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The Enormous Room by Edward Estlin Cummings

Part 3 out of 5

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is the language of the Hollanders, crisply and firmly. He is not given to
Gottverdummering. In addition to Dutch and English he speaks French
clearly and Belgian distinctly. I daresay he knows half a dozen languages
in all. He gives me the impression of a man who would never be at a loss,
in whatever circumstances he might find himself. A man capable of
extricating himself from the most difficult situation; and that with the
greatest ease. A man who bides his time; and improves the present by
separating, one after one, his monied fellow-prisoners from their
banknotes. He is, by all odds, the coolest player that I ever watched.
Nothing worries him. If he loses two hundred francs tonight, I am sure he
will win it and fifty in addition tomorrow. He accepts opponents without
distinction--the stupid, the wily, the vain, the cautious, the desperate,
the hopeless. He has not the slightest pity, not the least fear. In one
of my numerous notebooks I have this perfectly direct paragraph:

Card table: 4 stares play banque with 2 cigarettes (1 dead) & A
pipe the clashing faces yanked by a leanness of one candle
bottle-stuck (Birth of X) (where sits The Clever Man who
pyramids,) sings (mornings) "Meet Me..."

which specimen of telegraphic technique, being interpreted, means: Judas,
Garibaldi, and The Holland Skipper (whom the reader will meet _de
suite_)--Garibaldi's cigarette having gone out, so greatly is he
absorbed--play _banque_ with four intent and highly focussed individuals
who may or may not be The Schoolmaster, Monsieur Auguste, The Barber, and
Meme; with The Clever Man (as nearly always) acting as banker. The candle
by whose somewhat uncorpulent illumination the various physiognomies are
yanked into a ferocious unity is stuck into the mouth of a bottle. The
lighting of the whole, the rhythmic disposition of the figures, construct
a sensuous integration suggestive of The Birth of Christ by one of the
Old Masters. The Clever Man, having had his usual morning warble, is
extremely quiet. He will win, he pyramids--and he pyramids because he has
the cash and can afford to make every play a big one. All he needs is the
rake of a _croupier_ to complete his disinterested and wholly nerveless
poise. He is a born gambler, is The Clever Man--and I dare say that to
play cards in time of war constituted a heinous crime and I am certain
that he played cards before he arrived at La Ferte; moreover, I suppose
that to win at cards in time of war is an unutterable crime, and I know
that he has won at cards before in his life--so now we have a perfectly
good and valid explanation of the presence of The Clever Man in our
midst. The Clever Man's chief opponent was Judas. It was a real pleasure
to us whenever of an evening Judas sweated and mopped and sweated and
lost more and more and was finally cleaned out.

But The Skipper, I learned from certain prisoners who escorted the
baggage of The Clever Man from The Enormous Room when he left us one day
(as he did for some reason, to enjoy the benefits of freedom), paid the
mastermind of the card table 150 francs at the gate--poor Skipper! upon
whose vacant bed lay down luxuriously the Lobster, immediately to be
wheeled fiercely all around The Enormous Room by the Guard Champetre and
Judas, to the boisterous plaudits of _tout le monde_--but I started to
tell about the afternoon when the master-mind lost his knife; and tell it
I will forthwith. B. and I were lying prone upon our respective beds
when--presto, a storm arose at the further end of The Enormous Room. We
looked, and beheld The Clever Man, thoroughly and efficiently angry,
addressing, threatening and frightening generally a constantly increasing
group of fellow-prisoners. After dismissing with a few sharp linguistic
cracks of the whip certain theories which seemed to be advanced by the
bolder auditors with a view to palliating, persuading and tranquilizing
his just wrath, he made for the nearest _paillasse_, turned it
topsy-turvy, slit it neatly and suddenly from stem to stem with a
jack-knife, banged the hay about, and then went with careful haste
through the pitifully minute baggage of the _paillasse's_ owner. Silence
fell. No one, least of all the owner, said anything. From this bed The
Clever Man turned to the next, treated it in the same fashion, searched
it thoroughly, and made for the third. His motions were those of a
perfectly oiled machine. He proceeded up the length of the room, varying
his procedure only by sparing an occasional mattress, throwing
_paillasses_ about, tumbling _sacs_ and boxes inside out; his face
somewhat paler than usual but otherwise immaculate and expressionless. B.
and I waited with some interest to see what would happen to our
belongings. Arriving at our beds he paused, seemed to consider a moment,
then, not touching our _paillasses_ proper, proceeded to open our duffle
bags and hunt half-heartedly, remarking that "somebody might have put it
in;" and so passed on. "What in hell is the matter with that guy?" I
asked of Fritz, who stood near us with a careless air, some scorn and
considerable amusement in his eyes. "The bloody fool's lost his knife,"
was Fritz's answer. After completing his rounds The Clever Man searched
almost everyone except ourselves and Fritz, and absolutely subsided on
his own _paillasse_ muttering occasionally "if he found it" what he'd do.
I think he never did find it. It was a "beautiful" knife, John the
Baigneur said. "What did it look like?" I demanded with some curiosity.
"It had a naked woman on the handle" Fritz said, his eyes sharp with

And everyone agreed that it was a great pity that The Clever Man had lost
it, and everyone began timidly to restore order and put his personal
belongings back in place and say nothing at all.

But what amused me was to see the little tot in a bluish-grey French
uniform, Garibaldi, who--about when the search approached his
_paillasse_--suddenly hurried over to B. (his perspiring forehead more
perspiring than usual, his _kepi_ set at an angle of insanity) and
hurriedly presented B. with a long-lost German silver folding camp-knife,
purchased by B. from a fellow-member of Vingt-et-Un who was known to us
as "Lord Algie"--a lanky, effeminate, brittle, spotless creature who was
en route to becoming an officer and to whose finicky tastes the
fat-jowled A. tirelessly pandered, for, doubtless, financial
considerations--which knife according to the trembling and altogether
miserable Garibaldi had "been found" by him that day in the _cour_; which
was eminently and above all things curious, as the treasure had been lost
weeks before.

Which again brings us to the Skipper, whose elaborate couch has already
been mentioned--he was a Hollander and one of the strongest, most gentle
and altogether most pleasant of men, who used to sit on the water-wagon
under the shed in the _cour_ and smoke his pipe quietly of an afternoon.
His stocky even tightly-knit person, in its heavy-trousers and jersey
sweater, culminated in a bronzed face which was at once as kind and firm
a piece of supernatural work as I think I ever knew. His voice was
agreeably modulated. He was utterly without affectation. He had three
sons. One evening a number of _gendarmes_ came to his house and told him
that he was arrested, "so my three sons and I threw them all out of the
window into the canal."

I can still see the opening smile, squared kindness of cheeks, eyes like
cool keys--his heart always with the Sea.

The little Machine-Fixer (_le petit bonhomme avec le bras casse_ as he
styled himself, referring to his little paralysed left arm) was so
perfectly different that I must let you see him next. He was slightly
taller than Garibaldi, about of a size with Monsieur Auguste. He and
Monsieur Auguste together were a fine sight, a sight which made me feel
that I came of a race of giants. I am afraid it was more or less as
giants that B. and I pitied the Machine-Fixer--still this was not really
our fault, since the Machine-Fixer came to us with his troubles much as a
very minute and helpless child comes to a very large and omnipotent one.
And God knows we did not only pity him, we liked him--and if we could in
some often ridiculous manner assist the Machine-Fixer I think we nearly
always did. The assistance to which I refer was wholly spiritual; since
the minute Machine-Fixer's colossal self-pride eliminated any possibility
of material assistance. What we did, about every other night, was to
entertain him (as we entertained our other friends) _chez nous_; that is
to say, he would come up late every evening or every other evening, after
his day's toil--for he worked as co-sweeper with Garibaldi and he was a
tremendous worker; never have I seen a man who took his work so seriously
and made so much of it--to sit, with great care and very respectfully,
upon one or the other of our beds at the upper end of The Enormous Room,
and smoke a black small pipe, talking excitedly and strenuously and
fiercely about _La Misere_ and himself and ourselves, often crying a
little but very bitterly, and from time to time striking matches with a
short angry gesture on the sole of his big, almost square boot. His
little, abrupt, conscientious, relentless, difficult self lived always in
a single dimension--the somewhat beautiful dimension of Sorrow. He was a
Belgian, and one of two Belgians in whom I have ever felt the least or
slightest interest; for the Machine-Fixer might have been a Polak or an
Idol or an Esquimo so far as his nationality affected his soul. By and
large, that was the trouble--the Machine-Fixer had a soul. Put the
bracelets on an ordinary man, tell him he's a bad egg, treat him rough,
shove him into the jug or its equivalent (you see I have regard always
for M. le Surveillant's delicate but no doubt necessary distinction
between La Ferte and Prison), and he will become one of three animals--a
rabbit, that is to say timid; a mole, that is to say stupid; or a hyena,
that is to say Harree the Hollander. But if, by some fatal, some
incomparably fatal accident, this man has a soul--ah, then we have and
truly have most horribly what is called in La Ferte Mace by those who
have known it: _La Misere_. Monsieur Auguste's valiant attempts at
cheerfulness and the natural buoyancy of his gentle disposition in a
slight degree protected him from _La Misere_. The Machine-Fixer was lost.
By nature he was tremendously sensible, he was the very apotheosis of
_l'ame sensible_ in fact. His sensibilite made him shoulder not only the
inexcusable injustice which he had suffered but the incomparable and
overwhelming total injustice which everyone had suffered and was
suffering en masse day and night in The Enormous Room. His woes, had they
not sprung from perfectly real causes, might have suggested a persecution
complex. As it happened there was no possible method of relieving
them--they could be relieved in only one way: by Liberty. Not simply by
his personal liberty, but by the liberation of every single
fellow-captive as well. His extraordinarily personal anguish could not be
selfishly appeased by a merely partial righting, in his own case, of the
Wrong--the ineffable and terrific and to be perfectly avenged Wrong--done
to those who ate and slept and wept and played cards within that
abominable and unyielding Symbol which enclosed the immutable vileness of
our common life. It was necessary, for its appeasement, that a shaft of
bright lightning suddenly and entirely should wither the human and
material structures which stood always between our filthy and pitiful
selves and the unspeakable cleanness of Liberty.

B. recalls that the little Machine-Fixer said or hinted that he had been
either a socialist or an anarchist when he was young. So that is
doubtless why we had the privilege of his society. After all, it is
highly improbable that this poor socialist suffered more at the hands of
the great and good French government than did many a Conscientious
Objector at the hands of the great and good American government;
or--since all great governments are _per se_ good and vice versa--than
did many a man in general who was cursed with a talent for thinking
during the warlike moments recently passed; during, that is to say, an
epoch when the g. and g. nations demanded of their respective peoples the
exact antithesis to thinking; said antitheses being vulgarly called
Belief. Lest which statement prejudice some members of the American
Legion in disfavour of the Machine-Fixer or rather of myself--awful
thought--I hasten to assure everyone that the Machine-Fixer was a highly
moral person. His morality was at times almost gruesome; as when he got
started on the inhabitants of the women's quarters. Be it understood that
the Machine-Fixer was human, that he would take a letter--provided he
liked the sender--and deliver it to the sender's _adoree_ without a
murmur. That was simply a good deed done for a friend; it did not imply
that he approved of the friend's choice, which for strictly moral reasons
he invariably and to the friend's very face violently deprecated. To this
little man of perhaps forty-five, with a devoted wife waiting for him in
Belgium (a wife whom he worshipped and loved more than he worshipped and
loved anything in the world, a wife whose fidelity to her husband and
whose trust and confidence in him echoed in the letters which--when we
three were alone--the little Machine-Fixer tried always to read to us,
never getting beyond the first sentence or two before he broke down and
sobbed from his feet to his eyes), to such a little person his reaction
to _les femmes_ was more than natural. It was in fact inevitable.

Women, to him at least, were of two kinds and two kinds only. There were
_les femmes honnetes_ and there were _les putains_. In La Ferte, he
informed us--and as _balayeur_ he ought to have known whereof he
spoke--there were as many as three ladies of the former variety. One of
them he talked with often. She told him her story. She was a Russian, of
a very fine education, living peacefully in Paris up to the time that she
wrote to her relatives a letter containing the following treasonable

"_Je mennuie pour les neiges de Russie._"

The letter had been read by the French censor, as had B.'s letter; and
her arrest and transference from her home in Paris to La Ferte Mace
promptly followed. She was as intelligent as she was virtuous and had
nothing to do with her frailer sisters, so the Machine-Fixer informed us
with a quickly passing flash of joy. Which sisters (his little forehead
knotted itself and his big bushy eyebrows plunged together wrathfully)
were wicked and indecent and utterly despicable disgraces to their
sex--and this relentless Joseph fiercely and jerkily related how only the
day before he had repulsed the painfully obvious solicitations of a
Madame Potiphar by turning his back, like a good Christian, upon
temptation and marching out of the room, broom tightly clutched in
virtuous hand.

"_M'sieu Jean_" (meaning myself) "_savez-vous_"--with a terrific gesture
which consisted in snapping his thumbnail between his teeth--"_CA PUE!_"

Then he added: "And what would my wife say to me if I came home to her
and presented her with that which this creature had presented to me? They
are animals," cried the little Machine-Fixer; "all they want is a man.
They don't care who he is; they want a man. But they won't get me!" And
he warned us to beware.

Especially interesting, not to say valuable, was the Machine-Fixer's
testimony concerning the more or less regular "inspections" (which were
held by the very same doctor who had "examined" me in the course of my
first day at La Ferte) for _les femmes_; presumably in the interest of
public safety. _Les femmes_, quoth the Machine-Fixer, who had been many
times an eye-witness of this proceeding, lined up talking and laughing
and--crime of crimes--smoking cigarettes, outside the bureau of M. le
Medecin Major. "_Une femme entre. Elle se leve les jupes jusqu'au menton
et se met sur le banc. Le medecin major la regarde. Il dit de suite 'Bon.
C'est tout.' Elle sort. Une autre entre. La meme chose. 'Bon. C'est
fini'.... M'sieu' Jean: prenez garde!_"

And he struck a match fiercely on the black, almost square boot which
lived on the end of his little worn trouser-leg, bending his small body
forward as he did so, and bringing the flame upward in a violent curve.
The flame settled on his little black pipe, his cheeks sucked until they
must have met, and a slow unwilling noise arose, and with the return of
his cheeks a small colorless wisp of possibly smoke came upon the
air.--"That's not tobacco. Do you know what it is? It's wood! And I sit
here smoking wood in my pipe when my wife is sick with worrying....
_M'sieu! Jean_"--leaning forward with jaw protruding and a oneness of
bristly eyebrows, "_Ces grande messieurs qui ne foutent 'pas mal si l'on
CREVE de faim, savez-vous ils croient chacun qu'il est Le Bon Dieu
LUI-Meme. Et M'sieu' Jean, savez-vous, ils sont tous_"--leaning right in
my face, the withered hand making a pitiful fist of itself--"_ils. Sont.

And his ghastly and toylike wizened and minute arm would try to make a
pass at their lofty lives. O _gouvernement francais_, I think it was not
very clever of you to put this terrible doll in La Ferte; I should have
left him in Belgium with his little doll-wife if I had been You; for when
governments are found dead there is always a little doll on top of them,
pulling and tweaking with his little hands to get back the microscopic
knife which sticks firmly in the quiet meat of their hearts.

One day only did I see him happy or nearly happy--when a Belgian baroness
for some reason arrived, and was bowed and fed and wined by the
delightfully respectful and perfectly behaved Official Captors--"and I
know of her in Belgium, she is a great lady, she is very powerful and she
is generous; I fell on my knees before her, and implored her in the name
of my wife and _Le Bon Dieu_ to intercede in my behalf; and she has made
a note of it, and she told me she would write the Belgian King and I will
be free in a few weeks, FREE!"

The little Machine-Fixer, I happen to know, did finally leave La
Ferte--for Precigne.

... In the kitchen worked a very remarkable person. Who wore _sabots_.
And sang continuously in a very subdued way to himself as he stirred the
huge black kettles. We, that is to say, B. and I, became acquainted with
Afrique very gradually. You did not know Afrique suddenly. You became
cognisant of Afrique gradually. You were in the _cour_, staring at ooze
and dead trees, when a figure came striding from the kitchen lifting its
big wooden feet after it rhythmically, unwinding a particoloured scarf
from its waist as it came, and singing to itself in a subdued manner a
jocular, and I fear, unprintable ditty concerning Paradise. The figure
entered the little gate to the _cour_ in a business-like way, unwinding
continuously, and made stridingly for the cabinet situated up against the
stone wall which separated the promenading sexes--dragging behind it on
the ground a tail of ever-increasing dimensions. The cabinet reached,
tail and figure parted company; the former fell inert to the limitless
mud, the latter disappeared into the contrivance with a Jack-in-the-box
rapidity. From which contrivance the continuing ditty

"_le 'paradis est une maison...._"

--Or again, it's a lithe pausing poise, intensely intelligent, certainly
sensitive, delivering dryingly a series of sure and rapid hints that
penetrate the fabric of stupidity accurately and whisperingly; dealing
one after another brief and poignant instupidities, distinct and
uncompromising, crisp and altogether arrowlike. The poise has a cigarette
in its hand, which cigarette it has just pausingly rolled from material
furnished by a number of carefully saved butts (whereof Afrique's pockets
are invariably full). Its neither old nor young, but rather keen face
hoards a pair of greyish-blue witty eyes, which face and eyes are
directed upon us through the open door of a little room. Which little
room is in the rear of the _cuisine_; a little room filled with the
inexpressibly clean and soft odour of newly cut wood. Which wood we are
pretending to split and pile for kindling. As a matter of fact we are
enjoying Afrique's conversation, escaping from the bleak and profoundly
muddy _cour_, and (under the watchful auspices of the Cook, who plays
sentinel) drinking something approximating coffee with something
approximating sugar therein. All this because the Cook thinks we're
boches and being the Cook and a boche _lui-meme_ is consequently
peculiarly concerned for our welfare.

Afrique is talking about _les journaux_, and to what prodigious pains
they go to not tell the truth; or he is telling how a native stole up on
him in the night armed with a spear two metres long, once on a time in a
certain part of the world; or he is predicting that the Germans will
march upon the French by way of Switzerland; or he is teaching us to
count and swear in Arabic; or he is having a very good time in the Midi
as a tinker, sleeping under a tree outside of a little town....

Afrique's is an alert kind of mind, which has been and seen and observed
and penetrated and known--a bit there, somewhat here, chiefly everywhere.
Its specialty being politics, in which case Afrique has had the
inestimable advantage of observing without being observed--until La
Ferte; whereupon Afrique goes on uninterruptedly observing, recognising
that a significant angle of observation has been presented to him gratis.
_Les journaux_ and politics in general are topics upon which Afrique can
say more, without the slightest fatigue, than a book as big as my two

"Why yes, they got water, and then I gave them coffee," Monsieur, or more
properly Mynheer _le chef_, is expostulating; the _planton_ is stupidly
protesting that we are supposed to be upstairs; Afrique is busily
stirring a huge black pot, winking gravely at us and singing softly

"_Le bon Dieu, Soul comme un cochon...._"



The inhabitants of The Enormous Room whose portraits I have attempted in
the preceding chapter, were, with one or two exceptions, inhabiting at
the time of my arrival. Now the thing which above all things made death
worth living and life worth dying at La Ferte Mace was the kinetic aspect
of that institution; the arrivals, singly or in groups, of _nouveaux_ of
sundry nationalities whereby our otherwise more or less simple existence
was happily complicated, our putrescent placidity shaken by a fortunate
violence. Before, however, undertaking this aspect I shall attempt to
represent for my own benefit as well as the reader's certain more obvious
elements of that stasis which greeted the candidates for disintegration
upon their admittance to our select, not to say distinguished, circle.
Or: I shall describe, briefly, Apollyon and the instruments of his power,
which instruments are three in number: Fear, Women and Sunday.

By Apollyon I mean a very definite fiend. A fiend who, secluded in the
sumptuous and luxurious privacy of his own personal _bureau_ (which as a
rule no one of lesser rank than the Surveillant was allowed, so far as I
might observe--and I observed--to enter) compelled to the unimaginable
meanness of his will by means of the three potent instruments in question
all within the sweating walls of La Ferte--that was once upon a time
human. I mean a very complete Apollyon, a Satan whose word is dreadful
not because it is painstakingly unjust, but because it is
incomprehensibly omnipotent. I mean, in short, Monsieur le Directeur.

I shall discuss first of all Monsieur le Directeur's most obvious weapon.

Fear was instilled by three means into the erstwhile human entities whose
presence at La Ferte gave Apollyon his job. The three means were: through
his subordinates, who being one and all fearful of his power directed
their energies to but one end--the production in ourselves of a similar
emotion; through two forms of punishment, which supplied said
subordinates with a weapon over any of us who refused to find room for
this desolating emotion in his heart of hearts; and, finally, through
direct contact with his unutterable personality.

Beneath the Demon was the Surveillant. I have already described the
Surveillant. I wish to say, however, that in my opinion the Surveillant
was the most decent official at La Ferte. I pay him this tribute gladly
and honestly. To me, at least, he was kind: to the majority he was
inclined to be lenient. I honestly and gladly believe that the
Surveillant was incapable of that quality whose innateness, in the case
of his superior, rendered that gentleman a (to my mind) perfect
representative of the Almighty French Government: I believe that the
Surveillant did not enjoy being cruel, that he was not absolutely without
pity or understanding. As a personality I therefore pay him my respects.
I am myself incapable of caring whether, as a tool of the Devil, he will
find the bright firelight of Hell too warm for him or no.

Beneath the Surveillant were the Secretaire, Monsieur Richard, the Cook,
and the _plantons_. The first I have described sufficiently, since he was
an obedient and negative--albeit peculiarly responsible--cog in the
machine of decomposition. Of Monsieur Richard, whose portrait is included
in the account of my first day at La Ferte, I wish to say that he had a
very comfortable room of his own filled with primitive and otherwise
imposing medicines; the walls of this comfortable room being beauteously
adorned by some fifty magazine covers representing the female form in
every imaginable state of undress, said magazine-covers being taken
chiefly from such amorous periodicals as _Le Sourire_ and that old
stand-by of indecency, _La Vie Parisienne_. Also Monsieur Richard kept a
pot of geraniums upon his window-ledge, which haggard and aged-looking
symbol of joy he doubtless (in his spare moments) peculiarly enjoyed
watering. The Cook is by this time familiar to my reader. I beg to say
that I highly approve of The Cook; exclusive of the fact that the coffee,
which went up to The Enormous Room _tous les matins_, was made every day
with the same grounds plus a goodly injection of checkerberry--for the
simple reason that the Cook had to supply our captors and especially
Apollyon with real coffee, whereas what he supplied to _les hommes_ made
no difference. The same is true of sugar: our morning coffee, in addition
to being a water-thin, black, muddy, stinking liquid, contained not the
smallest suggestion of sweetness, whereas the coffee which went to the
officials--and the coffee which B. and I drank in recompense for
"catching water"--had all the sugar you could possibly wish for. The poor
Cook was fined one day as a result of his economies, subsequent to a
united action on the part of the fellow-sufferers. It was a day when a
gent immaculately dressed appeared--after duly warning the Fiend that he
was about to inspect the Fiend's menage--an, I think, public official of
Orne. Judas (at the time _chef de chambre_) supported by the sole and
unique indignation of all his fellow-prisoners save two or three out of
whom Fear had made rabbits or moles, early carried the pail (which by
common agreement not one of us had touched that day) downstairs, along
the hall, and up one flight--where he encountered the Directeur,
Surveillant and Handsome Stranger all amicably and pleasantly conversing.
Judas set the pail down; bowed; and begged, as spokesman for the united
male gender of La Ferte Mace, that the quality of the coffee be examined.
"We won't any of us drink it, begging your pardon, Messieurs," he claims
that he said. What happened then is highly amusing. The _petit balayeur_,
an eye-witness of the proceeding, described it to me as follows:

"The Directeur roared '_COMMENT?_' He was horribly angry. '_Oui,
Monsieur_,' said the _maitre de chambre_ humbly--'_Pourquoi?_' thundered
the Directeur.--'Because it's undrinkable,' the _maitre de chambre_ said
quietly.--'Undrinkable? Nonsense!' cried the Directeur furiously.--'Be so
good as to taste it, Monsieur le Directeur.'--'_I_ taste it? Why should I
taste it? The coffee is perfectly good, plenty good for you men. This is
ridiculous--'--'Why don't we all taste it?' suggested the Surveillant
ingratiatingly.--'Why, yes,' said the Visitor mildly.--'Taste it? Of
course not. This is ridiculous and I shall punish--'--'I should like, if
you don't mind, to try a little,' the Visitor said.--'Oh, well, of
course, if you like,' the Directeur mildly agreed. 'Give me a cup of that
coffee, you!'--'With pleasure, sir,' said the _maitre de chambre._ The
Directeur--M'sieu' Jean, you would have burst laughing--seized the cup,
lifted it to his lips, swallowed with a frightful expression (his eyes
almost popping out of his head) and cried fiercely, 'DELICIOUS!' The
Surveillant took a cupful; sipped; tossed the coffee away, looking as if
he had been hit in the eyes, and remarked, 'Ah.' The _maitre de
chambre_--M'sieu' Jean he is clever--scooped the third cupful from the
bottom of the pail, and very politely, with a big bow, handed it to the
Visitor; who took it, touched it to his lips, turned perfectly green, and
cried out 'Impossible!' M'sieu' Jean, we all thought--the Directeur and
the Surveillant and the _maitre de chambre_ and myself--that he was going
to vomit. He leaned against the wall a moment, quite green; then
recovering said faintly--'The Kitchen.' The Directeur looked very nervous
and shouted, trembling all over, 'Yes, indeed! We'll see the cook about
this perfectly impossible coffee. I had no idea that my men were getting
such coffee. It's abominable! That's what it is, an outrage!'--And they
all tottered downstairs to The Cook; and M'sieu Jean, they searched the
kitchen; and what do you think? They found ten pounds of coffee and
twelve pounds of sugar all neatly hidden away, that The Cook had been
saving for himself out of our allowance. He's a beast, the Cook!"

I must say that, although the morning coffee improved enormously for as
much as a week, it descended afterwards to its original level of

The Cook, I may add, officiated three times a week at a little table to
the left as you entered the dining-room. Here he stood, and threw at
everyone (as everyone entered) a hunk of the most extraordinary meat
which I have ever had the privilege of trying to masticate--it could not
be tasted. It was pale and leathery. B. and myself often gave ours away
in our hungriest moments; which statement sounds as if we were generous
to others, whereas the reason for these donations was that we couldn't
eat, let alone stand the sight of this staple of diet. We had to do our
donating on the sly, since the _chef_ always gave us choice pieces and we
were anxious not to hurt the _chef's_ feelings. There was a good deal of
spasmodic protestation _apropos la viande_, but the Cook always bullied
it down--nor was the meat his fault; since, from the miserable carcases
which I have often seen carried into the kitchen from without, the Cook
had to select something which would suit the meticulous stomach of the
Lord of Hell, as also the less meticulous digestive organs of his
minions; and it was only after every _planton_ had got a piece of viande
to his plantonic taste that the captives, female and male, came in for

On the whole, I think I never envied the Cook his strange and difficult,
not to say gruesome, job. With the men en masse he was bound to be
unpopular. To the good-will of those above he was necessarily more or
less a slave. And on the whole, I liked the Cook very much, as did
B.--for the very good and sufficient reason that he liked us both.

About the _plantons_ I have something to say, something which it gives me
huge pleasure to say. I have to say, about the _plantons_, that as a
bunch they struck me at the time and will always impress me as the next
to the lowest species of human organism; the lowest, in my experienced
estimation, being the _gendarme_ proper. The _plantons_ were, with one
exception--he of the black holster with whom I collided on the first
day--changed from time to time. Again with this one exception, they were
(as I have noted) apparently disabled men who were enjoying a vacation
from the trenches in the lovely environs of Orne. Nearly all of them were
witless. Every one of them had something the matter with him physically
as well. For instance, one _planton_ had a large wooden hand. Another was
possessed of a long unmanageable left leg made, as nearly as I could
discover, of tin. A third had a huge glass eye.

These peculiarities of physique, however, did not inhibit the _plantons_
from certain essential and normal desires. On the contrary. The
_plantons_ probably realised that, in competition with the male world at
large, their glass legs and tin hands and wooden eyes would not stand a
Chinaman's chance of winning the affection and admiration of the fair
sex. At any rate they were always on the alert for opportunities to
triumph over the admiration and affection of _les femmes_ at La Ferte,
where their success was not endangered by competition. They had the bulge
on everybody; and they used what bulge they had to such good advantage
that one of them, during my stay, was pursued with a revolver by their
sergeant, captured, locked up and shipped off for court-martial on the
charge of disobedience and threatening the life of a superior officer. He
had been caught with the goods--that is to say, in the girl's
_cabinot_--by said superior: an incapable, strutting, undersized,
bepimpled person in a bright uniform who spent his time assuming the
poses of a general for the benefit of the ladies; of his admiration for
whom and his intentions toward whom he made no secret. By all means one
of the most disagreeable petty bullies whom I ever beheld. This arrest of
a _planton_ was, so long as I inhabited La Ferte, the only case in which
abuse of the weaker sex was punished. That attempts at abuse were
frequent I know from allusions and direct statements made in the letters
which passed by way of the sweeper from the girls to their captive
admirers. I might say that the senders of these letters, whom I shall
attempt to portray presently, have my unmitigated and unqualified
admiration. By all odds they possessed the most terrible vitality and
bravery of any human beings, women or men, whom it has ever been my
extraordinary luck to encounter, or ever will be (I am absolutely sure)
in this world.

The duties of the _plantons_ were those simple and obvious duties which
only very stupid persons can perfectly fulfill, namely: to take turns
guarding the building and its inhabitants; not to accept bribes, whether
in the form of matches, cigarettes or conversation, from their prisoners;
to accompany anyone who went anywhere outside the walls (as did
occasionally the _balayeurs_, to transport baggage; the men who did
_corvee_; and the catchers of water for the cook, who proceeded as far as
the hydrant situated on the outskirts of the town--a momentous distance
of perhaps five hundred feet); and finally to obey any and all orders
from all and any superiors without thinking. _Plantons_ were
supposed--but only supposed--to report any schemes for escaping which
they might overhear during their watch upon _les femmes et les hommes en
promenade_. Of course they never overheard any, since the least
intelligent of the watched was a paragon of wisdom by comparison with the
watchers. B. and I had a little ditty about _plantons_, of which I can
quote (unfortunately) only the first line and refrain:

"A _planton_ loved a lady once
(Cabbages and cauliflowers!)"

It was a very fine song. In concluding my remarks upon _plantons_ I must,
in justice to my subject, mention the three prime plantonic virtues--they
were (1) beauty, as regards face and person and bearing, (2) chivalry, as
regards women, (3) heroism, as regards males.

The somewhat unique and amusing appearance of the _plantons_ rather
militated against than served to inculcate Fear--it was therefore not
wonderful that they and the desired emotion were supported by two
strictly enforced punishments, punishments which were meted out with
equal and unflinching severity to both sexes alike. The less undesirable
punishment was known as _pain sec_--which Fritz, shortly after my
arrival, got for smashing a window-pane by accident; and which Harree and
Pom Pom, the incorrigibles, were getting most of the time. This
punishment consisted in denying to the culprit all nutriment save two
stone-hard morsels of dry bread per diem. The culprit's intimate friends,
of course, made a point of eating only a portion of their own morsels of
soft, heavy, sour bread (we got two a day, with each _soupe_) and
presenting the culprit with the rest. The common method of getting _pain
sec_ was also a simple one--it was for a man to wave, shout or make other
signs audible or visual to an inhabitant of the women's quarters; and,
for a girl, to be seen at her window by the Directeur at any time during
the morning and afternoon promenades of the men. The punishment for
sending a letter to a girl might possibly be _pain sec_, but was more
often--I pronounce the word even now with a sinking of the heart, though
curiously enough I escaped that for which it stands--_cabinot_.

There were (as already mentioned) a number of _cabinots_, sometimes
referred to as _cachots_ by persons of linguistic propensities. To repeat
myself a little: at least three were situated on the ground floor; and
these were used whenever possible in preference to the one or ones
upstairs, for the reason that they were naturally more damp and chill and
dark and altogether more dismal and unhealthy. Dampness and cold were
considerably increased by the substitution, for a floor, of two or three
planks resting here and there in mud. I am now describing what my eyes
saw, not what was shown to the inspectors on their rare visits to the
Directeur's little shop for making criminals. I know what these
occasional visitors beheld, because it, too, I have seen with my own
eyes: seen the two _balayeurs_ staggering downstairs with a bed
(consisting of a high iron frame, a huge mattress of delicious thickness,
spotless sheets, warm blankets, and a sort of quilt neatly folded over
all); seen this bed placed by the panting sweepers in the thoroughly
cleaned and otherwise immaculate _cabinot_ at the foot of the stairs and
opposite the kitchen, the well-scrubbed door being left wide open. I saw
this done as I was going to dinner. While the men were upstairs
recovering from _la soupe_, the gentleman-inspectors were invited
downstairs to look at a specimen of the Directeur's kindness--a kindness
which he could not restrain even in the case of those who were guilty of
some terrible wrong. (The little Belgian with the Broken Arm, alias the
Machine-Fixer, missed not a word nor a gesture of all this; and described
the scene to me with an indignation which threatened his sanity.) Then,
while _les hommes_ were in the _cour_ for the afternoon, the sweepers
were rushed to The Enormous Room, which they cleaned to beat the band
with the fear of Hell in them; after which, the Directeur led his amiable
guests leisurely upstairs and showed them the way the men kept their
quarters; kept them without dictation on the part of the officials, so
fond were they of what was to them one and all more than a delightful
temporary residence--was in fact a home. From The Enormous Room the
procession wended a gentle way to the women's quarters (scrubbed and
swept in anticipation of their arrival) and so departed; conscious--no
doubt--that in the Directeur France had found a rare specimen of
whole-hearted and efficient generosity.

Upon being sentenced to _cabinot_, whether for writing an intercepted
letter, fighting, threatening a _planton_, or committing some minor
offense for the _n_th time, a man took one blanket from his bed, carried
it downstairs to the _cachot_, and disappeared therein for a night or
many days and nights as the case might be. Before entering he was
thoroughly searched and temporarily deprived of the contents of his
pockets, whatever they might include. It was made certain that he had no
cigarettes nor tobacco in any other form upon his person, and no matches.
The door was locked behind him and double and triple locked--to judge by
the sound--by a _planton_, usually the Black Holster, who on such
occasions produced a ring of enormous keys suggestive of a burlesque
jailer. Within the stone walls of his dungeon (into which a beam of light
no bigger than a ten-cent piece, and in some cases no light at all,
penetrated) the culprit could shout and scream his or her heart out if he
or she liked, without serious annoyance to His Majesty King Satan. I
wonder how many times, en route to _la soupe_ or The Enormous Room or
promenade, I have heard the unearthly smouldering laughter of girls or of
men entombed within the drooling greenish walls of La Ferte Mace. A dozen
times, I suppose, I have seen a friend of the entombed stoop adroitly and
shove a cigarette or a piece of chocolate under the door, to the girls or
the men or the girl or man screaming, shouting, and pommeling faintly
behind that very door--but, you would say by the sound, a good part of a
mile away.... Ah well, more of this later, when we come to _les femmes_
on their own account.

The third method employed to throw Fear into the minds of his captives
lay, as I have said, in the sight of the Captor Himself. And this was by
far the most efficient method.

He loved to suddenly dash upon the girls when they were carrying their
slops along the hall and downstairs, as (in common with the men) they had
to do at least twice every morning and twice every afternoon. The
_corvee_ of girls and men were of course arranged so as not to coincide;
yet somehow or other they managed to coincide on the average about once a
week, or if not coincide, at any rate approach coincidence. On such
occasions, as often as not under the _planton's_ very stupid nose, a kiss
or an embrace would be stolen--provocative of much fierce laughter and
some scurrying. Or else, while the moneyed captives (including B. and
Cummings) were waiting their turn to enter the bureau de M. le
Gestionnaire, or even were ascending the stairs with a _planton_ behind
them, en route to Mecca, along the hall would come five or six women
staggering and carrying huge pails full to the brim of everyone knew
what; five or six heads lowered, ill-dressed bodies tense with effort,
free arms rigidly extended from the shoulder downward and outward in a
plane at right angles to their difficult progress and thereby helping to
balance the disconcerting load--all embarrassed, some humiliated, others
desperately at ease--along they would come under the steady sensual gaze
of the men, under a gaze which seemed to eat them alive ... and then one
of them would laugh with the laughter which is neither pitiful nor
terrible, but horrible....

And BANG! would a door fly open, and ROAR! a well-dressed animal about
five feet six inches in height, with prominent cuffs and a sportive tie,
the altogether decently and neatly clothed thick-built figure squirming
from top to toe with anger, the large head trembling and white-faced
beneath a flourishing mane of coarse blackish bristly perhaps hair, the
arm crooked at the elbow and shaking a huge fist of pinkish
well-manicured flesh, the distinct, cruel, brightish eyes sprouting from
their sockets under bushily enormous black eyebrows, the big, weak,
coarse mouth extended almost from ear to ear, and spouting invective, the
soggily brutal lips clinched upward and backward, showing the huge
horse-like teeth to the froth-shot gums--

And I saw once a little girl eleven years old scream in terror and drop
her pail of slops, spilling most of it on her feet; and seize it in a
clutch of frail child's fingers, and stagger, sobbing and shaking, past
the Fiend--one hand held over her contorted face to shield her from the
Awful Thing of Things--to the head of the stairs, where she collapsed,
and was half-carried, half-dragged by one of the older ones to the floor
below while another older one picked up her pail and lugged this and her
own hurriedly downward.

And after the last head had disappeared, Monsieur le Directeur continued
to rave and shake and tremble for as much as ten seconds, his shoebrush
mane crinkling with black anger--then, turning suddenly upon _les hommes_
(who cowered up against the wall as men cower up against a material thing
in the presence of the supernatural) he roared and shook his pinkish fist
at us till the gold stud in his immaculate cuff walked out upon the wad
of clenching flesh:


for as much as half a minute; then turning his round-shouldered big back
suddenly he adjusted his cuffs, muttering PROSTITUTES and WHORES and
DIRTY FILTH OF WOMEN, crammed his big fists into his trousers, pulled in
his chin till his fattish jowl rippled along the square jaws, panted,
grunted, very completely satisfied, very contented, rather proud of
himself, took a strutting stride or two in his expensive shiny boots, and
shot all at once through the open door which he SLAMMED after him.

Apropos the particular incident described for purposes of illustration, I
wish to state that I believe in miracles: the miracle being that I did
not knock the spit-covered mouthful of teeth and jabbering brutish
outthrust jowl (which certainly were not farther than eighteen inches
from me) through the bullneck bulging in its spotless collar. For there
are times when one almost decides not to merely observe ... besides
which, never in my life before had I wanted to kill, to thoroughly
extinguish and to entirely murder. Perhaps ... some day.... Unto God I
hope so.


Now I will try to give the reader a glimpse of the Women of La Ferte

The little Machine-Fixer as I said in the preceding chapter, divided them
into Good and Bad. He said there were as much as three Good ones, of
which three he had talked to one and knew her story. Another of the three
Good Women obviously was Margherite--a big, strong female who did
washing, and who was a permanent resident because she had been careless
enough to be born of German parents. I think I spoke with number three on
the day I waited to be examined by the Commission--a Belgian girl, whom I
shall mention later along with that incident. Whereat, by process of
elimination, we arrive at _les putains_, whereof God may know how many
there were at La Ferte, but I certainly do not. To _les putains_ in
general I have already made my deep and sincere bow. I should like to
speak here of four individuals. They are Celina, Lena, Lily, Renee.

Celina Tek was an extraordinarily beautiful animal. Her firm girl's body
emanated a supreme vitality. It was neither tall nor short, its movements
nor graceful nor awkward. It came and went with a certain sexual
velocity, a velocity whose health and vigour made everyone in La Ferte
seem puny and old. Her deep sensual voice had a coarse richness. Her
face, dark and young, annihilated easily the ancient and greyish walls.
Her wonderful hair was shockingly black. Her perfect teeth, when she
smiled, reminded you of an animal. The cult of Isis never worshipped a
more deep luxurious smile. This face, framed in the night of its hair,
seemed (as it moved at the window overlooking the _cour des femmes_)
inexorably and colossally young. The body was absolutely and fearlessly
alive. In the impeccable and altogether admirable desolation of La Ferte
and the Normandy Autumn Celina, easily and fiercely moving, was a

The French Government must have already recognized this; it called her

Lena, also a Belgian, always and fortunately just missed being a type
which in the American language (sometimes called "Slang") has a definite
nomenclature. Lena had the makings of an ordinary broad, and yet, thanks
to _La Misere_, a certain indubitable personality became gradually
rescued. A tall hard face about which was loosely pitched some
hay-coloured hair. Strenuous and mutilated hands. A loose, raucous way of
laughing, which contrasted well with Celina's definite gurgling titter.
Energy rather than vitality. A certain power and roughness about her
laughter. She never smiled. She laughed loudly and obscenely and always.
A woman.

Lily was a German girl, who looked unbelievably old, wore white, or once
white dresses, had a sort of drawling scream in her throat besides a
thick deadly cough, and floundered leanly under the eyes of men. Upon the
skinny neck of Lily a face had been set for all the world to look upon
and be afraid. The face itself was made of flesh green and almost
putrescent. In each cheek a bloody spot. Which was not rouge, but the
flower which consumption plants in the cheek of its favourite. A face
vulgar and vast and heavy-featured, about which a smile was always
flopping uselessly. Occasionally Lily grinned, showing several
monstrously decayed and perfectly yellow teeth, which teeth usually were
smoking a cigarette. Her bluish hands were very interestingly dead; the
fingers were nervous, they lived in cringing bags of freckled skin, they
might almost be alive.

She was perhaps eighteen years old.

Renee, the fourth member of the circle, was always well-dressed and
somehow _chic_. Her silhouette had character, from the waved coiffure to
the enormously high heels. Had Renee been able to restrain a perfectly
toothless smile she might possibly have passed for a _jeune gonzesse_.
She was not. The smile was ample and black. You saw through it into the
back of her neck. You felt as if her life was in danger when she smiled,
as it probably was. Her skin was not particularly tired. But Renee was
old, older than Lena by several years; perhaps twenty-five. Also about
Renee there was a certain dangerous fragility, the fragility of unhealth.
And yet Renee was hard, immeasurably hard. And accurate. Her exact
movements were the movements of a mechanism. Including her voice, which
had a purely mechanical timbre. She could do two things with this voice
and two only--screech and boom. At times she tried to chuckle and almost
fell apart. Renee was in fact dead. In looking at her for the first time,
I realised that there may be something stylish about death.

This first time was interesting in the extreme. It was Lily's birthday.
We looked out of the windows which composed one side of the otherwise
windowless Enormous Room; looked down, and saw--just outside the wall of
the building--Celina, Lena, Lily and a new girl who was Renee. They were
all individually intoxicated, Celina was joyously tight. Renee was
stiffly bunnied. Lena was raucously pickled. Lily, floundering and
staggering and tumbling and whirling was utterly soused. She was all
tricked out in an erstwhile dainty dress, white, and with ribbons. Celina
(as always) wore black. Lena had on a rather heavy striped sweater and
skirt. Renee was immaculate in tight-fitting satin or something of the
sort; she seemed to have somehow escaped from a doll's house overnight.
About the group were a number of _plantons_, roaring with laughter,
teasing, insulting, encouraging, from time to time attempting to embrace
the ladies. Celina gave one of them a terrific box on the ear. The mirth
of the others was redoubled. Lily spun about and fell down, moaning and
coughing, and screaming about her fiancee in Belgium: what a handsome
young fellow he was, how he had promised to marry her... shouts of
enjoyment from the _plantons_. Lena had to sit down or else fall down, so
she sat down with a good deal of dignity, her back against the wall, and
in that position attempted to execute a kind of dance. _Les Plantons_
rocked and applauded. Celina smiled beautifully at the men who were
staring from every window of The Enormous Room and, with a supreme
effort, went over and dragged Renee (who had neatly and accurately folded
up with machine-like rapidity in the mud) through the doorway and into
the house. Eventually Lena followed her example, capturing Lily en route.
The scene must have consumed all of twenty minutes. The _plantons_ were
so mirth-stricken that they had to sit down and rest under the
washing-shed. Of all the inhabitants of The Enormous Room, Fritz and
Harree and Pom Pom and Bathhouse John enjoyed it most. I should include
Jan, whose chin nearly rested on the window-sill with the little body
belonging to it fluttering in an ugly interested way all the time. That
Bathhouse John's interest was largely cynical is evidenced by the remarks
which he threw out between spittings--"_Une section mesdames!_" "_A la
gare!_" "_Aux armes tout le monde!_" etc. With the exception of these
enthusiastic watchers, the other captives evidenced vague
amusement--excepting Count Bragard who said with lofty disgust that it
was "no better than a bloody knocking 'ouse, Mr. Cummings" and Monsieur
Pet-airs whose annoyance amounted to agony. Of course these twain were,
comparatively speaking, old men....

The four female incorrigibles encountered less difficulty in attaining
_cabinot_ than any four specimens of incorrigibility among _les hommes_.
Not only were they placed in dungeon vile with a frequency which amounted
to continuity; their sentences were far more severe than those handed out
to the men. Up to the time of my little visit to La Ferte I had
innocently supposed that in referring to women as "the weaker sex" a man
was strictly within his rights. La Ferte, if it did nothing else for my
intelligence, rid it of this overpowering error. I recall, for example, a
period of sixteen days and nights spent (during my stay) by the woman
Lena in the _cabinot_. It was either toward the latter part of October or
the early part of November that this occurred, I will not be sure which.
The dampness of the Autumn was as terrible, under normal conditions--that
is to say in The Enormous Room--as any climatic eccentricity which I have
ever experienced. We had a wood-burning stove in the middle of the room,
which antiquated apparatus was kept going all day to the vast discomfort
of eyes and noses not to mention throats and lungs--the pungent smoke
filling the room with an atmosphere next to unbreathable, but tolerated
for the simple reason that it stood between ourselves and death. For even
with the stove going full blast the wall never ceased to sweat and even
trickle, so overpowering was the dampness. By night the chill was to
myself--fortunately bedded at least eighteen inches from the floor and
sleeping in my clothes; bed-roll, blankets, and all, under and over me
and around me--not merely perceptible but desolating. Once my bed broke,
and I spent the night perforce on the floor with only my mattress under
me; to awake finally in the whitish dawn perfectly helpless with
rheumatism. Yet with the exception of my bed and B.'s bed and a wooden
bunk which belonged to Bathhouse John, every _paillasse_ lay directly on
the floor; moreover the men who slept thus were three-quarters of them
miserably clad, nor had they anything beyond their light-weight
blankets--whereas I had a complete outfit including a big fur coat, which
I had taken with me (as previously described) from the _Section
Sanitaire_. The morning after my night spent on the floor I pondered,
having nothing to do and being unable to move, upon the subject of my
physical endurance--wondering just how the men about me, many of them
beyond middle age, some extremely delicate, in all not more than five or
six as rugged constitutionally as myself, lived through the nights in The
Enormous Room. Also I recollected glancing through an open door into the
women's quarters, at the risk of being noticed by the _planton_ in whose
charge I was at the time (who, fortunately, was stupid even for a
_planton_, else I should have been well punished for my curiosity) and
beholding _paillasses_ identical in all respects with ours reposing on
the floor; and I thought, if it is marvellous that old men and sick men
can stand this and not die, it is certainly miraculous that girls of
eleven and fifteen, and the baby which I saw once being caressed out in
the women's _cour_ with unspeakable gentleness by a little _putain_ whose
name I do not know, and the dozen or so oldish females whom I have often
seen on promenade--can stand this and not die. These things I mention not
to excite the reader's pity nor yet his indignation; I mention them
because I do not know of any other way to indicate--it is no more than
indicating--the significance of the torture perpetrated under the
Directeur's direction in the case of the girl Lena. If incidentally it
throws light on the personality of the torturer I shall be gratified.

Lena's confinement in the _cabinot_--which dungeon I have already
attempted to describe but to whose filth and slime no words can begin to
do justice--was in this case solitary. Once a day, of an afternoon and
always at the time when all the men were upstairs after the second
promenade (which gave the writer of this history an exquisite chance to
see an atrocity at first-hand), Lena was taken out of the _cabinot_ by
three _plantons_ and permitted a half-hour promenade just outside the
door of the building, or in the same locality--delimited by barbed wire
on one side and the washing-shed on another--made famous by the scene of
inebriety above described. Punctually at the expiration of thirty minutes
she was shoved back into the _cabinot_ by the _plantons_. Every day for
sixteen days I saw her; noted the indestructible bravado of her gait and
carriage, the unchanging timbre of her terrible laughter in response to
the salutation of an inhabitant of The Enormous Room (for there were at
least six men who spoke to her daily, and took their _pain sec_ and their
_cabinot_ in punishment therefor with the pride of a soldier who takes
the _medaille militaire_ in recompense for his valour); noted the
increasing pallor of her flesh, watched the skin gradually assume a
distinct greenish tint (a greenishness which I cannot describe save that
it suggested putrefaction); heard the coughing to which she had always
been subject grow thicker and deeper till it doubled her up every few
minutes, creasing her body as you crease a piece of paper with your
thumb-nail, preparatory to tearing it in two--and I realised fully and
irrevocably and for perhaps the first time the meaning of civilization.
And I realised that it was true--as I had previously only suspected it to
be true--that in finding us unworthy of helping to carry forward the
banner of progress, alias the tricolour, the inimitable and excellent
French government was conferring upon B. and myself--albeit with other
intent--the ultimate compliment.

And the Machine-Fixer, whose opinion of this blond _putain_ grew and
increased and soared with every day of her martyrdom till the
Machine-Fixer's former classification of _les femmes_ exploded and
disappeared entirely--the Machine-Fixer who would have fallen on his
little knees to Lena had she given him a chance, and kissed the hem of
her striped skirt in an ecstasy of adoration--told me that Lena on being
finally released, walked upstairs herself, holding hard to the banister
without a look for anyone, "having eyes as big as tea-cups." He added,
with tears in his own eyes:

"M'sieu' Jean, a woman."

I recall perfectly being in the kitchen one day, hiding from the
eagle-eye of the Black Holster and enjoying a talk on the economic
consequences of war, said talk being delivered by Afrique. As a matter of
fact, I was not in the _cuisine_ proper but in the little room which I
have mentioned previously. The door into the kitchen was shut. The
sweetly soft odour of newly cut wood was around me. And all the time that
Afrique was talking I heard clearly, through the shut door and through
the kitchen wall and through the locked door of the _cabinot_ situated
directly across the hall from _la cuisine_, the insane gasping voice of a
girl singing and yelling and screeching and laughing. Finally I
interrupted my speaker to ask what on earth was the matter in the
_cabinot?_--"_C'est la femme allemande qui s'appelle Lily_," Afrique
briefly answered. A little later BANG went the _cabinot_ door, and ROAR
went the familiar coarse voice of the Directeur. "It disturbs him, the
noise," Afrique said. The _cabinot_ door slammed. There was silence.
Heavily steps ascended. Then the song began again, a little more insane
than before; the laughter a little wilder.... "You can't stop her,"
Afrique said admiringly. "A great voice Mademoiselle has, eh? So, as I
was saying, the national debt being conditioned--"

But the experience _a propos les femmes_, which meant and will always
mean more to me than any other, the scene which is a little more
unbelievable than perhaps any scene that it has ever been my privilege to
witness, the incident which (possibly more than any other) revealed to me
those unspeakable foundations upon which are builded with infinite care
such at once ornate and comfortable structures as _La Gloire and Le
Patriotisme_--occurred in this wise.

The men, myself among them, were leaving _le cour_ for The Enormous Room
under the watchful eye (as always) of a _planton_. As we defiled through
the little gate in the barbed-wire fence we heard, apparently just
outside the building whither we were proceeding on our way to The Great
Upstairs, a tremendous sound of mingled screams, curses and crashings.
The _planton_ of the day was not only stupid--he was a little deaf; to
his ears this hideous racket had not, as nearly as one could see,
penetrated. At all events he marched us along toward the door with utmost
plantonic satisfaction and composure. I managed to insert myself in the
fore of the procession, being eager to witness the scene within; and
reached the door almost simultaneously with Fritz, Harree and two or
three others. I forget which of us opened it. I will never forget what I
saw as I crossed the threshold.

The hall was filled with stifling smoke; the smoke which straw makes when
it is set on fire, a peculiarly nauseous choking, whitish-blue smoke.
This smoke was so dense that only after some moments could I make out,
with bleeding eyes and wounded lungs, anything whatever. What I saw was
this: five or six _plantons_ were engaged in carrying out of the nearest
_cabinot_ two girls, who looked perfectly dead. Their bodies were
absolutely limp. Their hands dragged foolishly along the floor as they
were carried. Their upward white faces dangled loosely upon their necks.
Their crumpled fingers sagged in the _planton's_ arms. I recognised Lily
and Renee. Lena I made out at a little distance tottering against the
door of the kitchen opposite the _cabinot_, her hay-coloured head
drooping and swaying slowly upon the open breast of her shirt-waist, her
legs far apart and propping with difficulty her hinging body, her hands
spasmodically searching for the knob of the door. The smoke proceeded
from the open _cabinot_ in great ponderous murdering clouds. In one of
these clouds, erect and tense and beautiful as an angel--her wildly
shouting face framed in its huge night of dishevelled hair, her deep
sexual voice, hoarsely strident above the din and smoke, shouting
fiercely through the darkness--stood, triumphantly and colossally young,
Celina. Facing her, its clenched, pinkish fists raised high above its
savagely bristling head in a big, brutal gesture of impotence and rage
and anguish--the Fiend Himself paused quivering. Through the smoke, the
great bright voice of Celina rose at him, hoarse and rich and sudden and
intensely luxurious, quick, throaty, accurate, slaying deepness:


and over and beneath and around the voice I saw frightened faces of women
hanging in the smoke, some screaming with their lips apart and their eyes
closed, some staring with wide eyes; and among the women's faces I
discovered the large, placid, interested expression of the Gestionnaire
and the nervous clicking eyes of the Surveillant. And there was a
shout--it was the Black Holster shouting at us as we stood transfixed--

"Who the devil brought the men in here? Get up with you where you belong,

--And he made a rush at us, and we dodged in the smoke and passed slowly
up the hall, looking behind us, speechless to a man with the admiration
of Terror till we reached the further flight of stairs; and mounted
slowly, with the din falling below us, ringing in our ears, beating upon
our brains--mounted slowly with quickened blood and pale faces--to the
peace of The Enormous Room.

I spoke with both _balayeurs_ that night. They told me, independently,
the same story: the four incorrigibles had been locked in the _cabinot
ensemble_. They made so much noise, particularly Lily, that the
_plantons_ were afraid the Directeur would be disturbed. Accordingly the
_plantons_ got together and stuffed the contents of a _paillasse_ in the
cracks around the door, and particularly in the crack under the door
wherein cigarettes were commonly inserted by friends of the entombed.
This process made the _cabinot_ air-tight. But the _plantons_ were not
taking any chances on disturbing Monsieur le Directeur. They carefully
lighted the _paillasse_ at a number of points and stood back to see the
results of their efforts. So soon as the smoke found its way inward the
singing was supplanted by coughing; then the coughing stopped. Then
nothing was heard. Then Celina began crying out within--"Open the door,
Lily and Renee are dead"--and the _plantons_ were frightened. After some
debate they decided to open the door--out poured the smoke, and in it
Celina, whose voice in a fraction of a second roused everyone in the
building. The Black Holster wrestled with her and tried to knock her down
by a blow on the mouth; but she escaped, bleeding a little, to the foot
of the stairs--simultaneously with the advent of the Directeur who for
once had found someone beyond the power of his weapon, Fear, someone in
contact with whose indescribable Youth the puny threats of death withered
between his lips, someone finally completely and unutterably Alive whom
the Lie upon his slavering tongue could not kill.

I do not need to say that, as soon as the girls who had fainted could be
brought to, they joined Lena in _pain sec_ for many days to come; and
that Celina was overpowered by six _plantons_--at the order of Monsieur
le Directeur--and reincarcerated in the _cabinot_ adjoining that from
which she had made her velocitous exit--reincarcerated without food for
twenty-four hours. "_Mais, M'sieu' Jean_," the Machine-Fixer said
trembling, "_Vous savez elle est forte._ She gave the six of them a
fight, I tell you. And three of them went to the doctor as a result of
their efforts, including _le vieux_ (The Black Holster). But of course
they succeeded in beating her up, six men upon one woman. She was beaten
badly, I tell you, before she gave in. _M'sieu' Jean, ils sont tous--les
plantons et le Directeur Lui-Meme et le Surveillant et le Gestionnaire et
tous--ils sont des--_" and he said very nicely what they were, and lit
his little black pipe with a crisp curving upward gesture, and shook like
a blade of grass.

With which specimen of purely mediaeval torture I leave the subject of
Women, and embark upon the quieter if no less enlightening subject of

Sunday, it will be recalled, was Monsieur le Directeur's third weapon.
That is to say: lest the ordinarily tantalising proximity of _les femmes_
should not inspire _les hommes_ to deeds which placed the doers
automatically in the clutches of himself, his subordinates, and _la
punition_, it was arranged that once a week the tantalising proximity
aforesaid should be supplanted by a positively maddening approach to
coincidence. Or in other words, the men and the women for an hour or less
might enjoy the same exceedingly small room; for purposes of course of
devotion--it being obvious to Monsieur le Directeur that the
representatives of both sexes at La Ferte Mace were inherently of a
strongly devotional nature. And lest the temptation to err in such
moments be deprived, through a certain aspect of compulsion, of its
complete force, the attendance of such strictly devotional services was
made optional.

The uplifting services to which I refer took place in that very room
which (the night of my arrival) had yielded me my _paillasse_ under the
Surveillant's direction. It may have been thirty feet long and twenty
wide. At one end was an altar at the top of several wooden stairs, with a
large candle on each side. To the right as you entered a number of
benches were placed to accommodate _les femmes_. _Les hommes_ upon
entering took off their caps and stood over against the left wall so as
to leave between them and the women an alley perhaps five feet wide. In
this alley stood the Black Holster with his _kepi_ firmly resting upon
his head, his arms folded, his eyes spying to left and right in order to
intercept any signals exchanged between the sheep and goats. Those who
elected to enjoy spiritual things left the _cour_ and their morning
promenade after about an hour of promenading, while the materially minded
remained to finish the promenade; or if one declined the promenade
entirely (as frequently occurred owing to the fact that weather
conditions on Sunday were invariably more indescribable than usual) a
_planton_ mounted to The Enormous Room and shouted, "_La Messe!_" several
times; whereat the devotees lined up and were carefully conducted to the
scene of spiritual operations.

The priest was changed every week. His assistant (whom I had the
indescribable pleasure of seeing only upon Sundays) was always the same.
It was his function to pick the priest up when he fell down after
tripping upon his robe, to hand him things before he wanted them, to ring
a huge bell, to interrupt the peculiarly divine portions of the service
with a squeaking of his shoes, to gaze about from time to time upon the
worshippers for purposes of intimidation, and finally--most important of
all--to blow out the two big candles at the very earliest opportunity, in
the interests (doubtless) of economy. As he was a short, fattish,
ancient, strangely soggy creature and as his longish black suit was
somewhat too big for him, he executed a series of profound efforts in
extinguishing the candles. In fact he had to climb part way up the
candles before he could get at the flame; at which moment he looked very
much like a weakly and fat boy (for he was obviously in his second or
fourth childhood) climbing a flag-pole. At moments of leisure he abased
his fatty whitish jowl and contemplated with watery eyes the floor in
front of his highly polished boots, having first placed his ugly clubby
hands together behind his most ample back.

Sunday: green murmurs in coldness. Surplice fiercely fearful, praying on
his bony both knees, crossing himself.... The Fake French Soldier, alias
Garibaldi, beside him, a little face filled with terror ... the Bell
cranks the sharp-nosed priest on his knees ... titter from bench of

And that reminds me of a Sunday afternoon on our backs spent with the
wholeness of a hill in Chevancourt, discovering a great apple pie, B. and
Jean Stahl and Maurice le Menusier and myself; and the sun falling
roundly before us.

--And then one _Dimanche_ a new high old man with a sharp violet face and
green hair--"You are free, my children, to achieve immortality--_Songes,
songez, donc--L'Eternite est une existence sans duree----Toujours le
Paradis, toujours L'Enfer_" (to the silently roaring whores) "Heaven is
made for you"--and the Belgian ten-foot farmer spat three times and wiped
them with his foot, his nose dripping; and the nigger shot a white oyster
into a far-off scarlet handkerchief--and the priest's strings came untied
and he sidled crablike down the steps--the two candles wiggle a strenuous

In another chapter I will tell you about the nigger.

And another Sunday I saw three tiny old females stumble forward, three
very formerly and even once bonnets perched upon three wizened skulls,
and flop clumsily before the priest, and take the wafer hungrily into
their leathery faces.



"Sunday (says Mr. Pound with infinite penetration) is
a dreadful day,
Monday is much pleasanter.
Then let us muse a little space
Upon fond Nature's morbid grace."

It is a great and distinct pleasure to have penetrated and arrived upon
the outside of _La Dimanche_. We may now--Nature's morbid grace being a
topic whereof the reader has already heard much and will necessarily hear
more--turn to the "much pleasanter," the in fact "Monday," aspect of La
Ferte; by which I mean _les nouveaux_ whose arrivals and reactions
constituted the actual kinetic aspect of our otherwise merely real
Nonexistence. So let us tighten our belts, (everyone used to tighten his
belt at least twice a day at La Ferte, but for another reason--to follow
and keep track of his surely shrinking anatomy) seize our staffs into our
hands, and continue the ascent begun with the first pages of the story.

One day I found myself expecting _La Soupe_ Number 1 with something like
avidity. My appetite faded, however, upon perceiving a vision en route to
the empty place at my left. It slightly resembled a tall youth not more
than sixteen or seventeen years old, having flaxen hair, a face whose
whiteness I have never seen equalled, and an expression of intense
starvation which might have been well enough in a human being but was
somewhat unnecessarily uncanny in a ghost. The ghost, floating and
slenderly, made for the place beside me, seated himself suddenly and
gently like a morsel of white wind, and regarded the wall before him. _La
soupe_ arrived. He obtained a plate (after some protest on the part of
certain members of our table to whom the advent of a newcomer meant only
that everyone would get less for lunch), and after gazing at his portion
for a second in apparent wonderment at its size caused it gently and
suddenly to disappear. I was no sluggard as a rule, but found myself
outclassed by minutes--which, said I to myself, is not to be worried over
since 'tis sheer vanity to compete with the supernatural. But (even as I
lugged the last spoonful of luke-warm greasy water to my lips) this ghost
turned to me for all the world as if I too were a ghost, and remarked

"Will you lend me ten cents? I am going to buy tobacco at the canteen."

One has no business crossing a spirit, I thought; and produced the sum
cheerfully--which sum disappeared, the ghost arose slenderly and
soundlessly, and I was left with emptiness beside me.

Later I discovered that this ghost was called Pete.

Pete was a Hollander, and therefore found firm and staunch friends in
Harree, John o' the Bathhouse and the other Hollanders. In three days
Pete discarded the immateriality which had constituted the exquisite
definiteness of his advent, and donned the garb of flesh-and-blood. This
change was due equally to _La Soupe_ and the canteen, and to the finding
of friends. For Pete had been in solitary confinement for three months
and had had nothing to eat but bread and water during that time, having
been told by the jailors (as he informed us, without a trace of
bitterness) that they would shorten his sentence provided he did not
partake of _La Soupe_ during his incarceration--that is to say, _le
gouvernement francais_ had a little joke at Pete's expense. Also he had
known nobody during that time but the five fingers which deposited said
bread and water with conscientious regularity on the ground beside him.
Being a Hollander neither of these things killed him--on the contrary, he
merely turned into a ghost, thereby fooling the excellent French
Government within an inch of its foolable life. He was a very excellent
friend of ours--I refer as usual to B. and myself--and from the day of
his arrival until the day of his departure to Precigne along with B. and
three others I never ceased to like and to admire him. He was naturally
sensitive, extremely the antithesis of coarse (which "refined" somehow
does not imply) had not in the least suffered from a "good," as we say,
education, and possessed an at once frank and unobstreperous personality.
Very little that had happened to Pete's physique had escaped Pete's mind.
This mind of his quietly and firmly had expanded in proportion as its
owner's trousers had become too big around the waist--altogether not so
extraordinary as was the fact that, after being physically transformed as
I have never seen a human being transformed by food and friends, Pete
thought and acted with exactly the same quietness and firmness as before.
He was a rare spirit, and I salute him wherever he is.

Mexique was a good friend of Pete's, as he was of ours. He had been
introduced to us by a man we called One Eyed David, who was married and
had a wife downstairs, with which wife he was allowed to live all
day--being conducted to and from her society by a _planton_. He spoke
Spanish well and French passably; had black hair, bright Jewish eyes, a
dead-fish expression, and a both amiable and courteous disposition. One
Eyed Dah-veed (as it was pronounced of course) had been in prison at
Noyon during the German occupation, which he described fully and without
hyperbole--stating that no one could have been more considerate or just
than the commander of the invading troops. Dah-veed had seen with his own
eyes a French girl extend an apple to one of the common soldiers as the
German army entered the outskirts of the city: "'Take it,' she said, 'you
are tired.'--'Madame,' answered the German soldier in French, 'thank
you'--and he looked in his pocket and found ten cents. 'No, no,' the
young girl said. 'I don't want any money. I give it to you with good
will.'--'Pardon, madame,' said the soldier, 'you must know that a German
soldier is forbidden to take anything without paying for it.'"--And
before that, One Eyed Dah-veed had talked at Noyon with a barber whose
brother was an aviator with the French Army: "'My brother,' the barber
said to me, 'told me a beautiful story the other day. He was flying over
the lines, and he was amazed, one day, to see that the French guns were
not firing on the boches but on the French themselves. He landed
precipitously, sprang from his machine and ran to the office of the
general. He saluted, and cried in great excitement: "General, you are
firing on the French!" The general regarded him without interest, without
budging; then, he said, very simply: "They have begun, they must
finish." "Which is why perhaps," said One Eyed Dah-veed, looking two
ways at once with his uncorrelated eyes, "the Germans entered Noyon...."
But to return to Mexique.

One night we had a _soiree_, as Dah-veed called it, _a propos_ a pot of
hot tea which Dah-veed's wife had given him to take upstairs, it being
damnably damp and cold (as usual) in The Enormous Room. Dah-veed,
cautiously and in a low voice, invited us to his mattress to enjoy this
extraordinary pleasure; and we accepted, B. and I, with huge joy; and
sitting on Dah-veed's _paillasse_ we found somebody who turned out to be
Mexique--to whom, by his right name, our host introduced us with all the
poise and courtesy vulgarly associated with a French salon.

For Mexique I cherish and always will cherish unmitigated affection. He
was perhaps nineteen years old, very chubby, extremely good-natured; and
possessed of an unruffled disposition which extended to the most violent
and obvious discomforts a subtle and placid illumination. He spoke
beautiful Spanish, had been born in Mexico, and was really called
Philippe Burgos. He had been in New York. He criticised someone for
saying "Yes" to us, one day, stating that no American said "Yes" but
"Yuh"; which--whatever the reader may think--is to my mind a very
profound observation. In New York he had worked nights as a fireman in
some big building or other and slept days, and this method of seeing
America he had enjoyed extremely. Mexique had one day taken ship (being
curious to see the world) and worked as chauffeur--that is to say in the
stoke-hole. He had landed in, I think, Havre; had missed his ship; had
inquired something of a _gendarme_ in French (which he spoke not at all,
with the exception of a phrase or two like "_quelle heure qu'il est?_");
had been kindly treated and told that he would be taken to a ship _de
suite_--had boarded a train in the company of two or three kind
_gendarmes_, ridden a prodigious distance, got off the train finally with
high hopes, walked a little distance, come in sight of the grey
perspiring wall of La Ferte, and--"So, I ask one of them: 'Where is the
Ship?' He point to here and tell me, 'There is the ship.' I say: 'This is
a God Dam Funny Ship'"--quoth Mexique, laughing.

Mexique played dominoes with us (B. having devised a set from
card-board), strolled The Enormous Room with us, telling of his father
and brother in Mexico, of the people, of the customs; and--when we were
in the _cour_--wrote the entire conjugation of _tengo_ in the deep mud
with a little stick, squatting and chuckling and explaining. He and his
brother had both participated in the revolution which made Carranza
president. His description of which affair was utterly delightful.

"Every-body run a-round with guns" Mexique said. "And bye-and-bye no see
to shoot everybody, so everybody go home." We asked if he had shot
anybody himself. "Sure. I shoot everybody I do'no" Mexique answered
laughing. "I t'ink every-body no hit me" he added, regarding his stocky
person with great and quiet amusement. When we asked him once what he
thought about the war, he replied, "I t'ink lotta bull--," which, upon
copious reflection, I decided absolutely expressed my own point of view.

Mexique was generous, incapable of either stupidity or despondency, and
mannered as a gentleman is supposed to be. Upon his arrival he wrote
almost immediately to the Mexican (or is it Spanish?) consul--"He know my
fader in Mexico"--stating in perfect and unambiguous Spanish the facts
leading to his arrest; and when I said good-bye to _La Misere_ Mexique
was expecting a favorable reply at any moment, as indeed he had been
cheerfully expecting for some time. If he reads this history I hope he
will not be too angry with me for whatever injustice it does to one of
the altogether pleasantest companions I have ever had. My notebooks, one
in particular, are covered with conjugations which bear witness to
Mexique's ineffable good-nature. I also have a somewhat superficial
portrait of his back sitting on a bench by the stove. I wish I had
another of Mexique out in _le jardin_ with a man who worked there who was
a Spaniard, and whom the Surveillant had considerately allowed Mexique to
assist; with the perfectly correct idea that it would be pleasant for
Mexique to talk to someone who could speak Spanish--if not as well as he,
Mexique, could, at least passably well. As it is, I must be content to
see my very good friend sitting with his hands in his pockets by the
stove with Bill the Hollander beside him. And I hope it was not many days
after my departure that Mexique went free. Somehow I feel that he went
free ... and if I am right, I will only say about Mexique's freedom what
I have heard him slowly and placidly say many times concerning not only
the troubles which were common property to us all but his own peculiar
troubles as well.

"That's fine."

Here let me introduce the Guard Champetre, whose name I have already
taken more or less in vain. A little, sharp, hungry-looking person who,
subsequent to being a member of a rural police force (of which membership
he seemed rather proud), had served his _patrie_--otherwise known as _La
Belgique_--in the capacity of motorcyclist. As he carried dispatches from
one end of the line to the other his disagreeably big eyes had absorbed
certain peculiarly inspiring details of civilised warfare. He had, at one
time, seen a bridge hastily constructed by _les allies_ over the Yser
River, the cadavers of the faithful and the enemy alike being thrown in
helter-skelter to make a much needed foundation for the timbers. This
little procedure had considerably outraged the Guard Champetre's sense of
decency. The Yser, said he, flowed perfectly red for a long time. "We
were all together: Belgians, French, English ... we Belgians did not see
any good reason for continuing the battle. But we continued. O indeed we
continued. Do you know why?"

I said that I was afraid I didn't.

"Because in front of us we had the German shells, behind, the French
machine guns, always the French machine guns, _mon vieux_."

"_Je ne comprends pas bien_" I said in confusion, recalling all the
highfalutin rigmarole which Americans believed--(little martyred Belgium
protected by the allies from the inroads of the aggressor, etc.)--"why
should the French put machine guns behind you?"

The Guard Champetre lifted his big empty eyes nervously. The vast hollows
in which they lived darkened. His little rather hard face trembled within
itself. I thought for a second he was going to throw a fit at my
feet--instead of doing which he replied pettishly, in a sunken bright

"To keep us going forward. At times a company would drop its guns and
turn to run. Pupupupupupupupup ..." his short unlovely arms described
gently the swinging of a _mitrailleuse_ ... "finish. The Belgian
soldiers to left and right of them took the hint. If they did
not--pupupupupupup.... O we went forward. Yes. _Vive le patriotisme._"

And he rose with a gesture which seemed to brush away these painful
trifles from his memory, crossed the end of the room with short rapid
steps, and began talking to his best friend Judas, who was at that moment
engaged in training his wobbly mustachios.... Toward the close of my
visit to La Ferte the Guard Champetre was really happy for a period of
two days--during which time he moved in the society of a rich,
intelligent, mistakenly arrested and completely disagreeable youth in
bone spectacles, copious hair and spiral putees, whom B. and I partially
contented ourselves by naming Jo Jo The Lion Faced Boy. Had the charges
against Jo Jo been stronger my tale would have been longer--fortunately
for _tout le monde_ they had no basis; and back went Jo Jo to his native
Paris, leaving the Guard Champetre with Judas and attacks of only
occasionally interesting despair.

The reader may suppose that it is about time another Delectable Mountain
appeared upon his horizon. Let him keep his eyes wide open, for here one

Whenever our circle was about to be increased, a bell from somewhere afar
(as a matter of fact the gate which had admitted my weary self to La
Ferte upon a memorable night, as already has been faithfully recounted)
tanged audibly--whereat up jumped the more strenuous inhabitants of The
Enormous Room and made pell-mell for the common peephole, situated at the
door end or nearer end of our habitat and commanding a somewhat
fragmentary view of the gate together with the arrivals, male and female,
whom the bell announced. In one particular case the watchers appeared
almost unduly excited, shouting "four!"--"big box"--"five _gendarmes_!"
and other incoherences with a loudness which predicted great things. As
nearly always, I had declined to participate in the melee; and was still
lying comfortably horizontal on my bed (thanking God that it had been
well and thoroughly mended by a fellow prisoner whom we called The Frog
and Le Coiffeur--a tremendously keen-eyed man with a large drooping
moustache, whose boon companion, chiefly on account of his shape and
gait, we knew as The Lobster) when the usual noises attendant upon the
unlocking of the door began with exceptional violence. I sat up. The door
shot open, there was a moment's pause, a series of grunting remarks
uttered by two rather terrible voices; then in came four _nouveaux_ of a
decidedly interesting appearance. They entered in two ranks of two each.
The front rank was made up of an immensely broad shouldered hipless and
consequently triangular man in blue trousers belted with a piece of
ordinary rope, plus a thick-set ruffianly personage the most prominent
part of whose accoutrements were a pair of hideous whiskers. I leaped to
my feet and made for the door, thrilled in spite of myself. By the, in
this case, shifty blue eyes, the pallid hair, the well-knit form of the
rope's owner I knew instantly a Hollander. By the coarse brutal features
half-hidden in the piratical whiskers, as well as by the heavy mean
wandering eyes. I recognised with equal speed a Belgian. Upon his
shoulders the front rank bore a large box, blackish, well-made, obviously
very weighty, which box it set down with a grunt of relief hard by the
cabinet. The rear rank marched behind in a somewhat asymmetrical manner:
a young, stupid-looking, clear-complexioned fellow (obviously a farmer,
and having expensive black puttees and a handsome cap with a shiny black
leather visor) slightly preceded a tall, gliding, thinnish, unjudgeable
personage who peeped at everyone quietly and solemnly from beneath the
visor of a somewhat large slovenly cloth cap showing portions of a lean,
long, incognisable face upon which sat, or rather drooped, a pair of
mustachios identical in character with those which are sometimes
pictorially attributed to a Chinese dignitary--in other words, the
mustachios were exquisitely narrow, homogeneously downward, and made of
something like black corn-silk. Behind _les nouveaux_ staggered four
_paillasses_ motivated mysteriously by two pair of small legs belonging
(as it proved) to Garibaldi and the little Machine-Fixer; who, coincident
with the tumbling of the mattresses to the floor, perspiringly emerged to

The first thing the shifty-eyed Hollander did was to exclaim
_Gottverdummer_. The first thing the whiskery Belgian did was to grab his
_paillasse_ and stand guard over it. The first thing the youth in the
leggings did was to stare helplessly about him, murmuring something
whimperingly in Polish. The first thing the fourth _nouveau_ did was pay
attention to anybody; lighting a cigarette in an unhurried manner as he
did so, and puffing silently and slowly as if in all the universe nothing
whatever save the taste of tobacco existed.

A bevy of Hollanders were by this time about the triangle, asking him all
at once Was he from so and so, What was in his box. How long had he been
in coming, etc. Half a dozen stooped over the box itself, and at least
three pairs of hands were on the point of trying the lock--when suddenly
with incredible agility the unperturbed smoker shot a yard forward,
landing quietly beside them; and exclaimed rapidly and briefly through
his nose.


He said it almost petulantly, or as a child says "Tag! You're it."

The onlookers recoiled, completely surprised. Whereat the frightened
youth in black puttees sidled over and explained with a pathetic, at once
ingratiating and patronising, accent.

"He is not nasty. He's a good fellow. He's my friend. He wants to say
that it's his, that box. He doesn't speak French."

"It's the _Gottverdummer_ Polak's box," said the Triangular Man exploding
in Dutch. "They're a pair of Polakers; and this man" (with a twist of his
pale-blue eyes in the direction of the Bewhiskered One) "and I had to
carry it all the _Gottverdummer_ way to this _Gottverdummer_ place."

All this time the incognizable _nouveau_ was smoking slowly and calmly,
and looking at nothing at all with his black buttonlike eyes. Upon his
face no faintest suggestion of expression could be discovered by the
hungry minds which focussed unanimously upon its almost stern contours.
The deep furrows in the cardboardlike cheeks (furrows which resembled
slightly the gills of some extraordinary fish, some unbreathing fish)
moved not an atom. The moustache drooped in something like mechanical
tranquillity. The lips closed occasionally with a gesture at once
abstracted and sensitive upon the lightly and carefully held cigarette;
whose curling smoke accentuated the poise of the head, at once alert and

Monsieur Auguste broke in, speaking, as I thought, Russian--and in an
instant he and the youth in puttees and the Unknowable's cigarette and
the box and the Unknowable had disappeared through the crowd in the
direction of Monsieur Auguste's _paillasse_, which was also the direction
of the _paillasse_ belonging to the Cordonnier as he was sometimes
called--a diminutive man with immense mustachios of his own who
promenaded with Monsieur Auguste, speaking sometimes French but, as a
general rule, Russian or Polish.

Which was my first glimpse, and is the reader's, of the Zulu; he being
one of the Delectable Mountains. For which reason I shall have more to
say of him later, when I ascend the Delectable Mountains in a separate
chapter or chapters; till when the reader must be content with the above,
however unsatisfactory description....

One of the most utterly repulsive personages whom I have met in my
life--perhaps (and on second thought I think certainly) the most utterly
repulsive--was shortly after this presented to our midst by the
considerate French government. I refer to The Fighting Sheeney. Whether
or no he arrived after the Spanish Whoremaster I cannot say. I remember
that Bill the Hollander--which was the name of the triangular rope-belted
man with shifty blue eyes (co-_arrive_ with the whiskey Belgian; which
Belgian, by the way, from his not to be exaggerated brutal look, B. and
myself called The Baby-snatcher)--upon his arrival told great tales of a
Spanish millionaire with whom he had been in prison just previous to his
discovery of La Ferte. "He'll be here too in a couple o' days," added
Bill the Hollander, who had been fourteen years in These United States,
spoke the language to a T, talked about "The America Lakes," and was
otherwise amazingly well acquainted with The Land of The Free. And sure
enough, in less than a week one of the fattest men whom I have ever laid
eyes on, over-dressed, much beringed and otherwise wealthy-looking,
arrived--and was immediately played up to by Judas (who could smell cash
almost as far as _le gouvernement francais_ could smell sedition) and, to
my somewhat surprise, by the utterly respectable Count Bragard. But most
emphatically NOT by Mexique, who spent a half-hour talking to the
_nouveau_ in his own tongue, then drifted placidly over to our beds and
informed us:

"You see dat feller over dere, dat fat feller? I speak Spanish to him. He
no good. Tell me he make fifty thousand franc last year runnin'
whorehouse in" (I think it was) "Brest. Son of bitch!"

"Dat fat feller" lived in a perfectly huge bed which he contrived to have
brought up for him immediately upon his arrival. The bed arrived in a
knock-down state and with it a mechanician from _la ville_, who set about
putting it together, meanwhile indulging in many glances expressive not
merely of interest but of amazement and even fear. I suppose the bed had
to be of a special size in order to accommodate the circular millionaire
and being an extraordinary bed required the services of a skilled
artisan--at all events, "dat fat feller's" couch put the Skipper's
altogether in the shade. As I watched the process of construction it
occurred to me that after all here was the last word in luxury--to call
forth from the metropolis not only a special divan but with it a special
slave, the Slave of the Bed.... "Dat fat feller" had one of the prisoners
perform his _corvee_ for him. "Dat fat feller" bought enough at the
canteen twice every day to stock a transatlantic liner for seven voyages,
and never ace with the prisoners. I will mention him again apropos the
Mecca of respectability, the Great White Throne of purity, Three rings
Three--alias Count Bragard, to whom I have long since introduced my

So we come, willy-nilly, to The Fighting Sheeney.

The Fighting Sheeney arrived carrying the expensive suitcase of a livid,
strangely unpleasant-looking Roumanian gent, who wore a knit sweater of a
strangely ugly red hue, impeccable clothes, and an immaculate velour hat
which must have been worth easily fifty francs. We called this gent
Rockyfeller. His personality might be faintly indicated by the adjective
Disagreeable. The porter was a creature whom Ugly does not even slightly
describe. There are some specimens of humanity in whose presence one
instantly and instinctively feels a profound revulsion, a revulsion
which--perhaps because it is profound--cannot be analysed. The Fighting
Sheeney was one of these specimens. His face (or to use the good American
idiom, his mug) was exceedingly coarse-featured and had an indefatigable
expression of sheer brutality--yet the impression which it gave could not
be traced to any particular plane or line. I can and will say, however,
that this face was most hideous--perhaps that is the word--when it
grinned. When The Fighting Sheeney grinned you felt that he desired to
eat you, and was prevented from eating you only by a superior desire to
eat everybody at once. He and Rockyfeller came to us from, I think it
was, the Sante; both accompanied B. to Precigne. During the weeks which
The Fighting Sheeney spent at La Ferte Mace, the non-existence of the
inhabitants of The Enormous Room was rendered something more than
miserable. It was rendered well-nigh unbearable.

The night Rockyfeller and his slave arrived was a night to be remembered
by everyone. It was one of the wildest and strangest and most perfectly
interesting nights I, for one, ever spent. Rockyfeller had been corralled
by Judas, and was enjoying a special bed to our right at the upper end of
The Enormous Room. At the canteen he had purchased a large number of
candles in addition to a great assortment of dainties which he and Judas
were busily enjoying--when the _planton_ came up, counted us twice,
divided by three, gave the order "_Lumieres eteintes_," and descended,
locking the door behind him. Everyone composed himself for miserable
sleep. Everyone except Judas, who went on talking to Rockyfeller, and
Rockyfeller, who proceeded to light one of his candles and begin a
pleasant and conversational evening. The Fighting Sheeney lay stark-naked
on a _paillasse_ between me and his lord. The Fighting Sheeney told
everyone that to sleep stark-naked was to avoid bugs (whereof everybody,
including myself, had a goodly portion). The Fighting Sheeney was,
however, quieted by the _planton's_ order; whereas Rockyfeller continued
to talk and munch to his heart's content. This began to get on
everybody's nerves. Protests in a number of languages arose from all
parts of The Enormous Room. Rockyfeller gave a contemptuous look around
him and proceeded with his conversation. A curse emanated from the
darkness. Up sprang The Fighting Sheeney, stark naked; strode over to the
bed of the curser, and demanded ferociously:

"_Boxe? Vous!_"

The curser was apparently fast asleep, and even snoring. The Fighting
Sheeney turned away disappointed, and had just reached his _paillasse_
when he was greeted by a number of uproariously discourteous remarks
uttered in all sorts of tongues. Over he rushed, threatened, received no
response, and turned back to his place. Once more ten or twelve voices
insulted him from the darkness. Once more The Fighting Sheeney made for
them, only to find sleeping innocents. Again he tried to go to bed. Again
the shouts arose, this time with redoubled violence and in greatly
increased number. The Fighting Sheeney was at his wits' end. He strode
about challenging everyone to fight, receiving not the slightest
recognition, cursing, reviling, threatening, bullying. The darkness
always waited for him to resume his mattress, then burst out in all sorts
of maledictions upon his head and the sacred head of his lord and master.
The latter was told to put out his candle, go to sleep and give the rest
a chance to enjoy what pleasure they might in forgetfulness of their
woes. Whereupon he appealed to The Sheeney to stop this. The Sheeney
(almost weeping) said he had done his best, that everyone was a pig, that
nobody would fight, that it was disgusting. Roars of applause. Protests
from the less strenuous members of our circle against the noise in
general: Let him have his _foutue_ candle, Shut up, Go to sleep yourself,
etc. Rockyfeller kept on talking (albeit visibly annoyed by the
ill-breeding of his fellow-captives) to the smooth and oily Judas. The
noise, or rather noises, increased. I was for some reason angry at
Rockyfeller--I think I had a curious notion that if I couldn't have a
light after "_lumieres eteintes_" and if my very good friends were none
of them allowed to have one, then, by God! neither should Rockyfeller. At
any rate, I passed a few remarks calculated to wither the by this time a
little nervous Uebermench; got up, put on some enormous _sabots_ (which I
had purchased from a horrid little boy whom the French Government had
arrested with his parent, for some cause unknown--which horrid little boy
told me that he had "found" the _sabots_ "in a train" on the way to La
Ferte) shook myself into my fur coat, and banged as noisemakingly as I
knew how over to One Eyed Dah-veed's _paillasse_, where Mexique joined
us. "It is useless to sleep," said One Eyed Dah-veed in French and
Spanish. "True," I agreed; "therefore, let's make all the noise we can."

Steadily the racket bulged in the darkness. Human cries, quips and
profanity had now given place to wholly inspired imitations of various,
not to say sundry, animals. Afrique exclaimed--with great pleasure I
recognised his voice through the impenetrable gloom:


--"perhaps," said I, "he means a machine gun; it sounds like either that
or a monkey." The Wanderer crowed beautifully. Monsieur Auguste's bosom
friend, _le Cordonnier_, uttered an astonishing:


which provoked a tornado of laughter and some applause. Mooings,
chirpings, cacklings--there was a superb hen--neighings, he-hawing,
roarings, bleatings, growlings, quackings, peepings, screamings,
bellowings, and--something else, of course--set The Enormous Room
suddenly and entirely alive. Never have I imagined such a menagerie as
had magically instated itself within the erstwhile soggy and dismal four
walls of our chamber. Even such staid characters as Count Bragard set up
a little bawling. Monsieur Pet-airs uttered a tiny aged crowing to my
immense astonishment and delight. The dying, the sick, the ancient, the
mutilated, made their contributions to the common pandemonium. And then,
from the lower left darkness, sprouted one of the very finest noises
which ever fell on human ears--the noise of a little dog with floppy ears
who was tearing after something on very short legs and carrying his very
fuzzy tail straight up in the air as he tore; a little dog who was busier
than he was wise, louder than he was big; a red-tongued, foolish
breathless, intent little dog with black eyes and a great smile and
woolly paws--which noise, conceived and executed by The Lobster, sent The
Enormous Room into an absolute and incurable hysteria.

The Fighting Sheeney was at a standstill. He knew not how to turn. At
last he decided to join with the insurgents, and wailed brutally and
dismally. That was the last straw: Rockyfeller, who could no longer (even
by shouting to Judas) make himself heard, gave up conversation and gazed
angrily about him; angrily yet fearfully, as if he expected some of these
numerous bears, lions, tigers and baboons to leap upon him from the
darkness. His livid super-disagreeable face trembled with the flickering
cadence of the candle. His lean lips clenched with mortification and
wrath. "_Vous etes chef de chambre_," he said fiercely to Judas--"why
don't you make the men stop this? _C'est enmerdant._" "Ah," replied Judas
smoothly and insinuatingly--"They are only men, and boors at that; you
can't expect them to have any manners." A tremendous group of Something
Elses greeted this remark together with cries, insults, groans and
linguistic trumpetings. I got up and walked the length of the room to the
cabinet (situated as always by this time of night in a pool which was in
certain places six inches deep, from which pool my _sabots_ somewhat
protected me) and returned, making as loud a clattering as I was able.
Suddenly the voice of Monsieur Auguste leaped through the din in an

"_Alors! c'est as-sez._"

The next thing we knew he had reached the window just below the cabinet
(the only window, by the way, not nailed up with good long wire nails for
the sake of warmth) and was shouting in a wild, high, gentle, angry voice
to the sentinel below:

"_Plan-ton!_ It is impos-si-ble to sleep!"

A great cry: "Yes! I am coming!" floated up--every single noise
dropped--Rockyfeller shot out his hand for the candle, seized it in
terror, blew it out as if blowing it out were the last thing he would do
in this life--and The Enormous Room hung silent; enormously dark,
enormously expectant....

BANG! Open the door. "_Alors, qui, m'appelle? Qu'est-ce qu'on a foutu
ici._" And the Black Holster, revolver in hand, flashed his torch into
the inky stillness of the chamber. Behind him stood two _plantons_ white
with fear; their trembling hands clutching revolvers, the barrels of
which shook ludicrously.

"_C'est moi, plan-ton!_" Monsieur Auguste explained that no one could
sleep because of the noise, and that the noise was because "_ce monsieur
la_" would not extinguish his candle when everyone wanted to sleep. The
Black Holster turned to the room at large and roared: "You children of
_Merde_ don't let this happen again or I'll fix you every one of
you."--Then he asked if anyone wanted to dispute this assertion (he
brandishing his revolver the while) and was answered by peaceful
snorings. Then he said by X Y and Z he'd fix the noisemakers in the
morning and fix them good--and looked for approbation to his trembling
assistants. Then he swore twenty or thirty times for luck, turned, and
thundered out on the heels of his fleeing _confreres_ who almost tripped
over each other in their haste to escape from The Enormous Room. Never
have I seen a greater exhibition of bravery than was afforded by The
Black Holster, revolver in hand, holding at bay the snoring and
weaponless inhabitants of The Enormous Room. _Vive les plantons._ He
should have been a _gendarme_.

Of course Rockyfeller, having copiously tipped the officials of La Ferte
upon his arrival, received no slightest censure nor any hint of
punishment for his deliberate breaking an established rule--a rule for
the breaking of which anyone of the common scum (e.g., thank God, myself)
would have got _cabinot de suite_. No indeed. Several of _les hommes_,
however, got _pain sec_--not because they had been caught in an act of
vociferous protestation by the Black Holster, which they had not--but
just on principle, as a warning to the rest of us and to teach us a
wholesome respect for (one must assume) law and order. One and all, they
heartily agreed that it was worth it. Everyone knew, of course, that the
Spy had peached. For, by Jove, even in The Enormous Room there was a man
who earned certain privileges and acquired a complete immunity from
punishment by squealing on his fellow-sufferers at each and every
opportunity. A really ugly person, with a hard knuckling face and
treacherous hands, whose daughter lived downstairs in a separate room
apart from _les putains_ (against which "dirty," "filthy," "whores" he
could not say enough--"Hi'd rather die than 'ave my daughter with them
stinkin' 'ores," remarked once to me this strictly moral man, in Cockney
English) and whose daughter (aged thirteen) was generally supposed to
serve in a pleasurable capacity. One did not need to be warned against
the Spy (as both B. and I were warned, upon our arrival)--a single look
at that phiz was enough for anyone partially either intelligent or
sensitive. This phiz or mug had, then, squealed. Which everyone took as a
matter of course and admitted among themselves that hanging was too good
for him.

But the vast and unutterable success achieved by the _Menagerie_ was
this--Rockyfeller, shortly after, left our ill-bred society for
"_l'hopital_"; the very same "hospital" whose comforts and seclusion
Monsieur le Surveillant had so dextrously recommended to B. and myself.
Rockyfeller kept The Fighting Sheeney in his way, in order to defend him
when he went on promenade; otherwise our connection with him was
definitely severed, his new companions being Muskowitz the Cock-eyed
Millionaire, and The Belgian Song Writer--who told everyone to whom he
spoke that he was a government official ("_de la blague_" cried the
little Machine-Fixer, "_c'est un menteur!_" Adding that he knew of this
person in Belgium and that this person was a man who wrote popular
ditties). Would to Heaven we had got rid of the slave as well as the
master--but unfortunately The Fighting Sheeney couldn't afford to follow
his lord's example. So he went on making a nuisance of himself, trying
hard to curry favour with B. and me, getting into fights and bullying
everyone generally.

Also this lion-hearted personage spent one whole night shrieking and
moaning on his _paillasse_ after an injection by Monsieur Richard--for
syphilis. Two or three men were, in the course of a few days, discovered
to have had syphilis for some time. They had it in their mouths. I don't
remember them particularly, except that at least one was a Belgian. Of
course they and The Fighting Sheeney had been using the common dipper and
drink pail. _Le gouvernement francais_ couldn't be expected to look out
for a little thing like venereal disease among prisoners: didn't it have
enough to do curing those soldiers who spent their time on permission
trying their best to infect themselves with both gonorrhea and syphilis?
Let not the reader suppose I am day-dreaming: let him rather recall that
I had had the honour of being a member of Section Sanitaire Vingt-et-Un,
which helped evacuate the venereal hospital at Ham, with whose
inhabitants (in odd moments) I talked and walked and learned several
things about _la guerre_. Let the reader--if he does not realise it
already--realise that This Great War for Humanity, etc., did not agree
with some people's ideas, and that some people's ideas made them prefer
to the glories of the front line the torments (I have heard my friends at
Ham screaming a score of times) attendant upon venereal diseases. Or as
one of my aforesaid friends told me--after discovering that I was, in
contrast to _les americains_, not bent upon making France discover
America but rather upon discovering France and _les francais_ myself:

"_Mon vieux_, it's quite simple. I go on leave. I ask to go to Paris,
because there are prostitutes there who are totally diseased. I catch
syphilis, and, when possible gonorrhea also. I come back. I leave for the
front line. I am sick. The hospital. The doctor tells me: you must not
smoke or drink, then you will be cured quickly. 'Thanks, doctor!' I drink
all the time and I smoke all the time and I do not get well. I stay five,
six, seven weeks. Perhaps a few months. At last, I am well. I rejoin my
regiment. And now it is my turn to go on leave. I go. Again the same
thing. It's very pretty, you know."

But about the syphilitics at La Ferte: they were, somewhat tardily to be
sure, segregated in a very small and dirty room--for a matter of,
perhaps, two weeks. And the Surveillant actually saw to it that during
this period they ate _la soupe_ out of individual china bowls.

I scarcely know whether The Fighting Sheeney made more of a nuisance of
himself during his decumbiture or during the period which followed
it--which period houses an astonishing number of fights, rows, bullyings,
etc. He must have had a light case for he was cured in no time, and on
everyone's back as usual. Well, I will leave him for the nonce; in fact,
I will leave him until I come to The Young Pole, who wore black puttees
and spoke of The Zulu as "_mon ami_"--the Young Pole whose troubles I
will recount in connection with the second Delectable Mountain Itself. I
will leave the Sheeney with the observation that he was almost as vain as
he was vicious; for with what ostentation, one day when we were in the
kitchen, did he show me a post-card received that afternoon from Paris,
whereon I read "Comme vous etes beau" and promises to send more money as
fast as she earned it and, hoping that he had enjoyed her last present,
the signature (in a big, adoring hand)

"_Ta mome. Alice._"

and when I had read it--sticking his map up into my face, The Fighting
Sheeney said with emphasis:

"_No travailler moi. Femme travaille, fait la noce, tout le temps.
Toujours avec officiers anglais. Gagne beaucoup, cent franc, deux cent
franc, trois cent franc, toutes les nuits. Anglais riches. Femme me donne
tout. Moi no travailler. Bon, eh?_"

Grateful for this little piece of information, and with his leer an inch
from my chin, I answered slowly and calmly that it certainly was. I might
add that he spoke Spanish by preference (according to Mexique very bad
Spanish); for The Fighting Sheeney had made his home for a number of
years in Rio, and his opinion thereof may be loosely translated by the
expressive phrase, "it's a swell town."

A charming fellow, The Fighting Sheeney.

Now I must tell you what happened to the poor Spanish Whoremaster. I have
already noted the fact that Count Bragard conceived an immediate fondness
for this rolypoly individual, whose belly--as he lay upon his back of a
morning in bed--rose up with the sheets, blankets and quilts as much as
two feet above the level of his small, stupid head studded with chins. I
have said that this admiration on the part of the admirable Count and R.
A. for a personage of the Spanish Whoremaster's profession somewhat
interested me. The fact is, a change had recently come in our own
relations with Vanderbilt's friend. His cordiality toward B. and myself
had considerably withered. From the time of our arrivals the good
nobleman had showered us with favours and advice. To me, I may say, he
was even extraordinarily kind. We talked painting, for example: Count
Bragard folded a piece of paper, tore it in the centre of the folded
edge, unfolded it carefully, exhibiting a good round hole, and remarking:
"Do you know this trick? It's an English trick, Mr. Cummings," held the
paper before him and gazed profoundly through the circular aperture at an
exceptionally disappointing section of the altogether gloomy landscape,
visible thanks to one of the ecclesiastical windows of The Enormous Room.
"Just look at that, Mr. Cummings," he said with quiet dignity. I looked.
I tried my best to find something to the left. "No, no, straight
through," Count Bragard corrected me. "There's a lovely bit of
landscape," he said sadly. "If I only had my paints here. I thought, you
know, of asking my housekeeper to send them on from Paris--but how can
you paint in a bloody place like this with all these bloody pigs around
you? It's ridiculous to think of it. And it's tragic, too," he added
grimly, with something like tears in his grey, tired eyes.

Or we were promenading The Enormous Room after supper--the evening
promenade in the _cour_ having been officially eliminated owing to the
darkness and the cold of the autumn twilight--and through the windows the
dull bloating colours of sunset pouring faintly; and the Count stops dead
in his tracks and regards the sunset without speaking for a number of
seconds. Then--"it's glorious, isn't it?" he asks quietly. I say
"Glorious indeed." He resumes his walk with a sigh, and I accompany him.
"_Ce n'est pas difficile a peindre, un coucher du soleil_, it's not
hard," he remarks gently. "No?" I say with deference. "Not hard a bit,"
the Count says, beginning to use his hands. "You only need three colours,
you know. Very simple." "Which colours are they?" I inquire ignorantly.
"Why, you know of course," he says surprised. "Burnt sienna, cadmium
yellow, and--er--there! I can't think of it. I know it as well as I know
my own face. So do you. Well, that's stupid of me."

Or, his worn eyes dwelling benignantly upon my duffle-bag, he warns me
(in a low voice) of Prussian Blue.

"Did you notice the portrait hanging in the bureau of the Surveillant?"
Count Bragard inquired one day. "That's a pretty piece of work, Mr.
Cummings. Notice it when you get a chance. The green moustache,
particularly fine. School of Cezanne."--"Really?" I said in
surprise.--"Yes, indeed," Count Bragard said, extracting his
tired-looking hands from his tired-looking trousers with a cultured
gesture. "Fine young fellow painted that. I knew him. Disciple of the
master. Very creditable piece of work."--"Did you ever see Cezanne?" I
ventured.--"Bless you, yes, scores of times," he answered almost
pityingly.--"What did he look like?" I asked, with great
curiosity.--"Look like? His appearance, you mean?" Count Bragard seemed
at a loss. "Why he was not extraordinary looking. I don't know how you
could describe him. Very difficult in English. But you know a phrase we
have in French, '_l'air pesant_'; I don't think there's anything in
English for it; _il avait l'air pesant_, Cezanne, if you know what I

"I should work, I should not waste my time," the Count would say almost
weepingly. "But it's no use, my things aren't here. And I'm getting old
too; couldn't concentrate in this stinking hole of a place, you know."

I did some hasty drawings of Monsieur Pet-airs washing and rubbing his
bald head with a great towel in the dawn. The R.A. caught me in the act
and came over shortly after, saying, "Let me see them." In some
perturbation (the subject being a particular friend of his) I showed one
drawing. "Very good, in fact, excellent," the R.A. smiled whimsically.
"You have a real talent for caricature, Mr. Cummings, and you should
exercise it. You really got Peters. Poor Peters, he's a fine fellow, you
know; but this business of living in the muck and filth, _c'est
malheureux_. Besides, Peters is an old man. It's a dirty bloody shame,
that's what it is. A bloody shame that all of us here should be forced to
live like pigs with this scum!

"I tell you what, Mr. Cummings," he said, with something like fierceness,
his weary eyes flashing, "I'm getting out of here shortly, and when I do
get out (I'm just waiting for my papers to be sent on by the French
consul) I'll not forget my friends. We've lived together and suffered
together and I'm not a man to forget it. This hideous mistake is nearly
cleared up, and when I go free I'll do anything for you and your chum.
Anything I can do for you I'd be only too glad to do it. If you want me
to buy you paints when I'm in Paris, nothing would give me more pleasure.
I know French as well as I know my own language" (he most certainly did)
"and whereas you might be cheated, I'll get you everything you need _a
bon marche_. Because you see they know me there, and I know just where to
go. Just give me the money for what you need and I'll get you the best
there is in Paris for it. You needn't worry"--I was protesting that it
would be too much trouble--"my dear fellow, it's no trouble to do a
favour for a friend."

And to B. and myself _ensemble_ he declared, with tears in his eyes, "I
have some marmalade at my house in Paris, real marmalade, not the sort of
stuff you buy these days. We know how to make it. You can't get an idea
how delicious it is. In big crocks"--the Count said simply--"well, that's
for you boys." We protested that he was too kind. "Nothing of the sort,"
he said, with a delicate smile. "I have a son in the English Army," and
his face clouded with worry, "and we send him some now and then, he's
crazy about it. I know what it means to him. And you shall share in it
too. I'll send you six crocks." Then, suddenly looking at us with a
pleasant expression, "By Jove!" the Count said, "do you like whiskey?
Real Bourbon whiskey? I see by your look that you know what it is. But
you never tasted anything like this. Do you know London?" I said no, as I
had said once before. "Well, that's a pity," he said, "for if you did
you'd know this bar. I know the barkeeper well, known him for thirty
years. There's a picture of mine hanging in his place. Look at it when
you're in London, drop in to ---- Street, you'll find the place, anyone
will tell you where it is. This fellow would do anything for me. And now
I'll tell you what I'll do: you fellows give me whatever you want to
spend and I'll get you the best whiskey you ever tasted. It's his own
private stock, you understand. I'll send it on to you--God knows you need
it in this place. I wouldn't do this for anyone else, you understand,"
and he smiled kindly; "but we've been prisoners together, and we
understand each other, and that's enough for gentlemen. I won't forget
you." He drew himself up. "I shall write," he said slowly and distinctly,
"to Vanderbilt about you. I shall tell him it's a dirty bloody shame that
you two young Americans, gentlemen born, should be in this foul place.
He's a man who's quick to act. He'll not tolerate a thing like this--an
outrage, a bloody outrage, upon two of his own countrymen. We shall see
what happens then."

It was during this period that Count Bragard lent us for our personal use
his greatest treasure, a water glass. "I don't need it," he said simply
and pathetically.

Now, as I have said, a change in our relations came.

It came at the close of one soggy, damp, raining afternoon. For this
entire hopeless grey afternoon Count Bragard and B. promenaded The
Enormous Room. Bragard wanted the money--for the whiskey and the paints.
The marmalade and the letter to Vanderbilt were, of course, gratis.
Bragard was leaving us. Now was the time to give him money for what we
wanted him to buy in Paris and London. I spent my time rushing about,
falling over things, upsetting people, making curious and secret signs to
B., which signs, being interpreted, meant be careful! But there was no
need of telling him this particular thing. When the _planton_ announced
_la soupe_, a fiercely weary face strode by me en route to his mattress
and his spoon. I knew that B. had been careful. A minute later he joined
me, and told me as much....

On the way downstairs we ran into the Surveillant. Bragard stepped from
the ranks and poured upon the Surveillant a torrent of French, of which
the substance was: you told them not to give me anything. The Surveillant
smiled and bowed and wound and unwound his hands behind his back and
denied anything of the sort.

It seems that B. had heard that the kindly nobleman wasn't going to Paris
at all.

Moreover, Monsieur Pet-airs had said to B. something about Count Bragard
being a suspicious personage--Monsieur Pet-airs, the R.A.'s best friend.

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