THE DIARY OF A HAPLESS RECRUIT
J. THORNE SMITH, JR. U.S.N.R.F.
WITH 31 ILLUSTRATIONS IN BLACK-AND-WHITE
RICHARD DORGAN ("Dick Dorgan") U.S.N.R.F.
FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY
Copyright, 1918, by
Frederick A. Stokes Company All Rights Reserved
Reprinted from THE BROADSIDE A JOURNAL FOR THE NAVAL RESERVE FORCE
To my buddies, an unscrupulous, clamorous crew of pirates, as loyal and generous a lot as ever returned a borrowed dress jumper with dirty tapes; to numerous jimmy-legs and P.O.'s whose cantankerous tempers have furnished me with much material for this book; and also to a dog, an admirable dog whom I choose to call Mr. Fogerty, with apologies to this dog if in these pages his slave has unwittingly maligned his character or in any way cast suspicion upon his moral integrity.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"Biltmore Oswald" Frontispiece
"'Do you enlist for foreign service?' he snapped. 'Sure,' I replied, 'it will all be foreign to me'" 2
"The departure was moist" 3
"Hospital apprentice treated me to a shot of Pelham 'hop'" 4
"I feel like a masquerade" 5
"This, I thought, was adding insult to injury" 6
"Mother kept screaming through the wire about my underwear" 7
"A bill from a restaurant for $18.00 worth of past luncheons" 8
"He missed the dirty whites, but I will never be the same" 9
"Fire drill" 10
"This is designed to give us physical poise" 11
"Liberty Party" 14
"Of course I played the game no more" 20
"She was greatly delighted with the Y.M.C.A." 21
"I wasn't so very wrong—just the slight difference between port and present arms" 24
"The first thing he did was to mix poor dear grandfather a drink" 25
"I was tempted to shoot the cartridge out just to make it lighter" 28
"One fourth of the entire Pelham field artillery passed over my body" 29
"The procedure, of course, did not go unnoticed" 32
"This war is going to put a lot of Chinamen out of business" 44
"I stood side-ways, thus decreasing the possible area of danger" 45
"I'm a God-fearing sailor man who is doing the best he can to keep clean" 48
"I took him around and introduced him to the rest of the dogs and several of the better sort of goats" 49
"I resumed my slumber, but not with much comfort" 52
"I lost completely something in the neighborhood of 10,000 men" 53
"Fogerty came bearing down on me in a cloud of dust" 58
"For the most part, however, he sat quietly on my lap and sniffed" 59
"I carried all the flour to-day that was raised last year in the southern section of the State of Montana" 76
"'Oh,' said Tony, 'I thought this was a restaurant'" 77
"'I would still remain in a dense fog,' I gasped in a low voice" 82
"'Buddy' I came in and 'Buddy' I go out" 83
The Diary of A Hapless Recruit
Feb. 23d. "And what," asked the enlisting officer, regarding me as if I had insulted him, his family and his live stock, "leads you to believe that you are remotely qualified to join the Navy?"
At this I almost dropped my cane, which in the stress of my patriotic preoccupation I had forgotten to leave home.
"Nothing," I replied, making a hasty calculation of my numerous useless accomplishments, "nothing at all, sir, that is, nothing to speak of. Of course I've passed a couple of seasons at Bar Harbor—perhaps that—"
"Bar Harbor!" exploded the officer. "Bar! bah! bah—dammit," he broke off, "I'm bleating."
"Yes, sir," said I with becoming humility. His hostility increased.
"Do you enlist for foreign service?" he snapped.
"Sure," I replied. "It will all be foreign to me."
The long line of expectant recruits began to close in upon us until a thirsty, ingratiating semi-circle was formed around the officer's desk. Upon the multitude he glared bitterly.
"Orderly! why can't you keep this line in some sort of shape?"
"Yes, give the old tosh some air," breathed a worthy in my ear as he retreated to his proper place.
"What did you do at Bar Harbor?" asked the officer, fixing me with his gaze.
"Oh," I replied easily, "I occasionally yachted."
"On what kind of a boat?" he urged.
"Now for the life of me, sir, I can't quite recall," I replied. "It was a splendid boat though, a perfect beauty, handsomely fitted up and all—I think they called her the 'Black Wing.'"
These few little remarks seemed to leave the officer flat. He regarded me with a pitiful expression. There was pain in his eyes.
"You mean to say," he whispered, "that you don't know what kind of a boat it was?"
"Unfortunately no, sir," I replied, feeling really sorry for the wounded man.
"Do you recall what was the nature of your activities aboard this mysterious craft?" he continued.
"Oh, indeed I do, sir," I replied. "I tended the jib-sheet."
"Ah," said he thoughtfully, "sort of specialized on the jib-sheet?"
"That's it, sir," said I, feeling things taking a turn for the better. "I specialized on the jib-sheet."
"What did you do to this jib-sheet?" he continued.
"I clewed it," said I promptly, dimly recalling the impassioned instructions an enthusiastic friend of mine had shunted at me throughout the course of one long, hot, horrible, confused afternoon of the past summer—my first, and, as I had hoped at the time, final sailing experience.
The officer seemed to be lost in reflection. He was probably weighing my last answer. Then with a heavy sigh he took my paper and wrote something mysterious upon it.
"I'm going to make an experiment of you," he said, holding the paper to me. "You are going to be a sort of a test case. You're the worst applicant I have ever had. If the Navy can make a sailor out of you it can make a sailor out of anybody"; he paused for a moment, then added emphatically, "without exception."
"Thank you, sir," I replied humbly.
"Report here Monday for physical examination," he continued, waving my thanks aside. "And now go away."
I accordingly went, but as I did so I fancied I caught the reflection of a smile lurking guiltily under his mustache. It was the sort of a smile, I imagined at the time, that might flicker across the grim visage of a lion in the act of anticipating an approaching trip to a prosperous native village.
Feb. 25th. I never fully appreciated what a truly democratic nation the United States was until I beheld it naked, that is, until I beheld a number of her sons in that condition. Nakedness is the most democratic of all institutions. Knock-knees, warts and chilblains, bowlegs, boils and bay-windows are respecters of no caste or creed, but visit us all alike. These profound reflections came to me as I stood with a large gathering of my fellow creatures in the offices of the physical examiner.
"Never have I seen a more unpromising candidate in all my past experience," said the doctor moodily when I presented myself before him, and thereupon he proceeded to punch me in the ribs with a vigor that seemed to be more personal than professional. When thoroughly exhausted from this he gave up and led me to the eye charts, which I read with infinite ease through long practise in following the World Series in front of newspaper buildings.
"Eyes all right," he said in a disappointed voice. "It must be your feet."
These proved to be faultless, as were my ears and teeth.
"You baffle me," said the doctor at last, thoroughly discouraged. "Apparently you are sound all over, yet, looking at you, I fail to see how it is possible."
I wondered vaguely if he was paid by the rejection. Then for no particular reason he suddenly tired of me and left me with all my golden youth and glory standing unnoticed in a corner. From here I observed an applicant being put through his ear test. This game is played as follows: a hospital apprentice thrusts one finger into the victim's ear while the doctor hurries down to the end of the room and whispers tragically words that the applicant must repeat. It's a good game, but this fellow I was watching evidently didn't know the rules and he was taking no chances.
"Now repeat what I say," said the doctor.
"'Now repeat what I say,'" quoted the recruit.
"No, no, not now," cried the doctor. "Wait till I whisper."
"'No, no, not now. Wait till I whisper,'" answered the recruit, faithfully accurate.
"Wait till I whisper, you blockhead," shouted the doctor.
"'Wait till I whisper, you blockhead,'" shouted the recruit with equal heat.
"Oh, God!" cried the doctor despairingly.
"'Oh, God!'" repeated the recruit in a mournful voice.
This little drama of cross purposes might have continued indefinitely had not the hospital apprentice begun to punch the guy in the ribs, shouting as he did so:
"Wait a minute, can't you?"
At which the recruit, a great hulk of a fellow, delivered the hospital apprentice a resounding blow in the stomach and turned indignantly to the doctor.
"That man's interfering," he said in an injured voice. "Now that ain't fair, is it, doc?"
"You pass," said the doctor briefly, producing his handkerchief and mopping his brow.
"Well, what are you standing around for?" he said a moment later, spying me in my corner.
"Oh, doctor," I cried, delighted, "I thought you had forgotten me."
"No," said the doctor, "I'll never forget you. You pass. Take your papers and clear out."
I can now feel with a certain degree of security that I am in the Navy.
Feb. 26th. I broke the news to mother to-day and she took it like a little gentleman, only crying on twelve different occasions. I had estimated it much higher than that.
After dinner she read me a list of the things I was to take with me to camp, among which were several sorts of life preservers, an electric bed warmer and a pair of dancing pumps.
"Why not include spurs?" I asked, referring to the pumps. "I'd look very crisp in spurs, and they would help me in climbing the rigging."
"But some officer might ask you to a dance," protested mother.
"Mother," I replied firmly, "I have decided to decline all social engagements during my first few weeks in camp. You can send the pumps when I write for them."
A card came to-day ordering me to report on March 1st. Consequently I am not quite myself.
Feb. 27th. Mother hurried into my room this morning and started to pack my trunk. She had gotten five sweaters, three helmets and two dozen pairs of socks into it before I could stop her. When I explained to her that I wasn't going to take a trunk she almost broke down.
"But at least," she said, brightening up, "I can go along with you and see that you are nice and comfortable in your room."
"You seem to think that I am going to some swell boarding school, mother," I replied from the bed. "You see, we don't have rooms to ourselves. I understand that we sleep in bays."
"Don't jest," cried mother. "It's too horrible!"
Then I explained to her that a bay was a compartment of a barracks in which eight human beings and one petty officer, not quite so human, were supposed to dwell in intimacy and, as far as possible, concord.
This distressed poor mother dreadfully. "But what are you going to take?" she cried.
"I'm going to take a nap," said I, turning over on my pillow. "It will be the last one in a bed for a long, long time."
At this mother stuffed a pair of socks in her mouth and left the room hastily.
Polly came in to-night and I kissed her on and off throughout the evening on the strength of my departure. This infuriated father, but mother thought it was very pretty. However, before going to bed he gave me a handsome wrist watch, and grandfather, pointing to his game leg, said:
"Remember the Mexican War, my boy. I fought and bled honorably in that war, by gad, sir!"
I know for a fact that the dear old gentleman has never been further west than the Mississippi River.
Feb. 28th (on the train). I have just gone through my suit-case and taken out some of mother's last little gifts such as toilet water, a padded coat hanger, one hot water bottle, some cough syrup, two pairs of ear-bobs, a paper vest and a blue pokerdotted silk muffler. She put them in when I wasn't looking. I have hidden them under the seat. May the Lord forgive me for a faithless son.
The departure was moist, but I managed to swim through. I am too excited to read the paper and too rattle-brained to think except in terrified snatches. I wonder if I look different. People seem to be regarding me sympathetically. I recognize two faces on this train. One belongs to Tony, the iceman on our block; the other belongs to one named Tim, a barkeep, if I recall rightly, in a hotel I have frequently graced with my presence. I hope their past friendship was not due to professional reasons. It would be nice to talk over old times with them in camp, for I have frequently met the one in the morning after coming home from the other.
March 1st. Subjected myself to the intimate scrutiny of another doctor this morning. I used my very best Turkish bath manners. They failed to impress him. Hospital apprentice treated me to a shot of Pelham "hop." It is taken in the customary manner, through the arm—very stimulating. A large sailor held me by the hand for fully fifteen minutes. Very embarrassing! He made pictures of my fingers and completely demolished my manicure. From there I passed on to another room. Here a number of men threw clothes at me from all directions. The man with the shoes was a splendid shot. I am now a sailor—at least, superficially. My trousers were built for Charlie Chaplin. I feel like a masquerade.
A gang of recruits shouted "twenty-one days" at me as I was being led to Mess Hall No. 1. The poor simps had just come in the day before and had not even washed their leggings yet. I shall shout at other recruits to-morrow, though, the same thing that they shouted at me to-day.
Our P.O. is a very terrifying character. He is a stern but just man, I take it.
He can tie knots and box the compass and say "pipe down" and everything. Gee, it must be nice to be a real sailor!
March 2d. Fell out of my hammock last night and momentarily interrupted the snoring contest holding sway. I was told to "pipe down" in Irish, Yiddish, Third Avenue and Bronx. This, I thought, was adding insult to injury, but could not make any one take the same view of it. I hope the thing does not become a habit with me. I form habits so readily. In connection with snoring I have written the following song which I am going to send home to Polly. I wrote it in the Y.M.C.A. Hut this afternoon while crouching between the feet of two embattled checker players. I'm going to call it "The Rhyme of the Snoring Sailor." It goes like this:
The mother thinks of her sailor son As clutched in the arms of war, But mother should listen, as I have done, To this same little, innocent sailor son Sprawl in his hammock and snore.
Oh, the sailor man is a rugged man, The master of wind and wave, And poets sing till the tea-rooms ring Of his picturesque, deep sea grave, And they likewise write of the "Storm at Night" When the numerous north winds roar, But more profound is the dismal sound Of a sea-going sailor's snore.
Oh, mothers knit for their sailor sons Socks for their nautical toes, But mothers should list to the frightful noise Made by their innocent sailor boys By the wind they blow through their nose.
Oh, life at sea is wild and free And greatly to be admired, But I would sleep both sound and deep At night when I'm feeling tired.
So here we go with a yo! ho! ho! While the waves and the tempests soar, An artist can paint a shrew as a saint, But not camouflage on a snore.
Oh, mothers, write to your sons at sea; Write to them, I implore, A letter as earnest as it can be, Containing a delicate, motherly plea, A plea for them not to snore.
Oh, I take much pride in my trousers wide, The ladies all think them sweet, And I must admit that I love to sit In a chair and relieve my feet. Avast! Belay! and we're bound away With our hearts lashed fast to the fore, But when mermaids sleep In their bowers deep, Do you think that the sweet things snore?
Our company commander spoke to us this morning in no uncertain terms. He seems to be such a serious man. There is a peculiar quality in his voice, not unlike the tone of a French 75 mm. gun. You can easily hear everything he says—miles away. We rested this afternoon.
March 3d. Sunday—a day of rest, for which I gave, in the words of our indefatigable Chaplain, "three good, rollicking cheers." Some folks are coming up to see me this afternoon. I hear I must moo through the fence at them like a cow. (Later.) The folks have just left. Mother kept screaming through the wire about my underwear. She seemed to have it on her brain. There were several young girls standing right next to her. I really felt I was no longer a bachelor. Why do mothers lay such tremendous stress on underwear? They seem to believe that a son's sole duty to his parents consists in publicly announcing that he is clad in winter flannels.
Polly drove up for a moment with Joe Henderson. I hope the draft gets hold of that bird. They were going to have tea at the Biltmore when they got back to the city. I almost bit the end off of a sentry's bayonet when I heard this woeful piece of news. Liberty looks a long way off.
I made an attempt to write some letters in the Y.M.C.A. this evening but gave up before the combined assault of a phonograph, a piano, and a flanking detachment of checker players. Several benches fell on me and I went to the mat feeling very sorry for myself.
March 4th. The morning broke badly. I lashed my hand to my hammock and was forced to call on the P.O. to extricate me. He remarked, with ill-disguised bitterness, that I could think of more ineffectual things to do than any rookie it had been his misfortune to meet. I told him that I didn't have to think of them, they just came naturally.
Last night I was nearly frightened out of my hammock by awakening and gazing into the malevolent eye of my high-powered, twin-six wrist watch. I thought for a moment that the Woolworth tower had crawled into bed with me. It gave me such a start. I must get used to my wrist watch—also wearing a handkerchief up my sleeve. I feel like the sweet kid himself now.
Drill all day. My belt fell off and tripped me up. Why do such things always happen to me? Somebody told us to do squads left and it looked as if we were playing Ring Around Rosie. Then we performed a fiendish and complicated little quadrille called a "company square." I found myself, much to my horror, on the inside of the contraption walking directly behind the company commander. It was a very delicate situation for a while. I walked on my tip-toes so that he wouldn't hear me. Had he looked around I know I'd have dropped my gun and lit out for home and mother.
Forgot to take my hat off in the mess room. I was reminded, though, by several hundred thoughtful people.
March 5th. Stood for half an hour in the mail line. Got one letter. A bill from a restaurant for eighteen dollars' worth of past luncheons. I haven't the heart to write more.
March 6th. Bag inspection. I almost put my eye out at right hand salute. However, my bag looked very cute indeed, and although he didn't say anything, I feel sure the inspecting officer thought mine was the best. I had a beautiful embroidered handkerchief holder, prominently displayed, which I am sure must have knocked him cold. He missed the dirty white, but I will never be the same.
Fire drill! My hammock came unlashed right in front of a C.P.O. and he asked me if I was going to sleep in it on the spot. It was a very inspiring scene. Particularly thrilling was the picture I caught of a very heavy sailor picking on a poor innocent looking little fire extinguisher. He ran the thing right over my foot. I apologized, as usual. I discovered that I have been putting half instead of marlin hitches in my hammock, but not before the inspecting officer did. He seemed very upset about it. When he asked me why I only put six hitches in my hammock instead of seven, I replied that my rope was short. His reply still burns in my memory. What eloquence! What earnestness! What a day!
March 7th. Second jab to-morrow. I am too nervous to write to-day. More anon.
March 16th. Life in the Navy is just one round of engagements to keep. Simply splendid! All we have to do is to get up at 6 o'clock in the morning when it is nice and dark and play around with the cutest little hammock imaginable. When you have arrived at the most interesting part of this game, the four hitch period, and you are wondering whether you are going to beat your previous record and get six instead of five, the bugle blows and immediately throws you into a state of great indecision. The problem is whether to finish the hammock and be reported late for muster or to attend muster and be reported for not having finished your hammock. The time spent in considering this problem usually results in your trying to do both and in failing to accomplish either, getting reported on two counts. Any enlisted man is entitled to play this game and he is sure of making a score. After running around innumerable miles of early morning camp scenery and losing several buttons from your new trousers, you come back and do Greek dances for a man who aspires to become a second Mordkin or a Mr. Isadora Duncan. This is all very sweet and I am sure the boys play prettily together. First he dances, then we dance; then he interprets a bird and we all flutter back at him. This being done to his apparent satisfaction, we proceed to crawl and grind and weave and wave in a most extraordinary manner. This is designed to give us physical poise to enable us to go aloft in a graceful and pleasing manner. After this dancing in the dew you return for a few more rounds with your hammock, clean up your bay and stand in line for breakfast. After breakfast we muster again and a gentleman talks to us in a voice that would lead you to believe that he thought we were all in hiding somewhere in New Rochelle. Then there are any number of things to do to divert our minds—scrub hammocks, pick up cigarettes, drill, hike and attend lectures. As a rule we do all of these things. From 5 p.m. until 8:45 p.m. if we are unfortunate enough not to have a lecture party we are free to give ourselves over to the riotous joy of the moment, which consists of listening to a phonograph swear bitterly at a piano long past its prime. The final act of the drama of the day is performed on the hammock—an animated little sketch of arms and legs conducted along the lines of Houdini getting into a strait-jacket, or does he get out of them? I don't know, perhaps both. Anyway, you get what I mean.
March 17th. This spring weather is bringing the birds out in great quantities. They bloomed along the fence today like a Ziegfeld chorus on an outing. One girl carried on a coherent conversation with six different fellows at once and left each of them feeling that he alone had been singled out for her particular favor. As a matter of fact I was flirting with her all the time and I could tell by the very way she looked that she would have much rather been talking to me. Last week I had to convince mother that I was wearing my flannels; this week I had to convince her I still had them on. The only way to satisfy her, I suppose, is to appear before her publicly in them. Poor, dear mother, she told me she had written the doctor up here asking him not to squirt my arm full of those horrid little germs any more. She said I came from a good, clean family, and had been bathed once a week all my life, except the time when I had the measles and then it wasn't advisable. I am sure this must have cheered the doctor up tremendously. She also asked him to be sure to see that I got my meals regularly. I can see him now taking me by the hand and leading me to the mess-hall. When I suggested to mother that she write President Wilson asking him to be sure to see that my blankets didn't fall off at night, she said that I was a sarcastic, ungrateful boy.
March 18th. There is something decidedly wrong with me as a sailor. I got my pictures to-day. Try as I may, I am unable to locate the trouble. There seems to be some item left out. Not enough salt in the mixture, perhaps. I don't know exactly what it is but I seem to be a little too, may I say, handsome or, perhaps, polished would be the better word. I'm afraid to send the pictures away because no one will believe them. They will think I borrowed the clothes.
March 19th. A funny thing happened last Sunday that I forgot to record. A girl had her foot on the fence and when she took it down every one yelled, "As you were." Sailors have such a delicate sense of humor. Well, that's about enough for to-day.
March 20th. We had a lecture on boats to-day. The only thing I don't know now is how to tell a bilge from a painter. The oar was easy. It is divided into three parts, the stem, the lead and the muzzle. I must remember this, it is very important. The men are getting so used to inoculations around here that they complain when they don't get enough. We're shaping up into a fine body of men, our company commander told us this morning, and added, that if we continue to pick up cigarette butts several more weeks we'll be able to stack arms without dropping our guns. Eli, the goat, seems unwell to-day. I attribute his unfortunate condition to his constant and unrelenting efforts to keep the canteen clear of paper. It is my belief that goats are not healthy because of the fact that they eat paper, but in spite of it, and I feel sure that if all goats got together and decided to cut out paper for a while and live on a regular diet, they would be a much more robust race. The movies were great to-night. I saw Sidney Drew's left ear and a mole on the neck of the man in front of me.
March 21st. A fellow in our bay asked last night how much an admiral's pay was a month and when we told him he yawned, turned over on his side and said, "Not enough." He added that he could pick up that much at a first-class parade any time. We all tightened our wrist watches. Been blinking at the blinker all evening. Can't make much sense out of it. The bloomin' thing is always two blinks ahead of me. It's all very nice, I dare say, but I'd much rather get my messages on scented paper. I got one to-day. She called me her "Great, big, cute little sailor boy." Those were her exact words. How clever she is. I'm going to marry her just as soon as I'm a junior lieutenant. She'll wait a year, anyway.
March 22d. I made up verses to myself in my hammock last night. Perhaps I'll send some of them to the camp paper. It would be nice to see your stuff in print. Here's one of the poems:
THE UNREGENERATE SAILOR MAN
I take my booze In my overshoes; I'm fond of the taste of rubber; I oil my hair With the grease of bear Or else with a bull whale's blubber.
My dusky wife Was a source of strife, So I left her in Singapore And sailed away At the break of day— Since then I have widowed four.
Avast! Belay, And alack-a-day That I gazed in the eyes of beauty. For in devious ways Their innocent gaze Has caused me much extra duty.
I never get past The jolly old mast, The skipper and I are quite chummy; He knows me by sight When I'm sober or tight And calls me a "wicked old rummy."
A sort of sweetheart-in-every-port type I intend to make him—a seafaring man of the old school such as I suppose some of the six-stripers around here were. I don't imagine it was very difficult to get a good conduct record in the old days, because from all the tales I've heard from this source and that, a sailor-man who did not too openly boast of being a bigamist and who limited his homicidical inclinations to half a dozen foreigners when on shore leave, was considered a highly respectable character. Perhaps this is not at all true and I for one can hardly believe it when I look at the virtuous and impeccable exteriors of the few remaining representatives with whom I have come in contact. However, any one has my permission to ask them if it is true or not, should they care to find out for themselves. I refuse to be held responsible though. I think I shall send this poem to the paper soon.
It must be wonderful to get your poems in print. All my friends would be so proud to know me. I wonder if the editors are well disposed, God-fearing men.
From all I hear they must be a hard lot. Probably they'll be nice to me because of my connections. I know so many bartenders. Next week I rate liberty! Ah, little book, I wonder what these pages will contain when I come back. I hate to think. New York, you know, is such an interesting place.
March 25th. Man! Man! How I suffer! I'm so weary I could sleep on my company commander's breast, and to bring oneself to that one must be considerably fatigued, so to speak. Who invented liberty, anyway? It's a greatly over-rated pastime as far as I can make out, consisting of coming and going with the middle part omitted.
One man whispered to me at muster this morning that all he could remember of his liberty was checking out and checking in. He looked unwell. My old pal, "Spike" Kelly, I hear was also out of luck. His girl was the skipper of a Fourteenth Street crosstown car, so he was forced to spend most of his time riding, between the two rivers. He nickeled himself to death in doing it. He said if Mr. Shonts plays golf, as no doubt he does, he has "Spike" Kelly to thank for a nice, new box of golf balls. And while on the subject, "Spike" observes that one of those engaging car signs should read:
"Is it Gallantry, or the Advent of Woman Suffrage, or the Presence of the Conductorette that Causes So Many Sailors to Wear Out Their Seats Riding Back and Forth, and So Many Unnecessary Fares to Be Rung Up in So Doing?"
His conversation with "Mame," his light-o'-love, was conducted along this line:
"Yes, George, dear (fare, please, madam). What does tweetums want?"
"You look swell in your new uniform."
"Oh, Georgie, do you think it fits? (Yes, madam, positively, the car was brushed this morning, your baby will be perfectly safe inside.)"
"George! (Step forward, please.) Go on, dear."
"Mame, it's doggon hard to talk to you here." "Isn't it just! (What is it lady? Cabbage? Oh, baggage! No, no, you can't check baggage here; this isn't a regular train.) George, stop holding my hand! I can't make change!"
"Aw, Mame, who do you love?"
"Why, tweetums, I love—(plenty of room up forward! Don't jam up the door) you, of course. (Fare, please! Fare, please! Have your change ready!)"
"Can't we get a moment alone, Mame?"
"Yes, dear; wait until twelve-thirty, and we'll drive to the car barn then. (Transfers! Transfers!)"
"Spike" says that his liberty was his first actual touch with the horrors of war.
Another bird that lived in some remote corner of New York State told me in pitiful tones that all he had time to do was to walk down the street of his home town, shake hands with the Postmaster, lean over the fence and kiss his girl (it had to go two ways, Hello and Good-by), take a package of clean underwear from his mother as he passed by and catch the outbound train on the dead run. All he could do was to wave to the seven other inhabitants. He thought the Grand Central Terminal was a swell dump, though. He said: "There was quite a lot of it," which is true.
As for myself, I think it best to pass lightly over most of the incidents of my own personal liberty. The best part of a diary is that one can show up one's friends to the exclusion of oneself. Anyway, why put down the happenings of the past forty-three hours? They are indelibly stamped on my memory. One sight I vividly recall, "Ardy" Muggins, the multi-son of Muggins who makes the automatic clothes wranglers. He was sitting in a full-blooded roadster in front of the Biltmore, and the dear boy was dressed this wise ("Ardy" is a sailor, too, I forgot to mention): There was a white hat on his head; covering and completely obliterating his liberty blues was a huge bearskin coat, which when pulled up disclosed his leggins neatly strapped over patent leather dancing pumps. It was an astounding sight. One that filled me with profound emotion.
"Aren't you a trifle out of uniform, Ardy?" I asked him. One has to be so delicate with Ardy, he's that sensitive. "Why, I thought I might as well embellish myself a bit," says Ardy.
"You've done all of that," says I, "but for heaven's sake, dear, do keep away from Fourteenth Street; there are numerous sea-going sailors down there who might embellish you still further."
"My God!" cries Ardy, striving to crush the wind out of the horn, "I never slum."
"Don't," says I, passing inside to shake hands with several of my friends behind the mahogany. Shake hands, alas, was all I did.
March 26th. I must speak about the examinations before I forget it. What a clubby time we had of it. I got in a trifle wrong at the start on account of my sociable nature. You know, I thought it was a sort of a farewell reception given by the officers and the C.P.O.'s to the men departing after their twenty-one days in Probation, so the first thing I did when I went in was to shake hands with an Ensign, who I thought was receiving. He got rid of my hand with the same briskness that one removes a live coal from one's person. The whole proceeding struck me as being a sort of charity bazaar. People were wandering around from booth to booth, in a pleasant sociable manner, passing a word here and sitting down there in the easiest-going way imaginable. Leaving the Ensign rather abruptly, I attached myself to the throng and started in search of ice cream and cake. This brought me up at a table where there was a very pleasant looking C.P.O. holding sway, and with him I thought I would hold a few words. What was my horror on hearing him snap out in a very crusty manner:
"How often do you change your socks?"
This is a question I allow no man to ask me. It is particularly objectionable. "Why, sir," I replied, "don't you think you are slightly overstepping the bounds of good taste? One does not even jest about such totally personal matters, ye know." Then rising, I was about to walk away without even waiting for his reply, but he called me back and handed me my paper, on which he had written "Impossible" and underlined it.
The next booth I visited seemed to be a little more hospitable, so I sat down with the rest of the fellows and prepared to talk of the events of the past twenty-one days.
"How many Articles are there?" suddenly asked a C.P.O. who hitherto had escaped my attention.
"Twelve," I replied promptly, thinking I might just as well play the game, too.
"What are they based on?" he almost hissed, but not quite.
"The Constitution of these United States," I cried in a loud, public-spirited voice, at which the C.P.O. choked and turned dangerously red. It seems that not only was I not quite right, but that I couldn't have been more wrong.
"Go," he gasped, "before I do you some injury." A very peculiar man, I thought, but, nevertheless, his heart seemed so set on my going that I thought it would be best for us to part.
"I am sure I do not wish to force myself upon you," I said icily as I left. The poor man appeared to be on the verge of having a fit.
"Do you want to tie some knots?" asked a kind-voiced P.O. at the next booth.
"Crazy about it," says I, easy like.
"Then tie some," says he. So I tied a very pretty little knot I had learned at the kindergarten some years ago and showed it to him.
"What's that?" says he.
"That," replies I coyly. "Why, that is simply a True Lover's knot. Do you like it?"
"Orderly," he screamed. "Orderly, remove this." And hands were laid upon me and I was hurled into the arms of a small, but ever so sea-going appearing chap, who was engaged in balancing his hat on the bridge of his nose and wig-wagging at the same time. After beating me over the head several times with the flags, he said I could play with him, and he began to send me messages with lightning-like rapidity. "What is it?" he asked.
"Really," I replied, "I lost interest in your message before you finished."
After this my paper looked like a million dollars with the one knocked off.
"What's a hackamatack?" asked the next guy. Thinking he was either kidding me or given to using baby talk, I replied:
"Why, it's a mixture between a thingamabob and a nibleck."
His treatment of me after this answer so unnerved me that I dropped my gun at the next booth and became completely demoralized. The greatest disappointment awaited me at "Monkey Drill," or setting up exercises, however. I thought I was going to kill this. I felt sure I was going to outstrip all competitors. But in the middle of it all the examiner yelled out in one of those sarcastic voices that all rookies learn to fear: "Are you trying to flirt with me or do you think you're a bloomin' angel?"
This so sickened me at heart that I left the place without further ado, whatever that might be. Pink teas in the Navy are not unmixed virtues.
March 27th. My birthday, and, oh, how I do miss my cake. It's the first birthday I ever had without a cake except two and then I had a bottle. Oh, how well I remember my last party (birthday party)!
There was father and the cake all lit up in the center of the table; I mean the cake, not father, of course. And there was Gladys (I always called her "Glad"). She'd been coming to my birthday parties for years and years. She always came first and left last and ate the most and got the sickest of all the girls I knew. It was appalling how that girl could eat.
But, as I was saying, there was father and the cake, and there was mother and "Glad" and all the little candles were twinkling, lighting up my presents clustered around, among them being half a dozen maroon silk socks, a box of striped neck ties, all perfect joys; spats, a lounging gown, ever so many gloves and the snappiest little cane in all the world. And what have I around me now? A swab on one side, a bucket on the other, a broom draped over my shoulder, C.P.O.'s in front of me, P.O.'s behind me and work all around me—oh, what a helluvabirthday! I told my company commander last night that the next day was going to be my birthday, hoping he would do the handsome thing and let me sleep a little later in the morning, but did he? No, the Brute, he said I should get up earlier so as to enjoy it longer. As far as I can find out, the Camp remains totally unmoved by the fact that I am one year older to-day—and what a hubbub they used to raise at home. I think the very least they could do up here would be to ask me to eat with the officers.
March 28th. These new barracks over in the main camp are too large; not nearly so nice as our cosey little bays. I'm really homesick for Probation and the sound of our old company commander's dulcet voice. I met Eli on the street to-day and I almost broke down on his neck and cried. He was the first familiar thing I had seen since I came over to the main camp.
March 29th. This place is just like the Probation Camp, only more so. Life is one continual lecture trimmed with drills and hikes—oh, when will I ever be an Ensign, with a cute little Submarine Chaser all my own?
April 6th. The events of the past few days have so unnerved me that I have fallen behind in my diary. I must try to catch up, for what would posterity do should the record of my inspiring career in the service not be faithfully recorded for them to read with reverence and amazement in days to come?
One of the unfortunate events arose from scraping a too intimate acquaintance with that horrid old push ball. How did it ever get into camp anyway, and who ever heard of a ball being so large? It doesn't seem somehow right to me—out of taste, if you get what I mean. There is a certain lack of restraint and conservatism about it which all games played among gentlemen most positively should possess. But the chap who pushed that great big beast of a push ball violently upon my unsuspecting nose was certainly no gentleman. Golly, what a resounding whack! This fellow (I suspect him of being a German spy, basing my suspicions upon his seeming disposition for atrocities) was standing by, looking morosely at this small size planet when I blows gently up and says playfully in my most engaging voice:
"I say, old dear, you push it to me and I'll push it to you—softly, though, chappy, softly." And with that he flung himself upon the ball and hurled it full upon my nose, completely demolishing it. Now I have always been a little partial to my nose. My eyes, I'll admit, are not quite as soulful as those liquid orbs of Francis X. Bushman's, but my nose has been frequently admired and envied in the best drawing rooms in New York. But it won't be envied any more, I fear—pitied rather.
Of course I played the game no more. I was nauseated by pain and the sight of blood. My would-be assassin was actually forced to sit down, he was so weak from brutal laughter. I wonder if I can ever be an Ensign with a nose like this?
April 7th. On the way back from a little outing the other day my companion, Tim, who in civil life had been a barkeeper and a good one at that, ingratiated himself in the good graces of a passing automobile party and we consequently were asked in. There were two girls, sisters, I fancy, and a father and mother aboard.
"And where do you come from, young gentlemen?" asked the old man.
"Me pal comes from San Diego," pipes up my unscrupulous friend, "and my home town is San Francisco."
I knew for a fact that he had never been farther from home than the Polo Grounds, and as for me I had only the sketchiest idea of where my home town was supposed to be.
"Ah, Westerners!" exclaimed the old lady. "I come from the West myself. My family goes back there every year."
"Yes," chimed in the girls, "we just love San Diego!"
"In what section of the town did you live?" asked the gentleman, and my friend whom I was inwardly cursing, seeing my perplexity, quickly put in for me:
"Oh, you would never know it, sir," and then lowering his voice in a confidential way, he added, "he kept a barroom in the Mexican part of the town."
"A barroom!" exclaimed the old lady. "Fancy that!" She looked at me with great, innocent interest.
"Yes," continued this lost soul, "my father, who is a State senator, sent him to boarding school and tried to do everything for him, but he drifted back into the old life just as soon as he could. It gets a hold on them, you know."
"Yes, I know," said the old lady, sadly, "my cook had a son that went the same way."
"He isn't really vicious, though," added my false friend with feigned loyalty—"merely reckless."
"Well, my poor boy," put in the old gentleman with cheery consideration, "I am sure you must find that navy life does you a world of good—regular hours, temperate living and all that."
"Right you are, sport," says I bitterly, assuming my enforced role, "I haven't slit a Greaser's throat since I enlisted."
"We must all make sacrifices these days," sighed the old lady.
"And perhaps you will be able to exercise your—er—er rather robust inclinations on the Germans when you meet them on the high seas," remarked the old man, who evidently thought to comfort me.
"If I can only keep him out of the brig," said this low-down friend of mine, "I think they might make a first-rate mess hand out of him," at which remark both of the girls, who up to this moment had been studying me silently, exploded into loud peals of mirth and then I knew where I had met them before—at Kitty Van Tassel's coming out party, and I distinctly recalled having spilled some punch on the prettier one's white satin slipper.
"We get out here," I said, hoarsely, choking with rage.
"But!" exclaimed the old lady, "it's the loneliest part of the road."
"However that may be," I replied with fine firmness, "I must nevertheless alight here. I have a great many things to do before I return to camp and lonely roads are well suited to my purposes. My homicidal leanings are completely over-powering me."
"Watch him closely," said the old lady to my companion, as the car came to a stop.
"He will have to," I replied grimly, as I prepared to alight.
"Perhaps Mr. Oswald will mix us a cocktail some day," said one of the sisters, leaning over the side of the car. "I have heard that he supported many bars at one time, but I never knew he really owned one."
"What," I heard the old lady exclaiming as the car pulled away, "he really isn't a bartender at all—well, fancy that!"
There were a couple of pairs of rather dusty liberty blues in camp that night.
April 8th. Yesterday mother paid a visit to camp and insisted upon me breaking out my hammock in order for her to see if I had covers enough.
"I can never permit you to sleep in that, my dear," she said after pounding and prodding it for a few numbers; "never—and I am sure the Commander will agree with me after I have explained to him how delicate you have always been."
Later in the afternoon she became a trifle mollified when I told her that the master-at-arms came around every night and distributed extra blankets to every one that felt cold. "Be sure to see that he gives you enough coverings," she said severely, "or else put him on report," which I faithfully promised to do.
She was greatly delighted with the Y.M.C.A. and the Hostess Committee. Here I stood her up for several bricks of ice cream and a large quantity of cake. My fourth attempt she refused, however, saying by way of explanation to a very pretty girl standing by, "It wouldn't be good for him, my dear; my son has always had such a weak stomach. The least little thing upsets him."
"I believe you," replied the young lady, sympathetically, as she gazed at me. I certainly looked upset at the moment. This was worse than the underwear.
"So that's an Ensign!" she exclaimed later in an obviously disappointed tone of voice; "well, I'm not so sure that I want you to become one now." The passing ensign couldn't help but hear her, as she had practically screamed in his ear. He turned and studied my face carefully. I think he was making sure that he could remember it.
"Now take me to your physician," commanded mother, resolutely. "I want to be sure that he sees that you take your spring tonic regularly."
"Mother," I pleaded, "don't you think it is time you were going? I have a private lesson in sale embroidery in ten minutes that I wouldn't miss for the world—the sweetest man teaches it!"
"Well, under the circumstances I won't keep you," said mother, "but I'll write to the doctor just the same."
"Yes, do," I urged, "send it care of me so that he'll be sure to get it."
Mother is not a restful creature in camp.
April 9th. "Say, there, you with the nose," cried my P.O. company commander to-day, "are you with us or are you playing a little game of your own?"
I wasn't so very wrong—just the slight difference between port and present arms.
"With you, heart and soul," I replied, hoping to make a favorable impression by a smart retort.
"That don't work in the manual," he replied; "use your brain and ears."
Unnecessarily rough he was, but I don't know but what he wasn't right.
April 10th. I hear that I am going to be put on the mess crew. God pity me, poor wretch! How shall I ever keep my hands from becoming red? What a terrible war it is!
April 11th. Saw a basket ball game the other night. Never knew it was so rough. I used to play it with the girls and we had such sport. There seemed to be some reason for it then. There are a couple of queer looking brothers on our team who seem to try utterly to demolish their opponents. They remind me of a couple of tough gentlemen from Scranton I heard about in a story once.
April 12th. The price of fags (gee! I'm getting rough) has gone up again. This war is rapidly cramping my style.
April 14th. I have been too sick at heart to write up my diary—Eli is dead! "Pop," the Jimmy-legs, found the body and has been promoted to Chief Master-at-arms. It's an ill wind that blows no good. I don't know whether it was because he found Eli or because he runs one of the most modernly managed mess halls in camp or because his working parties are always well attended that "Pop" received his appointment, but whatever it was it does my heart good to see a real seagoing old salt, one of our few remaining ex-apprentice boys, receive recognition that is so well merited. However, I was on much more intimate terms with Eli when I was over in Probation Camp than I was with "Pop." He almost had me in his clutches once for late hammocks, me and eight other poor victims I had led into the trouble, and he had our wheelbarrows all picked out for us, and a nice large pile of sand for us to play with when fate interceded in our behalf. The poor man nearly cried out of sheer anguish of soul, and I can't justly blame him. It's hard lines to have a nice fat extra duty party go dead on your hands.
But with Eli it was different. When I was a homeless rookie he took me in and I fed him—cigarette butts—and I'll honestly say that he showed more genuine appreciation than many a flapper I have plied with costly viands. He was a good goat, Eli. Not a refined goat, to be sure, but a good, honest, whole-souled goat just the same. He did his share in policing the grounds, never shirked a cigar end or a bit of paper and amused many a mess gear line. He was loyal to his friends, tolerant with new recruits and a credit to the service in general. Considering the environment in which he lived, I think he deported himself with much dignity and moderation. I for one shall miss Eli. Some of the happier memories of my rookie days die with him. He is survived by numerous dogs.
April 25th. Yesterday I wandered around Probation Camp in a very patronizing manner and finally stopped to shed a tear on the humble grave of Eli.
"Poor sinful goat," I thought sadly, "here you lie at last in your final resting place, but your phantom, I wonder, does it go coursing madly down the Milky Way, butting the stars aside with its battle-scarred head and sending swift gleams of light through the heavens as its hoofs strike against an upturned planet? Your horns, are they tipped with fire and your beard gloriously aflame, or has the great evil spirit of Wayward Goats descended upon you and borne you away to a place where there is never anything to butt save unsatisfactorily yielding walls of padded cotton? Many changes have taken place, Eli, since you were with us, much adversity has befallen me, but the world in the large is very much the same. Bill and Mike have been shipped to sea and strange enough to say, old Spike Kelly has made the Quartermasters School. I alone of all the gang remain unspoken for—nobody seems anxious to avail themselves of my services. My tapes are dirtier and my white hat grows less "sea-going" every day and even you, Eli, are being forgotten. The company commander still carols sweetly in the morning about "barrackses" and fire "distinguishers," rookies still continue to rook about the camp in their timid, mild-eyed way, while week-old sailors with unwashed leggins delight their simple souls with cries of 'twenty-one days.' New goats have sprung up to take your place in the life of the camp and belittle your past achievements, but to me, O unregenerate goat, you shall ever remain a refreshing memory. Good butting, O excellent ruminant, wherever thou should chance to be. I salute you."
This soliloquy brought me to the verge of an emotional break-down. I departed the spot in silence. On my way back through Probation I chanced upon a group of rookies studying for their examinations and was surprised to remember how much I had contrived to forget. Nevertheless I stopped one of the students and asked him what a "hakamaback" was and found to my relief that he didn't know.
"Back to your manual," said I gloomily, "I fear you will never be a sailor."
Having thus made heavy the heart of another, I continued on my way feeling somehow greatly cheered only to find upon entering my barracks that my blankets were in the lucky bag. How did I ever forget to place them in my hammock? It was a natural omission though, I fancy, for the master-at-arms so terrifies me in the morning with his great shouts of "Hit the deck, sailor! Shake a leg—rise an' shine" that I am unnerved for the remainder of the day.
April 29th. Life seems to be composed of just one parade after another. I am weary of the plaudits and acclamation of the multitude and long for some sequestered spot on a mountain peak in Thibet. Every time I see a street I instinctively start to walk down the middle of it. Last week I was one of the many thousands of Pelham men who marched along Fifth Avenue in the Liberty Loan parade. I thought I was doing particularly well and would have made a perfect score if one of my leggins hadn't come off right in front of the reviewing stand much to the annoyance of the guy behind me because he tripped on it and almost dropped his gun. For the remainder of the parade I was subjected to a running fire of abuse that fairly made my flesh crawl.
At the end of the march I ran into a rather nebulous, middle-aged sort of a gentleman soldier who was sitting on the curb looking moodily at a manhole as if he would like to jump in it.
"Hello, stranger," says I in a blustery, seafaring voice, "you look as if you'd been cursed at about as much as I have. What sort of an outfit do you belong to?"
He scrutinized one of his buttons with great care and then told me all about himself.
"I'm a home guard, you know," he added bitterly, "all we do is to escort people. I've escorted the Blue Devils, the Poilus, the Australians, mothers of enlisted men, mothers of men who would have enlisted if they could, Boy Scouts and loan workers until my dogs are jolly well near broken down on me. Golly, I wish I was young enough to enjoy a quiet night's sleep in the trenches for a change."
Later I saw him gloomily surveying the world from the window of a passing cab. He was evidently through for the time being at least.
April 30th. I took my bar-keeping pal home over the last week-end liberty. It was a mistake. He admits it himself. Mother will never have him in the house again. Mother could never get him in the house again. He fears her. The first thing he did was to mix poor dear grandfather a drink that caused the old gentleman to forget his game leg which had been damaged in battles, ranging anywhere from the Mexican to the Spanish wars, according to grandfather's mood at the time he is telling the story, but which I believe, according to a private theory of mine, was really caught in a folding bed. However it was, grandfather forgot all about this leg of his entirely and insisted on dancing with Nora, our new maid. Mother, of course, was horrified. But not content with that, this friend of mine concocted some strange beverage for the pater which so delighted him that he loaned my so-called pal the ten spot I had been intending to borrow. The three of them sat up until all hours of the night playing cards and telling ribald stories. As mother took me upstairs to bed she gazed down on her father-in-law and her husband in the clutches of this demon and remarked bitterly to me:
"Like father, like son," and I knew that she was thoroughly determined to make both of them pay dearly for their pleasant interlude. Breakfast the next morning was a rather trying ordeal. Grandfather once more resorted to his game leg with renewed vigor, referring several times to the defense of the Alamo, so I knew he was pretty low in his mind. Father withdrew at the sight of bacon. Mother laughed scornfully as he departed. My friend ate a hearty breakfast and kept a sort of a happy-go-lucky monologue throughout its entire course. I took him out walking afterward and forgot to bring him back.
April 31st. Have just come off guard duty and feel quite exhausted. The guns are altogether too heavy. I can think of about five different things I could remove from them without greatly decreasing their utility. The first would be the barrel. The artist who drew the picture in the last camp paper of Dawn appearing in the form of a beautiful woman must have had more luck than I have ever had. I think he would have been closer to the truth if he had put her in a speeding automobile on its way home from a road house. It surely is a proof of discipline to hear the mocking, silver-toned laughter of women ring out in the night only ten feet away and not drop your gun and follow it right through the barbed wire. After the war, I am going to buy lots of barbed wire and cut it up into little bits just to relieve my feelings.
Last night I had the fright of my life. Some one was fooling around the fence in the darkness.
"Who's there?" I cried.
"Why, I'm Kaiser William," came the answer in a subdued voice.
"Well, I wish you'd go away, Kaiser William," said I nervously, "you're busting the lights out of rule number six."
"What's that?" asks the voice.
"Not to commit a nuisance with any one except in a military manner," I replied, becoming slightly involved.
"That's not such a wonderful rule," came back the voice in complaining tones. "I could make up a rule better than that."
"Don't try to to-night," I pleaded.
There was silence for a moment, then the voice continued seriously, "Say, I'm not Kaiser William really. Honest I'm not."
"Well, who are you?" I asked impatiently.
"Why, I'm Tucks," the voice replied. "Folks call me that because I take so many of them in my trousers."
"Well, Tucks," I replied, "you'd better be moving on. I don't know what might happen with this gun. I'm tempted to shoot the cartridge out of it just to make it lighter."
"Oh, you can't shoot me," cried Tucks, "I'm crazy. I bet you didn't know that, did you?"
"I wasn't sure," I answered.
"Oh, I'm awfully crazy," continued Tucks, "everybody says so, and I look it, too, in the daylight."
"You must," I replied.
"Well, good night," said Tucks in the same subdued voice. "If you find a flock of pink Liberty Bonds around here, remember I lost them." He departed in the direction of City Island.
May 1st. I visited the office of the camp paper to-day and found it to be an extremely hectic place. In the course of a conversation with the Chief I chanced to look up and caught two shining eyes staring malevolently at me from a darkened corner of the room. This creature blinked at me several times very rapidly, wiggled its mustache and suddenly disappeared into the thick shadows.
"Who is that?" I cried, startled.
"That's our mad photographer," said the Chief. "What do you think of him?"
"Do you keep him in there?" I asked, pointing to the coal-black cupboard-like room into which this strange creature had disappeared.
"Yes," said the Chief, "and he likes it. Often he stays there for days at a time, only coming out for air." At this juncture there came from the dark room the sounds of breaking glass, which was immediately followed by strange animal-like sounds as the mad photographer burst out of his den and proclaimed to all the world that nothing meant very much in his life and that it would be absolutely immaterial to him if the paper and its entire staff should suddenly be visited with flood, fire and famine. After this gracious and purely gratuitous piece of information he again withdrew, but strange mutterings still continued to issue forth from his lair. While I was sitting in the office the editor happened to drift in from the adjacent room crisply attired in a pair of ragged, disreputable trousers and a sleeveless gray sweater which was raveling in numerous places. It was the shock of my life.
"Where's our yeoman?" he grumbled, at which the yeoman, who somehow reminded me of some character from one of Dickens's novels, edged out of the door, but he was too late. Spying him, the editor launched forth on a violent denunciation, in which for no particular reason the cartoonist and sporting editor joined. There they stood, the three of them, abusing this poor simple yeoman in the most unnecessary manner as far as I could make out. Three harder cut-throats I have never encountered. While in the office, I came upon a rather elderly artist crouched over in a corner writhing as if he was in great pain. He was in the throes of composition, I was told, and he looked it. Poor wretch, he seemed to have something on his mind. The only man I saw who seemed to have anything like a balanced mind was the financial shark, a little ferret-eyed, onery-looking cuss whom I wouldn't have trusted out of my sight. He was sitting with his nose thrust in some dusty volume totally oblivious of the pandemonium that reigned around him. He either has a great mind or none at all—probably the latter. I fear I would never make an editor. The atmosphere is simply altogether too strenuous for me.
May 4th. There seems to be no place in the service for me; I cannot decide what rating to select. To be a quartermaster one must know how to signal, and signaling always tires my arms. One must know how to blow a horrid shrill little whistle in order to become a boatswain mate, and my ears could never stand this. To be a yeoman, it is necessary to know how to rattle papers in an important manner and disseminate misinformation with a straight face, and this I could never do. I fear the only thing left for me is to try for a commission. I'm sure I would be a valuable addition to any wardroom.
May 6th. "Man the drags! Hey, there, you flannel-footed camel, stop galloping! What are you doing, anyway—playing horses?"
"Don't be ridiculous," I cried out, hot with rage and humiliation; "you know perfectly well I'm not playing horse. I realize as well as you do that this is a serious—"
At this juncture of my brave retort a gun barrel stove in the back of my head, some one kicked me on the shin and in some indescribable manner the butt of a rifle became entangled between my feet, and down I went in a cloud of dust and oaths. One-fourth of the entire Pelham field artillery passed over my body, together with its crew, while through the roar and confusion raised by this horrible cataclysm I could hear innumerable C.P.O.'s howling and blackguarding me in frenzied tones, and I dimly distinguished their forms dancing in rage amid descending billows of dust. The parade ground swirled dizzily around me, but I had no desire to arise and begin life anew. It would not be worth while. I felt that I had at the most only a short time to live, and that that was too long. The world offered nothing but the most horrifying possibilities to me. "What is the Biltmore to a man in uniform, anyway?" I remember thinking to myself as I lay there with my nose pressed flat to an ant hill, "all the best parts of it are arid districts, waste places, limitless Saharas to him. Death, where is thy sting?" I continued, as an outraged ant assaulted my nose. The world came throbbing back. I felt myself being dragged violently away from my resting place. I was choking. Bidding farewell to the ants, I prepared myself to swoon when gradually, as if from a great distance, I heard the voice of my P.O. He was almost crying.
"Take him out," he pleaded; "for Gord sake, take him out. He's hurtin' our gun."
This remark gave me the strength to rise, but not gracefully. My intention was to address a few handpicked words to this P.O. of mine, but fortunately for my future peace of mind I was beyond utterance. Weakly I tottered in the direction of the gun, hoping to support myself upon it.
"Hey, come away from that gun!" howled the P.O. "Don't let him touch it, fellers," he pleaded. "Don't let him even go near it. He'll spoil it. He'll completely destroy it."
"Say, Buddy," said the Chief to me, and how I hated the ignominy of the word, "I guess I'll take you out of the game for to-day. I'm responsible for Government property, and you are altogether too big a risk."
"What shall I do?" I asked, huskily. "Where shall I go?"
"Do?" he repeated, in a thoughtful voice. "Go? Well, here's where you can go," and he told me, "and this is what you can do when you get there," and as I departed rather hastily he told me this also. The entire parade ground heard him. How shall I ever be able to hold up my head again in Camp? I departed the spot, but only under one boiler; however, I made fair speed. Like a soldier returning from a week in the trenches, I sought the comfort and seclusion of the Y.M.C.A. Here I witnessed a checker contest of a low order between two unscrupulous brothers. They had a peculiar technique completely their own. It consisted of arts and dodges and an extravagant use of those adjectives one is commonly supposed to shun.
"Say, there's a queen down at the end of the room," one of them would suddenly exclaim, and while the other brother was gazing eagerly in that direction he would deliberately remove several of his men from the board. But the other brother, who was not so balmy as he looked, would occasionally discover this slight irregularity and proceed to express his opinion of it by word of mouth, which for sheer force of expression was in the nature of a revelation to me. It was appalling to sit there and watch those two young men, who had evidently at one time come from a good home, sit in God's bright sunshine and cheat each other throughout the course of an afternoon and lie out of it in the most obvious manner. The game was finally discontinued, owing to a shortage of checkermen which they had secreted in their pockets, a fact which each one stoutly denied with many weird and rather indelicate vows. I left them engaged in the pleasant game of recrimination, which had to do with stolen golf balls, the holding out of change and kindred sordid subjects. In my weakened condition this display of fraternal depravity so offended my instinctive sense of honor that I was forced to retire behind the protecting pages of a 1913 issue of "The Farmer's Wife Indispensable Companion," where I managed to lose myself for the time in a rather complicated exposition of how to tell which chicken laid what egg if any or something to that effect, an article that utterly demolished the moral character of the average hen, leaving her hardly a leg to roost on.
May 8th. "Give away," said the coxswain to-day, when we were struggling to get our cutter off from the pier, and I gave away to such an extent, in fact, that I suddenly found myself balanced cleverly on the back of my neck in the bottom of the boat, so that I experienced the rather odd sensation of feeling the hot sun on the soles of my feet. This procedure, of course, did not go unnoticed. Nothing I do goes unnoticed, save the good things. The coxswain made a few comments which showed him to be a thoroughly ill-bred person, but further than this I was not persecuted. After we had rowed interminable distances through leagues upon leagues of doggedly resisting water a man in the bow remarked casually that he had several friends in Florida we might call upon if we kept it up a little longer, but the coxswain comfortably ensconced upon the hackamatack, was so deeply engrossed in the perusal of a vest pocket edition of the "Merchant of Venice" that he failed to grasp the full meaning of the remark. I lifted my rapidly glazing eyes with no little effort from the keelson and discovered to my horror that we had hardly passed more than half a mile of shore-line at the most. What we had been doing all the time I was unable to figure out. I thought we had been rowing. I could have sworn we had been rowing, but apparently we had not. I looked up from my meditation in time to catch the ironical gaze of the coxswain upon me, and I involuntarily braced myself to the assault.
"Say, there, sailor," said he, with a slow, unpleasant drawl, "you're not rowing; you're weaving. It's fancy work you're doing, blast yer eyes!"
All who had sufficient strength left in them laughed jeeringly at this wise observation, but I retained a dignified silence—that is, so far as a man panting from exhaustion can be silent. At this moment we passed a small boat being rowed briskly along by a not unattractive girl.
"Now, watch her," said the coxswain, helpfully, to me; "study the way that poor fragile girl, that mere child, pulls the oars, and try to do likewise."
I observed in shamed silence. My hands ached. A motor boat slid swiftly by and I distinctly saw a man drinking beer from the bottle. "Hell isn't dark and smoky," thought I to myself; "hell is bright and sunny, and there is lots of sparkling water in it and on the sparkling water are innumerable boats and in these boats are huddled the poor lost mortals who are forced to listen through eternity to the wise cracks of cloven-hoofed, spike-tailed coxswains. That's what hell is," thought I, "and I am in my probation period right now."
"Feather your oars!" suddenly screamed our master at the straining crew.
"Feather me eye!" yelled back a courageous Irishman. "What do you think these oars are, anyway—a flock of humming birds? Whoever heard of feathering a hundred-ton weight? Feather Pike's Peak, say I; it's just as easy."
Somehow we got back to the pier, but I was almost delirious by this time. The last part of the trip was all one drab, dull nightmare to me. This evening my hands were so swollen I was forced to the extremity of bribing a friend to hold the telephone receiver for me when I called up mother.
"What have you been doing?" she asked.
"Rowing," came my short answer.
"What a splendid outing!" she exclaimed. "You had such a lovely day for it, didn't you, dear?"
"Hang up that receiver!" I shouted to my friend; "hang it up, or my mother shall hear from the lips of her son words she should only hear from her husband."
May 9th. I am just after having been killed in a sham battle, and so consequently I feel rather ghastly to-day. I don't exactly know whether I was a Red or a Blue, because I did a deal of fighting on both sides, but always with the same result. I was killed instantly and completely. People got sick of putting me out of my misery after a while and I was allowed to wander around at large in a state of great mystification and excitement, shooting my blank bullets into the face of nature in an aimless sort of manner whenever the battle began to pall upon me.
Most of the time I passed pleasantly on the soft, fresh flank of a hill where for a while I slept until a cow breathed heavily in my face and reminded me that it was war after all. My instructions were to keep away from the guns, and get killed as soon as possible. As these instructions were not difficult to follow, I carried them out to the letter. I stayed away from the guns and I permitted myself to be killed several times in order to make sure it would take. After that I became a sort of composite camp follower, deserter and straggler.
In my wandering I chanced upon an ancient enemy of many past encounters.
"Are you Red or Blue?" I asked, preparing to die for the fifth time.
"No," he answered, sarcastically, "I'm what you might call elephant ear gray."
"Are you the guy the reporter for the camp paper was referring to in his last story?" I asked him.
"Yes," he replied, "the slandering blackguard."
"You hit me on the nose with a push-ball," said I.
"I'll do it again," said he.
"That reporter, evidently a man of some observation, said you didn't wash your neck and that you had the habits of a camel."
"But I do wash my neck," he said, stubbornly, "and I don't know anything about the habits of a camel, but whatever they might happen to be, I haven't got 'em."
"Yes," I replied, as if to myself, "you certainly should wash your neck. That's the very least you could do."
"But I tell you," he cried, desperately, "I keep telling you that I do wash my neck. Why do you go on talking about it as if I didn't! I tell you now, once for all time, that I do wash my neck, and that ends it. Don't talk any more. I want to think."
We sat in silence for a space, then I remarked casually, almost inaudibly, "and you certainly shouldn't have the habits of a camel."
The depraved creature stirred uneasily. "I ain't got 'em," he said.
"Good," I cried heartily. "We understand each other perfectly. In the future you will try to wash your neck and cease from having the habits of a camel. No compromise is necessary. I know you will keep your word."
"Go away quickly," he gasped, searching around for a stone to hurl at me, and discarding several because of their small size. "Go away to somewhere else. I'm telling you now, go away or else a special detail will find your lifeless body here in the bushes some time to-morrow."
"I've already been thoroughly killed several times to-day," I said, putting a tree between us, "but don't forget about the camel, and for heaven's sake do try to keep your neck—"
A stone hit the tree with a resounding crack, and I increased the distance.
"Damn the torpedoes!" I shouted back as I disappeared into the pleasant security of the sun-warmed woods.
May 11th. "What navy do you belong to?" asked an Ensign, stopping me to-day, "the Chinese?"
"Why do you ask, sir?" I replied, saluting gracefully. "Of course I don't belong to the Chinese Navy."
"What's your rating?" he snapped. "Show girl first class attached to the good ship Biff! Bang! sir," came my prompt retort.
"Well, put a watch mark on your arm, sailor, and put it there pronto, or you'll be needing an understudy to pinch hit for you."
As a matter of fact I have never put my watch mark on, for the simple reason that I have been rather expecting a rating at any moment, but it seems as if my expectations were doomed to disappointment.
Nothing matters much, anyway, now, however, for I have been selected from among all the men in the station to play the part of a Show Girl in the coming magnificent Pelham production, "Biff! Bang!" At last I have found the occupation to which by training and inclination I am naturally adapted. The Grand Moguls that are running this show came around the barracks the other day looking for material, and when they gazed upon me I felt sure that their search had not been in vain.
"Why don't you write a 'nut' part for him?" asked one of them of the playwright as they surveyed me critically as if I was some rare specimen of bug life.
"That would never do," he answered. "Real 'nuts' can never play the part on the stage. You've got to have a man of intelligence."
"Look here," I broke in. "You've got to stop talking about me before my face as if I wasn't really present. Nuts I may be, but I can still understand English, even when badly spoken, and resent it. Lay off that stuff or I'll be constrained to introduce you to a new brand of 'Biff! Bang!'"
Saying this, I struck an heroic attitude, but it seemed to produce no startling change in their calm, deliberate examination of me.
"He'll do, I think, as a Show Girl," the dance-master mused dreamily. "Like a cabbage, every one of his features is bad, but the whole effect is not revolting. Strange, isn't it, how such things happen." At this point the musician broke in.
"He ain't agoing to dance to my music if I know it. He'll ruin it." At which remark I executed a few rather simple but nevertheless neat steps I had learned at the last charity Bazaar to which I had contributed my services, and these few steps were sufficient to close the deal. I was signed up on the spot. As they were leaving the barracks one excited young person ran up and halted the arrogant Thespians. "If I get the doctor to remove my Adam's Apple," he pleaded wistfully, "do you think you could take me on as a pony?"
"No," said one of them, not without a certain show of kindness. "I fear not. It would be necessary for him to remove the greater part of your map and graft a couple of pounds on to your sadly unendowed limbs."
From that day on my life has become one of unremitting toil. Together with the rest of the Show Girls I vamp and slouch my way around the clock with ever increasing seductiveness. We are really doing splendidly. The ponies come leaping lightly across the floor waving their freckled, muscular arms from side to side and looking very unattractive indeed in their B.V.D.'s, high shoes and sock supporters. "I can see it all," says the Director, in an enthusiastic voice, and if he can I'll admit he has some robust quality of imagination that I fail to possess.
Us Show Girls, of course, have to be a little more modest than the ponies, so we retain our white trousers. These are rolled up, however, in order to afford the mosquitoes, who are covering the show most conscientiously, room to roost on. And sad to relate, the life is beginning to affect the boys. Only yesterday I saw one of our toughest ponies vamping up the aisle of Mess Hall No. 2 with his tray held over his head in the manner of a Persian slave girl. The Jimmy-legs, witnessing this strange sight, dropped his jaw and forgot to lift it up again. "Sweet attar of roses," he muttered. "What ever has happened to our poor, long-suffering navy?" At the door of the Mess Hall the pony bowed low to the deck and withdrew with a coy backward flirt of his foot.
I can't express in words the remarkable appearance made by some of our seagoing chorus girls when they attempt to assume the light and airy graces of the real article. Some of the men have so deeply entered into their parts that they have attained absolute self-forgetfulness, with the result that they leap and preen about in a manner quite startling to the dispassionate spectator. My career so far has not been a personal triumph. In the middle of a number, the other night, the dancing master clapped his hands violently together, a signal he uses when he wants all motion to cease.
"Take 'em down to the end of the room, boys," he said. "I can tell three minutes ahead of time when things are going to go wrong. That man on the end didn't have a thought in his head. He would have smeared the entire number." I was the man on the end.
May 23d. This has not been a particularly agreeable day, although to a woman no doubt it would have been laden with moments of exquisite ecstasy. Feminine apparel for me has lost for ever the charm of mystery that formerly touched it with enchantment. There is nothing I do not know now. Its innermost secret has been revealed and its revelation has brought with it its full burden of woe. All knowledge is pain and vice versa. I have always admired women; whether so profoundly as they have admired me I know not; however that may be, I have always admired them collectively and individually in the past, but after today's experience my admiration is tinged with pity. The source of these reflections lies in no less an article than a corset. As a Show Girl, it has been my lot to be provided with one of these fiendish devices of medieval days. It is too much. The corset must go. No woman could have experienced the pain and discomfort I have been subjected to this day without feeling entitled to the vote. Yet I dare say there are women who would gladly be poured into a new corset every day of their lives. They can have mine for the asking. Life at its best presents a narrow enough outlook without resorting to cunningly wrought devices such as corsets in order further to confine one's point of view or abdomen, which amounts to the same thing. The whale is a noble animal, it was a very good idea, the whale, and I love every bone in its body, so long as it keeps them there. So tightly was my body clutched in the embrace of this vicious contraption that I found it impossible to inhale my much needed cigarette. The smoke would descend no further than my throat. The rest of me was a closed port, a roadway blocked to traffic. I have suffered.
But there were also other devices, other soft, seductive under strappings. I know them all to their last most intimate detail. I feel that now I could join a woman's sewing circle and talk with as much authority and wisdom as the most veteraned corset wearer present. My views would be radical perhaps but at least they would have the virtue of being refreshing.
However, I can see some good coming out of my unavoidably acquired knowledge of female attire. In future days, while my wife is out purchasing shirts and neckties for me, I can easily employ my time to advantage in shopping around Fifth Avenue in search of the correct thing in lingerie for her. It will be a great help to the household and I am sure impress my wife with the depth and range of my education, which I will be able to tell her, thank God, was innocently acquired.
May 28th. I am slowly forming back into my pristine shape but only after having been freed from bondage for some hours. After several more sodas, concoctions which up till recently I have despised as injurious, I guess I will have filled out to my usual dimensions around the waist line, but when I consider the long days of womanhood stretched out before me in the future I will admit it is with a sinking not only of the waist, but also of the heart.
More indignities have been heaped upon me. Why did I ever take up the profession of a show girl? To-day I fell into the clutches of the barbers. They were not gentle clutches, brutal rather; and such an outspoken lot they were at that.
"What's that?" asked one of them as I stood rather nervously before him with bared chest.
"Why, that," I replied, a trifle disconcerted, "that's my chest."
He looked at me for a moment, then smiled a slow, pitying smile. "Hey, Tony," he suddenly called to his colleague, "come over here a moment and see what this bird claims to be a chest."
All this yelled in the faces of the entire Biff-Bang company. It was more inhuman and debasing than my first physical examination in public. The doctors on this occasion, although they had not complimented me, had at least been comparatively impersonal in despatching their offices, but these men were far from being impersonal. I perceived with horror that it was their intention to use my chest as a means of bringing humor into their drab existences. Tony came and surveyed me critically.
"That," he drawled musically, "ees not a chest. That ees the bottom part of hees neck."
"I know it is," replied the other, "but somehow his arms have gotten mixed up in the middle of it."
Tony shrugged his shoulders eloquently. He assumed the appearance of a man completely baffled.
"Honestly, now, young feller," continued my first tormentor, "are you serious when you try to tell us that that is your chest?"
He drew attention to the highly disputed territory by poking me diligently with his thumb.
"That's the part the doctor always listened to whenever I had a cold," I replied as indifferently as possible. The man pondered over this for a moment.
"Well," he replied at length, "probably the doctor was right, but to the impartial observer it would seem to be, as my friend Tony so accurately observed, the bottom part of your neck."
"It really doesn't matter much after all," I replied, hoping to close the conversation. "You all were not sent here to establish the location of the different parts of my anatomy, anyway."
The man appeared not to have heard me. "I'd swear," he murmured musingly, standing back and regarding me with tilted head, "I'd swear it was his neck if it warn't for his arms." He suddenly discontinued his dreamy observations and became all business.
"Well, sir," he began briskly, "now that we've settled that what do you want me to do to it?"
"Why, shave it, of course," I replied bitterly. "That's what you're here for, isn't it? All us Show Girls have got to have our chests shaved."
"An' after I've shaved your chest, dear," he asked in a soothing voice, "what do you want me to do with it?"
"With what?" I replied, enraged, "with my chest?"
"No," he answered easily, "not your chest, but that one poor little pitiful hair that adorns it. Do you want me to send it home to your ma, all tied around with a pink ribbon?"
I saw no reason to reply to this insult, but stood uneasily and tried to maintain my dignity while he lathered me with undue elaboration. When it was time for him to produce his razor he faltered.
"I can't do it," he said brokenly, "I haven't the heart to cut it down in its prime. It looks so lonely and helpless there by itself." He swept his razor around several times with a free-handed, blood-curdling swoop of his arm. "Well, here goes," he said, shutting his eyes and approaching me. Tony turned away as if unable to witness the scene. I was unnerved, but I stood my ground. The deed was done and I was at last free to depart. "That's a terrible chest for a Show Girl," I heard him to say to Tony as I did so.
May 29th. The world has come clattering down around my ears and I am buried, crushed and bruised beneath the debris. There was a dress rehearsal to-day, and I, from the whole company, was singled out for the wrath of the gods.
"Who is that chorus girl on the end acting frantic?" cried out one of the directors in the middle of a number. My name was shouted across the stage until it echoed and resounded and came bounding back in my face from every corner of the shadow-plunged theater. I knew I was in for it and drew myself up majestically although I turned pale under my war paint.
"Well, tell him he isn't walking on stilts," continued the director, and although it was perfectly unnecessary, I was told that and several other things with brutal candor. The dance went on but I knew the eyes of the director were on me. My legs seemed to lose all proper coordination. My arms became unmanageable. I lost step and could not pick it up again, yet, as in a nightmare, I struggled on desperately. Suddenly the director clapped his hands. The music ceased, and I slowed down to an uneasy shuffle.
"Sweetheart," said the director, addressing me personally, "you're not dancing. You're swimming, that's what you're doing. As a Persian girl you would make a first class squaw." He halted for a moment and then bawled out in a great voice, "Understudy!" and I was removed from the stage in a fainting condition. This evening I was shipped back to camp a thoroughly discredited Show Girl. I had labored long in vicious, soul-squelching corsets and like Samson been shorn of my locks, and here I am after all my sacrifices relegated back to the scrap heap. Why am I always the unfortunate one? I must have a private plot in the sky strewn with unlucky stars. Camp routine after the free life of the stage is unbearably irksome. My particular jimmy legs was so glad to see me back that he almost cried as he thrust a broom and a swab into my hands.
"Bear a hand," he said gleefully, "get to work and stick to it. We're short of men," he added, "and there is no end of things for you to do."
I did them all and he was right. There surely is no end to the things he can devise for me to do. I long for the glamour and footlights of the gay white way, but I have been cast out and rejected as many a Show Girl has been before me.
June 1st. The morning papers say all sort of nice things about Biff-Bang but I can hardly believe them sincere after the treatment I received. I know for a fact that the man who took my place was knock-kneed and that the rest of his figure could not hold a candle to mine.
I still feel convinced that Biff-Bang lost one of its most prepossessing and talented artists when I was so unceremoniously removed from the chorus.
June 10th. I was standing doing harm to no one in a vague, rather unfortunate way I have, when all of a sudden, without word or warning, a very competent looking sailor seized me by the shoulders and, thrusting his face close to mine, cried out:
"Do you want to make a name for yourself in the service?"
I left the ground two feet below me in my fright and when I alighted there were tears of eagerness in my eyes.
"Yes," I replied breathlessly, "oh, sir, yes."
"Then pick up that," he cried dramatically, pointing to a cigar butt on the parade ground. I didn't wait for the laughter. I didn't have to. It was forthcoming immediately. Huge peals of it. Sailors are a very low tribe of vertebrate. They seem to hang around most of the time waiting for something to laugh at—usually me. It is my belief that I have been the subject of more mirth since I came to camp than any other man on the station. Whatever I do I seem to do it too much or too little. There even seems to be something mirth-provoking in my personal appearance, which I have always regarded hitherto not without a certain shade of satisfaction. Only the other day I caught the eyes of the gloomiest sailor in camp studying me with a puzzled expression. He gazed at me for such a long time that I became quite disconcerted. Slowly a smile spread over his face, then a strange, rusty laugh forced itself through his lips.
"Doggone if I can solve it," he chuckled, turning away and shaking his head; "it's just simply too much for me."
He looked back once, clapped his hands over his mouth and proceeded merrily on his way. I am glad of course to be able to bring joy into the lives of sailors, but I did not enlist for that sole purpose. Returning to the cigar butt, however, I was really quite disappointed. I do so want to make a name for myself in the service that I would eagerly jump at the chance of sailing up the Kiel canal in a Barnegat Sneak Box were it not for the fact that sailing always makes me deathly sick. I don't know why it is, but the more I have to do with water the more reasons I find for shunning it. The cigar butt episode broke my heart though. I was all keyed up for some heroic deed—what an anti-climax! I left the spot in a bitter, humiliated mood. There is only one comforting part about the whole affair—I did not pick up that cigar butt. He did, I'll bet, though when nobody was looking. I don't know as I blame him—there were still several healthy drags left in it.
June 11th. This war is going to put a lot of Chinamen out of business if it keeps up much longer. The first thing a sailor will do after he has been paid off will be to establish a laundry, and he won't be a slouch at the business at that. I feel sure that I am qualified right now to take in family laundry and before the end of summer I guess I'll be able to do fancy work. At present I am what you might call a first class laundryman, but I'm not a fancy laundryman yet. Since they've put us in whites I go around with the washer-woman's complaint most of the time. Terrible shooting pains in my back! My sympathy for the downtrodden is increasing by leaps and bounds. I can picture myself without any effort of the imagination bending over a tub after the war doing the family washing while my wife is out running for alderman or pulling the wires to be appointed Commissioner of the Docks. The white clothes situation, however, is serious. It seems that every spare moment I have I am either washing or thinking of washing or just after having washed, and to one who possesses as I do the uncanny faculty of being able to get dirtier in more places in the shortest space of time than any ten street children picked at random could ever equal, life presents one long vista of soap and suds.