John Dos Passos.

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made out.... Of course perhaps at the last minute... if somebody else
doesn't go... your name can go in."

The colonel smiled graciously and turned back into the room.

"Thank you, Colonel," said Andrews, saluting.

Without a word to Sheffield, he strode off down the dark village street
towards his quarters.

Andrews stood on the broad village street, where the mud was nearly dry,
and a wind streaked with warmth ruffled the few puddles; he was looking
into the window of the cafe to see if there was anyone he knew inside
from whom he could borrow money for a drink. It was two months since he
had had any pay, and his pockets were empty. The sun had just set on a
premature spring afternoon, flooding the sky and the grey houses and the
tumultuous tiled roofs with warm violet light. The faint premonition of
the stirring of life in the cold earth, that came to Andrews with every
breath he drew of the sparkling wind, stung his dull boredom to fury. It
was the first of March, he was telling himself over and over again.
The fifteenth of February, he had expected to be in Paris, free, or
half-free; at least able to work. It was the first of March and here
he was still helpless, still tied to the monotonous wheel of routine,
incapable of any real effort, spending his spare time wandering like a
lost dog up and down this muddy street, from the Y. M. C. A. hut at one
end of the village to the church and the fountain in the middle, and to
the Divisional Headquarters at the other end, then back again, looking
listlessly into windows, staring in people's faces without seeing
them. He had given up all hope of being sent to Paris. He had given up
thinking about it or about anything; the same dull irritation of despair
droned constantly in his head, grinding round and round like a broken
phonograph record.

After looking a long while in the window of the cafe of the Braves
Allies, he walked a little down the street and stood in the same
position staring into the Repos du Poilu, where a large sign "American
spoken" blocked up half the window. Two officers passed. His hand
snapped up to the salute automatically, like a mechanical signal. It
was nearly dark. After a while he began to feel serious coolness in the
wind, shivered and started to wander aimlessly down the street.

He recognised Walters coming towards him and was going to pass him
without speaking when Walters bumped into him, muttered in his ear
"Come to Baboon's," and hurried off with his swift business-like stride.
Andrews, stood irresolutely for a while with his head bent, then went
with unresilient steps up the alley, through the hole in the hedge and
into Babette's kitchen. There was no fire. He stared morosely at the
grey ashes until he heard Walters's voice beside him:

"I've got you all fixed up."

"What do you mean?"

"Mean... are you asleep, Andrews? They've cut a name off the school list,
that's all. Now if you shake a leg and somebody doesn't get in ahead of
you, you'll be in Paris before you know it."

"That's damn decent of you to come and tell me."

"Here's your application," said Walters, drawing a paper out of his
pocket. "Take it to the colonel; get him to O. K. it and then rush it
up to the sergeant-major's office yourself. They are making out travel
orders now. So long."

Walters had vanished. Andrews was alone again, staring at the
grey ashes. Suddenly he jumped to his feet and hurried off towards
headquarters. In the anteroom to the colonel's office he waited a long
while, looking at his boots that were thickly coated with mud.
"Those boots will make a bad impression; those boots will make a bad
impression," a voice was saying over and over again inside of him. A
lieutenant was also waiting to see the colonel, a young man with pink
cheeks and a milky-white forehead, who held his hat in one hand with a
pair of khaki-colored kid gloves, and kept passing a hand over his
light well-brushed hair. Andrews felt dirty and ill-smelling in his
badly-fitting uniform. The sight of this perfect young man in his
whipcord breeches, with his manicured nails and immaculately polished
puttees exasperated him. He would have liked to fight him, to prove that
he was the better man, to outwit him, to make him forget his rank and
his important air.... The lieutenant had gone in to see the colonel.
Andrews found himself reading a chart of some sort tacked up on the
wall. There were names and dates and figures, but he could not make out
what it was about.

"All right! Go ahead," whispered the orderly to him; and he was standing
with his cap in his hand before the colonel who was looking at him
severely, fingering the papers he had on the desk with a heavily veined

Andrews saluted. The colonel made an impatient gesture.

"May I speak to you, Colonel, about the school scheme?"

"I suppose you've got permission from somebody to come to me."

"No, sir." Andrews's mind was struggling to find something to say.

"Well, you'd better go and get it."

"But, Colonel, there isn't time; the travel orders are being made out
at this minute. I've heard that there's been a name crossed out on the

"Too late."

"But, Colonel, you don't know how important it is. I am a musician by
trade; if I can't get into practice again before being demobilized,
I shan't be able to get a job.... I have a mother and an old aunt
dependent on me. My family has seen better days, you see, sir. It's only
by being high up in my profession that I can earn enough to give them
what they are accustomed to. And a man in your position in the world,
Colonel, must know what even a few months of study in Paris mean to a

The colonel smiled.

"Let's see your application," he said.

Andrews handed it to him with a trembling hand. The colonel made a few
marks on one corner with a pencil.

"Now if you can get that to the sergeant-major in time to have your name
included in the orders, well and good."

Andrews saluted, and hurried out. A sudden feeling of nausea had come
over him. He was hardly able to control a mad desire to tear the paper
up. "The sons of bitches... the sons of bitches," he muttered to himself.
Still he ran all the way to the square, isolated building where the
regimental office was.

He stopped panting in front of the desk that bore the little red card,
Regimental Sergeant-Major. The regimental sergeant-major looked up at
him enquiringly.

"Here's an application for School at the Sorbonne, Sergeant. Colonel
Wilkins told me to run up to you with it, said he was very anxious to
have it go in at once."

"Too late," said the regimental sergeant-major.

"But the colonel said it had to go in."

"Can't help it.... Too late," said the regimental sergeant-major.

Andrews felt the room and the men in their olive-drab shirt sleeves at
the typewriters and the three nymphs creeping from behind the French War
Loan poster whirl round his head. Suddenly he heard a voice behind him:

"Is the name Andrews, John, Sarge?"

"How the hell should I know?" said the regimental sergeant-major.

"Because I've got it in the orders already.... I don't know how it got
in." The voice was Walters's voice, staccatto and businesslike.

"Well, then, why d'you want to bother me about it? Give me that paper."
The regimental sergeant-major jerked the paper out of Andrews's hand and
looked at it savagely.

"All right, you leave tomorrow. A copy of the orders'll go to your
company in the morning," growled the regimental sergeant-major.

Andrews looked hard at Walters as he went out, but got no glance in
return. When he stood in the air again, disgust surged up within him,
bitterer than before. The fury of his humiliation made tears start in
his eyes. He walked away from the village down the main road, splashing
carelessly through the puddles, slipping in the wet clay of the ditches.
Something within him, like the voice of a wounded man swearing, was
whining in his head long strings of filthy names. After walking a long
while he stopped suddenly with his fists clenched. It was completely
dark, the sky was faintly marbled by a moon behind the clouds. On both
sides of the road rose the tall grey skeletons of poplars. When the
sound of his footsteps stopped, he heard a faint lisp of running water.
Standing still in the middle of the road, he felt his feelings gradually
relax. He said aloud in a low voice several times: "You are a damn fool,
John Andrews," and started walking slowly and thoughtfully back to the


Andrews felt an arm put round his shoulder.

"Ah've been to hell an' gone lookin' for you, Andy," said Chrisfield's
voice in his ear, jerking him out of the reverie he walked in. He could
feel in his face Chrisfield's breath, heavy with cognac.

"I'm going to Paris tomorrow, Chris," said Andrews.

"Ah know it, boy. Ah know it. That's why I was that right smart to
talk to you.... You doan want to go to Paris.... Why doan ye come up to
Germany with us? Tell me they live like kings up there."

"All right," said Andrews, "let's go to the back room at Babette's."

Chrisfield hung on his shoulder, walking unsteadily beside him. At the
hole in the hedge Chrisfield stumbled and nearly pulled them both down.
They laughed, and still laughing staggered into the dark kitchen, where
they found the red-faced woman with her baby sitting beside the fire
with no other light than the flicker of the rare flames that shot up
from a little mass of wood embers. The baby started crying shrilly when
the two soldiers stamped in. The woman got up and, talking automatically
to the baby all the while, went off to get a light and wine.

Andrews looked at Chrisfield's face by the firelight. His cheeks had
lost the faint childish roundness they had had when Andrews had first
talked to him, sweeping up cigarette butts off the walk in front of the
barracks at the training camp.

"Ah tell you, boy, you ought to come with us to Germany... nauthin' but
whores in Paris."

"The trouble is, Chris, that I don't want to live like a king, or a
sergeant or a major-general.... I want to live like John Andrews."

"What yer goin' to do in Paris, Andy?"

"Study music."

"Ah guess some day Ah'll go into a movie show an' when they turn on the
lights, who'll Ah see but ma ole frien' Andy raggin' the scales on the

"Something like that.... How d'you like being a corporal, Chris?"

"O, Ah doan know." Chrisfield spat on the floor between his feet. "It's
funny, ain't it? You an' me was right smart friends onct.... Guess it's
bein' a non-com."

Andrews did not answer.

Chrisfield sat silent with his eyes on the fire.

"Well, Ah got him.... Gawd, it was easy," he said suddenly.

"What do you mean?"

"Ah got him, that's all."

"You mean...?"

Chrisfield nodded.

"Um-hum, in the Oregon forest," he said.

Andrews said nothing. He felt suddenly very tired. He thought of men he
had seen in attitudes of death.

"Ah wouldn't ha' thought it had been so easy," said Chrisfield.

The woman came through the door at the end of the kitchen with a candle
in her hand. Chrisfield stopped speaking suddenly.

"Tomorrow I'm going to Paris," cried Andrews boisterously. "It's the end
of soldiering for me."

"Ah bet it'll be some sport in Germany, Andy.... Sarge says we'll be
goin' up to Coab... what's its name?"


Chrisfield poured a glass of wine out and drank it off, smacking his
lips after it and wiping his mouth on the back of his hand.

"D'ye remember, Andy, we was both of us brushin' cigarette butts at that
bloody trainin' camp when we first met up with each other?"

"Considerable water has run under the bridge since then."

"Ah reckon we won't meet up again, mos' likely."

"Hell, why not?"

They were silent again, staring at the fading embers of the fire. In the
dim edge of the candlelight the woman stood with her hands on her hips,
looking at them fixedly.

"Reckon a feller wouldn't know what to do with himself if he did get out
of the army... now, would he, Andy?"

"So long, Chris. I'm beating it," said Andrews in a harsh voice, jumping
to his feet.

"So long, Andy, ole man.... Ah'll pay for the drinks." Chrisfield was
beckoning with his hand to the red-faced woman, who advanced slowly
through the candlelight.

"Thanks, Chris."

Andrews strode away from the door. A cold, needle-like rain was falling.
He pulled up his coat collar and ran down the muddy village street
towards his quarters.


In the opposite corner of the compartment Andrews could see Walters
hunched up in an attitude of sleep, with his cap pulled down far over
his eyes. His mouth was open, and his head wagged with the jolting of
the train. The shade over the light plunged the compartment in dark-blue
obscurity, which made the night sky outside the window and the shapes of
trees and houses, evolving and pirouetting as they glided by, seem very
near. Andrews felt no desire to sleep; he had sat a long time leaning
his head against the frame of the window, looking out at the fleeing
shadows and the occasional little red-green lights that darted by and
the glow of the stations that flared for a moment and were lost in dark
silhouettes of unlighted houses and skeleton trees and black hillsides.
He was thinking how all the epochs in his life seemed to have been
marked out by railway rides at night. The jolting rumble of the wheels
made the blood go faster through his veins; made him feel acutely the
clattering of the train along the gleaming rails, spurning fields and
trees and houses, piling up miles and miles between the past and future.
The gusts of cold night air when he opened the window and the faint
whiffs of steam and coal gas that tingled in his nostrils excited him
like a smile on a strange face seen for a moment in a crowded street.
He did not think of what he had left behind. He was straining his eyes
eagerly through the darkness towards the vivid life he was going to
live. Boredom and abasement were over. He was free to work and hear
music and make friends. He drew deep breaths; warm waves of vigor seemed
flowing constantly from his lungs and throat to his finger tips and down
through his body and the muscles of his legs. He looked at his watch:
"One." In six hours he would be in Paris. For six hours he would sit
there looking out at the fleeting shadows of the countryside, feeling
in his blood the eager throb of the train, rejoicing in every mile the
train carried him away from things past.

Walters still slept, half slipping off the seat, with his mouth open and
his overcoat bundled round his head. Andrews looked out of the window,
feeling in his nostrils the tingle of steam and coal gas. A phrase out
of some translation of the Iliad came to his head: "Ambrosial night,
Night ambrosial unending." But better than sitting round a camp
fire drinking wine and water and listening to the boastful yarns of
long-haired Achaeans, was this hustling through the countryside away
from the monotonous whine of past unhappiness, towards joyousness and

Andrews began to think of the men he had left behind. They were asleep
at this time of night, in barns and barracks, or else standing on guard
with cold damp feet, and cold hands which the icy rifle barrel burned
when they tended it. He might go far away out of sound of the tramp of
marching, away from the smell of overcrowded barracks where men slept in
rows like cattle, but he would still be one of them. He would not see an
officer pass him without an unconscious movement of servility, he would
not hear a bugle without feeling sick with hatred. If he could only
express these thwarted lives, the miserable dullness of industrialized
slaughter, it might have been almost worth while - for him; for the
others, it would never be worth while. "But you're talking as if you
were out of the woods; you're a soldier still, John Andrews." The words
formed themselves in his mind as vividly as if he had spoken them. He
smiled bitterly and settled himself again to watch silhouettes of trees
and hedges and houses and hillsides fleeing against the dark sky.

When he awoke the sky was grey. The train was moving slowly, clattering
loudly over switches, through a town of wet slate roofs that rose in
fantastic patterns of shadow above the blue mist. Walters was smoking a

"God! These French trains are rotten," he said when he noticed that
Andrews was awake. "The most inefficient country I ever was in anyway."

"Inefficiency be damned," broke in Andrews, jumping up and stretching
himself. He opened the window. "The heating's too damned efficient.... I
think we're near Paris."

The cold air, with a flavor of mist in it, poured into the stuffy
compartment. Every breath was joy. Andrews felt a crazy buoyancy
bubbling up in him. The rumbling clatter of the train wheels sang in his
ears. He threw himself on his back on the dusty blue seat and kicked his
heels in the air like a colt.

"Liven up, for God's sake, man," he shouted. "We're getting near Paris."

"We are lucky bastards," said Walters, grinning, with the cigarette
hanging out of the corner of his mouth. "I'm going to see if I can find
the rest of the gang."

Andrews, alone in the compartment, found himself singing at the top of
his lungs.

As the day brightened the mist lifted off the flat linden-green fields
intersected by rows of leafless poplars. Salmon-colored houses with blue
roofs wore already a faintly citified air. They passed brick-kilns and
clay-quarries, with reddish puddles of water in the bottom of them;
crossed a jade-green river where a long file of canal boats with bright
paint on their prows moved slowly. The engine whistled shrilly. They
clattered through a small freight yard, and rows of suburban houses
began to form, at first chaotically in broad patches of garden-land, and
then in orderly ranks with streets between and shops at the corners. A
dark-grey dripping wall rose up suddenly and blotted out the view. The
train slowed down and went through several stations crowded with people
on their way to work, - ordinary people in varied clothes with only here
and there a blue or khaki uniform. Then there was more dark-grey wall,
and the obscurity of wide bridges under which dusty oil lamps burned
orange and red, making a gleam on the wet wall above them, and where the
wheels clanged loudly. More freight yards and the train pulled slowly
past other trains full of faces and silhouettes of people, to stop
with a jerk in a station. And Andrews was standing on the grey cement
platform, sniffing smells of lumber and merchandise and steam. His
ungainly pack and blanket-roll he carried on his shoulder like a cross.
He had left his rifle and cartridge belt carefully tucked out of sight
under the seat.

Walters and five other men straggled along the platform towards him,
carrying or dragging their packs.

There was a look of apprehension on Walters's face.

"Well, what do we do now?" he said.

"Do!" cried Andrews, and he burst out laughing.

Prostrate bodies in olive drab hid the patch of tender green grass
by the roadside. The company was resting. Chrisfield sat on a stump
morosely whittling at a stick with a pocket knife. Judkins was stretched
out beside him.

"What the hell do they make us do this damn hikin' for, Corp?"

"Guess they're askeered we'll forgit how to walk."

"Well, ain't it better than loafin' around yer billets all day, thinkin'
an' cursin' an' wishin' ye was home?" spoke up the man who sat the other
side, pounding down the tobacco in his pipe with a thick forefinger.

"It makes me sick, trampin' round this way in ranks all day with the
goddam frawgs starin' at us an'..."

"They're laughin' at us, I bet," broke in another voice.

"We'll be movin' soon to the Army o' Occupation," said Chrisfield
cheerfully. "In Germany it'll be a reglar picnic."

"An' d'you know what that means?" burst out Judkins, sitting bolt
upright. "D'you know how long the troops is goin' to stay in Germany?
Fifteen years."

"Gawd, they couldn't keep us there that long, man."

"They can do anythin' they goddam please with us. We're the guys as is
gettin' the raw end of this deal. It ain't the same with an' edicated
guy like Andrews or Sergeant Coffin or them. They can suck around after
'Y' men, an' officers an' get on the inside track, an' all we can do is
stand up an' salute an' say 'Yes, lootenant' an' 'No, lootenant' an' let
'em ride us all they goddam please. Ain't that gospel truth, corporal?"

"Ah guess you're right, Judkie; we gits the raw end of the stick."

"That damn yellar dawg Andrews goes to Paris an' gets schoolin' free an'
all that."

"Hell, Andy waren't yellar, Judkins."

"Well, why did he go bellyachin' around all the time like he knew more'n
the lootenant did?"

"Ah reckon he did," said Chrisfield.

"Anyway, you can't say that those guys who went to Paris did a goddam
thing more'n any the rest of us did.... Gawd, I ain't even had a leave

"Well, it ain't no use crabbin'."

"No, onct we git home an' folks know the way we've been treated,
there'll be a great ole investigation. I can tell you that," said one of
the new men.

"It makes you mad, though, to have something like that put over on
ye.... Think of them guys in Paris, havin' a hell of a time with wine
an' women, an' we stay out here an' clean our guns an' drill.... God,
I'd like to get even with some of them guys."

The whistle blew. The patch of grass became unbroken green again as the
men lined up along the side of the road.

"Fall in!" called the Sergeant.


"Right dress!"

"Front! God, you guys haven't got no snap in yer.... Stick yer belly in,
you. You know better than to stand like that."

"Squads, right! March! Hep, hep, hep!"

The Company tramped off along the muddy road. Their steps were all the
same length. Their arms swung in the same rhythm. Their faces were cowed
into the same expression, their thoughts were the same. The tramp, tramp
of their steps died away along the road.

Birds were singing among the budding trees. The young grass by the
roadside kept the marks of the soldiers' bodies.


Andrews, and six other men from his division, sat at a table outside the
cafe opposite the Gare de l'Est. He leaned back in his chair with a
cup of coffee lifted, looking across it at the stone houses with many
balconies. Steam, scented of milk and coffee, rose from the cup as he
sipped from it. His ears were full of a rumble of traffic and a clacking
of heels as people walked briskly by along the damp pavements. For a
while he did not hear what the men he was sitting with were saying. They
talked and laughed, but he looked beyond their khaki uniforms and their
boat-shaped caps unconsciously. He was taken up with the smell of the
coffee and of the mist. A little rusty sunshine shone on the table of
the cafe and on the thin varnish of wet mud that covered the asphalt
pavement. Looking down the Avenue, away from the station, the houses,
dark grey tending to greenish in the shadow and to violet in the sun,
faded into a soft haze of distance. Dull gilt lettering glittered along
black balconies. In the foreground were men and women walking briskly,
their cheeks whipped a little into color by the rawness of the morning.
The sky was a faintly roseate grey.

Walters was speaking:

"The first thing I want to see is the Eiffel Tower."

"Why d'you want to see that?" said the small sergeant with a black
mustache and rings round his eyes like a monkey.

"Why, man, don't you know that everything begins from the Eiffel
Tower? If it weren't for the Eiffel Tower, there wouldn't be any

"How about the Flatiron Building and Brooklyn Bridge? They were built
before the Eiffel Tower, weren't they?" interrupted the man from New

"The Eiffel Tower's the first piece of complete girder construction in
the whole world," reiterated Walters dogmatically.

"First thing I'm going to do's go to the Folies Berd-jairs; me for the

"Better lay off the wild women, Bill," said Walters.

"I ain't goin' to look at a woman," said the sergeant with the black
mustache. "I guess I seen enough women in my time, anyway.... The war's
over, anyway."

"You just wait, kid, till you fasten your lamps on a real Parizianne,"
said a burly, unshaven man with a corporal's stripes on his arm, roaring
with laughter.

Andrews lost track of the talk again, staring dreamily through
half-closed eyes down the long straight street, where greens and violets

Online LibraryJohn Dos PassosThree Soldiers → online text (page 19 of 31)