched shrill with excitement. In the brown
light of the wharf, full of rows of yellow
crates and barrels and sacks, full of racket of
cranes, among which winds in and out the
trivial lilt of the Hawaiian tune, there is a
flutter of gay dresses and coloured hats of
women, and white handkerchiefs.

The booming reverberation of the ship s
whistle drowns all other sound.

After it the noise of farewells rises shrill.
White handkerchiefs are agitated in the brown
light of the shed. Ropes crack in pulleys as
the gang-planks are raised.

Again, at the pierhead, white handkerchiefs
and cheering and a flutter of coloured dresses.
On the wharf building a flag spreads exultingly
against the azure afternoon sky.

Rosy yellow and drab purple, the buildings
of New York slide together into a pyramid
above brown smudges of smoke standing out


in the water, linked to the land by the dark
curves of the bridges.

In the fresh harbour wind comes now and
then a salt-wafting breath off the sea.

Martin Howe stands in the stern that
trembles with the vibrating push of the
screw. A boy standing beside him turns and
asks in a tremulous voice, " This your first
time across ? "

1 Yes. . . . Yours ? "

* Yes. . . . T never used to think that at\
nineteen I d be crossing the Atlantic to go to
a war in France/ The boy caught himself up
suddenly and blushed. Then swallowing >
lump in his throat he said, " It ought to be
time to eat."

" God help Kaiser Bill !
O-o-o old Uncle Sam.
He s got the cavalry,
He s got the infantry,
He s got the artillery ;
And then by God we ll all go to Germany !
God help Kaiser Bill!"

The iron covers are clamped on the smoking-
room windows, for no lights must show. So
the air is dense with tobacco smoke and the
reek of beer and champagne. In one corner
they are playing poker with their coats off.
All the chairs are full of sprawling young men
who stamp their feet to the time, and bang
their fists down so that the bottles dance on
the tables.

"God help Kaiser Bill."

Sky and sea are opal grey. Martin is


stretched on the deck in the bow of the boat
with an unopened book beside him. He has ,
never been so happy in his life. The future is
nothing to him, the past is nothing to bimr
All his life is effaced in the grey languor of
the sea, in the soft surge of the water about the
ship s bow as she ploughs through the long
swell, eastward. The tepid moisture of the
Gulf Stream makes his clothes feel damp and
his hair stick together into curls that straggle
over his forehead. There are porpoises about,
lazily tumbling in the swell, and flying-fish
skim from one grey wave to another, and the
bow rises and falls gently in rhythm with the
surging sing-song of the broken water.

Martin has been asleep. As through in
finite mists of greyness he looks back on the
sharp hatreds and wringing desires of his life.
Now a leaf seems to have been turned and a
new white page spread before him, clean and
unwritten on. At last things have come to

And very faintly, like music heard across
the water in the evening, blurred into strange
harmonies, his old watchwords echo a little
in his mind. Like the red flame of the
sunset setting fire to opal sea and sky, the old
exaltation, the old flame that would consume
to ashes all the lies in the world, the trumpet-
blast under which the walls of Jericho would
fall down, stirs and broods in the womb of
his gfey lassitude. The bow rises and falls
gently in- rhythm with the surging sing-song
of the broken water, as the steamer ploughs
through the long swell of the Gulf Stream,


" See that guy, the feller with the straw
hat ; he lost five hundred dollars at craps last

" Some stakes."

It is almost dark. Sea and sky are glowing
claret colour, darkened to a cold bluish-green
to westward. In a corner of the deck a
number of m$n are crowded in a circle,
while one shakes the dice in his hand with
a strange nervous quiver that ends in a
snap of the fingers as the white dice roll on
the deck.

" Seven up."

From the smoking-room comes a sound of
singing and glasses banged on tables.

" Oh, we re bound for the Hamburg show,
To see the elephant and the wild kangaroo,
An we ll all stick together
In fair or foul weather,
For we re going to see the damn show through ! "

On the settee a sallow young man is shaking
the ice in a whisky-and-soda into a nervous
tinkle as he talks :

" There s nothing they can do against this
new gas. ... It just corrodes the lungs as if
they were rotten in a dead body. In the
hospitals they just stand the poor devils up
against a wall and let them die. They say
their skin turns green and that it takes from
five to seven days to die five to seven days of
slow choking."

" Oh, but I think it s so splendid of you "
she bared all her teeth, white and regular as


those in a dentist s show-case, in a smile as
she spoke " to come over this way to help

" Perhaps it s only curiosity," muttere<T\

" Oh no. ... You re too modest. . . .
What I mean is that it s so splendid to have
understood the issues. . . . That s how I feel.
I just told dad I d have to come and do my
bit, as the English say."

What are you going to do ? "

" Something in Paris. I don t know just
what, but I ll certainly make myself useful
somehow." She beamed at him provoca
tively. " Oh, if only I was a man, I d have
shouldered my gun the first day ; indeed I

" But the issues were hardly . . . defined
then," ventured Martin.

" They didn t need to be. I hate those
brutes. I ve always hated the Germans,
their language, their country, everything
about them. And now that they ve done such
frightful things . . ."

I wonder if it s all true . . ."

True ! Oh, of course it s all true ; and
lots more that it hasn t been possible to
print, that people have been ashamed to

They ve gone pretty far," said Martin,

" If there are any left alive after the war
they ought to be chloroformed. . . . And
really I don t think it s patriotic or humane to
take the atrocities so lightly. . . . But really,
you must excuse me if you think me rude ; I


do get so excited and wrought up when I
think of those frightful things. ... I get
quite beside myself ; I m sure you do too, in
your heart. . . . Any red-blooded person

" Only I doubt . . ."

" But you re just .playing into their hands
if you do that. . . . Oh, dear, I m quite
beside myself, just thinking of it." She
raised a small gloved hand to her pink cheek
in a gesture of horror, and settled herself
comfortably in her deck chair. " Really, I
oughtn t to talk about it. I lose all self-
control when I do. I hate them so it makes
me quite ill. . . . The curs ! The Huns !
Let me tell you just one story. ... I know
it ll make your blood boil. It s absolutely
authentic, too. I heard it before I left New
York from a girl who s really the best friend
I have on earth. She got it from a friend of
hers who had got it directly from a little
Belgian girl, poor little thing, who was in the
convent at the time. . . . Oh, I don t see
why they ever take any prisoners ; I d kill
them all like mad dogs."

" What s the story ? "

" Oh, I can t tell it. It upsets me too
much. . . . No, that s silly, I ve got to begin
facing realities. ... It was just when the
Germans were taking Bruges, the Uhlans
broke into this convent. . . . But I think it
was in Louvain, not Bruges. ... I have a
wretched memory for names. . . . Well, they
broke in, and took all those poor defenceless
little girls . . ."


" There s the dinner-bell."

" Oh, so it is. I must run and dress. I ll
have to tell you later. . . ."

Through half-closed eyes, Martin watched
the fluttering dress and the backs of the
neat little white shoes go jauntily down the

The smoking-room again. Clink of glasses
and chatter of confident voices. Two men
talking over their glasses.

" They tell me that Paris is some

The most immoral place in the world,
before the war. Why, there are houses
there where . . ." his voice sank into a
whisper. The other man burst into loud

" But the war s put an end to all that.
They tell me that French people are re
generated, positively regenerated."

" They say the lack of food s something
awful, that you can t get a square meal.
They even eat horse."

Did you hear what those fellows were
saying about that new gas ? Sounds fright
ful, don t it ? I don t care a thing about
bullets, but that kind o gives me cold feet.
... I don t give a damn about bullets, but
that gas . . ."

That s why so many shoot their friends
when they re gassed. . . ."

" Say, you two, ho~w about a hand of
poker ? " *

A champagne cork pops.


" Jiminy, don t spill it all over me."
" Where we goin , boys ? "

" Oh, we re going to the Hamburg show
To see the elephant and the wild kangaroo,
And we ll all stick together
In fair or foul weather,
For we re going to see the darm show through ! "


BEFORE going to bed Martin had seen
the lighthouses winking at the mouth
of the Gironde, and had filled his
lungs with the new, indefinably scented wind
coming off the land. The sound of screaming
whistles of tug-boats awoke him. Feet were
tramping on the deck above his head. The
shrill whine of a crane sounded in his ears and
the throaty cry of men lifting something in

Through his port-hole in the yet colourless
dawn he saw the reddish water of a river with
black-hulled sailing-boats on it and a few
lanky little steamers of a pattern he had
never seen before. Again he breathed deep
of the new indefinable smell off the land.

Once on deck in the cold air, he saw
through the faint light a row of houses beyond
the low wharf buildings, grey mellow houses of
four storeys with tiled roofs and intricate
ironwork balconies, with balconies in which
the ironwork had been carefully twisted by
artisans long ago dead into gracefully modu
lated curves and spirals.

Some in uniform, some not, the ambulance
men marched to the station, through the grey
streets of Bordeaux. Once a woman opened
a window and crying, " Vive I Amerique/
threw out a bunch of roses and daisies. As
they were rounding a corner, a man with a



frockcoat on ran up and put his own hat on
the head of one of the Americans who had
none. In front of the station, waiting for the
train, they sat at the little tables of cafes,
lolling comfortably in the early morning
sunlight, and drank beer and cognac.

Small railway carriages into which they
were crowded so that their knees were pressed
tight together and outside, slipping by, blue-
green fields, and poplars stalking out of the
morning mist, and long drifts of poppies.
Scarlet poppies, and cornflowers, and white
daisies, and the red-tiled roofs and white
walls of cottages, all against a background of

f .aucous green fields and hedges. Tours,
oitiers, Orleans. In the names of the
stations rose old wars, until the floods of
scarlet poppies seemed the blood of fighting
men slaughtered through all time. At last,
in the gloaming, Paris, and, in crossing a
bridge over the Seine, a glimpse of the two
linked towers of Notre-Dame, rosy grey in the
grey mist up the river.

" Say, these women here get my goat."

How do you mean ? "

" Well, I was at the Olympia with Johnson
and that crowd. They just pester the life
out of you there. I d heard that Paris was
immoral, but nothing like this."

" It s the war."

But the Jane I went with . . ."

" Gee, these Frenchwomen are immoral.
They say the war does it."

" Can t be that. Nothing is more purify
ing than sacrifice."


" A feller has to be mighty careful, they

" Looks like every woman you saw walking
on the street was a whore. They certainly
are good-lookers though."

" King and his gang are all being sent back
to the States."

" I ll be darned ! They sure have been
drunk ever since they got off the steamer."

Raised hell in Maxim s last night. They
tried to clean up the place and the police
came. They were all soused to the gills and
tried to make everybody there sing the Star
Spangled Banner/

" Damn fool business."

Martin Howe sat at a table on the sidewalk
under the brown awning of a restaurant.
Opposite in the last topaz-clear rays of the
sun, the foliage of the Jardin du Luxembourg
shone bright green above deep alleys of
bluish shadow. From the pavements in front
of the mauve-coloured houses rose little
kiosks with advertisements in bright orange
and vermilion and blue. In the middle of
the triangle formed by the streets and the
garden was a round pool of jade water.
Martin leaned back in his chair looking
dreamily out through half-closed eyes, breath
ing deep now and then of the musty scent of
Paris, that mingled with the melting freshness
of the wild strawberries on the plate before

As he stared in front of him two figures
crossed his field of vision. A woman swathed
in black crepe veils was helping a soldier to a


seat at the next table. He found himself
staring in a face, a face that still had some of
the chubbiness of boyhood. Between the pale-
brown frightened eyes, where the nose should
have been, was a triangular black patch that
ended in some mechanical contrivance with
shiny little black metal rods that took the
place of the jaw. He could not take his eyes
from the soldier s eyes, that were like those of
a hurt animal, full of meek dismay. Someone
plucked at Martin s arm, and he turned
suddenly, fearfully.

A bent old woman was offering him flowers
with a jerky curtsey.

" Just a rose, for good luck ? "

No, thank you."

" It will bring you happiness."

He took a couple of the reddest of the

" Do you understand the language of
flowers ? "


" I shall teach you. . . . Thank you so
much. . . . Thank you so much."

She added a few large daisies to the red
roses in his hand

" These will bring you love. . . . But
another time I shall teach you the language
of flowers, the language of love."

She curtseyed again, and began making her
way jerkily down the sidewalk, jingling his
silver in her hand.

He stuck the roses and daisies in the belt of
his uniform and sat with the green flame of
Chartreuse in a little glass before him, staring


into the gardens, where the foliage was becom
ing blue and lavender with evening, and the
shadows darkened to grey-purple and black.
Now and then he glanced furtively, with
shame, at the man at the next table. When
the restaurant closed he wandered through
the unlighted streets towards the river,
listening to the laughs and conversations that
bubbled like the sparkle in Burgundy through
the purple summer night.

But wherever he looked in the comradely
faces of young men, in the beckoning eyes of
women, he saw the brown hurt eyes of the
soldier, and the triangular black patch where
the nose should have been.


AT Epernay the station was wrecked;
the corrugated tin of the roof hung
in strips over the crumbled brick

They say the Boches came over last night.
They killed a lot of per missionaries."

( That river s the Marne."

" Gosh, is it ? Let me get to the winder/

The third-class car, joggling along on a
flat wheel, was full of the smell of sweat and
sour wine. Outside, yellow-green and blue-
green, crossed by long processions of poplars,
aflame with vermilion and carmine of poppies,
the countryside slipped by. At a station
where the train stopped on a siding, they
could hear a faint hollow sound in the dis
tance : guns.

Croix de Guerre had been given out that
day at the automobile park at Chalons.
There was an unusually big dinner at the
wooden tables in the narrow portable bar
racks, and during the last course the General
passed through and drank a glass of cham
pagne to the health of all present. Every
body had on his best uniform and sweated
hugely in the narrow, airless building, from
the wine and the champagne and the thick
stew, thickly seasoned, that made the dinner s
main course.


" We are all one large family/ said the
General from the end of the barracks ....
" to France. 1

That night the wail of a siren woke Martin
suddenly and made him sit up in his bunk
trembling, wondering where he was. Like
the shriek of a woman in a nightmare, the
wail of the siren rose and rose and then
dropped in pitch and faded throbbingly out.

rc Don t flash a light there. It s Boche

Outside the night was cold, with a little
light from a waned moon.

" See the shrapnel ! " someone cried.

The Boche has a Mercedes motor;" said
someone else. " You can tell by the sound
of it."

" They say one of their planes chased an
ambulance ten miles along a straight road the
other day, trying to get it with a machine-
gun. The man who was driving got away, but
he had shell-shock afterwards."

Did he really ? "

" Oh, I m goin to turn in. God, these
French nights are cold ! "

The rain pattered hard with unfaltering
determination 0n the roof of the little arbour.
Martin lolled over the rough board table,
resting his chin on his clasped hands, looking
through the tinkling bead curtains of the rain
towards the other end of the weed-grown
garden, where, under a canvas shelter, the
cooks were moving about in front of two black
steaming cauldrons. Through the fresh scent
of rain-beaten leaves came a greasy smell of


soup. He was thinking of the jolly wedding-
parties that must have drunk and danced in
this garden before the war, of the lovers who
must have sat in that very arbour, pressing
sunburned cheek against sunburned cheek,
twining hands callous with work in the
fields. A man broke suddenly into the
arbour behind Martin and stood flicking the
water off his uniform with his cap. His
sand-coloured hair was wet and was plastered
in little spikes to his broad forehead, a
forehead that was the entablature of a
determined rock-hewn face.

" Hello/ said Martin, twisting his head to
look at the newcomer. " You section twenty-
four ? "

" Yes. . . . Ever read Alice in Wonder
land ?" asked the wet man, sitting down
abruptly at the table.
Yes, indeed/ 1

" Doesn t this remind you of it ? J

" What ? "

" This war business. Why, I keep thinking
I m going to meet the rabbit who put butter
in his watch round every corner."

" It was the best butter."
That s the hell of it."

" When s your section leaving here ? "
asked Martin, picking up the conversation
after a pause during which they d both stared
out into the rain. They could hear almost
constantly the grinding roar of camions on the
road behind the cafe and the slither of their
wheels through the mud-puddles where the
road turned into the (village.

" How the devil should I know ? "


" Somebody had dope this morning that
we d leave here for Soissons to-morrow."
Martin s words tailed off into a convictionless

" It surely is different than you d pictured
it, isn t it, now ? :

They sat looking at each other while the
big drops from the leaky roof smacked on the
table or splashed cold in their faces.

" What do you think of all this, anyway ? "
said the wet man suddenly, lowering his voice

" I don t know. I never did expect it to be
what we were taught to believe. . . . Things
aren t."

" But you can t have guessed that it was
like this . . . like Alice in Wonderland, like
an ill-intentioned Drury Lane pantomime,
like all the dusty futility of Barnum and
Bailey s Circus."

" No, I thought it would be hair-raising,"
said Martin.

" Think, man, think of all the oceans of lies
through all the ages that must have been
necessary to make this possible ! Think of
this new particular vintage of lies that has
been so industriously pumped out of the press
and the pulpit. Doesn t it stagger you ? "

Martin nodded.

Why, lies are like a sticky juice over
spreading the world, a living, growing flypaper
to catch and gum the wings of every human
soul. . . . And the little helpless buzzings of
honest, liberal, kindly people, aren t they like
the thin little noise flies make when they re
caught ? "


" I agree with you that the little thin noise
is very silly/ said Martin.

Martin slammed down the hood of the car
and stood upright. A cold stream of rain ran
down the sleeves of his slicker and dripped
from his greasy hands.

Infantry tramped by, the rain spattering
with a cold glitter on grey helmets, on gun-
barrels, on the straps of equipment. Red
sweating faces, drooping under the hard
rims of helmets, turned to the ground with
the struggle with the weight of equipment ;
rows and patches of faces were the only
warmth in the desolation of putty-coloured
mud and bowed mud-coloured bodies and
dripping mud-coloured sky. In the cold
colourlessness they were delicate and feeble as
the faces of children, rosy and soft under the
splattering of mud and the shagginess of
unshaven beards.

Martin rubbed the back of his hand against
his face. His skin was like that, too, soft as
the petals of flowers, soft and warm amid all
this dead mud, amid all this hard mud-
covered steel.

He leant against the side of the car, his ears
full of the heavy shuffle, of the jingle of
equipment, of the splashing in puddles of
water-soaked boots, and watched the endless
rosy patches of faces moving by, the faces
that drooped towards the dripping boots that
rose and fell, churning into froth the soupy,
putty-coloured mud of the road.

The schoolmaster s garden was full of late


roses and marigolds, all parched and
bleached by the thick "layer of dust that was
over them. Next to the vine-covered trellis
that cut the garden off from the road stood a
green table and a few cane chairs. The school
master, something charmingly eighteenth-
century about the cut of his breeches
and the calves of his legs in their thick
woollen golf -stockings, led the way, a brown
pitcher of wine in his hand. Martin Howe
and the black-haired, brown-faced boy from
New Orleans who was his car-mate followed
him. Then came a little grey woman in a pink
knitted shawl, carrying a tray with glasses.

" In the Verdunois our wine is not very
good/ said the schoolmaster, bowing them
into chairs. " It is thin and cold like the
climate. To your health, gentlemen/ 1

" To France/ 1
To America/

" And down with the Boches/

In the pale yellow light that came from
among the dark clouds that passed over the
sky, the wine had the chilly gleam of yellow

" Ah, you should have seen that road in
1916," said the schoolmaster, drawing a hand
over his watery blue eyes. " That, you
know, is the Voie Sacree, the sacred way that
saved Verdun. All day, all day, a double
line of camions went up, full of ammunition
and ravitaillement and men/

u Oh, the poor boys, we saw so many go
up/ came the voice, dry as the rustling of the
wind in the vine-leaves, of the grey old woman
who stood leaning against the schoolmaster s


chair, looking out through a gap in the trellis
at the rutted road so thick with dust, " and
never have we seen one of them come back/

It was for France/*

" But this was a nice village before the war.
From Verdun to Bar-le-Duc, the Courrier des
Postes used to tell us, there was no such
village, so clean and with such fine orchards/
The old woman leaned over the schoolmaster s

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