Read From Here to Eternity Online
Authors: James Jones
Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #War & Military, #Classics
of this conference that was not new to him with acumen. Crap! cried the king, he thought, and twenty thousand royal subjects squatted and strained, for in those days the king's word was law! His face straight, he grinned at Prew with his eyebrows, and a devilish pixy peered out from behind his face with unholy glee. 'To get a rating in my Company," Capt Holmes was saying sternly, "a man has got to know his stuff. He has to soldier. He has to show me he's got it on the ball." He looked up sharply. "Understood?" "Yes, Sir," Prew said. "Good," said Capt Holmes. "Understood. Its always important for an officer and his men to understand each other." Then he pushed his chair back and smiled at Prewitt, handsomely. "Glad to have you aboard, Prewitt," he smiled, "as our colleagues in the navy say. I can always use a good man in my outfit and I'm glad to have you." "Thank you, Sir," Prew said. "How would you like to be my Company bugler, temporarily?" Holmes paused to light himself a cigaret. "I saw your fight with Connors of the 8th Field in the Bowl last year," he said. "A damned fine show. Damned fine. With any luck you should have won it. I thought for a while in there, in the second round, you were going to knock him out." "Thank you, Sir," Prew said. Capt Holmes was talking almost joyously now. Here it comes, Prew told himself; well, bud, you asked for it, now figure it out. Figure it out yourself, he thought. Better yet, just let him figure it out. "If I'd known you were in the Regiment last December when the season started I'd have looked you up," Holmes smiled. Prew said nothing. On his left he could feel, not hear, The Warden snorting softly with disgust as he began to study a sheaf of papers with the elaborate I'm-not-with-him air of a sober man whose friend is drunk. "I can use a good bugler, Prewitt," Holmes smiled. "My regular Company bugler hasnt the experience. And his apprentice only has his job because he's such a fuckup I was afraid he'd shoot somebody on a problem." He laughed and looked at Prew, inviting him to join it. Milt Warden, who was the one who had suggested Salvatore Clark for the apprentice bugler, after Clark almost shot himself on guard, went on studying his papers, but his eyebrows quivered. "A Pfc rating goes with the job," Holmes said to Prew. "I'll have Sergeant Warden post the order, first thing tomorrow." He waited then, but Prew said nothing, watching the dry ironic sunlight coming through the open window, wondering how long now it would take him to catch on, unable to believe that they had not heard it all before, and feeling how his uniform that had been fresh at eight o'clock was damp and musty now with sweat, beginning to be soaked. "I realize," Holmes smiled indulgently, "a Pfc isnt very much, but our TO quota of noncoms is all filled up. We have two noncoms who are shorttimers though," he said. "They'll be leaving on next month's boat. "Its too bad the season's almost over or you could start training this afternoon, but the schedule ends the last of February. But then," he smiled, "if you dont fight Regimental this year, you'll be eligible for Company Smokers in the fall. "Have you seen any of our boys in the Bowl this year?" he asked. "We've got some good ones, I'm confident we'll keep the trophy. I'd like to get your opinion on a couple of them." "I havent been to any of the fights this year, Sir," Prew said. "What?" Holmes said, not believing it. "You havent?" He stared at Prew a moment curiously, then looked at Warden knowingly. He picked up a freshly sharpened pencil from his desk and studied it. "Why is it," Capt Holmes said softly, "that you've been in the Regiment a whole year, Prewitt, and nobody knew a thing about it? I should have thought you would have come around to see me, since I am the boxing coach and since we're the Division champions." Prew moved his weight from one foot to the other and took one deep breath. "I was afraid you'd want me to go out for the squad, Sir," he said. There it is, he thought, its out now, you've got it now. Now he can carry the ball. He felt relieved. "Of course," Holmes said. "Why not? We can use a man as good as you are. Especially since you're a welterweight. We're poor in that division. If we lose the championship this year, it will be because we lost the welterweight division." "Because I left the 27th because I had quit fighting, Sir," Prew said. Again Holmes looked at Warden knowingly, this time apologetically, as if now he could believe it since he'd heard it from the man himself, before he spoke. "Quit fighting?" he said. "What for?" "Maybe you heard about what happened with Dixie Wells, Sir," Prew said, hearing Warden lay his papers down, feeling Warden grinning. Holmes stared at him innocently, eyes wide with it. "Why, no," he said. "What was that?" Prew went through the story for him, for both of them, standing there with his feet one foot apart and his hands clasped behind his back, and feeling all the time he spoke it was superfluous, that both of them already knew all about the deal already, yet forced to play the role that Holmes had set for him. "Thats too bad," Holmes said, when he had finished. "I can understand why you might feel that way. But those things happen, in this game. A man has got to accept that possibility when he fights." "Thats one reason why I decided I would quit, Sir," Prew said. "But on the other hand," Holmes said, much less warmly now, "look at it this way. What if all fighters felt like that?" "They dont, Sir," Prew said. "I know," Holmes said, much less warmly still. "What would you have us do? Disband our fighting program because one man got hurt?" "No, Sir," Prew said. "I didnt say.. ." "You might as well," Holmes said, "say stop war because one man got- killed. Our fighting season is the best morale builder that we have off here away from home." "I dont want it disbanded, Sir," Prew said, and then felt the absurdity to which he had been forced. "But I dont see," he went on doggedly, "why any man should fight unless he wanted to." Holmes studied him with eyes that had grown curiously flat, and were growing flatter. "And that was why you left the 27th?" "Yes, Sir. Because they tried to make me go on fighting." "I see." Capt Holmes seemed all at once to have lost interest in this interview. He looked down at his watch, remembering suddenly he had a riding date with Major Thompson's wife at 12:30. He stood up and picked up his hat from the IN file on his desk. It was a fine hat, a soft expensive unblocked Stetson, with its brim bent up fore and aft, its four dents creased to a sharp point at the peak, and it bore the wide chinstrap of the Cavalry, instead of the thin strap authorized for the Infantry that went behind the head. Beside it lay his riding crop he always carried. He picked that up, too. He had not always been an Infantryman. "Well," he said, with very little interest, "theres nothing in the ARs that says a man must be a boxer if he doesnt want to. You'll find that we wont put any pressure on you here, like they did in the 27th. I dont believe in that sort of thing. If you dont want to fight we dont want you on our squad." He walked to the door and then turned back sharply. "Why did you leave the Bugle Corps?" "It was a personal matter, Sir," Prew said, taking refuge in the taboo that says a man's, even a private's, personal matters are his own affair. "But you were transferred at the Chief Bugler's request," Holmes told him. "What kind of trouble was it you were in, over there?" "No, Sir," Prew said. "No trouble. It was a personal matter," he repeated. "Oh," Holmes said, "I see." That it might be a personal matter he had not considered and he looked uneasily at Warden, not sure of how to approach this angle. But Warden, who had been following everything with interest, was suddenly staring unconcernedly at the, wall. Holmes cleared his throat, but Warden did not get it. "Have you anything you wish to add, Sergeant?" he had to ask him, finally. "Who? me? Why, yes, Sir," exploded Warden with that sudden violence. He was, quite suddenly, in a state of indignation. His brows hooked upward, two harriers ready to pounce upon the rabbit. "What kind of rating you have in the Bugle Corps, Prewitt?" "First and Fourth," Prew said, looking at him steadily. Warden looked at Holmes and raised his eyebrows eloquently. "You mean," he said, astounded, "you took a bust from First-Fourth to transfer to a rifle company as a buckass private, just because you like to hike?" "I didnt have no trouble," Prew said stolidly, "if thats what you mean." "Or," Warden grinned, "was it just because you couldnt stand to bugle?" "It was a personal matter," Prew said. "Thats up to the Compny Commander's discretion to decide," Warden corrected instantly. Holmes nodded. And Warden grinned at Prewitt velvetly. "Then you didnt transfer because Mr Houston made young Macintosh First Bugler? Over you?" "I was transferred," Prew said, staring at the other. "It was a personal matter." Warden leaned back in his chair and snorted softly. "What a helluva thing to transfer over. Kids in the Army we got now. Someday you punks will learn that good jobs dont grow on trees." In the electric antagonism that flashed between the two of them and hung heavy like ozone in the air Capt Holmes had been forgotten. He broke in now, as was his right. "It looks to me," he said indifferently, "as if you were fast acquiring a reputation as a bolshevik, Prewitt. Bolsheviks never get anywhere in the Army. You'll find that straight duty in this outfit is considerably tougher than SD in the Bugle Corps." "I've done straight duty before, Sir," Prew said. "In the Infantry. I dont mind doing it again." You liar, he told himself, like hell you do not mind it. How is it that people make you lie so easily? "Well," Holmes said, pausing for the effect, "it looks as though you'll get a chance to do it." But he was no longer jocular. "You're not a recruit and you should know that in the Army its not the individual that counts. Every man has certain responsibilities to fulfill. Moral responsibilities that go beyond the ARs' regulations. It might look as though I were a free agent, but I'm not. No matter how high you get there is always somebody over you, and who knows more about it all than you do. "Sergeant Warden will take care of you and get you assigned to a squad." Nothing more was said about the Company bugler's job. He turned to Warden. "Is there anything else for me to take care of today, Sergeant?" "Yes, Sir," Warden, who had been listening to this abstract conversation, said violently. "The Compny Fund Report has got to be checked and made out. Its due tomorrow morning." "You make it out," Holmes said, undisturbed by the regulation that says no one but an officer may touch the Company Fund. "Fix it up and I'll be in early tomorrow to sign it. I havent time to bother with details. Is that all?" "No, Sir," Warden said vehemently. "Well, whatever it is, you fix it. If theres anything that has to go in this afternoon, sign my name. I wont be back." He looked at Warden angrily and turned back to the door, ignoring Prewitt. "Yes, Sir," Warden raged. "Ten-nsh-HUT!" he bawled, bellowing it at the top of his lungs in the smallness of the room. "Carry on," Holmes said. He touched his crop to hat brim and disappeared. A moment later his voice came in the open window. "Sergeant Warden!" "Yes, Sir!" Warden bellowed, jumping to the window. "Whats the matter with this outfit? This place needs policing. Look there. And there. And over by the garbage rack. Is this a barracks or a pigpen? I want it policed up! Immediately!" "Yes, Sir!" bellowed Warden, "Maggio!" Maggio's gnomelike body bobbed up in its undershirt before the window. "Yesser." "Maggio," said Capt Holmes. "Wheres your goddam fatigue blouse? Get your blouse and put it on. This is no goddamned bathing beach." "Yessir," Maggio said. "Ill get it, Sir." "Maggio," Warden bellowed. "Get the other KPs and police the goddam area. Dint you hear what the Compny Commander said?" "Okay, Sarge," said Maggio resignedly. Warden leaned his elbows on the sill and watched Holmes's broad back move through the midst of Dog Company, called to attention by their duty sergeant. "Carry on," Holmes thundered. After Holmes had passed, the blue-dressed figures sat back down to go on with their stoppage drill. "The hell for leather Cavalryman," Warden muttered. "Errol Flynn with fifty extra pounds." He walked deliberately over to his desk and smashed his fist into his own rigidly blocked, flat-peaked issue hat hanging on the wall. "The son of a bitch'd try to ship me down if I bent up my hat like his." Then he went back to the window. Holmes was climbing the outside stair to Regimental Hq, going up to Col Delbert's office. Warden had a theory about officers: Being an officer would make a son of a bitch out of Christ himself. And they had you by the nuts. You couldnt do a thing. That was why they were such ones. But beyond the Hq stairs the bedroom window of Holmes's house peered at him coyly through the truck entrance. And maybe right now, behind that unrevealing window, she was languorously undressing the long flowing milk of that blonde body, garment by garment like a stripper in a honkytonk, to take a bath or something. Maybe she had a man in there with her now. Warden felt his chest swelling potently with maleness, as if a great balloon were being blown up inside him. He turned from the window and sat back down. Prew was waiting for him, standing quietly before the desk, feeling worn out now and very tired, feeling the sweat still dripping slowly from his armpits with the strain of subduing his own fear and disagreeing with authority. The collar of the shirt that had been fresh at eight o'clock was wilted and the sweat had soaked clear through the back. Only a little more of this and you are through, he told himself. Then you can relax. Warden picked up a paper from his desk and began to read it, as if he were alone. When he finally looked up there was hurt surprise and indignation on his face, as if wondering how this man had got into his office uninvited and without his knowing it. "Well?" Milt Warden said. "What the hell do you want?" Prew stared at him levelly, not answering, not disconcerted. And for a time both were silent, studying each other, like two opposing checker players taking each other's measure before the game began. There was no open dislike in the face of either, only a sort of cold inherent antagonism. They were like two philosophers starting from the same initial premise of life and each, by irrefutable argument, arriving at a diametrically opposite conclusion. Yet these two conclusions were like twin brothers of the same flesh and heritage and blood. Warden broke the spell. "You havent changed a bit, have you, Prewitt?" he said sarcastically. "Havent learned a thing. Fools rush in where angels fear to
re-enlist, as some great wit once said. All a man has to do is to leave it up to you and you'll put your own head in the noose for him." "A man like you, you mean," Prew said. "No, not me. I like you." "I love you too," Prew said. "And you aint changed none either." "Put his own head in the noose," Warden shook his head sorrowfully. "Thats what you did just now; you know that, dont you? When you turned down Dynamite's Boxing Squad?" "I thought you didnt like jockstraps and SD men," Prew said. "I dont," Warden said. "But did it ever occur to you that in a way I'm an SD man myself? I dont do straight duty." "Yeah," Prew said. "I've thought of that. Thats why I couldnt see why you hated us guys in the Bugle Corps so much." "Because," Warden grinned, "SD men and jockstraps are all the same, fugitives from straight duty. They aint got what it takes so they ride the gravytrain." "And make life a hellhole for every one they can, like you." "No," Warden said. "Guess again. I dont make hell for nobody. I'm only the instrument of a laughing Providence. Sometimes I dont like it myself, but I couldnt help it if I was born smart." "We cant all be smart," Prew said. "Thats right," Warden nodded. "We cant. Its a shame too. You been in the army what now? Five years? Fivenahalf? Its about time for you to get over bein a punk ree-croot and begin to get smart, aint it? That is, if you're ever goin to." "Maybe I'd ruther not be smart." Warden unfolded his arms and proceeded to light a cigaret, lazily, taking his time. "You had a soft deal as a bugler," he said, "but you toss it up because Queer Houston hurt your feelins. And then you turn Holmes down when he wants you for his boxing squad," he said, mincing the words. "You should of took him up, Prewitt. You wont like straight duty in my compny." "I can soljer with any man," Prew said. "I'll take my chances." "Okay," Warden said. "So what? Since when has bein a good soljer had anything to do with the Army? Do you think bein a good soljer will get you a sergeant's rating in this outfit? after what you just pulled? It wont even get you Pfc. "You're the kind of soljer ought to be jockstrappin, Prewitt. Then you could get your name in all the Honolulu papers and be a hero. Because you'll never make a real soljer. Never in God's world. "When you change your mind and decide you might as well jockstrap for Dynamite after all, remember this: the jockstraps dont run this company - in spite of Holmes. "This aint A Compny now, Prewitt. This is G Compny, of which I am First Sergeant. I run this compny. Holmes is the CO, but he is like the rest of the officer class: a dumb bastard that signs papers an rides horses an wears spurs an gets stinking drunk up at the stinking Officers' Club. I'm the guy that runs this compny." "Yeah?" Prew grinned. "Well, you aint doin a very goddam good job of it, buddy. If you run this outfit, how come Preem's the mess sergeant? And how come O'Hayer's the supply sergeant, when Leva does the work? And how come most every noncom in 'your compny' is one of Holmes's punchies? Dont give me that crap." The whites of Warden's eyes turned slowly red. "You dont know the half of it yet, kid," he grinned. "Wait till you been here for a while. Theres a lot more yet. You dont know Galovitch, and Henderson; and Dhom, the duty sergeant." He removed the cigaret from the corner of his mouth and knocked it with deliberate slowness on the ashtray. "But the point is, Holmes would strangle on his own spit if I wasnt here to swab out his throat for him." He stuffed the burning coal out savagely and then rose languidly like a stretching cat. "So at least we know where we stand," he said, "dont we, kid?" "I know where I stand," Prew said. "I aint never been able to figure out where you stand. I think.. ." The sound of someone coming in the corridor made him cut it off, because this was a private argument, a thing between himself and Warden that rank, whether high or low, would not appreciate. Warden grinned at him. "Rest, rest, rest," a voice said through the door. "Dont get up for me, men," though both of them were standing. The voice was followed by a little man, shorter yet than Prewitt, who came walking quick-stepping with a ramrod back behind it through the door, dressed in dapper, tailored CKCs and sporting 2nd Lieutenant's bars. He stopped when he saw Prewitt. "I dont know you, do I, soldier?" said the little man. "Whats your name?" "Prewitt, Sir," Prew said, looking around at Warden who was grinning wryly. "Prewitt, Prewitt, Prewitt," said the little man. "You must be a new man, a transfer. Because I dont know that name." "Transferred from A Compny, this morning, Sir," Prew said. "Ah," said the little man. "I knew it. If I didnt know that name, I knew it wasnt in the Company. I spent three bloody weeks sweating out a roster of this Company just so I could call each man by his name. My father always told me a good officer knows every man in his outfit by name, preferably by his nickname. Whats your nickname, soldier?" 'They call me Prew, Sir," Prew said, still not acute, awake or cognizant before this swiftly talking blob of energy. "Of course," said the little man. "I should have known that. I'm Lt Culpepper, recently of West-Point-on-the-Hudson, now of this Company. You're the new fighter, arent you, the welterweight? Too bad you didnt get here before the close of the season. Glad to have you aboard, Prewitt, glad to have you aboard, as the Old Man and his colleagues in the navy would say." Lt Culpepper sprinted around the little room laying papers here and there in their different boxes. "You probably know of me," he said, "if you have read the Regimental Chronicles. My father and his grandfather before him both began their careers in this Company as 2nd Looies, both rose to command of this Company, then to command of this Regiment before they became general officers. I am following in their illustrious footsteps. Hear hear. "Hey, hey," he said. "Wheres my golf bag, Sergeant Warden? I have a golf date with Colonel Prescott's daughter in fifteen minutes, then lunch, then more golf." "Its in the closet there," Warden said aloofly, "behind the filing cabinet." "Ah, yes," said Lt Culpepper, son of Brigadier Culpepper, grandson of Lt General Culpepper, great grandson of Lt Col Culpepper, C.S.A. "I'll get it, Sergeant, dont bother," he said to Warden who had not moved. "I've got to do my eighteen holes today. Big party at the Club tonight and I've got to be in shape." He pulled the golf bag out from behind the green art metal filing cabinet, knocking a sheaf of files off the corner of the table which he did not pick up, and breezed out as swiftly as he had come, saying nothing more to Prewitt. Disgustedly Warden picked the files up and put them back where they had been. "Come on," he said to Prewitt. "I'll fix you up. I got work to do." He walked over behind Holmes's desk and stood looking at the chart of the Company's personnel organization that hung there with little cardboard tabs containing each man's name and separated into platoons and squads and hanging from screw hooks. "Wheres your stuff?" he said. "Still at A Compny. I dint want to pack my clean uniforms." Warden grinned his sly pixy grin. "Still the dude, hunh? Havent changed a bit. Takes more than clothes to make a soljer, Prewitt. A whole helluva lot more." He took a blank tab from one of Holmes's desk drawers and printed Prewitt's name on it. "There a machine-gun cart leaning up against the wall outside the supplyroom. Take that over for your stuff. Save you makin four five trips." "Okay," Prew said, surprised at the beneficence and unable to keep it off his face. Warden grinned at him, relishing the surprise. "I'd hate to see you muss them uniforms, kid. I hate to see any kind of energy wasted, even it its been wasted once already. "We ought to be able to fix you up in a good squad," he grinned. "Now how would you like to be in Chief Choate's squad?" "What're you tryin to do?" Prew said, "kid me? I dont see you puttin me in Big Chief's squad. I more likely see you puttin me in a squad that one of Holmes's punchies runs." "You do?" Warden's eyebrows hooked and quivered delicately. He hung the tab up on the chart under Cpl Choate's name. "There. You see? I'm probably the best friend you ever had, kid, and you dont even know it. Lets go to the supplyroom and draw your stuff." In the supplyroom rawboned bald and wryfaced Leva stopped his scribbling long enough to dole out sheets and mattress covers, shelter-half and blankets, pack and all the rest of it and get Prew's initials on the Form. "Hello, Prew," he grinned. "Hello, Niccolo," Prew said. "You still in this outfit?" "You come to stay a spell with us?" Leva said, "or is this just temporary?" "He'll probly," Warden said, "stay quite a while." He led him upstairs to the row of bunks that Choate's squad inhabited and pointed out the one for him to take. "You got till one o'clock to get straightened out," The Warden said. "You fall out for Fatigue at one P.M. Just like us common people." Prew set himself to stowing all his stuff. The big squadroom was very still with nobody in it. His heels clacked very loudly. The squadroom was too big for one man alone, and the banging of his wall locker was too loud, echoing deeply back and forth across the room.