'Sunday' (says Mr. Pound, with infinite penetration)
'is a dreadful day,
Monday is much pleasanter.
Then let us muse a little space
Upon fond Nature's morbid grace.'
IT IS a great and distinct pleasure to have penetrated and arrived upon the outside of Le Dimanche. 'We may now---Nature's morbid grace being a topic whereof the reader has already heard much and will necessarily hear more---turn to the 'much pleasanter,' the in fact 'Monday,' aspect of La Ferté; by which I mean les nouveaux, whose arrivals and reactions constituted the actual or kinetic aspect of our otherwise merely real Non-existence. So let us tighten our belts (everyone used to tighten his belt at least twice a day at La Ferté, but for another reason ---to follow and keep track of his surely shrinking anatomy), seize our staffs into our hands, and continue the ascent begun with the first pages of the story.
One day I found myself expecting La Soupe, Number 1 with something like avidity. My appetite faded, however, upon perceiving a vision en route to the empty place at my left. It slightly resembled a tall youth not more than sixteen or seventeen years old, having flaxen hair, a face---whose whiteness I have never seen equalled, and an expression of intense starvation which might have been well enough in a human being, but was somewhat unnecessarily uncanny in a ghost. The ghost, floatingly and slenderly, made for the place beside me, seated himself suddenly and gently like a morsel of white wind, and regarded the wall before him. La Soupe arrived. He obtained a plate (after some protest on the part of certain members of our table to whom the advent of a new-comer meant only that everyone would get less for lunch), and after gazing at his portion for a second in apparent wonderment at its size caused it gently and suddenly to disappear. I was no sluggard as a rule, but found myself outclassed by minutes---which, said I to myself, is not to be worried over since 'tis sheer vanity to compete with the supernatural. But (even as I lugged the last spoonful of lukewarm greasy water to my lips) this ghost turned to me for all the world as if I too were a ghost, and remarked softly:
One has no business crossing a spirit, I thought; and produced the sum cheerfully---which sum disappeared, the ghost arose slenderly and soundlessly, and I was left with emptiness beside me.
Later I discovered that this ghost was called Pete.
Pete was a Hollander, and therefore found firm and staunch friends in Harree, John o' the Bathhouse and the other Hollanders. In three days Pete discarded the immateriality which had constituted the exquisite definiteness of his advent, and donned the garb of flesh-and-blood. This change was due equally to La Soupe and the canteen, and to the finding of friends. For Pete had been in solitary confinement for three months, and had had nothing to eat but bread and water during that time, having been told by the jailors (as he informed us, without a trace of bitterness) that they would shorten his sentence provided he did not partake of La Soupe during his incarceration---that is to say, le gouvernement français had a little joke at Pete's expense. Also he had known nobody during that time but the five fingers which deposited said bread and water with conscientious regularity on the ground beside him. Being a Hollander neither of these things killed him --on the contrary, he merely turned into a ghost, thereby fooling the excellent French Government within an inch of its foolable life. He was a very excellent friend of ours ---I refer as usual to B. and myself---and from the day of his arrival until the day of his departure to Précigné along with B. and three others I never ceased to like and to admire him. He was naturally sensitive, extremely the antithesis of coarse (which 'refined' somehow does not imply), had not in the least suffered from a 'good,' as we say, education, and possessed an at once frank and unobstreperous personality. Very little that had happened to Pete's physique had escaped Pete's mind. This mind of his quietly and firmly had expanded in proportion as its owner's trousers had become too big around the waist---altogether not so extraordinary as was the fact that, after being physically transformed as I have never seen a human being transformed by food and friends, Pete thought and acted with exactly the same quietness and firmness as before. He was a rare spirit, and I salute him wherever he is.
Mexique was a good friend of Pete's, as he was of ours. He had been introduced to us by a man we called One-Eyed David, who was married and had a wife downstairs, with which wife he was allowed to live all day---being conducted to and from her society by a planton. He spoke Spanish well and French passably; had black hair, bright Jewish eyes, a dead-fish expression, and a both amiable and courteous disposition. One-Eyed Dah-veed (as it was pronounced, of course) had been in prison at Noyon during the German occupation, which he described fully and without hyperbole---stating that no one could have been more considerate or just than the commander of the invading troops. Dah-veed had seen with his own eyes a French girl extend an apple to one of the common soldiers as the German army entered the outskirts of the city: 'Prenez, dit elle; vous êtes fatigué.-Madame, répondit le soldat allemand en français, je vous remercie---et il cherchait dans sa poche et trouvait dix sous. Non, non, dit la jeune fille, je ne veux pas d'argent; je vous. donne de bonne volonté---Pardon, madame, dit le soldat, il vous faut savoir qu'il est défendu pour un soldat allemand de prendre quelque chose sans payer.'---And before that, One-Eyed Dah-veed had talked at Noyon with a barber whose brother was an aviator with the French Army: "Mon frère, me dit le coiffeur, m'a raconté une belle histoire il y a quelques jours. Il volait au-dessus des lignes, et s'étonnait, un jour, de remarquer que les cannons français ne tiraient bas sur les boches mais sur les français eux-mêmes. Précipitamment il atterissait, sautait de l'appareil, allait de suite au bureau du général. Il donnait le salut, et criait, bien excité: Mon général, vous tirez sur les français! Le général le regardait sans intérêt, sans bouger, puis il disait tout simplement: On a commencé, il faut finir? 'Which is why perhaps, said One-Eyed Dah-veed, looking two ways at once with his uncorrelated eyes, the Germans entered Noyon ... But to return to Mexique.
One night we had a soirée, as Dah-veed called it, à propos a pot of hot tea which Dah-veed's wife had given him to take upstairs, it being damnably damp and cold (as usual) in The Enormous Room. Dah-veed, cautiously and in a low voice, invited us to his paillasse to enjoy this extraordinary pleasure; and we accepted, B. and I, with huge joy; and sitting on Dah-veed's paillasse we found somebody who turned out to be Mexique---to whom, by his right name, our host introduced us with all the poise and courtesy vulgarly associated with a French salon.
For Mexique I cherish and always will cherish unmitigated affection. He was perhaps nineteen years old, very chubby, extremely good-natured; and possessed of an unruffled disposition which extended to the most violent and obvious discomforts a subtle and placid illumination. He spoke beautiful Spanish, had been born in Mexico, and was really called Philippe Burgos. He had been in New York. He criticized some one for saying 'Yes' to us, one day, stating that no American said 'Yes' but 'Yuh'; which -whatever the reader may think---is to my mind a very profound observation. In New York he had worked nights as a fireman in some big building or other and slept days, and this method of seeing America he had enjoyed extremely. Mexique had one day taken ship (being curious to see the world) and worked as chauffeur---that is to say in the stoke-hole. He had landed in, I think, Havre; had missed his ship; had inquired something of a gendarme in French (which he spoke not at all, with the exception of a phrase or two like 'quelle heure qu'il est?') ; had been kindly treated and told that he would be taken to a ship de suite---had boarded a train in the company of two or three kind gendarmes, ridden a prodigious distance, got off the train finally with high hopes, walked a little distance, come in sight of the grey perspiring wall of La Ferté, and----'So, I ask one of them: Where is the Ship? He point to here and tell me, There is the ship. I say: This is a God Dam Funny Ship'---quoth Mexique, laughing.
Mexique played dominoes with us (B. having devised a set from cardboard), strolled The Enormous Room with us, telling of his father and brother in Mexico, of the people, of the customs; and---when we were in the cour---wrote the entire conjugation of tengo in the deep mud with a little stick, squatting and chuckling and explaining. He and his brother had both participated in the revolution which made Carranza president. His description of which affair was utterly delightful.
'Every-body run a-round with guns,' Mexique said. 'And by-and-by no see to shoot everybody, so everybody go home.' We asked if he had shot anybody himself. 'Sure. I shoot everybody I do'no,' Mexique answered, laughing. 'I t'ink every-body no hit me,' he added, regarding his stocky person with great and quiet amusement. When we asked him once what he thought about the war, he replied, 'I t'ink lotta bullsh-t,' which, upon copious reflection, I decided absolutely expressed my own point of view.
Mexique was generous, incapable of either stupidity or despondency, and mannered as a gentleman is supposed to be. Upon his arrival he wrote almost immediately to the Mexican or is it Spanish consul---'He know my fader in Mexico'---stating in perfect and unambiguous Spanish the facts leading to his arrest; and when I said good-bye to La Misère, Mexique was expecting a favourable reply at any moment, as indeed he had been cheerfully expecting for some time. If he reads this history I hope he will not be too angry with me for whatever injustice it does to one of the altogether pleasantest companions I have ever had. My notebooks, one in particular, are covered with conjugations which bear witness to Mexique's ineffable good-nature. I also have a somewhat superficial portrait of his back sitting on a bench by the poêle. I wish I had another of Mexique out in le jardin with a man who worked there, who was a Spaniard, and whom the Surveillant had considerately allowed Mexique to assist; with the perfectly correct idea that it would be pleasant for Mexique to talk to some one who could speak Spanish---if not as well as he, Mexique, could, at least passably well. As it is, I must be content to see my very good friend sitting with his hands in his pockets by the stove with Bill the Hollander beside him. And I hope it was not many days after my departure that Mexique went free. Somehow I feel that he went free ... and if I am right, I will only say about Mexique's freedom what I have heard him slowly and placidly say many times concerning not only the troubles which were common property to us all but his own peculiar troubles as well.
The Young (or Holland) Skipper---not to be confused with The Skipper whom I have already tried to describe---was a real contribution to our midst. On his own part he contributed his mate---a terribly tall, rather round-shouldered individual, of whom I said to myself immediately: 'By Jove, here's a tough guy and a murderer all in one.' Of course I was wrong; I say 'of course,' since to judge an arrival by the arrival's exterior was (as I discovered in practically every case) equivalent to judging a motor by its horse-power instead of what it did when confronted by a hill. As it turned out, the mate was a taciturn and very gentle youth who had committed no greater crime than that of being a member of The Young Skipper's crew. That this was far from a crime was proved by The Young Skipper himself, than whom I have never met a jollier, more open-hearted and otherwise both generous and genuine man in my life. He wore a collarless shirt gaily striped, a vest and trousers calculated to withstand the ravages of time, a jaunty cap, a big signet ring on his fourth finger, and a pair of seaworthy boots which were the envy and admiration of every one, including myself. He used to sit on an extraordinarily small wooden stool by the stove, thereby exaggerating his almost round five-feet exactly of bone and muscle. The Hollanders, especially John, made a great deal of him. He was ready without being rough, had a pair of frank, good-humoured eyes, a tiny happy nose somewhat uppish and freckled, and large strong hard hands which seemed always rather embarrassed to find themselves on land. He told us confidentially that Pete had run away to sea; that Pete came of a very good family in Holland, who were worried to death about Pete's whereabouts; that Pete was too proud to let them know he had been arrested; and that he, The Young Skipper, if and when he got back to Holland, would make a point of going immediately to Pete's parents and telling them where Pete was, which would make them move earth and heaven for their son's liberty. Of a Sunday, The Young or Holland Skipper got himself up to beat the cars and joined the immaculate Holland Delegation at la messe ---being, from the instant of his arrival, assoted upon a fair lady who invariably attended all functions of a religious nature. I must add (for the benefit of the highly moral readers of this chronicle) that this admiration served merely to while away the moments of The Young Skipper's captivity---and that The Young Skipper never seriously deviated from an intense devotion to 'my girl' as he called her, whose photograph he always carried over his heart. A large-faced and plump person, with apparently a very honest heart of her own---I wish I could say more for her ... but then, photographs are always untrustworthy. He told us some very vivid incidents in his voyages, which (the war being on) were accomplished with some danger and a great deal of excitement. I remember how his eyes twinkled when he said his ship passed directly under a huge Zeppelin: 'And the fellers waved to us, and we gave 'em a cheer and waved too, and all the fellers in the Zeppelin keeked'---due to which word in particular I conceived a great fondness for The Young Skipper. He told about the multitudinous English deserters in Holland, how 'The girls were crazy about 'em, and if a Hollander comes up and asks 'em to go skating with him on the canal they won't, for the English soldiers don't know how to skate'---and later when the haughty misses had been 'left' by their flames, 'Up we'd come and give 'em the laugh.' ... He spoke first-rate English, clear rousing Dutch, some I should say, faulty but fluent German, and no French. 'This language is too bloody much for me,' said The Young Skipper with perfect candour, smiling. 'The johndarniz ask me a lotta questions and I say no parlezvous so they take me and my mate'---with a gesture toward the mild and monumental youth by the stove--'and puts us on trains and everywhere and where the Gottverdummer bloody Hell are we all agoing I don't know till we gets here'---at which he laughed heartily. 'Thanks,' he said when I offered a Scarferlati Jaune, 'I'll get some myself to-night at the canteen and pay you back'---for in common with Pete he shared a great conscientiousness in respect to receiving favours. 'They're made of bloody dust, these,' he said, smiling pleasantly after the first inhalation. I asked him what did he carry in the way of cargo? 'Coal,' he replied with great emphasis. And he told me they got it clear from Norway, and that it was a good business bringing it (for the French needed it and would pay anything)---'Provided you can stand the excitement.' His utter and absolute contempt for the john-darmz was, to B. and myself in particular, considerably more than delightful. 'Them fellers with their swords and little coats capelike' were not to be spoken of in the same breath with a man. As B. says, one of the nicest things anyone ever did in La Ferté (I almost said in prison) was done by The Young Skipper one night: who came up to our beds where we were cooking cocoa, or rather chocolate (for we sliced up a cake of imitation Menier purchased at the canteen, added water, and heated the ensemble in a tin cup suspended by a truly extraordinary series of wires (B. fecit) directly above a common bougie), and said to us, with a sticking of his thumb behind him---'There's a poor feller lying sick over there and I wondered will you give me a bit o' hot chocolate for him; he wouldn't ask for it himself.' Naturally we were peculiarly happy to give it---happier when we saw The Young Skipper stride over to the bed of The Silent Man, to whom he spoke very gently and persuadingly in (as I guess) German---happiest, when we saw The Silent Man half-rise from his paillasse and drink, with The Young Skipper standing over him smiling from ear to ear. Anyone who could with utmost ease conquer the irrevocable diffidence of The Silent Man is insusceptible of portraiture. I hereby apologize to The Young Skipper, and wish him well with his girl in Holland, where I hope with all my heart he is. And maybe some day we'll all of us go skating on the canals; and maybe we'll talk about what happens when the dikes break, and about the houses and the flowers and the windmills.
Here let me introduce the Garde-champêtre, whose name I have already taken more or less in vain. A little sharp, hungry-looking person who, subsequent to being a member of a rural police force (of which membership be seemed rather proud), had served his patrie---otherwise known as La Belgique---in the capacity of motor-cyclist. As he carried dispatches from one end of the line to the other his disagreeably big eyes had absorbed certain peculiarly inspiring details of civilized warfare. He had, at one time, seen a bridge hastily constructed by les alliés over the Yser River, the cadavers of the faithful and the enemy alike being thrown in helter-skelter to make a much needed foundation for the timbers. This little procedure had considerably outraged the Garde-champêtre's sense of decency. The Yser, said he, flowed perfectly red for a long time. "We were all together: Belgians, French, English ... we Belgians did not see any good reason for continuing the battle. But we continued. O indeed we continued. Do you know why?'
I said that I was afraid I didn't.
'Because in front of us we had les obus allemands, en arrière les mitrailleuses françaises, toujours les mitrailleuses françaises, mon vieux.'
'Je ne comprends pas bien,' I said in confusion, recalling all the high-falutin rigmarole which Americans believed (little martyred Belgium protected by the allies from the inroads of the aggressor, etc.) )---'why should the French put machine-guns behind you?'
The Garde-champêtre lifted his big empty eyes nervously. The vast hollows in which they lived darkened. His little rather hard face trembled within itself. I thought for a second he was going to throw a fit at my feet instead of doing which he replied pettishly, in a sunken bright whisper:
'To keep us going forward. At times a company would .drop its guns and turn to run. Pupupupupupupupup . . .' his short unlovely arm described gently the swinging of a mitrailleuse. . . 'finish. The Belgian soldiers to left and right of them took the hint. If they did not---pupupupupupupupupup.... O we went forward. Yes. Vive le patriotisme.''
And he rose with a gesture which seemed to brush away these painful trifles from his memory, crossed the end of the room with short rapid steps, and began talking to his best friend Judas, who was at that moment engaged in training his wobbly moustachios.... Toward the close of my visit to La Ferté the Garde-champêtre was really happy for a period of two days---during which time he moved in the society of a rich, intelligent, mistakenly arrested and completely disagreeable youth in bone spectacles, copious hair and spiral puttees, whom B. and I named JoJo the Lion-Faced Boy, thereby partially contenting ourselves. Had the charges against JoJo been stronger my tale would have been longer---fortunately for tout le monde they had no basis; and back went JoJo to his native Paris, leaving the Garde-champêtre with Judas and attacks of only occasionally interesting despair.
The reader may suppose that it is about time another Delectable Mountain appeared upon his horizon. Let him keep his eyes wide open, for here one comes ...
Whenever our circle was about to be increased, a bell from somewhere afar (as a matter of fact the gate which had admitted my weary self to La Ferté upon a memorable night, as already has been faithfully recounted) tanged audibly---whereat up jumped the more strenuous inhabitants of The Enormous Room and made pellmell for the common peep-hole, situated at the door end or nearer end of our habitat and commanding a somewhat fragmentary view of the gate together with the arrivals, male and female, whom the bell announced. In one particular case the watchers appeared almost unduly excited, shouting 'four!---'big box'---'five gendarmes!' and other incoherencies with a loudness which predicted great things. As nearly always, I had declined to participate in the mêlée; and was still lying comfortably horizontal on my bed (thanking God that it had been well and thoroughly mended by a fellow prisoner whom we called The Frog and Le Coiffeur---a tremendously keen-eyed man with a large drooping black moustache, whose boon companion, chiefly on account of his shape and gait, we knew as The Lobster) when the usual noises attendant upon the unlocking of la porte began with exceptional violence. I sat up. The door shot open, there was a moment's pause, a series of grunting remarks uttered by two rather terrible voices; then in came four nouveaux of a decidedly interesting appearance. They entered in two ranks of two each. The front rank was made up of an immensely broad-shouldered hipless and consequently triangular man in blue trousers belted with a piece of ordinary rope, plus a thick-set ruffianly personage the most prominent part of whose accoutrements were a pair of hideous whiskers. I leaped to my feet and made for the door, thrilled in spite of myself. By the, in this case, shifty blue eyes, the pallid hair, the well-knit form of the rope's owner I knew instantly a Hollander. By the coarse brutal features half-hidden in the piratical whiskers, as well as by the heavy mean wandering eyes, I recognized with equal speed a Belgian. Upon its shoulders the front rank bore a large box, blackish, well-made, obviously very weighty, which box it set down with a grunt of relief hard by the cabinet. The rear rank marched behind in a somewhat asymmetrical manner: a young stupid-looking clear-complexioned fellow (obviously a farmer, and having expensive black puttees and a handsome cap with a shiny black leather visor) slightly preceded a tall gliding thinnish unjudgeable personage who peeped at every one quietly and solemnly from beneath the visor of a somewhat large slovenly cloth cap, showing portions of a lean, long incognizable face upon which sat or rather drooped a pair of moustachios identical in character with those which are sometimes pictorially attributed to a Chinese dignitary---in other words, the moustachios were exquisitely narrow, homogeneously downward, and made of something like black corn-silk. Behind les nouveaux staggered four paillasses motivated mysteriously by two pair of small legs belonging (as it proved) to Garibaldi and the little Machine-Fixer; who, coincident with the tumbling of the paillasses to the floor, perspiringly emerged to sight.
The first thing the shifty-eyed triangular Hollander did was to exclaim Gottverdummer. The first thing the whiskery Belgian did was to grab his paillasse and stand guard over it. The first thing the youth in the leggings did was to stare helplessly about him, murmuring something whimperingly in Polish. The first thing the fourth nouveau did was pay no attention to anybody; lighting a cigarette in an unhurried manner as he did so, and puffing silently and slowly as if in all the universe nothing whatever save the taste of tobacco existed.
A bevy of Hollanders were by this time about the triangle, asking him all at once, Was he from so and so? What was in his box? How long had he been in coming? etc. Half a dozen stooped over the box itself, and at least three pair of hands were on the point of trying the lock ---when suddenly with incredible agility the unperturbed smoker shot a yard forward landing quietly beside them, and exclaimed rapidly and briefly through his nose
He said it almost petulantly, or as a child says 'Tag! You're it.'
The onlookers recoiled, completely surprised. Whereat the frightened youth in black puttees sidled over and explained with a pathetically at once ingratiating and patronizing accent:
'Il n'est pas méchant. C'est un bonhomme. C'est mon ami. Il veut dire que c'est à lui, la caisse. Il parle pas français?
'It's the Gottverdummer Polak's box,' said the Triangular Man, exploding in Dutch---'They're a pair of Polakers; and this man' (with a twist of his pale blue eyes in the direction of the Bewhiskered One) 'and I had to carry it all the Gottverdummer way to this Gottverdummer place.'
All this time the incognizable nouveau was smoking slowly and calmly, and looking at nothing at all with his black button-like eyes. Upon his face no faintest suggestion of expression could be discovered by the hungry minds which focused unanimously upon its almost stern contours. The deep furrows in the cardboard-like cheeks (furrows which resembled slightly the gills of some extraordinary fish, some unbreathing fish) moved not an atom. The moustache drooped in something like mechanical tranquillity. The lips closed occasionally with a gesture at once abstracted and sensitive upon the lightly and carefully held cigarette; whose curling smoke accentuated the poise of the head, at once alert and uninterested.
Monsieur Auguste broke in, speaking as I thought Russian---and in an instant he and the youth in puttees and the Unknowable's cigarette and the box and the Unknowable had disappeared through the crowd in the direction of Monsieur Auguste's paillasse, which was also the direction of the paillasse belonging to the Cordonnier as he was sometimes called---a diminutive man with immense moustachios of his own who promenaded with Monsieur Auguste, speaking sometimes French and as a general rule Russian or Polish.
Which was my first glimpse, and is the reader's, of the Zulu; he being one of the Delectable Mountains. For which reason I shall have more to say of him later, when I ascend the Delectable Mountains in a separate chapter or chapters; till when the reader must be content with the above however unsatisfactory description....
One of the most utterly repulsive personages whom I have met in my life---perhaps (and on second thought I think certainly) the most utterly repulsive---was shortly after this presented to our midst by the considerate French Government. I refer to The Fighting Sheeney. Wh ether or no he arrived after the Spanish Whore-master I cannot say. I remember that Bill The Hollander---which was the name of the triangular rope-belted man with shifty blue eyes (co-arrivé with the whiskery Belgian; which Belgian, by the way, from his not to be exaggerated brutal look, B. and myself called The Baby-snatcher)---upon his arrival told great tales of a Spanish millionaire with whom he had been in prison just previous to his discovery of La Ferté. 'He'll be here too in a couple o' days,' added Bill The Hollander, who had been fourteen years in These United States, spoke the language to a T, talked about 'The America Lakes' and was otherwise amazingly well acquainted with The Land of the Free. And sure enough in less than a week one of the fattest men whom I have ever laid eyes on, over-dressed, much beringed, and otherwise wealthy-looking, arrived---and was immediately played up to by Judas (who could smell cash almost as far as le gouvernement français could smell sedition) and, to my somewhat surprise, by the utterly respectable Count Bragard. But most emphatically NOT by Mexique, who spent a half-hour talking to the nouveau in his own tongue, then drifted placidly over to our beds and informed us:
'You see dat feller over dere, dat fat feller? I speak Spanish to him. He no good. Tell me he make fifty-tousand francs last year runnin' whore-house in' (I think it was) 'Brest. Son of bitch!'
Dat fat feller lived in a perfectly huge bed which he, contrived to have brought up for him immediately upon his arrival. The bed arrived in a knock-down state and with it a mechanician from la ville who set about putting it together, meanwhile indulging in many glances expressive not merely of interest but of amazement and even fear. I suppose the bed had to be of special size in order to accommodate the circular millionaire, and being an extraordinary bed required the services of a skilled artisan---at all events, dat fat feller's couch put The Skipper's altogether in the shade. As I watched the process of construction it occurred to me that after all here was the last word in luxury---to call forth from the metropolis not only a special divan but with it a special slave, the Slave of the Bed.... Dat fat feller had one of the prisoners perform his corvée for him. Dat fat feller bought enough at the canteen twice every day to stock a transatlantic liner for seven voyages, and never ate with the prisoners. I will mention him again à propos the Mecca of respectability, the Great White Throne of purity, Three rings Three alias Count Bragard, to whom I have long since introduced my reader.
So we come, willy-nilly, to The Fighting Sheeney.
The Fighting Sheeney arrived carrying the expensive suit-case of a livid, strangely unpleasant-looking Roumanian gent, who wore a knit sweater of a strangely ugly red hue, impeccable clothes, and an immaculate velour hat which must have been worth easily fifty francs. We called this gent Rockyfeller. His personality might be faintly indicated by the adjective Disagreeable. The porter was a creature whom Ugly does not even slightly describe. There are some specimens of humanity in whose presence one instantly and instinctively feels a profound revulsion, a revulsion which---perhaps because it is profound---cannot be analysed. The Fighting Sheeney was one of these specimens. His face (or to use the good American idiom, his mug) was exceedingly coarse-featured and had an indefatigable expression of sheer brutality---yet the impression which it gave could not be traced to any particular plane or line. I can and will say, however, that this face was most hideous---perhaps that is the word---when it grinned. When The Fighting Sheeney grinned you felt that he desired to eat you, and was prevented from eating you only by a superior desire to eat everybody at once. He and Rockyfeller came to us from I think it was the Santé; both accompanied B. to Précigné. During the weeks which The Fighting Sheeney spent at La Ferté Macé, the non-existence of the inhabitants of The Enormous Room was rendered something more than miserable. It was rendered well-nigh unbearable.
The night Rockyfeller and his slave arrived was a night to be remembered by every one. It was one of the wildest and strangest and most perfectly interesting nights I, for one, ever spent. Rockyfeller had been corralled by Judas, and was enjoying a special bed to our right at the upper end of The Enormous Room. At the canteen he had purchased a large number of candles in addition to a great assortment of dainties which he and Judas were busily enjoying---when the planton came up, counted us thrice, divided by three, gave the order 'Lumières éteintes,' and descended locking the door behind him. Every one composed himself for miserable sleep. Every one except Judas, who went on talking to Rockyfeller, and Rockyfeller, who proceeded to light one of his candles and begin a pleasant and conversational evening. The Fighting Sheeney lay stark-naked on a paillasse between me and his lord. The Fighting Sheeney told every one that to sleep stark-naked was to avoid bugs (whereof everybody including myself had a goodly portion). The Fighting Sheeney was, however, quieted by the planton's order; whereas Rockyfeller continued to talk and munch to his heart's content. This began to get on everybody's nerves. Protests in a number of languages arose from all parts of The Enormous Room. Rockyfeller gave a contemptuous look around him and proceeded with his conversation. A curse emanated from the darkness. Up sprang The Fighting Sheeney, stark-naked; strode over to the bed of the curser, and demanded ferociously:
The curser was apparently fast asleep, and even snoring. The Fighting Sheeney turned away disappointed, and had just reached his paillasse when he was greeted by a number of uproariously discourteous remarks uttered in all sorts of tongues. Over he rushed, threatened, received no response, and turned back to his place. Once more ten or twelve voices insulted him from the darkness. Once more The Fighting Sheeney made for them, only to find sleeping innocents. Again he tried to go to bed. Again the shouts arose, this time with redoubled violence and in greatly increased number. The Fighting Sheeney was at his wit's end. He strode about challenging everyone to fight, receiving not the slightest recognition, cursing, reviling, threatening, bullying. The darkness always waited for him to resume his paillasse, then burst out in all sorts of maledictions upon his head and the sacred head of his lord and master. The latter was told to put out his candle, go to sleep, and give the rest a chance to enjoy what pleasure they might in forgetfulness of their woes. Whereupon he appealed to The Sheeney to stop this. The Sheeney (almost weeping) said he had done his best, that everyone was a pig, that nobody would fight, and that it was disgusting. Roars of applause. Protests from the less strenuous members of our circle against the noise in general: Let him have his foutue candle, Shut up, Go to sleep yourself, etc. Rockyfeller kept on talking (albeit visibly annoyed by the ill-breeding of his fellow-captives) to the smooth and oily Judas. The noise or rather noises increased. I was for some reason angry at Rockyfeller---I think I had a curious notion that if I couldn't have a light after 'lumières éteintes,' and if my very good friends were none of them allowed to have one, then by God neither should Rockyfeller. At any rate I passed a few remarks calculated to wither the by this time a little nervous Übermensch; got up, put on some enormous sabots (which I had purchased from a horrid little boy whom the French Government had arrested with his parent, for some cause unknown---which horrid little boy told me that he had 'found' the sabots 'in a train' on the way to La Ferté) shook myself into my fur coat, and banged as noisemakingly as I knew how over to One-Eyed Dahveed's paillasse, where Mexique joined us. 'It is useless to sleep,' said One-Eyed Dah-veed in French and Spanish. 'True,' I agreed, 'therefore let's make all the noise we can.'
Steadily the racket bulged in the darkness. Human cries, quips and profanity had now given place to wholly inspired imitations of various not to say sundry animals. Afrique exclaimed---with great pleasure I recognized his voice through the impenetrable gloom---
---perhaps, said 1, he means a machine gun; it sounds like either that or a monkey. The Wanderer crowed beautifully. Monsieur Auguste's bosom friend, le Cordonnier, uttered an astonishing
which provoked a tornado of laughter and some applause. Mooings, chirpings, cacklings---there was a superb hen---neighings, he-hawings, roarings, bleatings, growlings, quackings, peepings, screamings, bellowings, and---something else, of course---set The Enormous Room suddenly and entirely alive. Never have I imagined such a menagerie as had magically instated itself within the erstwhile soggy and dismal four walls of our chambre. Even such staid characters as Count Bragard set up a little bawling. Monsieur Pet-airs uttered a tiny aged crowing, to my immense astonishment and delight. The dying, the sick, the ancient, the mutilated, made their contributions to the common pandemonium. And then, from the lower left darkness, sprouted one of the very finest noises which ever fell on human ears---the noise of a little dog with floppy ears who was tearing after something on very short legs and carrying his very fuzzy tail straight up in the air as he tore; a little dog who was busier than he was wise, louder than he was big; a red-tongued, foolish, breathless, intent little dog with black eyes and a great smile and woolly paws-which noise, conceived and executed by The Lobster, sent The Enormous Room into an absolute and incurable hysteria.
The Fighting Sheeney was at a stand-still. He knew not how to turn. At last he decided to join with the insurgents, and wailed brutally and dismally. That was the last straw. Rockyfeller, who could no longer (even by shouting to Judas) make himself heard, gave up conversation and gazed angrily about him; angrily yet fearfully, as if he expected some of these numerous bears, lions, tigers and baboons to leap upon him from the darkness. His livid, super-disagreeable face trembled with the flickering cadence of the bougie. His lean lips clenched with mortification and wrath. 'Vous êtes chef de chambre,' he said fiercely to Judas; 'why don't you make the men stop this? C'est emmerdant.'---'Ah,' replied Judas smoothly and insinuatingly, 'they are only men, and boors at that; you can't expect them to have any manners.' A tremendous group of Something Elses greeted this remark together with cries, insults, groans and linguistic trumpetings. I got up and walked the length of the room to the cabinet (situated as always by this time of night in a pool of urine which was in certain places six inches deep, from which pool my sabots somewhat protected me) and returned, making as loud a clattering as I was able. Suddenly the voice of Monsieur Auguste leaped through the din in an
'Alors! c'est as-sez.'
The next thing we knew he had reached the window just below the cabinet (the only window, by the way, not nailed up with good long wire nails for the sake of warmth) and was shouting in a wild high gentle angry voice to the sentinel below
'Plan-ton! C'est im-possi-ble de dor-mirl'
A great cry 'OUI! JE VIENS!' floated up very single noise dropped---Rockyfeller shot out his hand for the candle, seized it in terror, blew it out as if blowing it out were the last thing he would do in this life---and The Enormous Room hung silent; enormously dark, enormously expectant ...
BANG! Open flew the door. 'Alors, qui m'appelle? Qu'est-ce qu'on fout ici.' And The Black Holster, revolver in hand, flashed his torch into the inky stillness of the chambre. Behind him stood two plantons white with fear; their trembling hands clutching revolvers, the barrels of which shook ludicrously.
'C'est moi, plan-ton!' Monsieur Auguste explained that no one could sleep because of the noise, and that the noise was because 'ce -monsieur la' would not extinguish his bougie when everyone wanted to sleep. The Black Holster turned to the room at large and roared: 'You children of Merde, don't let this happen again or I'll fix you, everyone of you-'---Then he asked if anyone wanted to dispute this assertion (he brandishing his revolver the while) and was answered by peaceful snorings. Then he said by X, Y and Z he'd fix the noisemakers in the morning and fix them good---and looked for approbation to his trembling assistants. Then he swore twenty or thirty times for luck, turned, and thundered out on the heels of his fleeing confrères who almost tripped over each other in their haste to escape from The Enormous Room. Never have I seen a greater exhibition of bravery than was afforded by The Black Holster, revolver in hand, holding at bay the snoring and weaponless inhabitants of The Enormous Room. Vive les plantons. He should have been a gendarme.
Of course Rockyfeller, having copiously tipped the officials of La Ferté upon his arrival, received no slightest censure nor any hint of punishment for his deliberate breaking of an established rule---a rule for the breaking of which any one of the common scum (e.g. thank God, myself) would have got cabinot de suite. No indeed. Several of les hommes, however, got pain sec---not because they had been caught in an act of vociferous protestation by The Black Holster, which they had not---but just on principle, as a warning to the rest of us and to teach us a wholesome respect for (one must assume) law and order. One and all, they heartily agreed that it was worth it. Everyone knew, of course, that the Spy had peached. For, by Jove, even in The Enormous Room there was a man who earned certain privileges and acquired a complete immunity from punishments by squealing on his fellow sufferers at each and every opportunity. A really ugly person, with a hard knuckling face and treacherous hands, whose daughter lived downstairs in a separate room apart from les putains (against which 'dirty,' filthy,' 'whores' he could not say enough---'Hi'd rather die than 'ave my daughter with them stinkin' 'ores,' remarked once to me this strictly moral man, in Cockney English) and whose daughter (aged thirteen) was generally supposed to serve the Directeur in a pleasurable capacity. One did not need to be warned against the Spy (as both B. and I were warned, upon our arrival) ---a single look at that phiz was enough for anyone partially either intelligent or sensitive. This phiz or mug, had, then, squealed. 'Which everyone took as a matter of course and admitted among themselves that hanging was too good for him.
But the vast and unutterable success achieved by the Ménagerie was this---Rockyfeller, shortly after, left our ill-bred society for 'l'hôpital'; the very same 'hospital' whose comforts and seclusion Monsieur le Surveillant had so dexterously recommended to B. and myself. Rockyfeller kept The Fighting Sheeney in his pay, in order to defend him when he went on promenade; otherwise our connection with him was definitely severed; his new companions being Muskowitz the Cock-eyed Millionaire, and The Belgian Song Writer-who told everyone to whom he spoke that he was a government official (---'de la blague,' cried the little Machine-Fixer, 'C'est un menteur!' Adding that he knew of this person in Belgium and that this person was a man who wrote popular ditties). Would to Heaven we had got rid of the slave as well as the master---but unfortunately The Fighting Sheeney couldn't afford to follow his lord's example. So he went on making a nuisance of himself, trying hard to curry favour with B. and me, getting into fights, and bullying everyone generally.
Also this lion-hearted personage spent one whole night shrieking and moaning on his paillasse after an injection by Monsieur Richard---for syphilis. Two or three men were, in the course of a few days, discovered to have had syphilis for some time. They had it in their mouths. I don't remember them particularly, except that at least one was a Belgian. Of course they and The Fighting Sheeney had been using the common dipper and drinking-water pail.
Le gouvernement français couldn't be expected to look out for a little thing like venereal disease among prisoners: didn't it have enough to do curing those soldiers who spent their time on permission trying their best to infect themselves with both gonorrha and syphilis? Let not the reader suppose I am day-dreaming: let him rather recall that I had had the honour of being a member of Section Sanitaire Vingt-et-Un, which helped evacuate the venereal hospital at Ham, with whose inhabitants (in odd moments) I talked and walked and learned several things about la guerre. Let the reader---if he does not realize it already---realize that This Great War For Humanity, etc., did not agree with some people's ideas, and that some people's ideas made them prefer to the glories of the front line the torments (I have heard my friends at Ham screaming a score of times) attendant upon venereal diseases. Or as one of my aforesaid friends told me after discovering that I was, in contrast to les américains, not bent upon making France discover America but rather upon discovering France and les français myself---
'Mon vieux, c'est tout-à-fait simple. je m'en vais en permission. je demande à aller à Paris, parce qu'il y a des gonzesses là-bas qui sont toutes malades! J'attrappe le syphilis, et, quand il est possible, la gonnorrhée aussi. Je reviens. je pars pour la première ligne. Je suis malade. L'hôpital. Le médecin me dit: Il ne faut ni fumer ni boire, comme ça vous. serez bientôt guéri. "Merci, monsieur le médecin!" Je fume toujours et je bois toujours et je ne suis pas guéri. le reste cinq, six, sept semaines. Peut-être des mois. Enfin, je suis guéri. Je rejoins mon régiment. Et-maintenant, c'est mon tour de'aller en permission. Je m'en vais. Encore la même chose. C'est joli ça, tu sais."
But about the syphilitics at La Ferté: they were, somewhat tardily to be sure, segregated in a very small and dirty room---for a matter of, perhaps, two weeks. And the Surveillant actually saw to it that during this period they ate la soupe out of individual china bowls.
I scarcely know whether The Fighting Sheeney made more of a nuisance of himself during his decumbiture or during the period which followed it---which period houses an astonishing number of fights, rows, bullyings, etc. He must have had a light case for he was guéri in no time, and on everyone's back as usual. Well, I will leave him for the nonce; in fact I will leave him until I come to The Young Pole, who wore black puttees and spoke of The Zulu as 'mon ami'---The Young Pole whose troubles I will recount in connection with the second Delectable Mountain itself. I will leave The Sheeney with the observation that he was almost as vain as he was vicious; for with what ostentation, one day when we were in the kitchen, did he show me a post-card received that afternoon from Paris, whereon I read 'Comme vous êtes beau' and promises to send more money as fast as she earned it and, hoping that he had enjoyed her last present, the signature (in a big, adoring hand)
'Ta môme. Alice.' and when I had read it---sticking his mug up into my face, The Fighting Sheeney said with emphasis:
'No travailler moi. Femme travaille, fait la noce, tout le temps. Toujours avec officiers anglais. Gagne beaucoup, cent francs, deux cent francs, trois cent francs, toutes les nuits. Anglais riches. Femme me donne tout. Moi no travailler. Bon, eh?'
Grateful for this little piece of information, and with his leer an inch from my chin, I answered slowly and calmly that it certainly was. I might add that he spoke Spanish by preference (according to Mexique very bad Spanish); for The Fighting Sheeney had made his home for a number of years in Rio, his opinion whereof may be loosely translated by the expressive phrase, 'it's a swell town.'
A charming fellow, The Fighting Sheeney.
Now, I must tell you what happened to the poor Spanish Whoremaster. I have already noted the fact that Count Bragard conceived an immediate fondness for this rolypoly individual, whose belly---as he lay upon his back of a morning in bed---rose up with the sheets, blankets and quilts as much as two feet above the level of his small stupid head studded with chins. I have said that this admiration on the part of the admirable Count and R.A. for a personage of the Spanish Whoremaster's profession somewhat interested me. The fact is, a change had recently come in our own relations with Vanderbilt's friend. His cordiality toward B. and myself had considerably withered. From the time of our arrivals the good nobleman had showered us with favours. and advice. To me, I may say, he was even extraordinarily kind. We talked painting, for example: Count Bragard folded a piece of paper, tore it in the centre of the folded edge, unfolded it carefully, exhibiting a good round hole, and remarking -'Do you know this trick? It's an English trick, Mr. Cummings'---held the paper before him and gazed profoundly through the circular aperture at an exceptionally disappointing section of the altogether gloomy landscape, visible thanks to one of the ecclesiastical windows of The Enormous Room. 'Just look at that, Mr. Cummings,' he said with quiet dignity. I looked. I tried my best to find so---nothing to the left---'No, no, straight through,' Count Bragard corrected me. 'There's a lovely bit of landscape,' he said sadly. 'If I only had my paints here. I thought, you know, of asking my housekeeper to send them on from Paris---but how can you paint in a bloody place like this with all these bloody pigs around you? It's ridiculous to think of it. And it's tragic, too,' he added grimly, with something like tears in his grey tired eyes.
Or we were promenading The Enormous Room after supper---the evening promenade in the cour having been officially eliminated owing to the darkness and the cold of the autumn twilight---and through the windows the dull bloating colours of sunset pouring faintly; and the Count stops dead in his tracks and regards the sunset without speaking for a number of seconds. Then---'It's glorious, isn't it?' he asks quietly. I say 'Glorious indeed.' He resumes his walk with a sigh, and I accompany him. 'Ce n'est pas difficile à peindre, un coucher du soleil, it's not hard,' he remarks gently. 'No?' I say with deference. 'Not hard a bit,' the Count says, beginning to use his hands. 'You only need three colours, you know. Very simple.' 'Which colours are they?' I inquire ignorantly. 'Why, you know of course,' he says surprised. 'Burnt sienna, cadmium yellow, and er---there! I can't think of it. I know it as well as I know my own face. So do you. Well, that's stupid of me.'
Or, his worn eyes dwelling benignantly upon my dufflebag, he warns me (in a low voice) of Prussian Blue.
'Did you notice the portrait hanging in the bureau of the Surveillant?' Count Bragard inquired one day. 'That's a pretty piece of work, Mr. Cummings. Notice it when you get a chance. The green moustache, particularly fine. School of Cézanne.'---'Really?' I said in surprise.----'Yes, indeed,' Count Bragard said, extracting his tired looking hands from his tired looking trousers with a cultured gesture. 'Fine young fellow painted that, I knew him. Disciple of the master. Very creditable piece of work.'---'Did you ever see Cézanne?' I ventured.---'Bless you, yes, scores of times,' he answered almost pityingly.---'What did he look like?' I asked, with great curiosity.---'Look like? His appearance, you mean?' Count Bragard seemed at a loss. 'Why, he was not extraordinary looking. I don't know how you could describe him. Very difficult in English. But you know a phrase we have in French, "l'air pesant"; I don't think there's anything in English for it; il avait l'air pesant, Cézanne, if you know what I mean.'
'I should work, I should not waste my time,' the Count would say almost weepingly. 'But it's no use, my things aren't here. And I'm getting old too; couldn't concentrate in this stinking hole of a place, you know.'
I did some hasty drawings of Monsieur Pet-airs washing and rubbing his bald head with a great towel in the dawn. The R.A. caught me in the act and came over shortly after, saying, 'Let me see them.' In some perturbation (the subject being a particular friend of his) I showed one drawing. 'Very good, in fact, excellent'; the R.A. smiled whimsically. 'You have a real talent for caricature, Mr. Cummings, and you should exercise it. You really got Peters. Poor Peters, he's a fine fellow, you know; but this business of living in the muck and filth, c'est malheureux. Besides, Peters is an old man. It's a dirty bloody shame, that's what it is. A bloody shame that all of us here should be forced to live like pigs with this scum!'
'I tell you what, Mr. Cummings,' he said with something like fierceness, his weary eyes flashing, 'I'm getting out of here shortly, and when I do get out (I'm just waiting for my papers to be sent on by the English consul) I'll not forget my friends. We've lived together and suffered together and I'm not a man to forget it. This hideous mistake is nearly cleared up, and when I go free I'll do anything for you and Mr. B. Anything I can do for you I'd be only too glad to do it. If you want me to buy you paints when I'm in Paris, nothing would give me more pleasure. I know French as well as I know my own language' (he most certainly did) 'and whereas you might be cheated, I'll get you everything you need a bon, marché. Because you see they know me there, and I know just where to go. Just give me the money for what you need and I'll get you the best there is in Paris for it. You needn't worry'---I was protesting that it would be too much trouble---'my dear fellow, it's no trouble to do a favour for a friend.'
And to B. and myself ensemble he declared, with tears in his eyes, 'I have some marmalade at my house in Paris; real marmalade, not the sort of stuff you buy these days. 'We know how to make it. You can't get an idea how delicious it is. In big crocks'---the Count said simply---well, that's for you boys." We protested that be was too kind. 'Nothing of the sort,' he said, with a delicate smile. 'I have a son in the English army,' and his face clouded with worry, 'and we send him some now and then, and he's crazy about it. I know what it means to him. And you shall share in it too. I'll send you six crocks.' Then, suddenly looking at us with a pleasant expression, 'By Jove,' the Count said, 'do you like whisky? Real Bourbon whisky? I see by your look that you know what it is. But you never tasted anything like this. Do you know London?' I said no, as I had said once before. "Well, that's a pity,' he said, 'for if you did you'd know this bar. I know the bar-keeper well, known him for thirty years. There's a picture of mine hanging in his place. Look at it when you're in London, drop in to ----- Street, you'll find the place, anyone will tell you where it is. This fellow would do anything for me. And now I'll tell you what I'll do: you fellows give me whatever you want to spend and I'll get you the best whisky you ever tasted. It's his own private stock, you understand. I'll send it on to you---God knows you need it in this place. I wouldn't do this for anyone else, you understand,' and he smiled kindly, 'but we've been prisoners together, and we understand each other, and that's enough for gentlemen. I won't forget you.' He drew himself up. 'I shall write,' he said slowly and distinctly, 'to Vanderbilt about you. I shall tell him it's a dirty bloody shame that two young Americans, gentlemen born, should be in this foul place. He's a man who's quick to act. He'll not tolerate a thing like this---an outrage, a bloody outrage, upon two of his own countrymen. We shall see what happens then.'
It was during this period that Count Bragard lent us for our personal use his greatest treasure, a water-glass. 'I don't need it,' he said simply and pathetically.
Now, as I have said, a change in our relations came.
It came at the close, of one soggy, damp raining afternoon. For this entire hopeless grey afternoon Count Bragard and B. promenaded The Enormous Room. Bragard wanted the money---for the whisky and the paints. The marmalade and the letter to Vanderbilt were, of course, gratis. Bragard was leaving us. Now was the time to give him money for what we wanted him to buy in Paris and London. I spent my time rushing about, falling over things, upsetting people, making curious and secret signs to B.----which signs, being interpreted, meant: Be careful! ---But there was no need of telling B. this particular thing. When the planton announced la soupe a fiercely weary face strode by me en route to his paillasse and his spoon. I knew that B. had been careful. A minute later he joined me, and told me as much....
On the way downstairs we ran into the Surveillant. Bragard stepped from the ranks and poured upon the Surveillant a torrent of French, of which the substance was: You told them not to give me anything. The Surveillant smiled and bowed and wound and unwound his hands behind his back and denied anything of the sort.
It seems that B. had heard that the kindly nobleman wasn't going to Paris at all.
Moreover, Monsieur Pet-airs had said to B. something about Count Bragard being a suspicious personage---Monsieur Pet-airs, the R.A.'s best friend.
Moreover, as I have said, Count Bragard had been playing up to the poor Spanish Whoremaster to beat the band. Every day had he sat on a little stool beside the roly-poly millionaire, and written from dictation letter after letter in French---with which language the roly-poly was sadly unfamiliar.... And when next day Count Bragard took back his treasure of treasures, his personal water-glass, remarking briefly that he needed it once again, I was not surprised. And when, a week or so later, he left---I was not surprised to have Mexique come up to us and placidly remark:
'I give dat feller five francs. Tell me he send me overcoat, very good overcoat. But say: Please no tell anybody come from me. Please tell everybody your family send it.' And with a smile, 'I t'ink dat feller fake.'
Nor was I surprised to see, some weeks later, the poor Spanish Whoremaster rending his scarce hair as he lay in bed of a morning. And Mexique said with a smile:
'Dat feller give dat English feller one hundred franc. Now he sorry.'
All of which meant merely that Count Bragard should have spelt his name, not Bra- but with an l.
And I wonder to this day that the only letter of mine which ever reached America and my doting family should have been posted by this highly entertaining personage en ville, whither he went as a trusted inhabitant of La Ferté to do a few necessary errands for himself; whither he returned with a good deal of colour in his cheeks and a good deal of vin rouge in his guts; going and returning with Tommy, the planton who brought him the Daily Mail every day until Bragard couldn't afford it, after which either B. and I, or Jean le Nègre took it off Tommy's hands---Tommy for whom we had a delightful name which I sincerely regret being unable to tell, Tommy who was an Englishman for all his French planton's uniform and worshipped the ground on which the Count stood, Tommy who looked like a boiled lobster and had tears in his eyes when he escorted his idol back to captivity.... Mirabile dictu, so it was.
Well, such was the departure of a great man from among us.
And now, just to restore the reader's faith in human nature, let me mention an entertaining incident which occurred during the latter part of my stay at La Ferté Macé. Our society had been gladdened---or at any rate galvanized---by the biggest single contribution in its history; the arrival simultaneously of seven purely extraordinary persons, whose names alone should be of more than general interest: The Magnifying Glass, The Trick Raincoat Sheeney, The Messenger Boy, The Hat, The Alsatian, The Whitebearded Raper and His Son. In order to give the aforesaid reader an idea of the situation created by these arrivés, which situation gives the entrance of the Washing-Machine Man---the entertaining incident, in other words---its full and unique flavour, I must perforce sketch briefly each member of a truly imposing group. Let me say at once that, so terrible an impression did the members make, each inhabitant of The Enormous Room rushed at break-neck speed to his paillasse; where he stood at bay, assuming as frightening an attitude as possible. The Enormous Room was full enough already in all conscience. Between sixty and seventy paillasses, with their inhabitants and in nearly every case baggage, occupied it so completely as scarcely to leave room for le poêle at the further end and the card-table in the centre. No wonder we were struck with terror upon seeing the seven nouveaux. Judas immediately protested to the planton who brought them up that there were no places, getting a roar in response and the door slammed in his face to boot. But the reader is not to imagine that it was the number alone of the arrivals which inspired fear and distrust---their appearance was enough to shake anyone's sanity. I do protest that never have I experienced a feeling of more profound distrust than upon this occasion; distrust of humanity in general and in particular of the following individuals:
First, an old man shabbily dressed in a shiny frock coat, upon whose peering and otherwise very aged face a pair of dirty spectacles rested. The first thing he did, upon securing a place, was to sit upon his paillasse in a professorial manner, tremulously extract a journal from his left coat-pocket, tremblingly produce a large magnifying-glass from his upper right vest-pocket, and forget everything. Subsequently, I discovered him promenading the room with an enormous expenditure of feeble energy, taking tiny steps flat-footedly and leaning in when he rounded a corner as if he were travelling at terrific speed. He suffered horribly from rheumatism, could scarcely move after a night on the floor, and must have been at least sixty-seven years old.
Second, a palish, foppish, undersized, prominent-nosed creature who affected a deep musical voice and the cut of whose belted raincoat gave away his profession---he was a pimp, and proud of it, and immediately upon his arrival boasted thereof, and manifested altogether as disagreeable a species of bullying vanity as I ever (save in the case of The Fighting Sheeney) encountered. He got his from Jean le Nègre, as the reader will learn later.
Third, a super-Western-Union-Messenger type of ancient-youth, extraordinarily unhandsome if not positively ugly. He had a weak pimply grey face, was clad in a brownish uniform, puttees (on pipe-stem calves), and a regular Messenger Boy cap. Upon securing a place he instantly went to the card-table, seated himself hurriedly, pulled out a batch of blanks, and wrote a telegram to (I suppose) himself. Then he returned to his paillasse, lay down with apparently supreme contentment, and fell asleep.
Fourth, a tiny old man who looked like a caricature of an East-side second-hand clothes dealer-having a long beard, a long worn and dirty coat reaching just to his ankles, and a small derby hat on his head. The very first night his immediate neighbour complained that 'Le Chapeau' (as he was christened by The Zulu) was guilty of fleas. A great tempest ensued immediately. A planton was hastily summoned. He arrived, heard the case, inspected The Hat (who lay on his paillasse with his derby on, his hand far down the neck of his shirt, scratching busily and protesting occasionally his entire innocence), uttered (being the Black Holster) an oath of disgust, and ordered The Frog to 'couper les cheveux de suite et la barbe aussi; après il va au bain, le vieux.' The Frog approached and gently requested The Hat to seat himself upon a chair---the better of two chairs boasted by The Enormous Room. The Frog, successor to The Barber, brandished his scissors. The Hat lay and scratched. 'Allez, Nom de Dieu,' the planton roared. The poor Hat arose trembling, assumed a praying attitude; and began to talk in a thick and sudden manner. 'Asseyez-vous là, tête de cochon.' The pitiful Hat obeyed, clutching his derby to his head in both withered hands. 'Take off your hat, you son of a bitch,' the planton yelled. 'I don't want to,' the tragic Hat whimpered. BANG! the derby hit the floor, bounded upward and lay still. 'Proceed,' the planton thundered to The Frog; who regarded him with a perfectly inscrutable expression on his extremely keen face, then turned to his subject, snickered with the scissors, and fell to. Locks, car-long, fell in crisp succession. Pete the Shadow, standing beside The Barber, nudged me; and I looked; and I beheld upon the floor the shorn locks rising and curling with a movement of their own. . . . 'Now for the beard,' said The Black Holster.---'No, no, Monsieur, s'il vous plait, pas ma barbe, monsieur---the Hat wept, trying to kneel.---'Ta gueule or I'll cut your throat,' the planton replied amiably; and The Frog, after another look, obeyed. And lo, the beard squirmed gently upon the floor, alive with a rhythm of its own; squirmed and curled crisply as it lay...When The Hat was utterly shorn, he was bathed and became comparatively unremarkable, save for the worn long coat which he clutched about him, shivering. And he borrowed five francs of me twice, and paid me punctually each time when his own money arrived, and presented me with chocolate into the bargain, tipping his hat quickly and bowing (as he always did whenever he addressed anyone). Poor Old Hat, B. and I and The Zulu were the only men at La Ferté who liked you.
Fifth, a fat, jolly, decently dressed man.---He had been to a camp where everyone danced, because an entire ship's crew was interned there, and the crew were enormously musical, and the captain (having sold his ship) was rich and tipped the Director regularly; so everyone danced night and day, and the crew played, for the crew had brought their music with them.---He had a way of borrowing the paper (Le Matin) which we bought from one of the lesser plantons who went to the town and got the Matin there; borrowing it before we had read it---by the sunset. And his favourite observations were:
'C'est un mauvais pays. Sale temps.'
Sixth and seventh, a vacillating, staggering, decrepit creature with wildish white beard and eyes, who had been arrested---incredibly enough---for 'rape.' With him his son, a pleasant youth quiet of demeanour, inquisitive of nature, with whom we sometimes conversed on the subject of the English Army.
Such were the individuals whose concerted arrival taxed to its utmost the capacity of The Enormous Room. And now for my incident---
Which incident is not peculiarly remarkable, but may (as I hope) serve to revive the reader's trust in humanity---
In the doorway, one day shortly after the arrival of the gentlemen mentioned, quietly stood a well-dressed,, handsomely middle-aged man, with a sensitive face culminating in a groomed Van Dyck beard. I thought for a moment that the Mayor of Orne, or whatever his title is, had dropped in for an informal inspection of The Enormous Room. Thank God, I said to myself, it has never looked so chaotically filthy since I have had the joy of inhabiting it. And sans blague, The Enormous Room was in a state of really supreme disorder; shirts were thrown everywhere, a few twine clothes-lines supported various pants, handkerchiefs and stockings, the poêle was surrounded by a gesticulating group of nearly undressed prisoners, the stink was actually sublime.
As the door closed behind him, the handsome man moved slowly and vigorously up The Enormous Room. His eyes were as big as turnips. His neat felt hat rose with the rising of his hair. His mouth opened in a gesture of unutterable astonishment. His knees trembled with surprise and terror, the creases of his trousers quivering. His hands lifted themselves slowly outward and upward till they reached the level of his head; moved inward till they grasped his head: and were motionless. In a deep awe-struck resonant voice be exclaimed simply and sincerely:
'Nom de nom de nom de nom de nom de DIEU!'
Which introduces the reader to The Washing-Machine Man, the Hollander, owner of a store at Brest where he sold the highly utile contrivances which gave him his name. He, as I remember, had been charged with aiding and abetting in the case of escaping Holland deserters---but I know a better reason for his arrest: undoubtedly le gouvernement français caught him one day in the act of inventing a super-washing-machine, in fact a white washing machine, for the private use of the Kaiser and His Family ...
Which brings us, if you please, to the first Delectable Mountain.
ONE day somebody and I were 'catching water' for Monsieur the Chef.
'Catching water' was ordinarily a mixed pleasure. It consisted, as I have mentioned, in the combined pushing and pulling of a curiously primitive two-wheeled cart over a distance of perhaps three hundred yards to a kind of hydrant situated in a species of square upon which the mediæval structure known as Porte (or Camp) de Triage faced stupidly and threateningly. A planton always escorted the catchers through the big door, between the stone wall, which backed the men's cour, and the end of the building itself or in other words the canteen. The ten-foot stone wall was, like every other stone wall connected with La Ferté, topped with three feet of barbed-wire. The door by which we exited with the water-wagon to the street outside was at least eight feet high, adorned with several large locks. One pushing behind, one pulling in the shafts, we rushed the wagon over a sort of threshold or sill and into the street; and were immediately yelled at by the planton, who commanded us to stop until he had locked the door aforesaid. We waited until told to proceed; then yanked and shoved the reeling vehicle up the street to our right, that is to say along the wall of the building, but on the outside. All this was pleasant and astonishing. To feel oneself, however temporarily, outside the eternal walls in a street connected with a rather selfish and placid-looking little town (whereof not more than a dozen houses were visible) gave the prisoner an at once silly and uncanny sensation, much like the sensation one must get when he starts to skate for the first time in a dozen years or so. The street met two others in a moment, and here was a very flourishing sumach bush (as I guess) whose berries shocked the stunned eye with a savage splash of vermilion. Under this colour one discovered the Mecca of water-catchers in the form of an iron contrivance operating by means of a stubby lever which, when pressed down, yielded grudgingly a spout of whiteness. The contrivance was placed in sufficiently close proximity to a low wall so that one of the catchers might conveniently sit on the wall and keep the water spouting with a continuous pressure of his foot, while the other catcher manipulated a tin pail with telling effect. Having filled the barrel which rode on the two wagon-wheels, we turned it with some difficulty and started it down the street with the tin pail on top; the man in the shafts leaning back with all his might to offset a certain velocity promoted by the down-grade, while the man behind tugged helpingly at the barrel itself. On reaching the door we skewed the machine skilfully to the left, thereby bringing it to a complete standstill, and waited for the planton to unlock the locks; which done, we rushed it violently over the threshold, turned left, still running, and came to a final stop in front of the cuisine. Here stood three enormous wooden tubs. We backed the wagon around; then one man opened the spigot in the rear of the barrel, and at the same time the other elevated the shafts in a clever manner, inducing the jet d'eau to hit one of the tubs. One tub filled, we switched the stream wittily to the next. To fill the three tubs (they were not always all of them empty) required as many as six or eight delightful trips. After which one entered the cuisine and got his well-earned reward---coffee with sugar.
I have remarked that catching water was a mixed pleasure. The mixedness of the pleasure came from certain highly respectable citizens, and more often citizenesses, of la ville de La Ferté Macé, who had a habit of endowing the poor water-catchers with looks which I should not like to remember too well, at the same moment clutching whatever infants they carried or wore or had on leash spasmodically to them. Honestly, I never ceased to be surprised by the scorn, contempt, disgust, and frequently sheer ferocity manifested in the male and particularly in the female faces. All the ladies wore, of course, black; they were wholly unbeautiful of face or form, some of them actually repellent; not one should I, even under more favourable circumstances, have enjoyed meeting. The first time I caught water everybody in the town was returning from church, and a terrific sight it was. Vive la bourgeoisie, I said to myself, ducking the shafts of censure by the simple means of hiding my face behind the moving water-barrel.
But one day---as I started to inform the reader---somebody and I were catching water, and in fact had caught our last load, and were returning with it down the street; when I, who was striding rapidly behind (trying to lessen with both hands the impetus of the machine) suddenly tripped and almost fell with surprise.
On the kerb of the little unbeautiful street a figure was sitting, a female figure dressed in utterly barbaric pinks and vermilions, having a dark shawl thrown about her shoulders; a positively Arabian face delimited by a bright coif of some tenuous stuff, slender golden hands holding with extraordinary delicacy what appeared to be a baby of not more than three months old; and beside her a black-haired child of perhaps three years and beside this child a girl of fourteen, dressed like the woman in crashing hues, with the most exquisite face I had ever known.
Nom de dieu, I thought vaguely. Am I or am I not completely asleep? And the man in the shafts craned his neck in stupid amazement, and the planton twirled his moustache and assumed that intrepid look which only a planton (or a gendarme) perfectly knows how to assume in the presence of female beauty.
That night The Wanderer was absent from la soupe, having been called by Apollyon to the latter's office upon a matter of superior import. Every one was abuzz with the news. The gypsy's wife and three children, one a baby at the breast, were outside demanding to be made prisoners. Would the Directeur allow it? They had been told a number of times by plantons to go away, as they sat patiently waiting to be admitted to captivity. No threats, pleas nor arguments had availed. The wife said she was tired of living without her husband---roars of laughter from all the Belgians and most of the Hollanders, I regret to say Pete included---and wanted merely and simply to share his confinement. Moreover, she said, without him she was unable to support his children; and it was better that they should grow up with their father as prisoners than starve to death without him. She would not be moved. The Black Holster told her he would use force she answered nothing. Finally she had been admitted pending judgment. Also sprach, highly excited, the balayeur.
'Looks like a f-----g hoor,' was the Belgian-Dutch verdict, a verdict which was obviously due to the costume of the lady in question almost as much as to the untemperamental natures sojourning at La Ferté. B. and I agreed that she and her children were the most beautiful people we had ever seen, or would ever be likely to see. So la soupe ended, and everybody belched and gasped and trumpeted up to The Enormous Room as usual.
That evening, about six o'clock, I heard a man crying as if his heart were broken. I crossed The Enormous Room. Half-lying on his paillasse, his great beard pouring upon his breast, his face lowered, his entire body shuddering with sobs, lay The Wanderer. Several of les hommes were about him, standing in attitudes ranging from semi-amusement to stupid sympathy, listening to the anguish which-as from time to time he lifted his majestic head ---poured slowly and brokenly from his lips. I sat down beside him. And he told me 'Je l'ai acheté pour six cent francs et je l'ai vendu pour quatre cent cinquante---it was not a horse of this race but of the race' (I could not catch the word) 'as long as from here to that post---j'ai pleuré un quart d'heure comme si j'avais une gosse morte --and it is seldom I weep over horses---je dis: Bijou, quittes; au r'oir et bon jour' ...
The vain little dancer interrupted about 'réformé' horses. . . . 'Excuses donc---this was no réformé horse, such as goes to the front---these are some horses---pardon, whom you give eat, this, it is colique, that, the other, it's colique---this never---he could go forty kilometres a day. .. .'
One of the strongest men I have seen in my life is crying because he has had to sell his favourite horse. No wonder les hommes in general are not interested. Someone said: 'Be of good cheer, Demestre, your wife and kids are well enough.'
'Yes-they were not cold; they have a bed like that' (a high gesture toward the quilt of many colours on which we were sitting, such a quilt as I have not seen since; a feathery deepness soft to the touch as air in Spring) 'qui vaut trois fois this of mine---but tu comprends, le matin il ne fait pas chaud'---then he dropped his head, and lifted it again, crying:
'Et mes outils, I had many---and my garments---where are they put, où---où? Kis! And I had chemises ... this is poor' (looking at himself as a prince might look at his disguise) ----'and like this, that---where?
'Si the voiture is not sold ... I never will stay here for la durée de la guerre. No---bahsht! To resume, that is why.'
(More than upright in the priceless bed---the twice-streaming darkness of his beard, his hoarse sweetness of voice---his immense perfect face and deeply softnesses eyes---pouring voice)
'... my wife sat over there, she spoke to No one and bothered Nobody---why was my wife taken here and shut up? Had she done anything? There is a wife who fait la putain and turns to every one and another, whom I bring another to-morrow ... but a woman qui n'aime que son mari, qui n'attend que son mari.'
(The tone bulged, and the eyes together.)
'---Ces cigarettes ne tirent pas!' I added an apology, having presented him with the package. 'Why do you dépenser pour these? They cost fifteen sous, you may spend for them if you like, you understand what I'm saying? But some time when you have nothing' (extraordinarily gently), 'what then? Better to save for that day... better to buy du tabac and faire yourself; these sont fait de la poussière du tabac.'
And there was some one to the right who was saying: 'Demain, c'est Dimamche alors'---wearily. The King lying upon his huge quilt, sobbing now only a little, heard:
'So---ah---il est tombé un dimanche---ma femme est en nourrice, elle donne la petite à têter' (the gesture charmed) 'she said to them she would not eat if they gave her that---ça ne va-ut rien du tout---il faut de la viande, tous les jours . . .' he mused. I tried to go.
'Assieds-toi là' (graciousness of complete gesture. The sheer kingliness of poverty. He creased the indescribably soft couverture for me and I sat and looked into his forehead bounded by the cube of square sliced hair. Blacker than Africa. Than imagination.)
After this evening I felt that possibly. I knew a little of The Wanderer, or he of me.
The Wanderer's wife and his two daughters and his baby lived in the women's quarters. I have not described and cannot describe these four. The little son of whom he was tremendously proud slept with his father in the great quilts in The Enormous Room. Of The Wanderer's little son I may say that he had lolling buttons of eyes sewed on gold flesh, that he had a habit of turning cart wheels in one-third of his father's trousers, that we called him The Imp. He ran, he teased, he turned handsprings, he got in the way, and he even climbed the largest of the scraggly trees in the cour one day. 'You will fall,' Monsieur Pet-airs (whose old eyes had a fondness for this irrepressible creature) remarked with conviction.---'Let him climb,' his father said quietly. 'I have climbed trees. I have fallen out of trees. I am alive." The Imp shinnied like a monkey, shouting and crowing, up a lean gnarled limb---to the amazement of the very planton who later tried to rape Celina and was caught. This planton put his gun in readiness and assumed an eager attitude of immutable heroism. "Will you shoot?' the father inquired politely. 'Indeed it would be a big thing of which you might boast all your life: I, a planton, shot and killed a six-year-old child in a tree.'---'C'est emmerdant,' the planton countered, in some confusion----'he may be trying to escape. How do I know?'---'Indeed, how do you know anything?' the father murmured quietly. 'It's a mystère.' The Imp, all at once, fell. He hit the muddy ground with a disagreeable thud. The breath was utterly knocked out of him. The Wanderer picked him up kindly. His son began, with the catching of his breath, to howl uproariously. 'Serves him right, the---jackanapes,' a Belgian growled. 'I told you so, didn't I?' Monsieur Pet-airs worryingly cried: 'I said he would fall out of that tree!'---'Pardon, you were right, I think,' the father smiled pleasantly. 'Don't be sad, my little son, everybody falls out of trees, they're made for that by God,' and he patted The Imp, squatting in the mud and smiling. In five minutes The Imp was trying to scale the shed. 'Come down or I fire,' the planton cried nervously ... and so it was with The Wanderer's son from morning till night. 'Never,' said Monsieur Pet-airs with solemn desperation, 'have I seen such an incorrigible child, a perfectly incorrigible child,' and he shook his head and immediately dodged a missile which had suddenly appeared from nowhere.
Night after night The Imp would play around our beds, where we held court with our chocolat and our bougie; teasing us, cajoling us, flattering us, pretending tears, feigning insult, getting lectures from Monsieur Pet-airs on the evil of cigarette smoking, keeping us in a state of perpetual inquietude. When he couldn't think of anything else to do he sang at the top of his clear bright voice:
'C'est la guerre faut pas t'en faire'
and turned a handspring or two for emphasis ... Mexique once cuffed him for doing something peculiarly mischievous, and he set up a great crying---instantly The Wanderer was standing over Mexique, his hands clenched, his eyes sparkling---it took a good deal of persuasion to convince the parent that the son was in error, meanwhile Mexique placidly awaited his end ... and neither B. nor I, despite The Imp's tormentings, could keep from laughing when he all at once with a sort of crowing cry rushed for the nearest post, jumped upon his hands, arched his back, and poised head-downward; his feet just touching, the pillar. Bare-footed, in a bright chemise and one third of his father's trousers ...
Being now in a class with 'les hommes mariés,' The Wanderer spent most of the day downstairs, coming up with his little son every night to sleep in The Enormous Room. But we saw him occasionally in the cour; and every other day when the dreadful cry was raised
'Allez, tout-le-monde, plucher les pommes!' and we descended to, in fair weather, the lane between the building and the cour, and in foul (very foul I should say) the dinosaur-coloured sweating walls of the dinin-groom---The Wanderer would quietly and slowly appear, along with the other hommes mariés, and take up the peeling of the amazingly cold potatoes which formed the pièce de résistance (in guise of Soupe) for both women and men at La Ferté. And if the wedded males did not all of them show up for this unagreeable task, a dreadful hullabaloo was instantly raised:
'LES HOMMES MARIES!'
and forth would more or less sheepishly issue the delinquents.
And I think The Wanderer, with his wife and children, whom he loved as never have I seen a man love anything in this world, was partly happy; walking in the sun when there was any, sleeping with his little boy in a great gulp of softness. And I remember him pulling his fine beard into two darknesses---huge-sleeved, pink-checked chemise ---walking kindly like a bear---corduroy bigness of trousers, waist-line always amorous of knees---finger-ends just catching tops of enormous pockets. 'When he feels, as I think, partly happy, he corrects our pronunciation of the ineffable Word---saying:
and smiles. And once Jean le Nègre said to him, as he squatted in the cour with his little son beside him, his broad strong back as nearly always against one of the gruesome and minute pommiers---
'Barbu! j'vais te couper la barbe, barbu!' Whereat the father answered, slowly and seriously:
'Quand vous arrachez ma barbe, il faut couper ma tête,' regarding Jean le Nègre with unspeakably sensitive, tremendously deep, peculiarly soft eyes. 'My beard is finer than that; you have made it too coarse,' he gently remarked one day, looking attentively at a piece of photographie which I had been caught in the act of perpetrating; whereat I bowed my head in silent shame.
'Demestre, Josef (femme, nee Feliska),' I read another day in the Gestionnaire's book of, judgment. Omonsieur le Gestionnaire, I should not have liked to have seen those names in my book of sinners, in my album of filth and blood and incontinence, had I been you ... O little, very little, gouvernement français, and you the great and comfortable messieurs of the world, tell me why you have put a gypsy who dresses like To-morrow among the squabbling pimps and thieves of yesterday ...
He had been in New York one day.
One child died at sea.
'Les landes,' he cried, towering over The Enormous Room suddenly one night in Autumn, 'je les connais comme ma poche---Bordeaux? Je sais où que c'est. Madrid? Je sais où que c'est. Tolède? Séville? Naples? Je sais où que c'est. Je les connais comme ma poche?
He could not read. 'Tell me what it tells,' he said briefly and without annoyance, when once I offered him the journal. And I took pleasure in trying to do so.
One fine day, perhaps the finest day, I looked from a window of The Enormous Room and saw (in the same spot that Lena had enjoyed her half-hour promenade during confinement in the cabinot, as related) the wife of The 'Wanderer, "née Feliska,' giving his baby a bath in a pail, while The Wanderer sat in the sun smoking. About the pail an absorbed group of putains stood. Several plantons (abandoning for one instant their plantonic demeanour) leaned upon their guns and watched. Some even smiled a little. And the mother, holding the brownish, naked, crowing child tenderly, was swimming it quietly to and fro, to the delight of Celina in particular. To Celina it waved its arms greetingly. She stooped and spoke to it. The mother smiled. The Wanderer, looking from time to time at his wife, smoked and pondered by himself in the sunlight.
This baby was the delight of the putains at all times.
They used to take turns carrying it when on promenade. The Wanderer's wife, at such moments, regarded them with a gentle and jealous weariness.
There were two girls, as I said. One, the littlest girl I ever saw walk and act by herself, looked exactly like a golliwog. This was because of the huge mop of black hair. She was very pretty. She used to sit with her mother and move her toes quietly for her own private amusement. The older sister was as divine a creature as God in his skilful and infinite wisdom ever created. Her intensely sexual face greeted us nearly always as we descended pour la soupe. She would come up to B. and me slenderly and ask, with the brightest and darkest eyes in the world:
'Chocolat, M'sieu'? and we would present her with a big or small, as the case might be, morceau de chocolat. 'We even called her Chocolat. Her skin was nearly sheer gold; her fingers and feet delicately formed; her teeth wonderfully white; her hair incomparably black and abundant. Her lips would have seduced, I think, le gouvernement français itself. Or any saint.
Le gouvernement français decided in its infinite but unskilful wisdom that The Wanderer, being an inexpressibly bad man (guilty of who knows what gentleness, strength and beauty) should suffer as much as he was capable of suffering. In other words, it decided (through its Three Wise Men, who formed the visiting Commission whereof I speak anon) that the wife, her baby, her two girls, and her little son should be separated from the husband by miles and by stone walls and by barbed wire and by Law. Or perhaps (there was a rumour to this effect) the Three Wise Men discovered that the father of these incredibly exquisite children was not her lawful husband. And of course, this being the case, the utterly and incomparably moral French Government saw its duty plainly; which duty was to inflict the ultimate anguish of separation upon the sinners concerned. I know that The Wanderer came from la commission with tears of anger in his great eyes. I know that some days later he, along with that deadly and poisonous criminal Monsieur Auguste, and that aged arch-traitor Monsieur Pet-airs, and that incomparably wicked person Surplice, and a ragged gentle being who one day presented us with a broken spoon which he had found somewhere---the gift being a purely spontaneous mark of approval and affection---who for this reason was known to us as The Spoonman, had the vast and immeasurable honour of departing for Précigné pour la durée de la guerre. If ever I can create by some occult process of imagining a deed so perfectly cruel as the deed perpetrated in the case of Joseph Demestre, I shall consider myself a genius. Then let us admit that the Three Wise Men were geniuses. And let us, also and softly, admit that it takes a good and great government perfectly to negate mercy. And let us, bowing our minds smoothly and darkly, repeat with Monsieur le Curé---'toujours l'enfer ...'
The Wanderer was almost insane when he heard the judgment of la commission. And hereupon I must pay my respects to Monsieur Pet-airs; whom I had ever liked, but whose spirit I had not, up to the night preceding The Wanderer's departure, fully appreciated. Monsieur Petairs sat for hours at the card-table, his glasses continually fogging, censuring The Wanderer in tones of apparent annoyance for his frightful weeping (and now and then himself sniffing faintly with his big red nose); sat for hours pretending to take dictation from Joseph Dernestre, in reality composing a great letter or series of great letters to the civil and I guess military authorities of Orne on the subject of the injustice done to the father of four children, one a baby at the breast, now about to be separated from all he held dear and good in this world. 'I appeal' (Monsieur Pet-airs wrote, in his boisterously careful, not to say elegant, script) 'to your sense of mercy and of fair play and of honour. It is not merely an unjust thing which is being done, not merely an unreasonable thing, it is an unnatural thing. . . .' As he wrote I found it hard to believe that this was the aged and decrepit and fussing biped whom I had known, whom I had caricatured, with whom I had talked upon ponderous subjects (a comparison between the Belgian and French cities with respect to their location as favouring progress and prosperity, for example); who had with a certain comic shyness revealed to me a secret scheme for reclaiming inundated territories by means of an extraordinary pump 'of my invention.' Yet this was he, this was Monsieur Pet-airs Lui-Même; and I enjoyed peculiarly making his complete acquaintance for the first and only time.
May the Heavens prosper him.
The next day The Wanderer appeared in the cour walking proudly in a shirt of solid vermilion.
He kissed his wife- --excuse me, Monsieur Malvy, I should say the mother of his children---crying very bitterly and suddenly.
The plantons yelled for him to line up with the rest, who were waiting outside the gate, bag and baggage. He covered his great king's eyes with his long golden hands and went.
With him disappeared unspeakable sunlight., and the dark, keen, bright strength of the earth.
Table of Contents