Read From Here to Eternity Online

Authors: James Jones

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #War & Military, #Classics

From Here to Eternity (6 page)

BOOK: From Here to Eternity
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CAPT HOLMES, when he left the Orderly Room, was feeling good. He felt he had given a pretty good account of himself with the cook Willard, but particularly with the new man, Prewitt, the welter from the 27th. He had already heard the story about his quitting fighting and now, after the interview, he was confident Prewitt would come around and change his mind, before summer and the Company Smoker season. Capt Holmes liked to climb the stairs to Hq Building. They did not look like concrete, they looked like old marble streaked gray and black. Age had polished down the once porous concrete and rounded the raw edges with rain and feet, and given it a smooth slick gloss. When the stairs were wet they always caught and perpetuated the rainbow, like a promise. There will always be an Army, they said to him. Heavy concrete and mortared brick had been molded around a concept Capt Holmes believed and given it reality. His orderly faithfully saddlesoaped and polished his riding boots once a day, it was the same thing. As he raised first one foot then the other to the step above the soft pliant leather bent in long smooth wrinkles, with none of those crowsfeet that show poor care. Once a day, regular as the monthly pay voucher. His sense of accomplishment was though, just now, dimmed by a slight uneasiness at the prospect of meeting Col Delbert. Not that he disliked the Old Man. But when a man had the rank on you and held your majority in the palm of his hand you naturally had to watch every word. In the middle of the upper porch a dumpy private in fatigues was expertly swinging a mop over the glazed floor, never lifting it, each stroke sweeping from wall to wall. Capt Holmes paused automatically for him to stop to let him pass, but the private was too intent upon his job to see him. When he did not stop Capt Holmes, still thinking about the Colonel, stepped across from dry to wet between the strokes. The beard of the mop slapped his heel, and the private looked up startled, then popped to a guilty wide-eyed Attention, the mop dangling from his hand. He looked down at it a moment indecisively, then jerked the stick up along his right side like a guidon and looked at Holmes. Capt Holmes gave him one disdainful look, disgusted at such chaotic and unreasonable fear of officers which always irritated him, and went on silently. Col Delbert was in his office. Behind the big desk and across the long expanse of gleaming floor, between the two tall flags, one the country's the other the Regiment's, he looked deceptively small. But he was a big man, big enough that the tiny irongray mustache he wore always embarrassed Capt Holmes, no matter how hard he tried not to judge. Outside of the black cocker that slept on the floor and two straight chairs the office was properly and soldierly bare. Everything went off as Holmes saluted coldly and impersonally. Even the cocker seemed no longer to be breathing. The Old Man returned it with the same precision, then everything came on again and the Colonel smiled. When he smiled he was really, truly almost fatherly. "Well," the Col said, pushing back his chair and slapping his hands down on his knees. "Whats on your mind, eh, 'Dynamite'?" Capt Holmes smiled back and got one of the chairs from against the wall, wishing he could get rid of that ridiculous uneasiness. "Well, Sir. One of my old men.. ." "We certainly looked bad last Sunday in baseball." The Col clipped the words. "You see the game? A rout. A veritable rout. The 21st ran over us roughshod, I say. It 'd 've been much worse if 't had n't been for Big Chief Choate. Best first-baseman ever saw. Really ought to transfer him to Hq Company and give him a Staff Sergeancy." Col Delbert beamed and the short mustache bent sharply in the middle like a distant bird in flight. "Fact, I would if we had a team at all in baseball, but he's the only thing we've got." Capt Holmes debated in the pause whether the Col intended to go on, or whether he could go ahead with what he wanted. He decided it would be better to wait than interrupt him if he did go on. "We wont do anything in baseball this year," the Col went on. Holmes chalked up a hit. "Your boxing squad was only athletic championship we won all year last year. Looks like the only one we'll have a chance of winning this year. I've taken some mighty strong ribbing about our athletic prowess lately." "Yes, Sir," Capt Holmes said in the next pause. "Thank you, Sir." "Every soldier knows," the Col said, "that good athletics make for good soldiering. Our Regiment's athletic reputation has suffered badly this last year. Even the downtown newspapers were lampooning us. A thing like that is never good. You, my boy, are about the only bright spot on our horizon." "Thank you, Sir," Capt Holmes said, trying to figure what it was leading up to. Col Delbert paused, sagely screwing up his eyes. "Do you think we'll win that championship again this year, Captain?" "Well, Sir," Capt Holmes said. "We've got a fifty-fifty chance so far. We're ahead of the 27th on points; but not with enough margin to have a cinch," he added. 'Then you dont think we'll win it?" Col Delbert said. "I didnt say that, Sir," said Capt Holmes. "Well," the Col said, "either you think we'll win it, or you dont think we'll win it. Dont you?" "Yes, Sir," Holmes said. "Then which?" "What?" Holmes said. "Oh, we'll win it, Sir." "Good. Good," the Col said. "There hasnt been enough work put on athletics here the last two years." Capt Holmes considered carefully. "Yes, Sir," he said. "But I think all we coaches did our best." The Col nodded, emphatically. "Think so too. But we 've got to get results. Our S-3 training is all very fine, soldiers need to drill to keep them busy. But in peacetime we both know its our athletic programs that keep us before the public's eye. Particularly here in the Islands where there are no bigtime sports. Have talked to the rest of our athletic heads, except for you; your season isnt over yet. Am relieving Major Simmons from football." The Col smiled significantly and the little mustache became a chicken hawk. "Results. Results what counts. He has requested reassignment to the Mainland, of course," he added. Capt Holmes nodded, thinking fast. This was recent. Today. Or he would have heard about it. That left a majority open - unless they imported somebody. Of course, the rating wasnt open, but the job was, and if a man got appointed to the job it would probably mean his own promotion would be recommended. The Col placed his big hands flat upon the serenity of his desk. "Well," he said. "What was it you wanted, 'Dynamite'?" Holmes had almost forgotten what he came for. "Oh," he said. "One of my old men, Sir. Came to see me a week ago. Wants to transfer up here with me. He's at Fort Kamehameha, Coast Artillery. Served With me at Bliss. I wanted to see you about him so I could be sure it went through all right." The little mustache flapped its wings slyly. "Another fighter, eh. We 're little over strength, but it can be arranged. I'll even write letter to Department on 't." Capt Holmes bent down to pat the Colonel's dog. "Why, no, Sir. He's not a fighter. He's a cook. A good man, though. Best cook I ever had." "Oh," the Col said. "He served with me at Bliss, Sir. I'll vouch for him personally." "I'll have it attended to," Col Delbert said, "Tell me, how 's that outfit of yours getting along? Still balling the jack? Your company interests me. It proves my theory: good athletes make good noncoms and good leaders; good leaders make a good organization. Simple logic. Plenty of cattle in this world, that have to be driven. But without good leaders nothing 's ever accomplished." Capt Holmes's eyes went opaque and out of focus with his shyness. "I flatter myself, Sir," he smiled, "that I have the most efficient outfit in the Regiment." "Yes. Now First Sergeant Warden is an example of my logic. An all around athlete before he - ah - took up the grail, as I call it." Capt Holmes laughed. "I imagine he bitches a lot," the Col said, "but a good soldier always bitches. Good for him. Good soldiers are born - born wild and wooly, like Sergeant Warden. Only time to worry about a good soldier is when he stops bitching. My grandfather taught me that." Capt Holmes nodded vigorously. "Yes, Sir," he said, although this philosophy had not originated with the Colonel's grandfather. It was widespread and he had heard it all before. But it was good. That about Warden, particularly, was so true. He was feeling better. Col Delbert suddenly brought his swivel chair back up level and scooted it up to the desk. He spoke sharply. "Now tell me, Captain: Just what are your prospects for next year? You say you'll win this year, so we'll dismiss that. You're as good as your word with me, sir. But if we are to win we must begin to plan early. That's a maxim, my grandfather. Winning this year is not enough. We must plan on winning next year. In this world it is the winner who gets spoils. I dont know about the next world but I imagine it 's the same thing there, in spite of what our skypilots tell us. Would you say we 've a good chance of winning?" Capt Holmes felt suddenly hedged in. There was a condition attached to the majority, provided of course he won this year, and he was being pinned down for it. "Well, yes, Sir," he said. "As good a chance as we have now? of winning this year?" "Well, Sir. No. I wouldnt say exactly that." Capt Holmes racked his brain. "We're due to lose three Class I boys, Sir, you know, as short timers." "Ah," the Col said. "I know. But you still have Sgt Wilson and Sgt O'Hayer. Do we have nothing else by way of replacement?"' "I have one new man who did fairly well this year in the Bowl. Pvt Bloom. I'm thinking of grooming him for a shot at the middleweight next year." The Col kept staring at him and his eyes kept slipping out of focus off the Colonel's face, hard as he tried to keep them there. His left cheek itched and he wished he had a stick of gum. But then he could not chew it. He wished he'd never come up here in the first place. "Bloom?" the Col said. "Bloom. Great big Jewish boy with a flat head and kinky hair? And that's all?" "Well, Sir, no, Sir. I wanted to ask you about that. I have no heavyweight worth a damn. Corporal Choate was Heavyweight Champion of Panama not so long ago. I've been trying to get him to go out ever since I came here." "Ah," the Col said. "He wont go out." "No, Sir." "Corporal Choate is probably the best first baseman in the Islands. We dont want to lose our first baseman, do we?" "No, Sir." "I 'm afraid you could n't count on Choate." Capt Holmes nodded. The baseball team would lose out anyway, but they wanted you to win. They always wanted you to win. The winner gets the gravy. The Colonel's goddamned dog was still boredly asleep, hind legs spread flat and belly to the floor, front legs crossed as nonchalantly as a male lead in morning trousers. Every officer in the Regiment had to coddle the little bastard. Why dont you chuck it, Holmes? he thought. And do what? Go where? "I have one new man, Sir," he said, though he had meant to save this one back. "Name is Prewitt. Fought for the 27th. Runnerup in the welterweight division. He was transferred to my Company from the Bugle Corps." The fatherly smile appeared. "Well now, fine. That 's fine. You say he was in the Regiment? in the Bugle Corps?" Holmes was tired. "Yes, Sir." That damned smug dog. "Been here a year." Sleeping and eating and allowing himself to be coddled. "Ever since last boxing season." Son of a bitching little fat dog with such a goddamned easy life. "Remarkable!" the Col said. "In the Bugle Corps. Too bad we didnt know about it this year. Could have used him. But then no one ever knows who 's in the Bugle Corps. You've talked to him?" "Yes, Sir," Holmes said. Might as well give him all of it, now. "He refuses to go out." If you had an ounce of guts, Holmes, you would have added, "too." Col Delbert turned his head on stiff shoulders. "He cant refuse to go out." "He did, Sir." Capt Holmes realized he had made an error. He didnt give a damn, to hell with it. Still, where would you go? He refrained from mentioning the Company Bugler job. "No, he did n't," the Col said precisely. His eyes were curiously flat. "You just think he did. It's your job to see th't he does go out. "If he knew it was for the Regiment's sake he would want to go out. All you have to do is convince him. Let him know how much the Regiment needs him." The Regiment, Capt Holmes thought. Thats all. The honor and reputation of the Regiment. Col Delbert's Regiment. And he doesnt even want to know why he wont go out. At least I asked him that, he told himself. You already knew it, himself said. The fatherly smile lubricated the flatted eyes, creating a peculiarly imperfect picture. "If you 're going to need the man, you must convince him. "And from what you 've told me I gather you will need him?" "I could certainly use him, Sir." "Then convince him. I might as well be frank. We have got to win that next year. Because that is all we can win. Keep that in mind. I want you to keep your hand in. A few workouts now and then. You can have the gym afternoons now and then. Start building now. That 's important: Plan Now." "Yes, Sir," Capt Holmes said. "I'll start in soon." But his voice was overwhelmed by the screek of an opening drawer, the traditional indication that the interview was ended. Col Delbert raised his eyes from the drawer and looked at Holmes inquiringly, but Capt Holmes was already on his feet replacing the chair against the wall. Anyway, he had gotten a green light on Stark's transfer and that was what he came for. The wood noises woke the cocker and he rose and stretched himself, one leg at a time, unrolling his pink tongue in an insolent yawn. He licked his chops and stared at Holmes accusingly. Holmes stared back, lost in sudden thought, his hand still on the chair, enviously watching the sleek black wellfed arrogance stretch itself back out on the polished floor and resume its interrupted meditation. He remembered his hand on the chair then, removed it, turned around for the impersonal ritual of saluting. With all its time-stopping associations of the Point, and God, it seemed to draw him in again to the Old Man, by its very deliberateness. But he knew it did not change anything. "Oh," the Col said, as Holmes reached the door. "How is Miss Karen getting along? She feeling better?" "She's feeling a little better lately," Capt Holmes said, turning back. The Colonel's eyes had lost their flatness and become deep, very deep with a little red light at the bottom. "A fine lady," Col Delbert said. "Last time I saw her was at General Hendricks' party at the Club. My wife is giving a bridge party this week. She would like to have her come." Capt Holmes forced himself to shake his head. "I know she'd be delighted," he said, "but I doubt very much if she'll be

BOOK: From Here to Eternity
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