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One Man's Initiation—1917   By: (1896-1970)

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Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation and ellipses in the original have been preserved. The table of contents was added.

ONE MAN'S INITIATION 1917

BY

JOHN DOS PASSOS

NEW YORK GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY 1922

TO THOSE WITH WHOM I SAW ROCKETS IN THE SKY A CERTAIN EVENING AT SUNSET ON THE ROAD FROM ERIZE LA PETITE TO ERIZE LA GRANDE.

Table of Contents

Chapter I 9 Chapter II 17 Chapter III 22 Chapter IV 31 Chapter V 49 Chapter VI 64 Chapter VII 85 Chapter VIII 107 Chapter IX 109 Chapter X 125 Chapter XI 127

One Man's Initiation 1917

CHAPTER I

In the huge shed of the wharf, piled with crates and baggage, broken by gang planks leading up to ships on either side, a band plays a tinselly Hawaiian tune; people are dancing in and out among the piles of trunks and boxes. There is a scattering of khaki uniforms, and many young men stand in groups laughing and talking in voices pitched shrill with excitement. In the brown light of the wharf, full of rows of yellow crates and barrels and sacks, full of racket of cranes, among which winds in and out the trivial lilt of the Hawaiian tune, there is a flutter of gay dresses and coloured hats of women, and white handkerchiefs.

The booming reverberation of the ship's whistle drowns all other sound.

After it the noise of farewells rises shrill. White handkerchiefs are agitated in the brown light of the shed. Ropes crack in pulleys as the gang planks are raised.

Again, at the pierhead, white handkerchiefs and cheering and a flutter of coloured dresses. On the wharf building a flag spreads exultingly against the azure afternoon sky.

Rosy yellow and drab purple, the buildings of New York slide together into a pyramid above brown smudges of smoke standing out in the water, linked to the land by the dark curves of the bridges.

In the fresh harbour wind comes now and then a salt wafting breath off the sea.

Martin Howe stands in the stern that trembles with the vibrating push of the screw. A boy standing beside him turns and asks in a tremulous voice, "This your first time across?"

"Yes.... Yours?"

"Yes.... I never used to think that at nineteen I'd be crossing the Atlantic to go to a war in France." The boy caught himself up suddenly and blushed. Then swallowing a lump in his throat he said, "It ought to be time to eat."

" God help Kaiser Bill! O o o old Uncle Sam. He's got the cavalry, He's got the infantry He's got the artillery; And then by God we'll all go to Germany! God help Kaiser Bill! "

The iron covers are clamped on the smoking room windows, for no lights must show. So the air is dense with tobacco smoke and the reek of beer and champagne. In one corner they are playing poker with their coats off. All the chairs are full of sprawling young men who stamp their feet to the time, and bang their fists down so that the bottles dance on the tables.

" God help Kaiser Bill. "

Sky and sea are opal grey. Martin is stretched on the deck in the bow of the boat with an unopened book beside him. He has never been so happy in his life. The future is nothing to him, the past is nothing to him. All his life is effaced in the grey languor of the sea, in the soft surge of the water about the ship's bow as she ploughs through the long swell, eastward. The tepid moisture of the Gulf Stream makes his clothes feel damp and his hair stick together into curls that straggle over his forehead. There are porpoises about, lazily tumbling in the swell, and flying fish skim from one grey wave to another, and the bow rises and falls gently in rhythm with the surging sing song of the broken water.

Martin has been asleep. As through infinite mists of greyness he looks back on the sharp hatreds and wringing desires of his life... Continue reading book >>




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