IT must have been late in November when la commission arrived. La commission, as I have said, visited La Fertié tous les trois mois. That is to say B. and I (by arriving when we did) had just escaped its clutches. I consider this one of the luckiest things in my life.
La commission arrived one morning, and began work immediately.
A list was made of les hommes who were to pass la commission, another of les femmes. These lists were given to the planton with The Wooden Hand. In order to avert any delay, those of les hommes whose names fell in the first half of the list were not allowed to enjoy the usual, stimulating activities afforded by La Ferté's supreme environment: they were, in fact, confined to The Enormous. Room, subject to instant call---moreover they were not called one by one, or as their respective turns came, but in groups of three or four; the idea being that la commission should suffer no smallest annoyance which might be occasioned by loss of time. There were always, in other words, eight or ten men waiting in the upper corridor opposite a disagreeably crisp door, which door belonged to that mysterious room wherein la commission transacted its inestimable affairs. Not more than a couple of yards away ten or eight women waited their turns. Conversation between les hommes and les femmes had been forbidden in the fiercest terms by Monsieur le Directeur: nevertheless conversation spasmodically occurred, thanks to the indulgent nature of The Wooden Hand. The Wooden Hand must have been cuckoo---he looked it. If he wasn't I am totally at a loss to account for his indulgence.
B. and I spent a morning in The Enormous Room without results, an astonishing acquisition of nervousness excepted. 'Après la soupe (noon) we were conducted en haut, told to leave our spoons and bread (which we did) and---in company with several others whose names were within a furlong of the last man called---were descended to the corridor. All that afternoon we waited. Also we waited all next morning. We spent our time talking quietly with a buxom, pink-cheeked Belgian girl who was in attendance as translator for one of les femmes. This Belgian told us that she was a permanent inhabitant of La Ferté, that she and another femme honnête occupied a room by themselves, that her brothers were at the front in Belgium, that her ability to speak fluently several languages (including English and German) made her invaluable to Messieurs la commission, that she had committed no crime, that she was held as a suspecte, that she was not entirely unhappy. She struck me immediately as being not only intelligent but alive. She questioned us in excellent English as to our offences, and seemed much pleased to discover that we were---to all appearances---innocent of wrong-doing.
From time to time our subdued conversation was interrupted by admonitions from the amiable Wooden Hand. Twice the door SLAMMED open, and Monsieur le Directeur bounced out frothing at the mouth and threatening everyone with infinite cabinot, on the ground that everyone's deportment or lack of it was menacing the aplomb of the commissioners. Each time The Black Holster appeared in the background and carried on his master's bullying until everyone was completely terrified---after which we were left to ourselves and The Wooden Hand once again.
B. and I were allowed by the latter individual---he was that day, at least, an individual and not merely a planton ---to peek over his shoulder at the men's list. The Wooden Hand even went so far as to escort our seditious minds to the nearness of their examination by the simple yet efficient method of placing one of his human fingers opposite the name of him who was (even at that moment) within, submitting to the inexorable justice of le gouvernement français. I cannot honestly say that the discovery of this proximity of ourselves to our respective fates wholly pleased us; yet we were so weary of waiting that it certainly did not wholly terrify us. All in all, I think I have never been so utterly un-at-ease as while waiting for the axe to fall, metaphorically speaking, upon our squawking heads.
We were still conversing with the Belgian girl when a man came out of the door unsteadily, looking as if he had submitted to several strenuous fittings of a wooden leg upon a stump not quite healed. The Wooden Hand, nodding at B., remarked hurriedly in a low voice:
And B. (smiling at La Belge and at me) entered. He was followed by The Wooden Hand, as I suppose for greater security.
The next twenty minutes or whatever it was were by far the most nerve-racking which I had as yet experienced. La Belge said to me:
'Il est gentil, votre ami,'
and I agreed. And my blood was bombarding the roots of my toes and the summits of my hair.
After (I need not say) two or three million æons, B. emerged. I had not time to exchange a look with him---let alone a word---for The Wooden Hand said from the doorway:
'Allez, l'autre américain,'
and I entered in more confusion than can easily be imagined; entered the torture chamber, entered the inquisition, entered the tentacles of that sly and beaming polyp, le gouvernement français....
As I entered I said, half-aloud: The thing is this, to look 'em in the eyes and keep cool whatever happens, not for the fraction of a moment forgetting that they are made of merde, that they are all of them composed entirely of merde---I don't know how many inquisitors I expected to see; but I guess I was ready for at least fifteen, among them President Poincaré lui-même. I hummed noiselessly:
'si vous passez par ma vil-le
n'oubliez pas ma maison:
on y mange de bonne sou-pe Ton Ton Tay-ne;
faite de merde et des onions, Ton Ton Tayne Ton Ton Ton,'
remembering the fine forgeron of Chevancourt who used to sing this, or something very like it, upon a table.---Entirely for the benefit of les deux américains, who would subsequently render 'Eats A lonje wae to Tee-pear-raeree,' wholly for the gratification of a roomful of what Mr. A. liked to call 'them bastards,' alias 'dirty' Frenchmen., alias les poilus, les poilus divins....
A little room. The Directeur's office? Or the Surveillant's? Comfort. O yes, very, very comfortable. On my right a table. At the table three persons. Reminds me of Noyon a bit, not unpleasantly of course. Three persons, reading from left to right as I face them---a soggy, sleepy, slumpy lump in a gendarme's cape and cap, quite old, captain of gendarmes, not at all interested, wrinkled coarse face, only semi-méchant, large hard clumsy hands floppingly disposed on table; wily, tidy man in civilian clothes, pen in hand, obviously lawyer, avocat type, little bald on top, sneaky civility, smells of bad perfume or at any rate sweetish soap; tiny red-headed person, also civilian, creased, worrying, excited face, amusing little body and hands, brief and jumpy, must be a Dickens character, ought to spend his time sailing kites of his own construction over other people's houses in gusty weather. Behind the Three, all tied up with deference and inferiority, mild and spineless, Apollyon.
'Would the reader like to know what I was asked?
Ah, would I could say! Only dimly do I remember those moments---only dimly do I remember looking through the lawyer at Apollyon's clean collar---only dimly do I remember the gradual collapse of the capitaine de gendarmerie, his slow but sure assumption of sleepfulness, the drooping of his soggy tête de cochon lower and lower till it encountered one hand whose elbow, braced firmly upon the table, sustained its insensate limpness---only dimly do I remember the enthusiastic antics of the little red-head when I spoke with patriotic fervour of the wrongs which La France was doing mon ami et moi---only dimly do I remember, to my right, the immobility of The Wooden Hand, reminding one of a clothing--- dummy, or a life-size doll which might be made to move only by him who knew the proper combination .... At the outset I was asked: Did I want a translator? I looked and saw the secrétaire, weak-eyed and lemon-pale, and I said 'Non.' I was questioned mostly by the avocat, somewhat by the Dickens, never by either the captain (who was asleep) or The Directeur (who was timid in the presence of these great and good delegates of hope, faith, and charity per the French Government). I recall that, for some reason, I was perfectly cool. I put over six or eight hot shots without losing in the least this composure, which surprised myself and pleased myself and altogether increased myself. As the questions came for me I met them half-way, spouting my best or worst French in a manner which positively astonished the tiny red-headed demigod. I challenged with my eyes and with my voice and with my manner Apollyon Himself, and Apollyon Himself merely cuddled together, depressing his hairy body between its limbs as a spider sometimes does in the presence of danger. I expressed immense gratitude to my captors and to le gouvernement français for allowing me to see and hear and taste and smell and touch the things which inhabited La Ferté Macé, Orne, France. I do not think that la commission enjoyed me much. It told me, through its sweetish-soap-leader, that my friend was a criminal---this immediately upon my entering---and I told it with a great deal of well-chosen politeness that I disagreed. In telling how and why I disagreed I think I managed to shove my shovel-shaped imagination under the refuse of their intellects. At least once or twice.
Rather fatiguing---to stand up and be told: Your friend is no good; have you anything to say for yourself ?---And to say a great deal for yourself and for your friend and for les hommes---or try your best to---and be contradicted, and be told 'Never mind that, what we wish to know is,' and instructed to keep to the subject; et cetera, ad infinitum. At last they asked each other if each other wanted to ask the man before each other anything more, and each other not wanting to do so, they said:
As at Noyon, I had made an indisputably favourable impression upon exactly one of my three examiners. I refer, in the present case, to the red-headed little gentleman who was rather decent to me. I do not exactly salute him in recognition of this decency; I bow to him, as I might bow to somebody who said he was sorry he couldn't give me a match but there was a cigar-store just around the corner you know.
At 'C'est fini,' The Directeur leaped into the lime-light with a savage admonition to The Wooden Hand-who saluted, opened the door suddenly, and looked at me with (dare I say it?) admiration. Instead of availing myself of this means of escape I turned to the little kite-flying gentleman and said:
'If you please, sir, will you be so good as to tell me what will become of my friend?'
The little kite-flying gentleman did not have time to reply, for the perfumed presence stated drily and distinctly:
'We cannot say anything to you upon that point.'
I gave him a pleasant smile which said, If I could see your intestines very slowly embracing a large wooden drum rotated by means of a small iron crank turned gently and softly by myself, I should be extraordinarily happy ---and I bowed softly and gently to Monsieur le Directeur and I went through the door using all the perpendicular inches which God had given me.
Once outside I began to tremble like a peuplier in l'automne . . . 'L'automne humide et monotone.'
---'Allez en bas, pour la soupe,' The Wooden Hand said not unkindly. I looked about me. 'There will be no more men before the commission until to-morrow,' The Wooden Hand said. 'Go get your dinner in the kitchen.'
Afrique was all curiosity---what did they say? what did I say?---as he placed before me a huge, a perfectly huge, an inexcusably huge plate of something more than lukewarm grease.... B. and I ate at a very little table in la cuisine, excitedly comparing notes as we swallowed the red-hot stuff. . . . 'Du Pain; Prenez, mes amis,' Afrique said. 'Mangez comme vous voulez,` the Cook quoth benignantly, with a glance at us over his placid shoulder. . . Eat we most surely did. We could have eaten the French Government.
The morning of the following day we went on promenade once more. It was neither pleasant nor unpleasant to promenade in the cour while somebody else was suffering in the Room of Sorrow. It was, in fact, rather thrilling.
The afternoon of this day we were all up in The Enormous Room when la commission suddenly entered with Apollyon strutting and lisping behind it, explaining, and poohpoohing, and graciously waving his thick wicked arms.
Everyone in The Enormous Room leaped to his feet, removing as he did so his hat---with the exception of les deux américains, who kept theirs on, and The Zulu, who couldn't find his hat and had been trying for some time to stalk it to its lair. La commission reacted interestingly to The Enormous Room: the captain of gendarmes looked soggily around and saw nothing with a good deal of contempt; the scented soap squinted up his face and said 'Faugh' or whatever a French bourgeois avocat says in the presence of a bad smell (la commission was standing by the door and consequently close to the cabinet); but the little red-head kite-flying gentleman looked actually horrified.
'Is there in the room anyone of Austrian nationality?'
The Silent Man stepped forward quietly.
'Why are you here?'
'I don't know,' The Silent Man said, with tears in his eyes.
'NONSENSE! You're here for a very good reason and you know what it is and you could tell it if you wished, you imbecile, you incorrigible, you criminal,' Apollyon shouted; then, turning to the avocat and the red-headed little gentleman, 'He is a dangerous alien, he admits it, he has admitted it---DON'T YOU ADMIT IT, EH? EH?' he roared at The Silent Man, who fingered his black cap without raising his eyes or changing in the least the simple and supreme dignity of his poise. 'He is incorrigible,' said (in a low snarl) The Directeur. 'Let us go, gentlemen, when you have seen enough.' But the red-headed man, as I recollect, was contemplating the floor by the door, where six pails of urine solemnly stood, three of them having overflowed slightly from time to time upon the reeking planks.. . . And The Directeur was told that les hommes should have a tin trough to urinate into, for the sake of sanitation; and that this trough should be immediately installed, installed without delay----'O yes indeed, sirs,' Apollyon simpered, 'a very good suggestion; it shall be done immediately; yes indeed. Do let me show you the---it's just outside 'and he bowed them out with no little skill. And the door SLAMMED behind Apollyon and the Three Wise Men.
This, as I say, must have occurred toward the last of November.
For a week we waited.
Jan had already left us. Fritz, having waited months for a letter from the Danish consul in reply to the letters which he, Fritz, wrote every so often and sent through le bureau---meaning the secrétaire---had managed to get news of his whereabouts to said consul by unlawful means; and was immediately, upon reception of this news by the consul, set free and invited to join a ship at the nearest port. His departure (than which a more joyous I have never witnessed) has been already mentioned in connection with the third Delectable Mountain, as has been the departure for Précigné of Pompom and Harree ensemble. Bill the Hollander, Monsieur Pet-airs, Mexique, The Wanderer, The little Machine-Fixer, Pete, Jean le Nègre, The Zulu and Monsieur Auguste (second time) were some of our remaining friends who passed the commission with us. Along with ourselves and these fine people were judged gentlemen like The Trick Raincoat and The Fighting Sheeney. One would think, possibly, that justice---in the guise of the Three Wise Men---would have decreed different fates, to (say) The Wanderer and The Fighting Sheeney. Au contraire. As I have previously remarked,. the ways of God and of the good and great French Government are alike inscrutable.
Bill the Hollander, whom we had grown to like whereas at first we were inclined to fear him, Bill the Hollander who washed some towels and handkerchiefs and what-nots for us and turned them a bright pink, Bill the Hollander who had tried so hard to teach the Young Pole the lesson which he could only learn from The Fighting Sheeney, left us about a week after la commission. As I understand it, they decided to send him back to Holland under guard in order that he might be jailed in his native land as a deserter. It is beautiful to consider the unselfishness of le gouvernement français in this case. Much as le gouvernement français would have liked to have punished Bill on its own account and for its own enjoyment, it gave him up---with a Christian smile---to the punishing clutches of a sister or brother government: without a murmur denying itself the incense of his sufferings and the music of .his sorrows. Then too it is really inspiring to note the perfect collaboration of la justice française and la justice hollandaise in a critical moment of the world's history. Bill certainly should feel that it was a great honour to be allowed to exemplify this wonderful accord, this exquisite mutual understanding, between the punitive departments of two nations superficially somewhat unrelated---that is, as regards customs and language. I fear Bill didn't appreciate the intrinsic usefulness of his destiny. I seem to remember that he left in a rather Gottverdummerish condition. Such is ignorance.
Poor Monsieur Pet-airs came out of the commission looking extraordinarily épaté. Questioned, he averred that his penchant for inventing force-pumps had prejudiced ces messieurs in his disfavour; and shook his poor old head and sniffed hopelessly. Mexique exited in a placidly cheerful condition, shrugging his shoulders and remarking:
"I no do nut'ing. Dese fellers tell me wait few days, after you go free,' whereas Pete looked white and determined and said little except in Dutch to The Young Skipper and his mate; which pair took la commission more or less as a healthy bull-calf takes nourishment: there was little doubt that they would refind la liberté in a short while, judging from the inability of the Three Wise Men to prove them even suspicious characters. The Zulu uttered a few inscrutable gestures made entirely of silence and said he would like us to celebrate the accomplishment of this ordeal by buying ourselves and himself a good fat cheese apiece---his friend The Young Pole looked as if said ordeal had scared the life out of him temporarily; he was unable to say whether or no he and 'mon ami' would leave us: la commission had adopted, in the case of these twain, an awe-inspiring taciturnity. Jean le Nègre, who was one of the last to pass, had had a tremendously exciting time, due to the fact that le gouvernement français' polished tools had failed to scratch his mystery either in French or English---he came dancing and singing toward us; then, suddenly suppressing every vestige of emotion, solemnly extended for our approval a small scrap of paper on which was written:
remarking: 'Qu'est-ce que ça veut dire?'---and when we read the word for him, 'm'en vais à Calais, moi, travailler à Calais, très bon!'----with a jump and a shout of laughter pocketing the scrap and beginning the Song of Songs:
'après la guerre fini. . . .'
A trio which had been hit and hard hit by the Three Wise Men were or was The Wanderer and The Machine-Fixer and Monsieur Auguste---the former having been insulted in respect to Chocolat's mother (who also occupied the witness-stand) and having retaliated, as nearly as we could discover, with a few remarks straight from the shoulder à propos justice (O Wanderer, did you expect honour among the honourable?); The Machine-Fixer having been told to shut up in the midst of a passionate plea for mercy, or at least fair-play, if not in his own case in the case of the wife who was crazed by his absence; Monsieur Auguste having been asked (as he had been asked three months before by the honourable commissioners), 'Why did you not return to Russia with your wife and your child at the outbreak of the war?---and having replied, with tears in his eyes and that gentle ferocity of which he was occasionally capable,
'Par-ce-que je n'en a-vais pas les moy-ens. je ne suis pas un millio-naire, mes-sieurs.'
The Baby-Snatcher, The Trick Raincoat, The Messenger Boy, The Fighting Sheeney and similar gentry passed the commission without the slightest apparent effect upon their disagreeable personalities.
It was not long after Bill the Hollander's departure that we lost two Delectable Mountains in The Wanderer and Surplice. Remained The Zulu and Jean le Nègre.... B. and I spent most of our time when on promenade collecting rather beautifully hued leaves in la cour. These leaves we inserted in one of my note-books, along with all the colours which we could find on cigarette-boxes, chocolate-wrappers, labels of various sorts and even postage-stamps. (We got a very brilliant red from a certain piece of cloth.) Our efforts puzzled everyone (including the plantons) more than considerably; which was natural, considering that everyone did not know that by this exceedingly simple means we were effecting, a study of colour itself, in relation to what is popularly called 'abstract' and sometimes 'non-representative' painting. Despite their natural puzzlement everyone (plantons excepted) was extraordinarily kind and brought us often valuable additions to our chromatic collection. Had I, at this moment and in the city of New York, the complete confidence of one-twentieth as many human beings I should not be so inclined to consider The Great American Public as the most æsthetically incapable organization ever created for the purpose of perpetuating defunct ideals and ideas. But of course The Great American Public has a handicap which my friends at La Ferté did not as a rule have---education. Let no one sound his indignant yawp at this. I refer to the fact that, for an educated gent or lady, to create is first of all to destroy---that there is and can be no such thing as authentic art until the bons trucs (whereby we are taught to see and imitate on canvas and in stone and by words this so-called world) are entirely and thoroughly and perfectly annihilated by that vast and painful process of Un thinking which may result in a minute bit of purely personal Feeling. Which minute bit is Art.
Ah well, the revolution---I refer of course to the intelligent revolution---is on the way; is perhaps nearer than some think, is possibly knocking at the front doors of The Great Mister Harold Bell Wright and The Great Little Miss Polyanna. In the course of the next ten thousand years it may be possible to find Delectable Mountains without going to prison---captivity I mean, Monsieur Le Surveillant---it may be possible, I dare say, to encounter Delectable Mountains who are not in prison....
The Autumn wore on.
Rain did, from time to time, not fall: from time to time a sort of unhealthy almost-light leaked from the large uncrisp corpse of the sky, returning for a moment to our view the ruined landscape. From time to time the eye, travelling carefully with a certain disagreeable suddenly fear no longer distances of air, coldish and sweet, stopped upon the incredible nearness of the desolate without-motion autumn. Awkward and solemn clearness, making louder the unnecessary cries, the hoarse laughter, of the invisible harlots in their muddy yard, pointing a cool actual finger at the silly and ferocious group of man-shaped beings huddled in the mud under four or five little trees, came strangely in my own mind pleasantly to suggest the ludicrous and hideous and beautiful antics of the insane. Frequently I would discover so perfect a command over myself as to easily reduce la promenade to a recently invented mechanism; or to the demonstration of a collection of vivid and unlovely toys around and around which, guarding them with impossible heroism, funnily moved purely unreal plantons, always absurdly marching, the maimed and stupid dolls of my imagination. Once I was sitting alone on the long beam of silent iron and suddenly had the gradual complete unique experience of death....
It became amazingly cold.
One evening B. and myself and, I think it was, The Machine-Fixer, were partaking of the warmth of a bougie hard by and in fact between our ambulance beds, when the door opened, a planton entered, and a list of names (none of which we recognized) was hurriedly read off with (as in the case of the last partis including The Wanderer and Surplice) the admonition:
"Soyez prêts partir demain matin de bonne heure'
---and the door shut loudly and quickly. Now one of the names which had been called sounded somewhat like 'Broom,' and a strange inquietude seized us on this account. Could it possibly have been 'Brown'? We made inquiries of certain of our friends who had been nearer the planton than ourselves. 'We were told that Pete and The Trick Raincoat and The Fighting Sheeney and Rockyfeller were leaving---about 'Brown' nobody was able to enlighten us. Not that opinions in this matter were lacking. There were plenty of opinions---but they contradicted each other to a painful extent. Les hommes were in fact about equally divided; half considering that the occult sound had been intended for 'Brown,' half that the somewhat asthmatic planton had unwittingly uttered a spontaneous grunt or sigh, which sigh or grunt we had mistaken for a proper noun. Our uncertainty was augmented by the confusion emanating from a particular corner of The Enormous Room, in which corner The Fighting Sheeney was haranguing a group of spectators on the pregnant topic: What I won't do to Précigné when I get there. In deep converse with Bathhouse John we beheld the very same youth who, some time since, had drifted to a place beside me at la soupe---Pete the Ghost, white and determined, blonde and fragile: Pete the Shadow....
I forget who, but someone---I think it was the little Machine-Fixer---established the truth that an American was to leave the next morning. That, moreover, said American's name was Brun.
Whereupon B. and I became extraordinarily busy.
The Zulu and Jean le Nègre, upon learning that B. was among the partis, came over to our beds and sat down without uttering a word. The former, through a certain shy orchestration of silence, conveyed effortlessly and perfectly his sorrow at the departure; the latter, by his bowed head and a certain very delicate restraint manifested in the wholly exquisite poise of his firm alert body, uttered at least a universe of grief.
The little Machine-Fixer was extremely indignant; not only that his friend was going to a den of thieves and ruffians, but that his friend was leaving in such company as that of cette crapule (meaning Rockyfeller) and les deux mangeurs de blanc (to wit, The Trick Raincoat and The Fighting Sheeney). 'C'est malheureux' he repeated over and over, wagging his poor little head in rage and despair ---'it's no place for a young man who has done no wrong, to be shut up with pimps and cut-throats, pour la durée de la guerre: le gouvernement français a bien fait!' and he brushed a tear out of his eye with a desperate rapid little gesture.... But what angered The Machine-Fixer was that B. and I were about to be separated
'M'sieu' Jean' (touching me gently on the knee), 'they have no hearts, la commission; they are not simply unjust, they are cruel, savez-vous? Men are not like these; they are not men, they are Name of God I don't know what, they are worse than the animals; and they pretend to Justice' (shivering from top to toe with an indescribable sneer) 'Justice! My God, Justice!'
All of which, somehow or other, did not exactly cheer us.
And, the packing completed, we drank together for The Last Time. The Zulu and Jean le Nègre and The Machine-Fixer and B. and I---and Pete the Shadow drifted over, whiter than I think I ever saw him, and said simply to me:
'I'll take care o' your friend, Johnny,'
... and then at last it was lumières éteintes; and les deux américains lay in their beds in the cold rotten darkness, talking in low voices of the past, of Pétrouchka, of Paris, of that brilliant and extraordinary and impossible something: Life.
Morning. Whitish. Inevitable. Deathly cold.
There was a great deal of hurry and bustle in The Enormous Room. People were rushing hither and thither in the heavy half-darkness. People were saying good-bye to people. Saying good-bye to friends. Saying good-bye to themselves. We lay and sipped the black, evil, dull, certainly not coffee; lay on our beds, dressed, shuddering with cold, waiting. Waiting. Several of les hommes whom we scarcely knew came up to B. and shook hands with him and said good luck and good-bye. The darkness was going rapidly out of the dull, black, evil, stinking air. B. suddenly realized that he had no gift for The Zulu; he asked a fine Norwegian to whom he had given his leather belt if he, The Norwegian, would mind giving it back, because there was a very dear friend who had been forgotten. The Norwegian, with a pleasant smile, took off the belt and said 'Certainly'.. . he had been arrested at Bordeaux, where he came ashore from his ship, for stealing three cans of sardines when he was drunk ... a very great and dangerous criminal ... he said 'Certainly' and gave B. a pleasant smile, the pleasantest smile in the world. B. wrote his own address and name in the inside of the belt, explained in French to The Young Pole that any time The Zulu wanted to reach him all he had to do was to consult the belt; The Young Pole translated; The Zulu nodded; the Norwegian smiled appreciatively; The Zulu received the belt with a gesture to which words cannot do the faintest justice---
A planton was standing in The Enormous Room, a planton roaring and cursing and crying 'Dépêchez-vous, ceux qui vont partir.'----B. shook hands with Jean and Mexique and The Machine-Fixer and The Young Skipper, and Bathhouse John (to whom he had given his ambulance tunic, and who was crazy-proud in consequence), and The Norwegian and The Washing-Machine Man and The Hat, and many of les hommes whom we scarcely knew.---The Black Holster was roaring:
'Allez, nom de dieu, l'américain!'
I went down the room with B. and Pete, and shook hands with both at the door. The other partis, alias The Trick Raincoat and The Fighting Sheeney, were already on the way downstairs. The Black Holster cursed us and me in particular and slammed the door angrily in my face
Through the little peephole I caught a glimpse of them, entering the street. I went to my bed and lay down quietly in my great pelisse. The clamour and filth. of the room brightened and became distant and faded. I heard the voice of the jolly Alsatian saying:
'Courage, mon ami, votre camarade n'est pas mort; vous le verrez plus tard,' and after that, nothing. In front of and on and within my eyes lived suddenly a violent and gentle and dark silence.
The Three Wise Men had done their work. But wisdom cannot rest....
Probably at that very moment they were holding their court in another La Ferté committing to incomparable anguish some few merely perfectly wretched criminals: little and tall, tremulous and brave all of them white and speechless, all of them with tight bluish lips and large whispering eyes, all of them with fingers weary and mutilated and extraordinarily old ... desperate fingers; closing, to feel the final lukewarm fragment of life glide neatly and softly into forgetfulness.
To convince the reader that this history is mere fiction (and rather vulgarly violent fiction at that) nothing perhaps is needed save that ancient standby of sob-story writers and thrill-artists alike---the Happy Ending. As a matter of fact, it makes not the smallest difference to me whether anyone who has thus far participated in my travels does or does not believe that they and I are (as that mysterious animal 'the public' would say) 'real.' I do however very strenuously object to the assumption, on the part of anyone, that the heading of this my final chapter stands for anything in the nature of happiness. In the course of recalling (in God knows a rather clumsy and perfectly inadequate way) what happened to me between the latter part of August 1917 and the first day of January 1918, 1 have proved to my own satisfaction (if not to anyone else's) that I was happier in La Ferté Macé, with The Delectable Mountains about me, than the very keenest words can pretend to express. I dare say it all comes down to a definition of happiness. And a definition of happiness I most certainly do not intend to attempt; but I can and will say this: to leave La Misère with the knowledge, and worse than that the feeling, that some of the finest people in the world are doomed to remain prisoners thereof for no one knows how long---are doomed to continue, possibly for years and tens of years and all the years which terribly are between them and their deaths, the grey and indivisible Non-existence which without apology you are quitting for Reality---cannot by any stretch of the imagination be conceived as constituting a Happy Ending to a great and personal adventure. That I write this chapter at all is due, purely and simply, to the I dare say unjustified hope on my part that---by recording certain events---it may hurl a little additional light into a very tremendous darkness....
At the outset let me state that what occurred subsequent to the departure for Précigné of B. and Pete and The Sheeneys and Rockyfeller is shrouded in a rather ridiculous indistinctness; due, I have to admit, to the depression which this departure inflicted upon my altogether too human nature. The judgment of the Three Wise Men had---to use a peculiarly vigorous (not to say vital) expression of my own day and time---knocked me for a loop. I spent the days intervening between the separation from 'votre camarade' and my somewhat supernatural departure for freedom in attempting to partially straighten myself. 'When finally I made my exit, the part of me popularly referred to as 'mind' was still in a slightly bent if not twisted condition. Not until some weeks of American diet had revolutionized my exterior did my interior completely resume the contours of normality. I am particularly neither ashamed nor proud of this (one might nearly say) mental catastrophe. No more ashamed or proud, in fact, than of the infection of three fingers which I carried to America as a little token of La Ferté's good-will. In the latter case I certainly have no right to boast, even should I find myself so inclined; for B. took with him to Précigné a case of what his father, upon B.'s arrival in The Home of The Brave, diagnosed as scurvy---which scurvy made my mutilations look like thirty cents or even less. One of my vividest memories of La Ferté consists in a succession of crackling noises associated with the disrobing of my friend. I recall that we appealed to Monsieur Ree-chard together, B. in behalf of his scurvy and I in behalf of my hand plus a queer little row of sores, the latter having proceeded to adorn that part of my face which was trying hard to be graced with a moustache. I recall that Monsieur Ree-chard decreed a bain for B., with bain meant immersion in a large tin tub partially filled with not quite lukewarm water. I, on the contrary, obtained a speck of zinc ointment on a minute piece of cotton, and considered myself peculiarly fortunate. Which details cannot possibly offend the reader's æsthetic sense to a greater degree than have already certain minutiæ connected with the sanitary arrangements of the Directeur's little home for homeless boys and girls---therefore I will not trouble to beg the reader's pardon but will proceed with my story proper or improper.
'Mais qu'est-ce que vous avez,' Monsieur le Surveillant demanded, in a tone of profound if kindly astonishment, as I wended my lonely way to la soupe some days after the disappearance of les partis.
I stood and stared at him very stupidly without answering, having indeed nothing at all to say.
'But why are you so sad?' he asked.
'I suppose I miss my friend,' I ventured.
'Mais---mais---' he puffed and panted like a very old and fat person trying to persuade a bicycle to climb a hill---'mais---vous avez de la chance!'
'I suppose I have,' I said without enthusiasm.
'Mais-mais-parfaite-ment---vous avez de la chance---uh ah---uh-ah---parce que---comprenez-vous---votre camarade---uh-ah---a attrapé prison!'
'Uh-ah,' I said wearily.
'Whereas,' continued Monsieur, 'you haven't. You ought to be extraordinarily thankful and particularly happy!'
'I should rather have gone to prison with my friend,' I stated briefly; and went into the dining-room, leaving the Surveillant uh-ahing in nothing short of complete amazement.
I really believe that my condition worried him, incredible as this may seem. At the time I gave neither an extraordinary nor a particular damn about Monsieur le Surveillant, nor indeed about 'l'autre américain,' alias myself. Dimly, through a fog of disinterested inapprehension, I realized that---with the exception of the plantons and of course Apollyon--- everyone was trying very hard to help me; that The Zulu, Jean, The Machine Fixer, Mexique, The Young Skipper, even The Washing Machine Man (with whom I promenaded frequently when no one else felt like taking the completely unagreeable air) were kind, very kind, kinder than I can possibly say. As for Afrique and The Cook---there was nothing too good for me at this time. I asked the latter's permission to cut wood, and was not only accepted as a sawyer but encouraged with assurances of the best coffee there was, with real sugar dedans. In the little space outside the cuisine, between the building and la cour, I sawed I away of a morning to my great satisfaction, from time to time clumping my saboted way into the chef's domain in answer to a subdued signal from Afrique. Of an afternoon I sat with Jean or Mexique or The Zulu on the long beam of silent iron, pondering very carefully nothing at all, replying to their questions or responding to their observations in a highly mechanical manner. I felt myself to be, at last, a doll---taken out occasionally and played with and put back into its house and told to go to sleep. . . .
One afternoon I was lying on my couch, thinking of the usual Nothing, when a sharp cry sung through The Enormous Room:
'Il tombe de la neige---Noël! Noël!'
I sat up. The Garde-Champêtre was at the nearest window, dancing a little horribly and crying:
I went to another window and looked out. Sure enough. Snow was falling, gradually and wonderfully falling, silently falling through the thick, soundless autumn.... It seemed to me supremely beautiful, the snow. There was about it something unspeakably crisp and exquisite, something perfect and minute and gentle and fatal.... The Garde-Champêtre's cry began a poem in the back of my head, a poem about the snow, a poem in French, beginning Il tombe de la neige--- Noël, Noël. I watched the snow. After a long time I returned to my bunk and I lay down, closing my eyes, feeling the snow's minute and crisp touch falling gently and exquisitely, falling perfectly and suddenly, through the thick, soundless autumn of my imagination.....
Some one is speaking to me.
'Le petit belge avec le bras cassé est là-bas, à la Porte, il veut vous parler ....
I marched the length of the room. The Enormous Room is filled with a new and beautiful darkness, the darkness of the snow outside, falling and falling and falling with the silent and actual gesture which has touched the soundless country of my mind as a child touches a toy it loves....
Through the locked door I heard a nervous whisper: 'Dis à l'américain que je veux parler avec lui.'---'Me voici,' I said.
'Put your ear to the key-hole, M'sieu' Jean,' said The Machine-Fixer's voice. The voice of the little Machine-Fixer, tremendously excited. I obey"---'Alors. Qu'est-ce que c'est, môn ami?
'M'sieu' Jean! Le Directeur va vous appeler tout de suite! You must get ready instantly! Wash and shave, eh? He's going to call you right away. And don't forget! Oloron! You will ask to go to Oloron Sainte-Marie, where you can paint! Oloron Sainte-Marie, Basse Pyrenees! N'oubliez Pas, M'sieu' Jean! Et dépêchez-vous!'
'Merci bien, mon ami!'---I remember now. The little Machine-Fixer and I had talked. It seemed that la commission had decided that I was not a criminal, but only a suspect. As a suspect I would be sent to some place in France, any place I wanted to go provided it was not on or near the sea-coast. That was in order that I should not perhaps try to escape from France. The Machine-Fixer had advised me to ask to go to Oloron Sainte-Marie. I should say that, as a painter, the Pyrenees particularly appealed to me. 'Et qu'il fait beau, là-bas! The snow on the mountains! And it's not cold. And what mountains! You can live there very cheaply. As a suspect you will merely have to report once a month to the chief of police of Oloron Sainte-Marie; he's an old friend of mine! He's a fine, fat, red-cheeked man, very kindly. He will make it easy for you, M'sieu' Jean, and will help you out in every way, when you tell him you are a friend of the little Belgian with the broken arm. Tell him I sent you. You will have a very fine time, and you can paint: such scenery to paint! My God---not like what you see from these windows. I advise you by all means to ask to go to Oloron.'
So thinking I lathered my face, standing before Judas's mirror.
'You don't rub enough,' the Alsatian advised, 'il faut frotter bien!' A number of fellow-captives were regarding my toilet with surprise and satisfaction. I discovered in the mirror an astounding beard and a good layer of dirt. I worked busily, counselled by several voices, censured by the Alsatian, encouraged by Judas himself. The shave and the wash completed, I felt considerably refreshed.
'L'américain en bas!' It was the Black Holster. I carefully adjusted my tunic and obeyed him.
The Directeur and the Surveillant were in consultation when I entered the latter's office. Apollyon, seated at a desk, surveyed me very fiercely. His subordinate swayed to and fro, clasping and unclasping his hands behind his back, and regarded me with an expression of almost benevolence. The Black Holster guarded the doorway.
Turning on me ferociously---'Votre ami est mauvais, très mauvais, SAVEZ-VOUS?' Le Directeur shouted.
I answered quietly, 'Oui? Je ne le savais pas.'
'He is a bad fellow, a criminal, a traitor, an insult to civilization,' Apollyon roared into my face.
'Yes?' I said again.
'You'd better be careful!' The Directeur shouted. 'Do you know what's happened to your friend?'
'Sais pas,' I said.
'He's gone to prison where he belongs!' Apollyon roared. 'Do you understand what that means?'
'Peut être,' I answered, somewhat insolently I fear.
'You're lucky not to be there with him! Do you understand?' Monsieur Le Directeur thundered, 'and next time pick your friends better, take more care I tell you, or you'll go where he is---TO PRISON FOR THE REST OF THE WAR!'
"With my friend I should be well content in prison,' I said evenly, trying to keep looking through him and into, the wall behind his black, big, spidery body.
'In God's Name what a fool!' The Directeur bellowed furiously---and The Surveillant remarked pacifyingly: 'Il aime trop son camarade, c'est tout.'---'But his comrade is a traitor and a villain!' objected the Fiend, at the top of his harsh voice---'Comprenez-vous: votre ami est UN SALAUD!' he snarled at me.
He seems afraid that I don't get his idea, I said to myself. 'I understand what you say,' I assured him.
'And you don't believe it?' he screamed, showing his fangs and otherwise looking like an exceedingly dangerous maniac.
'Je ne le crois pas, Monsieur.'
'O God's name!' he shouted. "What a fool, quel idiot, what a beastly fool!' And he did something through his froth-covered lips, something remotely suggesting laughter.
Hereupon The Surveillant again intervened. I was mistaken. It was lamentable. I could not be made to understand. Very true. But I had been sent for---'do you know, you have been decided to be a suspect,' Monsieur le Surveillant turned to me, 'and now you may choose where you wish to be sent.' Apollyon was blowing and wheezing and muttering... clenching his huge pinkish hands.
I addressed the Surveillant, ignoring Apollyon. 'I should like, if I may, to go to Oloron Sainte-Marie.'
'What do you want to go there for?' the Directeur exploded threateningly.
I explained that I was by profession an artist, and had always wanted to view the Pyrenees. 'The environment of Oloron would be most stimulating to an artist---'
'Do you know it's near Spain?' he snapped, looking straight at me.
I knew it was, and therefore replied with a carefully childish ignorance: 'Spain? Indeed! Very interesting.'
'You want to escape from France, that's it?' The Directeur snarled.
'Oh, I hardly should say that,' The Surveillant interposed soothingly, 'he is an artist, and Oloron is a very pleasant place for an artist. A very nice place. I hardly think his choice of Oloron a cause for suspicion. I should think it a very natural desire on his part.'---His superior subsided snarling.
After a few more questions I signed some papers which lay on the desk, and was told by Apollyon to get out.
'When can I expect to leave?' I asked The Surveillant.
'Oh, it's only a matter of days, of weeks perhaps,' he assured me benignantly.
'You'll leave when it's proper for you to leave!' Apollyon burst out. 'Do you understand?'
'Yes, indeed. Thank you very much,' I replied with a bow, and exited. On the way to The Enormous Room the Black Holster said to me sharply:
'Vous allez partir?'
He gave me such a look as would have turned a mahogany piano leg into a mound of smoking ashes, and slammed the key into the lock.
Every one gathered about me. 'What news?'
'I have asked to go to Oloron as a suspect,' I answered.
'You should have taken my advice and asked to go to Cannes,' the fat Alsatian reproached me. He had indeed spent a great while advising me---but I trusted the little Machine-Fixer.
'Parti?' Jean le Nègre said with huge eyes, touching me gently.
'Non, non. Plus tard, peut être. Pas maintenant,' I assured him. And he patted my shoulder and smiled, 'Bon!' And we smoked a cigarette in honour of the snow, of which Jean---in contrast to the majority of les hommes ---highly and unutterably approved. 'C'est joli!' he would say, laughing wonderfully. And next morning he and I went on an exclusive promenade, I in my sabots, Jean in a new pair of slippers which he had received (after many requests) from the bureau. And we strode to and fro in the muddy cour admiring la neige, not speaking.
One day, after the snow-fall, I received from Paris a complete set of Shakespeare in the Everyman edition. I had forgotten completely that B. and I---after trying and failing to get William Blake---had ordered and paid for the better known William; the ordering and communicating in general being done with the collaboration of Monsieur Pet-airs. It was a curious and interesting feeling which I experienced upon first opening to 'As You Like It' . . . the volumes had been carefully inspected, I learned, by the secrétaire, in order to eliminate the possibility of their concealing something valuable or dangerous. And in this connection let me add that the secrétaire, or (if not he) his superiors, were a good judge of what is valuable---if not what is dangerous. I know this because, whereas my family several times sent me socks, in every case enclosing cigarettes, I received invariably the former sans the latter. Perhaps it is not fair to suspect the officials of La Ferté of this particularly mean theft; I should, possibly, doubt the honesty of that very same French censor whose intercepting of B.'s correspondence had motivated our removal from the Section Sanitaire. Heaven knows I wish (like the Three 'Wise Men) to give justice where justice is due.
Somehow or other, reading Shakespeare did not appeal to my disordered mind. I tried 'Hamlet' and 'Julius Cæsar' once or twice and gave it up, after telling a man who asked 'Shah-kay-spare, who is Shah-kay-spare?' that Mr. S. was the Homer of the English-speaking peoples---which remark, to my surprise, appeared to convey a very definite idea to the questioner and sent him away perfectly satisfied. Most of the timeless time I spent promenading in the rain and sleet with Jean le Nègre, or talking with Mexique, or exchanging big gifts of silence with The Zulu. For Oloron---I did not believe in it, and I did not particularly care. If I went away, good; if I stayed, so long as Jean and The Zulu and Mexique were with me, good. 'M'en fous pas mal' pretty nearly summed up my philosophy.
At least The Surveillant let me alone on the Soi-Même topic. After my brief visit to Satan I wallowed in a perfect luxury of dirt. And no one objected. On the contrary, every one (realizing that the enjoyment of dirt may be made the basis of a fine art) beheld with something like admiration my more and more uncouth appearance. Moreover, my being dirtier than usual I was protesting in a (to me) very satisfactory way against all that was neat and tidy and bigoted and solemn and founded upon the anguish of my fine friends. And my fine friends, being my fine friends, understood. Simultaneously with my arrival at the summit of dirtiness---by December the twenty-first---came the Black Holster into The Enormous Room and with an excited and angry mien proclaimed loudly:
"L'américain! Allez chez Le Directeur. De suite.`
I protested mildly that I was dirty
'N'importe. Allez avec moi,' and down I went to the amazement of every one and the great amusement of myself. 'By Jove, wait till he sees me this time,' I remarked half-audibly....
The Directeur said nothing when I entered.
The Directeur extended a piece of paper, which I read.
The Directeur said, with an attempt at amiability, 'Alors, vous allez sortir.'
I looked at him in eleven-tenths of amazement. I was standing in the bureau de Monsieur le Directeur du Camp de Triage de la Ferté Macé, Orne, France, and holding in my hand a slip of paper which said that if there was a man named Edward E. Cummings, he should report immediately to the American Embassy, Paris, and I had just heard the words:
'Alors, vous allez sortir,' which words were pronounced in a voice so subdued, so constrained, so mild, so altogether ingratiating, that I could not imagine to whom it belonged. Surely not to the Fiend, to Apollyon, to the Prince of Hell, to Satan, to Monsieur le Directeur du Camp de Triage de la Ferté Macé--
'Get ready. You will leave immediately.'
Then I noticed the Surveillant. Upon his face I saw an almost smile. He returned my gaze and remarked:
'Uh-ah, uh-ah, Oui.'
'That's all,' The Directeur said. 'You will call for your money at the bureau of the Gestionnaire before leaving.'
'Go and get ready,' The Fencer said, and I certainly saw a smile....
'I? Am? Going? To? Paris?' somebody who certainly wasn't myself remarked in a kind of whisper.
'Parfaitement.'---Pettish. Apollyon. But how changed. 'Who the devil is myself? Where in Hell am I? What is Paris---a place, a somewhere, a city, life, to live: infinitive. Present first singular I live. Thou livest. The Directeur. The Surveillant. La Ferté Macé, Orne, France. 'Edward E. Cummings will report immediately.' Edward E. Cummings. The Surveillant. A piece of yellow paper. The Directeur. A necktie. Paris. Life. Liberté. La Liberté. 'La Liberté'----I almost shouted in agony.'
"Dépêchez-vous. Savez-vous, vous allez partir de suite. Cet après-midi. Pour Paris.'
I turned, I turned so suddenly as almost to bowl over the Black Holster, Black Holster and all; I turned toward the door, I turned upon the Black Holster, I turned into Edward E. Cummings, I turned into what was dead and is now alive, I turned into a city, I turned into a dream---
I am standing in The Enormous Room for the last time. I am saying good-bye. No, it is not I who am saying good-bye. It is in fact somebody else, possibly myself. Perhaps myself has shaken hands with a little creature with a wizened arm, a little creature in whose eyes tears for some reason are; with a placid youth (Mexique?) who smiles and says shakily:
'Good-bye, Johnny, I no for-get you,'
with a crazy old fellow who somehow or other has got inside B.'s tunic and is gesticulating and crying out and laughing; with a frank-eyed boy who claps me on the back and says:
'Good-bye and good-luck t' you'
(is he The Young Skipper, by any chance?); with a lot of hungry, wretched, beautiful people---I have given my bed to The Zulu, by Jove, and The Zulu is even now standing guard over it, and his friend The Young Pole has given me the address of 'mon ami,' and there are tears in The Young Pole's eyes, and I seem to be amazingly tall and altogether tearless---and this is the nice Norwegian, who got drunk at Bordeaux and stole three (or four was it?) cans of sardines ... and now I feel before me some one who also has tears in his eyes, some one who is in fact crying, some one whom I feel to be very strong and young as he hugs me quietly in his firm alert arms., kissing me on both cheeks and on the lips....
---O good-bye, good-bye, I am going away, Jean; have a good time, laugh wonderfully when la neige comes....
And I am standing somewhere with arms lifted up. 'Si tu as une lettre, sais-tu, il faut dire. For if I find a letter on you it will go hard with the man that gave it to you to take out.' Black. The Black Holster even. Does not examine my baggage. Wonder why? 'Allez!' Jean's letter to his gonzesse in Paris still safe in my little pocket under my belt. Ha ha, by God, that's a good one on you, you Black Holster, you Very Black Holster. That's a good one. Glad I said good-bye to the cook. Why didn't I give Monsieur Auguste's little friend, the cordonnier, more than six francs for mending my shoes? He looked so injured. I am a fool, and I am going into the street, and I am going by myself with no planton into the little street of the little city of La Ferté Macé which is a little, a very little city in France, where once upon a time I used to catch water for an old man
I have already shaken hands with the cook, and with the cordonnier who has beautifully mended my shoes. I am saying good-bye to les deux balayeurs. I am shaking hands with the little (the very little) Machine-Fixer again. I have given him a franc and I have given Garibaldi a franc. 'We had a drink a moment ago on me. The tavern is just opposite the gare, where there will soon be a train. I will get upon the soonness of the train and ride into the now of Paris. No, I must change at a station called Briouse did you say) Good-bye, mes amis, et bonne chance! They -disappear, pulling and pushing at a cart, les deux balayeurs ... de mes couilles ... by Jove, what a tin noise is coming, see the wooden engineer, he makes a funny gesture utterly composed (composed silently and entirely) of merde. Merde! Merde. A wee, tiny, absurd whistle coming from nowhere, from outside of me. Two men opposite. Jolt. A few houses, a fence, a wall, a bit of neige float foolishly by and through a window. These gentlemen in my compartment do not seem to know that La Misère exists. They are talking politics. Thinking that I don't understand. By Jesus, that's a good one. 'Pardon me, gentlemen, but does one change at the next station for Paris?' Surprised, I thought so. 'Yes, Monsieur, the next station.' By Hell I surprised somebody....
'Who are a million, a trillion, a nonillion young men? All are standing. I am standing. We are wedged in and on and over and under each other. Sardines. Knew a man once who was arrested for stealing sardines. I, sardine, look at three sardines, at three million sardines, at a carful of sardines. How did I get here? O yes, of course. Briouse. Horrible name 'Briouse.' Made a bluff at riding deuxième classe on a troisième classe ticket bought for me by les deux balayeurs. Gentleman in the compartment talked French with me till conductor appeared. 'Tickets, gentleman?' I extended mine dumbly. He gave me a look. 'How? This is third class!' I look intelligently ignorant. 'Il ne comprend pas français,' says the gentleman. 'Ah!' says the conductor, 'tease ease eye-ee thoorde claz tea-keat. You air een tea saycoend claz. You weel go eantoo tea thoorde claz weal you yes pleace at once?' So I got stung after all. Third is more amusing certainly, though god-damn hot with these sardines, including myself of course. Oh yes, of course. Poilus en per-mission. Very old some. Others mere kids. Once saw a planton who never saw a razor. Yet he was réformé. C'est la guerre. Several of us get off and stretch at a little tanktown-station. Engine thumping up front somewhere in the darkness. Wait. They get their bidons filled. Wish I had a bidon, a dis-donc bidon n'est-ce pas. Faut pas t'en faire, who sang or said that?
I am almost asleep. Or myself. What's the matter here? Sardines writhing about, cut it out, no room for that sort of thing. Jolt.
Morning. Morning in Paris. I found my bed full of fleas this morning, and I couldn't catch the fleas, though I tried hard because I was ashamed that anyone should find fleas in my bed which is at the Hotel des Saints Peres whither I went in a fiacre and the driver didnt know where it was. Wonderful. This is the American embassy. I must look funny in my pelisse. Thank God for the breakfast. I ate somewhere ... good-looking girl, Parisienne, at the switch-board upstairs. 'Go right in, sir.' A 1 English, by God. So this is the person to whom Edward E. Cummings is immediately to report.
'Is this Mr. Cummings?'
'Yes.' Rather a young man, very young in fact. Jove, I must look queer.
'Sit down! We've been looking all over creation for you.'
'Have some cigarettes?'
By God, he gives me a sac of Bull. Extravagant they are at the American Embassy. Can I roll one? I can. I do.
Conversation. Pleased to see me. Thought I was lost for good. Tried every means to locate me. Just discovered where I was. What was it like? No, really? You don't mean it! Well I'll be damned! Look here; this man B., what sort of a fellow is he? Well I'm interested to hear you say that. Look at his correspondence. It seemed to me that a fellow who could write like that wasn't dangerous. Must be a little queer. Tell me, isn't he a trifle foolish? That's what I thought. Now I'd advise you to leave France as soon as you can. They're picking up ambulance men left and right, men who've got no business to be in Paris. Do you want to leave by the next boat? I'd advise it. Good. Got money? If you haven't we'll pay your fare. Or half of it. Plenty, eh? Norton Harjes, I see. Mind going second class? Good. Not much difference on this line. Now you can take these papers and go to .... No time to lose, as she sails to-morrow. That's it. Grab a taxi, and hustle. When you've got those signatures bring them to me and I'll fix you all up. Get your ticket first, here's a letter to the manager of the Compagnie Generale. Then go through the police department. You can do it if you hurry. See you later. Make it quick, eh? Good-bye!
The streets. Les rues de Paris. I walked past Notre Dame. I bought tobacco. Jews are peddling things with American trade-marks on them, because in a day or two it's Christmas I suppose. Jesus, it is cold. Dirty snow. Huddling people. La guerre. Always la guerre. And chill. Goes through these big mittens. To-morrow I shall be on the ocean. Pretty neat the way that passport was put through. Rode all day in a taxi, two cylinders, running on one. Everywhere waiting lines. I stepped to the head and was attended to by the officials of the great and good French government. Gad, that's a good one. A good one on le gouvernement français. Pretty good. Les rues sont tristes. Perhaps there's no Christmas, perhaps the French Government has forbidden Christmas. Clerk at Norton Harjes seemed astonished to see me. O God it is cold in Paris. Every one looks hard under lamplight, because it's winter I suppose. Every one hurried. Every one hard. Every one cold. Every one huddling. Every one alive; alive; alive.
Shall I give this man five francs for dressing my hand? He said 'anything you like, monsieur.' Ship's doctor's probably well-paid. Probably not. Better hurry before I put my lunch. Awe-inspiring stink, because it's in the bow. Little member of the crew immersing his guess what in a can of some liquid or other, groaning from time to time, staggers when the boat tilts. 'Merci bien, Monsieur!' That was the proper thing. Now for the---never can reach it---here's the première classe one---any port in a storm . . . Feel better now. Narrowly missed American officer but just managed to make it. Was it yesterday or day before saw the Vaterland, I mean the what deuce is it---that biggest in the world afloat boat. Damned rough. Snow falling. Almost slid through the railing that time. Snow. The snow is falling into the sea; which quietly receives it: into which it utterly and peacefully disappears. Man with a college degree returning from Spain, not disagreeable sort, talks Spanish with that fat man who's an Argentinian.---Tinian?---Tinish, perhaps. All the same. In other words Tin. Nobody at the table knows I speak English or am American. Hell, that's a good one on nobody. That's a pretty fat kind of a joke on nobody.
Think I'm French. Talk mostly with those three or four Frenchmen going on permission to somewhere via New York. One has an accordion. Like second class. Wait till you see the gratte-ciel, I tell 'em. They say 'Oui? and don't believe. I'll show them. America. 'The land of the flea and the home of the dag'---short for dago of course.
My spirits are constantly improving. Funny Christmas, second day out. Wonder if we'll dock New Year's Day. My God, what a list to starboard. They say a waiter broke his arm when it happened, ballast shifted. Don't believe it. Something wrong. I know I nearly fell downstairs. . . .
My God, what an ugly island. Hope we don't stay here long. All the red-bloods first-class much excited about land. Damned ugly, I think.
The tall, impossibly tall, incomparably tall, city shoulderingly upward into hard sunlight leaned a little through the octaves of its parallel edges, leaningly strode upward into firm, hard, snowy sunlight; the noises of America nearingly throbbed with smokes and hurrying dots which are men and which are women and which are things new and curious and hard and strange and vibrant and immense, lifting with a great ondulous stride firmly into immortal sunlight....
Table of Contents