John Dos Passos.

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Andrews walked over to the bed. Al was stirring uneasily, his face
flushed and his mouth twitching.

"Hello," he said. "What's the news?"

"They say they're putting up barricades near the Gare de l'Est. It may
be something."

"God, I hope so. God, I wish they'd do everything here like they did
in Russia; then we'd be free. We couldn't go back to the States for
a while, but there wouldn't be no M.P.'s to hunt us like we were
criminals.... I'm going to sit up a while and talk." Al giggled
hysterically for a moment.

"Have a swig of wine?" asked Andrews.

"Sure, it may set me up a bit; thanks." He drank greedily from the
bottle, spilling a little over his chin.

"Say, is your face badly cut up, Al?"

"No, it's just scotched, skin's off; looks like beefsteak, I reckon....
Ever been to Strasburg?"


"Man, that's the town. And the girls in that costume.... Whee!"

"Say, you're from San Francisco, aren't you?"


"Well, I wonder if you knew a fellow I knew at training camp, a kid
named Fuselli from 'Frisco?"

"Knew him! Jesus, man, he's the best friend I've got.... Ye don't know
where he is now, do you?"

"I saw him here in Paris two months ago."

"Well, I'll be damned.... God, that's great!" Al's voice was staccato
from excitement. "So you knew Dan at training camp? The last letter from
him was 'bout a year ago. Dan'd just got to be corporal. He's a damn
clever kid, Dan is, an' ambitious too, one of the guys always makes
good.... Gawd, I'd hate to see him this way. D'you know, we used to see
a hell of a lot of each other in 'Frisco, an' he always used to tell me
how he'd make good before I did. He was goddam right, too. Said I was
too soft about girls.... Did ye know him real well?"

"Yes. I even remember that he used to tell me about a fellow he knew who
was called Al.... He used to tell me about how you two used to go down
to the harbor and watch the big liners come in at night, all aflare with
lights through the Golden Gate. And he used to tell you he'd go over to
Europe in one, when he'd made his pile."

"That's why Strasburg made me think of him," broke in Al, tremendously
excited. "'Cause it was so picturesque like.... But honest, I've tried
hard to make good in this army. I've done everything a feller could. An'
all I did was to get into a cushy job in the regimental office.... But
Dan, Gawd, he may even be an officer by this time."

"No, he's not that," said Andrews. "Look here, you ought to keep quiet
with that hand of yours."

"Damn my hand. Oh, it'll heal all right if I forget about it. You
see, my foot slipped when they shunted a car I was just climbing into,
an'...I guess I ought to be glad I wasn't killed. But, gee, when I think
that if I hadn't been a fool about that girl I might have been home by

"The Chink says they're putting up barricades on the Avenue Magenta."

"That means business, kid!"

"Business nothin'," shouted Slippery from where he and Chrisfield leaned
over the dice on the tile floor in front of the window. "One tank an'
a few husky Senegalese'll make your goddam socialists run so fast
they won't stop till they get to Dijon.... You guys ought to have more
sense." Slippery got to his feet and came over to the bed, jingling the
dice in his hand. "It'll take more'n a handful o' socialists paid by the
Boches to break the army. If it could be broke, don't ye think people
would have done it long ago?"

"Shut up a minute. Ah thought Ah heard somethin'," said Chrisfield
suddenly, going to the window.

They held their breath. The bed creaked as Al stirred uneasily in it.

"No, warn't anythin'; Ah'd thought Ah'd heard people singin'."

"The Internationale," cried Al.

"Shut up," said Chrisfield in a low gruff voice.

Through the silence of the room they heard steps on the stairs.

"All right, it's only Smiddy," said Slippery, and he threw the dice down
on the tiles again.

The door opened slowly to let in a tall, stoop-shouldered man with a
long face and long teeth.

"Who's the frawg?" he asked in a startled way, with one hand on the door

"All right, Smiddy; it ain't a frawg; it's a guy Chris knows. He's taken
his uniform off."

"'Lo, buddy," said Smiddy, shaking Andrews's hand. "Gawd, you look like
a frawg."

"That's good," said Andrews.

"There's hell to pay," broke out Smiddy breathlessly. "You know Gus
Evans and the little black-haired guy goes 'round with him? They been
picked up. I seen 'em myself with some M. P.'s at Place de la Bastille.
An' a guy I talked to under the bridge where I slep' last night said a
guy'd tole him they were goin' to clean the A. W. O. L.'s out o' Paris
if they had to search through every house in the place."

"If they come here they'll git somethin' they ain't lookin' for,"
muttered Chrisfield.

"I'm goin' down to Nice; getting too hot around here," said Slippery.
"I've got travel orders in my pocket now."

"How did you get 'em?"

"Easy as pie," said Slippery, lighting a cigarette and puffing
affectedly towards the ceiling. "I met up with a guy, a second loot, in
the Knickerbocker Bar. We gets drunk together, an' goes on a party with
two girls I know. In the morning I get up bright an' early, and now I've
got five thousand francs, a leave slip and a silver cigarette case, an'
Lootenant J. B. Franklin's runnin' around sayin' how he was robbed by
a Paris whore, or more likely keepin' damn quiet about it. That's my

"But, gosh darn it, I don't see how you can go around with a guy an'
drink with him, an' then rob him," cried Al from the bed.

"No different from cleaning a guy up at craps."


"An' suppose that feller knew that I was only a bloody private. Don't
you think he'd have turned me over to the M. P.'s like winkin'?"

"No, I don't think so," said Al. "They're juss like you an me, skeered
to death they'll get in wrong, but they won't light on a feller unless
they have to."

"That's a goddam lie," cried Chrisfield. "They like ridin' yer. A
doughboy's less'n a dawg to 'em. Ah'd shoot anyone of 'em lake Ah'd
shoot a nigger."

Andrews was watching Chrisfield's face; it suddenly flushed red. He was
silent abruptly. His eyes met Andrews's eyes with a flash of fear.

"They're all sorts of officers, like they're all sorts of us," Al was

"But you damn fools, quit arguing," cried Smiddy. "What the hell are we
goin' to do? It ain't safe here no more, that's how I look at it."

They were silent.

At last Chrisfield said:

"What you goin' to do, Andy?"

"I hardly know. I think I'll go out to St. Germain to see a boy I know
there who works on a farm to see if it's safe to take a job there. I
won't stay in Paris. Then there's a girl here I want to look up. I must
see her." Andrews broke off suddenly, and started walking back and forth
across the end of the room.

"You'd better be damn careful; they'll probably shoot you if they catch
you," said Slippery.

Andrews shrugged his shoulders.

"Well, I'd rather be shot than go to Leavenworth for twenty years, Gawd!
I would," cried Al.

"How do you fellers eat here?" asked Slippery.

"We buy stuff an' the dawg-faced girl cooks it for us."

"Got anything for this noon?"

"I'll go see if I can buy some stuff," said Andrews. "It's safer for me
to go out than for you."

"All right, here's twenty francs," said Slippery, handing Andrews a bill
with an offhand gesture.

Chrisfield followed Andrews down the stairs. When they reached the
passage at the foot of the stairs, he put his hand on Andrews's shoulder
and whispered:

"Say, Andy, d'you think there's anything in that revolution business? Ah
hadn't never thought they could buck the system thataway."

"They did in Russia."

"Then we'd be free, civilians, like we all was before the draft. But
that ain't possible, Andy; that ain't possible, Andy."

"We'll see," said Andrews, as, he opened the door to the bar.

He went up excitedly to the Chink, who sat behind the row of bottles
along the bar.

"Well, what's happening?"


"By the Gare de l'Est, where they were putting up barricades?"

"Barricades!" shouted a young man in a red sash who was drinking at a
table. "Why, they tore down some of the iron guards round the trees, if
you call that barricades. But they're cowards. Whenever the cops charge
they run. They're dirty cowards."

"D'you think anything's going to happen?"

"What can happen when you've got nothing but a bunch of dirty cowards?"

"What d'you think about it?" said Andrews, turning to the Chink.

The Chink shook his head without answering. Andrews went out.

When he cams back he found Al and Chrisfield alone in their room.
Chrisfield was walking up and down, biting his finger nails. On the wall
opposite the window was a square of sunshine reflected from the opposite
wall of the Court.

"For God's sake beat it, Chris. I'm all right," Al was saying in a weak,
whining voice, his face twisted up by pain.

"What's the matter?" cried Andrews, putting down a large bundle.

"Slippery's seen a M. P. nosin' around in front of the gin mill."

"Good God!"

"They've beat it.... The trouble is Al's too sick.... Honest to gawd,
Ah'll stay with you, Al."

"No. If you know somewhere to go, beat it, Chris. I'll stay here with
Al and talk French to the M. P.'s if they come. We'll fool 'em somehow."
Andrews felt suddenly amused and joyous.

"Honest to gawd, Andy, Ah'd stay if it warn't that that sergeant knows,"
said Chrisfield in a jerky voice.

"Beat it, Chris. There may be no time to waste."

"So long, Andy." Chrisfield slipped out of the door.

"It's funny, Al," said Andrews, sitting on the edge of the bed and
unwrapping the package of food, "I'm not a damn bit scared any more. I
think I'm free of the army, Al.... How's your hand?"

"I dunno. Oh, how I wish I was in my old bunk at Coblenz. I warn't made
for buckin' against the world this way.... If we had old Dan with us....
Funny that you know Dan.... He'd have a million ideas for gettin' out
of this fix. But I'm glad he's not here. He'd bawl me out so, for not
havin' made good. He's a powerful ambitious kid, is Dan."

"But it's not the sort of thing a man can make good in, Al," said
Andrews slowly. They were silent. There was no sound in the courtyard,
only very far away the clatter of a patrol of cavalry over cobblestones.
The sky had become overcast and the room was very dark. The mouldy
plaster peeling off the walls had streaks of green in it. The light from
the courtyard had a greenish tinge that made their faces look pale and
dead, like the faces of men that have long been shut up between damp
prison walls.

"And Fuselli had a girl named Mabe," said Andrews.

"Oh, she married a guy in the Naval Reserve. They had a grand wedding,"
said Al.


"At last I've got to you!"

John Andrews had caught sight of Genevieve on a bench at the end of the
garden under an arbor of vines. Her hair flamed bright in a splotch of
sun as she got to her feet. She held out both hands to him.

"How good-looking you are like that," she cried.

He was conscious only of her hands in his hands and of her pale-brown
eyes and of the bright sun-splotches and the green shadows fluttering
all about them.

"So you are out of prison," she said, "and demobilized. How wonderful!
Why didn't you write? I have been very uneasy about you. How did you
find me here?"

"Your mother said you were here."

"And how do you like it, my Poissac?"

She made a wide gesture with her hand. They stood silent a moment, side
by side, looking about them. In front of the arbor was a parterre of
rounded box-bushes edging beds where disorderly roses hung in clusters
of pink and purple and apricot-color. And beyond it a brilliant emerald
lawn full of daisies sloped down to an old grey house with, at one end,
a squat round tower that had an extinguisher-shaped roof. Beyond the
house were tall, lush-green poplars, through which glittered patches of
silver-grey river and of yellow sand banks. From somewhere came a drowsy
scent of mown grass.

"How brown you are!" she said again. "I thought I had lost you.... You
might kiss me, Jean."

The muscles of his arms tightened about her shoulders. Her hair flamed
in his eyes. The wind that rustled through broad grape-leaves made a
flutter of dancing light and shadow about them.

"How hot you are with the sun!" she said. "I love the smell of the sweat
of your body. You must have run very hard, coming here."

"Do you remember one night in the spring we walked home from Pelleas and
Melisande? How I should have liked to have kissed you then, like this!"
Andrews's voice was strange, hoarse, as if he spoke with difficulty.

"There is the chateau tres froid et tres profond," she said with a
little laugh.

"And your hair. 'Je les tiens dans les doits, je les tiens dans la
bouche.... Toute ta chevelure, toute ta chevelure, Melisande, est tombee
de la tour.... D'you remember?"

"How wonderful you are."

They sat side by side on the stone bench without touching each other.

"It's silly," burst out Andrews excitedly. "We should have faith in our
own selves. We can't live a little rag of romance without dragging in
literature. We are drugged with literature so that we can never live at
all, of ourselves."

"Jean, how did you come down here? Have you been demobilized long?"'

"I walked almost all the way from Paris. You see, I am very dirty."

"How wonderful! But I'll be quiet. You must tell me everything from the
moment you left me in Chartres."

"I'll tell you about Chartres later," said Andrews gruffly. "It has been
superb, one of the biggest weeks in my life, walking all day under the
sun, with the road like a white ribbon in the sun over the hills and
along river banks, where there were yellow irises blooming, and through
woods full of blackbirds, and with the dust in a little white cloud
round my feet, and all the time walking towards you, walking towards

"And la Reine de Saba, how is it coming?"

"I don't know. It's a long time since I thought of it.... You have been
here long?"

"Hardly a week. But what are you going to do?"

"I have a room overlooking the river in a house owned by a very fat
woman with a very red face and a tuft of hair on her chin...."

"Madame Boncour."

"Of course. You must know everybody.... It's so small."

"And you're going to stay here a long time?"

"Almost forever, and work, and talk to you; may I use your piano now and

"How wonderful!"

Genevieve Rod jumped to her feet. Then she stood looking at him, leaning
against one of the twisted stems of the vines, so that the broad leaves
fluttered about her face, A white cloud, bright as silver, covered the
sun, so that the hairy young leaves and the wind-blown grass of the lawn
took on a silvery sheen. Two white butterflies fluttered for a second
about the arbor.

"You must always dress like that," she said after a while.

Andrews laughed.

"A little cleaner, I hope," he said. "But there can't be much change. I
have no other clothes and ridiculously little money."

"Who cares for money?" cried Genevieve. Andrews fancied he detected
a slight affectation in her tone, but he drove the idea from his mind

"I wonder if there is a farm round here where I could get work."

"But you couldn't do the work of a farm labourer," cried Genevieve,

"You just watch me."

"It'll spoil your hands for the piano."

"I don't care about that; but all that's later, much later. Before
anything else I must finish a thing I am working on. There is a theme
that came to me when I was first in the army, when I was washing windows
at the training camp."

"How funny you are, Jean! Oh, it's lovely to have you about again. But
you're awfully solemn today. Perhaps it's because I made you kiss me."

"But, Genevieve, it's not in one day that you can unbend a slave's back,
but with you, in this wonderful place.... Oh, I've never seen such sappy
richness of vegetation! And think of it, a week's walking first across
those grey rolling uplands, and then at Blois down into the haze of
richness of the Loire.... D'you know Vendome? I came by a funny little
town from Vendome to Blois. You see, my feet.... And what wonderful cold
baths I've had on the sand banks of the Loire.... No, after a while
the rhythm of legs all being made the same length on drill fields, the
hopeless caged dullness will be buried deep in me by the gorgeousness of
this world of yours!"

He got to his feet and crushed a leaf softly between his fingers.

"You see, the little grapes are already forming.... Look up there," she
said as she brushed the leaves aside just above his head. "These grapes
here are the earliest; but I must show you my domain, and my cousins and
the hen yard and everything."

She took his hand and pulled him out of the arbor. They ran like
children, hand in hand, round the box-bordered paths.

"What I mean is this," he stammered, following her across the lawn. "If
I could once manage to express all that misery in music, I could shove
it far down into my memory. I should be free to live my own existence,
in the midst of this carnival of summer."

At the house she turned to him; "You see the very battered ladies over
the door," she said. "They are said to be by a pupil of Jean Goujon."

"They fit wonderfully in the landscape, don't they? Did I ever tell you
about the sculptures in the hospital where I was when I was wounded?"

"No, but I want you to look at the house now. See, that's the tower; all
that's left of the old building. I live there, and right under the roof
there's a haunted room I used to be terribly afraid of. I'm still afraid
of it.... You see this Henri Quatre part of the house was just a fourth
of the house as planned. This lawn would have been the court. We dug up
foundations where the roses are. There are all sorts of traditions as to
why the house was never finished."

"You must tell me them."

"I shall later; but now you must come and meet my aunt and my cousins."

"Please, not just now, Genevieve.... I don't feel like talking to anyone
except you. I have so much to talk to you about."

"But it's nearly lunch time, Jean. We can have all that after lunch."

"No, I can't talk to anyone else now. I must go and clean myself up a
little anyway."

"Just as you like.... But you must come this afternoon and play to us.
Two or three people are coming to tea.... It would be very sweet of you,
if you'd play to us, Jean."

"But can't you understand? I can't see you with other people now."

"Just as you like," said Genevieve, flushing, her hand on the iron latch
of the door.

"Can't I come to see you tomorrow morning? Then I shall feel more like
meeting people, after talking to you a long while. You see, I...."
He paused, with his eyes on the ground. Then he burst out in a low,
passionate voice: "Oh, if I could only get it out of my mind... those
tramping feet, those voices shouting orders."

His hand trembled when he put it in Genevieve's hand. She looked in his
eyes calmly with her wide brown eyes.

"How strange you are today, Jean! Anyway, come back early tomorrow."

She went in the door. He walked round the house, through the carriage
gate, and went off with long strides down the road along the river that
led under linden trees to the village.

Thoughts swarmed teasingly through his head, like wasps about a rotting
fruit. So at last he had seen Genevieve, and had held her in his arms
and kissed her. And that was all. His plans for the future had never
gone beyond that point. He hardly knew what he had expected, but in
all the sunny days of walking, in all the furtive days in Paris, he had
thought of nothing else. He would see Genevieve and tell her all
about himself; he would unroll his life like a scroll before her eyes.
Together they would piece together the future. A sudden terror took
possession of him. She had failed him. Floods of denial seethed through
his mind. It was that he had expected so much; he had expected her
to understand him without explanation, instinctively. He had told her
nothing. He had not even told her he was a deserter. What was it
that had kept him from telling her? Puzzle as he would, he could not
formulate it. Only, far within him, the certainty lay like an icy
weight: she had failed him. He was alone. What a fool he had been to
build his whole life on a chance of sympathy? No. It was rather this
morbid playing at phrases that was at fault. He was like a touchy old
maid, thinking imaginary results. "Take life at its face value," he
kept telling himself. They loved each other anyway, somehow; it did not
matter how. And he was free to work. Wasn't that enough?

But how could he wait until tomorrow to see her, to tell her everything,
to break down all the silly little barriers between them, so that they
might look directly into each other's lives?

The road turned inland from the river between garden walls at the
entrance to the village. Through half-open doors Andrews got glimpses
of neatly-cultivated kitchen-gardens and orchards where silver-leaved
boughs swayed against the sky. Then the road swerved again into
the village, crowded into a narrow paved street by the white and
cream-colored houses with green or grey shutters and pale, red-tiled
roofs. At the end, stained golden with lichen, the mauve-grey tower
of the church held up its bells against the sky in a belfry of broad
pointed arches. In front of the church Andrews turned down a little lane
towards the river again, to come out in a moment on a quay shaded by
skinny acacia trees. On the corner house, a ramshackle house with roofs
and gables projecting in all directions, was a sign: "Rendezvous de la
Marine." The room he stepped into was so low, Andrews had to stoop
under the heavy brown beams as he crossed it. Stairs went up from a door
behind a worn billiard table in the corner. Mme. Boncour stood between
Andrews and the stairs. She was a flabby, elderly woman with round eyes
and a round, very red face and a curious smirk about the lips.

"Monsieur payera un petit peu d'advance, n'est-ce pas, Monsieur?"

"All right," said Andrews, reaching for his pocketbook. "Shall I pay you
a week in advance?"

The woman smiled broadly.

"Si Monsieur desire.... It's that life is so dear nowadays. Poor people
like us can barely get along."

"I know that only too well," said Andrews.

"Monsieur est etranger...." began the woman in a wheedling tone, when
she had received the money.

"Yes. I was only demobilized a short time ago."

"Aha! Monsieur est demobilise. Monsieur remplira la petite feuille pour
la police, n'est-ce pas?"

The woman brought from behind her back a hand that held a narrow printed

"All right. I'll fill it out now," said Andrews, his heart thumping.

Without thinking what he was doing, he put the paper on the edge of
the billiard table and wrote: "John Brown, aged 23. Chicago Ill.,
Etats-Unis. Musician. Holder of passport No. 1,432,286."

"Merci, Monsieur. A bientot, Monsieur. Au revoir, Monsieur."

The woman's singing voice followed him up the rickety stairs to his
room. It was only when he had closed the door that he remembered that he
had put down for a passport number his army number. "And why did I write
John Brown as a name?" he asked himself.

"John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
But his soul goes marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
But his soul goes marching on."

He heard the song so vividly that he thought for an instant someone must
be standing beside him singing it. He went to the window and ran his
hand through his hair. Outside the Loire rambled in great loops towards
the blue distance, silvery reach upon silvery reach, with here and there
the broad gleam of a sand bank. Opposite were poplars and fields patched
in various greens rising to hills tufted with dense shadowy groves. On
the bare summit of the highest hill a windmill waved lazy arms against
the marbled sky.

Gradually John Andrews felt the silvery quiet settle about him. He
pulled a sausage and a piece of bread out of the pocket of his coat,
took a long swig of water from the pitcher on his washstand, and settled
himself at the table before the window in front of a pile of ruled
sheets of music paper. He nibbled the bread and the sausage meditatively
for a long while, then wrote "Arbeit und Rhythmus" in a large careful
hand at the top of the paper. After that he looked out of the window
without moving, watching the plumed clouds sail like huge slow ships

Online LibraryJohn Dos PassosThree Soldiers → online text (page 29 of 31)