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   Chapter 24 No.24

Three Soldiers By John Dos Passos Characters: 49333

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

"At last I've got to you!"

John Andrews had caught sight of Genevieve on a bench at the end of the garden under an arbor of vines. Her hair flamed bright in a splotch of sun as she got to her feet. She held out both hands to him.

"How good-looking you are like that," she cried.

He was conscious only of her hands in his hands and of her pale-brown eyes and of the bright sun-splotches and the green shadows fluttering all about them.

"So you are out of prison," she said, "and demobilized. How wonderful! Why didn't you write? I have been very uneasy about you. How did you find me here?"

"Your mother said you were here."

"And how do you like it, my Poissac?"

She made a wide gesture with her hand. They stood silent a moment, side by side, looking about them. In front of the arbor was a parterre of rounded box-bushes edging beds where disorderly roses hung in clusters of pink and purple and apricot-color. And beyond it a brilliant emerald lawn full of daisies sloped down to an old grey house with, at one end, a squat round tower that had an extinguisher-shaped roof. Beyond the house were tall, lush-green poplars, through which glittered patches of silver-grey river and of yellow sand banks. From somewhere came a drowsy scent of mown grass.

"How brown you are!" she said again. "I thought I had lost you.... You might kiss me, Jean."

The muscles of his arms tightened about her shoulders. Her hair flamed in his eyes. The wind that rustled through broad grape-leaves made a flutter of dancing light and shadow about them.

"How hot you are with the sun!" she said. "I love the smell of the sweat of your body. You must have run very hard, coming here."

"Do you remember one night in the spring we walked home from Pelleas and Melisande? How I should have liked to have kissed you then, like this!" Andrews's voice was strange, hoarse, as if he spoke with difficulty.

"There is the chateau tres froid et tres profond," she said with a little laugh.

"And your hair. 'Je les tiens dans les doits, je les tiens dans la bouche.... Toute ta chevelure, toute ta chevelure, Melisande, est tombee de la tour.... D'you remember?"

"How wonderful you are."

They sat side by side on the stone bench without touching each other.

"It's silly," burst out Andrews excitedly. "We should have faith in our own selves. We can't live a little rag of romance without dragging in literature. We are drugged with literature so that we can never live at all, of ourselves."

"Jean, how did you come down here? Have you been demobilized long?"'

"I walked almost all the way from Paris. You see, I am very dirty."

"How wonderful! But I'll be quiet. You must tell me everything from the moment you left me in Chartres."

"I'll tell you about Chartres later," said Andrews gruffly. "It has been superb, one of the biggest weeks in my life, walking all day under the sun, with the road like a white ribbon in the sun over the hills and along river banks, where there were yellow irises blooming, and through woods full of blackbirds, and with the dust in a little white cloud round my feet, and all the time walking towards you, walking towards you."

"And la Reine de Saba, how is it coming?"

"I don't know. It's a long time since I thought of it.... You have been here long?"

"Hardly a week. But what are you going to do?"

"I have a room overlooking the river in a house owned by a very fat woman with a very red face and a tuft of hair on her chin...."

"Madame Boncour."

"Of course. You must know everybody.... It's so small."

"And you're going to stay here a long time?"

"Almost forever, and work, and talk to you; may I use your piano now and then?"

"How wonderful!"

Genevieve Rod jumped to her feet. Then she stood looking at him, leaning against one of the twisted stems of the vines, so that the broad leaves fluttered about her face, A white cloud, bright as silver, covered the sun, so that the hairy young leaves and the wind-blown grass of the lawn took on a silvery sheen. Two white butterflies fluttered for a second about the arbor.

"You must always dress like that," she said after a while.

Andrews laughed.

"A little cleaner, I hope," he said. "But there can't be much change. I have no other clothes and ridiculously little money."

"Who cares for money?" cried Genevieve. Andrews fancied he detected a slight affectation in her tone, but he drove the idea from his mind immediately.

"I wonder if there is a farm round here where I could get work."

"But you couldn't do the work of a farm labourer," cried Genevieve, laughing.

"You just watch me."

"It'll spoil your hands for the piano."

"I don't care about that; but all that's later, much later. Before anything else I must finish a thing I am working on. There is a theme that came to me when I was first in the army, when I was washing windows at the training camp."

"How funny you are, Jean! Oh, it's lovely to have you about again. But you're awfully solemn today. Perhaps it's because I made you kiss me."

"But, Genevieve, it's not in one day that you can unbend a slave's back, but with you, in this wonderful place.... Oh, I've never seen such sappy richness of vegetation! And think of it, a week's walking first across those grey rolling uplands, and then at Blois down into the haze of richness of the Loire.... D'you know Vendome? I came by a funny little town from Vendome to Blois. You see, my feet.... And what wonderful cold baths I've had on the sand banks of the Loire.... No, after a while the rhythm of legs all being made the same length on drill fields, the hopeless caged dullness will be buried deep in me by the gorgeousness of this world of yours!"

He got to his feet and crushed a leaf softly between his fingers.

"You see, the little grapes are already forming.... Look up there," she said as she brushed the leaves aside just above his head. "These grapes here are the earliest; but I must show you my domain, and my cousins and the hen yard and everything."

She took his hand and pulled him out of the arbor. They ran like children, hand in hand, round the box-bordered paths.

"What I mean is this," he stammered, following her across the lawn. "If I could once manage to express all that misery in music, I could shove it far down into my memory. I should be free to live my own existence, in the midst of this carnival of summer."

At the house she turned to him; "You see the very battered ladies over the door," she said. "They are said to be by a pupil of Jean Goujon."

"They fit wonderfully in the landscape, don't they? Did I ever tell you about the sculptures in the hospital where I was when I was wounded?"

"No, but I want you to look at the house now. See, that's the tower; all that's left of the old building. I live there, and right under the roof there's a haunted room I used to be terribly afraid of. I'm still afraid of it.... You see this Henri Quatre part of the house was just a fourth of the house as planned. This lawn would have been the court. We dug up foundations where the roses are. There are all sorts of traditions as to why the house was never finished."

"You must tell me them."

"I shall later; but now you must come and meet my aunt and my cousins."

"Please, not just now, Genevieve.... I don't feel like talking to anyone except you. I have so much to talk to you about."

"But it's nearly lunch time, Jean. We can have all that after lunch."

"No, I can't talk to anyone else now. I must go and clean myself up a little anyway."

"Just as you like.... But you must come this afternoon and play to us. Two or three people are coming to tea.... It would be very sweet of you, if you'd play to us, Jean."

"But can't you understand? I can't see you with other people now."

"Just as you like," said Genevieve, flushing, her hand on the iron latch of the door.

"Can't I come to see you tomorrow morning? Then I shall feel more like meeting people, after talking to you a long while. You see, I...." He paused, with his eyes on the ground. Then he burst out in a low, passionate voice: "Oh, if I could only get it out of my mind... those tramping feet, those voices shouting orders."

His hand trembled when he put it in Genevieve's hand. She looked in his eyes calmly with her wide brown eyes.

"How strange you are today, Jean! Anyway, come back early tomorrow."

She went in the door. He walked round the house, through the carriage gate, and went off with long strides down the road along the river that led under linden trees to the village.

Thoughts swarmed teasingly through his head, like wasps about a rotting fruit. So at last he had seen Genevieve, and had held her in his arms and kissed her. And that was all. His plans for the future had never gone beyond that point. He hardly knew what he had expected, but in all the sunny days of walking, in all the furtive days in Paris, he had thought of nothing else. He would see Genevieve and tell her all about himself; he would unroll his life like a scroll before her eyes. Together they would piece together the future. A sudden terror took possession of him. She had failed him. Floods of denial seethed through his mind. It was that he had expected so much; he had expected her to understand him without explanation, instinctively. He had told her nothing. He had not even told her he was a deserter. What was it that had kept him from telling her? Puzzle as he would, he could not formulate it. Only, far within him, the certainty lay like an icy weight: she had failed him. He was alone. What a fool he had been to build his whole life on a chance of sympathy? No. It was rather this morbid playing at phrases that was at fault. He was like a touchy old maid, thinking imaginary results. "Take life at its face value," he kept telling himself. They loved each other anyway, somehow; it did not matter how. And he was free to work. Wasn't that enough?

But how could he wait until tomorrow to see her, to tell her everything, to break down all the silly little barriers between them, so that they might look directly into each other's lives?

The road turned inland from the river between garden walls at the entrance to the village. Through half-open doors Andrews got glimpses of neatly-cultivated kitchen-gardens and orchards where silver-leaved boughs swayed against the sky. Then the road swerved again into the village, crowded into a narrow paved street by the white and cream-colored houses with green or grey shutters and pale, red-tiled roofs. At the end, stained golden with lichen, the mauve-grey tower of the church held up its bells against the sky in a belfry of broad pointed arches. In front of the church Andrews turned down a little lane towards the river again, to come out in a moment on a quay shaded by skinny acacia trees. On the corner house, a ramshackle house with roofs and gables projecting in all directions, was a sign: "Rendezvous de la Marine." The room he stepped into was so low, Andrews had to stoop under the heavy brown beams as he crossed it. Stairs went up from a door behind a worn billiard table in the corner. Mme. Boncour stood between Andrews and the stairs. She was a flabby, elderly woman with round eyes and a round, very red face and a curious smirk about the lips.

"Monsieur payera un petit peu d'advance, n'est-ce pas, Monsieur?"

"All right," said Andrews, reaching for his pocketbook. "Shall I pay you a week in advance?"

The woman smiled broadly.

"Si Monsieur desire.... It's that life is so dear nowadays. Poor people like us can barely get along."

"I know that only too well," said Andrews.

"Monsieur est etranger...." began the woman in a wheedling tone, when she had received the money.

"Yes. I was only demobilized a short time ago."

"Aha! Monsieur est demobilise. Monsieur remplira la petite feuille pour la police, n'est-ce pas?"

The woman brought from behind her back a hand that held a narrow printed slip.

"All right. I'll fill it out now," said Andrews, his heart thumping.

Without thinking what he was doing, he put the paper on the edge of the billiard table and wrote: "John Brown, aged 23. Chicago Ill., Etats-Unis. Musician. Holder of passport No. 1,432,286."

"Merci, Monsieur. A bientot, Monsieur. Au revoir, Monsieur."

The woman's singing voice followed him up the rickety stairs to his room. It was only when he had closed the door that he remembered that he had put down for a passport number his army number. "And why did I write John Brown as a name?" he asked himself.

"John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave,

But his soul goes marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

But his soul goes marching on."

He heard the song so vividly that he thought for an instant someone must be standing beside him singing it. He went to the window and ran his hand through his hair. Outside the Loire rambled in great loops towards the blue distance, silvery reach upon silvery reach, with here and there the broad gleam of a sand bank. Opposite were poplars and fields patched in various greens rising to hills tufted with dense shadowy groves. On the bare summit of the highest hill a windmill waved lazy arms against the marbled sky.

Gradually John Andrews felt the silvery quiet settle about him. He pulled a sausage and a piece of bread out of the pocket of his coat, took a long swig of water from the pitcher on his washstand, and settled himself at the table before the window in front of a pile of ruled sheets of music paper. He nibbled the bread and the sausage meditatively for a long while, then wrote "Arbeit und Rhythmus" in a large careful hand at the top of the paper. After that he looked out of the window without moving, watching the plumed clouds sail like huge slow ships against the slate-blue sky. Suddenly he scratched out what he had written and scrawled above it: "The Body and Soul of John Brown." He got to his feet and walked about the room with clenched hands.

"How curious that I should have written that name. How curious that I should have written that name!" he said aloud.

He sat down at the table again and forgot everything in the music that possessed him.

The next morning he walked out early along the river, trying to occupy himself until it should be time to go to see Genevieve. The memory of his first days in the army, spent washing windows at the training camp, was very vivid in his mind. He saw himself again standing naked in the middle of a wide, bare room, while the recruiting sergeant measured and prodded him. And now he was a deserter. Was there any sense to it all? Had his life led in any particular direction, since he had been caught haphazard in the treadmill, or was it all chance? A toad hopping across a road in front of a steam roller.

He stood still, and looked about him. Beyond a clover field was the river with its sand banks and its broad silver reaches. A boy was wading far out in the river catching minnows with a net. Andrews watched his quick movements as he jerked the net through the water. And that boy, too, would be a soldier; the lithe body would be thrown into a mould to be made the same as other bodies, the quick movements would be standardized into the manual at arms, the inquisitive, petulant mind would be battered into servility. The stockade was built; not one of the sheep would escape. And those that were not sheep? They were deserters; every rifle muzzle held death for them; they would not live long. And yet other nightmares had been thrown off the shoulders of men. Every man who stood up courageously to die loosened the grip of the nightmare.

Andrews walked slowly along the road, kicking his feet into the dust like a schoolboy. At a turning he threw himself down on the grass under some locust trees. The heavy fragrance of their flowers and the grumbling of the bees that hung drunkenly on the white racemes made him feel very drowsy. A cart passed, pulled by heavy white horses; an old man with his back curved like the top of a sunflower stalk hobbled after, using the whip as a walking stick. Andrews saw the old man's eyes turned on him suspiciously. A faint pang of fright went through him; did the old man know he was a deserter? The cart and the old man had already disappeared round the bend in the road. Andrews lay a long while listening to the jingle of the harness thin into the distance, leaving him again to the sound of the drowsy bees among the locust blossoms.

When he sat up, he noticed that through a break in the hedge beyond the slender black trunks of the locusts, he could see rising above the trees the extinguisher-shaped roof of the tower of Genevieve Rod's house. He remembered the day he had first seen Genevieve, and the boyish awkwardness with which she poured tea. Would he and Genevieve ever find a moment of real contact? All at once a bitter thought came to him. "Or is it that she wants a tame pianist as an ornament to a clever young woman's drawing room?" He jumped to his feet and started walking fast towards the town again. He would go to see her at once and settle all that forever. The village clock had begun to strike; the clear notes vibrated crisply across the fields: ten.

Walking back to the village he began to think of money. His room was twenty francs a week. He had in his purse a hundred and twenty-four francs. After fishing in all his pockets for silver, he found three francs and a half more. A hundred and twenty-seven francs fifty. If he could live on forty francs a week, he would have three weeks in which to work on the "Body and Soul of John Brown." Only three weeks; and then he must find work. In any case he would write Henslowe to send him money if he had any; this was no time for delicacy; everything depended on his having money. And he swore to himself that he would work for three weeks, that he would throw the idea that flamed within him into shape on paper, whatever happened. He racked his brains to think of someone in America he could write to for money, A ghastly sense of solitude possessed him. And would Genevieve fail him too?

Genevieve was coming out by the front door of the house when he reached the carriage gate beside the road.

She ran to meet him.

"Good morning. I was on my way to fetch you."

She seized his hand and pressed it hard.

"How sweet of you!"

"But, Jean, you're not coming from the village."

"I've been walking."

"How early you must get up!"

"You see, the sun rises just opposite my window, and shines in on my bed. That makes me get up early."

She pushed him in the door ahead of her. They went through the hall to a long high room that had a grand piano and many old high-backed chairs, and in front of the French windows that opened on the garden, a round table of black mahogany littered with books. Two tall girls in muslin dresses stood beside the piano.

"These are my cousins.... Here he is at last. Monsieur Andrews, ma cousine Berthe et ma cousine Jeanne. Now you've got to play to us; we are bored to death with everything we know."

"All right.... But I have a great deal to talk to you about later," said Andrews in a low voice.

Genevieve nodded understandingly.

"Why don't you play us La Reine de Saba, Jean?"

"Oh, do play that," twittered the cousins.

"If you don't mind, I'd rather play some Bach."

"There's a lot of Bach in that chest in the corner," cried Genevieve. "It's ridiculous; everything in the house is jammed with music."

They leaned over the chest together, so that Andrews felt her hair brush against his cheek, and the smell of her hair in his nostrils. The cousins remained by the piano.

"I must talk to you alone soon," whispered Andrews.

"All right," she said, her face reddening as she leaned over the chest.

On top of the music was a revolver.

"Look out, it's loaded," she said, when he picked it up.

He looked at her inquiringly. "I have another in my room. You see Mother and I are often alone here, and then, I like firearms. Don't you?"

"I hate them," muttered Andrews.

"Here's tons of Bach."

"Fine.... Look, Genevieve," he said suddenly, "lend me that revolver for a few days. I'll tell you why I want it later."

"Certainly. Be careful, because it's loaded," she said in an offhand manner, walking over to the piano with two volumes under each arm. Andrews closed the chest and followed her, suddenly bubbling with gaiety. He opened a volume haphazard.

"To a friend to dissuade him from starting on a journey," he read. "Oh, I used to know that."

He began to play, putting boisterous vigor into the tunes. In a pianissimo passage he heard one cousin whisper to the other: "Qu'il a l'air interessant."

"Farouche, n'est-ce pas? Genre revolutionnaire," answered the other cousin, tittering. Then he noticed that Mme. Rod was smiling at him. He got to his feet.

"Mais ne vous derangez pas," she said.

A man with white flannel trousers and tennis shoes and a man in black with a pointed grey beard and amused grey eyes had come into the room, followed by a stout woman in hat and veil, with long white cotton gloves on her arms. Introductions were made. Andrews's spirits began to ebb. All these people were making strong the barrier between him and Genevieve. Whenever he looked at her, some well-dressed person stepped in front of her with a gesture of politeness. He felt caught in a ring of well-dressed conventions that danced about him with grotesque gestures of politeness. All through lunch he had a crazy desire to jump to his feet and shout: "Look at me; I'm a deserter. I'm under the wheels of your system. If your system doesn't succeed in killing me, it will be that much weaker, it will have less strength to kill others." There was talk about his demobilization, and his music, and the Schola Cantorum. He felt he was being exhibited. "But they don't know what they're exhibiting," he said to himself with a certain bitter joy.

After lunch they went out into the grape arbor, where coffee was brought. Andrews sat silent, not listening to the talk, which was about Empire furniture and the new taxes, staring up into the broad sun-splotched leaves of the grape vines, remembering how the sun and shade had danced about Genevieve's hair when they had been in the arbor alone the day before, turning it all to red flame. Today she sat in shadow, and her hair was rusty and dull. Time dragged by very slowly.

At last Genevieve got to her feet.

"You haven't seen my boat," she said to Andrews. "Let's go for a row. I'll row you about."

Andrews jumped up eagerly.

"Make her be careful, Monsieur Andrews, she's dreadfully imprudent,'" said Madame Rod.

"You were bored to death," said Genevieve, as they walked out on the road.

"No, but those people all seemed to be building new walls between you and me. God knows there are enough already."

She looked him sharply in the eyes a second, but said nothing.

They walked slowly through the sand of the river edge, till they came to an old flat-bottomed boat painted green with an orange stripe, drawn up among the reeds.

"It will probably sink; can you swim?" she asked, laughing.

Andrews smiled, and said in a stiff voice:

"I can swim. It was by swimming that I got out of the army."

"What do you mean?"

"When I deserted."

"When you deserted?"

Genevieve leaned over to pull on the boat. Their heads almost touching, they pulled the boat down to the water's edge, then pushed it half out on to the river.

"And if you are caught?"

"They might shoot me; I don't know. Still, as the war is over, it would probably be life imprisonment, or at least twenty years."

"You can speak of it as coolly as that?"

"It is no new idea to my mind."

"What induced you to do such a thing?"

"I was not willing to submit any longer to the treadmill."

"Come let's go out on the river."

Genevieve stepped into the boat and caught up the oars.

"Now push her off, and don't fall in," she cried.

The boat glided out into the water. Genevieve began pulling on the oars slowly and regularly. Andrews looked at her without speaking.

"When you're tired, I'll row," he said after a while.

Behind them the village, patched white and buff-color and russet and pale red with stucco walls and steep, tiled roofs, rose in an irregular pyramid to the church. Through the wide pointed arches of the belfry they could see the bells hanging against the sky. Below in the river the town was reflected complete, with a great rift of steely b

lue across it where the wind ruffled the water. The oars creaked rhythmically as Genevieve pulled on them.

"Remember, when you are tired," said Andrews again after a long pause.

Genevieve spoke through clenched teeth:

"Of course, you have no patriotism."

"As you mean it, none."

They rounded the edge of a sand bank where the current ran hard. Andrews put his hands beside her hands on the oars, and pushed with her. The bow of the boat grounded in some reeds under willows.

"We'll stay here," she said, pulling in the oars that flashed in the sun as she jerked them, dripping silver, out of the water.

She clasped her hands round her knees and leaned over towards him.

"So that is why you want my revolver.... Tell me all about it, from Chartres," she said, in a choked voice.

"You see, I was arrested at Chartres and sent to a labor battalion, the equivalent for your army prison, without being able to get word to my commanding officer in the School Detachment...." He paused.

A bird was singing in the willow tree. The sun was under a cloud; beyond the long pale green leaves that fluttered ever so slightly in the wind, the sky was full of silvery and cream-colored clouds, with here and there a patch the color of a robin's egg. Andrews began laughing softly.

"But, Genevieve, how silly those words are, those pompous, efficient words: detachment, battalion, commanding officer. It would have all happened anyway. Things reached the breaking point; that was all. I could not submit any longer to the discipline.... Oh, those long Roman words, what millstones they are about men's necks! That was silly, too; I was quite willing to help in the killing of Germans, I had no quarrel with, out of curiosity or cowardice.... You see, it has taken me so long to find out how the world is. There was no one to show me the way."

He paused as if expecting her to speak. The bird in the willow tree was still singing.

Suddenly a dangling twig blew aside a little so that Andrews could see him-a small grey bird, his throat all puffed out with song.

"It seems to me," he said very softly, "that human society has been always that, and perhaps will be always that: organizations growing and stifling individuals, and individuals revolting hopelessly against them, and at last forming new societies to crush the old societies and becoming slaves again in their turn...."

"I thought you were a socialist," broke in Genevieve sharply, in a voice that hurt him to the quick, he did not know why.

"A man told me at the labor battalion," began Andrews again, "that they'd tortured a friend of his there once by making him swallow lighted cigarettes; well, every order shouted at me, every new humiliation before the authorities, was as great an agony to me. Can't you understand?" His voice rose suddenly to a tone of entreaty.

She nodded her head. They were silent. The willow leaves shivered in a little wind. The bird had gone.

"But tell me about the swimming part of it. That sounds exciting."

"We were working unloading cement at Passy-cement to build the stadium the army is presenting to the French, built by slave labor, like the pyramids."

"Passy's where Balzac lived. Have you ever seen his house there?"

"There was a boy working with me, the Kid, 'le gosse,' it'd be in French. Without him, I should never have done it. I was completely crushed.... I suppose that he was drowned.... Anyway, we swam under water as far as we could, and, as it was nearly dark, I managed to get on a barge, where a funny anarchist family took care of me. I've never heard of the Kid since. Then I bought these clothes that amuse you so, Genevieve, and came back to Paris to find you, mainly."

"I mean as much to you as that?" whispered Genevieve.

"In Paris, too. I tried to find a boy named Marcel, who worked on a farm near St. Germain. I met him out there one day. I found he'd gone to sea.... If it had not been that I had to see you, I should have gone straight to Bordeaux or Marseilles. They aren't too particular who they take as a seaman now."

"But in the army didn't you have enough of that dreadful life, always thrown among uneducated people, always in dirty, foulsmelling surroundings, you, a sensitive person, an artist? No wonder you are almost crazy after years of that." Genevieve spoke passionately, with her eyes fixed on his face.

"Oh, it wasn't that," said Andrews with despair in his voice. "I rather like the people you call low. Anyway, the differences between people are so slight...." His sentence trailed away. He stopped speaking, sat stirring uneasily on the seat, afraid he would cry out. He noticed the hard shape of the revolver against his leg.

"But isn't there something you can do about it? You must have friends," burst out Genevieve. "You were treated with horrible injustice. You can get yourself reinstated and properly demobilised. They'll see you are a person of intelligence. They can't treat you as they would anybody."

"I must be, as you say, a little mad, Genevieve," said Andrews.

"But now that I, by pure accident, have made a gesture, feeble as it is, towards human freedom, I can't feel that.... Oh, I suppose I'm a fool.... But there you have me, just as I am, Genevieve."

He sat with his head drooping over his chest, his two hands clasping the gunwales of the boat. After a long while Genevieve said in a dry little voice:

"Well, we must go back now; it's time for tea."

Andrews looked up. There was a dragon fly poised on the top of a reed, with silver wings and a long crimson body.

"Look just behind you, Genevieve."

"Oh, a dragon fly! What people was it that made them the symbol of life? It wasn't the Egyptians. O, I've forgotten."

"I'll row," said Andrews.

The boat was hurried along by the current. In a very few minutes they had pulled it up on the bank in front of the Rods' house.

"Come and have some tea," said Genevieve.

"No, I must work."

"You are doing something new, aren't you?"

Andrews nodded.

"What's its name?"

"The Soul and Body of John Brown."

"Who's John Brown?"

"He was a madman who wanted to free people. There's a song about him."

"It is based on popular themes?"

"Not that I know of.... I only thought of the name yesterday. It came to me by a very curious accident."

"You'll come tomorrow?"

"If you're not too busy."

"Let's see, the Boileaus are coming to lunch. There won't be anybody at tea time. We can have tea together alone."

He took her hand and held it, awkward as a child with a new playmate.

"All right, at about four. If there's nobody there, we'll play music," he said.

She pulled her hand from him hurriedly, made a curious formal gesture of farewell, and crossed the road to the gate without looking back. There was one idea in his head, to get to his room and lock the door and throw himself face down on the bed. The idea amused some distant part of his mind. That had been what he had always done when, as a child, the world had seemed too much for him. He would run upstairs and lock the door and throw himself face downward on the bed. "I wonder if I shall cry?" he thought.

Madame Boncour was coming down the stairs as he went up. He backed down and waited. When she got to the bottom, pouting a little, she said:

"So you are a friend of Mme. Rod, Monsieur?"

"How did you know that?"

A dimple appeared near her mouth in either cheek.

"You know, in the country, one knows everything," she said.

"Au revoir," he said, starting up the stairs.

"Mais, Monsieur. You should have told me. If I had known I should not have asked you to pay in advance. Oh, never. You must pardon me, Monsieur."

"All right."

"Monsieur est Americain? You see I know a lot." Her puffy cheeks shook when she giggled. "And Monsieur has known Mme. Rod et Mlle. Rod a long time. An old friend. Monsieur is a musician."

"Yes. Bon soir." Andrews ran up the stairs.

"Au revoir, Monsieur." Her chanting voice followed him up the stairs.

He slammed the door behind him and threw himself on the bed.

When Andrews awoke next morning, his first thought was how long he had to wait that day to see Genevieve. Then he remembered their talk of the day before. Was it worth while going to see her at all, he asked himself. And very gradually he felt cold despair taking hold of him. He felt for a moment that he was the only living thing in a world of dead machines; the toad hopping across the road in front of a steam roller. Suddenly he thought of Jeanne. He remembered her grimy, overworked fingers lying in her lap. He pictured her walking up and down in front of the Cafe de Rohan one Wednesday night, waiting for him. In the place of Genevieve, what would Jeanne have done? Yet people were always alone, really; however much they loved each other, there could be no real union. Those who rode in the great car could never feel as the others felt; the toads hopping across the road. He felt no rancour against Genevieve.

These thoughts slipped from him while he was drinking the coffee and eating the dry bread that made his breakfast; and afterwards, walking back and forth along the river bank, he felt his mind and body becoming as if fluid, and supple, trembling, bent in the rush of his music like a poplar tree bent in a wind. He sharpened a pencil and went up to his room again.

The sky was cloudless that day. As he sat at his table the square of blue through the window and the hills topped by their windmill and the silver-blue of the river, were constantly in his eyes. Sometimes he wrote notes down fast, thinking nothing, feeling nothing, seeing nothing; other times he sat for long periods staring at the sky and at the windmill vaguely happy, playing with unexpected thoughts that came and vanished, as now and then a moth fluttered in the window to blunder about the ceiling beams, and, at last, to disappear without his knowing how.

When the clock struck twelve, he found he was very hungry. For two days he had eaten nothing but bread, sausage and cheese. Finding Madame Boncour behind the bar downstairs, polishing glasses, he ordered dinner of her. She brought him a stew and a bottle of wine at once, and stood over him watching him eat it, her arms akimbo and the dimples showing in her huge red cheeks.

"Monsieur eats less than any young man I ever saw," she said.

"I'm working hard," said Andrews, flushing.

"But when you work you have to eat a great deal, a great deal."

"And if the money is short?" asked Andrews with a smile.

Something in the steely searching look that passed over her eyes for a minute startled him.

"There are not many people here now, Monsieur, but you should see it on a market day.... Monsieur will take some dessert?"

"Cheese and coffee."

"Nothing more? It's the season of strawberries."

"Nothing more, thank you."

When Madame Boncour came back with the cheese, she said:

"I had Americans here once, Monsieur. A pretty time I had with them, too. They were deserters. They went away without paying, with the gendarmes after them I hope they were caught and sent to the front, those good-for-nothings."

"There are all sorts of Americans," said Andrews in a low voice. He was angry with himself because his heart beat so.

"Well, I'm going for a little walk. Au revoir, Madame."

"Monsieur is going for a little walk. Amusez-vous bien, Monsieur. Au revoir, Monsieur," Madame Boncour's singsong tones followed him out.

A little before four Andrews knocked at the front door of the Rods' house. He could hear Santo, the little black and tan, barking inside. Madame Rod opened the door for him herself.

"Oh, here you are," she said. "Come and have some tea. Did the work go well to-day?"

"And Genevieve?" stammered Andrews.

"She went out motoring with some friends. She left a note for you. It's on the tea-table."

He found himself talking, making questions and answers, drinking tea, putting cakes into his mouth, all through a white dead mist. Genevieve's note said:

"Jean:-I'm thinking of ways and means. You must get away to a neutral country. Why couldn't you have talked it over with me first, before cutting off every chance of going back. I'll be in tomorrow at the same time.

"Bien a vous. G. R."

"Would it disturb you if I played the piano a few minutes, Madame Rod?" Andrews found himself asking all at once.

"No, go ahead. We'll come in later and listen to you."

It was only as he left the room that he realized he had been talking to the two cousins as well as to Madame Rod.

At the piano he forgot everything and regained his mood of vague joyousness. He found paper and a pencil in his pocket, and played the theme that had come to him while he had been washing windows at the top: of a step-ladder at training camp arranging it, modelling it, forgetting everything, absorbed in his rhythms and cadences. When he stopped work it was nearly dark. Genevieve Rod, a veil round her head, stood in the French window that led to the garden.

"I heard you," she said. "Go on."

"I'm through. How was your motor ride?"

"I loved it. It's not often I get a chance to go motoring."

"Nor is it often I get a chance to talk to you alone," cried Andrews bitterly.

"You seem to feel you have rights of ownership over me. I resent it. No one has rights over me." She spoke as if it were not the first time she had thought of the phrase.

He walked over and leaned against the window beside her.

"Has it made such a difference to you, Genevieve, finding out that I am a deserter?"

"No, of course not," she said hastily.

"I think it has, Genevieve.... What do you want me to do? Do you think I should give myself up? A man I knew in Paris has given himself up, but he hadn't taken his uniform off. It seems that makes a difference. He was a nice fellow. His name was Al, he was from San Francisco. He had nerve, for he amputated his own little finger when his hand was crushed by a freight car."

"Oh, no, no. Oh, this is so frightful. And you would have been a great composer. I feel sure of it."

"Why, would have been? The stuff I'm doing now's better than any of the dribbling things I've done before, I know that."

"Oh, yes, but you'll need to study, to get yourself known."

"If I can pull through six months, I'm safe. The army will have gone. I don't believe they extradite deserters."

"Yes, but the shame of it, the danger of being found out all the time."

"I am ashamed of many things in my life, Genevieve. I'm rather proud of this."

"But can't you understand that other people haven't your notions of individual liberty?"

"I must go, Genevieve."

"You must come in again soon."

"One of these days."

And he was out in the road in the windy twilight, with his music papers crumpled in his hand. The sky was full of tempestuous purple clouds; between them were spaces of clear claret-colored light, and here and there a gleam of opal. There were a few drops of rain in the wind that rustled the broad leaves of the lindens and filled the wheat fields with waves like the sea, and made the river very dark between rosy sand banks. It began to rain. Andrews hurried home so as not to drench his only suit. Once in his room he lit four candles and placed them at the corners of his table. A little cold crimson light still filtered in through the rain from the afterglow, giving the candles a ghostly glimmer. Then he lay on his bed, and staring up at the flickering light on the ceiling, tried to think.

"Well, you're alone now, John Andrews," he said aloud, after a half-hour, and jumped jauntily to his feet. He stretched himself and yawned. Outside the rain pattered loudly and steadily. "Let's have a general accounting," he said to himself. "It'll be easily a month before I hear from old Howe in America, and longer before I hear from Henslowe, and already I've spent twenty francs on food. Can't make it this way. Then, in real possessions, I have one volume of Villon, a green book on counterpoint, a map of France torn in two, and a moderately well-stocked mind."

He put the two books on the middle of the table before him, on top of his disorderly bundle of music papers and notebooks. Then he went on, piling his possessions there as he thought of them. Three pencils, a fountain pen. Automatically he reached for his watch, but he remembered he'd given it to Al to pawn in case he didn't decide to give himself up, and needed money. A toothbrush. A shaving set. A piece of soap. A hairbrush and a broken comb. Anything else? He groped in the musette that hung on the foot of the bed. A box of matches. A knife with one blade missing, and a mashed cigarette. Amusement growing on him every minute, he contemplated the pile. Then, in the drawer, he remembered, was a clean shirt and two pairs of soiled socks. And that was all, absolutely all. Nothing saleable there. Except Genevieve's revolver. He pulled it out of his pocket. The candlelight flashed on the bright nickel. No, he might need that; it was too valuable to sell. He pointed it towards himself. Under the chin was said to be the best place. He wondered if he would pull the trigger when the barrel was pressed against his chin. No, when his money gave out he'd sell the revolver. An expensive death for a starving man. He sat on the edge of the bed and laughed.

Then he discovered he was very hungry. Two meals in one day; shocking! He said to himself. Whistling joyfully, like a schoolboy, he strode down the rickety stairs to order a meal of Madame Boncour.

It was with a strange start that he noticed that the tune he was whistling was:

"John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave,

But his soul goes marching on."

The lindens were in bloom. From a tree beside the house great gusts of fragrance, heavy as incense, came in through the open window. Andrews lay across the table with his eyes closed and his cheek in a mass of ruled papers. He was very tired. The first movement of the "Soul and Body of John Brown" was down on paper. The village clock struck two. He got to his feet and stood a moment looking absently out of the window. It was a sultry afternoon of swollen clouds that hung low over the river. The windmill on the hilltop opposite was motionless. He seemed to hear Genevieve's voice the last time he had seen her, so long ago. "You would have been a great composer." He walked over to the table and turned over some sheets without looking at them. "Would have been!" He shrugged his shoulders. So you couldn't be a great composer and a deserter too in the year 1919. Probably Genevieve was right. But he must have something to eat.

"But how late it is," expostulated Madame Boncour, when he asked for lunch.

"I know it's very late. I have just finished a third of the work I'm doing.

"And do you get paid a great deal, when that is finished?" asked Madame Boncour, the dimples appearing in her broad cheeks.

"Some day, perhaps."

"You will be lonely now that the Rods have left."

"Have they left?"

"Didn't you know? Didn't you go to say goodby? They've gone to the seashore.... But I'll make you a little omelette."

"Thank you."

When Madame Boncour cams back with the omelette and fried potatoes, she said to him in a mysterious voice:

"You didn't go to see the Rods as often these last weeks."


Madame Boncour stood staring at him, with her red arms folded round her breasts, shaking her head.

When he got up to go upstairs again, she suddenly shouted:

"And when are you going to pay me? It's two weeks since you have paid me."

"But, Madame Boncour, I told you I had no money. If you wait a day or two, I'm sure to get some in the mail. It can't be more than a day or two."

"I've heard that story before."

"I've even tried to get work at several farms round here."

Madame Boncour threw back her head and laughed, showing the blackened teeth of her lower jaw.

"Look here," she said at length, "after this week, it's finished. You either pay me, or...And I sleep very lightly, Monsieur." Her voice took on suddenly its usual sleek singsong tone.

Andrews broke away and ran upstairs to his room.

"I must fly the coop tonight," he said to himself. But suppose then letters came with money the next day. He writhed in indecision all the afternoon.

That evening he took a long walk. In passing the Rods' house he saw that the shutters were closed. It gave him a sort of relief to know that Genevieve no longer lived near him. His solitude was complete, now.

And why, instead of writing music that would have been worth while if he hadn't been a deserter, he kept asking himself, hadn't he tried long ago to act, to make a gesture, however feeble, however forlorn, for other people's freedom? Half by accident he had managed to free himself from the treadmill. Couldn't he have helped others? If he only had his life to live over again. No; he had not lived up to the name of John Brown.

It was dark when he got back to the village. He had decided to wait one more day.

The next morning he started working on the second movement. The lack of a piano made it very difficult to get ahead, yet he said to himself that he should put down what he could, as it would be long before he found leisure again.

One night he had blown out his candle and stood at the window watching the glint of the moon on the river. He heard a soft heavy step on the landing outside his room. A floorboard creaked, and the key turned in the lock. The step was heard again on the stairs. John Andrews laughed aloud. The window was only twenty feet from the ground, and there was a trellis. He got into bed contentedly. He must sleep well, for tomorrow night he would slip out of the window and make for Bordeaux.

Another morning. A brisk wind blew, fluttering Andrews's papers as he worked. Outside the river was streaked blue and silver and slate-colored. The windmill's arms waved fast against the piled clouds. The scent of the lindens came only intermittently on the sharp wind. In spite of himself, the tune of "John Brown's Body" had crept in among his ideas. Andrews sat with a pencil at his lips, whistling softly, while in the back of his mind a vast chorus seemed singing:

"John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave,

But his soul goes marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

But his soul goes marching on."

If one could only find freedom by marching for it, came the thought.

All at once he became rigid, his hands clutched the table edge.

There was an American voice under his window:

"D'you think she's kiddin' us, Charley?"

Andrews was blinded, falling from a dizzy height. God, could things repeat themselves like that? Would everything be repeated? And he seemed to hear voices whisper in his ears: "One of you men teach him how to salute."

He jumped to his feet and pulled open the drawer. It was empty. The woman had taken the revolver. "It's all planned, then. She knew," he said aloud in a low voice.

He became suddenly calm.

A man in a boat was passing down the river. The boat was painted bright green; the man wore a curious jacket of a burnt-brown color, and held a fishing pole.

Andrews sat in his chair again. The boat was out of sight now, but there was the windmill turning, turning against the piled white clouds.

There were steps on the stairs.

Two swallows, twittering, curved past the window, very near, so that Andrews could make out the marking on their wings and the way they folded their legs against their pale-grey bellies. There was a knock.

"Come in," said Andrews firmly.

"I beg yer pardon," said a soldier with his hat, that had a band, in his hand. "Are you the American?"


"Well, the woman down there said she thought your papers wasn't in very good order." The man stammered with embarrassment.

Their eyes met.

"No, I'm a deserter," said Andrews.

The M. P. snatched for his whistle and blew it hard. There was an answering whistle from outside the window.

"Get your stuff together."

"I have nothing."

"All right, walk downstairs slowly in front of me."

Outside the windmill was turning, turning, against the piled white clouds of the sky.

Andrews turned his eyes towards the door. The M. P. closed the door after them, and followed on his heels down the steps.

On John Andrews's writing table the brisk wind rustled among the broad sheets of paper. First one sheet, then another, blew off the table, until the floor was littered with them.

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