A MATTER OF CIVILIZATION
At a frantic command from some invisible source, Anthony groped his way inside. He was thinking that for the first time in more than three years he was to remain longer than a night away from Gloria. The finality of it appealed to him drearily. It was his clean and lovely girl that he was leaving.
They had arrived, he thought, at the most practical financial settlement: she was to have three hundred and seventy-five dollars a month—not too much considering that over half of that would go in rent—and he was taking fifty to supplement his pay. He saw no need for more: food, clothes, and quarters would be provided—there were no social obligations for a private.
The car was crowded and already thick with breath. It was one of the type known as “tourist” cars, a sort of brummagem Pullman, with a bare floor, and straw seats that needed cleaning. Nevertheless, Anthony greeted it with relief. He had vaguely expected that the trip South would be made in a freight-car, in one end of which would stand eight horses and in the other forty men. He had heard the “hommes 40, chevaux 8” story so often that it had become confused and ominous.
As he rocked down the aisle with his barrack-bag slung at his shoulder like a monstrous blue sausage, he saw no vacant seats, but after a moment his eye fell on a single space at present occupied by the feet of a short swarthy Sicilian, who, with his hat drawn over his eyes, hunched defiantly in the corner. As Anthony stopped beside him he stared up with a scowl, evidently intended to be intimidating; he must have adopted it as a defense against this entire gigantic equation. At Anthony’s sharp “That seat taken?” he very slowly lifted the feet as though they were a breakable package, and placed them with some care upon the floor. His eyes remained on Anthony, who meanwhile sat down and unbuttoned the uniform coat issued him at Camp Upton the day before. It chafed him under the arms.
Before Anthony could scrutinize the other occupants of the section a young second lieutenant blew in at the upper end of the car and wafted airily down the aisle, announcing in a voice of appalling acerbity:
“There will be no smoking in this car! No smoking! Don’t smoke, men, in this car!”
As he sailed out at the other end a dozen little clouds of expostulation arose on all sides.
“Hey, come back here, fella!”
“What’s ‘ee idea?”
Two or three cigarettes were shot out through the open windows. Others were retained inside, though kept sketchily away from view. From here and there in accents of bravado, of mockery, of submissive humor, a few remarks were dropped that soon melted into the listless and pervasive silence.
The fourth occupant of Anthony’s section spoke up suddenly.
“G’by, liberty,” he said sullenly. “G’by, everything except bein’ an officer’s dog.”
Anthony looked at him. He was a tall Irishman with an expression moulded of indifference and utter disdain. His eyes fell on Anthony, as though he expected an answer, and then upon the others. Receiving only a defiant stare from the Italian he groaned and spat noisily on the floor by way of a dignified transition back into taciturnity.
A few minutes later the door opened again and the second lieutenant was borne in upon his customary official zephyr, this time singing out a different tiding:
“All right, men, smoke if you want to! My mistake, men! It’s all right, men! Go on and smoke—my mistake!”
This time Anthony had a good look at him. He was young, thin, already faded; he was like his own mustache; he was like a great piece of shiny straw. His chin receded, faintly; this was offset by a magnificent and unconvincing scowl, a scowl that Anthony was to connect with the faces of many young officers during the ensuing year.
Immediately every one smoked—whether they had previously desired to or not. Anthony’s cigarette contributed to the hazy oxidation which seemed to roll back and forth in opalescent clouds with every motion of the train. The conversation, which had lapsed between the two impressive visits of the young officer, now revived tepidly; the men across the aisle began making clumsy experiments with their straw seats’ capacity for comparative comfort; two card games, half-heartedly begun, soon drew several spectators to sitting positions on the arms of seats. In a few minutes Anthony became aware of a persistently obnoxious sound—the small, defiant Sicilian had fallen audibly asleep. It was wearisome to contemplate that animate protoplasm, reasonable by courtesy only, shut up in a car by an incomprehensible civilization, taken somewhere, to do a vague something without aim or significance or consequence. Anthony sighed, opened a newspaper which he had no recollection of buying, and began to read by the dim yellow light.
Ten o’clock bumped stuffily into eleven; the hours clogged and caught and slowed down. Amazingly the train halted along the dark countryside, from time to time indulging in short, deceitful movements backward or forward, and whistling harsh paeans into the high October night. Having read his newspaper through, editorials, cartoons, and war-poems, his eye fell on a half-column headed Shakespeareville, Kansas. It seemed that the Shakespeareville Chamber of Commerce had recently held an enthusiastic debate as to whether the American soldiers should be known as “Sammies” or “Battling Christians.” The thought gagged him. He dropped the newspaper, yawned, and let his mind drift off at a tangent. He wondered why Gloria had been late. It seemed so long ago already—he had a pang of illusive loneliness. He tried to imagine from what angle she would regard her new position, what place in her considerations he would continue to hold. The thought acted as a further depressant—he opened his paper and began to read again.
The members of the Chamber of Commerce in Shakespeareville had decided upon “Liberty Lads.”
For two nights and two days they rattled southward, making mysterious inexplicable stops in what were apparently arid wastes, and then rushing through large cities with a pompous air of hurry. The whimsicalities of this train foreshadowed for Anthony the whimsicalities of all army administration.
In the arid wastes they were served from the baggage-car with beans and bacon that at first he was unable to eat—he dined scantily on some milk chocolate distributed by a village canteen. But on the second day the baggage-car’s output began to appear surprisingly palatable. On the third morning the rumor was passed along that within the hour they would arrive at their destination, Camp Hooker.
It had become intolerably hot in the car, and the men were all in shirt sleeves. The sun came in through the windows, a tired and ancient sun, yellow as parchment and stretched out of shape in transit. It tried to enter in triumphant squares and produced only warped splotches—but it was appallingly steady; so much so that it disturbed Anthony not to be the pivot of all the inconsequential sawmills and trees and telegraph poles that were turning around him so fast. Outside it played its heavy tremolo over olive roads and fallow cotton-fields, back of which ran a ragged line of woods broken with eminences of gray rock. The foreground was dotted sparsely with wretched, ill-patched shanties, among which there would flash by, now and then, a specimen of the languid yokelry of South Carolina, or else a strolling darky with sullen and bewildered eyes.
Then the woods moved off and they rolled into a broad space like the baked top of a gigantic cake, sugared with an infinity of tents arranged in geometric figures over its surface. The train came to an uncertain stop, and the sun and the poles and the trees faded, and his universe rocked itself slowly back to its old usualness, with Anthony Patch in the centre. As the men, weary and perspiring, crowded out of the car, he smelt that unforgetable aroma that impregnates all permanent camps—the odor of garbage.
Camp Hooker was an astonishing and spectacular growth, suggesting “A Mining Town in 1870—The Second Week.” It was a thing of wooden shacks and whitish-gray tents, connected by a pattern of roads, with hard tan drill-grounds fringed with trees. Here and there stood green Y.M.C.A. houses, unpromising oases, with their muggy odor of wet flannels and closed telephone-booths—and across from each of them there was usually a canteen, swarming with life, presided over indolently by an officer who, with the aid of a side-car, usually managed to make his detail a pleasant and chatty sinecure.
Up and down the dusty roads sped the soldiers of the quartermaster corps, also in side-cars. Up and down drove the generals in their government automobiles, stopping now and then to bring unalert details to attention, to frown heavily upon captains marching at the heads of companies, to set the pompous pace in that gorgeous game of showing off which was taking place triumphantly over the entire area.
The first week after the arrival of Anthony’s draft was filled with a series of interminable inoculations and physical examinations, and with the preliminary drilling. The days left him desperately tired. He had been issued the wrong size shoes by a popular, easy-going supply-sergeant, and in consequence his feet were so swollen that the last hours of the afternoon were an acute torture. For the first time in his life he could throw himself down on his cot between dinner and afternoon drill-call, and seeming to sink with each moment deeper into a bottomless bed, drop off immediately to sleep, while the noise and laughter around him faded to a pleasant drone of drowsy summer sound. In the morning he awoke stiff and aching, hollow as a ghost, and hurried forth to meet the other ghostly figures who swarmed in the wan company streets, while a harsh bugle shrieked and spluttered at the gray heavens.
He was in a skeleton infantry company of about a hundred men. After the invariable breakfast of fatty bacon, cold toast, and cereal, the entire hundred would rush for the latrines, which, however well-policed, seemed always intolerable, like the lavatories in cheap hotels. Out on the field, then, in ragged order—the lame man on his left grotesquely marring Anthony’s listless efforts to keep in step, the platoon sergeants either showing off violently to impress the officers and recruits, or else quietly lurking in close to the line of march, avoiding both labor and unnecessary visibility.
When they reached the field, work began immediately—they peeled off their shirts for calisthenics. This was the only part of the day that Anthony enjoyed. Lieutenant Kretching, who presided at the antics, was sinewy and muscular, and Anthony, followed his movements faithfully, with a feeling that he was doing something of positive value to himself. The other officers and sergeants walked about among the men with the malice of schoolboys, grouping here and there around some unfortunate who lacked muscular control, giving him confused instructions and commands. When they discovered a particularly forlorn, ill-nourished specimen, they would linger the full half-hour making cutting remarks and snickering among themselves.
One little officer named Hopkins, who had been a sergeant in the regular army, was particularly annoying. He took the war as a gift of revenge from the high gods to himself, and the constant burden of his harangues was that these rookies did not appreciate the full gravity and responsibility of “the service.” He considered that by a combination of foresight and dauntless efficiency he had raised himself to his current magnificence. He aped the particular tyrannies of every officer under whom he had served in times gone by. His frown was frozen on his brow—before giving a private a pass to go to town he would ponderously weigh the effect of such an absence upon the company, the army, and the welfare of the military profession the world over.
Lieutenant Kretching, blond, dull and phlegmatic, introduced Anthony ponderously to the problems of attention, right face, about face, and at ease. His principal defect was his forgetfulness. He often kept the company straining and aching at attention for five minutes while he stood out in front and explained a new movement—as a result only the men in the centre knew what it was all about—those on both flanks had been too emphatically impressed with the necessity of staring straight ahead.
The drill continued until noon. It consisted of stressing a succession of infinitely remote details, and though Anthony perceived that this was consistent with the logic of war, it none the less irritated him. That the same faulty blood-pressure which would have been indecent in an officer did not interfere with the duties of a private was a preposterous incongruity. Sometimes, after listening to a sustained invective concerned with a dull and, on the face of it, absurd subject known as military “courtesy,” he suspected that the dim purpose of the war was to let the regular army officers—men with the mentality and aspirations of schoolboys—have their fling with some real slaughter. He was being grotesquely sacrificed to the twenty-year patience of a Hopkins!
Of his three tent-mates—a flat-faced, conscientious objector from Tennessee, a big, scared Pole, and the disdainful Celt whom he had sat beside on the train—the two former spent the evenings in writing eternal letters home, while the Irishman sat in the tent door whistling over and over to himself half a dozen shrill and monotonous bird-calls. It was rather to avoid an hour of their company than with any hope of diversion that, when the quarantine was lifted at the end of the week, he went into town. He caught one of the swarm of jitneys that overran the camp each evening, and in half an hour was set down in front of the Stonewall Hotel on the hot and drowsy main street.
Under the gathering twilight the town was unexpectedly attractive. The sidewalks were peopled by vividly dressed, overpainted girls, who chattered volubly in low, lazy voices, by dozens of taxi-drivers who assailed passing officers with “Take y’ anywheh, Lieutenant,” and by an intermittent procession of ragged, shuffling, subservient negroes. Anthony, loitering along through the warm dusk, felt for the first time in years the slow, erotic breath of the South, imminent in the hot softness of the air, in the pervasive lull, of thought and time.
He had gone about a block when he was arrested suddenly by a harsh command at his elbow.
“Haven’t you been taught to salute officers?”
He looked dumbly at the man who addressed him, a stout, black-haired captain, who fixed him menacingly with brown pop-eyes.
“Come to attention!” The words were literally thundered. A few pedestrians near by stopped and stared. A soft-eyed girl in a lilac dress tittered to her companion.
Anthony came to attention.
“What’s your regiment and company?”
Anthony told him.
“After this when you pass an officer on the street you straighten up and salute!”
“Say ‘Yes, sir!'”
The stout officer grunted, turned sharply, and marched down the street. After a moment Anthony moved on; the town was no longer indolent and exotic; the magic was suddenly gone out of the dusk. His eyes were turned precipitately inward upon the indignity of his position. He hated that officer, every officer—life was unendurable.
After he had gone half a block he realized that the girl in the lilac dress who had giggled at his discomfiture was walking with her friend about ten paces ahead of him. Several times she had turned and stared at Anthony, with cheerful laughter in the large eyes that seemed the same color as her gown.
At the corner she and her companion visibly slackened their pace—he must make his choice between joining them and passing obliviously by. He passed, hesitated, then slowed down. In a moment the pair were abreast of him again, dissolved in laughter now—not such strident mirth as he would have expected in the North from actresses in this familiar comedy, but a soft, low rippling, like the overflow from some subtle joke, into which he had inadvertently blundered.
“How do you do?” he said.
Her eyes were soft as shadows. Were they violet, or was it their blue darkness mingling with the gray hues of dusk?
“Pleasant evening,” ventured Anthony uncertainly.
“Sure is,” said the second girl.
“Hasn’t been a very pleasant evening for you,” sighed the girl in lilac. Her voice seemed as much a part of the night as the drowsy breeze stirring the wide brim of her hat.
“He had to have a chance to show off,” said Anthony with a scornful laugh.
“Reckon so,” she agreed.
They turned the corner and moved lackadaisically up a side street, as if following a drifting cable to which they were attached. In this town it seemed entirely natural to turn corners like that, it seemed natural to be bound nowhere in particular, to be thinking nothing…. The side street was dark, a sudden offshoot into a district of wild rose hedges and little quiet houses set far back from the street.
“Where’re you going?” he inquired politely.
“Just goin’.” The answer was an apology, a question, an explanation.
“Can I stroll along with you?”
It was an advantage that her accent was different. He could not have determined the social status of a Southerner from her talk—in New York a girl of a lower class would have been raucous, unendurable—except through the rosy spectacles of intoxication.
Dark was creeping down. Talking little—Anthony in careless, casual questions, the other two with provincial economy of phrase and burden—they sauntered past another corner, and another. In the middle of a block they stopped beneath a lamp-post.
“I live near here,” explained the other girl.
“I live around the block,” said the girl in lilac.
“Can I see you home?”
“To the corner, if you want to.”
The other girl took a few steps backward. Anthony removed his hat.
“You’re supposed to salute,” said the girl in lilac with a laugh. “All the soldiers salute.”
“I’ll learn,” he responded soberly.
The other girl said, “Well—” hesitated, then added, “call me up to-morrow, Dot,” and retreated from the yellow circle of the street-lamp. Then, in silence, Anthony and the girl in lilac walked the three blocks to the small rickety house which was her home. Outside the wooden gate she hesitated.
“Must you go in so soon?”
“I ought to.”
“Can’t you stroll around a little longer?” She regarded him dispassionately.
“I don’t even know you.”
“It’s not too late.”
“I reckon I better go in.”
“I thought we might walk down and see a movie.”
“I’d like to.”
“Then I could bring you home. I’d have just enough time. I’ve got to be in camp by eleven.”
It was so dark that he could scarcely see her now. She was a dress swayed infinitesimally by the wind, two limpid, reckless eyes …
“Why don’t you come—Dot? Don’t you like movies? Better come.”
She shook her head.
“I oughtn’t to.”
He liked her, realizing that she was temporizing for the effect on him. He came closer and took her hand.
“If we get back by ten, can’t you? just to the movies?”
“Well—I reckon so—”
Hand in hand they walked back toward down-town, along a hazy, dusky street where a negro newsboy was calling an extra in the cadence of the local venders’ tradition, a cadence that was as musical as song.
Anthony’s affair with Dorothy Raycroft was an inevitable result of his increasing carelessness about himself. He did not go to her desiring to possess the desirable, nor did he fall before a personality more vital, more compelling than his own, as he had done with Gloria four years before. He merely slid into the matter through his inability to make definite judgments. He could say “No!” neither to man nor woman; borrower and temptress alike found him tender-minded and pliable. Indeed he seldom made decisions at all, and when he did they were but half-hysterical resolves formed in the panic of some aghast and irreparable awakening.
The particular weakness he indulged on this occasion was his need of excitement and stimulus from without. He felt that for the first time in four years he could express and interpret himself anew. The girl promised rest; the hours in her company each evening alleviated the morbid and inevitably futile poundings of his imagination. He had become a coward in earnest—completely the slave of a hundred disordered and prowling thoughts which were released by the collapse of the authentic devotion to Gloria that had been the chief jailer of his insufficiency.
On that first night, as they stood by the gate, he kissed Dorothy and made an engagement to meet her the following Saturday. Then he went out to camp, and with the light burning lawlessly in his tent, he wrote a long letter to Gloria, a glowing letter, full of the sentimental dark, full of the remembered breath of flowers, full of a true and exceeding tenderness—these things he had learned again for a moment in a kiss given and taken under a rich warm moonlight just an hour before.
When Saturday night came he found Dot waiting at the entrance of the Bijou Moving Picture Theatre. She was dressed as on the preceding Wednesday in her lilac gown of frailest organdy, but it had evidently been washed and starched since then, for it was fresh and unrumpled. Daylight confirmed the impression he had received that in a sketchy, faulty way she was lovely. She was clean, her features were small, irregular, but eloquent and appropriate to each other. She was a dark, unenduring little flower—yet he thought he detected in her some quality of spiritual reticence, of strength drawn from her passive acceptance of all things. In this he was mistaken.
Dorothy Raycroft was nineteen. Her father had kept a small, unprosperous corner store, and she had graduated from high school in the lowest fourth of her class two days before he died. At high school she had enjoyed a rather unsavory reputation. As a matter of fact her behavior at the class picnic, where the rumors started, had been merely indiscreet—she had retained her technical purity until over a year later. The boy had been a clerk in a store on Jackson Street, and on the day after the incident he departed unexpectedly to New York. He had been intending to leave for some time, but had tarried for the consummation of his amorous enterprise.
After a while she confided the adventure to a girl friend, and later, as she watched her friend disappear down the sleepy street of dusty sunshine she knew in a flash of intuition that her story was going out into the world. Yet after telling it she felt much better, and a little bitter, and made as near an approach to character as she was capable of by walking in another direction and meeting another man with the honest intention of gratifying herself again. As a rule things happened to Dot. She was not weak, because there was nothing in her to tell her she was being weak. She was not strong, because she never knew that some of the things she did were brave. She neither defied nor conformed nor compromised.
She had no sense of humor, but, to take its place, a happy disposition that made her laugh at the proper times when she was with men. She had no definite intentions—sometimes she regretted vaguely that her reputation precluded what chance she had ever had for security. There had been no open discovery: her mother was interested only in starting her off on time each morning for the jewelry store where she earned fourteen dollars a week. But some of the boys she had known in high school now looked the other way when they were walking with “nice girls,” and these incidents hurt her feelings. When they occurred she went home and cried.
Besides the Jackson Street clerk there had been two other men, of whom the first was a naval officer, who passed through town during the early days of the war. He had stayed over a night to make a connection, and was leaning idly against one of the pillars of the Stonewall Hotel when she passed by. He remained in town four days. She thought she loved him—lavished on him that first hysteria of passion that would have gone to the pusillanimous clerk. The naval officer’s uniform—there were few of them in those days—had made the magic. He left with vague promises on his lips, and, once on the train, rejoiced that he had not told her his real name.
Her resultant depression had thrown her into the arms of Cyrus Fielding, the son of a local clothier, who had hailed her from his roadster one day as she passed along the sidewalk. She had always known him by name. Had she been born to a higher stratum he would have known her before. She had descended a little lower—so he met her after all. After a month he had gone away to training-camp, a little afraid of the intimacy, a little relieved in perceiving that she had not cared deeply for him, and that she was not the sort who would ever make trouble. Dot romanticized this affair and conceded to her vanity that the war had taken these men away from her. She told herself that she could have married the naval officer. Nevertheless, it worried her that within eight months there had been three men in her life. She thought with more fear than wonder in her heart that she would soon be like those “bad girls” on Jackson Street at whom she and her gum-chewing, giggling friends had stared with fascinated glances three years before.
For a while she attempted to be more careful. She let men “pick her up”; she let them kiss her, and even allowed certain other liberties to be forced upon her, but she did not add to her trio. After several months the strength of her resolution—or rather the poignant expediency of her fears—was worn away. She grew restless drowsing there out of life and time while the summer months faded. The soldiers she met were either obviously below her or, less obviously, above her—in which case they desired only to use her; they were Yankees, harsh and ungracious; they swarmed in large crowds…. And then she met Anthony.
On that first evening he had been little more than a pleasantly unhappy face, a voice, the means with which to pass an hour, but when she kept her engagement with him on Saturday she regarded him with consideration. She liked him. Unknowingly she saw her own tragedies mirrored in his face.
Again they went to the movies, again they wandered along the shadowy, scented streets, hand in hand this time, speaking a little in hushed voices. They passed through the gate—up toward the little porch—
“I can stay a while, can’t I?”
“Sh!” she whispered, “we’ve got to be very quiet. Mother sits up reading Snappy Stories.” In confirmation he heard the faint crackling inside as a page was turned. The open-shutter slits emitted horizontal rods of light that fell in thin parallels across Dorothy’s skirt. The street was silent save for a group on the steps of a house across the way, who, from time to time, raised their voices in a soft, bantering song.
“—When you wa-ake
You shall ha-ave
All the pretty little hawsiz—”
Then, as though it had been waiting on a near-by roof for their arrival, the moon came slanting suddenly through the vines and turned the girl’s face to the color of white roses.
Anthony had a start of memory, so vivid that before his closed eyes there formed a picture, distinct as a flashback on a screen—a spring night of thaw set out of time in a half-forgotten winter five years before—another face, radiant, flower-like, upturned to lights as transforming as the stars—
Ah, la belle dame sans merci who lived in his heart, made known to him in transitory fading splendor by dark eyes in the Ritz-Carlton, by a shadowy glance from a passing carriage in the Bois de Boulogne! But those nights were only part of a song, a remembered glory—here again were the faint winds, the illusions, the eternal present with its promise of romance.
“Oh,” she whispered, “do you love me? Do you love me?”
The spell was broken—the drifted fragments of the stars became only light, the singing down the street diminished to a monotone, to the whimper of locusts in the grass. With almost a sigh he kissed her fervent mouth, while her arms crept up about his shoulders.
As the weeks dried up and blew away, the range of Anthony’s travels extended until he grew to comprehend the camp and its environment. For the first time in his life he was in constant personal contact with the waiters to whom he had given tips, the chauffeurs who had touched their hats to him, the carpenters, plumbers, barbers, and farmers who had previously been remarkable only in the subservience of their professional genuflections. During his first two months in camp he did not hold ten minutes’ consecutive conversation with a single man.
On the service record his occupation stood as “student”; on the original questionnaire he had prematurely written “author”; but when men in his company asked his business he commonly gave it as bank clerk—had he told the truth, that he did no work, they would have been suspicious of him as a member of the leisure class.
His platoon sergeant, Pop Donnelly, was a scraggly “old soldier,” worn thin with drink. In the past he had spent unnumbered weeks in the guard-house, but recently, thanks to the drill-master famine, he had been elevated to his present pinnacle. His complexion was full of shell-holes—it bore an unmistakable resemblance to those aerial photographs of “the battle-field at Blank.” Once a week he got drunk down-town on white liquor, returned quietly to camp and collapsed upon his bunk, joining the company at reveille looking more than ever like a white mask of death.
He nursed the astounding delusion that he was astutely “slipping it over” on the government—he had spent eighteen years in its service at a minute wage, and he was soon to retire (here he usually winked) on the impressive income of fifty-five dollars a month. He looked upon it as a gorgeous joke that he had played upon the dozens who had bullied and scorned him since he was a Georgia country boy of nineteen.
At present there were but two lieutenants—Hopkins and the popular Kretching. The latter was considered a good fellow and a fine leader, until a year later, when he disappeared with a mess fund of eleven hundred dollars and, like so many leaders, proved exceedingly difficult to follow.
Eventually there was Captain Dunning, god of this brief but self-sufficing microcosm. He was a reserve officer, nervous, energetic, and enthusiastic. This latter quality, indeed, often took material form and was visible as fine froth in the corners of his mouth. Like most executives he saw his charges strictly from the front, and to his hopeful eyes his command seemed just such an excellent unit as such an excellent war deserved. For all his anxiety and absorption he was having the time of his life.
Baptiste, the little Sicilian of the train, fell foul of him the second week of drill. The captain had several times ordered the men to be clean-shaven when they fell in each morning. One day there was disclosed an alarming breech of this rule, surely a case of Teutonic connivance—during the night four men had grown hair upon their faces. The fact that three of the four understood a minimum of English made a practical object-lesson only the more necessary, so Captain Dunning resolutely sent a volunteer barber back to the company street for a razor. Whereupon for the safety of democracy a half-ounce of hair was scraped dry from the cheeks of three Italians and one Pole.
Outside the world of the company there appeared, from time to time, the colonel, a heavy man with snarling teeth, who circumnavigated the battalion drill-field upon a handsome black horse. He was a West Pointer, and, mimetically, a gentleman. He had a dowdy wife and a dowdy mind, and spent much of his time in town taking advantage of the army’s lately exalted social position. Last of all was the general, who traversed the roads of the camp preceded by his flag—a figure so austere, so removed, so magnificent, as to be scarcely comprehensible.
December. Cool winds at night now, and damp, chilly mornings on the drill-grounds. As the heat faded, Anthony found himself increasingly glad to be alive. Renewed strangely through his body, he worried little and existed in the present with a sort of animal content. It was not that Gloria or the life that Gloria represented was less often in his thoughts—it was simply that she became, day by day, less real, less vivid. For a week they had corresponded passionately, almost hysterically—then by an unwritten agreement they had ceased to write more than twice, and then once, a week. She was bored, she said; if his brigade was to be there a long time she was coming down to join him. Mr. Haight was going to be able to submit a stronger brief than he had expected, but doubted that the appealed case would come up until late spring. Muriel was in the city doing Red Cross work, and they went out together rather often. What would Anthony think if she went into the Red Cross? Trouble was she had heard that she might have to bathe negroes in alcohol, and after that she hadn’t felt so patriotic. The city was full of soldiers and she’d seen a lot of boys she hadn’t laid eyes on for years….
Anthony did not want her to come South. He told himself that this was for many reasons—he needed a rest from her and she from him. She would be bored beyond measure in town, and she would be able to see Anthony for only a few hours each day. But in his heart he feared that it was because he was attracted to Dorothy. As a matter of fact he lived in terror that Gloria should learn by some chance or intention of the relation he had formed. By the end of a fortnight the entanglement began to give him moments of misery at his own faithlessness. Nevertheless, as each day ended he was unable to withstand the lure that would draw him irresistibly out of his tent and over to the telephone at the Y.M.C.A.
“I may be able to get in to-night.”
“I’m so glad.”
“Do you want to listen to my splendid eloquence for a few starry hours?”
“Oh, you funny—” For an instant he had a memory of five years before—of Geraldine. Then—
“I’ll arrive about eight.”
At seven he would be in a jitney bound for the city, where hundreds of little Southern girls were waiting on moonlit porches for their lovers. He would be excited already for her warm retarded kisses, for the amazed quietude of the glances she gave him—glances nearer to worship than any he had ever inspired. Gloria and he had been equals, giving without thought of thanks or obligation. To this girl his very caresses were an inestimable boon. Crying quietly she had confessed to him that he was not the first man in her life; there had been one other—he gathered that the affair had no sooner commenced than it had been over.
Indeed, so far as she was concerned, she spoke the truth. She had forgotten the clerk, the naval officer, the clothier’s son, forgotten her vividness of emotion, which is true forgetting. She knew that in some opaque and shadowy existence some one had taken her—it was as though it had occurred in sleep.
Almost every night Anthony came to town. It was too cool now for the porch, so her mother surrendered to them the tiny sitting room, with its dozens of cheaply framed chromos, its yard upon yard of decorative fringe, and its thick atmosphere of several decades in the proximity of the kitchen. They would build a fire—then, happily, inexhaustibly, she would go about the business of love. Each evening at ten she would walk with him to the door, her black hair in disarray, her face pale without cosmetics, paler still under the whiteness of the moon. As a rule it would be bright and silver outside; now and then there was a slow warm rain, too indolent, almost, to reach the ground.
“Say you love me,” she would whisper.
“Why, of course, you sweet baby.”
“Am I a baby?” This almost wistfully.
“Just a little baby.”
She knew vaguely of Gloria. It gave her pain to think of it, so she imagined her to be haughty and proud and cold. She had decided that Gloria must be older than Anthony, and that there was no love between husband and wife. Sometimes she let herself dream that after the war Anthony would get a divorce and they would be married—but she never mentioned this to Anthony, she scarcely knew why. She shared his company’s idea that he was a sort of bank clerk—she thought that he was respectable and poor. She would say:
“If I had some money, darlin’, I’d give ev’y bit of it to you…. I’d like to have about fifty thousand dollars.”
“I suppose that’d be plenty,” agreed Anthony.
—In her letter that day Gloria had written: “I suppose if we could settle for a million it would be better to tell Mr. Haight to go ahead and settle. But it’d seem a pity….”
… “We could have an automobile,” exclaimed Dot, in a final burst of triumph.
AN IMPRESSIVE OCCASION
Captain Dunning prided himself on being a great reader of character. Half an hour after meeting a man he was accustomed to place him in one of a number of astonishing categories—fine man, good man, smart fellow, theorizer, poet, and “worthless.” One day early in February he caused Anthony to be summoned to his presence in the orderly tent.
“Patch,” he said sententiously, “I’ve had my eye on you for several weeks.”
Anthony stood erect and motionless.
“And I think you’ve got the makings of a good soldier.”
He waited for the warm glow, which this would naturally arouse, to cool—and then continued:
“This is no child’s play,” he said, narrowing his brows.
Anthony agreed with a melancholy “No, sir.”
“It’s a man’s game—and we need leaders.” Then the climax, swift, sure, and electric: “Patch, I’m going to make you a corporal.”
At this point Anthony should have staggered slightly backward, overwhelmed. He was to be one of the quarter million selected for that consummate trust. He was going to be able to shout the technical phrase, “Follow me!” to seven other frightened men.
“You seem to be a man of some education,” said Captain Dunning.
“That’s good, that’s good. Education’s a great thing, but don’t let it go to your head. Keep on the way you’re doing and you’ll be a good soldier.”
With these parting words lingering in his ears, Corporal Patch saluted, executed a right about face, and left the tent.
Though the conversation amused Anthony, it did generate the idea that life would be more amusing as a sergeant or, should he find a less exacting medical examiner, as an officer. He was little interested in the work, which seemed to belie the army’s boasted gallantry. At the inspections one did not dress up to look well, one dressed up to keep from looking badly.
But as winter wore away—the short, snowless winter marked by damp nights and cool, rainy days—he marvelled at how quickly the system had grasped him. He was a soldier—all who were not soldiers were civilians. The world was divided primarily into those two classifications.
It occurred to him that all strongly accentuated classes, such as the military, divided men into two kinds: their own kind—and those without. To the clergyman there were clergy and laity, to the Catholic there were Catholics and non-Catholics, to the negro there were blacks and whites, to the prisoner there were the imprisoned and the free, and to the sick man there were the sick and the well…. So, without thinking of it once in his lifetime, he had been a civilian, a layman, a non-Catholic, a Gentile, white, free, and well….
As the American troops were poured into the French and British trenches he began to find the names of many Harvard men among the casualties recorded in the Army and Navy Journal. But for all the sweat and blood the situation appeared unchanged, and he saw no prospect of the war’s ending in the perceptible future. In the old chronicles the right wing of one army always defeated the left wing of the other, the left wing being, meanwhile, vanquished by the enemy’s right. After that the mercenaries fled. It had been so simple, in those days, almost as if prearranged….
Gloria wrote that she was reading a great deal. What a mess they had made of their affairs, she said. She had so little to do now that she spent her time imagining how differently things might have turned out. Her whole environment appeared insecure—and a few years back she had seemed to hold all the strings in her own little hand….
In June her letters grew hurried and less frequent. She suddenly ceased to write about coming South.
March in the country around was rare with jasmine and jonquils and patches of violets in the warming grass. Afterward he remembered especially one afternoon of such a fresh and magic glamour that as he stood in the rifle-pit marking targets he recited “Atalanta in Calydon” to an uncomprehending Pole, his voice mingling with the rip, sing, and splatter of the bullets overhead.
“When the hounds of spring …”
“Are on winter’s traces …”
“The mother of months …”
“Hey! Come to! Mark three-e-e! …”
In town the streets were in a sleepy dream again, and together Anthony and Dot idled in their own tracks of the previous autumn until he began to feel a drowsy attachment for this South—a South, it seemed, more of Algiers than of Italy, with faded aspirations pointing back over innumerable generations to some warm, primitive Nirvana, without hope or care. Here there was an inflection of cordiality, of comprehension, in every voice. “Life plays the same lovely and agonizing joke on all of us,” they seemed to say in their plaintive pleasant cadence, in the rising inflection terminating on an unresolved minor.
He liked his barber shop where he was “Hi, corporal!” to a pale, emaciated young man, who shaved him and pushed a cool vibrating machine endlessly over his insatiable head. He liked “Johnston’s Gardens” where they danced, where a tragic negro made yearning, aching music on a saxophone until the garish hall became an enchanted jungle of barbaric rhythms and smoky laughter, where to forget the uneventful passage of time upon Dorothy’s soft sighs and tender whisperings was the consummation of all aspiration, of all content.
There was an undertone of sadness in her character, a conscious evasion of all except the pleasurable minutiae of life. Her violet eyes would remain for hours apparently insensate as, thoughtless and reckless, she basked like a cat in the sun. He wondered what the tired, spiritless mother thought of them, and whether in her moments of uttermost cynicism she ever guessed at their relationship.
On Sunday afternoons they walked along the countryside, resting at intervals on the dry moss in the outskirts of a wood. Here the birds had gathered and the clusters of violets and white dogwood; here the hoar trees shone crystalline and cool, oblivious to the intoxicating heat that waited outside; here he would talk, intermittently, in a sleepy monologue, in a conversation of no significance, of no replies.
July came scorching down. Captain Dunning was ordered to detail one of his men to learn blacksmithing. The regiment was filling up to war strength, and he needed most of his veterans for drill-masters, so he selected the little Italian, Baptiste, whom he could most easily spare. Little Baptiste had never had anything to do with horses. His fear made matters worse. He reappeared in the orderly room one day and told Captain Dunning that he wanted to die if he couldn’t be relieved. The horses kicked at him, he said; he was no good at the work. Finally he fell on his knees and besought Captain Dunning, in a mixture of broken English and scriptural Italian, to get him out of it. He had not slept for three days; monstrous stallions reared and cavorted through his dreams.
Captain Dunning reproved the company clerk (who had burst out laughing), and told Baptiste he would do what he could. But when he thought it over he decided that he couldn’t spare a better man. Little Baptiste went from bad to worse. The horses seemed to divine his fear and take every advantage of it. Two weeks later a great black mare crushed his skull in with her hoofs while he was trying to lead her from her stall.
In mid-July came rumors, and then orders, that concerned a change of camp. The brigade was to move to an empty cantonment, a hundred miles farther south, there to be expanded into a division. At first the men thought they were departing for the trenches, and all evening little groups jabbered in the company street, shouting to each other in swaggering exclamations: “Su-u-ure we are!” When the truth leaked out, it was rejected indignantly as a blind to conceal their real destination. They revelled in their own importance. That night they told their girls in town that they were “going to get the Germans.” Anthony circulated for a while among the groups—then, stopping a jitney, rode down to tell Dot that he was going away.
She was waiting on the dark veranda in a cheap white dress that accentuated the youth and softness of her face.
“Oh,” she whispered, “I’ve wanted you so, honey. All this day.”
“I have something to tell you.”
She drew him down beside her on the swinging seat, not noticing his ominous tone.
“We’re leaving next week.”
Her arms seeking his shoulders remained poised upon the dark air, her chin tipped up. When she spoke the softness was gone from her voice.
“Leaving for France?”
“No. Less luck than that. Leaving for some darn camp in Mississippi.”
She shut her eyes and he could see that the lids were trembling.
“Dear little Dot, life is so damned hard.”
She was crying upon his shoulder.
“So damned hard, so damned hard,” he repeated aimlessly; “it just hurts people and hurts people, until finally it hurts them so that they can’t be hurt ever any more. That’s the last and worst thing it does.”
Frantic, wild with anguish, she strained him to her breast.
“Oh, God!” she whispered brokenly, “you can’t go way from me. I’d die.”
He was finding it impossible to pass off his departure as a common, impersonal blow. He was too near to her to do more than repeat “Poor little Dot. Poor little Dot.”
“And then what?” she demanded wearily.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re my whole life, that’s all. I’d die for you right now if you said so. I’d get a knife and kill myself. You can’t leave me here.”
Her tone frightened him.
“These things happen,” he said evenly.
“Then I’m going with you.” Tears were streaming down her checks. Her mouth was trembling in an ecstasy of grief and fear.
“Sweet,” he muttered sentimentally, “sweet little girl. Don’t you see we’d just be putting off what’s bound to happen? I’ll be going to France in a few months—”
She leaned away from him and clinching her fists lifted her face toward the sky.
“I want to die,” she said, as if moulding each word carefully in her heart.
“Dot,” he whispered uncomfortably, “you’ll forget. Things are sweeter when they’re lost. I know—because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, Dot. And when I got it it turned to dust in my hands.”
Absorbed in himself, he continued:
“I’ve often thought that if I hadn’t got what I wanted things might have been different with me. I might have found something in my mind and enjoyed putting it in circulation. I might have been content with the work of it, and had some sweet vanity out of the success. I suppose that at one time I could have had anything I wanted, within reason, but that was the only thing I ever wanted with any fervor. God! And that taught me you can’t have anything, you can’t have anything at all. Because desire just cheats you. It’s like a sunbeam skipping here and there about a room. It stops and gilds some inconsequential object, and we poor fools try to grasp it—but when we do the sunbeam moves on to something else, and you’ve got the inconsequential part, but the glitter that made you want it is gone—” He broke off uneasily. She had risen and was standing, dry-eyed, picking little leaves from a dark vine.
“Go way,” she said coldly. “What? Why?”
“I don’t want just words. If that’s all you have for me you’d better go.”
“What’s death to me is just a lot of words to you. You put ’em together so pretty.”
“I’m sorry. I was talking about you, Dot.”
“Go way from here.”
He approached her with arms outstretched, but she held him away.
“You don’t want me to go with you,” she said evenly; “maybe you’re going to meet that—that girl—” She could not bring herself to say wife. “How do I know? Well, then, I reckon you’re not my fellow any more. So go way.”
For a moment, while conflicting warnings and desires prompted Anthony, it seemed one of those rare times when he would take a step prompted from within. He hesitated. Then a wave of weariness broke against him. It was too late—everything was too late. For years now he had dreamed the world away, basing his decisions upon emotions unstable as water. The little girl in the white dress dominated him, as she approached beauty in the hard symmetry of her desire. The fire blazing in her dark and injured heart seemed to glow around her like a flame. With some profound and uncharted pride she had made herself remote and so achieved her purpose.
“I didn’t—mean to seem so callous, Dot.”
“It don’t matter.”
The fire rolled over Anthony. Something wrenched at his bowels, and he stood there helpless and beaten.
“Come with me, Dot—little loving Dot. Oh, come with me. I couldn’t leave you now—”
With a sob she wound her arms around him and let him support her weight while the moon, at its perennial labor of covering the bad complexion of the world, showered its illicit honey over the drowsy street.
Early September in Camp Boone, Mississippi. The darkness, alive with insects, beat in upon the mosquito-netting, beneath the shelter of which Anthony was trying to write a letter. An intermittent chatter over a poker game was going on in the next tent, and outside a man was strolling up the company street singing a current bit of doggerel about “K-K-K-Katy.”
With an effort Anthony hoisted himself to his elbow and, pencil in hand, looked down at his blank sheet of paper. Then, omitting any heading, he began:
I can’t imagine what the matter is, Gloria. I haven’t had a line from you for two weeks and it’s only natural to be worried—
He threw this away with a disturbed grunt and began again:
I don’t know what to think, Gloria. Your last letter, short, cold, without a word of affection or even a decent account of what you’ve been doing, came two weeks ago. It’s only natural that I should wonder. If your love for me isn’t absolutely dead it seems that you’d at least keep me from worry—
Again he crumpled the page and tossed it angrily through a tear in the tent wall, realizing simultaneously that he would have to pick it up in the morning. He felt disinclined to try again. He could get no warmth into the lines—only a persistent jealousy and suspicion. Since midsummer these discrepancies in Gloria’s correspondence had grown more and more noticeable. At first he had scarcely perceived them. He was so inured to the perfunctory “dearest” and “darlings” scattered through her letters that he was oblivious to their presence or absence. But in this last fortnight he had become increasingly aware that there was something amiss.
He had sent her a night-letter saying that he had passed his examinations for an officers’ training-camp, and expected to leave for Georgia shortly. She had not answered. He had wired again—when he received no word he imagined that she might be out of town. But it occurred and recurred to him that she was not out of town, and a series of distraught imaginings began to plague him. Supposing Gloria, bored and restless, had found some one, even as he had. The thought terrified him with its possibility—it was chiefly because he had been so sure of her personal integrity that he had considered her so sparingly during the year. And now, as a doubt was born, the old angers, the rages of possession, swarmed back a thousandfold. What more natural than that she should be in love again?
He remembered the Gloria who promised that should she ever want anything, she would take it, insisting that since she would act entirely for her own satisfaction she could go through such an affair unsmirched—it was only the effect on a person’s mind that counted, anyhow, she said, and her reaction would be the masculine one, of satiation and faint dislike.
But that had been when they were first married. Later, with the discovery that she could be jealous of Anthony, she had, outwardly at least, changed her mind. There were no other men in the world for her. This he had known only too surely. Perceiving that a certain fastidiousness would restrain her, he had grown lax in preserving the completeness of her love—which, after all, was the keystone of the entire structure.
Meanwhile all through the summer he had been maintaining Dot in a boarding-house down-town. To do this it had been necessary to write to his broker for money. Dot had covered her journey south by leaving her house a day before the brigade broke camp, informing her mother in a note that she had gone to New York. On the evening following Anthony had called as though to see her. Mrs. Raycroft was in a state of collapse and there was a policeman in the parlor. A questionnaire had ensued, from which Anthony had extricated himself with some difficulty.
In September, with his suspicions of Gloria, the company of Dot had become tedious, then almost intolerable. He was nervous and irritable from lack of sleep; his heart was sick and afraid. Three days ago he had gone to Captain Dunning and asked for a furlough, only to be met with benignant procrastination. The division was starting overseas, while Anthony was going to an officers’ training-camp; what furloughs could be given must go to the men who were leaving the country.
Upon this refusal Anthony had started to the telegraph office intending to wire Gloria to come South—he reached the door and receded despairingly, seeing the utter impracticability of such a move. Then he had spent the evening quarrelling irritably with Dot, and returned to camp morose and angry with the world. There had been a disagreeable scene, in the midst of which he had precipitately departed. What was to be done with her did not seem to concern him vitally at present—he was completely absorbed in the disheartening silence of his wife….
The flap of the tent made a sudden triangle back upon itself, and a dark head appeared against the night.
“Sergeant Patch?” The accent was Italian, and Anthony saw by the belt that the man was a headquarters orderly.
“Lady call up headquarters ten minutes ago. Say she have speak with you. Ver’ important.”
Anthony swept aside the mosquito-netting and stood up. It might be a wire from Gloria telephoned over.
“She say to get you. She call again ten o’clock.”
“All right, thanks.” He picked up his hat and in a moment was striding beside the orderly through the hot, almost suffocating, darkness. Over in the headquarters shack he saluted a dozing night-service officer.
“Sit down and wait,” suggested the lieutenant nonchalantly. “Girl seemed awful anxious to speak to you.”
Anthony’s hopes fell away.
“Thank you very much, sir.” And as the phone squeaked on the side-wall he knew who was calling.
“This is Dot,” came an unsteady voice, “I’ve got to see you.”
“Dot, I told you I couldn’t get down for several days.”
“I’ve got to see you to-night. It’s important.”
“It’s too late,” he said coldly; “it’s ten o’clock, and I have to be in camp at eleven.”
“All right.” There was so much wretchedness compressed into the two words that Anthony felt a measure of compunction.
“What’s the matter?”
“I want to tell you good-by.
“Oh, don’t be a little idiot!” he exclaimed. But his spirits rose. What luck if she should leave town this very night! What a burden from his soul. But he said: “You can’t possibly leave before to-morrow.”
Out of the corner of his eye he saw the night-service officer regarding him quizzically. Then, startlingly, came Dot’s next words:
“I don’t mean ‘leave’ that way.”
Anthony’s hand clutched the receiver fiercely. He felt his nerves turning cold as if the heat was leaving his body.
Then quickly in a wild broken voice he heard:
Cul-lup! She had hung up the receiver. With a sound that was half a gasp, half a cry, Anthony hurried from the headquarters building. Outside, under the stars that dripped like silver tassels through the trees of the little grove, he stood motionless, hesitating. Had she meant to kill herself?—oh, the little fool! He was filled with bitter hate toward her. In this dénouement he found it impossible to realize that he had ever begun such an entanglement, such a mess, a sordid mélange of worry and pain.
He found himself walking slowly away, repeating over and over that it was futile to worry. He had best go back to his tent and sleep. He needed sleep. God! Would he ever sleep again? His mind was in a vast clamor and confusion; as he reached the road he turned around in a panic and began running, not toward his company but away from it. Men were returning now—he could find a taxicab. After a minute two yellow eyes appeared around a bend. Desperately he ran toward them.
“Jitney! Jitney!” … It was an empty Ford…. “I want to go to town.”
“Cost you a dollar.”
“All right. If you’ll just hurry—”
After an interminable time he ran up the steps of a dark ramshackle little house, and through the door, almost knocking over an immense negress who was walking, candle in hand, along the hall.
“Where’s my wife?” he cried wildly.
“She gone to bed.”
Up the stairs three at a time, down the creaking passage. The room was dark and silent, and with trembling fingers he struck a match. Two wide eyes looked up at him from a wretched ball of clothes on the bed.
“Ah, I knew you’d come,” she murmured brokenly.
Anthony grew cold with anger.
“So it was just a plan to get me down here, get me in trouble!” he said. “God damn it, you’ve shouted ‘wolf’ once too often!”
She regarded him pitifully.
“I had to see you. I couldn’t have lived. Oh, I had to see you—”
He sat down on the side of the bed and slowly shook his head.
“You’re no good,” he said decisively, talking unconsciously as Gloria might have talked to him. “This sort of thing isn’t fair to me, you know.”
“Come closer.” Whatever he might say Dot was happy now. He cared for her. She had brought him to her side.
“Oh, God,” said Anthony hopelessly. As weariness rolled along its inevitable wave his anger subsided, receded, vanished. He collapsed suddenly, fell sobbing beside her on the bed.
“Oh, my darling,” she begged him, “don’t cry! Oh, don’t cry!”
She took his head upon her breast and soothed him, mingled her happy tears with the bitterness of his. Her hand played gently with his dark hair.
“I’m such a little fool,” she murmured brokenly, “but I love you, and when you’re cold to me it seems as if it isn’t worth while to go on livin’.”
After all, this was peace—the quiet room with the mingled scent of women’s powder and perfume, Dot’s hand soft as a warm wind upon his hair, the rise and fall of her bosom as she took breath—for a moment it was as though it were Gloria there, as though he were at rest in some sweeter and safer home than he had ever known.
An hour passed. A clock began to chime in the hall. He jumped to his feet and looked at the phosphorescent hands of his wrist watch. It was twelve o’clock.
He had trouble in finding a taxi that would take him out at that hour. As he urged the driver faster along the road he speculated on the best method of entering camp. He had been late several times recently, and he knew that were he caught again his name would probably be stricken from the list of officer candidates. He wondered if he had not better dismiss the taxi and take a chance on passing the sentry in the dark. Still, officers often rode past the sentries after midnight….
“Halt!” The monosyllable came from the yellow glare that the headlights dropped upon the changing road. The taxi-driver threw out his clutch and a sentry walked up, carrying his rifle at the port. With him, by an ill chance, was the officer of the guard.
“Out late, sergeant.”
“Yes, sir. Got delayed.”
“Too bad. Have to take your name.”
As the officer waited, note-book and pencil in hand, something not fully intended crowded to Anthony’s lips, something born of panic, of muddle, of despair.
“Sergeant R.A. Foley,” he answered breathlessly.
“And the outfit?”
“Company Q, Eighty-third Infantry.”
“All right. You’ll have to walk from here, sergeant.”
Anthony saluted, quickly paid his taxi-driver, and set off for a run toward the regiment he had named. When he was out of sight he changed his course, and with his heart beating wildly, hurried to his company, feeling that he had made a fatal error of judgment.
Two days later the officer who had been in command of the guard recognized him in a barber shop down-town. In charge of a military policeman he was taken back to the camp, where he was reduced to the ranks without trial, and confined for a month to the limits of his company street.
With this blow a spell of utter depression overtook him, and within a week he was again caught down-town, wandering around in a drunken daze, with a pint of bootleg whiskey in his hip pocket. It was because of a sort of craziness in his behavior at the trial that his sentence to the guard-house was for only three weeks.
Early in his confinement the conviction took root in him that he was going mad. It was as though there were a quantity of dark yet vivid personalities in his mind, some of them familiar, some of them strange and terrible, held in check by a little monitor, who sat aloft somewhere and looked on. The thing that worried him was that the monitor was sick, and holding out with difficulty. Should he give up, should he falter for a moment, out would rush these intolerable things—only Anthony could know what a state of blackness there would be if the worst of him could roam his consciousness unchecked.
The heat of the day had changed, somehow, until it was a burnished darkness crushing down upon a devastated land. Over his head the blue circles of ominous uncharted suns, of unnumbered centres of fire, revolved interminably before his eyes as though he were lying constantly exposed to the hot light and in a state of feverish coma. At seven in the morning something phantasmal, something almost absurdly unreal that he knew was his mortal body, went out with seven other prisoners and two guards to work on the camp roads. One day they loaded and unloaded quantities of gravel, spread it, raked it—the next day they worked with huge barrels of red-hot tar, flooding the gravel with black, shining pools of molten heat. At night, locked up in the guard-house, he would lie without thought, without courage to compass thought, staring at the irregular beams of the ceiling overhead until about three o’clock, when he would slip into a broken, troubled sleep.
During the work hours he labored with uneasy haste, attempting, as the day bore toward the sultry Mississippi sunset, to tire himself physically so that in the evening he might sleep deeply from utter exhaustion…. Then one afternoon in the second week he had a feeling that two eyes were watching him from a place a few feet beyond one of the guards. This aroused him to a sort of terror. He turned his back on the eyes and shovelled feverishly, until it became necessary for him to face about and go for more gravel. Then they entered his vision again, and his already taut nerves tightened up to the breaking-point. The eyes were leering at him. Out of a hot silence he heard his name called in a tragic voice, and the earth tipped absurdly back and forth to a babel of shouting and confusion.
When next he became conscious he was back in the guard-house, and the other prisoners were throwing him curious glances. The eyes returned no more. It was many days before he realized that the voice must have been Dot’s, that she had called out to him and made some sort of disturbance. He decided this just previous to the expiration of his sentence, when the cloud that oppressed him had lifted, leaving him in a deep, dispirited lethargy. As the conscious mediator, the monitor who kept that fearsome ménage of horror, grew stronger, Anthony became physically weaker. He was scarcely able to get through the two days of toil, and when he was released, one rainy afternoon, and returned to his company, he reached his tent only to fall into a heavy doze, from which he awoke before dawn, aching and unrefreshed. Beside his cot were two letters that had been awaiting him in the orderly tent for some time. The first was from Gloria; it was short and cool:
The case is coming to trial late in November. Can you possibly get leave?
I’ve tried to write you again and again but it just seems to make things worse. I want to see you about several matters, but you know that you have once prevented me from coming and I am disinclined to try again. In view of a number of things it seems necessary that we have a conference. I’m very glad about your appointment.
He was too tired to try to understand—or to care. Her phrases, her intentions, were all very far away in an incomprehensible past. At the second letter he scarcely glanced; it was from Dot—an incoherent, tear-swollen scrawl, a flood of protest, endearment, and grief. After a page he let it slip from his inert hand and drowsed back into a nebulous hinterland of his own. At drill-call he awoke with a high fever and fainted when he tried to leave his tent—at noon he was sent to the base hospital with influenza.
He was aware that this sickness was providential. It saved him from a hysterical relapse—and he recovered in time to entrain on a damp November day for New York, and for the interminable massacre beyond.
When the regiment reached Camp Mills, Long Island, Anthony’s single idea was to get into the city and see Gloria as soon as possible. It was now evident that an armistice would be signed within the week, but rumor had it that in any case troops would continue to be shipped to France until the last moment. Anthony was appalled at the notion of the long voyage, of a tedious debarkation at a French port, and of being kept abroad for a year, possibly, to replace the troops who had seen actual fighting.
His intention had been to obtain a two-day furlough, but Camp Mills proved to be under a strict influenza quarantine—it was impossible for even an officer to leave except on official business. For a private it was out of the question.
The camp itself was a dreary muddle, cold, wind-swept, and filthy, with the accumulated dirt incident to the passage through of many divisions. Their train came in at seven one night, and they waited in line until one while a military tangle was straightened out somewhere ahead. Officers ran up and down ceaselessly, calling orders and making a great uproar. It turned out that the trouble was due to the colonel, who was in a righteous temper because he was a West Pointer, and the war was going to stop before he could get overseas. Had the militant governments realized the number of broken hearts among the older West Pointers during that week, they would indubitably have prolonged the slaughter another month. The thing was pitiable!
Gazing out at the bleak expanse of tents extending for miles over a trodden welter of slush and snow, Anthony saw the impracticability of trudging to a telephone that night. He would call her at the first opportunity in the morning.
Aroused in the chill and bitter dawn he stood at reveille and listened to a passionate harangue from Captain Dunning:
“You men may think the war is over. Well, let me tell you, it isn’t! Those fellows aren’t going to sign the armistice. It’s another trick, and we’d be crazy to let anything slacken up here in the company, because, let me tell you, we’re going to sail from here within a week, and when we do we’re going to see some real fighting.” He paused that they might get the full effect of his pronouncement. And then: “If you think the war’s over, just talk to any one who’s been in it and see if they think the Germans are all in. They don’t. Nobody does. I’ve talked to the people that know, and they say there’ll be, anyways, a year longer of war. They don’t think it’s over. So you men better not get any foolish ideas that it is.”
Doubly stressing this final admonition, he ordered the company dismissed.
At noon Anthony set off at a run for the nearest canteen telephone. As he approached what corresponded to the down-town of the camp, he noticed that many other soldiers were running also, that a man near him had suddenly leaped into the air and clicked his heels together. The tendency to run became general, and from little excited groups here and there came the sounds of cheering. He stopped and listened—over the cold country whistles were blowing and the chimes of the Garden City churches broke suddenly into reverberatory sound.
Anthony began to run again. The cries were clear and distinct now as they rose with clouds of frosted breath into the chilly air:
“Germany’s surrendered! Germany’s surrendered!”
THE FALSE ARMISTICE
That evening in the opaque gloom of six o’clock Anthony slipped between two freight-cars, and once over the railroad, followed the track along to Garden City, where he caught an electric train for New York. He stood some chance of apprehension—he knew that the military police were often sent through the cars to ask for passes, but he imagined that to-night the vigilance would be relaxed. But, in any event, he would have tried to slip through, for he had been unable to locate Gloria by telephone, and another day of suspense would have been intolerable.
After inexplicable stops and waits that reminded him of the night he had left New York, over a year before, they drew into the Pennsylvania Station, and he followed the familiar way to the taxi-stand, finding it grotesque and oddly stimulating to give his own address.
Broadway was a riot of light, thronged as he had never seen it with a carnival crowd which swept its glittering way through scraps of paper, piled ankle-deep on the sidewalks. Here and there, elevated upon benches and boxes, soldiers addressed the heedless mass, each face in which was clear cut and distinct under the white glare overhead. Anthony picked out half a dozen figures—a drunken sailor, tipped backward and supported by two other gobs, was waving his hat and emitting a wild series of roars; a wounded soldier, crutch in hand, was borne along in an eddy on the shoulders of some shrieking civilians; a dark-haired girl sat cross-legged and meditative on top of a parked taxicab. Here surely the victory had come in time, the climax had been scheduled with the uttermost celestial foresight. The great rich nation had made triumphant war, suffered enough for poignancy but not enough for bitterness—hence the carnival, the feasting, the triumph. Under these bright lights glittered the faces of peoples whose glory had long since passed away, whose very civilizations were dead-men whose ancestors had heard the news of victory in Babylon, in Nineveh, in Bagdad, in Tyre, a hundred generations before; men whose ancestors had seen a flower-decked, slave-adorned cortege drift with its wake of captives down the avenues of Imperial Rome….
Past the Rialto, the glittering front of the Astor, the jewelled magnificence of Times Square … a gorgeous alley of incandescence ahead…. Then—was it years later?—he was paying the taxi-driver in front of a white building on Fifty-seventh Street. He was in the hall—ah, there was the negro boy from Martinique, lazy, indolent, unchanged.
“Is Mrs. Patch in?”
“I have just came on, sah,” the man announced with his incongruous British accent.
“Take me up—”
Then the slow drone of the elevator, the three steps to the door, which swung open at the impetus of his knock.
“Gloria!” His voice was trembling. No answer. A faint string of smoke was rising from a cigarette-tray—a number of Vanity Fair sat astraddle on the table.
He ran into the bedroom, the bath. She was not there. A negligée of robin’s-egg blue laid out upon the bed diffused a faint perfume, illusive and familiar. On a chair were a pair of stockings and a street dress; an open powder box yawned upon the bureau. She must just have gone out.
The telephone rang abruptly and he started—answered it with all the sensations of an impostor.
“Hello. Is Mrs. Patch there?”
“No, I’m looking for her myself. Who is this?”
“This is Mr. Crawford.”
“This is Mr. Patch speaking. I’ve just arrived unexpectedly, and I don’t know where to find her.”
“Oh.” Mr. Crawford sounded a bit taken aback. “Why, I imagine she’s at the Armistice Ball. I know she intended going, but I didn’t think she’d leave so early.”
“Where’s the Armistice Ball?”
“At the Astor.”
Anthony hung up sharply and rose. Who was Mr. Crawford? And who was it that was taking her to the ball? How long had this been going on? All these questions asked and answered themselves a dozen times, a dozen ways. His very proximity to her drove him half frantic.
In a frenzy of suspicion he rushed here and there about the apartment, hunting for some sign of masculine occupation, opening the bathroom cupboard, searching feverishly through the bureau drawers. Then he found something that made him stop suddenly and sit down on one of the twin beds, the corners of his mouth drooping as though he were about to weep. There in a corner of her drawer, tied with a frail blue ribbon, were all the letters and telegrams he had written her during the year past. He was suffused with happy and sentimental shame.
“I’m not fit to touch her,” he cried aloud to the four walls. “I’m not fit to touch her little hand.”
Nevertheless, he went out to look for her.
In the Astor lobby he was engulfed immediately in a crowd so thick as to make progress almost impossible. He asked the direction of the ballroom from half a dozen people before he could get a sober and intelligible answer. Eventually, after a last long wait, he checked his military overcoat in the hall.
It was only nine but the dance was in full blast. The panorama was incredible. Women, women everywhere—girls gay with wine singing shrilly above the clamor of the dazzling confetti-covered throng; girls set off by the uniforms of a dozen nations; fat females collapsing without dignity upon the floor and retaining self-respect by shouting “Hurraw for the Allies!”; three women with white hair dancing hand in hand around a sailor, who revolved in a dizzying spin upon the floor, clasping to his heart an empty bottle of champagne.
Breathlessly Anthony scanned the dancers, scanned the muddled lines trailing in single file in and out among the tables, scanned the horn-blowing, kissing, coughing, laughing, drinking parties under the great full-bosomed flags which leaned in glowing color over the pageantry and the sound.
Then he saw Gloria. She was sitting at a table for two directly across the room. Her dress was black, and above it her animated face, tinted with the most glamourous rose, made, he thought, a spot of poignant beauty on the room. His heart leaped as though to a new music. He jostled his way toward her and called her name just as the gray eyes looked up and found him. For that instant as their bodies met and melted, the world, the revel, the tumbling whimper of the music faded to an ecstatic monotone hushed as a song of bees.
“Oh, my Gloria!” he cried.
Her kiss was a cool rill flowing from her heart.