John Dos Passos.

Three Soldiers online

. (page 24 of 31)
Online LibraryJohn Dos PassosThree Soldiers → online text (page 24 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

"Like at the Opera Comique," cried Jeanne laughing.

"That was all very silly. But even now, I want so much more of life than
life can give."

They leaned over the parapet and listened to the hurrying swish of the
river, now soft and now loud, where the reflections of the lights on the
opposite bank writhed like golden snakes.

Andrews noticed that there was someone beside them. The faint, greenish
glow from the lamp on the quai enabled him to recognize the lame boy he
had talked to months ago on the Butte.

"I wonder if you'll remember me," he said.

"You are the American who was in the Restaurant, Place du Terte, I don't
remember when, but it was long ago."

They shook hands.

"But you are alone," said Andrews.

"Yes, I am always alone," said the lame boy firmly. He held out his hand

"Au revoir," said Andrews.

"Good luck!" said the lame boy. Andrews heard his crutch tapping on the
pavement as he went away along the quai.

"Jeanne," said Andrews, suddenly, "you'll come home with me, won't you?"

"But you have a friend living with you."

"He's gone to Brussels. He won't be back till tomorrow."

"I suppose one must pay for one's dinner," said Jeanne maliciously.

"Good God, no." Andrews buried his face in his hands. The singsong
of the river pouring through the bridges, filled his ears. He wanted
desperately to cry. Bitter desire that was like hatred made his flesh
tingle, made his hands ache to crush her hands in them.

"Come along," he said gruffly.

"I didn't mean to say that," she said in a gentle, tired voice. "You
know, I'm not a very nice person." The greenish glow of the lamp lit
up the contour of one of her cheeks as she tilted her head up, and
glimmered in her eyes. A soft sentimental sadness suddenly took hold
of Andrews; he felt as he used to feel when, as a very small child, his
mother used to tell him Br' Rabbit stories, and he would feel himself
drifting helplessly on the stream of her soft voice, narrating, drifting
towards something unknown and very sad, which he could not help.

They started walking again, past the Pont Neuf, towards the glare of the
Place St. Michel. Three names had come into Andrews's head, "Arsinoe,
Berenike, Artemisia." For a little while he puzzled over them, and then
he remembered that Genevieve Rod had the large eyes and the wide, smooth
forehead and the firm little lips the women had in the portraits that
were sewn on the mummy cases in the Fayum. But those patrician women of
Alexandria had not had chestnut hair with a glimpse of burnished copper
in it; they might have dyed it, though!

"Why are you laughing?" asked Jeanne.

"Because things are so silly."

"Perhaps you mean people are silly," she said, looking up at him out of
the corners of her eyes.

"You're right."

They walked in silence till they reached Andrews's door.

"You go up first and see that there's no one there," said Jeanne in a
business-like tone.

Andrews's hands were cold. He felt his heart thumping while he climbed
the stairs.

The room was empty. A fire was ready to light in the small fireplace.
Andrews hastily tidied up the table and kicked under the bed some soiled
clothes that lay in a heap in a corner. A thought came to him: how
like his performances in his room at college when he had heard that a
relative was coming to see him.

He tiptoed downstairs.

"Bien. Tu peux venir, Jeanne," he said.

She sat down rather stiffly in the straight-backed armchair beside the

"How pretty the fire is," she said.

"Jeanne, I think I'm crazily in love with you," said Andrews in an
excited voice.

"Like at the Opera Comique." She shrugged her shoulders. "The room's
nice," she said. "Oh, but, what a big bed!"

"You're the first woman who's been up here in my time, Jeanne.... Oh,
but this uniform is frightful."

Andrews thought suddenly of all the tingling bodies constrained into
the rigid attitudes of automatons in uniforms like this one; of all the
hideous farce of making men into machines. Oh, if some gesture of his
could only free them all for life and freedom and joy. The thought
drowned everything else for the moment.

"But you pulled a button off," cried Jeanne laughing hysterically. "I'll
just have to sew it on again."

"Never mind. If you knew how I hated them."

"What white skin you have, like a woman's. I suppose that's because you
are blond," said Jeanne.

The sound of the door being shaken vigorously woke Andrews. He got up
and stood in the middle of the floor for a moment without being able
to collect his wits. The shaking of the door continued, and he heard
Walters's voice crying "Andy, Andy." Andrews felt shame creeping up
through him like nausea. He felt a passionate disgust towards himself
and Jeanne and Walters. He had an impulse to move furtively as if he had
stolen something. He went to the door and opened it a little.

"Say, Walters, old man," he said, "I can't let you in.... I've got
a girl with me. I'm sorry.... I thought you wouldn't get back till

"You're kidding, aren't you?" came Walters's voice out of the dark hall.

"No." Andrews shut the door decisively and bolted it again.

Jeanne was still asleep. Her black hair had come undone and spread over
the pillow. Andrews pulled the covers up about her carefully.

Then he got into the other bed, where he lay awake a long time, staring
at the ceiling.


People walking along the boulevard looked curiously through the railing
at the line of men in olive-drab that straggled round the edge of the
courtyard. The line moved slowly, past a table where an officer and
two enlisted men sat poring over big lists of names and piles of palely
tinted banknotes and silver francs that glittered white. Above the men's
heads a thin haze of cigarette smoke rose into the sunlight. There was
a sound of voices and of feet shuffling on the gravel. The men who had
been paid went off jauntily, the money jingling in their pockets.

The men at the table had red faces and tense, serious expressions.
They pushed the money into the soldiers' hands with a rough jerk and
pronounced the names as if they were machines clicking.

Andrews saw that one of the men at the table was Walters; he smiled and
whispered "Hello" as he came up to him. Walters kept his eyes fixed on
the list.

While Andrews was waiting for the man ahead of him to be paid, he heard
two men in the line talking.

"Wasn't that a hell of a place? D'you remember the lad that died in the
barracks one day?"

"Sure, I was in the medicks there too. There was a hell of a sergeant
in that company tried to make the kid get up, and the loot came and said
he'd court-martial him, an' then they found out that he'd cashed in his

"What'd 'ee die of?"

"Heart failure, I guess. I dunno, though, he never did take to the

"No. That place Cosne was enough to make any guy cash in his checks."

Andrews got his money. As he was walking away, he strolled up to the two
men he had heard talking.

"Were you fellows in Cosne?"


"Did you know a fellow named Fuselli?"

"I dunno...."

"Sure, you do," said the other man. "You remember Dan Fuselli, the
little wop thought he was goin' to be corporal."

"He had another think comin'." They both laughed.

Andrews walked off, vaguely angry. There were many soldiers on the
Boulevard Montparnasse. He turned into a side street, feeling suddenly
furtive and humble, as if he would hear any minute the harsh voice of a
sergeant shouting orders at him.

The silver in his breeches pocket jingled with every step.

Andrews leaned on the balustrade of the balcony, looking down into the
square in front of the Opera Comique. He was dizzy with the beauty of
the music he had been hearing. He had a sense somewhere in the distances
of his mind of the great rhythm of the sea. People chattered all about
him on the wide, crowded balcony, but he was only conscious of the
blue-grey mistiness of the night where the lights made patterns in
green-gold and red-gold. And compelling his attention from everything
else, the rhythm swept through him like sea waves.

"I thought you'd be here," said Genevieve Rod in a quiet voice beside

Andrews felt strangely tongue-tied.

"It's nice to see you," he blurted out, after looking at her silently
for a moment.

"Of course you love Pelleas."

"It is the first time I've heard it."

"Why haven't you been to see us? It's two weeks.... We've been expecting

"I didn't know...Oh, I'll certainly come. I don't know anyone at present
I can talk music to."

"You know me."

"Anyone else, I should have said."

"Are you working?"

"Yes.... But this hinders frightfully." Andrews yanked at the front
of his tunic. "Still, I expect to be free very soon. I'm putting in an
application for discharge."

"I suppose you will feel you can do so much better.... You will be much
stronger now that you have done your duty."

"No... by no means."

"Tell me, what was that you played at our house?"

"'The Three Green Riders on Wild Asses,'" said Andrews smiling.

"What do you mean?"

"It's a prelude to the 'Queen of Sheba,'" said Andrews. "If you didn't
think the same as M. Emile Faguet and everyone else about St. Antoine,
I'd tell you what I mean."

"That was very silly of me.... But if you pick up all the silly things
people say accidentally... well, you must be angry most of the time."

In the dim light he could not see her eyes. There was a little glow
on the curve of her cheek coming from under the dark of her hat to her
rather pointed chin. Behind it he could see other faces of men and women
crowded on the balcony talking, lit up crudely by the gold glare that
came out through the French windows from the lobby.

"I have always been tremendously fascinated by the place in La Tentation
where the Queen of Sheba visited Antoine, that's all," said Andrews

"Is that the first thing you've done? It made me think a little of

"The first that's at all pretentious. It's probably just a steal from
everything I've ever heard."

"No, it's good. I suppose you had it in your head all through those
dreadful and glorious days at the front.... Is it for piano or

"All that's finished is for piano. I hope to orchestrate it
eventually.... Oh, but it's really silly to talk this way. I don't know
enough.... I need years of hard work before I can do anything.... And I
have wasted so much time.... That is the most frightful thing. One has
so few years of youth!"

"There's the bell, we must scuttle back to our seats. Till the next
intermission." She slipped through the glass doors and disappeared.
Andrews went back to his seat very excited, full of unquiet exultation.
The first strains of the orchestra were pain, he felt them so acutely.

After the last act they walked in silence down a dark street, hurrying
to get away from the crowds of the Boulevards.

When they reached the Avenue de l'Opera, she said: "Did you say you were
going to stay in France?"

"Yes, indeed, if I can. I am going tomorrow to put in an application for
discharge in France."

"What will you do then?"

"I shall have to find a job of some sort that will let me study at the
Schola Cantorum. But I have enough money to last a little while."

"You are courageous."

"I forgot to ask you if you would rather take the Metro."

"No; let's walk."

They went under the arch of the Louvre. The air was full of a fine wet
mist, so that every street lamp was surrounded by a blur of light.

"My blood is full of the music of Debussy," said Genevieve Rod,
spreading out her arms.

"It's no use trying to say what one feels about it. Words aren't much
good, anyway, are they?"

"That depends."

They walked silently along the quais. The mist was so thick they could
not see the Seine, but whenever they came near a bridge they could hear
the water rustling through the arches.

"France is stifling," said Andrews, all of a sudden. "It stifles you
very slowly, with beautiful silk bands.... America beats your brains out
with a policeman's billy."

"What do you mean?" she asked, letting pique chill her voice.

"You know so much in France. You have made the world so neat...."

"But you seem to want to stay here," she said with a laugh.

"It's that there's nowhere else. There is nowhere except Paris where one
can find out things about music, particularly.... But I am one of those
people who was not made to be contented."

"Only sheep are contented."

"I think I have been happier this month in Paris than ever before in my
life. It seems six, so much has happened in it."

"Poissac is where I am happiest."

"Where is that?"

"We have a country house there, very old and very tumbledown. They say
that Rabelais used to come to the village. But our house is from later,
from the time of Henri Quatre. Poissac is not far from Tours. An ugly
name, isn't it? But to me it is very beautiful. The house has orchards
all round it, and yellow roses with flushed centers poke themselves in
my window, and there is a little tower like Montaigne's."

"When I get out of the army, I shall go somewhere in the country and
work and work."

"Music should be made in the country, when the sap is rising in the

"'D'apres nature,' as the rabbit man said."

"Who's the rabbit man?"

"A very pleasant person," said Andrews, bubbling with laughter. "You
shall meet him some day. He sells little stuffed rabbits that jump,
outside the Cafe de Rohan."

"Here we are.... Thank you for coming home with me."

"But how soon. Are you sure it is the house? We can't have got there as
soon as this."

"Yes, it's my house," said Genevieve Rod laughing. She held out her hand
to him and he shook it eagerly. The latchkey clicked in the door.

"Why don't you have a cup of tea with us here tomorrow?" she said.

"With pleasure."

The big varnished door with its knocker in the shape of a ring closed
behind her. Andrews walked away with a light step, feeling jolly and

As he walked down the mist-filled quai towards the Place St. Michel, his
ears were filled with the lisping gurgle of the river past the piers of
the bridges.

Walters was asleep. On the table in his room was a card from Jeanne.
Andrews read the card holding it close to the candle.

"How long it is since I saw you!" it read. "I shall pass the Cafe de
Rohan Wednesday at seven, along the pavement opposite the Magazin du

It was a card of Malmaison.

Andrews flushed. Bitter melancholy throbbed through him. He walked
languidly to the window and looked out into the dark court. A window
below his spilled a warm golden haze into the misty night, through
which he could make out vaguely some pots of ferns standing on the wet
flagstones. From somewhere came a dense smell of hyacinths. Fragments
of thought slipped one after another through his mind. He thought of
himself washing windows long ago at training camp, and remembered the
way the gritty sponge scraped his hands. He could not help feeling shame
when he thought of those days. "Well, that's all over now," he told
himself. He wondered, in a half-irritated way, about Genevieve Rod. What
sort of a person was she? Her face, with its wide eyes and pointed chin
and the reddish-chestnut hair, unpretentiously coiled above the white
forehead, was very vivid in his mind, though when he tried to remember
what it was like in profile, he could not. She had thin hands, with long
fingers that ought to play the piano well. When she grew old would she
be yellow-toothed and jolly, like her mother? He could not think of
her old; she was too vigorous; there was too much malice in her
passionately-restrained gestures. The memory of her faded, and there
came to his mind Jeanne's overworked little hands, with callous places,
and the tips of the fingers grimy and scarred from needlework. But the
smell of hyacinths that came up from the mist-filled courtyard was like
a sponge wiping all impressions from his brain. The dense sweet smell in
the damp air made him feel languid and melancholy.

He took off his clothes slowly and got into bed. The smell of the
hyacinths came to him very faintly, so that he did not know whether or
not he was imagining it.

The major's office was a large white-painted room, with elaborate
mouldings and mirrors in all four walls, so that while Andrews waited,
cap in hand, to go up to the desk, he could see the small round major
with his pink face and bald head repeated to infinity in two directions
in the grey brilliance of the mirrors.

"What do you want?" said the major, looking up from some papers he was

Andrews stepped up to the desk. On both sides of the room a skinny
figure in olive-drab, repeated endlessly, stepped up to endless mahogany
desks, which faded into each other in an endless dusty perspective.

"Would you mind O.K.-ing this application for discharge, Major?"

"How many dependents?" muttered the major through his teeth, poring over
the application.

"None. It's for discharge in France to study music."

"Won't do. You need an affidavit that you can support yourself, that you
have enough money to continue your studies. You want to study music,
eh? D'you think you've got talent? Needs a very great deal of talent to
study music."

"Yes, sir.... But is there anything else I need except the affidavit?"

"No.... It'll go through in short order. We're glad to release men....
We're glad to release any man with a good military record.... Williams!"

"Yes, sir."

A sergeant came over from a small table by the door.

"Show this man what he needs to do to get discharged in France."

Andrews saluted. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the figures in the
mirror, saluting down an endless corridor.

When he got out on the street in front of the great white building where
the major's office was, a morose feeling of helplessness came over him.
There were many automobiles of different sizes and shapes, limousines,
runabouts, touring cars, lined up along the curb, all painted olive-drab
and neatly stenciled with numbers in white. Now and then a personage
came out of the white marble building, puttees and Sam Browne belt
gleaming, and darted into an automobile, or a noisy motorcycle stopped
with a jerk in front of the wide door to let out an officer in goggles
and mud-splattered trench coat, who disappeared immediately through
revolving doors. Andrews could imagine him striding along halls, where
from every door came an imperious clicking of typewriters, where papers
were piled high on yellow varnished desks, where sallow-faced clerks in
uniform loafed in rooms, where the four walls were covered from floor
to ceiling with card catalogues. And every day they were adding to the
paper, piling up more little drawers with index cards. It seemed to
Andrews that the shiny white marble building would have to burst with
all the paper stored up within it, and would flood the broad avenue with
avalanches of index cards.

"Button yer coat," snarled a voice in his ear.

Andrews looked up suddenly. An M. P. with a raw-looking face in which
was a long sharp nose, had come up to him.

Andrews buttoned up his overcoat and said nothing.

"Ye can't hang around here this way," the M. P. called after him.

Andrews flushed and walked away without turning his head. He was
stinging with humiliation; an angry voice inside him kept telling
him that he was a coward, that he should make some futile gesture of
protest. Grotesque pictures of revolt flamed through his mind, until he
remembered that when he was very small, the same tumultuous pride had
seethed and ached in him whenever he had been reproved by an older
person. Helpless despair fluttered about within him like a bird
beating against the wires of a cage. Was there no outlet, no gesture of
expression, would he have to go on this way day after day, swallowing
the bitter gall of indignation, that every new symbol of his slavery
brought to his lips?

He was walking in an agitated way across the Jardin des Tuileries, full
of little children and women with dogs on leashes and nursemaids with
starched white caps, when he met Genevieve Rod and her mother. Genevieve
was dressed in pearl grey, with an elegance a little too fashionable to
please Andrews. Mme. Rod wore black. In front of them a black and tan
terrier ran from one side to the other, on nervous little legs that
trembled like steel springs.

"Isn't it lovely this morning?" cried Genevieve.

"I didn't know you had a dog."

"Oh, we never go out without Santo, a protection to two lone women, you
know," said Mme. Rod, laughing. "Viens, Santo, dis bonjour au Monsieur."

"He usually lives at Poissac," said Genevieve.

The little dog barked furiously at Andrews, a shrill bark like a child

"He knows he ought to be suspicious of soldiers.... I imagine most
soldiers would change with him if they had a chance.... Viens Santo,
viens Santo.... Will you change lives with me, Santo?"

"You look as if you'd been quarrelling with somebody," said Genevieve
Rod lightly.

"I have, with myself.... I'm going to write a book on slave psychology.
It would be very amusing," said Andrews in a gruff, breathless voice.

"But we must hurry, dear, or we'll be late to the tailor's," said Mme.
Rod. She held out her black-gloved hand to Andrews.

"We'll be in at tea time this afternoon. You might play me some more of
the 'Queen of Sheba,'" said Genevieve.

"I'm afraid I shan't be able to, but you never can tell.... Thank you."

He was relieved to have left them. He had been afraid he would burst out
into some childish tirade. What a shame old Henslowe hadn't come back
yet. He could have poured out all his despair to him; he had often
enough before; and Henslowe was out of the army now. Wearily Andrews
decided that he would have to start scheming and intriguing again as
he had schemed and intrigued to come to Paris in the first place. He
thought of the white marble building and the officers with shiny puttees
going in and out, and the typewriters clicking in every room, and the
understanding of his helplessness before all that complication made him

An idea came to him. He ran down the steps of a metro station. Aubrey
would know someone at the Crillon who could help him.

But when the train reached the Concorde station, he could not summon the
will power to get out. He felt a harsh repugnance to any effort. What
was the use of humiliating himself and begging favors of people? It was
hopeless anyway. In a fierce burst of pride a voice inside of him was
shouting that he, John Andrews, should have no shame, that he should
force people to do things for him, that he, who lived more acutely than
the rest, suffering more pain and more joy, who had the power to express
his pain and his joy so that it would impose itself on others, should
force his will on those around him. "More of the psychology of slavery,"
said Andrews to himself, suddenly smashing the soap-bubble of his

The train had reached the Porte Maillot.

Andrews stood in the sunny boulevard in front of the metro station,
where the plane trees were showing tiny gold-brown leaves, sniffing the
smell of a flower-stall in front of which a woman stood, with a deft
abstracted gesture tying up bunch after bunch of violets. He felt a
desire to be out in the country, to be away from houses and people.
There was a line of men and women buying tickets for St. Germain; still
indecisive, he joined it, and at last, almost without intending it,
found himself jolting through Neuilly in the green trailer of the
electric car, that waggled like a duck's tail when the car went fast.

He remembered his last trip on that same car with Jeanne, and wished
mournfully that he might have fallen in love with her, that he might
have forgotten himself and the army and everything in crazy, romantic

When he got off the car at St. Germain, he had stopped formulating his
thoughts; soggy despair throbbed in him like an infected wound.

He sat for a while at the cafe opposite the Chateau looking at the light
red walls and the strong stone-bordered windows and the jaunty turrets
and chimneys that rose above the classic balustrade with its big urns on
the edge of the roof. The park, through the tall iron railings, was full
of russet and pale lines, all mist of new leaves. Had they really lived
more vividly, the people of the Renaissance? Andrews could almost see
men with plumed hats and short cloaks and elaborate brocaded tunics

Online LibraryJohn Dos PassosThree Soldiers → online text (page 24 of 31)