Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Eric Eldred, Thomas Berger,
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THE ENORMOUS ROOM
E. E. CUMMINGS
* * * * *
I. I BEGIN A PILGRIMAGE
II. EN ROUTE
III. A PILGRIM'S PROGRESS
IV. LE NOUVEAU
V. A GROUP OF PORTRAITS
VII. AN APPROACH TO THE DELECTABLE MOUNTAINS
VIII. THE WANDERER
XI. JEAN LE NEGRE
XII. THREE WISE MEN
XIII. I SAY GOOD-BYE TO LA MISERE
* * * * *
"FOR THIS MY SON WAS DEAD, AND IS ALIVE AGAIN; HE WAS LOST; AND IS
He was lost by the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps.
He was officially dead as a result of official misinformation.
He was entombed by the French Government.
It took the better part of three months to find him and bring him back to
life--with the help of powerful and willing friends on both sides of the
Atlantic. The following documents tell the story:
104 Irving Street, Cambridge, December 8, 1917.
President Woodrow Wilson, White House, Washington, D. C.
It seems criminal to ask for a single moment of your time. But I
am strongly advised that it would be more criminal to delay any
longer calling to your attention a crime against American
citizenship in which the French Government has persisted for many
weeks--in spite of constant appeals made to the American Minister
at Paris; and in spite of subsequent action taken by the State
Department at Washington, on the initiative of my friend, Hon.
The victims are two American ambulance drivers, Edward Estlin
Cummings of Cambridge, Mass., and W---- S---- B----....
More than two months ago these young men were arrested, subjected
to many indignities, dragged across France like criminals, and
closely confined in a Concentration Camp at La Ferte Mace; where,
according to latest advices they still remain--awaiting the final
action of the Minister of the Interior upon the findings of a
Commission which passed upon their cases as long ago as October
Against Cummings both private and official advices from Paris
state that there is no charge whatever. He has been subjected to
this outrageous treatment solely because of his intimate
friendship with young B----, whose sole crime is--so far as can
be learned--that certain letters to friends in America were
misinterpreted by an over-zealous French censor.
It only adds to the indignity and irony of the situation to say
that young Cummings is an enthusiastic lover of France and so
loyal to the friends he has made among the French soldiers, that
even while suffering in health from his unjust confinement, he
excuses the ingratitude of the country he has risked his life to
serve by calling attention to the atmosphere of intense suspicion
and distrust that has naturally resulted from the painful
experience which France has had with foreign emissaries.
Be assured, Mr. President, that I have waited long--it seems like
ages--and have exhausted all other available help before
venturing to trouble you.
1. After many weeks of vain effort to secure effective action by
the American Ambassador at Paris, Richard Norton of the
Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps to which the boys belonged, was
completely discouraged, and advised me to seek help here.
2. The efforts of the State Department at Washington resulted as
i. A cable from Paris saying that there was no charge against
Cummings and intimating that he would speedily be released.
ii. A little later a second cable advising that Edward Estlin
Cummings had sailed on the Antilles and was reported lost.
iii. A week later a third cable correcting this cruel error and
saying the Embassy was renewing efforts to locate
Cummings--apparently still ignorant even of the place of his
After such painful and baffling experiences, I turn to
you--burdened though I know you to be, in this world crisis, with
the weightiest task ever laid upon any man.
But I have another reason for asking this favor. I do not speak
for my son alone; or for him and his friend alone. My son has a
mother--as brave and patriotic as any mother who ever dedicated
an only son to a great cause. The mothers of our boys in France
have rights as well as the boys themselves. My boy's mother had a
right to be protected from the weeks of horrible anxiety and
suspense caused by the inexplicable arrest and imprisonment of
her son. My boy's mother had a right to be spared the supreme
agony caused by a blundering cable from Paris saying that he had
been drowned by a submarine. (An error which Mr. Norton
subsequently cabled that he had discovered six weeks before.) My
boy's mother and all American mothers have a right to be
protected against all needless anxiety and sorrow.
Pardon me, Mr. President, but if I were President and your son
were suffering such prolonged injustice at the hands of France;
and your son's mother had been needlessly kept in Hell as many
weeks as my boy's mother has--I would do something to make
American citizenship as sacred in the eyes of Frenchmen as Roman
citizenship was in the eyes of the ancient world. Then it was
enough to ask the question, "Is it lawful to scourge a man that
is a Roman, and uncondemned?" Now, in France, it seems lawful to
treat like a condemned criminal a man that is an American,
uncondemned and admittedly innocent!
Very respectfully, EDWARD CUMMINGS
This letter was received at the White House. Whether it was received with
sympathy or with silent disapproval is still a mystery. A Washington
official, a friend in need and a friend indeed in these trying
experiences, took the precaution to have it delivered by messenger.
Otherwise, fear that it had been "lost in the mail" would have added
another twinge of uncertainty to the prolonged and exquisite tortures
inflicted upon parents by alternations of misinformation and official
silence. Doubtless the official stethoscope was on the heart of the world
just then; and perhaps it was too much to expect that even a post-card
would be wasted on private heart-aches.
In any event this letter told where to look for the missing
boys--something the French government either could not or would not
disclose, in spite of constant pressure by the American Embassy at Paris
and constant efforts by my friend Richard Norton, who was head of the
Norton-Harjes Ambulance organization from which they had been abducted.
Release soon followed, as narrated in the following letter to Major ----
of the staff of the Judge Advocate General in Paris.
February 20, 1921.
My dear ----
Your letter of January 30th, which I have been waiting for with
great interest ever since I received your cable, arrived this
morning. My son arrived in New York on January 1st. He was in bad
shape physically as a result of his imprisonment: very much under
weight, suffering from a bad skin infection which he had acquired
at the concentration camp. However, in view of the extraordinary
facilities which the detention camp offered for acquiring
dangerous diseases, he is certainly to be congratulated on having
escaped with one of the least harmful. The medical treatment at
the camp was quite in keeping with the general standards of
sanitation there; with the result that it was not until he began
to receive competent surgical treatment after his release and on
board ship that there was much chance of improvement. A month of
competent medical treatment here seems to have got rid of this
painful reminder of official hospitality. He is, at present,
visiting friends in New York. If he were here, I am sure he would
join with me and with his mother in thanking you for the interest
you have taken and the efforts you have made.
W---- S---- B---- is, I am happy to say, expected in New York
this week by the S. S. Niagara. News of his release and
subsequently of his departure came by cable. What you say about
the nervous strain under which he was living, as an explanation
of the letters to which the authorities objected, is entirely
borne out by first-hand information. The kind of badgering which
the youth received was enough to upset a less sensitive
temperament. It speaks volumes for the character of his
environment that such treatment aroused the resentment of only
one of his companions, and that even this manifestation of normal
human sympathy was regarded as "suspicious." If you are right in
characterizing B----'s condition as more or less hysterical, what
shall we say of the conditions which made possible the treatment
which he and his friend received? I am glad B---- wrote the very
sensible and manly letter to the Embassy, which you mention.
After I have had an opportunity to converse with him, I shall be
in better position to reach a conclusion in regard to certain
matters about which I will not now express an opinion.
I would only add that I do not in the least share your
complacency in regard to the treatment which my son received. The
very fact that, as you say, no charges were made and that he was
detained on suspicion for many weeks after the Commission passed
on his case and reported to the Minister of the Interior that he
ought to be released, leads me to a conclusion exactly opposite
to that which you express. It seems to me impossible to believe
that any well-ordered government would fail to acknowledge such
action to have been unreasonable. Moreover, "detention on
suspicion" was a small part of what actually took place. To take
a single illustration, you will recall that after many weeks'
persistent effort to secure information, the Embassy was still
kept so much in the dark about the facts, that it cabled the
report that my son had embarked on The Antilles and was reported
lost. And when convinced of that error, the Embassy cabled that
it was renewing efforts to locate my son. Up to that moment, it
would appear that the authorities had not even condescended to
tell the United States Embassy where this innocent American
citizen was confined; so that a mistaken report of his death was
regarded as an adequate explanation of his disappearance. If I
had accepted this report and taken no further action, it is by no
means certain that he would not be dead by this time.
I am free to say, that in my opinion no self-respecting
government could allow one of its own citizens, against whom
there has been no accusation brought, to be subjected to such
prolonged indignities and injuries by a friendly government
without vigorous remonstrance. I regard it as a patriotic duty,
as well as a matter of personal self-respect, to do what I can to
see that such remonstrance is made. I still think too highly both
of my own government and of the government of France to believe
that such an untoward incident will fail to receive the serious
attention it deserves. If I am wrong, and American citizens must
expect to suffer such indignities and injuries at the hands of
other governments without any effort at remonstrance and redress
by their own government, I believe the public ought to know the
humiliating truth. It will make interesting reading. It remains
for my son to determine what action he will take.
I am glad to know your son is returning. I am looking forward
with great pleasure to conversing with him.
I cannot adequately express my gratitude to you and to other
friends for the sympathy and assistance I have received. If any
expenses have been incurred on my behalf or on behalf of my son,
I beg you to give me the pleasure of reimbursing you. At best, I
must always remain your debtor.
With best wishes,
I yield to no one in enthusiasm for the cause of France. Her cause was
our cause and the cause of civilization; and the tragedy is that it took
us so long to find it out. I would gladly have risked my life for her, as
my son risked his and would have risked it again had not the departure of
his regiment overseas been stopped by the armistice.
France was beset with enemies within as well as without. Some of the
"suspects" were members of her official household. Her Minister of
Interior was thrown into prison. She was distracted with fear. Her
existence was at stake. Under such circumstances excesses were sure to be
committed. But it is precisely at such times that American citizens most
need and are most entitled to the protection of their own government.
* * * * *
THE ENORMOUS ROOM
I BEGIN A PILGRIMAGE
In October, 1917, we had succeeded, my friend B. and I, in dispensing
with almost three of our six months' engagement as Voluntary Drivers,
Sanitary Section 21, Ambulance Norton Harjes, American Red Cross, and at
the moment which subsequent experience served to capitalize, had just
finished the unlovely job of cleaning and greasing (_nettoyer_ is the
proper word) the own private flivver of the chief of section, a gentleman
by the convenient name of Mr. A. To borrow a characteristic-cadence from
Our Great President: the lively satisfaction which we might be suspected
of having derived from the accomplishment of a task so important in the
saving of civilization from the clutches of Prussian tyranny was in some
degree inhibited, unhappily, by a complete absence of cordial relations
between the man whom fate had placed over us and ourselves. Or, to use
the vulgar American idiom, B. and I and Mr. A. didn't get on well. We
were in fundamental disagreement as to the attitude which we, Americans,
should uphold toward the poilus in whose behalf we had volunteered
assistance, Mr. A. maintaining "you boys want to keep away from those
dirty Frenchmen" and "we're here to show those bastards how they do
things in America," to which we answered by seizing every opportunity for
fraternization. Inasmuch as eight "dirty Frenchmen" were attached to the
section in various capacities (cook, provisioner, chauffeur, mechanician,
etc.) and the section itself was affiliated with a branch of the French
army, fraternization was easy. Now when he saw that we had not the
slightest intention of adopting his ideals, Mr. A. (together with the
_sous-lieutenant_ who acted as his translator--for the chief's knowledge
of the French language, obtained during several years' heroic service,
consisted for the most part in "_Sar var_," "_Sar marche_," and "_Deet
donk moan vieux_") confined his efforts to denying us the privilege of
acting as drivers, on the ground that our personal appearance was a
disgrace to the section. In this, I am bound to say, Mr. A. was but
sustaining the tradition conceived originally by his predecessor, a Mr.
P., a Harvard man, who until his departure from Vingt-et-Un succeeded in
making life absolutely miserable for B. and myself. Before leaving this
painful subject I beg to state that, at least as far as I was concerned,
the tradition had a firm foundation in my own predisposition for
uncouthness plus what _Le Matin_ (if we remember correctly) cleverly
nicknamed _La Boue Heroique_.
Having accomplished the _nettoyage_ (at which we were by this time
adepts, thanks to Mr. A.'s habit of detailing us to wash any car which
its driver and _aide_ might consider too dirty a task for their own
hands) we proceeded in search of a little water for personal use. B.
speedily finished his ablutions. I was strolling carelessly and solo from
the cook-wagon toward one of the two tents--which protestingly housed
some forty huddling Americans by night--holding in my hand an historic
_morceau de chocolat_, when a spick, not to say span, gentleman in a
suspiciously quiet French uniform allowed himself to be driven up to the
_bureau_, by two neat soldiers with tin derbies, in a Renault whose
painful cleanliness shamed my recent efforts. This must be a general at
least, I thought, regretting the extremely undress character of my
uniform, which uniform consisted of overalls and a cigarette.
Having furtively watched the gentleman alight and receive a ceremonious
welcome from the chief and the aforesaid French lieutenant who
accompanied the section for translatory reasons, I hastily betook myself
to one of the tents, where I found B. engaged in dragging all his
belongings into a central pile of frightening proportions. He was
surrounded by a group of fellow-heroes who hailed my coming with
considerable enthusiasm. "Your bunky's leaving" said somebody. "Going to
Paris" volunteered a man who had been trying for three months to get
there. "Prison you mean" remarked a confirmed optimist whost disposition
had felt the effects of French climate.
Albeit confused by the eloquence of B.'s unalterable silence, I
immediately associated his present predicament with the advent of the
mysterious stranger, and forthwith dashed forth, bent on demanding from
one of the tin-derbies the high identity and sacred mission of this
personage. I knew that with the exception of ourselves everyone in the
section had been given his seven days' leave--even two men who had
arrived later than we and whose turn should, consequently, have come
after ours. I also knew that at the headquarters of the Ambulance, _7 rue
Francois Premier_, was Monsieur Norton, the supreme head of the Norton
Harjes fraternity, who had known my father in other days. Putting two and
two together I decided that this potentate had sent an emissary to Mr. A.
to demand an explanation of the various and sundry insults and
indignities to which I and my friend had been subjected, and more
particularly to secure our long-delayed permission. Accordingly I was in
high spirits as I rushed toward the _bureau_.
I didn't have to go far. The mysterious one, in conversation with
_monsieur le sous-lieutenant_, met me half-way. I caught the words: "And
Cummings" (the first and last time that my name was correctly pronounced
by a Frenchman), "where is he?"
"Present," I said, giving a salute to which neither of them paid the
"Ah yes" impenetrably remarked the mysterious one in positively sanitary
English. "You shall put all your baggage in the car, at once"--then, to
tin-derby-the-first, who appeared in an occult manner at his master's
elbow--"Go with him, get his baggage, at once."
My things were mostly in the vicinity of the _cuisine_, where lodged the
_cuisinier, mechanician, menusier_, etc., who had made room for me (some
ten days since) on their own initiative, thus saving me the humiliation
of sleeping with nineteen Americans in a tent which was always two-thirds
full of mud. Thither I led the tin-derby, who scrutinised everything with
surprising interest. I threw _mes affaires_ hastily together (including
some minor accessories which I was going to leave behind, but which the
t-d bade me include) and emerged with a duffle-bag under one arm and a
bed-roll under the other, to encounter my excellent friends, the "dirty
Frenchmen," aforesaid. They all popped out together from one door,
looking rather astonished. Something by way of explanation as well as
farewell was most certainly required, so I made a speech in my best
"Gentlemen, friends, comrades--I am going away immediately and shall be
--"Oh hardly guillotined I should say," remarked t-d, in a voice which
froze my marrow despite my high spirits; while the cook and carpenter
gaped audibly and the mechanician clutched a hopelessly smashed
carburetor for support.
One of the section's _voitures_, a F.I.A.T., was standing ready. General
Nemo sternly forbade me to approach the Renault (in which B.'s baggage
was already deposited) and waved me into the F.I.A.T., bed, bed-roll and
all; whereupon t-d leaped in and seated himself opposite me in a position
of perfect unrelaxation, which, despite my aforesaid exultation at
quitting the section in general and Mr. A. in particular, impressed me as
being almost menacing. Through the front window I saw my friend drive
away with t-d Number 2 and Nemo; then, having waved hasty farewell to all
_les Americains_ that I knew--three in number--and having exchanged
affectionate greetings with Mr. A. (who admitted he was very sorry indeed
to lose us), I experienced the jolt of the clutch--and we were off in
Whatever may have been the forebodings inspired by t-d Number 1's
attitude, they were completely annihilated by the thrilling joy which I
experienced on losing sight of the accursed section and its asinine
inhabitants--by the indisputable and authentic thrill of going somewhere
and nowhere, under the miraculous auspices of someone and no one--of
being yanked from the putrescent banalities of an official non-existence
into a high and clear adventure, by a _deus ex machina_ in a grey-blue
uniform, and a couple of tin derbies. I whistled and sang and cried to my
_vis-a-vis_: "By the way, who is yonder distinguished gentleman who has
been so good as to take my friend and me on this little promenade?"--to
which, between lurches of the groaning F.I.A.T., t-d replied awesomely,
clutching at the window for the benefit of his equilibrium: "Monsieur le
Ministre de Surete de Noyon."
Not in the least realizing what this might mean, I grinned. A responsive
grin, visiting informally the tired cheeks of my _confrere_, ended by
frankly connecting his worthy and enormous ears which were squeezed into
oblivion by the oversize _casque_. My eyes, jumping from those ears, lit
on that helmet and noticed for the first time an emblem, a sort of
flowering little explosion, or hair-switch rampant. It seemed to me very
jovial and a little absurd.
"We're on our way to Noyon, then?"
T-d shrugged his shoulders.
Here the driver's hat blew off. I heard him swear, and saw the hat
sailing in our wake. I jumped to my feet as the F.I.A.T. came to a sudden
stop, and started for the ground--then checked my flight in mid-air and
landed on the seat, completely astonished. T-d's revolver, which had
hopped from its holster at my first move, slid back into its nest. The
owner of the revolver was muttering something rather disagreeable. The
driver (being an American of Vingt-et-Un) was backing up instead of
retrieving his cap in person. My mind felt as if it had been thrown
suddenly from fourth into reverse. I pondered and said nothing.
On again--faster, to make up for lost time. On the correct assumption
that t-d does not understand English the driver passes the time of day
through the minute window:
"For Christ's sake, Cummings, what's up?"
"You got me," I said, laughing at the delicate naivete of the question.
"Did y' do something to get pinched?"
"Probably," I answered importantly and vaguely, feeling a new dignity.
"Well, if you didn't, maybe B---- did."
"Maybe," I countered, trying not to appear enthusiastic. As a matter of
fact I was never so excited and proud. I was, to be sure, a criminal!
Well, well, thank God that settled one question for good and all--no more
_Section Sanitaire_ for me! No more Mr. A. and his daily lectures on
cleanliness, deportment, etc.! In spite of myself I started to sing. The
"I heard you asking the tin lid something in French. Whadhesay?"
"Said that gink in the Renault is the head cop of Noyon," I answered at
"GOODNIGHT. Maybe we'd better ring off, or you'll get in wrong with"--he
indicated t-d with a wave of his head that communicated itself to the car
in a magnificent skid; and t-d's derby rang out as the skid pitched t-d
the length of the F.I.A.T.
"You rang the bell then," I commented--then to t-d: "Nice car for the
wounded to ride in," I politely observed. T-d answered nothing....
We drive straight up to something which looks unpleasantly like a feudal
dungeon. The driver is now told to be somewhere at a certain time, and
meanwhile to eat with the Head Cop, who may be found just around the
corner--(I am doing, the translating for t-d)--and, oh yes, it seems that
the Head Cop has particularly requested the pleasure of this
distinguished American's company at _dejeuner_.
"Does he mean me?" the driver asked innocently.
"Sure," I told him.
Nothing is said of B. or me.
Now, cautiously, t-d first and I a slow next, we descend. The F.I.A.T.
rumbles off, with the distinguished one's backward-glaring head poked out
a yard more or less and that distinguished face so completely surrendered
to mystification as to cause a large laugh on my part.
"You are hungry?"
It was the erstwhile-ferocious speaking. A criminal, I remembered, is
somebody against whom everything he says and does is very cleverly made
use of. After weighing the matter in my mind for some moments I decided
at all cost to tell the truth, and replied:
"I could eat an elephant."
Hereupon t-d lead me to the Kitchen Itself, set me to eat upon a stool,
and admonished the cook in a fierce voice:
"Give this great criminal something to eat in the name of the French
And for the first time in three months I tasted Food.
T-d seated himself beside me, opened a huge jack-knife, and fell to,
after first removing his tin derby and loosening his belt.
One of the pleasantest memories connected with that irrevocable meal is
of a large, gentle, strong woman who entered in a hurry, and seeing me
"What is it?"
"It's an American, my mother," t-d answered through fried potatoes.
"Why is he here?" the woman touched me on the shoulder, and satisfied
herself that I was real.
"The good God is doubtless acquainted with the explanation," said t-d
pleasantly. "Not myself being the--"
"Ah, _mon pauvre_" said this very beautiful sort of woman. "You are going
to be a prisoner here. Everyone of the prisoners has a _marraine_, do you
understand? I am their _marraine_. I love them and look after them. Well,
listen: I will be your _marraine_, too."
I bowed and looked around for something to pledge her in. T-d was
watching. My eyes fell on a huge glass of red pinard. "Yes, drink," said
my captor, with a smile. I raised my huge glass.
"_A la sante de ma marraine charmante!_"
--This deed of gallantry quite won the cook (a smallish, agile Frenchman)
who shovelled several helps of potatoes on my already empty plate. The
tin derby approved also: "That's right, eat, drink, you'll need it later
perhaps." And his knife guillotined another delicious hunk of white
At last, sated with luxuries, I bade adieu to my _marraine_ and allowed
t-d to conduct me (I going first, as always) upstairs and into a little
den whose interior boasted two mattresses, a man sitting at the table,
and a newspaper in the hands of the man.
"_C'est un Americain_," t-d said by way of introduction. The newspaper
detached itself from the man who said: "He's welcome indeed: make
yourself at home, Mr. American"--and bowed himself out. My captor
immediately collapsed on one mattress.
I asked permission to do the same on the other, which favor was sleepily
granted. With half-shut eyes my Ego lay and pondered: the delicious meal
it had just enjoyed; what was to come; the joys of being a great criminal
... then, being not at all inclined to sleep, I read _Le Petit Parisien_
quite through, even to _Les Voies Urinaires._
Which reminded me--and I woke up t-d and asked: "May I visit the
"Downstairs," he replied fuzzily, and readjusted his slumbers.
There was no one moving about in the little court. I lingered somewhat on
the way upstairs. The stairs were abnormally dirty. When I reentered, t-d
was roaring to himself. I read the journal through again. It must have
been about three o'clock.
Suddenly t-d woke up, straightened and buckled his personality, and
murmured: "It's time, come on."
_Le bureau de_ Monsieur le Ministre was just around the corner, as it
proved. Before the door stood the patient F.I.A.T. I was ceremoniously
informed by t-d that we would wait on the steps.
Well! Did I know any more?--the American driver wanted to know.
Having proved to my own satisfaction that my fingers could still roll a
pretty good cigarette, I answered: "No," between puffs.
The American drew nearer and whispered spectacularly: "Your friend is
upstairs. I think they're examining him."
T-d got this; and though his rehabilitated dignity had accepted the
"makin's" from its prisoner, it became immediately incensed:
"That's enough," he said sternly.
And dragged me _tout-a-coup_ upstairs, where I met B. and his t-d coming
out of the _bureau_ door. B. looked peculiarly cheerful. "I think we're
going to prison all right," he assured me.
Braced by this news, poked from behind by my t-d, and waved on from
before by M. le Ministre himself, I floated vaguely into a very washed,
neat, business-like and altogether American room of modest proportions,
whose door was immediately shut and guarded on the inside by my escort.
Monsieur le Ministre said:
"Lift your arms."
Then he went through my pockets. He found cigarettes, pencils, a
jack-knife and several francs. He laid his treasures on a clean table and
said: "You are not allowed to keep these. I shall be responsible." Then
he looked me coldly in the eye and asked if I had anything else?
I told him that I believed I had a handkerchief.
He asked me: "Have you anything in your shoes?"
"My feet," I said, gently.
"Come this way," he said frigidly, opening a door which I had not
remarked. I bowed in acknowledgment of the courtesy, and entered room
I looked into six eyes which sat at a desk.
Two belonged to a lawyerish person in civilian clothes, with a bored
expression, plus a moustache of dreamy proportions with which the owner
constantly imitated a gentleman ringing for a drink. Two appertained to a
splendid old dotard (a face all ski-jumps and toboggan slides), on whose
protruding chest the rosette of the Legion pompously squatted. Numbers
five and six had reference to Monsieur, who had seated himself before I
had time to focus my slightly bewildered eyes.
Monsieur spoke sanitary English, as I have said.
"What is your name?"--"Edward E. Cummings."
--"Your second name?"--"E-s-t-l-i-n," I spelled it for him.--"How do you
say that?"--I didn't understand.--"How do you say your name?"--"Oh," I
said; and pronounced it. He explained in French to the moustache that my
first name was Edouard, my second "A-s-tay-l-ee-n," and my third
"Kay-umm-ee-n-gay-s"--and the moustache wrote it all down. Monsieur then
turned to me once more:
"You are Irish?"--"No," I said, "American."--"You are Irish by
family?"--"No, Scotch."--"You are sure that there was never an Irishman
in your parents?"--"So far as I know," I said, "there never was an
Irishman there."--"Perhaps a hundred years back?" he insisted.--"Not a
chance," I said decisively. But Monsieur was not to be denied: "Your name
it is Irish?"--"Cummings is a very old Scotch name," I told him fluently,
"it used to be Comyn. A Scotchman named The Red Comyn was killed by
Robert Bruce in a church. He was my ancestor and a very well-known
man."--"But your second name, where have you got that?"--"From an
Englishman, a friend of my father." This statement seemed to produce a
very favorable impression in the case of the rosette, who murmured: "_Un
ami de son pere, un Anglais, bon!_" several times. Monsieur, quite
evidently disappointed, told the moustache in French to write down that I
denied my Irish parentage; which the moustache did.
"What does your father in America?"--"He is a minister of the gospel," I
answered. "Which church?"--"Unitarian." This puzzled him. After a moment
he had an inspiration: "That is the same as a Free Thinker?"--I explained
in French that it wasn't and that _mon pere_ was a holy man. At last
Monsieur told the moustache to write: Protestant; and the moustache
obediently did so.
From this point on our conversation was carried on in French, somewhat to
the chagrin of Monsieur, but to the joy of the rosette and with the
approval of the moustache. In answer to questions, I informed them that I
was a student for five years at Harvard (expressing great surprise that
they had never heard of Harvard), that I had come to New York and studied
painting, that I had enlisted in New York as _conducteur voluntaire_,
embarking for France shortly after, about the middle of April.
Monsieur asked: "You met B---- on the _paquebot_?" I said I did.
Monsieur glanced significantly around. The rosette nodded a number of
times. The moustache rang.
I understood that these kind people were planning to make me out the
innocent victim of a wily villain, and could not forbear a smile. _C'est
rigoler_, I said to myself; they'll have a great time doing it.
"You and your friend were together in Paris?" I said "yes." "How long?"
"A month, while we were waiting for our uniforms."
A significant look by Monsieur, which is echoed by his _confreres_.
Leaning forward Monsieur asked coldly and carefully: "What did you do in
Paris?" to which I responded briefly and warmly: "We had a good time."
This reply pleased the rosette hugely. He wagged his head till I thought
it would have tumbled off. Even the mustache seemed amused. Monsieur le
Ministre de la Surete de Noyon bit his lip. "Never mind writing that
down," he directed the lawyer. Then, returning to the charge:
"You had a great deal of trouble with Lieutenant A.?"
I laughed outright at this complimentary nomenclature. "Yes, we certainly
He asked: "Why?"--so I sketched "Lieutenant" A. in vivid terms, making
use of certain choice expressions with which one of the "dirty Frenchmen"
attached to the section, a Parisien, master of argot, had furnished me.
My phraseology surprised my examiners, one of whom (I think the
moustache) observed sarcastically that I had made good use of my time in
Monsieur le Ministre asked: Was it true (a) that B. and I were always
together and (b) preferred the company of the attached Frenchmen to that
of our fellow-Americans?--to which I answered in the affirmative. Why? he
wanted to know. So I explained that we felt that the more French we knew
and the better we knew the French the better for us; expatiating a bit on
the necessity for a complete mutual understanding of the Latin and
Anglo-Saxon races if victory was to be won.
Again the rosette nodded with approbation.
Monsieur le Ministre may have felt that he was losing his case, for he
played his trump card immediately: "You are aware that your friend has
written to friends in America and to his family very bad letters." "I am
not," I said.
In a flash I understood the motivation of Monsieur's visit to
_Vingt-et-Un_: the French censor had intercepted some of B.'s letters,
and had notified Mr. A. and Mr. A.'s translator, both of whom had
thankfully testified to the bad character of B. and (wishing very
naturally to get rid of both of us at once) had further averred that we
were always together and that consequently I might properly be regarded
as a suspicious character. Whereupon they had received instructions to
hold us at the section until Noyon could arrive and take charge--hence
our failure to obtain our long-overdue permission.
"Your friend," said Monsieur in English, "is here a short while ago. I
ask him if he is up in the aeroplane flying over Germans will he drop the
bombs on Germans and he say no, he will not drop any bombs on Germans."
By this falsehood (such it happened to be) I confess that I was
nonplussed. In the first place, I was at the time innocent of
third-degree methods. Secondly, I remembered that, a week or so since,
B., myself and another American in the section had written a
letter--which, on the advice of the _sous-lieutenant_ who accompanied
_Vingt-et-Un_ as translator, we had addressed to the Under-Secretary of
State in French Aviation--asking that inasmuch as the American Government
was about to take over the Red Cross (which meant that all the Sanitary
Sections would be affiliated with the American, and no longer with the
French, Army) we three at any rate might be allowed to continue our
association with the French by enlisting in l'Esquadrille Lafayette. One
of the "dirty Frenchmen" had written the letter for us in the finest
language imaginable, from data supplied by ourselves.
"You write a letter, your friend and you, for French aviation?"
Here I corrected him: there were three of us; and why didn't he have the
third culprit arrested, might I ask? But he ignored this little
digression, and wanted to know: Why not American aviation?--to which I
answered: "Ah, but as my friend has so often said to me, the French are
after all the finest people in the world."
This double-blow stopped Noyon dead, but only for a second.
"Did your friend write this letter?"--"No," I answered truthfully.--"Who
did write it?"--"One of the Frenchmen attached to the section."--"What is
his name?"--"I'm sure I don't know," I answered; mentally swearing that,
whatever might happen to me the scribe should not suffer. "At my urgent
request," I added.
Relapsing into French, Monsieur asked me if I would have any hesitation
in dropping bombs on Germans? I said no, I wouldn't. And why did I
suppose I was fitted to become aviator? Because, I told him, I weighed
135 pounds and could drive any kind of auto or motorcycle. (I hoped he
would make me prove this assertion, in which case I promised myself that
I wouldn't stop till I got to Munich; but no.)
"Do you mean to say that my friend was not only trying to avoid serving
in the American Army but was contemplating treason as well?" I asked.
"Well, that would be it, would it not?" he answered coolly. Then, leaning
forward once more, he fired at me: "Why did you write to an official so
At this I laughed outright. "Because the excellent _sous-lieutenant_ who
translated when Mr. Lieutenant A. couldn't understand advised us to do
Following up this _sortie_, I addressed the mustache: "Write this down in
the testimony--that I, here present, refuse utterly to believe that my
friend is not as sincere a lover of France and the French people as any
man living!--Tell him to write it," I commanded Noyon stonily. But Noyon
shook his head, saying: "We have the very best reason for supposing your
friend to be no friend of France." I answered: "That is not my affair. I
want my opinion of my friend written in; do you see?" "That's
reasonable," the rosette murmured; and the moustache wrote it down.
"Why do you think we volunteered?" I asked sarcastically, when the
testimony was complete.
Monsieur le Ministre was evidently rather uncomfortable. He writhed a
little in his chair, and tweaked his chin three or four times. The
rosette and the moustache were exchanging animated phrases. At last
Noyon, motioning for silence and speaking in an almost desperate tone,
"_Est-ce-que vous detestez les boches?_"
I had won my own case. The question was purely perfunctory. To walk out
of the room a free man I had merely to say yes. My examiners were sure of
my answer. The rosette was leaning forward and smiling encouragingly. The
moustache was making little _ouis_ in the air with his pen. And Noyon had
given up all hope of making me out a criminal. I might be rash, but I was
innocent; the dupe of a superior and malign intelligence. I would
probably be admonished to choose my friends more carefully next time and
that would be all....
Deliberately, I framed the answer:
"_Non. J'aime beaucoup les francais._"
Agile as a weasel, Monsieur le Ministre was on top of me: "It is
impossible to love Frenchmen and not to hate Germans."
I did not mind his triumph in the least. The discomfiture of the rosette
merely amused me. The surprise of the moustache I found very pleasant.
Poor rosette! He kept murmuring desperately: "Fond of his friend, quite
right. Mistaken of course, too bad, meant well."
With a supremely disagreeable expression on his immaculate face the
victorious minister of security pressed his victim with regained
assurance: "But you are doubtless aware of the atrocities committed by
"I have read about them," I replied very cheerfully.
"You do not believe?"
"_Ca ce peut._"
"And if they are so, which of course they are" (tone of profound
conviction) "you do not detest the Germans?"
"Oh, in that case, of course anyone must detest them," I averred with
And my case was lost, forever lost. I breathed freely once more. All my
nervousness was gone. The attempt of the three gentlemen sitting before
me to endow my friend and myself with different fates had irrevocably
At the conclusion of a short conference I was told by Monsieur:
"I am sorry for you, but due to your friend you will be detained a little
I asked: "Several weeks?"
"Possibly," said Monsieur.
This concluded the trial.
Monsieur le Ministre conducted me into room number 1 again. "Since I have
taken your cigarettes and shall keep them for you, I will give you some
tobacco. Do you prefer English or French?"
Because the French (_paquet bleu_) are stronger and because he expected
me to say English, I said "French."
With a sorrowful expression Noyon went to a sort of bookcase and took
down a blue packet. I think I asked for matches, or else he had given
back the few which he found on my person.
Noyon, t-d and the grand criminal (alias I) now descended solemnly to the
F.I.A.T. The more and more mystified _conducteur_ conveyed us a short
distance to what was obviously a prison-yard. Monsieur le Ministre
watched me descend my voluminous baggage.
This was carefully examined by Monsieur at the _bureau_, of the prison.
Monsieur made me turn everything topsy-turvy and inside out. Monsieur
expressed great surprise at a huge shell: where did I get it?--I said a
French soldier gave it to me as a souvenir.--And several _tetes
d'obus_?--also souvenirs, I assured him merrily. Did Monsieur suppose I
was caught in the act of blowing up the French Government, or what
exactly?--But here are a dozen sketch-books, what is in them?--Oh,
Monsieur, you flatter me: drawings.--Of fortifications? Hardly; of
poilus, children, and other ruins.--Ummmm. (Monsieur examined the
drawings and found that I had spoken the truth.) Monsieur puts all these
trifles into a small bag, with which I had been furnished (in addition to
the huge duffle-bag) by the generous Red Cross. Labels them (in French):
"Articles found in the baggage of Cummings and deemed _inutile_ to the
case at hand." This leaves in the duffle-bag aforesaid: my fur coat,
which I brought from New York; my bed and blankets and bed-roll, my
civilian clothes, and about twenty-five pounds of soiled linen. "You may
take the bed-roll and the folding bed into your cell"--the rest of my
_affaires_ would remain in safe keeping at the _bureau_.
"Come with me," grimly croaked a lank turnkey creature.
Bed-roll and bed in hand, I came along.
We had but a short distance to go; several steps in fact. I remember we
turned a corner and somehow got sight of a sort of square near the
prison. A military band was executing itself to the stolid delight of
some handfuls of ragged _civiles_. My new captor paused a moment; perhaps
his patriotic soul was stirred. Then we traversed an alley with locked
doors on both sides, and stopped in front of the last door on the right.
A key opened it. The music could still be distinctly heard.
The opened door showed a room, about sixteen feet short and four feet
narrow, with a heap of straw in the further end. My spirits had been
steadily recovering from the banality of their examination; and it was
with a genuine and never-to-be-forgotten thrill that I remarked, as I
crossed what might have been the threshold: "_Mais, on est bien ici_."
A hideous crash nipped the last word. I had supposed the whole prison to
have been utterly destroyed by earthquake, but it was only my door
I put the bed-roll down. I stood up.
I was myself.
An uncontrollable joy gutted me after three months of humiliation, of
being bossed and herded and bullied and insulted. I was myself and my own
In this delirium of relief (hardly noticing what I did) I inspected the
pile of straw, decided against it, set up my bed, disposed the roll on
it, and began to examine my cell.
I have mentioned the length and breadth. The cell was ridiculously high;
perhaps ten feet. The end with the door in it was peculiar. The door was
not placed in the middle of this end, but at one side, allowing for a
huge iron can waist-high which stood in the other corner. Over the door
and across the end, a grating extended. A slit of sky was always visible.
Whistling joyously to myself, I took three steps which brought me to the
door-end. The door was massively made, all of iron or steel I should
think. It delighted me. The can excited my curiosity. I looked over the
edge of it. At the bottom reposefully lay a new human turd.
I have a sneaking mania for wood-cuts, particularly when used to
illustrate the indispensable psychological crisis of some outworn
romance. There is in my possession at this minute a masterful depiction
of a tall, bearded, horrified man who, clad in an anonymous rig of goat
skins, with a fantastic umbrella clasped weakly in one huge paw, bends to
examine an indication of humanity in the somewhat cubist wilderness
whereof he had fancied himself the owner....
It was then that I noticed the walls. Arm-high they were covered with
designs, mottos, pictures. The drawing had all been done in pencil. I
resolved to ask for a pencil at the first opportunity.
There had been Germans and Frenchmen imprisoned in this cell. On the
right wall, near the door-end, was a long selection from Goethe,
laboriously copied. Near the other end of this wall a satiric landscape
took place. The technique of this landscape frightened me. There were
houses, men, children. And there were trees. I began to wonder what a
tree looks like, and laughed copiously.
The back wall had a large and exquisite portrait of a German officer.
The left wall was adorned with a yacht, flying a number 13. "My beloved
boat" was inscribed in German underneath. Then came a bust of a German
soldier, very idealized, full of unfear. After this, a masterful
crudity--a doughnut-bodied rider, sliding with fearful rapidity down the
acute backbone of a totally transparent sausage-shaped horse, who was
moving simultaneously in five directions. The rider had a bored
expression as he supported the stiff reins in one fist. His further leg
assisted in his flight. He wore a German soldier's cap and was smoking. I
made up my mind to copy the horse and rider at once, so soon, that is, as
I should have obtained a pencil.
Last, I found a drawing surrounded by a scrolled motto. The drawing was a
potted plant with four blossoms. The four blossoms were elaborately dead.
Their death was drawn with a fearful care. An obscure deliberation was
exposed in the depiction of their drooping petals. The pot tottered very
crookedly on a sort of table, as near as I could see. All around ran a
funereal scroll. I read: "My farewell to my beloved wife, Gaby." A fierce
hand, totally distinct from the former, wrote in proud letters above:
"Punished for desertion. Six years of prison--military degradation."
It must have been five o'clock. Steps. A vast cluttering of the exterior
of the door--by whom? Whang opens the door. Turnkey-creature extending a
piece of chocolate with extreme and surly caution. I say "_Merci_" and
seize chocolate. Klang shuts the door.
I am lying on my back, the twilight does mistily bluish miracles through
the slit over the whang-klang. I can just see leaves, meaning tree.
Then from the left and way off, faintly, broke a smooth whistle, cool
like a peeled willow-branch, and I found myself listening to an air from
Petroushka, Petroushka, which we saw in Paris at the _Chatelet, mon ami
The voice stopped in the middle--and I finished the air. This code
continued for a half-hour.
It was dark.
I had laid a piece of my piece of chocolate on the window-sill. As I lay
on my back a little silhouette came along the sill and ate that piece of
a piece, taking something like four minutes to do so. He then looked at
me, I then smiled at him, and we parted, each happier than before.
My _cellule_ was cool, and I fell asleep easily.
(Thinking of Paris.)
... Awakened by a conversation whose vibrations I clearly felt through
the left wall:
A moldly moldering molish voice, suggesting putrifying tracts and
orifices, answers with a cob-webbish patience so far beyond despair as to
be indescribable: "_La soupe_."
"Well, the soup, I just gave it to you, Monsieur Savy."
"Must have a little something else. My money is _chez le directeur_.
Please take my money which is _chez le directeur_ and give me anything
"All right, the next time I come to see you to-day I'll bring you a
salad, a nice salad, Monsieur."
"Thank you, Monsieur," the voice moldered.
Klang!!--and says the turnkey-creature to somebody else; while turning
the lock of Monsieur Savy's door; taking pains to raise his voice so that
Monsieur Savy will not miss a single word through the slit over Monsieur
"That old fool! Always asks for things. When supposest thou will he
realize that he's never going to get anything?"
Grubbing at my door. Whang!
The faces stood in the doorway, looking me down. The expression of the
faces identically turnkeyish, i.e., stupidly gloating, ponderously and
imperturbably tickled. Look who's here, who let that in?
The right body collapsed sufficiently to deposit a bowl just inside.
I smiled and said: "Good morning, sirs. The can stinks."
They did not smile and said: "Naturally." I smiled and said: "Please give
me a pencil. I want to pass the time." They did not smile and said:
I smiled and said: "I want some water, if you please."
They shut the door, saying "Later."
Klang and footsteps.
I contemplate the bowl which contemplates me. A glaze of greenish grease
seals the mystery of its content, I induce two fingers to penetrate the
seal. They bring me up a flat sliver of cabbage and a large, hard,
thoughtful, solemn, uncooked bean. To pour the water off (it is warmish
and sticky) without committing a nuisance is to lift the cover off _Ca
Pue_. I did.
Thus leaving beans and cabbage-slivers. Which I ate hurryingly, fearing a
I pass a lot of time cursing myself about the pencil, looking at my
walls, my unique interior.
Suddenly I realize the indisputable grip of nature's humorous hand. One
evidently stands on _Ca Pue_ in such cases. Having finished, panting with
stink, I tumble on the bed and consider my next move.
The straw will do. Ouch, but it's Dirty.--Several hours elapse....
Steps and fumble. Klang. Repetition of promise to Monsieur Savy, etc.
Turnkeyish and turnkeyish. Identical expression. One body collapses
sufficiently to deposit a hunk of bread and a piece of water.
"Give your bowl."
I gave it, smiled and said: "Well, how about that pencil?"
"Pencil?" T-c looked at T-c.
They recited then the following word: "To-morrow." Klang and footsteps.
So I took matches, burnt, and with just 60 of them wrote the first stanza
of a ballade. To-morrow I will write the second. Day after to-morrow the
third. Next day the refrain. After--oh, well.
My whistling of Petroushka brought no response this evening.
So I climbed on _Ca Pue_, whom I now regarded with complete friendliness;
the new moon was unclosing sticky wings in dusk, a far noise from near
I sang a song the "dirty Frenchmen" taught us, _mon ami et moi_. The song
says _Bon soir, Madame de la Lune_.... I did not sing out loud, simply
because the moon was like a mademoiselle, and I did not want to offend
the moon. My friends: the silhouette and _la lune_, not counting _Ca
Pue_, whom I regarded almost as a part of me.
Then I lay down, and heard (but could not see the silhouette eat
something or somebody) ... and saw, but could not hear, the incense of
_Ca Pue_ mount gingerly upon the taking air of twilight.
The next day.--Promise to M. Savy. Whang. "My pencil?"--"You don't need
any pencil, you're going away."--"When?"--"Directly."--"How
directly?"--"In an hour or two: your friend has already gone before. Get
Klang and steps.
Everyone very sore about me. I should worry, however.
One hour, I guess.
Steps. Sudden throwing of door open. Pause.
"Come out, American."
As I came out, toting bed and bed-roll, I remarked: "I'm sorry to leave
you," which made T-c furiously to masticate his insignificant moustache.
Escorted to _bureau_, where I am turned over to a very fat _gendarme_.
"This is the American." The v-f-g eyed me, and I read my sins in his
porklike orbs. "Hurry, we have to walk," he ventured sullenly and
Himself stooped puffingly to pick up the segregated sack. And I placed my
bed, bed-roll, blankets and ample _pelisse_ under one arm, my 150-odd
pound duffle-bag under the other; then I paused. Then I said, "Where's my
The v-f-g hereat had a sort of fit, which perfectly became him.
I repeated gently: "When I came to the _bureau_ I had a cane."
"I don't give a damn about your cane," burbled my new captor frothily,
his pink evil eyes swelling with wrath.
"I'm staying," I replied calmly, and sat down on a curb, in the midst of
my ponderous trinkets.
A crowd of _gendarmes_ gathered. One didn't take a cane with one to
prison (I was glad to know where I was bound, and thanked this
communicative gentleman); or criminals weren't allowed canes; or where
exactly did I think I was, in the Tuileries? asks a rube movie-cop
"Very well, gentlemen," I said. "You will allow me to tell you
something." (I was beet-colored.) "In America that sort of thing isn't
This haughty inaccuracy produced an astonishing effect, namely, the
prestidigitatorial vanishment of the v-f-g. The v-f-g's numerous
_confreres_ looked scared and twirled their whiskers.
I sat on the curb and began to fill a paper with something which I found
in my pockets, certainly not tobacco.
Splutter-splutter-fizz-Poop--the v-f-g is back, with my oak-branch in his
raised hand, slithering opprobria and mostly crying: "Is that huge piece
of wood what you call a cane? It is, is it? What? How? What the--," so
I beamed upon him and thanked him, and explained that a "dirty Frenchman"
had given it to me as a souvenir, and that I would now proceed.
Twisting the handle in the loop of my sack, and hoisting the vast parcel
under my arm, I essayed twice to boost it on my back. This to the
accompaniment of HurryHurryHurryHurryHurryHurryHurry.... The third time I
sweated and staggered to my feet, completely accoutred.
Down the road. Into the _ville_. Curious looks from a few pedestrians. A
driver stops his wagon to watch the spider and his outlandish fly. I
chuckled to think how long since I had washed and shaved. Then I nearly
fell, staggered on a few steps, and set down the two loads.
Perhaps it was the fault of a strictly vegetarian diet. At any rate, I
couldn't move a step farther with my bundles. The sun sent the sweat
along my nose in tickling waves. My eyes were blind.
Hereupon I suggested that the v-f-g carry part of one of my bundles with
me, and received the answer: "I am doing too much for you as it is. No
_gendarme_ is supposed to carry a prisoner's baggage."
I said then: "I'm too tired."
He responded: "You can leave here anything you don't care to carry
further; I'll take care of it."
I looked at the _gendarme_. I looked several blocks through him. My lip
did something like a sneer. My hands did something like fists.
At this crisis along comes a little boy. May God bless all males between
seven and ten years of age in France!
The _gendarme_ offered a suggestion, in these words: "Have you any change
about you?" He knew, of course, that the sanitary official's first act
had been to deprive me of every last cent. The _gendarme's_ eyes were
fine. They reminded me of ... never mind. "If you have change," said he,
"you might hire this kid to carry some of your baggage." Then he lit a
pipe which was made in his own image, and smiled fattily.
But herein the v-f-g had bust his milk-jug. There is a slit of a pocket
made in the uniform of his criminal on the right side, and completely
covered by the belt which his criminal always wears. His criminal had
thus outwitted the gumshoe fraternity.
The _gosse_ could scarcely balance my smaller parcel, but managed after
three rests to get it to the station platform; here I tipped him
something like two cents (all I had) which, with dollar-big eyes, he took
A strongly-built, groomed _apache_ smelling of cologne and onions greeted
my v-f-g with that affection which is peculiar to _gendarmes_. On me he
stared cynically, then sneered frankly.
With a little tooty shriek the funny train tottered in. My captors had
taken pains to place themselves at the wrong end of the platform. Now
they encouraged me to HurryHurryHurry.
I managed to get under the load and tottered the length of the train to a
car especially reserved. There was one other criminal, a
beautifully-smiling, shortish man, with a very fine blanket wrapped in a
water-proof oilskin cover. We grinned at each other (the most cordial
salutation, by the way, that I have ever exchanged with a human being)
and sat down opposite one another--he, plus my baggage which he helped me
lift in, occupying one seat; the _gendarme_-sandwich, of which I formed
the _piece de resistance_, the other.
The engine got under way after several feints; which pleased the Germans
so that they sent several scout planes right over the station, train, us
_et tout_. All the French anticraft guns went off together for the sake
of sympathy; the guardians of the peace squinted cautiously from their
respective windows, and then began a debate on the number of the enemy
while their prisoners smiled at each other appreciatively.
"_Il fait chaud_," said this divine man, prisoner, criminal, or what not,
as he offered me a glass of wine in the form of a huge tin cup overflowed
from the canteen in his slightly unsteady and delicately made hand. He is
a Belgian. Volunteered at beginning of war. Permission at Paris,
overstayed by one day. When he reported to his officer, the latter
announced that he was a deserter--I said to him, "It is funny. It is
funny I should have come back, of my own free will, to my company. I
should have thought that being a deserter I would have preferred to
remain in Paris." The wine was terribly cold, and I thanked my divine
Never have I tasted such wine.
They had given me a chunk of war-bread in place of blessing when I left
Noyon. I bit into it with renewed might. But the divine man across from
me immediately produced a sausage, half of which he laid simply upon my
knee. The halving was done with a large keen poilu's knife.
I have not tasted a sausage since.
The pigs on my either hand had by this time overcome their respective
inertias and were chomping cheek-murdering chunks. They had quite a
layout, a regular picnic-lunch elaborate enough for kings or even
presidents. The v-f-g in particular annoyed me by uttering alternate
chompings and belchings. All the time he ate he kept his eyes half-shut;
and a mist overspread the sensual meadows of his coarse face.
His two reddish eyes rolled devouringly toward the blanket in its
waterproof roll. After a huge gulp of wine he said thickly (for his huge
moustache was crusted with saliva-tinted half-moistened shreds of food),
"You will have no use for that _machine la-bas_. They are going to take
everything away from you when you get there, you know. I could use it
nicely. I have wanted such a piece of rubber for a great while, in order
to make me a raincoat. Do you see?" (Gulp. Swallow.)
Here I had an inspiration. I would save the blanket-cover by drawing
these brigands' attention to myself. At the same time I would satisfy my
inborn taste for the ridiculous. "Have you a pencil?" I said. "Because I
am an artist in my own country, and will do your picture."
He gave me a pencil. I don't remember where the paper came from. I posed
him in a pig-like position, and the picture made him chew his moustache.
The apache thought it very droll. I should do his picture, too, at once.
I did my best; though protesting that he was too beautiful for my pencil,
which remark he countered by murmuring (as he screwed his moustache
another notch), "Never mind, you will try." Oh, yes, I would try all
right, all right. He objected, I recall, to the nose.
By this time the divine "deserter" was writhing with joy. "If you please,
Monsieur," he whispered radiantly, "it would be too great an honor, but
if you could--I should be overcome...."
Tears (for some strange reason) came into my eyes.
He handled his picture sacredly, criticised it with precision and care,
finally bestowed it in his inner pocket. Then we drank. It happened that
the train stopped and the _apache_ was persuaded to go out and get his
prisoner's canteen filled. Then we drank again.
He smiled as he told me he was getting ten years. Three years at solitary
confinement was it, and seven working in a gang on the road? That would
not be so bad. He wished he was not married, had not a little child. "The
bachelors are lucky in this war"--he smiled.
Now the gendarmes began cleaning their beards, brushing their stomachs,
spreading their legs, collecting their baggage. The reddish eyes, little
and cruel, woke from the trance of digestion and settled with positive
ferocity on their prey. "You will have no use...."
Silently the sensitive, gentle hands of the divine prisoner undid the
blanket-cover. Silently the long, tired, well-shaped arms passed it
across to the brigand at my left side. With a grunt of satisfaction the
brigand stuffed it in a large pouch, taking pains that it should not
show. Silently the divine eyes said to mine: "What can we do, we
criminals?" And we smiled at each other for the last time, the eyes and
A station. The _apache_ descends. I follow with my numerous _affaires_.
The divine man follows me--the v-f-g him.
The blanket-roll containing my large fur-coat got more and more unrolled;
finally I could not possibly hold it.
It fell. To pick it up I must take the sack off my back.
Then comes a voice, "allow me if you please, monsieur"--and the sack has
disappeared. Blindly and dumbly I stumble on with the roll; and so at
length we come into the yard of a little prison; and the divine man bowed
under my great sack.... I never thanked him. When I turned, they'd taken
him away, and the sack stood accusingly at my feet.
Through the complete disorder of my numbed mind flicker jabbings of
strange tongues. Some high boy's voice is appealing to me in Belgian,
Italian, Polish, Spanish and--beautiful English. "Hey, Jack, give me a
I lift my eyes. I am standing in a tiny oblong space. A sort of court.
All around, two-story wooden barracks. Little crude staircases lead up to
doors heavily chained and immensely padlocked. More like ladders than
stairs. Curious hewn windows, smaller in proportion than the slits in a
doll's house. Are these faces behind the slits? The doors bulge
incessantly under the shock of bodies hurled against them from within.
The whole dirty _nouveau_ business about to crumble.
Glance two: directly before me. A wall with many bars fixed across one
minute opening. At the opening a dozen, fifteen, grins. Upon the bars
hands, scraggy and bluishly white. Through the bars stretching of lean
arms, incessant stretchings. The grins leap at the window, hands
belonging to them catch hold, arms belonging to the hands stretch in my
direction ... an instant; the new grins leap from behind and knock off
the first grins which go down with a fragile crashing like glass smashed:
hands wither and break, arms streak out of sight, sucked inward.
In the huge potpourri of misery a central figure clung, shaken but
undislodged. Clung like a monkey to central bars. Clung like an angel to
a harp. Calling pleasantly in a high boyish voice: "O Jack, give me a
A handsome face, dark, Latin smile, musical fingers strong.
I waded suddenly through a group of gendarmes (they stood around me
watching with a disagreeable curiosity my reaction to this). Strode
fiercely to the window.
Trillions of hands.
Quadrillions of itching fingers.
The angel-monkey received the package of cigarettes politely,
disappearing with it into howling darkness. I heard his high boy's voice
distributing cigarettes. Then he leaped into sight, poised gracefully
against two central bars, saying "Thank you, Jack, good boy" ... "Thanks,
_merci_, _gracias_ ..." a deafening din of gratitude reeked from within.
"Put your baggage in here," quoth an angry voice. "No, you will not take
anything but one blanket in your cell, understand." In French. Evidently
the head of the house speaking. I obeyed. A corpulent soldier importantly
lead me to my cell. My cell is two doors away from the monkey-angel, on
the same side. The high boy-voice, centralized in a torrent-like halo of
stretchings, followed my back. The head himself unlocked a lock. I
marched coldly in. The fat soldier locked and chained my door. Four feet
went away. I felt in my pocket, finding four cigarettes. I am sorry I did
not give these also to the monkey--to the angel. Lifted my eyes and saw
my own harp.
A PILGRIM'S PROGRESS
Through the bars I looked into that little and dirty lane whereby I had
entered; in which a sentinel, gun on shoulder, and with a huge revolver
strapped at his hip, monotonously moved. On my right was an old wall
overwhelmed with moss. A few growths stemmed from its crevices. Their
leaves were of a refreshing colour. I felt singularly happy, and
carefully throwing myself on the bare planks sang one after another all
the French songs which I had picked up in my stay at the ambulance; sang
La Madelon, sang AVec avEC DU, and Les Galiots Sont Lourds Dans
Sac--concluding with an inspired rendering of La Marseillaise, at which
the guard (who had several times stopped his round in what I choose to
interpret as astonishment) grounded arms and swore appreciatively.
Various officials of the jail passed by me and my lusty songs; I cared no
whit. Two or three conferred, pointing in my direction, and I sang a
little louder for the benefit of their perplexity. Finally out of voice I
It was twilight.
As I lay on my back luxuriously, I saw through the bars of my twice
padlocked door a boy and a girl about ten years old. I saw them climb on
the wall and play together, obliviously and exquisitely, in the darkening
air. I watched them for many minutes; till the last moment of light
failed; till they and the wall itself dissolved in a common mystery,
leaving only the bored silhouette of the soldier moving imperceptibly and
wearily against a still more gloomy piece of autumn sky.
At last I knew that I was very thirsty; and leaping up began to clamor at
my bars. "Something to drink, please." After a long debate with the
sergeant of guards who said very angrily: "Give it to him," a guard took
my request and disappeared from view, returning with a more heavily armed
guard and a tin cup full of water. One of these gentry watched the water
and me, while the other wrestled with the padlock. The door being
minutely opened, one guard and the water painfully entered. The other
guard remained at the door, gun in readiness. The water was set down, and
the enterer assumed a perpendicular position which I thought merited
recognition; accordingly I said "_Merci_" politely, without getting up
from the planks. Immediately he began to deliver a sharp lecture on the
probability of my using the tin cup to saw my way out; and commended
haste in no doubtful terms. I smiled, asked pardon for my inherent
stupidity (which speech seemed to anger him) and guzzled the so-called
water without looking at it, having learned something from Noyon. With a
long and dangerous look at their prisoner, the gentlemen of the guard
withdrew, using inconceivable caution in the relocking of the door.
I laughed and fell asleep.
After (as I judged) four minutes of slumber, I was awakened by at least
six men standing over me. The darkness was intense, it was
extraordinarily cold. I glared at them and tried to understand what new
crime I had committed. One of the six was repeating: "Get up, you are
going away. Four o'clock." After several attempts I got up. They formed a
circle around me; and together we marched a few steps to a sort of
storeroom, where my great sack, small sack, and overcoat were handed to
me. A rather agreeably voiced guard then handed me a half-cake of
chocolate, saying (but with a tolerable grimness): "You'll need it,
believe me." I found my stick, at which "piece of furniture" they amused
themselves a little until I showed its use, by catching the ring at the
mouth of my sack in the curved end of the stick and swinging the whole
business unaided on my back. Two new guards--or rather _gendarmes_--were
now officially put in charge of my person; and the three of us passed
down the lane, much to the interest of the sentinel, to whom I bade a
vivid and unreturned adieu. I can see him perfectly as he stares stupidly
at us, a queer shape in the gloom, before turning on his heel.
Toward the very station whereat some hours since I had disembarked with
the Belgian deserter and my former escorts, we moved. I was stiff with
cold and only half awake, but peculiarly thrilled. The gendarmes on
either side moved grimly, without speaking; or returning monosyllables to
my few questions. Yes, we were to take the train. I was going somewhere,
then? "_B'en sure._"--"Where?"--"You will know in time."
After a few minutes we reached the station, which I failed to recognize.
The yellow flares of lamps, huge and formless in the night mist, some
figures moving to and fro on a little platform, a rustle of conversation:
everything seemed ridiculously suppressed, beautifully abnormal,
deliciously insane. Every figure was wrapped with its individual
ghostliness; a number of ghosts each out on his own promenade, yet each
for some reason selecting this unearthly patch of the world, this
putrescent and uneasy gloom. Even my guards talked in whispers. "Watch
him, I'll see about the train." So one went off into the mist. I leaned
dizzily against the wall nearest me (having plumped down my baggage) and
stared into the darkness at my elbow, filled with talking shadows. I
recognized _officiers anglais_ wandering helplessly up and down,
supported with their sticks; French lieutenants talking to each other
here and there; the extraordinary sense-bereft station master at a
distance looking like a cross between a jumping-jack and a goblin; knots
of _permissionaires_ cursing wearily or joking hopelessly with one
another or stalking back and forth with imprecatory gesticulations. "It's
a joke, too, you know, there are no more trains?"--"The conductor is
dead. I know his sister."--"Old chap, I am all in."--"Say, we are all
lost."--"What time is it?"--"My dear fellow, there is no more time, the
French Government forbids it." Suddenly burst out of the loquacious
opacity a dozen handfuls of Algeriens, their feet swaggering with
fatigue, their eyes burning, apparently by themselves--faceless in the
equally black mist. By threes and fives they assaulted the goblin who
wailed and shook his withered fist in their faces. There was no train. It
had been taken away by the French Government. "How do I know how the
poilus can get back to their regiments on time? Of course you'll all of
you be deserters, but is it my fault?" (I thought of my friend, the
Belgian, at this moment lying in a pen at the prison which I had just
quitted by some miracle.) ... One of these fine people from uncivilized,
ignorant, unwarlike Algeria was drunk and knew it, as did two of his very
fine friends who announced that as there was no train he should have a
good sleep at a farmhouse hard by, which farmhouse one of them claimed to
espy through the impenetrable night. The drunk was accordingly escorted
into the dark, his friends' abrupt steps correcting his own large
slovenly procedure out of earshot.... Some of the Black People sat down
near me and smoked. Their enormous faces, wads of vital darkness, swooned
with fatigue. Their vast gentle hands lay noisily about their knees.
The departed _gendarme_ returned, with a bump, out of the mist. The train
for Paris would arrive _de suite_. We were just in time, our movement had
so far been very creditable. All was well. It was cold, eh?
Then with the ghastly miniature roar of an insane toy the train for Paris
came fumbling into the station....
We boarded it, due caution being taken that I should not escape. As a
matter of fact I held up the would-be passengers for nearly a minute by
my unaided attempts to boost my uncouth baggage aboard. Then my captors
and I blundered heavily into a compartment in which an Englishman and two
French women were seated. My _gendarmes_ established themselves on either
side of the door, a process which woke up the Anglo-Saxon and caused a
brief gap in the low talk of the women. Jolt--we were off.
I find myself with a _francaise_ on my left and an _anglais_ on my right.
The latter has already uncomprehendingly subsided into sleep. The former
(a woman of about thirty) is talking pleasantly to her friend, whom I
face. She must have been very pretty before she put on the black. Her
friend is also a _veuve_. How pleasantly they talk, of _la guerre_, of
Paris, of the bad service; talk in agreeably modulated voices, leaning a
little forward to each other, not wishing to disturb the dolt at my
right. The train tears slowly on. Both the _gendarmes_ are asleep, one
with his hand automatically grasping the handle of the door. Lest I
escape. I try all sorts of positions, for I find myself very tired. The
best is to put my cane between my legs and rest my chin on it; but even
that is uncomfortable, for the Englishman has writhed all over me by this
time and is snoring creditably. I look him over; an Etonian, as I guess.
Certain well-bred-well-fedness. Except for the position--well, _c'est la
guerre_. The women are speaking softly. "And do you know, my dear, that
they had raids again in Paris? My sister wrote me."--"One has excitement
always in a great city, my dear."--
Bump, slowing down. BUMP--BUMP.
It is light outside. One sees the world. There is a world still, the
_gouvernement francais_ has not taken it away, and the air must be
beautifully cool. In the compartment it is hot. The _gendarmes_ smell
worst. I know how I smell. What polite women.
"_Enfin, nous voila._" My guards awoke and yawned pretentiously. Lest I
should think they had dozed off. It is Paris.
Some _permissionaires_ cried "Paris." The woman across from me said
"Paris, Paris." A great shout came up from every insane drowsy brain that
had travelled with us--a fierce and beautiful cry, which went the length
of the train.... Paris, where one forgets, Paris, which is Pleasure,
Paris, in whom our souls live, Paris, the beautiful, Paris at last.
The Englishman woke up and said heavily to me: "I say, where are
we?"--"Paris," I answered, walking carefully on his feet as I made my
baggage-laden way out of the compartment. It was Paris.
My guards hurried me through the station. One of them (I saw for the
first time) was older than the other, and rather handsome with his Van
Dyck blackness of curly beard. He said that it was too early for the
_metro_, it was closed. We should take a car. It would bring us to the
other station from which our next train left. We should hurry. We emerged
from the station and its crowds of crazy men. We boarded a car marked
something. The conductress, a strong, pink-cheeked, rather beautiful girl
in black, pulled my baggage in for me with a gesture which filled all of
me with joy. I thanked her, and she smiled at me. The car moved along
through the morning.
We descended from it. We started off on foot. The car was not the right
car. We would have to walk to the station. I was faint and almost dead
from weariness and I stopped when my overcoat had fallen from my benumbed
arm for the second time: "How far is it?" The older _gendarme_ returned
briefly, "Twenty minutes." I said to him: "Will you help me carry these
things?" He thought, and told the younger to carry my small sack filled
with papers. The latter grunted, "_C'est defendu._" We went a little
farther, and I broke down again. I stopped dead, and said: "I can't go
any farther." It was obvious to my escorts that I couldn't, so I didn't
trouble to elucidate. Moreover, I was past elucidation.
The older stroked his beard. "Well," he said, "would you care to take a
cab?" I merely looked at him. "If you wish to call a cab, I will take out
of your money, which I have here and which I must not give to you, the
necessary sum, and make a note of it, subtracting from the original
amount a sufficiency for our fare to the Gare. In that case we will not
walk to the Gare, we will in fact ride." "Please," was all I found to
reply to this eloquence.
Several empty cabs had gone by during the peroration of the law, and no
more seemed to offer themselves. After some minutes, however, one
appeared and was duly hailed. Nervously (he was shy in the big city) the
older asked if the driver knew where the Gare was. "_Quelle?_" demanded
the _cocher_ angrily. And when he was told--"Of course, I know, why not?"
We got in; I being directed to sit in the middle, and my two bags and fur
coat piled on top of us all.
So we drove through the streets in the freshness of the full morning, the
streets full of a few divine people who stared at me and nudged one
another, the streets of Paris ... the drowsy ways wakening at the horses'
hoofs, the people lifting their faces to stare.
We arrived at the Gare, and I recognized it vaguely. Was it D'Orleans? We
dismounted, and the tremendous transaction of the fare was apparently
very creditably accomplished by the older. The _cocher_ gave me a look
and remarked whatever it is Paris drivers remark to Paris cab horses,
pulling dully at the reins. We entered the station and I collapsed
comfortably on a bench; the younger, seating himself with enormous
pomposity at my side, adjusted his tunic with a purely feminine gesture
expressive at once of pride and nervousness. Gradually my vision gained
in focus. The station has a good many people in it. The number increases
momently. A great many are girls. I am in a new world--a world of _chic_
femininity. My eyes devour the inimitable details of costume, the
inexpressible nuances of pose, the indescribable _demarche_ of the
_midinette_. They hold themselves differently. They have even a little
bold color here and there on skirt or blouse or hat. They are not talking
about La Guerre. Incredible. They appear very beautiful, these
And simultaneously with my appreciation of the crisp persons about me
comes the hitherto unacknowledged appreciation of my uncouthness. My chin
tells my hand of a good quarter inch of beard, every hair of it stiff
with dirt. I can feel the dirt-pools under my eyes. My hands are rough
with dirt. My uniform is smeared and creased in a hundred thousand
directions. My puttees and shoes are prehistoric in appearance....
My first request was permission to visit the _vespasienne_. The younger
didn't wish to assume any unnecessary responsibilities; I should wait
till the older returned. There he was now. I might ask him. The older
benignly granted my petition, nodding significantly to his fellow-guard,
by whom I was accordingly escorted to my destination and subsequently
back to my bench. When we got back the _gendarmes_ held a consultation of
terrific importance; in substance, the train which should be leaving at
that moment (six something) did not run to-day. We should therefore wait
for the next train, which leaves at twelve-something-else. Then the older
surveyed me and said almost kindly: "How would you like a cup of
coffee?"--"Much," I replied sincerely enough.--"Come with me," he
commanded, resuming instantly his official manner. "And you" (to the
younger) "watch his baggage."
Of all the very beautiful women whom I had seen the most very beautiful
was the large and circular lady who sold a cup of perfectly hot and
genuine coffee for two cents, just on the brink of the station, chatting
cheerfully with her many customers. Of all the drinks I ever drank, hers
was the most sacredly delicious. She wore, I remember, a tight black
dress in which enormous and benignant breasts bulged and sank
continuously. I lingered over my tiny cup, watching her swift big hands,
her round nodding face, her large sudden smile. I drank two coffees, and
insisted that my money should pay for our drinks. Of all the treating
which I shall ever do, the treating of my captor will stand unique in
pleasure. Even he half appreciated the sense of humor involved; though
his dignity did not permit a visible acknowledgment thereof.
_Madame la vendeuse de cafe_, I shall remember you for more than a little
Having thus consummated breakfast, my guardian suggested a walk. Agreed.
I felt I had the strength of ten because the coffee was pure. Moreover it
would be a novelty to _me promener sans_ l50-odd pounds of baggage. We
As we walked easily and leisurely the by this time well peopled streets
of the vicinity, my guard indulged himself in pleasant conversation. Did
I know Paris much? He knew it all. But he had not been in Paris for
several (eight was it?) years. It was a fine place, a large city to be
sure. But always changing. I had spent a month in Paris while waiting for
my uniform and my assignment to a _section sanitaire_? And my friend was
with me? H-mmm-mm.
A perfectly typical runt of a Paris bull eyed us. The older saluted him
with infinite respect, the respect of a shabby rube deacon for a
well-dressed burglar. They exchanged a few well-chosen words, in French
of course. "What ya got there?"--"An American."--"What's wrong with
him?"--"H-mmm" mysterious shrug of the shoulders followed by a whisper in
the ear of the city thug. The latter contented himself with
"Ha-aaa"--plus a look at me which was meant to wipe me off the earth's
face (I pretended to be studying the morning meanwhile). Then we moved
on, followed by ferocious stares from the Paris bull. Evidently I was
getting to be more of a criminal every minute; I should probably be shot
to-morrow, not (as I had assumed erroneously) the day after. I drank the
morning with renewed vigor, thanking heaven for the coffee, Paris; and
feeling complete confidence in myself. I should make a great speech (in
Midi French). I should say to the firing squad: "Gentlemen, _c'est de la
blague, tu sais? Moi, je connais la soeur du conducteur._" ... They would
ask me when I preferred to die. I should reply, "Pardon me, you wish to
ask me when I prefer to become immortal?" I should answer: "What matter?
It's all the same to me, because there isn't any more time--the French
Government forbids it."
My laughter surprised the older considerably. He would have been more
astonished had I yielded to the well-nigh irrepressible inclination,
which at the moment suffused me, to clap him heartily upon the back.
Everything was _blague_. The driver, the cafe, the police, the morning,
and least and last the excellent French Government.
We had walked for a half hour or more. My guide and protector now
inquired of a workingman the location of the _boucheries_? "There is one
right in front of you," he was told. Sure enough, not a block away. I
laughed again. It was eight years all right.
The older bought a great many things in the next five minutes: sausage,
cheese, bread, chocolate, _pinard rouge_. A _bourgeoise_ with an
unagreeable face and suspicion of me written in headlines all over her
mouth served us with quick hard laconicisms of movement. I hated her and
consequently refused my captor's advice to buy a little of everything (on
the ground that it would be a long time till the next meal), contenting
myself with a cake of chocolate--rather bad chocolate, but nothing to
what I was due to eat during the next three months. Then we retraced our
steps, arriving at the station after several mistakes and inquiries, to
find the younger faithfully keeping guard over my two _sacs_ and
The older and I sat down, and the younger took his turn at promenading. I
got up to buy a Fantasio at the stand ten steps away, and the older
jumped up and escorted me to and from it. I think I asked him what he
would read? and he said "Nothing." Maybe I bought him a journal. So we
waited, eyed by everyone in the Gare, laughed at by the officers and
their _marraines_, pointed at by sinewy dames and decrepit
_bonhommes_--the centre of amusement for the whole station. In spite of
my reading I felt distinctly uncomfortable. Would it never be Twelve?
Here comes the younger, neat as a pin, looking fairly sterilized. He sits
down on my left. Watches are ostentatiously consulted. It is time. _En
avant._ I sling myself under my bags.
"Where are we going now?" I asked the older. Curling the tips of his
mustachios, he replied, "Mah-say."
Marseilles! I was happy once more. I had always wanted to go to that
great port of the Mediterranean, where one has new colors and strange
customs, and where the people sing when they talk. But how extraordinary
to have come to Paris--and what a trip lay before us. I was much muddled
about the whole thing. Probably I was to be deported. But why from
Marseilles? Where was Marseilles anyway? I was probably all wrong about
its location. Who cared, after all? At least we were leaving the
pointings and the sneers and the half-suppressed titters....
Two fat and respectable _bonhommes_, the two _gendarmes_, and I, made up
one compartment. The former talked an animated stream, the guards and I
were on the whole silent. I watched the liquidating landscape and dozed
happily. The _gendarmes_ dozed, one at each door. The train rushed lazily
across the earth, between farmhouses, into fields, along woods ... the
sunlight smacked my eye and cuffed my sleepy mind with colour.
I was awakened by a noise of eating. My protectors, knife in hand, were
consuming their meat and bread, occasionally tilting their _bidons_ on
high and absorbing the thin streams which spurted therefrom. I tried a
little chocolate. The _bonhommes_ were already busy with their repast.
The older gendarme watched me chewing away at the chocolate, then
commanded, "Take some bread." This astonished me, I confessed, beyond
anything which had heretofore occurred. I gazed mutely at him, wondering
whether the _gouvernement francais_ had made away with his wits. He had
relaxed amazingly: his cap lay beside him, his tunic was unbuttoned, he
slouched in a completely undisciplined posture--his face seemed to have
been changed for a peasant's, it was almost open in expression and almost
completely at ease. I seized the offered hunk, and chewed vigorously on
it. Bread was bread. The older appeared pleased with my appetite; his
face softened still more, as he remarked: "Bread without wine doesn't
taste good," and proffered his _bidon_. I drank as much as I dared, and
thanked him: "_Ca va mieux._" The _pinard_ went straight to my brain, I
felt my mind cuddled by a pleasant warmth, my thoughts became invested
with a great contentment. The train stopped; and the younger sprang out,
carrying the empty canteens of himself and his comrade. When they and he
returned, I enjoyed another cup. From that moment till we reached our
destination at about eight o'clock the older and I got on extraordinarily
well. When the gentlemen descended at their station he waxed almost
familiar. I was in excellent spirits; rather drunk; extremely tired. Now
that the two guardians and myself were alone in the compartment, the
curiosity which had hitherto been stifled by etiquette and pride of
capture came rapidly to light. Why was I here, anyway? I seemed well
enough to them.--Because my friend had written some letters, I told
them.--But I had done nothing myself?--I explained that we used to be
together all the time, _mon ami et moi_; that was the only reason which I
knew of.--It was very funny to see how this explanation improved matters.
The older in particular was immensely relieved.--I would without doubt,
he said, be set free immediately upon my arrival. The French government
didn't keep people like me in prison.--They fired some questions about
America at me, to which I imaginatively replied. I think I told the
younger that the average height of buildings in America was nine hundred
metres. He stared and shook his head doubtfully, but I convinced him in
the end. Then in my turn I asked questions, the first being: Where was my
friend?--It seems that my friend had left Gre (or whatever it was) the
morning of the day I had entered it.--Did they know where my friend was
going?--They couldn't say. They had been told that he was very
dangerous.--So we talked on and on: How long had I studied French? I
spoke very well. Was it hard to learn English?--
Yet when I climbed out to relieve myself by the roadside one of them was
at my heels.
Finally watches were consulted, tunics buttoned, hats donned. I was told
in a gruff voice to prepare myself; that we were approaching the end of
our journey. Looking at the erstwhile participants in conversation, I
scarcely knew them. They had put on with their caps a positive ferocity
of bearing. I began to think that I had dreamed the incidents of the
We descended at a minute, dirty station which possessed the air of having
been dropped by mistake from the bung of the _gouvernement francais_. The
older sought out the station master, who having nothing to do was taking
a siesta in a miniature waiting-room. The general countenance of the
place was exceedingly depressing; but I attempted to keep up my spirits
with the reflection that after all all this was but a junction, and that
from here we were to take a train for Marseilles herself. The name of the
station, Briouse, I found somewhat dreary. And now the older returned
with the news that our train wasn't running today, and that the next
train didn't arrive till early morning and should we walk to Marseilles?
I could check my great _sac_ and overcoat. The small _sac_ I should carry
along--it was only a step, after all.
With a glance at the desolation of Briouse I agreed to the stroll. It was
a fine night for a little promenade; not too cool, and with a promise of
a moon stuck into the sky. The _sac_ and coat were accordingly checked by
the older; the station master glanced at me and haughtily grunted (having
learned that I was an American); and my protectors and I set out.
I insisted that we stop at the first cafe and have some wine on me. To
this my escorts agreed, making me go ten paces ahead of them, and waiting
until I was through before stepping up to the bar--not from politeness,
to be sure, but because (as I soon gathered) _gendarmes_ were not any too
popular in this part of the world, and the sight of two _gendarmes_ with
a prisoner might inspire the habitues to attempt a rescue. Furthermore,
on leaving the cafe (a desolate place if I ever saw one, with a fearful
_patronne_) I was instructed sharply to keep close to them but on no
account to place myself between them, there being sundry villagers to be
encountered before we struck the highroad for Marseilles. Thanks to their
forethought and my obedience the rescue did not take place, nor did our
party excite even the curiosity of the scarce and soggy inhabitants of
the unlovely town of Briouse.
The highroad won, all of us relaxed considerably. The _sac_ full of
suspicious letters which I bore on my shoulder was not so light as I had
thought, but the kick of the Briouse _pinard_ thrust me forward at a good
clip. The road was absolutely deserted; the night hung loosely around it,
here and there tattered by attempting moonbeams. I was somewhat sorry to
find the way hilly, and in places bad underfoot; yet the unknown
adventure lying before me, and the delicious silence of the night (in
which our words rattled queerly like tin soldiers in a plush-lined box)
boosted me into a condition of mysterious happiness. We talked, the older
and I, of strange subjects. As I suspected, he had been not always a
_gendarme_. He had seen service among the Arabs. He had always liked
languages and had picked up Arabian with great ease--of this he was very
proud. For instance--the Arabian way of saying "Give me to eat" was this;
when you wanted wine you said so and so; "Nice day" was something else.
He thought I could pick it up inasmuch as I had done so creditably with
French. He was absolutely certain that English was much easier to learn
than French, and would not be moved. Now what was the American language
like? I explained that it was a sort of Argot-English. When I gave him
some phrases he was astonished--"It sounds like English!" he cried, and
retailed his stock of English phrases for my approval. I tried hard to
get his intonation of the Arabian, and he helped me on the difficult
sounds. America must be a strange place, he thought....
After two hours walking he called a halt, bidding us rest. We all lay
flat on the grass by the roadside. The moon was still battling with
clouds. The darkness of the fields on either side was total. I crawled on
hands and knees to the sound of silver-trickling water and found a little
spring-fed stream. Prone, weight on elbows, I drank heavily of its
perfect blackness. It was icy, talkative, minutely alive.
The older presently gave a perfunctory "_alors_"; we got up; I hoisted my
suspicious utterances upon my shoulder, which recognized the renewal of
hostilities with a neuralgic throb. I banged forward with bigger and
bigger feet. A bird, scared, swooped almost into my face. Occasionally
some night-noise pricked a futile, minute hole in the enormous curtain of
soggy darkness. Uphill now. Every muscle thoroughly aching, head
spinning, I half-straightened my no longer obedient body; and jumped:
face to face with a little wooden man hanging all by itself in a grove of
--The wooden body, clumsy with pain, burst into fragile legs with
absurdly large feet and funny writhing toes; its little stiff arms made
abrupt cruel equal angles with the road. About its stunted loins clung a
ponderous and jocular fragment of drapery. On one terribly brittle
shoulder the droll lump of its neckless head ridiculously lived. There
was in this complete silent doll a gruesome truth of instinct, a success
of uncanny poignancy, an unearthly ferocity of rectangular emotion.
For perhaps a minute the almost obliterated face and mine eyed one
another in the silence of intolerable autumn.
Who was this wooden man? Like a sharp black mechanical cry in the spongy
organism of gloom stood the coarse and sudden sculpture of his torment;
the big mouth of night carefully spurted the angular actual language of
his martyred body. I had seen him before in the dream of some mediaeval
saint, with a thief sagging at either side, surrounded with crisp angels.
Tonight he was alone; save for myself, and the moon's minute flower
pushing between slabs of fractured cloud.
I was wrong, the moon and I and he were not alone.... A glance up the
road gave me two silhouettes at pause. The _gendarmes_ were waiting. I
must hurry to catch up or incur suspicions by my sloth. I hastened
forward, with a last look over my shoulder ... the wooden man was
When I came abreast of them, expecting abuse, I was surprised by the
older's saying quietly "We haven't far to go," and plunging forward
imperturbably into the night.
Nor had we gone a half hour before several dark squat forms confronted
us: houses. I decided that I did not like houses--particularly as now my
guardian's manner abruptly changed; once more tunics were buttoned,
holsters adjusted, and myself directed to walk between and keep always up
with the others. Now the road became thoroughly afflicted with houses,
houses not, however, so large and lively as I had expected from my dreams
of Marseilles. Indeed we seemed to be entering an extremely small and
rather disagreeable town. I ventured to ask what its name was. "Mah-say"
was the response. By this I was fairly puzzled. However the street led us
to a square, and I saw the towers of a church sitting in the sky; between
them the round, yellow, big moon looked immensely and peacefully
conscious ... no one was stirring in the little streets, all the houses
were keeping the moon's secret.
We walked on.
I was too tired to think. I merely felt the town as a unique unreality.
What was it? I knew--the moon's picture of a town. These streets with
their houses did not exist, they were but a ludicrous projection of the
moon's sumptuous personality. This was a city of Pretend, created by the
hypnotism of moonlight.--Yet when I examined the moon she too seemed but
a painting of a moon and the sky in which she lived a fragile echo of
colour. If I blew hard the whole shy mechanism would collapse gently with
a neat soundless crash. I must not, or lose all.
We turned a corner, then another. My guides conferred concerning the
location of something, I couldn't make out what. Then the older nodded in
the direction of a long dull dirty mass not a hundred yards away, which
(as near as I could see) served either as a church or a tomb. Toward this
we turned. All too soon I made out its entirely dismal exterior. Grey
long stone walls, surrounded on the street side by a fence of ample
proportions and uniformly dull colour. Now I perceived that we made
toward a gate, singularly narrow and forbidding, in the grey long wall.
No living soul appeared to inhabit this desolation.
The older rang at the gate. A _gendarme_ with a revolver answered his
ring; and presently he was admitted, leaving the younger and myself to
wait. And now I began to realize that this was the _gendarmerie_ of the
town, into which for safe-keeping I was presently to be inducted for the
night. My heart sank, I confess, at the thought of sleeping in the
company of that species of humanity which I had come to detest beyond
anything in hell or on earth. Meanwhile the doorman had returned with the
older, and I was bidden roughly enough to pick up my baggage and march. I
followed my guides down a corridor, up a staircase, and into a dark,
small room where a candle was burning. Dazzled by the light and dizzied
by the fatigue of my ten or twelve mile stroll, I let my baggage go; and
leaned against a convenient wall, trying to determine who was now my
Facing me at a table stood a man of about my own height, and, as I should
judge, about forty years old. His face was seedy sallow and long. He had
bushy semi-circular eyebrows which drooped so much as to reduce his eyes
to mere blinking slits. His cheeks were so furrowed that they leaned
inward. He had no nose, properly speaking, but a large beak of
preposterous widthlessness, which gave his whole face the expression of
falling gravely downstairs, and quite obliterated the unimportant chin.
His mouth was made of two long uncertain lips which twitched nervously.
His cropped black hair was rumpled; his blouse, from which hung a croix
de guerre, unbuttoned; and his unputteed shanks culminated in
bed-slippers. In physique he reminded me a little of Ichabod Crane. His
neck was exactly like a hen's: I felt sure that when he drank he must
tilt his head back as hens do in order that the liquid may run their
throats. But his method of keeping himself upright, together with certain
spasmodic contractions of his fingers and the nervous "uh-ah, uh-ah"
which punctuated his insecure phrases like uncertain commas, combined to
offer the suggestion of a rooster; a rather moth-eaten rooster, which
took itself tremendously seriously and was showing off to an imaginary
group of admiring hens situated somewhere in the background of his