RICHARD HARDING DAVIS
WITH AN INTRODUCTION
JOHN T. MCCUTCHEON
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1918
When Mr. Davis wrote the story of "The Deserter," he could not
possibly have foreseen that it was to be his last story—the last
of those short stories which gave him such eminence as a
He apparently was as rugged and as vigorous as ever.
And yet, had he sat down to write a story which he knew was to be
his last, I do not think he could have written one more fittingly
designed to be the capstone of his literary monument. The theme is
one in which he has unconsciously mirrored his own ideals of
honorable obligation, as well as one which presents a wholesome
lesson to young soldiers who have taken an oath to do faithful
service to a nation.
It is a story with a moral so subtly expressed that every soldier
or sailor who reads it will think seriously of it if the
temptation to such disloyalty should enter his mind. This story of
the young man who tried to desert at Salonika may well have a
heartening influence upon all men in uniforms who waver in the
path of duty—especially in these days of vast military operations
when a whole world is in arms. It belongs in patriotic literature
by the side of Edward Everett Hale's "The Man Without a Country."
The motif is the same—that of obligation and service and loyalty
to a pledge.
In "The Deserter" Mr. Davis does not reveal the young soldier's
name, for obvious reasons, and the name of the hotel and ship in
Salonika are likewise disguised. It is part of the art of the
skilful story-writer to dress his narrative in such a way as to
eliminate those matter-of-fact details which would be emphasized
by one writing the story as a matter of news. For instance, the
Hotel Hermes in Mr. Davis's story is the Olympos Palace Hotel, and
the Adriaticus is the Greek steamer Helleni. The name of the
young soldier is given as "Hamlin," and under this literary
"camouflage," to borrow a word born of the war, the story may be
read without the thought that a certain definite young man will be
humiliated by seeing his own name revealed as that of a potential
But the essentials of the story are all true, and its value as a
lasting influence for good is in no way impaired by the necessary
fictions as to places and identities.
It was my privilege to see the dramatic incidents of the story of
"The Deserter" as they unfolded during the time included in Mr.
Davis's story. The setting was in the huge room—chamber,
living-room, workroom, clubroom, and sometimes dining-room that we
occupied in the Olympos Palace Hotel in Salonika. William G.
Shepherd, of the United Press, James H. Hare, the veteran war
photographer, and I were the original occupants of this room,
which owed its vast dimensions to the fact that it formerly had
been the dining-room of the hotel, later the headquarters of the
Austrian Club, and finally, under the stressful conditions of an
overcrowded city, a bedroom. Mr. Davis joined us here in November
of 1915, and for some days shared the room until he could secure
another in the same hotel.
The city was seething with huge activities. We lived from day to
day, not knowing what moment some disaster might result as a
consequence of an incongruous military and political situation, in
which German and Austrian consular officials walked the streets
side by side with French and British officers. Men who had lived
through many strange situations declared that this motley of
tongues and nationalities and conflicting interests to be found in
Salonika during those last weeks of 1915 was without a parallel in
Into this atmosphere occasionally came the little human dramas
that were a welcome novelty beside the big drama that dominated
the picture, and it was thus that the drama of the young soldier
who wished to desert came into our lives as a gripping, human
To Mr. Davis the drama was more than a "news" story; it was
something big and fundamental, involving a young man's whole
future, and as such it revealed to his quick instinct for dramatic
situations the theme for a big story.
No sooner had "Hamlin" left our room, reclad in his dirty uniform
and headed for certain punishment back at his camp, than Mr. Davis
proclaimed his intention to write the story.
"The best war story I ever knew!" he exclaimed.
Of course the young soldier did not see it as a drama in real
life, and he certainly did not comprehend that he might be playing
a part in what would be a tragedy in his own life. To him the
incident had no dramatic possibilities. He was merely a young man
who had been racked by exposure and suffering to a point where he
longed to escape a continuance of such hardship, and the easiest
way out of it seemed by way of deserting.
He was "fed up" on discomfort and dirt and cold, and harassed by
the effects of an ill-healed wound received in Flanders some
months before, and he wanted to go home.
The story, as Mr. Davis tells it in the following pages, is
complete as it stands. So far as he knew up to the time of his
death, there was no sequel. He died thinking of "Hamlin" as a
potential deserter who had been shamed out of his purpose to
desert and who had left, ungrateful and bitter with resentment at
his fellow Americans, who had persuaded him to go back to camp,
"take his medicine," and "see it through."
The Hotel "Hermes" is probably no more. Only a few days ago the
news came that all of the water-front of Salonika, a district
stretching in splendid array from the "White Tower" to the Customs
House, had been wiped out by a tremendous fire. It was in this
district that most of the finest buildings, including the Olympos
Palace Hotel—the Hotel Hermes of Mr. Davis's story—were located,
and there is little likelihood that any of this part of the city
escaped. The magnitude of the fire is indicated by the estimated
loss, which is $100,000,000, with about $26,000,000 insurance.
The government has authorized the construction of barracks outside
the burned zone, but has decided not to permit repairs or
temporary construction within that area until plans for rebuilding
the city are complete.
Thus the setting of the story of "The Deserter" is gone, the
author is gone, and who can tell at this moment whether "Hamlin,"
fighting in the trenches on the British front in Prance, is not
I hope it may not affect the interest or the moral of the story if
I give the sequel. I know that Mr. Davis would have been glad to
hear what became of the young man who left our room with an angry
word of resentment against us. I hope, too, that the reader will
feel a natural interest in knowing how he fared, and what
punishment he received for having overstayed his leave, and for
shaving his mustache as part of his plan to escape detection, both
of which infractions made him subject to punishment.
One day about three weeks after Davis had left Salonika homeward
bound, a soldier brought us a note from "Hamlin." He was on a Red
Cross lighter down at the pier, and we at once went down to see
him. He was lying on a stretcher among scores of men. His face was
thin and pale, and in answer to our eager questions he told how he
had fared when he returned to camp.
"Oh, they gave it to me good," he said. "But they still think I
got drunk. They took away my stripes and made me a private. But I
was sick the night I got back to camp and I've been laid up ever
since. They say there is something the matter with my intestines
and they're going to cut me open again. Gee, but the captain was
surprised! He said he had always counted on me as a teetotaller
and that he was grieved and disappointed in me. And just think,
I've never taken a drink in my life!"
We said good-by, and this time it was a friendly good-by. That
night he left on a hospital ship for Alexandria.
Once more the course of young Mr. "Hamlin's" life was swallowed up
in the vast oblivion of army life, and we heard no more of him
until, one day in London, three months later, Shepherd felt an arm
thrown about his shoulder and turned to find the healthy and
cheerful face of "Hamlin."
A few minutes later, at a luncheon-table, Shepherd heard his
After leaving Alexandria he was sent to a hospital in Manchester.
On the day of his discharge he was asked to report to a certain
major, who informed him that the government had conferred upon him
the D.C.M.—the medal for Distinguished Conduct in the field—in
recognition of his service in recovering a wounded man from No
Man's land in Flanders ten months before. The following day,
before a file of soldiers drawn up on the parade-ground, the honor
was officially conferred and a little ribbon was pinned upon his
coat to testify to the appreciative, though somewhat tardy,
gratitude of the government.
"Hamlin" pointed to the little ribbon on his lapel and proudly
drew from his pocket an official paper in which his heroic
achievement was duly recited.
He had not heard of Davis's death, and was deeply touched when Mr.
Shepherd told him of it. At once he expressed his endless
gratitude to Davis and the rest of us for what we had done for him
In a few days he was to return to France with his regiment. What
has happened to him since then I have no means of knowing. His
movements are again wrapped in that dense fog which veils the
soldier's life to all the outside world except those to whom he
In view of what we now know of Hamlin's physical condition at the
time his mind was obsessed with the idea of deserting, both Mr.
Shepherd and I are glad to believe that his decision to desert was
the consequence of physical rather than mental or moral weakness,
for his stamina was at its lowest ebb because of a weakened body.
JOHN T. McCUTCHEON.
September 15, 1917.
In Salonika, the American consul, the Standard Oil man, and the
war correspondents formed the American colony. The correspondents
were waiting to go to the front. Incidentally, as we waited, the
front was coming rapidly toward us. There was "Uncle" Jim, the
veteran of many wars, and of all the correspondents, in experience
the oldest and in spirit the youngest, and there was the Kid, and
the Artist. The Kid jeered at us, and proudly described himself as
the only Boy Reporter who jumped from a City Hall assignment to
cover a European War. "I don't know strategy," he would boast;
"neither does the Man at Home. He wants 'human interest' stuff,
and I give him what he wants. I write exclusively for the subway
guard and the farmers in the wheat belt. When you fellows write
about the 'Situation,' they don't understand it. Neither do you.
Neither does Venizelos or the King. I don't understand it myself.
So, I write my people heart-to-heart talks about refugees and
wounded, and what kind of ploughs the Servian peasants use, and
that St. Paul wrote his letters to the Thessalonians from the same
hotel where I write mine; and I tell 'em to pronounce Salonika
'eeka,' and not put the accent on the 'on.' This morning at the
refugee camp I found all the little Servians of the Frothingham
unit in American Boy Scout uniforms. That's my meat. That's 'home
week' stuff. You fellows write for the editorial page; and nobody
reads it. I write for the man that turns first to Mutt and Jeff,
and then looks to see where they are running the new Charlie
Chaplin release. When that man has to choose between 'our military
correspondent' and the City Hall Reporter, he chooses me!"
The third man was John, "Our Special Artist." John could write a
news story, too, but it was the cartoons that had made him famous.
They were not comic page, but front page cartoons, and before
making up their minds what they thought, people waited to see what
their Artist thought. So, it was fortunate his thoughts were as
brave and clean as they were clever. He was the original Little
Brother to the Poor. He was always giving away money. When we
caught him, he would prevaricate. He would say the man was a
college chum, that he had borrowed the money from him, and that
this was the first chance he had had to pay it back. The Kid
suggested it was strange that so many of his college chums should
at the same moment turn up, dead broke, in Salonika, and that half
of them should be women.
John smiled disarmingly. "It was a large college," he explained,
"and coeducational." There were other Americans; Red Cross doctors
and nurses just escaped through the snow from the Bulgars, and
hyphenated Americans who said they had taken out their first
papers. They thought hyphenated citizens were so popular with us,
that we would pay their passage to New York. In Salonika they were
transients. They had no local standing. They had no local
lying-down place, either, or place to eat, or to wash, although
they did not look as though that worried them, or place to change
their clothes. Or clothes to change. It was because we had clothes
to change, and a hotel bedroom, instead of a bench in a café, that
we were ranked as residents and from the Greek police held a
"permission to sojourn." Our American colony was a very close
corporation. We were only six Americans against 300,000 British,
French, Greek, and Servian soldiers, and 120,000 civilian Turks,
Spanish Jews, Armenians, Persians, Egyptians, Albanians, and
Arabs, and some twenty more other faces that are not listed. We
had arrived in Salonika before the rush, and at the Hotel Hermes
on the water-front had secured a vast room. The edge of the stone
quay was not forty feet from us, the only landing steps directly
opposite our balcony. Everybody who arrived on the Greek passenger
boats from Naples or the Piræus, or who had shore leave from a *
man-of-war, transport, or hospital ship, was raked by our cameras.
There were four windows—one for each of us and his worktable. It
was not easy to work. What was the use? The pictures and stories
outside the windows fascinated us, but when we sketched them or
wrote about them, they only proved us inadequate. All day long the
pinnaces, cutters, gigs, steam launches shoved and bumped against
the stone steps, marines came ashore for the mail, stewards for
fruit and fish, Red Cross nurses to shop, tiny midshipmen to visit
the movies, and the sailors and officers of the Russian, French,
British, Italian, and Greek war-ships to stretch their legs in the
park of the Tour Blanche, or to cramp them under a café table.
Sometimes the ambulances blocked the quay and the wounded and
frostbitten were lifted into the motorboats, and sometimes a squad
of marines lined the landing stage, and as a coffin under a French
or English flag was borne up the stone steps stood at salute. So
crowded was the harbor that the oars of the boatmen interlocked.
Close to the stone quay, stretched along the three-mile circle,
were the fishing smacks, beyond them, so near that the anchor
chains fouled, were the passenger ships with gigantic Greek flags
painted on their sides, and beyond them transports from
Marseilles, Malta, and Suvla Bay, black colliers, white hospital
ships, burning green electric lights, red-bellied tramps and
freighters, and, hemming them in, the grim, mouse-colored
destroyers, submarines, cruisers, dreadnaughts. At times, like a
wall, the cold fog rose between us and the harbor, and again the
curtain would suddenly be ripped asunder, and the sun would flash
on the brass work of the fleet, on the white wings of the
aeroplanes, on the snow-draped shoulders of Mount Olympus. We
often speculated as to how in the early days the gods and
goddesses, dressed as they were, or as they were not, survived the
snows of Mount Olympus. Or was it only their resort for the
It got about that we had a vast room to ourselves, where one might
obtain a drink, or a sofa for the night, or even money to cable
for money. So, we had many strange visitors, some half starved,
half frozen, with terrible tales of the Albanian trail, of the
Austrian prisoners fallen by the wayside, of the mountain passes
heaped with dead, of the doctors and nurses wading waist-high in
snowdrifts and for food killing the ponies. Some of our visitors
wanted to get their names in the American papers so that the folks
at home would know they were still alive, others wanted us to keep
their names out of the papers, hoping the police would think them
dead; another, convinced it was of pressing news value, desired us
to advertise the fact that he had invented a poisonous gas for use
in the trenches. With difficulty we prevented him from casting it
adrift in our room. Or, he had for sale a second-hand motorcycle,
or he would accept a position as barkeeper, or for five francs
would sell a state secret that, once made public, in a month would
end the war. It seemed cheap at the price.
Each of us had his "scouts" to bring him the bazaar rumor, the
Turkish bath rumor, the café rumor. Some of our scouts journeyed
as far afield as Monastir and Doiran, returning to drip snow on
the floor, and to tell us tales, one-half of which we refused to
believe, and the other half the censor refused to pass. With each
other's visitors it was etiquette not to interfere. It would have
been like tapping a private wire. When we found John sketching a
giant stranger in a cap and coat of wolf skin we did not seek to
know if he were an Albanian brigand, or a Servian prince
incognito, and when a dark Levantine sat close to the Kid,
whispering, and the Kid banged on his typewriter, we did not
So, when I came in one afternoon and found a strange American
youth writing at John's table, and no one introduced us, I took it
for granted he had sold the Artist an "exclusive" story, and asked
no questions. But I could not help hearing what they said. Even
though I tried to drown their voices by beating on the Kid's
typewriter. I was taking my third lesson, and I had printed, "I
Amm 5w writjng This, 5wjth my own lilly w?ite handS," when I heard
the Kid saying:
"You can beat the game this way. Let John buy you a ticket to the
Piræus. If you go from one Greek port to another you don't need a
visé. But, if you book from here to Italy, you must get a permit
from the Italian consul, and our consul, and the police. The plot
is to get out of the war zone, isn't it? Well, then, my dope is to
get out quick, and map the rest of your trip when you're safe in
It was no business of mine, but I had to look up. The stranger was
now pacing the floor. I noticed that while his face was almost
black with tan, his upper lip was quite white. I noticed also that
he had his hands in the pockets of one of John's blue serge suits,
and that the pink silk shirt he wore was one that once had
belonged to the Kid. Except for the pink shirt, in the appearance
of the young man there was nothing unusual. He was of a familiar
type. He looked like a young business man from our Middle West,
matter-of-fact and unimaginative, but capable and self-reliant. If
he had had a fountain pen in his upper waistcoat pocket, I would
have guessed he was an insurance agent, or the publicity man for a
new automobile. John picked up his hat, and said, "That's good
advice. Give me your steamer ticket, Fred, and I'll have them
change it." He went out; but he did not ask Fred to go with him.
Uncle Jim rose, and murmured something about the Café Roma, and
tea. But neither did he invite Fred to go with him. Instead, he
told him to make himself at home, and if he wanted anything the
waiter would bring it from the café downstairs. Then the Kid, as
though he also was uncomfortable at being left alone with us,
hurried to the door. "Going to get you a suitcase," he explained.
"Back in five minutes."
The stranger made no answer. Probably he did not hear him. Not a
hundred feet from our windows three Greek steamers were huddled
together, and the eyes of the American were fixed on them. The one
for which John had gone to buy him a new ticket lay nearest. She
was to sail in two hours. Impatiently, in short quick steps, the
stranger paced the length of the room, but when he turned and so
could see the harbor, he walked slowly, devouring it with his
eyes. For some time, in silence, he repeated this manoeuvre; and
then the complaints of the typewriter disturbed him. He halted and
observed my struggles. Under his scornful eye, in my embarrassment
I frequently hit the right letter. "You a newspaper man, too?" he
asked. I boasted I was, but begged not to be judged by my
"I got some great stories to write when I get back to God's
country," he announced. "I was a reporter for two years in Kansas
City before the war, and now I'm going back to lecture and write.
I got enough material to keep me at work for five years. All kinds
of stuff—specials, fiction stories, personal experiences, maybe a
I regarded him with envy. For the correspondents in the greatest
of all wars the pickings had been meagre. "You are to be
congratulated," I said. He brushed aside my congratulations. "For
what?" he demanded. "I didn't go after the stories; they came to
me. The things I saw I had to see. Couldn't get away from them.
I've been with the British, serving in the R.A.M.C. Been hospital
steward, stretcher bearer, ambulance driver. I've been sixteen
months at the front, and all the time on the firing-line. I was in
the retreat from Mons, with French on the Marne, at Ypres, all
through the winter fighting along the Canal, on the Gallipoli
Peninsula, and, just lately, in Servia. I've seen more of this war
than any soldier. Because, sometimes, they give the soldier a
rest; they never give the medical corps a rest. The only rest I
got was when I was wounded."
He seemed no worse for his wounds, so again I tendered
congratulations. This time he accepted them. The recollection of
the things he had seen, things incredible, terrible, unique in
human experience, had stirred him. He talked on, not boastfully,
but in a tone, rather, of awe and disbelief, as though assuring
himself that it was really he to whom such things had happened.
"I don't believe there's any kind of fighting I haven't seen," he
declared; "hand-to-hand fighting with bayonets, grenades, gun
butts. I've seen 'em on their knees in the mud choking each other,
beating each other with their bare fists. I've seen every kind of
airship, bomb, shell, poison gas, every kind of wound. Seen whole
villages turned into a brickyard in twenty minutes; in Servia seen
bodies of women frozen to death, bodies of babies starved to
death, seen men in Belgium swinging from trees; along the Yzer for
three months I saw the bodies of men I'd known sticking out of the
mud, or hung up on the barb wire, with the crows picking them.
"I've seen some of the nerviest stunts that ever were pulled off
in history. I've seen real heroes. Time and time again I've seen
a man throw away his life for his officer, or for a chap he didn't
know, just as though it was a cigarette butt. I've seen the women
nurses of our corps steer a car into a village and yank out a
wounded man while shells were breaking under the wheels and the
houses were pitching into the streets." He stopped and laughed
"Understand," he warned me, "I'm not talking about myself, only of
things I've seen. The things I'm going to put in my book. It ought
to be a pretty good book—what?"
My envy had been washed clean in admiration.
"It will make a wonderful book," I agreed. "Are you going to
syndicate it first?"
Young Mr. Hamlin frowned importantly.
"I was thinking," he said, "of asking John for letters to the
magazine editors. So, they'll know I'm not faking, that I've
really been through it all. Letters from John would help a lot."
Then he asked anxiously: "They would, wouldn't they?"
I reassured him. Remembering the Kid's gibes at John and his
numerous dependents, I said: "You another college chum of John's?"
The young man answered my question quite seriously. "No," he said;
"John graduated before I entered; but we belong to the same
fraternity. It was the luckiest chance in the world my finding him
here. There was a month-old copy of the Balkan News blowing
around camp, and his name was in the list of arrivals. The moment
I found he was in Salonika, I asked for twelve hours' leave, and
came down in an ambulance. I made straight for John; gave him the
grip, and put it up to him to help me."
"I don't understand," I said. "I thought you were sailing on the
The young man was again pacing the floor. He halted and faced the
"You bet I'm sailing on the Adriaticus" he said. He looked out
at that vessel, at the Blue Peter flying from her foremast, and
grinned. "In just two hours!"
It was stupid of me, but I still was unenlightened. "But your
twelve hours' leave?" I asked.
The young man laughed. "They can take my twelve hours' leave," he
said deliberately, "and feed it to the chickens. I'm beating it."
"What d'you mean, you're beating it?"
"What do you suppose I mean?" he demanded. "What do you suppose
I'm doing out of uniform, what do you suppose I'm lying low in the
room for? So's I won't catch cold?"
"If you're leaving the army without a discharge, and without
permission," I said, "I suppose you know it's desertion."
Mr. Hamlin laughed easily. "It's not my army," he said. "I'm an
"It's your desertion," I suggested.
The door opened and closed noiselessly, and Billy, entering,
placed a new travelling bag on the floor. He must have heard my
last words, for he looked inquiringly at each of us. But he did
not speak and, walking to the window, stood with his hands in his
pockets, staring out at the harbor. His presence seemed to
encourage the young man. "Who knows I'm deserting?" he demanded.
"No one's ever seen me in Salonika before, and in these 'cits' I
can get on board all right. And then they can't touch me. What do
the folks at home care how I left the British army? They'll be
so darned glad to get me back alive that they won't ask if I
walked out or was kicked out. I should worry!"
"It's none of my business," I began, but I was interrupted. In his
restless pacings the young man turned quickly.
"As you say," he remarked icily, "it is none of your business.
It's none of your business whether I get shot as a deserter, or go
"You can go to the devil for all I care," I assured him. "I wasn't
considering you at all. I was only sorry that I'll never be able
to read your book."
For a moment Mr. Hamlin remained silent, then he burst forth with
"No British firing squad," he boasted, "will ever stand me up."
"Maybe not," I agreed, "but you will never write that book."
Again there was silence, and this time it was broken by the Kid.
He turned from the window and looked toward Hamlin. "That's
right!" he said.
He sat down on the edge of the table, and at the deserter pointed
"Son," he said, "this war is some war. It's the biggest war in
history, and folks will be talking about nothing else for the next
ninety years; folks that never were nearer it than Bay City, Mich.
But you won't talk about it. And you've been all through it.
You've been to hell and back again. Compared with what you know
about hell, Dante is in the same class with Dr. Cook. But you
won't be able to talk about this war, or lecture, or write a book
"I won't?" demanded Hamlin. "And why won't I?"
"Because of what you're doing now," said Billy. "Because you're
queering yourself. Now, you've got everything." The Kid was very
much in earnest. His tone was intimate, kind, and friendly.
"You've seen everything, done everything. We'd give our eye-teeth
to see what you've seen, and to write the things you can write.
You've got a record now that'll last you until you're dead, and
your grandchildren are dead—and then some. When you talk the
table will have to sit up and listen. You can say 'I was there.'
'I was in it.' 'I saw.' 'I know.' When this war is over you'll
have everything out of it that's worth getting—all the
experiences, all the inside knowledge, all the 'nosebag' news;
you'll have wounds, honors, medals, money, reputation. And you're
throwing all that away!"
Mr. Hamlin interrupted savagely.
"To hell with their medals," he said. "They can take their medals
and hang 'em on Christmas trees. I don't owe the British army
anything. It owes me. I've done my bit. I've earned what I've
got, and there's no one can take it away from me."
"You can," said the Kid. Before Hamlin could reply the door
opened and John came in, followed by Uncle Jim. The older man was
looking very grave, and John very unhappy. Hamlin turned quickly
"I thought these men were friends of yours," he began, "and
Americans. They're fine Americans. They're as full of human
kindness and red blood as a kippered herring!"
John looked inquiringly at the Kid.
"He wants to hang himself," explained Billy, "and because we tried
to cut him down, he's sore."
"They talked to me," protested Hamlin, "as though I was a yellow
dog. As though I was a quitter. I'm no quitter! But, if I'm ready
to quit, who's got a better right? I'm not an Englishman, but
there are several million Englishmen haven't done as much for
England in this war as I have. What do you fellows know about it?
You write about it, about the 'brave lads in the trenches'; but
what do you know about the trenches? What you've seen from
automobiles. That's all. That's where you get off! I've lived
in the trenches for fifteen months, froze in 'em, starved in 'em,
risked my life in 'em, and I've saved other lives, too, by hauling
men out of the trenches. And that's no airy persiflage, either!"
He ran to the wardrobe where John's clothes hung, and from the
bottom of it dragged a khaki uniform. It was still so caked with
mud and snow that when he flung it on the floor it splashed like a
wet bathing suit. "How would you like to wear one of those?" he
demanded. "Stinking with lice and sweat and blood; the blood of
other men, the men you've helped off the field, and your own
As though committing hara-kiri, he slashed his hand across his
stomach, and then drew it up from his waist to his chin. "I'm
scraped with shrapnel from there to there," said Mr. Hamlin. "And
another time I got a ball in the shoulder. That would have been a
'blighty' for a fighting man—they're always giving them leave—
but all I got was six weeks at Havre in hospital. Then it was the
Dardanelles, and sunstroke and sand; sleeping in sand, eating
sand, sand in your boots, sand in your teeth; hiding in holes in
the sand like a dirty prairie dog. And then, 'Off to Servia!' And
the next act opens in the snow and the mud! Cold? God, how cold it
was! And most of us in sun helmets."
As though the cold still gnawed at his bones, he shivered.
"It isn't the danger," he protested. "It isn't that I'm getting
away from. To hell with the danger! It's just the plain discomfort
of it! It's the never being your own master, never being clean,
never being warm." Again he shivered and rubbed one hand against
the other. "There were no bridges over the streams," he went on,
"and we had to break the ice and wade in, and then sleep in the
open with the khaki frozen to us. There was no firewood; not
enough to warm a pot of tea. There were no wounded; all our
casualties were frost bite and pneumonia. When we take them out of
the blankets their toes fall off. We've been in camp for a month
now near Doiran, and it's worse there than on the march. It's a
frozen swamp. You can't sleep for the cold; can't eat; the only
ration we get is bully beef, and our insides are frozen so damn
tight we can't digest it. The cold gets into your blood, gets into
your brains. It won't let you think; or else, you think crazy
things. It makes you afraid." He shook himself like a man coming
out of a bad dream.
"So, I'm through," he said. In turn he scowled at each of us, as
though defying us to contradict him. "That's why I'm quitting," he
added. "Because I've done my bit. Because I'm damn well fed up on
it." He kicked viciously at the water-logged uniform on the floor.
"Any one who wants my job can have it!" He walked to the window,
turned his back on us, and fixed his eyes hungrily on the
Adriaticus. There was a long pause. For guidance we looked at
John, but he was staring down at the desk blotter, scratching on
it marks that he did not see.
Finally, where angels feared to tread, the Kid rushed in. "That's
certainly a hard luck story," he said; "but," he added cheerfully,
"it's nothing to the hard luck you'll strike when you can't tell
why you left the army." Hamlin turned with an exclamation, but
Billy held up his hand. "Now wait," he begged, "we haven't time to
get mussy. At six o'clock your leave is up, and the troop train
starts back to camp, and——"
Mr. Hamlin interrupted sharply. "And the Adriaticus starts at
Billy did not heed him. "You've got two hours to change your
mind," he said. "That's better than being sorry you didn't the
rest of your life."
Mr. Hamlin threw back his head and laughed. It was a most
unpleasant laugh. "You're a fine body of men," he jeered. "America
must be proud of you!"
"If we weren't Americans," explained Billy patiently, "we
wouldn't give a damn whether you deserted or not. You're drowning
and you don't know it, and we're throwing you a rope. Try to see
it that way. We'll cut out the fact that you took an oath, and
that you're breaking it. That's up to you. We'll get down to
results. When you reach home, if you can't tell why you left the
army, the folks will darned soon guess. And that will queer
everything you've done. When you come to sell your stuff, it will
queer you with the editors, queer you with the publishers. If they
know you broke your word to the British army, how can they know
you're keeping faith with them? How can they believe anything you
tell them? Every 'story' you write, every statement of yours will
make a noise like a fake. You won't come into court with clean
hands. You'll be licked before you start.
"Of course, you're for the Allies. Well, all the Germans at home
will fear that; and when you want to lecture on your 'Fifteen
Months at the British Front,' they'll look up your record; and
what will they do to you? This is what they'll do to you. When
you've shown 'em your moving pictures and say, 'Does any gentleman
in the audience want to ask a question?' a German agent will get
up and say, 'Yes, I want to ask a question. Is it true that you
deserted from the British army, and that if you return to it, they
will shoot you?'"
I was scared. I expected the lean and muscular Mr. Hamlin to fall
on Billy, and fling him where he had flung the soggy uniform. But
instead he remained motionless, his arms pressed across his chest.
His eyes, filled with anger and distress, returned to the
"I'm sorry," muttered the Kid.
John rose and motioned to the door, and guiltily and only too
gladly we escaped. John followed us into the hall. "Let me talk
to him," he whispered. "The boat sails in an hour. Please don't
come back until she's gone."
We went to the moving picture palace next door, but I doubt if the
thoughts of any of us were on the pictures. For after an hour,
when from across the quay there came the long-drawn warning of a
steamer's whistle, we nudged each other and rose and went out.
Not a hundred yards from us the propeller blades of the
Adriaticus were slowly churning, and the rowboats were falling
away from her sides.
"Good-by, Mr. Hamlin," called Billy. "You had everything and you
chucked it away. I can spell your finish. It's 'check' for
But when we entered our room, in the centre of it, under the bunch
of electric lights, stood the deserter. He wore the water-logged
uniform. The sun helmet was on his head.
"Good man!" shouted Billy.
He advanced, eagerly holding out his hand.
Mr. Hamlin brushed past him. At the door he turned and glared at
us, even at John. He was not a good loser. "I hope you're
satisfied," he snarled. He pointed at the four beds in a row. I
felt guiltily conscious of them. At the moment they appeared so
unnecessarily clean and warm and soft. The silk coverlets at the
foot of each struck me as being disgracefully effeminate. They
made me ashamed.
"I hope," said Mr. Hamlin, speaking slowly and picking his words,
"when you turn into those beds to-night you'll think of me in the
mud. I hope when you're having your five-course dinner and your
champagne you'll remember my bully beef. I hope when a shell or
Mr. Pneumonia gets me, you'll write a nice little sob story about
the 'brave lads in the trenches.'"
He looked at us, standing like schoolboys, sheepish, embarrassed,
and silent, and then threw open the door. "I hope," he added, "you
With an unconvincing imitation of the college chum manner, John
cleared his throat and said: "Don't forget, Fred, if there's
anything I can do——"
Hamlin stood in the doorway smiling at us.
"There's something you can all do," he said.
"Yes?" asked John heartily
"You can all go to hell!" said Mr. Hamlin.
We heard the door slam, and his hobnailed boots pounding down the
stairs. No one spoke. Instead, in unhappy silence, we stood
staring at the floor. Where the uniform had lain was a pool of mud
and melted snow and the darker stains of stale blood.