One Man's Initiation-1917 - novelonlinefull.com
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"New at the game then. You're lucky.... Before I left the front I saw a man tuck a hand-grenade under the pillow of a poor devil of a German prisoner. The prisoner said, 'Thank you.' The grenade blew him to h.e.l.l!
G.o.d! Know anywhere you can get whisky in this b.l.o.o.d.y town?"
"We'll have to hurry; it's near closing-time."
They started off, Randolph and the girl talking intimately, their heads close together, Martin supporting the Englishman.
"I need a bit o' whisky to put me on my pins."
They tumbled into the seats round a table at an American bar.
The Englishman felt in his pocket.
"Oh, I say," he cried, "I've got a ticket to the theatre. It's a box....
We can all get in. Come along; let's hurry."
They walked a long while, blundering through the dark streets, and at last stopped at a blue-lighted door.
"Here it is; push in."
"But there are two gentlemen and a lady already in the box, meester."
"No matter, there'll be room." The Englishman waved the ticket in the air.
The little round man with a round red face who was taking the tickets stuttered in bad English and then dropped into French. Meanwhile, the whole party had filed in, leaving the Englishman, who kept waving the ticket in the little man's face.
Two gendarmes, the theatre guards, came up menacingly; the Englishman's face wreathed itself in smiles; he linked an arm in each of the gendarmes', and pushed them towards the bar.
"Come drink to the Entente Cordiale.... Vive la France!"
In the box were two Australians and a woman who leaned her head on the chest of one and then the other alternately, laughing so that you could see the gold caps in her black teeth.
They were annoyed at the intrusion that packed the box insupportably tight, so that the woman had to sit on the men's laps, but the air soon cleared in laughter that caused people in the orchestra to stare angrily at the box full of noisy men in khaki. At last the Englishman came, squeezing himself in with a finger mysteriously on his lips. He plucked at Martin's arm, a serious set look coming suddenly over his grey eyes.
"It was like this"--his breath laden with whisky was like a halo round Martin's head--"the Hun was a nice little chap, couldn't 'a' been more than eighteen; had a shoulder broken and he thought that my pal was fixing the pillow. He said 'Thank you' with a funny German accent....
Mind you, he said 'Thank you'; that's what hurt. And the man laughed.
G.o.d d.a.m.n him, he laughed when the poor devil said 'Thank you.' And the grenade blew him to h.e.l.l."
The stage was a glare of light in Martin's eyes; he felt as he had when at home he had leaned over and looked straight into the headlight of an auto drawn up to the side of the road. Screening him from the glare were the backs of people's heads: Tom Randolph's head and his girl's, side by side, their cheeks touching, the pointed red chin of one of the Australians and the frizzy hair of the other woman.
In the entr'acte they all stood at the bar, where it was very hot and an orchestra was playing and there were many men in khaki in all stages of drunkenness, being led about by women who threw jokes at each other behind the men's backs.
"Here's to mud," said one of the Australians. "The war'll end when everybody is drowned in mud."
The orchestra began playing the _Madelon_ and everyone roared out the marching song that, worn threadbare as it was, still had a roistering verve to it that caught people's blood.
People had gone back for the last act. The two Australians, the Englishman, and the two Americans still stood talking.
"Mind you, I'm not what you'd call susceptible. I'm not soft. I got over all that long ago." The Englishman was addressing the company in general. "But the poor beggar said 'Thank you.'"
"What's he saying?" asked a woman, plucking at Martin's arm.
"He's telling about a German atrocity."
"Oh, the dirty Germans! What things they've done!" the woman answered mechanically.
Somehow, during the entr'acte, the Australians had collected another woman; and a strange fat woman with lips painted very small, and very large bulging eyes, had attached herself to Martin. He suffered her because every time he looked at her she burst out laughing.
The bar was closing. They had a drink of champagne all round that made the fat woman give little shrieks of delight. They drifted towards the door, and stood, a formless, irresolute group, in the dark street in front of the theatre.
Randolph came up to Martin.
"Look. We're goin'. I wonder if I ought to leave my money with you ..."
"I doubt if I'm a safe person to-night ..."
"All right. I'll take it along. Look ... let's meet for breakfast."
"At the _Cafe de la Paix_."
"All right. If she is nice I'll bring her."
"She looks charming."
Tom Randolph pressed Martin's hand and was off. There was a sound of a kiss in the darkness.
"I say, I've got to have something to eat," said the Englishman. "I didn't have a bit of dinner. I say--mangai, mangai." He made gestures of putting things into his mouth in the direction of the fat woman.
The three women put their heads together. One of them knew a place, but it was a dreadful place. Really, they mustn't think that ... She only knew it because when she was very young a man had taken her there who wanted to seduce her.
At that everyone laughed and the voices of the women rose shrill.
"All right, don't talk; let's go there," said one of the Australians.
"We'll attend to the seducing."
A thick woman, a tall comb in the back of her high-piled black hair, and an immovable face with jaw muscled like a prize-fighter's, served them with cold chicken and ham and champagne in a room with mouldering greenish wall-paper lighted by a red-shaded lamp.
The Australians ate and sang and made love to their women. The Englishman went to sleep with his head on the table.
Martin leaned back out of the circle of light, keeping up a desultory conversation with the woman beside him, listening to the sounds of the men's voices down corridors, of the front door being opened and slammed again and again, and of forced, shrill giggles of women.
"Unfortunately, I have an engagement to-night," said Martin to the woman beside him, whose large spherical b.r.e.a.s.t.s heaved as she talked, and who rolled herself nearer to him invitingly, seeming with her round pop-eyes and her round cheeks to be made up entirely of small spheres and large soft ones.
"Oh, but it is too late. You can break it."
"It's at four o'clock."
"Then we have time, ducky."