John Dos Passos.

Three Soldiers online

. (page 21 of 31)
Online LibraryJohn Dos PassosThree Soldiers → online text (page 21 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Sheba slipping down from off the shoulders of her elephant, glistening
fantastically with jewels in the light of crackling, resinous torches.
Music was seeping up through his mind as the water seeps into a hole
dug in the sand of the seashore. He could feel all through his body the
tension of rhythms and phrases taking form, not quite to be seized as
yet, still hovering on the borderland of consciousness. "From the
girl at the cross-roads singing under her street-lamp to the patrician
pulling roses to pieces from the height of her litter....All the
imaginings of your desire...." He thought of the girl with skin like old
ivory he had seen in the Place de Medicis. The Queen of Sheba's face
was like that now in his imaginings, quiet and inscrutable. A sudden
cymbal-clanging of joy made his heart thump hard. He was free now of the
imaginings of his desire, to loll all day at cafe tables watching the
tables move in changing patterns before him, to fill his mind and body
with a reverberation of all the rhythms of men and women moving in the
frieze of life before his eyes; no more like wooden automatons knowing
only the motions of the drill manual, but supple and varied, full of
force and tragedy.

"For Heaven's sake let's beat it from here.... Gives me a pain this
place does." Heineman beat his fist on the table.

"All right," said Andrews, getting up with a yawn.

Henslowe and Andrews walked off, leaving Walters to follow them with

"We're going to dine at Le Rat qui Danse," said Henslowe, "an awfully
funny place.... We just have time to walk there comfortably with an

They followed the long dimly-lighted Rue de Richelieu to the Boulevards,
where they drifted a little while with the crowd. The glaring lights
seemed to powder the air with gold. Cafes and the tables outside were
crowded. There was an odor of vermouth and coffee and perfume and
cigarette smoke mixed with the fumes of burnt gasoline from taxicabs.

"Isn't this mad?" said Andrews.

"It's always carnival at seven on the Grands Boulevards."

They started climbing the steep streets to Montmartre. At a corner
they passed a hard-faced girl with rouge-smeared lips and overpowdered
cheeks, laughing on the arm of an American soldier, who had a sallow
face and dull-green eyes that glittered in the slanting light of a

"Hello, Stein," said Andrews.

"Who's that?"

"A fellow from our division, got here with me this morning."

"He's got curious lips for a Jew," said Henslowe.

At the fork of two slanting streets, they went into a restaurant that
had small windows pasted over with red paper, through which the light
came dimly. Inside were crowded oak tables and oak wainscoting with
a shelf round the top, on which were shell-cans, a couple of skulls,
several cracked majolica plates and a number of stuffed rats. The only
people there were a fat woman and a man with long grey hair and beard
who sat talking earnestly over two small glasses in the center of the
room. A husky-looking waitress with a Dutch cap and apron hovered near
the inner door from which came a great smell of fish frying in olive

"The cook here's from Marseilles," said Henslowe, as they settled
themselves at a table for four.

"I wonder if the rest of them lost the way," said Andrews.

"More likely old Heinz stopped to have a drink," said Henslowe. "Let's
have some hors d'oeuvre while we are waiting."

The waitress brought a collection of boat-shaped plates of red salads
and yellow salads and green salads and two little wooden tubs with
herrings and anchovies.

Henslowe stopped her as she was going, saying: "Rien de plus?"

The waitress contemplated the array with a tragic air, her arms folded
over her ample bosom. "Que voulez-vous, Monsieur, c'est l'armistice."

"The greatest fake about all this war business is the peace. I tell you,
not till the hors d'oeuvre has been restored to its proper abundance and
variety will I admit that the war's over."

The waitress tittered.

"Things aren't what they used to be," she said, going back to the

Heineman burst into the restaurant at that moment, slamming the door
behind him so that the glass rang, and the fat woman and the hairy man
started violently in their chairs. He tumbled into a place, grinning

"And what have you done to Walters?"

Heineman wiped his glasses meticulously.

"Oh, he died of drinking raspberry shrub," he said.... "Dee-dong peteet
du ving de Bourgogne," he shouted towards the waitress in his nasal
French. Then he added: "Le Guy is coming in a minute, I just met him."

The restaurant was gradually filling up with men and women of very
various costumes, with a good sprinkling of Americans in uniform and

"God I hate people who don't drink," cried Heineman, pouring out wine.
"A man who don't drink just cumbers the earth."

"How are you going to take it in America when they have prohibition?"

"Don't talk about it; here's le Guy. I wouldn't have him know I belong
to a nation that prohibits good liquor.... Monsieur le Guy, Monsieur
Henslowe et Monsieur Andrews," he continued getting up ceremoniously. A
little man with twirled mustaches and a small vandyke beard sat down at
the fourth place. He had a faintly red nose and little twinkling eyes.

"How glad I am," he said, exposing his starched cuffs with a curious
gesture, "to have some one to dine with! When one begins to get
old loneliness is impossible. It is only youth that dares think....
Afterwards one has only one thing to think about: old age."

"There's always work," said Andrews.

"Slavery. Any work is slavery. What is the use of freeing your intellect
if you sell yourself again to the first bidder?"

"Rot!" said Heineman, pouring out from a new bottle.

Andrews had begun to notice the girl who sat at the next table, in
front of a pale young soldier in French-blue who resembled her
extraordinarily. She had high cheek bones and a forehead in which the
modelling of the skull showed through the transparent, faintly-olive
skin. Her heavy chestnut hair was coiled carelessly at the back of her
head. She spoke very quietly, and pressed her lips together when she
smiled. She ate quickly and neatly, like a cat.

The restaurant had gradually filled up with people. The waitress and the
patron, a fat man with a wide red sash coiled tightly round his waist,
moved with difficulty among the crowded tables. A woman at a table in
the corner, with dead white skin and drugged staring eyes, kept laughing
hoarsely, leaning her head, in a hat with bedraggled white plumes,
against the wall. There was a constant jingle of plates and glasses, and
an oily fume of food and women's clothes and wine.

"D'you want to know what I really did with your friend?" said Heineman,
leaning towards Andrews.

"I hope you didn't push him into the Seine."

"It was damn impolite.... But hell, it was damn impolite of him not to
drink.... No use wasting time with a man who don't drink. I took him
into a cafe and asked him to wait while I telephoned. I guess he's still
waiting. One of the whoreiest cafes on the whole Boulevard Clichy."
Heineman laughed uproariously and started explaining it in nasal French
to M. le Guy.

Andrews flushed with annoyance for a moment, but soon started laughing.
Heineman had started singing again.

"O, Sinbad was in bad in Tokio and Rome,
In bad in Trinidad
And twice as bad at home,
O, Sinbad was in bad all around!"

Everybody clapped. The white-faced woman in the corner cried "Bravo,
Bravo," in a shrill nightmare voice.

Heineman bowed, his big grinning face bobbing up and down like the face
of a Chinese figure in porcelain.

"Lui est Sinbad," he cried, pointing with a wide gesture towards

"Give 'em some more, Heinz. Give them some more," said Henslowe,

"Big brunettes with long stelets
On the shores of Italee,
Dutch girls with golden curls
Beside the Zuyder Zee..."

Everybody cheered again; Andrews kept looking at the girl at the next
table, whose face was red from laughter. She had a handkerchief pressed
to her mouth, and kept saying in a low voice:

"O qu'il est drole, celui-la.... O qu'il est drole."

Heineman picked up a glass and waved it in the air before drinking it
off. Several people got up and filled it up from their bottles with
white wine and red. The French soldier at the next table pulled an army
canteen from under his chair and hung it round Heineman's neck.

Heineman, his face crimson, bowed to all sides, more like a Chinese
porcelain figure than ever, and started singing in all solemnity this

"Hulas and hulas would pucker up their lips,
He fell for their ball-bearing hips
For they were pips..."

His chunky body swayed to the ragtime. The woman in the corner kept time
with long white arms raised above her head.

"Bet she's a snake charmer," said Henslowe.

"O, wild woman loved that child
He would drive ten women wild!
O, Sinbad was in bad all around!"

Heineman waved his arms, pointed again to Henslowe, and sank into his
chair saying in the tones of a Shakespearean actor:

"C'est lui Sinbad."

The girl hid her face on the tablecloth, shaken with laughter. Andrews
could hear a convulsed little voice saying:

"O qu'il est rigolo...."

Heineman took off the canteen and handed it back to the French soldier.

"Merci, Camarade," he said solemnly.

"Eh bien, Jeanne, c'est temps de ficher le camp," said the French
soldier to the girl. They got up. He shook hands with the Americans.
Andrews caught the girl's eye and they both started laughing
convulsively again. Andrews noticed how erect and supple she walked as
his eyes followed her to the door.

Andrews's party followed soon after.

"We've got to hurry if we want to get to the Lapin Agile before
closing... and I've got to have a drink," said Heineman, still talking in
his stagey Shakespearean voice.

"Have you ever been on the stage?" asked Andrews.

"What stage, sir? I'm in the last stages now, sir.... I am an artistic
photographer and none other.... Moki and I are going into the movies
together when they decide to have peace."

"Who's Moki?"

"Moki Hadj is the lady in the salmon-colored dress," said Henslowe, in a
loud stage whisper in Andrews's ear. "They have a lion cub named Bubu."

"Our first born," said Heineman with a wave of the hand.

The streets were deserted. A thin ray of moonlight, bursting now and
then through the heavy clouds, lit up low houses and roughly-cobbled
streets and the flights of steps with rare dim lamps bracketed in house
walls that led up to the Butte.

There was a gendarme in front of the door of the Lapin Agile. The street
was still full of groups that had just come out, American officers and
Y.M.C.A, women with a sprinkling of the inhabitants of the region.

"Now look, we're late," groaned Heineman in a tearful voice.

"Never mind, Heinz," said Henslowe, "le Guy'll take us to see de
Clocheville like he did last time, n'est pas, le Guy?" Then Andrews
heard him add, talking to a man he had not seen before, "Come along
Aubrey, I'll introduce you later."

They climbed further up the hill. There was a scent of wet gardens in
the air, entirely silent except for the clatter of their feet on
the cobbles. Heineman was dancing a sort of a jig at the head of the
procession. They stopped before a tall cadaverous house and started
climbing a rickety wooden stairway.

"Talk about inside dope.... I got this from a man who's actually in the
room when the Peace Conference meets." Andrews heard Aubrey's voice with
a Chicago burr in the r's behind him in the stairs.

"Fine, let's hear it," said Henslowe.

"Did you say the Peace Conference took dope?" shouted Heineman, whose
puffing could be heard as he climbed the dark stairs ahead of them.

"Shut up, Heinz."

They stumbled over a raised doorstep into a large garret room with a
tile floor, where a tall lean man in a monastic-looking dressing gown
of some brown material received them. The only candle made all their
shadows dance fantastically on the slanting white walls as they moved
about. One side of the room had three big windows, with an occasional
cracked pane mended with newspaper, stretching from floor to ceiling. In
front of them were two couches with rugs piled on them. On the opposite
wall was a confused mass of canvases piled one against the other,
leaning helter skelter against the slanting wall of the room.

"C'est le bon vin, le bon vin,
C'est la chanson du vin."

chanted Heineman. Everybody settled themselves on couches. The lanky man
in the brown dressing gown brought a table out of the shadow, put some
black bottles and heavy glasses on it, and drew up a camp stool for

"He lives that way.... They say he never goes out. Stays here and
paints, and when friends come in, he feeds them wine and charges them
double," said Henslowe. "That's how he lives."

The lanky man began taking bits of candle out of a drawer of the table
and lighting them. Andrews saw that his feet and legs were bare below
the frayed edge of the dressing gown. The candle light lit up the men's
flushed faces and the crude banana yellows and arsenic greens of the
canvases along the walls, against which jars full of paint brushes cast
blurred shadows.

"I was going to tell you, Henny," said Aubrey, "the dope is that the
President's going to leave the conference, going to call them all damn
blackguards to their faces and walk out, with the band playing the

"God, that's news," cried Andrews.

"If he does that he'll recognize the Soviets," said Henslowe. "Me for
the first Red Cross Mission that goes to save starving Russia.... Gee,
that's great. I'll write you a postal from Moscow, Andy, if they haven't
been abolished as delusions of the bourgeoisie."

"Hell, no.... I've got five hundred dollars' worth of Russian bonds that
girl Vera gave me.... But worth five million, ten million, fifty million
if the Czar gets back.... I'm backing the little white father," cried
Heineman. "Anyway Moki says he's alive; that Savaroffs got him locked up
in a suite in the Ritz.... And Moki knows."

"Moki knows a damn lot, I'll admit that," said Henslowe.

"But just think of it," said Aubrey, "that means world revolution with
the United States at the head of it. What do you think of that?"

"Moki doesn't think so," said Heineman. "And Moki knows."

"She just knows what a lot of reactionary warlords tell her," said
Aubrey. "This man I was talking with at the Crillon - I wish I could tell
you his name - heard it directly from...Well, you know who." He turned
to Henslowe, who smiled knowingly. "There's a mission in Russia at this
minute making peace with Lenin."

"A goddam outrage!" cried Heineman, knocking a bottle off the table. The
lanky man picked up the pieces patiently, without comment.

"The new era is opening, men, I swear it is..." began Aubrey. "The
old order is dissolving. It is going down under a weight of misery
and crime.... This will be the first great gesture towards a newer and
better world. There is no alternative. The chance will never come
back. It is either for us to step courageously forward, or sink into
unbelievable horrors of anarchy and civil war.... Peace or the dark ages

Andrews had felt for some time an uncontrollable sleepiness coming over
him. He rolled himself on a rug and stretched out on the empty couch.
The voices arguing, wrangling, enunciating emphatic phrases, dinned for
a minute in his ears. He went to sleep.

When Andrews woke up he found himself staring at the cracked plaster of
an unfamiliar ceiling. For some moments he could not guess where he was.
Henslowe was sleeping, wrapped in another rug, on the couch beside him.
Except for Henslowe's breathing, there was complete silence. Floods
of silvery-grey light poured in through the wide windows, behind which
Andrews could see a sky full of bright dove-colored clouds. He sat up
carefully. Some time in the night he must have taken off his tunic and
boots and puttees, which were on the floor beside the couch. The tables
with the bottles had gone and the lanky man was nowhere to be seen.

Andrews went to the window in his stockinged feet. Paris way a
slate-grey and dove-color lay spread out like a Turkish carpet, with a
silvery band of mist where the river was, out of which the Eiffel
Tower stood up like a man wading. Here and there blue smoke and brown
spiralled up to lose itself in the faint canopy of brown fog that hung
high above the houses. Andrews stood a long while leaning against the
window frame, until he heard Henslowe's voice behind him:

"Depuis le jour ou je me suis donnee."

"You look like 'Louise.'"

Andrews turned round.

Henslowe was sitting on the edge of the bed with his hair in disorder,
combing his little silky mustache with a pocket comb.

"Gee, I have a head," he said. "My tongue feels like a nutmeg grater....
Doesn't yours?"

"No. I feel like a fighting cock."

"What do you say we go down to the Seine and have a bath in Benny
Franklin's bathtub?"

"Where's that? It sounds grand."

"Then we'll have the biggest breakfast ever."

"That's the right spirit.... Where's everybody gone to?"

"Old Heinz has gone to his Moki, I guess, and Aubrey's gone to collect
more dope at the Crillon. He says four in the morning when the drunks
come home is the prime time for a newspaper man."

"And the Monkish man?"

"Search me."

The streets were full of men and girls hurrying to work. Everything
sparkled, had an air of being just scrubbed. They passed bakeries from
which came a rich smell of fresh-baked bread. From cafes came whiffs
of roasting coffee. They crossed through the markets that were full
of heavy carts lumbering to and fro, and women with net bags full of
vegetables. There was a pungent scent of crushed cabbage leaves and
carrots and wet clay. The mist was raw and biting along the quais, and
made the blood come into their cheeks and their hands stiff with cold.

The bathhouse was a huge barge with a house built on it in a lozenge
shape. They crossed to it by a little gangplank on which were a few
geraniums in pots. The attendant gave them two rooms side by side on
the lower deck, painted grey, with steamed over windows, through which
Andrews caught glimpses of hurrying green water. He stripped his clothes
off quickly. The tub was of copper varnished with some white metal
inside. The water flowed in through two copper swans' necks. When
Andrews stepped into the hot green water, a little window in the
partition flew open and Henslowe shouted in to him:

"Talk about modern conveniences. You can converse while you bathe!"

Andrews scrubbed himself jauntily with a square piece of pink soap,
splashing the water about like a small boy. He stood up and lathered
himself all over and then let himself slide into the water, which
splashed out over the floor.

"Do you think you're a performing seal?" shouted Henslowe.

"It's all so preposterous," cried Andrews, going off into convulsions of
laughter. "She has a lion cub named Bubu and Nicolas Romanoff lives
in the Ritz, and the Revolution is scheduled for day after tomorrow at
twelve noon."

"I'd put it about the first of May," answered Henslowe, amid a sound of
splashing. "Gee, it'd be great to be a people's Commissary.... You could
go and revolute the grand Llama of Thibet."

"O, it's too deliciously preposterous," cried Andrews, letting himself
slide a second time into the bathtub.


Two M.P.'s passed outside the window. Andrews watched the yellow pigskin
revolver cases until they were out of sight. He felt joyfully secure
from them. The waiter, standing by the door with a napkin on his arm,
gave him a sense of security so intense it made him laugh. On the marble
table before him were a small glass of beer, a notebook full of ruled
sheets of paper and a couple of yellow pencils. The beer, the color of
topaz in the clear grey light that streamed in through the window, threw
a pale yellow glow with a bright center on the table. Outside was the
boulevard with a few people walking hurriedly. An empty market wagon
passed now and then, rumbling loud. On a bench a woman in a black
knitted shawl, with a bundle of newspapers in her knees, was counting
sous with loving concentration.

Andrews looked at his watch. He had an hour before going to the Schola

He got to his feet, paid the waiter and strolled down the center of the
boulevard, thinking smilingly of pages he had written, of pages he was
going to write, filled with a sense of leisurely well-being. It was a
grey morning with a little yellowish fog in the air. The pavements were
damp, reflected women's dresses and men's legs and the angular
outlines of taxicabs. From a flower stand with violets and red and pink
carnations irregular blotches of color ran down into the brownish grey
of the pavement. Andrews caught a faint smell of violets in the smell
of the fog as he passed the flower stand and remembered suddenly that
spring was coming. He would not miss a moment of this spring, he told
himself; he would follow it step by step, from the first violets. Oh,
how fully he must live now to make up for all the years he had wasted in
his life.

He kept on walking along the boulevard. He was remembering how he
and the girl the soldier had called Jeanne had both kindled with
uncontrollable laughter when their eyes had met that night in the
restaurant. He wished he could go down the boulevard with a girl like
that, laughing through the foggy morning.

He wondered vaguely what part of Paris he was getting to, but was too
happy to care. How beautifully long the hours were in the early morning!

At a concert at the Salle Gaveau the day before he had heard Debussy's
Nocturnes and Les Sirenes. Rhythms from them were the warp of all his
thoughts. Against the background of the grey street and the brownish fog
that hung a veil at the end of every vista he began to imagine rhythms
of his own, modulations and phrases that grew brilliant and faded,
that flapped for a while like gaudy banners above his head through the
clatter of the street.

He noticed that he was passing a long building with blank rows of
windows, at the central door of which stood groups of American soldiers
smoking. Unconsciously he hastened his steps, for fear of meeting an
officer he would have to salute. He passed the men without looking at

A voice detained him. "Say, Andrews."

When he turned he saw that a short man with curly hair, whose face,
though familiar, he could not place, had left the group at the door and
was coming towards him. "Hello, Andrews.... Your name's Andrews, ain't

"Yes." Andrews shook his hand, trying to remember.

"I'm Fuselli.... Remember? Last time I saw you you was goin' up to the
lines on a train with Chrisfield.... Chris we used to call him.... At
Cosne, don't you remember?"

"Of course I do."

"Well, what's happened to Chris?"

"He's a corporal now," said Andrews.

"Gee he is.... I'll be goddamned.... They was goin' to make me a
corporal once."

Fuselli wore stained olive-drab breeches and badly rolled puttees; his
shirt was open at the neck. From his blue denim jacket came a smell of
stale grease that Andrews recognised; the smell of army kitchens. He had
a momentary recollection of standing in line cold dark mornings and of
the sound the food made slopping into mess kits.

"Why didn't they make you a corporal, Fuselli?" Andrcws said, after a
pause, in a constrained voice.

"Hell, I got in wrong, I suppose."

They were leaning against the dusty house wall. Andrews looked at his
feet. The mud of the pavement, splashing up on the wall, made an even
dado along the bottom, on which Andrews scraped the toe of his shoe up
and down.

"Well, how's everything?" Andrews asked looking up suddenly.

"I've been in a labor battalion. That's how everything is."

"God, that's tough luck!"

Andrews wanted to go on. He had a sudden fear that he would be late. But
he did not know how to break away.

"I got sick," said Fuselli grinning. "I guess I am yet, G. O. 42. It's a
hell of a note the way they treat a feller... like he was lower than the

"Were you at Cosne all the time? That's damned rough luck, Fuselli."

"Cosne sure is a hell of a hole.... I guess you saw a lot of fighting.
God! you must have been glad not to be in the goddam medics."

"I don't know that I'm glad I saw fighting.... Oh, yes, I suppose I am."

Online LibraryJohn Dos PassosThree Soldiers → online text (page 21 of 31)