Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2018  Vol. 17 No. 2
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from One of Ours
Book Four, The Voyage of the Anchises
Section II, Excerpts of III–IV, Sections IV–IX

WW1 troops on a transport ship; statue of liberty in distance.
N. Moser, photographer
“Their last glimpse of Old New York.”

It was midnight when the men had got their supper and began unrolling their blankets to sleep on the floor of the long dock waiting-rooms,—which in other days had been thronged by people who came to welcome home-coming friends, or to bid them God-speed to foreign shores. Claude and some of his men had tried to look about them; but there was little to be seen. The bow of a boat, painted in distracting patterns of black and white, rose at one end of the shed, but the water itself was not visible. Down in the cobble-paved street below they watched for awhile the long line of drays and motor trucks that bumped all night into a vast cavern lit by electricity, where crates and barrels and merchandise of all kinds were piled, marked American Expeditionary Forces; cases of electrical machinery from some factory in Ohio, parts of automobiles, gun-carriages, bath-tubs, hospital supplies, bales of cotton, cases of canned food, grey metal tanks full of chemical fluids. Claude went back to the waiting room, lay down and fell asleep with the glare of an arc-light shining full in his face.

He was called at four in the morning and told where to report to headquarters. Captain Maxey, stationed at a desk on one of the landings, explained to his lieutenants that their company was to sail at eight o’clock on the Anchises. It was an English boat, an old liner pulled off the Australian trade, that could carry only twenty-five hundred men. The crew was English, but part of the stores,—the meat and fresh fruit and vegetables,—were furnished by the United States Government. The Captain had been over the boat during the night, and didn’t like it very well. He had expected to be scheduled for one of the fine big Hamburg-American liners, with dining-rooms finished in rosewood, and ventilation plants and cooling plants, and elevators running from top to bottom like a New York office building. “However,” he said, “we’ll have to make the best of it. They’re using everything that’s got a bottom now.”

The company formed for roll-call at one end of the shed, with their packs and rifles. Breakfast was served to them while they waited. After an hour’s standing on the concrete, they saw encouraging signs. Two gangplanks were lowered from the vessel at the end of the slip, and up each of them began to stream a close brown line of men in smart service caps. They recognized a company of Kansas Infantry, and began to grumble because their own service caps hadn’t yet been given to them; they would have to sail in their old Stetsons. Soon they were drawn into one of the brown lines that went continuously up the gangways, like belting running over machinery. On the deck one steward directed the men down to the hold, and another conducted the officers to their cabins. Claude was shown to a four-berth state-room. One of his cabin mates, Lieutenant Fanning, of his own company, was already there, putting his slender luggage in order. The steward told them the officers were breakfasting in the dining saloon.

By seven o’clock all the troops were aboard, and the men were allowed on deck. For the first time Claude saw the profile of New York City, rising thin and gray against an opal-coloured morning sky. The day had come on hot and misty. The sun, though it was now high, was a red ball, streaked across with purple clouds. The tall buildings, of which he had heard so much, looked unsubstantial and illusionary,—mere shadows of grey and pink and blue that might dissolve with the mist and fade away in it. The boys were disappointed. They were Western men, accustomed to the hard light of high altitudes, and they wanted to see the city clearly; they couldn’t make anything of these uneven towers that rose dimly through the vapour. Everybody was asking questions. Which of those pale giants was the Singer Building? Which the Woolworth? What was the gold dome, dully glinting through the fog? Nobody knew. They agreed it was a shame they could not have had a day in New York before they sailed away from it, and that they would feel foolish in Paris when they had to admit they had never so much as walked up Broadway. Tugs and ferry boats and coal barges were moving up and down the oily river,—all novel sights to the men. Over in the Cunard and French docks they saw the first examples of the “camouflage” they had heard so much about; big vessels daubed over in crazy patterns that made the eyes ache, some in black and white, some in soft rainbow colours.

A tug steamed up alongside and fastened. A few moments later a man appeared on the bridge and began to talk to the captain. Young Fanning, who had stuck to Claude’s side, told him this was the pilot, and that his arrival meant they were going to start. They could see the shiny instruments of a band assembling in the bow.

“Let’s get on the other side, near the rail if we can,” said Fanning. “The fellows are bunching up over here because they want to look at the Goddess of Liberty as we go out. They don’t even know this boat turns around the minute she gets into the river. They think she’s going over stern first!”

It was not easy to cross the deck; every inch was covered by a boot. The whole superstructure was coated with brown uniforms; they clung to the boat davits, the winches, the railings and ventilators, like bees in a swarm. Just as the vessel was backing out, a breeze sprang up and cleared the air. Blue sky broke overhead, and the pale silhouette of buildings on the long island grew sharp and hard. Windows flashed flame-coloured in their grey sides, the gold and bronze tops of towers began to gleam where the sunlight struggled through. The transport was sliding down toward the point, and to the left the eye caught the silver cobweb of bridges, seen confusingly against each other.

“There she is!” “Hello, old girl!” “Good-bye, sweetheart!”

The swarm surged to starboard. They shouted and gesticulated to the image they were all looking for,—so much nearer than they had expected to see her, clad in green folds, with the mist streaming up like smoke behind. For nearly every one of those twenty-five hundred boys, as for Claude, it was their first glimpse of the Bartholdi statue. Though she was such a definite image in their minds, they had not imagined her in her setting of sea and sky, with the shipping of the world coming and going at her feet, and the moving cloud-masses behind her. Post-card pictures had given them no idea of the energy of her large gesture, or how her heaviness becomes light among the vapourish elements. “France gave her to us,” they kept saying, as they saluted her. Before Claude had got over his first thrill, the Kansas band in the bow began playing “Over There.” Two thousand voices took it up, booming out over the water the gay, indomitable resolution of that jaunty air.

A Staten Island ferry-boat passed close under the bow of the transport. The passengers were office-going people, on their way to work, and when they looked up and saw these hundreds of faces, all young, all bronzed and grinning, they began to shout and wave their handkerchiefs. One of the passengers was an old clergyman, a famous speaker in his day, now retired, who went over to the City every morning to write editorials for a church paper. He closed the book he was reading, stood by the rail, and taking off his hat began solemnly to quote from a poet who in his time was still popular. “Sail on,” he quavered,

“Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State,
Humanity, with all its fears,
With all its hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate.”

As the troop ship glided down the sea lane, the old man still watched it from the turtle-back. That howling swarm of brown arms and hats and faces looked like nothing but a crowd of American boys going to a football game somewhere. But the scene was ageless; youths were sailing away to die for an idea, a sentiment, for the mere sound of a phrase . . . and on their departure they were making vows to a bronze image in the sea.

III (excerpt)
There was on board a solitary Marine, with the stripes of Border service on his coat. He had been sick in the Navy Hospital in Brooklyn when his regiment sailed, and was now going over to join it. He was a young fellow, rather pale from his recent illness, but he was exactly Claude’s idea of what a soldier ought to look like. His eye followed the Marine about all day.

The young man’s name was Albert Usher, and he came from a little town up in the Wind River mountains, in Wyoming, where he had worked in a logging camp. He told Claude these facts when they found themselves standing side by side that evening, watching the broad purple sun go down into a violet coloured sea.

It was the hour when the farmers at home drive their teams in after the day’s work. Claude was thinking how his mother would be standing at the west window every evening now, watching the sun go down and following him in her mind. When the young Marine came up and joined him, he confessed to a pang of homesickness.

“That’s a kind of sickness I don’t have to wrastle with,” said Albert Usher. “I was left an orphan on a lonesome ranch, when I was nine, and I’ve looked out for myself ever since.”

Claude glanced sidewise at the boy’s handsome head, that came up from his neck with clean, strong lines, and thought he had done a pretty good job for himself. He could not have said exactly what it was he liked about young Usher’s face, but it seemed to him a face that had gone through things,—that had been trained down like his body, and had developed a definite character. What Claude thought due to a manly, adventurous life, was really due to well-shaped bones; Usher’s face was more “modelled” than most of the healthy countenances about him.

When questioned, the Marine went on to say that though he had no home of his own, he had always happened to fall on his feet, among kind people. He could go back to any house in Pinedale or Du Bois and be welcomed like a son.

“I suppose there are kind women everywhere,” he said, “but in that respect Wyoming’s got the rest of the world beat. I never felt the lack of a home. Now the U. S. Marines are my family. Wherever they are, I’m at home.”

“Were you at Vera Cruz?” Claude asked.

“I guess! We thought that was quite a little party at the time, but I suppose it will seem small potatoes when we get over there. I’m figuring on seeing some first-rate scrapping. How long have you been in the army?”

“Year ago last April. I’ve had hard luck about getting over. They kept me jumping about to train men.”

“Then yours is all to come. Are you a college graduate?”

“No. I went away to school, but I didn’t finish.”

Usher frowned at the gilded path on the water where the sun lay half-submerged, like a big, watchful eye, closing. “I always wanted to go to college, but I never managed it. A man in Laramie offered to stake me to a course in the University there, but I was too restless. I guess I was ashamed of my handwriting.” He paused as if he had run against some old regret. A moment later he said suddenly, “Can you parlez-vous?”

“No. I know a few words, but I can’t put them together.”

Same here. I expect to pick up some. I pinched quite a little Spanish down on the Border.”

By this time the sun had disappeared, and all over the west the yellow sky came down evenly, like a gold curtain, on the still sea that seemed to have solidified into a slab of dark blue stone,— not a twinkle on its immobile surface. Across its dusky smoothness were two long smears of pale green, like a robin’s egg.

“Do you like the water?” Usher asked, in the tone of a polite host. “When I first shipped on a cruiser I was crazy about it. I still am. But, you know, I like them old bald mountains back in Wyoming, too. There’s waterfalls you can see twenty miles off from the plains; they look like white sheets or something, hanging up there on the cliffs. And down in the pine woods, in the cold streams, there’s trout as long as my fore-arm.”

That evening Claude was on deck, almost alone; there was a concert down in the ward room. To the west heavy clouds had come up, moving so low that they flapped over the water like a black washing hanging on the line.

The music sounded well from below. Four Swedish boys from the Scandinavian settlement at Lindsborg, Kansas, were singing “Long, Long Ago.” Claude listened from a sheltered spot in the stern. What were they, and what was he, doing here on the Atlantic? Two years ago he had seemed a fellow for whom life was over; driven into the ground like a post, or like those Chinese criminals who are planted upright in the earth, with only their heads left out for birds to peck at and insects to sting. All his comrades had been tucked away in prairie towns, with their little jobs and their little plans. Yet here they were, attended by unknown ships called in from the four quarters of the earth. How had they come to be worth the watchfulness and devotion of so many men and machines, this extravagant consumption of fuel and energy? Taken one by one, they were ordinary fellows like himself. Yet here they were. And in this massing and movement of men there was nothing mean or common; he was sure of that. It was, from first to last, unforeseen, almost incredible. Four years ago, when the French were holding the Marne, the wisest men in the world had not conceived of this as possible; they had reckoned with every fortuity but this. “Out of these stones can my Father raise up seed unto Abraham.”

Downstairs the men began singing “Annie Laurie.” Where were those summer evenings when he used to sit dumb by the windmill, wondering what to do with his life?

IV (excerpt)
The morning of the third day; Claude and the Virginian and the Marine were up very early, standing in the bow, watching the Anchises mount the fresh­-blowing hills of water, her prow, as it rose and fell, always a dull triangle against the glitter. Their escorts looked like dream ships, soft and iridescent as shell in the pearl-coloured tints of the morning. Only the dark smudges of smoke told that they were mechanical realities with stokers and engines.

While the three stood there, a sergeant brought Claude word that two of his men would have to report at sick-call. Corporal Tannhauser had had such an attack of nose-bleed during the night that the sergeant thought he might die before they got it stopped. Tannhauser was up now, and in the breakfast line, but the sergeant was sure he ought not to be. This Fritz Tannhauser was the tallest man in the company, a German-American boy who, when asked his name, usually said that his name was Dennis and that he was of Irish descent. Even this morning he tried to joke, and pointing to his big red face told Claude he thought he had measles. “Only they ain’t German measles, Lieutenant,” he insisted.

Medical inspection took a long while that morning. There seemed to be an outbreak of sickness on board. When Claude brought his two men up to the Doctor, he told them to go below and get into bed. As they left he turned to Claude.

“Give them hot tea, and pile army blankets on them. Make them sweat if you can.”

Claude remarked that the hold wasn’t a very cheerful place for sick men.

“I know that, Lieutenant, but there are a number of sick men this morning, and the only other physician on board is the sickest of the lot. There’s the ship’s doctor, of course, but he’s only responsible for the crew, and so far he doesn’t seem interested. I’ve got to overhaul the hospital and the medical stores this morning.”

“Is there an epidemic of some sort?”

“Well, I hope not. But I’ll have plenty to do today, so I count on you to look after those two.” The doctor was a New Englander who had joined them at Hoboken. He was a brisk, trim man, with piercing eyes, clean-cut features, and grey hair just the colour of his pale face. Claude felt at once that he knew his business, and he went below to carry out instructions as well as he could.

That night the Virginian, who berthed under Victor Morse, had an alarming attack of nose-bleed, and by morning he was so weak that he had to be carried to the hospital. The Doctor said they might as well face the facts; a scourge of influenza had broken out on board, of a peculiarly bloody and malignant type.* Everybody was a little frightened. Some of the officers shut themselves up in the smoking-room, and drank whiskey and soda and played poker all day, as if they could keep contagion out.

Lieutenant Bird died late in the afternoon and was buried at sunrise the next day, sewed up in a tarpaulin, with an eighteen pound shell at his feet. The morning broke brilliantly clear and bitter cold. The sea was rolling blue walls of water, and the boat was raked by a wind as sharp as ice. Excepting those who were sick, the boys turned out to a man. It was the first burial at sea they had ever witnessed, and they couldn’t help finding it interesting. The Chaplain read the burial service while they stood with uncovered heads. The Kansas band played a solemn march, the Swedish quartette sang a hymn. Many a man turned his face away when that brown sack was lowered into the cold, leaping indigo ridges that seemed so destitute of anything friendly to human kind. In a moment it was done, and they steamed on without him.

The glittering walls of water kept rolling in, indigo, purple, more brilliant than on the days of mild weather. The blinding sunlight did not temper the cold, which cut the face and made the lungs ache. Landsmen began to have that miserable sense of being where they were never meant to be. The boys lay in heaps on the deck, trying to keep warm by hugging each other close. Everybody was seasick. Fanning went to bed with his clothes on, so sick he couldn’t take off his boots. Claude lay in the crowded stern, too cold, too faint to move. The sun poured over them like flame, without any comfort in it. The strong, curling, foam-crested waves threw off the light like millions of mirrors, and their colour was almost more than the eye could bear. The water seemed denser than before, heavy like melted glass, and the foam on the edges of each blue ridge looked sharp as crystals. If a man should fall into them, he would be cut to pieces.

The whole ocean seemed suddenly to have come to life, the waves had a malignant, graceful, muscular energy, were animated by a kind of mocking cruelty. Only a few hours ago a gentle boy had been thrown into that freezing water and forgotten. Yes, already forgotten; every one had his own miseries to think about.

Late in the afternoon the wind fell, and there was a sinister sunset. Across the red west a small, ragged black cloud hurried,—then another, and another. They came up out of the sea,—wild, witchlike shapes that travelled fast and met in the west as if summoned for an evil conclave. They hung there against the afterglow, distinct black shapes, drawing together, devising something. The few men who were left on deck felt that no good could come out of a sky like that. They wished they were at home, in France, anywhere but here.

* The actual outbreak of influenza on transports carrying United States troops is here anticipated by several months.

The next morning Doctor Trueman asked Claude to help him at sick call. “I’ve got a bunch of sergeants taking temperatures, but it’s too much for one man to oversee. I don’t want to ask anything of those dude officers who sit in there playing poker all the time. Either they’ve got no conscience, or they’re not awake to the gravity of the situation.”

The Doctor stood on deck in his raincoat, his foot on the rail to keep his equilibrium, writing on his knee as the long string of men came up to him. There were more than seventy in the line that morning, and some of them looked as if they ought to be in a drier place. Rain beat down on the sea like lead bullets. The old Anchises floundered from one grey ridge to another, quite alone. Fog cut off the cheering sight of the sister ships. The doctor had to leave his post from time to time, when seasickness got the better of his will. Claude, at his elbow, was noting down names and temperatures. In the middle of his work he told the sergeants to manage without him for a few minutes. Down near the end of the line he had seen one of his own men misconducting himself, snivelling and crying like a baby,—a fine husky boy of eighteen who had never given any trouble. Claude made a dash for him and clapped him on the shoulder.

“If you can’t stop that, Bert Fuller, get where you won’t be seen. I don’t want all these English stewards standing around to watch an American soldier cry. I never heard of such a thing!”

“I can’t help it, Lieutenant,” the boy blubbered. “I’ve kept it back just as long as I can. I can’t hold in any longer!”

“What’s the matter with you? Come over here and sit down on this box and tell me.”

Private Fuller willingly let himself be led, and dropped on the box. “I’m so sick, Lieutenant!”

“I’ll see how sick you are.” Claude stuck a thermometer into his mouth, and while he waited, sent the deck steward to bring a cup of tea. “Just as I thought, Fuller. You’ve not half a degree of fever. You’re scared, and that’s all. Now drink this tea. I expect you didn’t eat any breakfast.”

“No, sir. I can’t eat the awful stuff on this boat.”

“It is pretty bad. Where are you from?”

“I’m from P-P-Pleasantville, up on the P-P-Platte,” the boy gulped, and his tears began to flow afresh.

“Well, now, what would they think of you, back there? I suppose they got the band out and made a fuss over you when you went away, and thought they were sending off a fine soldier. And I’ve always thought you’d be a first rate soldier. I guess we’ll forget about this. You feel better already, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir. This tastes awful good. I’ve been so sick to my stomach, and last night I got pains in my chest. All my crowd is sick, and you took big Tannhauser, I mean Corporal, away to the hospital. It looks like we’re all going to die out here.”

“I know it’s a little gloomy. But don’t you shame me before these English stewards.”

“I won’t do it again, sir,” he promised.

When the medical inspection was over, Claude took the Doctor down to see Fanning, who had been coughing and wheezing all night and hadn’t got out of his berth. The examination was short. The Doctor knew what was the matter before he put the stethoscope on him. “It’s pneumonia, both lungs,” he said when they came out into the corridor. “I have one case in the hospital that will die before morning.”

“What can you do for him, Doctor?”

“You see how I’m fixed; close onto two hundred men sick, and one doctor. The medical supplies are wholly inadequate. There’s not castor oil enough on this boat to keep the men clean inside. I’m using my own drugs, but they won’t last through an epidemic like this. I can’t do much for Lieutenant Fanning. You can, though, if you’ll give him the time. You can take better care of him right here than he could get in the hospital. We haven’t an empty bed there.”

Claude found Victor Morse and told him he had better get a berth in one of the other staterooms. When Victor left with his belongings, Fanning stared after him. “Is he going?”

“Yes. It’s too crowded in here, if you’ve got to stay in bed.”

“Glad of it. His stories are too raw for me. I’m no sissy, but that fellow’s a regular Don Quixote.”

Claude laughed. “You mustn’t talk. It makes you cough.”

“Where’s the Virginian?”

“Who, Bird?” Claude asked in astonishment,—Fanning had stood beside him at Bird’s funeral. “Oh, he’s gone, too. You sleep if you can.”

After dinner Doctor Trueman came in and showed Claude how to give his patient an alcohol bath. “It’s simply a question of whether you can keep up his strength. Don’t try any of this greasy food they serve here. Give him a raw egg beaten up in the juice of an orange every two hours, night and day. Waken him out of his sleep when it’s time, don’t miss a single two-hour period. I’ll write an order to your table steward, and you can beat the eggs up here in your cabin. Now I must go to the hospital. It’s wonderful what those band boys are doing there. I begin to take some pride in the place. That big German has been asking for you. He’s in a very bad way.”

As there were no nurses on board, the Kansas band had taken over the hospital. They had been trained for stretcher and first aid work, and when they realized what was happening on the Anchises, the bandmaster came to the Doctor and offered the services of his men. He chose nurses and orderlies, divided them into night and day shifts.

When Claude went to see his Corporal, big Tannhauser did not recognize him. He was quite out of his head and was conversing with his own family in the language of his early childhood. The Kansas boys had singled him out for special attention. The mere fact that he kept talking in a tongue forbidden on the surface of the seas, made him seem more friendless and alone than the others.

From the hospital Claude went down into the hold where half-a-dozen of his company were lying ill. The hold was damp and musty as an old cellar, so steeped in the smells and leakage of innumerable dirty cargoes that it could not be made or kept clean. There was almost no ventilation, and the air was fetid with sickness and sweat and vomit. Two of the band boys were working in the stench and dirt, helping the stewards. Claude stayed to lend a hand until it was time to give Fanning his nourishment. He began to see that the wrist watch, which he had hitherto despised as effeminate and had carried in his pocket, might be a very useful article. After he had made Fanning swallow his egg, he piled all the available blankets on him and opened the port to give the cabin an airing. While the fresh wind blew in, he sat down on the edge of his berth and tried to collect his wits. What had become of those first days of golden weather, leisure and good-comradeship? The band concerts, the Lindsborg Quartette, the first excitement and novelty of being at sea: all that had gone by like a dream.

That night when the Doctor came in to see Fanning, he threw his stethoscope on the bed and said wearily, “It’s a wonder that instrument doesn’t take root in my ears and grow there.” He sat down and sucked his thermometer for a few minutes, then held it out for inspection. Claude looked at it and told him he ought to go to bed.

“Then who’s to be up and around? No bed for me, tonight. But I will have a hot bath by and by.”

Claude asked why the ship’s doctor didn’t do anything and added that he must be as little as he looked.

“Chessup? No, he’s not half bad when you get to know him. He’s given me a lot of help about preparing medicines, and it’s a great assistance to talk the cases over with him. He’ll do anything for me except directly handle the patients. He doesn’t want to exceed his authority. It seems the English marine is very particular about such things. He’s a Canadian, and he graduated first in his class at Edinburgh. I gather he was frozen out in private practice. You see, his appearance is against him. It’s an awful handicap to look like a kid and be as shy as he is.”

The Doctor rose, shored up his shoulders and took his bag. “You’re looking fine yourself, Lieutenant,” he remarked. “Parents both living? Were they quite young when you were born? Well, then their parents were, probably. I’m a crank about that. Yes, I’ll get my bath pretty soon, and I will lie down for an hour or two. With those splendid band boys running the hospital, I get a little lee-way.”

Claude wondered how the Doctor kept going. He knew he hadn’t had more than four hours sleep out of the last forty-eight, and he was not a man of rugged constitution. His bath steward was, as he said, his comfort. Hawkins was an old fellow who had held better positions on better boats,—yes, in better times, too. He had first gone to sea as a bath steward, and now, through the fortunes of war, he had come back where he began,—not a good place for an old man. His back was bent meekly, and he shuffled along with broken arches. He looked after the comfort of all the officers, and attended the doctor like a valet; got out his clean linen, persuaded him to lie down and have a hot drink after his bath, stood on guard at his door to take messages for him in the short hours when he was resting. Hawkins had lost two sons in the war and he seemed to find a solemn consolation in being of service to soldiers. “Take it a bit easy now, sir. You’ll ‘ave it ‘ard enough over there,” he used to say to one and another.

At eleven o’clock one of the Kansas men came to tell Claude that his Corporal was going fast. Big Tannhauser’s fever had left him, but so had everything else. He lay in a stupor. His congested eyeballs were rolled back in his head and only the yellowish whites were visible. His mouth was open and his tongue hung out at one side. From the end of the corridor Claude had heard the frightful sounds that came from his throat, sounds like violent vomiting, or the choking rattle of a man in strangulation,—and, indeed, he was being strangled. One of the band boys brought Claude a camp chair, and said kindly, “He doesn’t suffer. It’s mechanical now. He’d go easier if he hadn’t so much vitality. The Doctor says he may have a few moments of consciousness just at the last, if you want to stay.”

“I’ll go down and give my private patient his egg, and then I’ll come back.” Claude went away and returned, and sat dozing by the bed. After three o’clock the noise of struggle ceased; instantly the huge figure on the bed became again his good-natured corporal. The mouth closed, the glassy jellies were once more seeing, intelligent human eyes. The face lost its swollen, brutish look and was again the face of a friend. It was almost unbelievable that anything so far gone could come back. He looked up wistfully at his Lieutenant as if to ask him something. His eyes filled with tears, and he turned his head away a little.

“Mein’ arme Mutter!” he whispered distinctly.

A few moments later he died in perfect dignity, not struggling under torture, but consciously, it seemed to Claude,—like a brave boy giving back what was not his to keep.

Claude returned to his cabin, roused Fanning once more, and then threw himself upon his tipping bunk. The boat seemed to wallow and sprawl in the waves, as he had seen animals do on the farm when they gave birth to young. How helpless the old vessel was out here in the pounding seas, and how much misery she carried! He lay looking up at the rusty water pipes and unpainted joinings. This liner was in truth the “Old Anchises”; even the carpenters who made her over for the service had not thought her worth the trouble, and had done their worst by her. The new partitions were hung to the joists by a few nails.

Big Tannhauser had been one of those who were most anxious to sail. He used to grin and say, “France is the only climate that’s healthy for a man with a name like mine.” He had waved his good-bye to the image in the New York harbour with the rest, believed in her like the rest. He only wanted to serve. It seemed hard.

When Tannhauser first came to camp he was confused all the time, and couldn’t remember instructions. Claude had once stepped him out in front of the line and reprimanded him for not knowing his right side from his left. When he looked into the case, he found that the fellow was not eating anything, that he was ill from homesickness. He was one of those farmer boys who are afraid of town. The giant baby of a long family, he had never slept away from home a night in his life before he enlisted.

Corporal Tannhauser, along with four others, was buried at sunrise. No band this time; the chaplain was ill, so one of the young captains read the service. Claude stood by watching until the sailors shot one sack, longer by half a foot than the other four, into a lead-coloured chasm in the sea. There was not even a splash. After breakfast one of the Kansas orderlies called him into a little cabin where they had prepared the dead men for burial. The Army regulations minutely defined what was to be done with a deceased soldier’s effects. His uniform, shoes, blankets, arms, personal baggage, were all disposed of according to instructions. But in each case there was a residue; the dead man’s toothbrushes, his razors, and the photographs he carried upon his person. There they were in five pathetic little heaps; what should be done with them?

Claude took up the photographs that had belonged to his corporal; one was a fat, foolish-looking girl in a white dress that was too tight for her, and a floppy hat, a little flag pinned on her plump bosom. The other was an old woman, seated, her hands crossed in her lap. Her thin hair was drawn back tight from a hard, angular face—unmistakably an Old-World face—and her eyes squinted at the camera. She looked honest and stubborn and unconvinced, he thought, as if she did not in the least understand.

“I’ll take these,” he said. “And the others—just pitch them over, don’t you think?”

B Company’s first officer, Captain Maxey, was so seasick throughout the voyage that he was of no help to his men in the epidemic. It must have been a frightful blow to his pride, for nobody was ever more anxious to do an officer’s whole duty.

Claude had known Harris Maxey slightly in Lincoln; had met him at the Erlichs’ and afterward kept up a campus acquaintance with him. He hadn’t liked Maxey then, and he didn’t like him now, but he thought him a good officer. Maxey’s family were poor folk from Mississippi, who had settled in Nemaha county, and he was very ambitious, not only to get on in the world, but, as he said, to “be somebody.” His life at the University was a feverish pursuit of social advantages and useful acquaintances. His feeling for the “right people” amounted to veneration. After his graduation, Maxey served on the Mexican Border. He was a tireless drill master, and threw himself into his duties with all the energy of which his frail physique was capable. He was slight and fair-skinned; a rigid jaw threw his lower teeth out beyond the upper ones and made his face look stiff. His whole manner, tense and nervous, was the expression of a passionate desire to excel.

Claude seemed to himself to be leading a double life these days. When he was working over Fanning, or was down in the hold helping to take care of the sick soldiers, he had no time to think,—did mechanically the next thing that came to hand. But when he had an hour to himself on deck, the tingling sense of ever-widening freedom flashed up in him again. The weather was a continual adventure; he had never known any like it before. The fog, and rain, the grey sky and the lonely grey stretches of the ocean were like something he had imagined long ago—memories of old sea stories read in childhood, perhaps—and they kindled a warm spot in his heart. Here on the Anchises he seemed to begin where childhood had left off. The ugly hiatus between had closed up. Years of his life were blotted out in the fog. This fog which had been at first depressing had become a shelter; a tent moving through space, hiding one from all that had been before, giving one a chance to correct one’s ideas about life and to plan the future. The past was physically shut off; that was his illusion. He had already travelled a great many more miles than were told off by the ship’s log. When Bandmaster Fred Max asked him to play chess, he had to stop a moment and think why it was that game had such disagreeable associations for him. Enid’s pale, deceptive face seldom rose before him unless some such accident brought it up. If he happened to come upon a group of boys talking about their sweethearts and war-brides, he listened a moment and then moved away with the happy feeling that he was the least married man on the boat.

There was plenty of deck room, now that so many men were ill either from seasickness or the epidemic, and sometimes he and Albert Usher had the stormy side of the boat almost to themselves. The Marine was the best sort of companion for these gloomy days; steady, quiet, self-reliant. And he, too, was always looking forward. As for Victor Morse, Claude was growing positively fond of him. Victor had tea in a special corner of the officers’ smoking-room every afternoon—he would have perished without it—and the steward always produced some special garnishes of toast and jam or sweet biscuit for him. Claude usually managed to join him at that hour.

On the day of Tannhauser’s funeral he went into the smoking-room at four. Victor beckoned the steward and told him to bring a couple of hot whiskeys with the tea. “You’re very wet, you know, Wheeler, and you really should. There,” he said as he put down his glass, “don’t you feel better with a drink?”

“Very much. I think I’ll have another. It’s agreeable to be warm inside.”

“Two more, steward, and bring me some fresh lemon.” The occupants of the room were either reading or talking in low tones. One of the Swedish boys was playing softly on the old piano. Victor began to pour the tea. He had a neat way of doing it, and today he was especially solicitous. “This Scotch mist gets into one’s bones, doesn’t it? I thought you were looking rather seedy when I passed you on deck.”

“I was up with Tannhauser last night. Didn’t get more than an hour’s sleep,” Claude murmured, yawning.

“Yes, I heard you lost your big corporal. I’m sorry. I’ve had bad news, too. It’s out now that we’re to make a French port. That dashes all my plans. However, c’est la guerre!” He pushed back his cup with a shrug. “Take a turn outside?”

Claude had often wondered why Victor liked him, since he was so little Victor’s kind. “If it isn’t a secret,” he said, “I’d like to know how you ever got into the British army, anyway.”

As they walked up and down in the rain, Victor told his story briefly. When he had finished High School, he had gone into his father’s bank at Crystal Lake as bookkeeper. After banking hours he skated, played tennis, or worked in the strawberry-bed, according to the season. He bought two pairs of white pants every summer and ordered his shirts from Chicago and thought he was a swell, he said. He got himself engaged to the preacher’s daughter. Two years ago, the summer he was twenty, his father wanted him to see Niagara Falls; so he wrote a modest check, warned his son against saloons—Victor had never been inside one—against expensive hotels and women who came up to ask the time without an introduction, and sent him off, telling him it wasn’t necessary to fee porters or waiters. At Niagara Falls, Victor fell in with some young Canadian officers who opened his eyes to a great many things. He went over to Toronto with them. Enlistment was going strong, and he saw an avenue of escape from the bank and the strawberry bed. The air force seemed the most brilliant and attractive branch of the service. They accepted him, and here he was.

“You’ll never go home again,” Claude said with conviction. “I don’t see you settling down in any little Iowa town.”

“In the air service,” said Victor carelessly, “we don’t concern ourselves about the future. It’s not worth while.” He took out a dull gold cigarette case which Claude had noticed before.

“Let me see that a minute, will you? I’ve often admired it. A present from somebody you like, isn’t it?”

A twitch of feeling, something quite genuine, passed over the air-man’s boyish face, and his rather small red mouth compressed sharply. “Yes, a woman I want you to meet. Here,” twitching his chin over his high collar, “I’ll write Maisie’s address on my card: ‘Introducing Lieutenant Wheeler, A.E.F.’ That’s all you’ll need. If you should get to London before I do, don’t hesitate. Call on her at once. Present this card, and she’ll receive you.”

Claude thanked him and put the card in his pocketbook, while Victor lit a cigarette. “I haven’t forgotten that you’re dining with us at the Savoy, if we happen in London together. If I’m there, you can always find me. Her address is mine. It will really be a great thing for you to meet a woman like Maisie. She’ll be nice to you, because you’re my friend.” He went on to say that she had done everything in the world for him; had left her husband and given up her friends on his account. She now had a studio flat in Chelsea, where she simply waited his coming and dreaded his going. It was an awful life for her. She entertained other officers, of course, old acquaintances; but it was all camouflage. He was the man.

Victor went so far as to produce her picture, and Claude gazed without knowing what to say at a large moon-shaped face with heavy-lidded, weary eyes,—the neck clasped by a pearl collar, the shoulders bare to the matronly swell of the bosom. There was not a line or wrinkle in that smooth expanse of flesh, but from the heavy mouth and chin, from the very shape of the face, it was easy to see that she was quite old enough to be Victor’s mother. Across the photograph was written in a large splashy hand, À mon aigle! Had Victor been delicate enough to leave him in any doubt, Claude would have preferred to believe that his relations with this lady were wholly of a filial nature.

“Women like her simply don’t exist in your part of the world,” the aviator murmured, as he snapped the photograph case. “She’s a linguist and musician and all that. With her, every-day living is a fine art. Life, as she says, is what one makes it. In itself, it’s nothing. Where you came from it’s nothing—a sleeping sickness.”

Claude laughed. “I don’t know that I agree with you, but I like to hear you talk.”

“Well; in that part of France that’s all shot to pieces, you’ll find more life going on in the cellars than in your home town, wherever that is. I’d rather be a stevedore in the London docks than a banker-king in one of your prairie States. In London, if you’re lucky enough to have a shilling, you can get something for it.”

“Yes, things are pretty tame at home,” the other admitted.

“Tame? My God, it’s death in life! What’s left of men if you take all the fire out of them? They’re afraid of everything. I know them; Sunday-school sneaks, prowling around those little towns after dark!” Victor abruptly dismissed the subject. “By the way, you’re pals with the doctor, aren’t you? I’m needing some medicine that is somewhere in my lost trunk. Would you mind asking him if he can put up this prescription? I don’t want to go to him myself. All these medicos blab, and he might report me. I’ve been lucky dodging medical inspections. You see, I don’t want to get held up anywhere. Tell him it’s not for you, of course.”

When Claude presented the piece of blue paper to Doctor Trueman, he smiled contemptuously. “I see; this has been filled by a London chemist. No, we have nothing of this sort.” He handed it back. “Those things are only palliatives. If your friend wants that, he needs treatment,—and he knows where he can get it.”

Claude returned the slip of paper to Victor as they left the dining-room after supper, telling him he hadn’t been able to get any.

“Sorry,” said Victor, flushing haughtily. “Thank you so much!”

Tod Fanning held out better than many of the stronger men; his vitality surprised the doctors. The death list was steadily growing; and the worst of it was that patients died who were not very sick. Vigorous, clean-blooded young fellows of nineteen and twenty turned over and died because they had lost their courage, because other people were dying,—because death was in the air. The corridors of the vessel had the smell of death about them. Doctor Trueman said it was always so in an epidemic; patients died who, had they been isolated cases, would have recovered.

“Do you know, Wheeler,” the doctor remarked one day when they came up from the hospital together to get a breath of air, “I sometimes wonder whether all these inoculations they’ve been having, against typhoid and smallpox and whatnot, haven’t lowered their vitality. I’ll go off my head if I keep losing men! What would you give to be out of it all, and safe back on the farm?” Hearing no reply, he turned his head, peered over his raincoat collar, and saw a startled, resisting look in the young man’s blue eyes, followed by a quick flush.

“You don’t want to be back on the farm, do you! Not a little bit! Well, well; that’s what it is to be young!” He shook his head with a smile which might have been commiseration, might have been envy, and went back to his duties.

Claude stayed where he was, drawing the wet grey air into his lungs and feeling vexed and reprimanded. It was quite true, he realized; the doctor had caught him. He was enjoying himself all the while and didn’t want to be safe anywhere. He was sorry about Tannhauser and the others, but he was not sorry for himself. The discomforts and misfortunes of this voyage had not spoiled it for him. He grumbled, of course, because others did. But life had never seemed so tempting as it did here and now. He could come up from heavy work in the hospital, or from poor Fanning and his everlasting eggs, and forget all that in ten minutes. Something inside him, as elastic as the grey ridges over which they were tipping, kept bounding up and saying; “I am all here. I’ve left everything behind me. I am going over.”

Only on that one day, the cold day of the Virginian’s funeral, when he was seasick, had he been really miserable. He must be heartless, certainly, not to be overwhelmed by the sufferings of his own men, his own friends—but he wasn’t. He had them on his mind and did all he could for them, but it seemed to him just now that he took a sort of satisfaction in that, too, and was somewhat vain of his usefulness to Doctor Trueman. A nice attitude! He awoke every morning with that sense of freedom and going forward, as if the world were growing bigger each day and he were growing with it. Other fellows were sick and dying, and that was terrible,—but he and the boat went on, and always on.

Something was released that had been struggling for a long while, he told himself. He had been due in France since the first battle of the Marne; he had followed false leads and lost precious time and seen misery enough, but he was on the right road at last, and nothing could stop him. If he hadn’t been so green, so bashful, so afraid of showing what he felt, and so stupid at finding his way about, he would have enlisted in Canada, like Victor, or run away to France and joined the Foreign Legion. All that seemed perfectly possible now. Why hadn’t he?

Well, that was not “the Wheelers’ way.” The Wheelers were terribly afraid of poking themselves in where they weren’t wanted, of pushing their way into a crowd where they didn’t belong. And they were even more afraid of doing anything that might look affected or “romantic.” They couldn’t let themselves adopt a conspicuous, much less a picturesque course of action, unless it was all in the day’s work. Well, History had condescended to such as he; this whole brilliant adventure had become the day’s work. He had got into it after all, along with Victor and the Marine and other fellows who had more imagination and self-confidence in the first place. Three years ago he used to sit moping by the windmill because he didn’t see how a Nebraska farmer boy had any “call,” or, indeed, any way, to throw himself into the struggle in France. He used enviously to read about Alan Seeger and those fortunate American boys who had a right to fight for a civilization they knew.

But the miracle had happened; a miracle so wide in its amplitude that the Wheelers,—all the Wheelers and the roughnecks and the low-brows were caught up in it. Yes, it was the rough-necks’ own miracle, all this; it was their golden chance. He was in on it, and nothing could hinder or discourage him unless he were put over the side himself—which was only a way of joking, for that was a possibility he never seriously considered. The feeling of purpose, of fateful purpose, was strong in his breast.

“Look at this, Doctor!” Claude caught Dr. Trueman on his way from breakfast and handed him a written notice, signed D. T. Micks, Chief Steward. It stated that no more eggs or oranges could be furnished to patients, as the supply was exhausted.

The doctor squinted at the paper. “I’m afraid that’s your patient’s death warrant. You’ll never be able to keep him going on anything else. Why don’t you go and talk it over with Chessup? He’s a resourceful fellow. I’ll join you there in a few minutes.”

Claude had often been to Dr. Chessup’s cabin since the epidemic broke out,—rather liked to wait there when he went for medicines or advice. It was a comfortable, personal sort of place with cheerful chintz hangings. The walls were lined with books, held in place by sliding wooden slats, padlocked at the ends. There were a great many scientific works in German and English; the rest were French novels in paper covers. This morning he found Chessup weighing out white powders at his desk. In the rack over his bunk was the book with which he had read himself to sleep last night; the title, “Un Crime d’Amour,” lettered in black on yellow, caught Claude’s eye. The doctor put on his coat and pointed his visitor to the jointed chair in which patients were sometimes examined. Claude explained his predicament.

The ship’s doctor was a strange fellow to come from Canada, the land of big men and rough. He looked like a schoolboy, with small hands and feet and a pink complexion. On his left cheekbone was a large brown mole, covered with silky hair, and for some reason that seemed to make his face effeminate. It was easy to see why he had not been successful in private practice. He was like somebody trying to protect a raw surface from heat and cold; so cursed with diffidence, and so sensitive about his boyish appearance that he chose to shut himself up in an oscillating wooden coop on the sea. The long run to Australia had exactly suited him. A rough life and the pounding of bad weather had fewer terrors for him than an office in town, with constant exposure to human personalities.

“Have you tried him on malted milk?” he asked, when Claude had told him how Fanning’s nourishment was threatened.

“Dr. Trueman hasn’t a bottle left. How long do you figure we’ll be at sea?”

“Four days; possibly five.”

“Then Lieutenant Wheeler will lose his pal,” said Dr. Trueman, who had just come in.

Chessup stood for a moment frowning and pulling nervously at the brass buttons on his coat. He slid the bolt on his door and turning to his colleague said resolutely: “I can give you some information, if you won’t implicate me. You can do as you like, but keep my name out of it. For several hours last night cases of eggs and boxes of oranges were being carried into the Chief Steward’s cabin by a flunky of his from the galley. Whatever port we make, he can get a shilling each for the fresh eggs, and perhaps sixpence for the oranges. They are your property, of course, furnished by your government; but this is his customary perquisite. I’ve been on this boat six years, and it’s always been so. About a week before we make port, the choicest of the remaining stores are taken to his cabin, and he disposes of them after we dock. I can’t say just how he manages it, but he does. The skipper may know of this custom, and there may be some reason why he permits it. It’s not my business to see anything. The Chief Steward is a powerful man on an English vessel. If he has anything against me, sooner or later he can lose my berth for me. There you have the facts.”

“Have I your permission to go to the Chief Steward?” Dr. Trueman asked.

“Certainly not. But you can go without my knowledge. He’s an ugly man to cross, and he can make it uncomfortable for you and your patients.”

“Well, we’ll say no more about it. I appreciate your telling me, and I will see that you don’t get mixed up in this. Will you go down with me to look at that new meningitis case?”

Claude waited impatiently in his stateroom for the doctor’s return. He didn’t see why the Chief Steward shouldn’t be exposed and dealt with like any other grafter. He had hated the man ever since he heard him berating the old bath steward one morning. Hawkins had made no attempt to defend himself, but stood like a dog that has been terribly beaten, trembling all over, saying “Yes, sir. Yes, sir,” while his chief gave him a cold cursing in a low, snarling voice. Claude had never heard a man or even an animal addressed with such contempt. The Steward had a cruel face,—white as cheese, with limp, moist hair combed back from a high forehead,—the peculiarly oily hair that seems to grow only on the heads of stewards and waiters. His eyes were exactly the shape of almonds, but the lids were so swollen that the dull pupil was visible only through a narrow slit. A long, pale moustache hung like a fringe over his loose lips.

When Dr. Trueman came back from the hospital, he declared he was now ready to call on Mr. Micks. “He’s a nasty looking customer, but he can’t do anything to me.”

They went to the Chief Steward’s cabin and knocked.

“What’s wanted?” called a threatening voice.

The doctor made a grimace to his companion and walked in. The Steward was sitting at a big desk, covered with account books. He turned in his chair. “I beg your pardon,” he said coldly, “I do not see any one here. I will be—”

The doctor held up his hand quickly. “That’s all right, Steward. I’m sorry to intrude, but I’ve something I must say to you in private. I’ll not detain you long.” If he had hesitated for a moment, Claude believed the Steward would have thrown him out, but he went on rapidly. “This is Lieutenant Wheeler, Mr. Micks. His fellow officer lies very ill with pneumonia in stateroom 96. Lieutenant Wheeler has kept him alive by special nursing. He is not able to retain anything in his stomach but eggs and orange juice. If he has these, we may be able to keep up his strength till the fever breaks, and carry him to a hospital in France. If we can’t get them for him, he will be dead within twenty-four hours. That’s the situation.”

The steward rose and turned out the drop-light on his desk. “Have you received notice that there are no more eggs and oranges on board? Then I am afraid there is nothing I can do for you. I did not provision this ship.”

“No. I understand that. I believe the United States Government provided the fruit and eggs and meat. And I positively know that the articles I need for my patient are not exhausted. Without going into the matter further, I warn you that I’m not going to let a United States officer die when the means of saving him are procurable. I’ll go to the skipper, I’ll call a meeting of the army officers on board. I’ll go any length to save this man.”

“That is your own affair, but you will not interfere with me in the discharge of my duties. Will you leave my cabin?”

“In a moment, Steward. I know that last night a number of cases of eggs and oranges were carried into this room. They are here now, and they belong to the A.E.F. If you will agree to provision my man, what I know won’t go any further. But if you refuse, I’ll get this matter investigated. I won’t stop till I do.”

The Steward sat down, and took up a pen. His large, soft hand looked cheesy, like his face. “What is the number of the cabin?” he asked indifferently.


“Exactly what do you require?”

“One dozen eggs and one dozen oranges every twenty-four hours, to be delivered at any time convenient to you.”

“I will see what I can do.”

The Steward did not look up from his writing pad, and his visitors left as abruptly as they had come.

At about four o’clock every morning, before even the bath stewards were on duty, there was a scratching at Claude’s door, and a covered basket was left there by a messenger who was unwashed, half-naked, with a sacking apron tied round his middle and his hairy chest splashed with flour. He never spoke, had only one eye and an inflamed socket. Claude learned that he was a half-witted brother of the Chief Steward, a potato-peeler and dish-washer in the galley.

Four days after their interview with Mr. Micks, when they were at last nearing the end of the voyage, Doctor Trueman detained Claude after medical inspection to tell him that the Chief Steward had come down with the epidemic. “He sent for me last night and asked me to take his case,—won’t have anything to do with Chessup. I had to get Chessup’s permission. He seemed very glad to hand the case over to me.”

“Is he very bad?”

“He hasn’t a look-in, and he knows it. Complications; chronic Bright’s disease. It seems he has nine children. I’ll try to get him into a hospital when we make port, but he’ll only live a few days at most. I wonder who’ll get the shillings for all the eggs and oranges he hoarded away. Claude, my boy,” the doctor spoke with sudden energy, “if I ever set foot on land again, I’m going to forget this voyage like a bad dream. When I’m in normal health, I’m a Presbyterian, but just now I feel that even the wicked get worse than they deserve.”


A day came at last when Claude was wakened from sleep by a sense of stillness. He sprang up with a dazed fear that some one had died; but Fanning lay in his berth, breathing quietly.

Something caught his eye through the porthole,—a great grey shoulder of land standing up in the pink light of dawn, powerful and strangely still after the distressing instability of the sea. Pale trees and long, low fortifications . . . close grey buildings with red roofs . . . little sailboats bounding seaward . . . up on the cliff a gloomy fortress.

He had always thought of his destination as a country shattered and desolated,—”bleeding France”; but he had never seen anything that looked so strong, so self-sufficient, so fixed from the first foundation, as the coast that rose before him. It was like a pillar of eternity. The ocean lay submissive at its feet, and over it was the great meekness of early morning.

This grey wall, unshaken, mighty, was the end of the long preparation, as it was the end of the sea. It was the reason for everything that had happened in his life for the last fifteen months. It was the reason why Tannhauser and the gentle Virginian, and so many others who had set out with him, were never to have any life at all, or even a soldier’s death. They were merely waste in a great enterprise, thrown overboard like rotten ropes. For them this kind release,—trees and a still shore and quiet water,—was never, never to be. How long would their bodies toss, he wondered, in that inhuman kingdom of darkness and unrest?

He was startled by a weak voice from behind.

“Claude, are we over?”

“Yes, Fanning. We’re over.”  

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