A Son of Eli
War days, and youth floundering unpiloted through the maelstrom of that queer time
W. G. HARDY
The Story: Paul Honey, farmbred, returns from university to the country of his beginnings.
His father, English by birth, now a prosperous Ontario farmer, is engaged in a silent battle 'for possessions with Richard Noice,acast-irqn, hell-firethreatening neighbor, and has just got the better of him in a deal for a farm.
Noice has a daughter, Nettie, helpless and ill-treated, and Paul is irresistibly drawn to her: the old man comes upon them, drives Paul off, and marries Nettie to an undesirable fellowfarmer, Squint-Eyed Pete. He also resorts to the ancient and public method of “churching” to declare his mind against Paul’s father, and his temper is not improved by complete failure to whip up enmity for him.
Paul isalso attracted by Eileen Ainsley in the neighboring town, and there is some sort of an understanding between them.
When Paul returns to Toronto, .
Eileen is invited to his college commencement, and matters seem to be well on the road to a boy and girl match.
It is war-time, however, and while Paul’s father is opposed to his joining up, Eileen is herself temporarily swept off her feet by the uniform, and transfers her favors to a young officer, only to find Paul himself go off in a huff and enlist.
Book II — Ares
“It’s a Queer Time”—Robert Graves
PAUL sat on the edge of his cot polishing his buttons. The little room in Burwash Hail meant originally for a single student had two soldiers besides himself packed into it. Courtney James was making up his bed, and arranging his stuff neatly to get ready for the inspection that would come off later. Robby was at his boots. There was no talk. It was too early for that. The discomfort that attends early morning, before breakfast starts to lift the gloomy pall of depression, was still upon them.
Robby cursed conversationally as a boot slipped from his grasp. Paul shrank into himself a little as Robby regained it. Swearing was a thing regarded as anathema at home, and college had done little to shake his feeling. A few “damns,” but little more. He hoped Robby wouldn’t keep on. He remembered the first day, the three of them—James and he, raw recruits, Robby an older soldier—had been put together. Robby had started swearing, and James had been moved to protest. Going in for the ministry, James was. Robby had looked at him an instant, and then started in a quiet voice to get off a heroic collection of profanity—never repeating himself.
“And that, you white-livered--, is for you,” he
If he said that to me, Paul had thought. But James had not said a word. He had sat on his bunk, pale with anger, but not making a move. Robby had looked at him an instant, sniffed, and turned back to cleaning his rifle.
The two of them were so different. James, Paul decided, was tailor-made. He was so trim and neat. His sleek black hair was parted so carefully, and every movement was so correct. But Robby was of another breed, bluff, stout, florid, untidy. He was, he had soon informed them, an engineer from McGill, and he “didn’t
give a ..... who knew that he drank, smoked and
“You meally-mouthed sissies!” he had said to Courtney. “Scairt to let yourselves go. Always wondering what it’ll look like. To blazes with you!”
Curious, Paul thought now as he sat there, that he should be attracted to such a man. Why, in these two weeks of military life he had begun to like him.
“I say, kid,” Robby was speaking to him, “you’d better get those whiskers off ”
“Why, I shaved yesterday,” protested Paul. “There’s nothing there.”
“No blamed good here. You’ll get eaten alive some day. And say,” Robby got up from his cot to hunt for his belt, “want to get your ruddy drill up?”
“Well, I’ll give you a quiz at it to-night.”
“That’s awfully good of you.” “Good be blowed! I can’t let Sergeant Mac crawl down your neck,” said Robby. “Not while you’re in my room.”
The breakfast bugle blew. Out the men piled, to form up two deep on the sidewalk, sloppy looking in . their P.T. slacks, jostling, pushing, until the orders snapped out sharply to come to attention, to dress by the right. They marched into the dining-room of Burwash Hall, standing at their places until the command to fall to. Down they sat at the long tables, while the mess orderlies rushed the grub to them. Poor stuff, too, Paul thought. The eggs were as liable to make you sick as not. He wondered if the sergeants over there, in the little alcove at the right, had better food. He knew that the officers had. At the other side were one or two tables at which the few students still in residence ate. A few of them were straggling in now, looking to Paul so alien, like beings from another world. Funny, he reflected, as he bolted his meat, how the mere putting on of a uniform, and a few weeks soldiering, made you seem like a different person. You put on a mass mentality with the uniform. All civilians were to be despised, to be treated, however, with contemptuous kindness. You yourself, you were one of a class set apart. You could strut a bit if you wanted to, out walking in the streets, but you must be modest about yourself, and your being in the army. “Oh, it’s nothing,” with a large gesture. Dare-devilish, too. Why should a soldier refuse any risk? That was the attitude. Devilish toward women as well. But Paul hadn’t got very far with that yet—in spite of his resolve.
Inside the army though. There had been the hardest rub, Paul reflected, as he strolled back to his room, looking idly at the morning sun striking on the turrets of Victoria College. It had been fairly easy, the mere process of enlisting, even if the business of being stripped and poked and prodded by a lot of men who had their clothes on made one feel a little like a horse up for sale. Stripping for a game with your fellow players, that was different. This made you realise what a slave felt like. There were so many adjustments of your notions to make as well. The first day’s drill—being bawled out. That had come hard, to stand still in the ranks while a sergeant damned you to perdition for a blankety-blank fool, and the rest of the chaps were standing there beside you. You had to stand still and take it, great surges of anger sweeping up in you. They had you right where they wanted you.
He reached his room, found Robby there ahead of him, and started to get ready for the inspection that would come while they were out at P.T. All these fool regulations. Your buttons polished, your boots shined. They had got him the second day for that. Along the ranks Jerry had come, had stopped at Paul, looked at him as if he didn’t see him, as if he hadn’t known him for two years at college.
“Sergeant, take this man’s name. Give him an extra fatigue.” And to Paul, “Don’t you know enough to keep clean?”
It had been a mess orderly fatigue, a hot sweaty job, rushing in the food. Paul remembered how at noon a dish of carrots had slipped from his hand, and broken on the floor.
“Beat it, kid,” Robby had whispered from the table, and Paul had beat it. Later he had seen Courtney James cleaning up the mess. He chuckled at the recollection. That was one on James—so neat and tidy.
There was this saluting, too. The bunk they got off about that. Democratic; the officer had to salute as well as the man. All bunk. Everybody knew that it was to drive home the gulf between private and lieutenant, to remind the former of his inferiority. The war to save democracy.
But they put on the habiliments of autocracy.
“One thing I’m thankful for,” he said suddenly to Robby, “is that this, is an O. T. C.”
“How come?” asked Robby.
“Well,, we’ll get to be officers, anyway, and it isn’t as bad as the real army.”
“I should hope to Heaven not,” agreed Robby. “I was out to see a chum of mine at the Exhibition Grounds. Stuck in a blasted cattle shed, one bunk above another, and not a partition in the whole place.”
“That,” thought Paul, “would be hell. Not the slightest chance for privacy.” He was about to say as much when the bugle blew for P.T.
Great stuff this. Setting-up exercises on the campus of Victoria College, and a game of soccer. But this morning a group of them went off for bayonet practice. It was Paul’s second experience of this. First came a little fencing, and then he was detailed with a few others to have a go at the dummy hung there between two posts. .
“Stick it into his guts now,” roared the sergeant. He seized Paul’s rifle impatiently. “Don’t withdraw like that,” he said. “Pull it back in a straight line. Like this. Don’t pull it down. That will lock your bayonet, get it caught in his breastbone. And you’ll have to waste a shot to get it loose.” *
Pretty ghastly stuff, Paul thought. The other directions, too. He listened to them. How to use the butt end, how to gouge, how to bring up the knee. All the dirty tricks you had been taught not to do in sport.
“The only good German,” concluded the sergeant, “is a dead German. So stick your bayonet into his guts —and turn it round. Hang you!” to the one returned man in the crowd, sent back wounded and now put in an O.T.C. “What are you grinning at?”'
The returned man kept on grinning. After ‘all he had a special license, here where the rest were tyros.
“Did you, sergeant,” he asked meekly, “ever bayonet a man?” The sergeant colored. “It isn’t much fun,” concluded the other, “turning your bayonet round.”
The words brought before Paul for an instant an unforgettable picture and almost made him physically ill. He thrust it behind him and turned to admiring thereturned man. It would be great to be one, to be able to’ wear that floppy, active-service cap, to strut around. He went off the field, lost for the moment in day dreams of his return, of going around home, of going down to Glenville, of meeting Eileen.
The rest of the day went in at drill and lectures. At length, after dinner, came freedom, freedom until “Lights out.” After the bugle blew, tucked into your own cot, arrived one’s first moment of real privacy,, the first moment when you could really have a chance to think.
Paul, lying there on his bed, watching the light through the window, and listening to Robby snore, to James’ light regular breathing, did keep thinking for a bit before he went to sleep. Thoughts about home, mostly. Home had become an ideal spot to him, now that he was away from it, in this kind of life. Already, he sensed, the memory of it would make his heart ache many a time. Something about the army that made home seem so wonderful, so idyllic, that purged away all thé unpleasant features of it, and left only the pleasant
things to remember. He could close his eyes and see bits of it so vividly; McAdoo’s woods, MacNab’s Hill, the big house among the trees.y. Recall bits of life, too. Learning how to ride a bicycle one summer’s day, the stones hot to his bare feet, the shadow of the driving shed so real; or the rustle of the cool corn outside’ his window, as he lay in bed listening to the wind.play through it; or fishing in the little creek, breathless, intent, watching “the big fellow.” “The pictures,” he thought drowsily, “that hang on memory’s wall.” How he would love to live over all that once more !
What were his folks doing, he wondered. They had been bricks over him enlisting so suddenly. No reproach from his father. Just a quiet letter, accepting the inevitable. No reference even to his promise. It made him feel a little sick, that did. His mother’s letter was sd like her—just begging him to take care of himself. ■;
Something to his folks. Was it religion? He didn’t think sd. Religion as he knew it was different. This was just living in the right way, being the right kiiid of stuff. No wild emotionalism about this. ’
He heard a car roaring through IQueen’s Park, could imagine it eating its own light as it sped around the curve. He turned over,.and composed himself to sleep.
Had Eileen heard about him yet? he asked himself suddenly. He set his teeth. That still hurt, that tossing of him overboard. That was what she meant to do all right. He hadn’t heard from her since he left that time. Nor she from him. Advising him to go out with more girls! Well, he would. He’d show her!
XJOW that we’re here,” asked Evelyn Parker, from the back seat of the car. “Where do we go?”
Stuart Dixon waved his hand, “The world,” he said, “is wide. Four roads, east, west, north and south. Take your choice.”
The group in Dixon’s car had in fact come to the crossroads in Stanton. They had had a merry time as they drove out this Saturday afternoon from Glennville, enjoying the brisk air of late October; enjoying their own merriment and badinage.
“There,” said Mary Richards suddenly, pointing to a notice in the window of the corner store, “there’s a place for you.” She read it out. “ ‘Fowl supper at Eldad.’ Eldad! Where’s Eldad, anyways?”
“Don’t know for sure,” answered Dixon. “Was it the fowl you wanted? Greedy girl!”
“They aren’t killing them, silly,” retorted Mary. “Not for a week. Can’t you read? Look at the date. It’s the place I was shouting about. Where is it?”
“I’ll ask,” Jim McCormick broke in. He got out and went into the store.
Eldad! Eileen thought with a sudden surge of feeling—where Paul comes from.
Jim came back and climbed in. “It’s three miles north, and four miles west,” he announced. “Let’s drive around.” They tore out of Stanton in a cloud of dust, and sped north between the rows of great maples that picketed the village street. .
“Funny,” said: Jim McCormick, “that we’ve never been this way before.”
It wasn’t so funny, Eileen told herself, remembering how they had always gone the other roads to the lake and toward Grafton. Was she, she wondered, going to see where Paul had lived? She knew, as she stared out of the car at the racing landscape, fields and farmhouses and woods, the trees a blaze of color, that she couldn’t forget Paul. Something about him. Why, it was on such a day as this that she had gone to the reception last year. Such a change—so full of anticipation she had been then. And now—Paul in the army. How was he getting along, she wondered. Why didn’t he write? Why couldn’t he be sensible, realize now chat he had been foolish? For, she told herself, she couldn’t give in. It wasn’t Etta this time. It was Paul. So unreasonable. Going off like that. Never giving her a chance. If he was like that. No, she could not give in. And yet—she stirred restgive lessly. - Perhaps she had been partly to blame. Not about Booth.; That had been his last night. But about talking tovPaul about his manners, criticizing him. Telling him to go out with other girls. Suppose he did? Suppose he got someone else?
“What’s eating you?” Jim McCormick asked her. .‘‘Didn’t you hear me,?” She woke up, laughed, and " joined in the talk again.
HERE,” said Stuart Dixon, “is Eldad.” He waved his arm at the church standing quietly on the corner, at the peaceful fields around. “Behold,” he announced, “the great metropolis.”
They looked at the place.
“Nothing here,” Evelyn Parker decided, “but rusticity. Isn’t it time to get back to Glennville?”
“Your charger waits,” Stuart told her. “Which way shall he charge?”
“Go south,” Eileen spoke up suddenly.
“South?” Dixon tried to bow, “Your slightest wish.” He started off turning down the road to the south.
Half-way between church and school, Eileen thought, her eyes fixed on the brick homestead showing on the little rise in front ; of them to the left of the road. The only house. “Let’s go slow,” she ventured aloud.
“Slow,” said Stuart. “Slow!” He crashed over a culvert. ‘“We’ve got to—on a road like this.”
Eileen scarcely noticed him. A lovely spot! she thought, staring at the placé as they came abreast of it. Look at those woods ! She saw a woman walking down the path from the house to the lane, saw her look casually at the passing car. I wonder, she asked herself, if that’s his mother?
“I wonder,” grumbled Dixon, “if there’s much more road like this?”
“Why don’t you ask that hick in front?” Evelyn wanted to know, pointing to a man coming up the road. “Pearls of. wisdom,” Dixon agreed. He stopped his car as they drew near the farmer—-quiet eyes, he had, Eileen noticed, under the brim of his old felt hat—leaned out and spoke politely.
“Could you tell us,” he enquired, “how much more road there is like this before we reach Glënnville?”
The farmer looked them over. “In another two miles,” he said, “you’ll be on the twelfth line. You’re over the worst of it.”
“Thanks,” Dixon answered, preparing to leave. But Eileen leaned forward, “Could you tell us,” she asked, “who lives back there?”
“That,” said the man, “is my place.”
“Oh!” said Eileen, “it isn’t—isn’t Honey’s farm, is it?”
The farmer nodded.
“We used to know Paul at Collegiate,” Eileen explained flushing, conscious that the others were staring at her, a little conscious, too, that Mr. Honey had glanced sharply at her. She looked at him appealingly. “How’s he getting along?” she asked.
Mr. Honey hesitated. The lines of his jaw tightened. For a moment Eileen was afraid that he didn’t intend to answer.
“All right,” he said, at length, “—if anyone’s all right —there in the army.”
OCARBORO BEACH was ablaze with light. A band ^ played sporadically on the water front, the cars on the roller coaster roared and rattled as they whizzed around with their load of shrieking femininity and laughing men. A crowd of young people moved up and down the walks, eternally questing, looking for something. Not so different from the country folk and their going into town Saturday night, after all, except that here no one knew you. Bright lights overhead. Out on the water canoes floated, some in the halo of light thrown from the shore, others farther out, but dimly sensed. Stir, movement, laughter, excitement. Girls in pairs looking around them, soldiers in pairs, too, fondly imagining that they were stalking them.
Paul and Robby moved round the paths with the rest. Paul was a-tingle with suppressed excitement. When Robby had asked him that night, casually after dinner, how he’d like to go down to Scarboro and “pick up a couple,” he had tried to answer casually,„too. He had felt afraid to refuse and afraid to accept. But the fear of seeming priggish was the stronger. And there was the thought of what Eileen had said to push him on. Now that they were there his position was no better. The country streak in him shrank from the publicity of it, from moving up casually to the side of a girl you had never seen before and speaking to her. His imagination, too, toyed with the thought of a refusal, and of the ignominy of it. The girl had you at her mercy. All the weight of convention, as Paul knew it, as his mother had taught him, was on her side. To slink away like a kicked cur. He urged Robby to act, to speak to a couple they had noticed who seemed fairly attractive.
“Might as well get it over with,” he suggested. But Robby was not to be hurried.
“Keep your shirt on,” he advised. “Let’s look ’em all over first.”
So round they went, sauntering along, peering at the faces of the girls they met, looking them over.
“That first two,” Robby announced at length. “They’re the best.”
They went in search of them, Paul’s pulse hammering, his nerves tense. They saw them round a corner watching the merry-go-round.
After all it was easy. Just stepping up on either side of them, saluting.
“What you girls doin’ round here?” from Robby, and the business was over. >
Paul moved along by the side of his girl somewhat timidly. Robby and his partner were in front, rollicking along already. A ready way with women Robby had, and Paul envied him. Robby had the prettiest one, too, but that was his perquisite. Paul’s own, however, wasn’t bad looking, he decided; a pert, knowing face with a cunning hat over it. What were they going to do now? he wondered. What did one do in cases like this? Robby would know.
They wandered on for a bit, looking at the sideshows, watching the flying boat come down the chute, and splash into the water. “Let’s go on that,” Robby suggested, but his girl negatived it.
“Always feel I’ve left something behind me,” she said, “on them things.”
They came to a slide with funny little bumps on it. Down you came rolling, bumping oyer them. Nothing in that, thought Paul. Undignified. Robby luckily had no notion of stopping. On they went until they came to the “Old Mill.” This, the girls seemed to think, looked better.
After some giggling they got their tickets and walked in. Paul had never been in a sideshow of this sort before. He got on the boat, rocking there in the narrow channel of water, and started off with his girl. Robby and his partner were in the boat ahead of them. The boat dipped out of the light into the tunnels, moving on inexorably. Here and there came an opening with a fitful gleam. He heard giggling protests from ahead. What did one do? Tentatively he put an arm around the girl with him. There was no resistance. Evidently this was what she expected. He pressed a little tighter. Should he kiss her? The light gleamed on as he debated the question and the girl, as casually as she had fitted into his arm, drew away again. The brief romance was over.
For some time still they went about the place, laughing and chatting. The whim seized one of the girls to have their picture taken, and into the photographers— pictures finished while you wait—they went to be photographed behind a screen painted to look like an aeroplane.
“You aren’t in the R.F.C?” the girl asked him, and Paul wished that he was. Girls seemed to think the Flying Force so romantic.
They got the pictures. Paul was secretly disappointed by his appearance. It destroyed the conceptions he built up of himself, pictures did. Then they found their way to the beach, there to eat ice-cream and sit on the benches. The crowds were thinning now, and Robby, Paul saw, had taken his girl frankly into his arms. His being revolted at such publicity. He couldn’t get over the country. There folks knew you, and here he imagined that the people were looking at him, despising him. Still one must do something. He put an arm timidly along the back of the seat and the girl snuggled into him, saying nothing, the eternal feminine for a moment with the vagrant male, looking out over a darkened lake with little ripples lapping on the beach.
f~^N THE way home Paul stood stiff and straight in ^ the aisle beside the seat in which his girl sat, trying to look natural and respectable, trying to convince folks that he was taking home a girl he had known for a long time. The other two had left them. “See you later,” Robby had said as they took another car. Paul’s partner lived away out on a street off Bloor, some place. Paul hoped desperately that no one would get on the car whom he knew.
A little farther on the chance came to sit down, and he took his place beside the girl. Could he kiss her? he began to wonder. He thought of Eileen. She wanted him to get experience. He’d try, but the thought of it made him so nervous that he could scarcely find a word to say.
But later, on the darkened verandah cf the place where she lived, after standing uneasily first on one foot, then on the other, he seemed to find her very naturally in his arms. A delicious sense of power came over him. It was so easy after all. He kissed her hotly. She leaned against him for a moment and jerked away.
“An’ I thought you was a frost,” she
Paul kissed her again, realized suddenly the whiff of her cheap perfume, and felt his ardor cool. These kisses, and those he had given Nettie! This was animallike, had no excuse. He released her, felt dumbly that he must play up, must let her down easily. She seemed to feel so sure of him.
“Gee, I must get along,” he said. “When’ll I see you again?”
“Next Sunday, if you like,” she told him. “Out in High Park?”
He made the date, had one more kiss and left.
Walking back along the solitary pavements toward Burwash, alternating waves of emotion swept him like an electric current. Pride, first, the thought that he had been able to pick up a girl, just as the other fellows were always talking about doing. Every moment off duty there was that undercurrent of talk and of feeling about women. A girl would go through the archway at Burwash and everyone would be at the window to look after her, to comment.on her, and even to call after her. Paul himself felt the curious itch of it, and wondered at it. Was it because they were all packed up-there in barracks living a soldier’s life? At any rate, he at least, had passed from imagining to experience. He had had his baptism.
That mood passed. His lips felt dry, all that talcum powder he had kissed. He felt disgust. Was this the way to treat women Could he face the college girls at Vic. after this, face Eileen herself? He felt a hardening of heart here. This was, after all,
partly her fault. She couldn’t blame him. But Nettie there in her cold abiding place, and his mother thinking of him, praying after him. He did not keep his date on Sunday.
THE fall passed by, swiftly enough.
With each day Paul became more accustomed to military life, and sloughed off more of his old ways of thought and action, until the time before his enlistment began to seem utterly unreal. He was no longer checked up for little offenses, found habit forming upon him and discovered that the drill came easily and that his voice helped him out when he was called out in his turn to practice giving commands. It was not long before he was a corporal, and marked for a term as sergeant-instructor. Robby’s rise kept pace with his.
“You’ll stay over one draft,” the major told them, “and you can go the next one.” “Pretty sensible, I guess,” Robby remarked afterwards. “We won’t have to cross in winter. But it’ll get blamed monotonous. Especially when our own bunch go—”
Corporal meant only two of them in the room. Courtney James was kicked out. He had been looking mysterious of late..
“I’m not going to stick round here much longer,” he said, one night in November. “Be a private, and take their orders. I’m going to use pull. All I can get. No reason I shouldn’t.”
Two days later they heard he was in the C.A.S.C.
“Ruddy commission, my boy.” declared Robby. “We’ll have to crook our arms to him now.”
That same week, walking down St. Mary’s Street, Paul met him with a girl, resplendent in his uniform, swanking a bit, started to speak, checked himself, saluted. Courtney’s salute was as cold and casual as if he had never seen him before.
I understand dad now, he thought to himself, and his keenness on being independent. No wonder he was fed up with his life in England. Kow-towing—
OUT in spite of incidents like these the life had become more pleasant. He had become accustomed to its routine, and it was comfortable to have all your movements marked out for you and not to have to worry about thé morrow.
. Toward the end of the year, too, Robby and he attained their sergeantcies, and Paul confessed secretly to himself that he was enjoying his authority, and that he found pleasure in the mixture of timidity and deference which the privates showed him. He might have been contented enough if it had not been for the petty restrictions of army life, if it had not been for the feeling of aimlessness and boredom which overwhelmed him on Sundays and after hours. Then was the time when restlessness made you her victim, when your thoughts caught at you, and found little to feed upon. He found the foot of time exceeding slow.
It was not strange that he sought relief in going out and picking up chance acquaintanceship with girls. It was easier for him now. He felt a certain pride in his experiences and found much to interest him in them. It was like a game. You could never tell how the affair would turn out.
But even the excitement of these ventures into what still seemed to Paul a forbidden field could not entirely fill his thoughts. There were other ways of distraction, of course. Paul sometimes considered them. Boozing, for instance. His ideas about the wickedness of it had had to change. He had been forced to recognize another side to the question. It was manifestly absurd to say, as his home people would have said, that everyone of the fellows who smoked and drank was a sinner. Some of the best fellows, the most genuine, did both. Take Robby. Look at the way he’d helped Paul in those first weeks of army life and had asked for nothing in return. He drank, and Courtney, who never drank a drop, had always given Paul a pain in the neck. And yet there were others who didn’t drink; Ma Thompson, for instance, and he was a splendid chap.
. Paul couldn’t make up his mind about it. Did it, he wondered, like religion, depend on the individual? And why shouldn’t he try it? But his early training still kept him from taking the step.
It was much the same with dancing. Yet his reason for holding back here was not quite identical—even although in Eldad it was regarded as a short cut to Hell, and ministers preached sermons against it. Something of that attitude may have entered into his reluctance to try it, but there was a more cogent reason. He didn’t know how, and he hated the thought of appearing ridiculous while he learned. And so on occasions when he was where people were dancing he hung about uncomfortably, fascinated at the way the dancers molded themselves to each other, wishing that he could join in it. But it went no further. He couldn’t dance, and he shrank from taking lessons. And then while he was still pondering about the two of them, about dancing and boozing, the decision was unexpectedly forced upon him.
It came through Barham. Barham was one of a group of British actors who had come over lately from New York to join the O.T.C. From the first they had captured Paul’s attention. The O.T.C. did not lack interesting characters. There was the sculptor Range, and the Australian Hurlburt, and a dozen others who had led wide and varied lives before the net of the army had caught themand penned them to a monotonous existence. But the actors Paul had noticed, were different as a group from the rest of the company. It was as if their profession had put the same peculiar stamp on all of them. They were eager to assert themselves, always craving attention, talking loudly to any one who would listen about the successes they had had and the roles they had played. They never forgot to pose, even in the army.
Robby hated them. But Paul argued with him.
“It’s their over-developed ego,” he had urged, “clamoring for attention. They’re used to adulation. It’s the breath of life to them. And what does the army offer? ‘Crush your individuality,’ it says.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Robby had
growled. “But if any one of them--
patronizes me, he’ll be told where he can go ruddy quick.”
But Paul did not altogether agree. The stage and those who moved on it were still surrounded by a veil of glamor. Acting was one of the mysterious things like writing—and Paul had always envied authors. He was flattered when an actor would stop him and, knowing that he was a University man and a sergeant, pretend that he was one of themselves. And so when Barham met him in the corridor one evening with a grievance he was ready to listen.
“You know, sergeant,” Barham was saying, “it wasn’t fair. I was just standing, around reading a letter when he hops on me. ‘Don’t you know,’ he bawls, ‘enough to come to attention when an officer comes in?’ Lord ! And to think that I’ve played with Sir Herbert, Sir Herbert Tree, you know.”
Paul didn’t know, but he agreed. “Yes, it’s too bad,” he said.
A new idea struck Barham. He looked at Paul. “By the way, sergeant,” he said, “how would you like to come out with us tonight? One of the Rosedale crowd is throwing a party,” he waved his hand —“hoi polloi, you know, but lousy with money.”
Another of those society dames, thought Paul, who are always swarming around these actors. “Oh, I don’t know,” he answered, flattered but half afraid.
“That’s all right,” Barham said with a large gesture, “I’ll be along at eight.”
THE party dazzled Paul. It gave him a glimpse of a life that he had often envied, tjut had never experienced before. Yet all the time he was watching himself to make sure he didn’t show his greenness. He must, he told himself, act as if he was used to it—with these actors and he a sergeant.
Yet it was all strange to him. There was the taxi first of all. Paul was not used to taxis. They had always been too expensive for him and his crowd—if they could get a street-car. He was surprised when Barham ordered one as a matter of course. But he said nothing and piled into it with two or three others as if he was accustomed to it. A long ride followed until, after swinging through the twisting streets of Rosedale, they turned up a curving driveway to where a pillared canopy of brick and cement protected the door of a mansion.
Paul was nervous as he got out and followed the others inside. He had often stared at big houses like this, when as a student he had gone for long walks on Sunday afternoons. But he had never dreamed of ever entering one. What would the people be like? he wondered. What would they expect him to do. He’d watch the actors.
He found himself in a lofty room. A crowd of chattering girls and a few men were gathered in it, and the girls all came rushing forward as the actors entered. Barham introduced him to one or two— names that meant nothing to Paul—and forgot him. Paul stood around feeling thoroughly out of it, while the actors made themselves at home. Someone offered him a cigarette and he took it—what did it matter if he had never smoked before— and, tired of standing around by himself, drifted through the curtains into the next room. There was nobody there, but in a room beyond him some people were playing billiards. Paul did not join them. He didn’t know how to play billiards. He found a chair and sat down trying to master his first cigarette. Behind him a great staircase curved upward, and across the room through the open French windows he could see the green of what must be, he told himself, a conservatory. Music started in the room he had just left and through the curtains Paul watched the dancing couples cross and recross his line of vision, careless laughing girls in clinging frocks, and attentive, sophisticated men.
Why, Paul asked himself disgustedly as he crushed his cigarette in the ash-tray near him, hadn’t he learned to dance? Sitting here like a bump on a log. If only he hadn't come—
The music stopped, and two or three of the actors, F“.rham among them, came drifting into A\e room surrounded by a bevy of girls. (They went along the room to the sideboird.
“Why, there’s the sergeant,” Barham exclaimed. “Come on over and have a drink.”
What was he to do? Paul asked himself, getting up automatically and walking over. Boozing? A wave of resentment rose in him, smothering his scruples. He wouldn’t be left out of it! Those actors .and those girls watching him, Barham pouring from a bottle into a glass, “How much, sergeant?”—he wouldn’t look countrified—him a sergeant !
“That'll be about right,” he said, and took the glass.
Barham poured some for the actors and the girls and himself. Paul waited. How did one do it?
“Well, here’s to bright-eyes,” Barham said and drained his glass. Paul followed suit. Jove, how it bit. He fought down an inclination to cough, to make a face.
But Barham was already looking at the sideboard again, and fingering the bottles. “Why, here’s some Benedictine,” he exclaimed. “My favorite. Have some, sergeant?”
What did one drink more matter? Paul agreed.
Again he watched how the others did it and sipped his drink slowly, liking it this time, feeling the heady fumes mastering him and hitting the roof of his head. He put down his glass, curiously inspired.
The music had started again. “You dance, of course,” Barham said, and Paul heard himself saying, “Of course.” He wouldn’t be left out. He’d carry it through somehow. The next moment Barham was introducing him to one of the girls, a vision in green and gold with lithe white shoulders topping her gown. They moved into the next room and she fitted into his arms. “You walk it,” pounded in his ears from watching the dancers dance so often and somehow he got through with it, not so i badly after all.
But all through the dance Paul was conscious of the girl in his arms. It was extraordinary, he thought, as he released her. And yet she showed no signs of it being extraordinary. She was casual and unconcerned. He bowed and turned away. Another of the actors sat dipping into a bowl of punch.
“A glass for you, sergeant?” he asked.
The taboo was broken. Paul felt reckless. Be a sport. He drank again.
He danced again and again, too. He wasn’t going to be left out-—not any more. And the rhythm, the sway of a woman’s body against his own seemed to give him a sense of power. This was life, he thought exultantly, life as he’d often imagined living it. And to think that he, Paul Honey, was getting in on this. It didn’t seem real, this unthinking gaiety, this arrogant enjoyment of life. But he wasn’t being left out.
Another dance. The green and gold girl came weaving toward him. “Like to dance this with me, sergeant?” she said. They danced it and, when it was finished, went through the curtains to where some food had been laid out on the table.
They went through the French windows into the conservatory. Paul’s exaltation was still with him and the atmosphere here seemed to heighten it. It was so green in contrast to the December snow outside, and so exotic in its damp and clinging heat.
The girl, he saw, had stopped and was looking up at him, a dancing light in her eyes, her lips provoca ive, half-parted. She swayed a little toward him and Paul suddenly snatched her, kissed her, felt her body melt against him, her lips quiver under his deliciously. He released her half-frightened.
“My! Who taught you to love, big boy?” she whispered, and held her lips up for another kiss.
Before he left Paul had her name. “Gladys, it is,” she told him. “Gladys Powell. Ring me up sometime, won’t you?”
“I’d like to,” Paul said. He was sobering off a little. “But—but I’m not your sort, you know.”
“As if that matters. If you don’t ring I will.” And she was gone.
■piLEEN was looking at the column of
' news from the Eldad correspondent in CheGlennville Bellman. She skimmed them over.
“Mr. and Mrs. Sam Meldrum visited at Mr. Jim Goard’s over the Christmas holiday.”
“We have pleasure in announcing the birth of a bouncing baby girl to Mr. and Mrs. George James. Congratulations, George.”
And then came an item that leaped up to her eyes. She read it over again. “Sergeant Paul Honey visited with his parents Mr. and Mrs. Jim Honey over New Year’s.”
So he had had leave. And he hadn’t come near Glennville. What, she asked herself, was she going to do about it? He’d never give in. She began to feel that now. But why, she told herself, why should she give in? She’d been as much right as he. If she had made a mistake in talking about his manners, he’d been just as bad. Flying off the handle about Booth. Yet if she didn’t give in-—How long had he been in the army. Three months. He’d be' going overseas soon. What should she do?
She got up, laid the paper down, and wandered to the window looking out at the snow piled up at the sides of the streets, the smoke curling out of the chimneys of the houses.
Did women, she wondered, always have to give in? Why should she worry about Paul anyway? Lots of other boys. That’s what Etta had pointed out. Funny how one particular one seemed to get hold of you, how against all reason and common sense you yearned after him. Perhaps it was just thinking about him so much. Should she give in? What would Etta say?
She would not, she decided, tightening her lips, ask Etta. This was her own affair. Suppose—suppose she wrote Paul —just a friendly note—-just as if nothing had happened? He’d read between the lines and see what she meant. Then she could keep some of her pride, save some of the secret of her heart. How could she be sure Paul really cared for her, anyway? She wasn’t sure. She went up to her room and found pen and paper. No one looking at her, slim and girlish in the afternoon light, would have imagined her capable of suffering.
A FEW days later Paul came in from drill, tired and uncomfortable. It was nasty work these days, tramping around in the bitter cold on the tramped snow of the parade ground. He looked at the letter board and saw an envelope for him.
Eileen’s writing ! He snatched it down, went up the stairs to his room, and sat down on his bed. Avidly he started to read it, but as he read a dull surge of anger flowed up in him. After all that suffering why couldn’t she be frank? Why was she writing anyway? Not a hint here that anything was wrong. You would have thought that after all that trouble last summer she would have come right out. And here—well, he thought, staring at the wall—she wouldn’t get much out of him. Wouldn’t get a chance to hurt him again. Two could play at that game. He’d write back—just as polite. A few hints, perhaps about -the girls he was seeing. But polite and casual. She’d have to do better than that if she wanted him back. All that suffering.
T SAY, sergeant,” it was Barham speak-
ing. “Are you busy tonight?”
“No,” said Paul, “not that I know of.”
“Well, it’s Gladys Powell. She’s putting on a little party, and she asked for you specially. Made a hit there, I guess, eh?”
“Oh, I don’t know!” said Paul.
“Refreshing modesty,” said Barham. “Priceless, by Jove!” and was off.
“One of those sis’ actors, eh?” Robby remarked viciously.
“Yes,” said Paul. He knew Robby didn’t approve of them.
“Makes me sick,” said Robby, “the way the dames run after them. Just because they’ve been on the blinkin’ stage. Look at ’em. Half the society dames in Toronto camped on their trail.”
“Still, they were with good companies,” Paul objected.
“So they say. Never saw an actor yet that didn’t play Shakespeare with Sir Henry Irving, or knock ’em dead for Belasco. Besides,” Robby sat down on his cot, and took his pipe from his mouth to punctuate his remarks, “not one of them birds knows a thing outside his acting. Art, culture, politics, why, i you were to ask them about anything that isn’t the stage, they wouldn’t know, and they’d be too igno ant to know they were ignorant. They make me sick.”
“I’m not keen on them, Robby,” Paul said placatingly, “but that’s no reason for not going on parties with them.”
“All right, kid,” said Robby, putting his pipe back into his mouth, and getting up from the cot. “It’s your funeral. Only,” he strolled to the window, “watch your step! They’d knife you if you weren’t a sergeant. And watch those women, too.”
In her own home, at first, Gladys seemed different to Paul. She was no longer a nymph dancing out of nowhere to dazzle and to lure, but a beautiful girl moving in an assured background. There were her mother and father, for instance; the former a somewhat dowdy woman with a perpetual and nervous smile. She was afraid of these actors, Paul guessed, and flattered by their presence. She took him for one, too; it pleased his vanity to notice that. As for her father—an irongrey man with a stodgy, unfashionable figure, eyes, behind heavy glasses, which flashed disconcertingly sharp when Paul was introduced—Paul guessed that he had taken the path of least resistance. Let his daughter do what she liked. Less trouble. That, after all, he thought as he moved away, is what most of us do. Even those that keep asserting themselvès, grind everyone down, that’s the easiest path for them.
But once away from her parents, the crowd soon forgot them. They were merely necessary formalities to be got through with. The group of young fellows and girls, gathered with the half-dozen actors and Paul, were there to let themselves go.
“I won't introduce anybody,” Gladys called out. “Just find your own level.”
“And that’s pretty low,” commented someone, sotto voce. Paul turned to look at him, a young fellow with a beastly limp and an attractive smile.
“I’m Thornton,” he said.“What’s yours, sergeant?”
“Honey,” said Pau). The two of them had been left alone by a rush to the next room. Barham was visible there, the centre of an admiring throng, mixing a cocktail and accompanying it with a monologue—irresistibly funny his audience seemed to find it. Rothwell—that handsome fellow with the litheness of a panther; like a panther, too, his sleek hair and restless eyes—had taken possession of the chesterfield with a couple of girls, had put his arms around them both and was proceeding to whisper into their ears. His moustache tickled them, and they were going into gales of giggles.
“Well, we seem to be de trop just now,” said Thornton.
They passed through the open windows. It was mild this night. The moon hung above like a rich slice of orange. They lit their cigarettes, and puffed away.
“No, I didn’t get overseas,” said Thornton, noticing Paul looking at his leg. “Just growed up with me, like Topsy.”
“Too bad,”' murmured Paul.
“Yes, it is. Old crock. No use grunting though.”
They sat and smoked. The hilarity inside seemed far off, unreal. Paul felt of a sudden very worldly-wise and grown up. This was sophistication, this was, looking out over Toronto spread before them, a panorama of lights, smoking, a wild party in the background. An urge came on him to philosophize, to generalize. He cast about him for an opening sentence. But it was Thornton who started.
“Read much verse?”
“Now and then,” admitted Paul. A pause. “I’m fond of Keats.”
“So am I. But I like these new poets, the Georgians.” Paul didn’t want to admit that he didn’t know them, had never heard of the Georgians. “They aren’t bad, are they?” he said.
“I should say not,” Thornton replied. “And Flecker. Don’t these lines get you?
‘0 spiritual pilgrim rise; the night has grown her single horn:
The voices of the souls unborn are half adream with Paradise.’ ”
“They are fine!” said Paul, aglow.
’“ ‘This ghost-life’s piercing phantom pair’,” said Thornton dreamily. “Sums it up, doesn’t it?”
Paul was silent an instant. That did sum it up, summed up all he had often felt and had tried to say. Why hadn’t he heard of him before?
“That’s great!” he managed to say finally, . feeling the words inadequate. “Great, isn’t it?” :
Thornton seemed to understand. He nodded. “In a way” went on Paul, his imagination on fire, “like Khayyam, Omar Khayyam, isn’t it?”
Thornton nodded again.
“Come over to my rooms sometime,” he said suddenly. “I do a little reviewing now and then, try translating, sketch a little. We could chat a bit. Will you?”
“Id be glad to,” said Paul. He took the1 bit of pasteboard from him. “Oh! here you are!” He looked up. Gladys was framed in the window, one hand on either door, a vision in a silvery mass of tulle.
“Come on, you stick-in-the-muds,” she said. “I won’t have you here. Not at my party. We’re going to dance.”
She marshalled them in, taking possession of Paul. Once more he felt the heady intoxication of her.
“Forgotten about me, big boy?” she asked him. He tightened his grasp, and she laughed a little. “You’re strong, aren’t you?” she said. Paul swung her in a circle and caught her to him.
She danced more than one dance with him, seeking him out, carrying him off. It was a delicious sensation, this being courted, and after Eileen’s way of treating him. “I’m going to come over some day,” she told him, “take you driving.” She manoeuvred him outside the windows for a moment, pressed up to him, lifted her lips. Paul grasped her and kissed her. It seemed eternity.
“Please, please,” she gasped, breathless, “you’re crushing me,” and, at once, contrite, he released her.
“We must get back now,” she said.
Wilder and more hilarious the party got. There was singing, there was dancing, petting in the corners.
“Kiss me,” Gladys whispered to Paul as they danced. Before those people? He shook his head. She pouted at him as the music stopped, shook herself free, ran over to Rothwell, and lifted her lips. He laughed as he put his own to hers.
On the way to barracks, Paul sat by her in the front seat—she had insis ed on driving a few of them back—glum and morose. It was some time before she, engaged in gay badinage with the others, noticed his mood. She snuggled up against him as she drove.
“Put your arm around me, Paul!” she commanded, and as he hesitated. “Don’t be silly. They’re too busy in the back seat to notice.” Paul did as she told him sulkily,.
“Kiss me,” she whispered. “Please, kiss me.”
After all it was dark. Paul complied.
“There,” she said, “weren’t you foolish ! What was it anyway? That kiss that chap had?”
“Yes,” Paul admitted.
Her laugh rang out. “You silly!” she said. “A kiss—that’s nothing!” She laughed again. “You’re funny. You’ll have to get over that.”
“I don’t like anyone else mauling you,” Paul grumbled.
“But a kiss !—if I had a dollar for every kiss! Besides,” she seemed without any perceptible movement to snuggle in still closer to him, “you’re the one I’m gone on just now, Paul. You look swell in uniform.”
“What do you see in that sergeant fellow?” her friend, Colleen, asked her curiously that night, as they were combing out their hair, talking over the party.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Gladys yawning. “He’s a little different. Sort of a country streak. Mamma came from the country, you know. Guess I’m a throwback.”
“Well,” commented Colleen, “tastes differ.”