Shore Leave by Edna Ferber
Tyler Kamps was a tired boy. He was tired from his left great toe to
that topmost spot at the crown of his head where six unruly hairs
always persisted in sticking straight out in defiance of patient
brushing, wetting, and greasing. Tyler Kamps was as tired as only a boy
can be at 9.30 P.M. who has risen at 5.30 A.M. Yet he lay wide awake in
his hammock eight feet above the ground, like a giant silk-worm in an
incredible cocoon and listened to the sleep-sounds that came from the
depths of two hundred similar cocoons suspended at regular intervals
down the long dark room. A chorus of deep regular breathing, with an
occasional grunt or sigh, denoting complete relaxation. Tyler Kamps
should have been part of this chorus, himself. Instead he lay staring
into the darkness, thinking mad thoughts of which this is a sample:
“Gosh! Wouldn't I like to sit up in my hammock and give one yell!
The kind of a yell a movie cowboy gives on a Saturday night. Wake 'em
up and stop that—darned old breathing.”
Nerves. He breathed deeply himself, once or twice, because it
seemed, somehow to relieve his feeling of irritation. And in that
unguarded moment of unconscious relaxation Sleep, that had been lying
in wait for him just around the corner, pounced on him and claimed him
for its own. From his hammock came the deep, regular inhalation,
exhalation, with an occasional grunt or sigh. The normal sleep-sounds
of a very tired boy.
The trouble with Tyler Kamps was that he missed two things he hadn't
expected to miss at all. And he missed not at all the things he had
been prepared to miss most hideously.
First of all, he had expected to miss his mother. If you had known
Stella Kamps you could readily have understood that. Stella Kamps was
the kind of mother they sing about in the sentimental ballads; mother,
pal, and sweetheart. Which was where she had made her big mistake. When
one mother tries to be all those things to one son that son has a very
fair chance of turning out a mollycoddle. The war was probably all that
saved Tyler Kamps from such a fate.
In the way she handled this son of hers Stella Kamps had been as
crafty and skilful and velvet-gloved as a girl with her beau. The proof
of it is that Tyler had never known he was being handled. Some folks in
Marvin, Texas, said she actually flirted with him, and they were almost
justified. Certainly the way she glanced up at him from beneath her
lashes was excused only by the way she scolded him if he tracked up the
kitchen floor. But then, Stella Kamps and her boy were different,
anyway. Marvin folks all agreed about that. Flowers on the table at
meals. Sitting over the supper things talking and laughing for an hour
after they'd finished eating, as if they hadn't seen each other in
years. Reading out loud to each other, out of books and then going on
like mad about what they'd just read, and getting all het up about it.
And sometimes chasing each other around the yard, spring evenings, like
a couple of fool kids. Honestly, if a body didn't know Stella Kamps so
well, and what a fight she had put up to earn a living for herself and
the boy after that good-for-nothing Kamps up and left her, and what a
housekeeper she was, and all, a person'd think—well—
So, then, Tyler had expected to miss her first of all. The way she
talked. The way she fussed around him without in the least seeming to
fuss. Her special way of cooking things. Her laugh which drew laughter
in its wake. The funny way she had of saying things, vitalising
commonplaces with the spark of her own electricity.
And now he missed her only as the average boy of twenty-one misses
the mother he has been used to all his life. No more and no less. Which
would indicate that Stella Kamps, in her protean endeavours, had
overplayed the parts just a trifle.
He had expected to miss the boys at the bank. He had expected to
miss the Mandolin Club. The Mandolin Club met, officially, every
Thursday and spangled the Texas night with their tinkling. Five rather
dreamy-eyed adolescents slumped in stoop-shouldered comfort over the
instruments cradled in their arms, each right leg crossed limply over
the left, each great foot that dangled from the bony ankle, keeping
rhythmic time to the plunketty-plink-tinketty-plunk.
He had expected to miss the familiar faces on Main Street. He had
even expected to miss the neighbours with whom he and his mother had so
rarely mingled. All the hundred little, intimate, trivial, everyday
things that had gone to make up his life back home in Marvin,
Texas—these he had expected to miss.
And he didn't.
After ten weeks at the Great Central Naval Training Station so near
Chicago, Illinois, and so far from Marvin, Texas, there were two things
He wanted the decent privacy of his small quiet bedroom back home.
He wanted to talk to a girl.
He knew he wanted the first, definitely. He didn't know he wanted
the second. The fact that he didn't know it was Stella Kamps' fault.
She had kept his boyhood girlless, year and year, by sheer force of her
own love for him, and need of him, and by the charm and magnetism that
were hers. She had been deprived of a more legitimate outlet for these
emotions. Concentrated on the boy, they had sufficed for him. The
Marvin girls had long ago given him up as hopeless. They fell back,
baffled, their keenest weapons dulled by the impenetrable armour of his
The room? It hadn't been much of a room, as rooms go. Bare, clean,
asceptic, with a narrow, hard white bed and a maple dresser whose
second drawer always stuck and came out zig-zag when you pulled it; and
a swimmy mirror that made one side of your face look sort of lumpy, and
higher than the other side. In one corner a bookshelf. He had made it
himself at manual training. When he had finished it—the planing, the
staining, the polishing—Chippendale himself, after he had designed and
executed his first gracious, wide-seated, back-fitting chair, could
have felt no finer creative glow. As for the books it held, just to run
your eye over them was like watching Tyler Kamps grow up. Stella Kamps
had been a Kansas school teacher in the days before she met and married
Clint Kamps. And she had never quite got over it. So the book case
contained certain things that a fond mother (with a teaching past)
would think her small son ought to enjoy. Things like “Tom Brown At
Rugby” and “Hans Brinker, Or the Silver Skates.” He had read them,
dutifully, but they were as good as new. No thumbed pages, no ragged
edges, no creases and tatters where eager boy hands had turned a page
over—hastily. No, the thumb-marked, dog's-eared, grimy ones were, as
always, “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn” and “Marching Against the
A hot enough little room in the Texas summers. A cold enough little
room in the Texas winters. But his own. And quiet. He used to lie there
at night, relaxed, just before sleep claimed him, and he could almost
feel the soft Texas night enfold him like a great, velvety, invisible
blanket, soothing him, lulling him. In the morning it had been pleasant
to wake up to its bare, clean whiteness, and to the tantalising
breakfast smells coming up from the kitchen below. His mother calling
from the foot of the narrow wooden stairway:
“Ty-ler!,” rising inflection. “Ty-ler,” falling
inflection. “Get up, son! Breakfast'll be ready.”
It was always a terrific struggle between a last delicious stolen
five minutes between the covers, and the scent of the coffee and bacon.
“Ty-ler! You'll be late!”
A mighty stretch. A gathering of his will forces. A swing of his
long legs over the side of the bed so that they described an arc in the
“Been up years.”
Breakfast had won.
Until he came to the Great Central Naval Training Station Tyler's
nearest approach to the nautical life had been when, at the age of six,
he had sailed chips in the wash tub in the back yard. Marvin, Texas, is
five hundred miles inland. And yet he had enlisted in the navy as
inevitably as though he had sprung from a long line of Vikings. In his
boyhood his choice of games had always been pirate. You saw him, a red
handkerchief binding his brow, one foot advanced, knee bent, scanning
the horizon for the treasure island from the vantage point of the
woodshed roof, while the crew, gone mad with thirst, snarled and
shrieked all about him, and the dirt yard below became a hungry,
roaring sea. His twelve-year-old vocabulary boasted such compound
difficulties as mizzentopsail-yard and main-topgallantmast. He knew the
intricate parts of a full-rigged ship from the mainsail to the deck,
from the jib-boom to the chart-house. All this from pictures and books.
It was the roving, restless spirit of his father in him, I suppose.
Clint Kamps had never been meant for marriage. When the baby Tyler was
one year old Clint had walked over to where his wife sat, the child in
her lap, and had tilted her head back, kissed her on the lips, and had
gently pinched the boy's roseleaf cheek with a quizzical forefinger and
thumb. Then, indolently, negligently, gracefully, he had strolled out
of the house, down the steps, into the hot and dusty street and so on
and on and out of their lives. Stella Kamps had never seen him again.
Her letters back home to her folks in Kansas were triumphs of bravery
and bare-faced lying. The kind of bravery, and the kind of lying that
only a woman could understand. She managed to make out, somehow, at
first. And later, very well indeed. As the years went on she and the
boy lived together in a sort of closed corporation paradise of their
own. At twenty-one Tyler, who had gone through grammar school, high
school and business college had never kissed a girl or felt a
love-pang. Stella Kamps kept her age as a woman does whose brain and
body are alert and busy. When Tyler first went to work in the Texas
State Savings Bank of Marvin the girls would come in on various
pretexts just for a glimpse of his charming blondeur behind the little
cage at the rear. It is difficult for a small-town girl to think of
reasons for going into a bank. You have to be moneyed to do it. They
say that the Davies girl saved up nickels until she had a dollar's
worth and then came into the bank and asked to have a bill in exchange
for it. They gave her one—a crisp, new, crackly dollar bill. She
reached for it, gropingly, her eyes fixed on a point at the rear of the
bank. Two days later she came in and brazenly asked to have it changed
into nickels again. She might have gone on indefinitely thus if Tyler's
country hadn't given him something more important to do than to change
dollars into nickels and back again.
On the day he left for the faraway naval training station Stella
Kamps for the second time in her life had a chance to show the stuff
she was made of, and showed it. Not a whimper. Down at the train,
standing at the car window, looking up at him and smiling, and saying
futile, foolish, final things, and seeing only his blond head among the
many thrust out of the open window.
“... and Tyler, remember what I said about your feet. You know.
Dry.... And I'll send a box every week, only don't eat too many of the
nut cookies. They're so rich. Give some to the other—yes, I know you
will. I was just ... Won't it be grand to be right there on the water
all the time! My!... I'll write every night and then send it twice a
week.... I don't suppose you ... Well once a week, won't you, dear?...
You're—you're moving. The train's going! Good-b—” she ran along with
it for a few feet, awkwardly, as a woman runs. Stumblingly.
And suddenly, as she ran, his head always just ahead of her, she
thought, with a great pang:
“O my God, how young he is! How young he is, and he doesn't know
anything. I should have told him.... Things.... He doesn't know
anything about ... and all those other men—”
She ran on, one arm outstretched as though to hold him a moment
longer while the train gathered speed. “Tyler!” she called, through the
din and shouting. “Tyler, be good! Be good!” He only saw her lips
moving, and could not hear, so he nodded his head, and smiled, and
waved, and was gone.
So Tyler Kamps had travelled up to Chicago. Whenever they passed a
sizable town they had thrown open the windows and yelled, “Youp!
People had rushed to the streets and had stood there gazing after
the train. Tyler hadn't done much youping at first, but in the later
stages of the journey he joined in to keep his spirits up. He, who had
never been more than a two-hours' ride from home was flashing past
villages, towns, cities—hundreds of them.
The first few days had been unbelievably bad, what with typhoid
inoculations, smallpox vaccinations, and loneliness. The very first
day, when he had entered his barracks one of the other boys, older in
experience, misled by Tyler's pink and white and gold colouring, had
leaned forward from amongst a group and had called in glad surprise, at
the top of a leathery pair of lungs:
“Why, hello, sweetheart!” The others had taken it up with cruelty of
their age. “Hello, sweetheart!” It had stuck. Sweetheart. In the hard
years that followed—years in which the blood-thirsty and piratical
games of his boyhood paled to the mildest of imaginings—the nickname
still clung, long after he had ceased to resent it; long after he had
stripes and braid to refute it.
But in that Tyler Kamps we are not interested. It is the boy Tyler
Kamps with whom we have to do. Bewildered, lonely, and a little
resentful. Wondering where the sea part of it came in. Learning to say
“on the station” instead of “at the station,” the idea being that the
great stretch of land on which the station was located was not really
land, but water; and the long wooden barracks not really barracks at
all, but ships. Learning to sleep in a hammock (it took him a full
week). Learning to pin back his sailor collar to save soiling the white
braid on it (that meant scrubbing). Learning—but why go into detail?
One sentence covers it.
Tyler met Gunner Moran. Moran, tattooed, hairy-armed, hairy-chested
as a gorilla and with something of the sadness and humour of the
gorilla in his long upper lip and short forehead. But his eyes did not
bear out the resemblance. An Irish blue; bright, unravaged; clear
beacon lights in a rough and storm-battered countenance. Gunner Moran
wasn't a gunner at all, or even a gunner's mate, but just a seaman who
knew the sea from Shanghai to New Orleans; from Liverpool to Barcelona.
His knowledge of knots and sails and rifles and bayonets and fists was
a thing to strike you dumb. He wasn't the stuff of which officers are
made. But you should have seen him with a Springfield! Or a bayonet! A
bare twenty-five, Moran, but with ten years' sea experience. Into those
ten years he had jammed a lifetime of adventure. And he could do
expertly all the things that Tyler Kamps did amateurishly. In a
barrack, or in a company street, the man who talks the loudest is the
man who has the most influence. In Tyler's barrack Gunner Moran was
Because of what he knew they gave him two hundred men at a time and
made him company commander, without insignia or official position. In
rank, he was only a “gob” like the rest of them. In influence a
captain. Moran knew how to put the weight lunge behind the bayonet. It
was a matter of balance, of poise, more than of muscle.
Up in the front of his men, “G'wan,” he would yell. “Whatddye think
you're doin'! Tickling 'em with a straw! That's a bayonet you got
there, not a tennis rackit. You couldn't scratch your initials on a
Fritz that way. Put a little guts into it. Now then!”
He had been used to the old Krag, with a cam that jerked out, and
threw back, and fed one shell at a time. The new Springfield, that was
a gloriously functioning thing in its simplicity, he regarded with a
sort of reverence and ecstasy mingled. As his fingers slid lightly,
caressingly along the shining barrel they were like a man's fingers
lingering on the soft curves of a woman's throat. The sight of a rookie
handling this metal sweetheart clumsily filled him with fury.
“Whatcha think you got there, you lubber, you! A section o' lead
pipe! You ought t' be back carryin' a shovel, where you belong. Here.
Just a touch. Like that. See? Easy now.”
He could box like a professional. They put him up against Slovatsky,
the giant Russian, one day. Slovatsky put up his two huge hands, like
hams, and his great arms, like iron beams and looked down on this
lithe, agile bantam that was hopping about at his feet. Suddenly the
bantam crouched, sprang, and recoiled like a steel trap. Something had
crashed up against Slovatsky's chin. Red rage shook him. He raised his
sledge-hammer right for a slashing blow. Moran was directly in the path
of it. It seemed that he could no more dodge it than he could hope to
escape an onrushing locomotive, but it landed on empty air, with Moran
around in back of the Russian, and peering impishly up under his arm.
It was like an elephant worried by a mosquito. Then Moran's lightning
right shot out again, smartly, and seemed just to tap the great hulk on
the side of the chin. A ludicrous look of surprise on Slovatsky's face
before he crumpled and crashed.
This man it was who had Tyler Kamps' admiration. It was more than
admiration. It was nearer adoration. But there was nothing unnatural or
unwholesome about the boy's worship of this man. It was a legitimate
thing, born of all his fatherless years; years in which there had been
no big man around the house who could throw farther than Tyler, and eat
more, and wear larger shoes and offer more expert opinion. Moran
accepted the boy's homage with a sort of surly graciousness.
In Tyler's third week at the Naval Station mumps developed in his
barracks and they were quarantined. Tyler escaped the epidemic but he
had to endure the boredom of weeks of quarantine. At first they took it
as a lark, like schoolboys. Moran's hammock was just next Tyler's. On
his other side was a young Kentuckian named Dabney Courtney. The
barracks had dubbed him Monicker the very first day. Monicker had a
rather surprising tenor voice. Moran a salty bass. And Tyler his
mandolin. The trio did much to make life bearable, or unbearable,
depending on one's musical knowledge and views. The boys all sang a
great deal. They bawled everything they knew, from “Oh, You Beautiful
Doll” and “Over There” to “The End of a Perfect Day.” The latter, ad
nauseum. They even revived “Just Break the News to Mother” and
seemed to take a sort of awful joy in singing its dreary words and
mournful measures. They played everything from a saxophone to a
harmonica. They read. They talked. And they grew so sick of the sight
of one another that they began to snap and snarl.
Sometimes they gathered round Moran and he told them tales they only
half believed. He had been in places whose very names were exotic and
oriental, breathing of sandalwood, and myrrh, and spices and aloes.
They were places over which a boy dreams in books of travel. Moran
bared the vivid tattooing on hairy arms and chest—tattooing
representing anchors, and serpents, and girls' heads, and hearts with
arrows stuck through them. Each mark had its story. A broad-swathed
gentleman indeed, Gunner Moran. He had an easy way with him that made
you feel provincial and ashamed. It made you ashamed of not knowing the
sort of thing you used to be ashamed of knowing.
Visiting day was the worst. They grew savage, somehow, watching the
mothers and sisters and cousins and sweethearts go streaming by to the
various barracks. One of the boys to whom Tyler had never even spoken
suddenly took a picture out of his blouse pocket and showed it to
Tyler. It was a cheap little picture—one of the kind they sell two for
a quarter if one sitter; two for thirty-five if two. This was a
twosome. The boy, and a girl. A healthy, wide-awake wholesome looking
small-town girl, who has gone through high school and cuts out her own
“She's vice-president of the Silver Star Pleasure Club back home,”
the boy confided to Tyler. “I'm president. We meet every other
Tyler looked at the picture seriously and approvingly. Suddenly he
wished that he had, tucked away in his blouse, a picture of a
clear-eyed, round-cheeked vice-president of a pleasure club. He took
out his mother's picture and showed it.
“Oh, yeh,” said the boy, disinterestedly.
The dragging weeks came to an end. The night of Tyler's restlessness
was the last night of quarantine. To-morrow morning they would be free.
At the end of the week they were to be given shore leave. Tyler had
made up his mind to go to Chicago. He had never been there.
Five thirty. Reveille.
Tyler awoke with the feeling that something was going to happen.
Something pleasant. Then he remembered, and smiled. Dabney Courtney, in
the next hammock, was leaning far over the side of his perilous perch
and delivering himself of his morning speech. Tyler did not quite
understand this young southern elegant. Monicker had two moods, both of
which puzzled Tyler. When he awoke feeling gay he would lean over the
extreme edge of his hammock and drawl, with an affected English accent:
“If this is Venice, where are the canals?”
In his less cheerful moments he would groan, heavily, “There ain't
This last had been his morning observation during their many weeks
of durance vile. But this morning he was, for the first time in many
days, enquiring about Venetian waterways.
Tyler had no pal. His years of companionship with his mother had
bred in him a sort of shyness, a diffidence. He heard the other boys
making plans for shore leave. They all scorned Waukegan, which was the
first sizable town beyond the Station. Chicago was their goal. They
were like a horde of play-hungry devils after their confinement. Six
weeks of restricted freedom, six weeks of stored-up energy made them
restive as colts.
“Goin' to Chicago, kid?” Moran asked him, carelessly. It was
“Yes. Are you?” eagerly.
“Kin a duck swim?”
At the Y.M.C.A. they had given him tickets to various free
amusements and entertainments. They told him about free canteens, and
about other places where you could get a good meal, cheap. One of the
tickets was for a dance. Tyler knew nothing of dancing. This dance was
to be given at some kind of woman's club on Michigan Boulevard. Tyler
read the card, glumly. A dance meant girls. He knew that. Why hadn't he
learned to dance?
Tyler walked down to the station and waited for the train that would
bring him to Chicago at about one o'clock. The other boys, in little
groups, or in pairs, were smoking and talking. Tyler wanted to join
them, but he did not. They seemed so sufficient unto themselves, with
their plans, and their glib knowledge of places, and amusements, and
girls. On the train they all bought sweets from the train
butcher—chocolate maraschinos, and nut bars, and molasses kisses—and
ate them as greedily as children, until their hunger for sweets was
Tyler found himself in the same car with Moran. He edged over to a
seat near him, watching him narrowly. Moran was not mingling with the
other boys. He kept aloof, his sea-blue eyes gazing out at the flat
Illinois prairie. All about him swept and eddied the currents and
counter-currents of talk.
“They say there's a swell supper in the Tower Building for fifty
“Fifty nothing. Get all you want in the Library canteen for nix.”
“Where's this dance, huh?”
“Heh, Murph! I'll shoot you a game of pool at the club.”
“Naw, I gotta date.”
Tyler's glance encountered Moran's, and rested there. Scorn curled
the Irishman's broad upper lip. “Navy! This ain't no navy no more. It's
a Sunday school, that's what! Phonographs, an' church suppers, an' pool
an' dances! It's enough t' turn a fella's stomick. Lot of Sunday school
kids don't know a sail from a tablecloth when they see it.”
He relapsed into contemptuous silence.
Tyler, who but a moment before had been envying them their
familiarity with these very things now nodded and smiled understanding
at Moran. “That's right,” he said. Moran regarded him a moment,
curiously. Then he resumed his staring out of the window. You would
never have guessed that in that bullet head there was bewilderment and
resentment almost equalling Tyler's, but for a much different reason.
Gunner Moran was of the old navy—the navy that had been despised and
spat upon. In those days his uniform alone had barred him from decent
theatres, decent halls, decent dances, contact with decent people. They
had forced him to a knowledge of the burlesque houses, the cheap
theatres, the shooting galleries, the saloons, the dives. And now,
bewilderingly, the public had right-about faced. It opened its doors to
him. It closed its saloons to him. It sought him out. It offered him
amusement. It invited him to its home, and sat him down at its table,
and introduced him to its daughter.
“Nix!” said Gunner Moran, and spat between his teeth. “Not f'r me. I
pick me own lady friends.”
Gunner Moran was used to picking his own lady friends. He had picked
them in wicked Port Said, and in Fiume; in Yokohama and Naples. He had
picked them unerringly, and to his taste, in Cardiff, and Hamburg, and
When the train drew in at the great Northwestern station shed he was
down the steps and up the long platform before the wheels had ceased
Tyler came down the steps slowly. Blue uniforms were streaming past
him—a flood of them. White leggings twinkled with the haste of their
wearers. Caps, white or blue, flowed like a succession of rippling
waves and broke against the great doorway, and were gone.
In Tyler's town, back home in Marvin, Texas, you knew the train
numbers and their schedules, and you spoke of them by name, familiarly
and affectionately, as Number Eleven and Number Fifty-five. “I reckon
Fifty-five'll be late to-day, on account of the storm.”
Now he saw half a dozen trains lined up at once, and a dozen more
tracks waiting, empty. The great train shed awed him. The vast columned
waiting room, the hurrying people, the uniformed guards gave him a
feeling of personal unimportance. He felt very negligible, and useless,
and alone. He stood, a rather dazed blue figure, in the vastness of
that shining place. A voice—the soft, cadenced voice of the
“Lookin' fo' de sailors' club rooms?”
Tyler turned. A toothy, middle-aged, kindly negro in a uniform and
red cap. Tyler smiled friendlily. Here was a human he could feel at
ease with. Texas was full of just such faithful, friendly types of
“Reckon I am, uncle. Show me the way?”
Red Cap chuckled and led the way. “Knew you was f'om de south minute
Ah see yo'. Cain't fool me. Le'ssee now. You-all f'om—?”
“I'm from the finest state in the Union. The most glorious state in
“H'm—Texas,” grinned Red Cap.
“How did you know!”
“Ah done heah 'em talk befoh, son. Ah done heah 'em talk be-foh.”
It was a long journey through the great building to the section that
had been set aside for Tyler and boys like him. Tyler wondered how any
one could ever find it alone. When the Red Cap left him, after showing
him the wash rooms, the tubs for scrubbing clothes, the steam dryers,
the bath-tubs, the lunch room, Tyler looked after him regretfully. Then
he sped after him and touched him on the arm.
“Listen. Could I—would they—do you mean I could clean up in
there—as much as I wanted? And wash my things? And take a bath in a
bathtub, with all the hot water I want?”
“Yo' sho' kin. On'y things look mighty grabby now. Always is
Sat'days. Jes' wait aroun' an' grab yo' tu'n.”
Tyler waited. And while he waited he watched to see how the other
boys did things. He saw how they scrubbed their uniforms with scrubbing
brushes, and plenty of hot water and soap. He saw how they hung them
carefully, so that they might not wrinkle, in the dryers. He saw them
emerge, glowing, from the tub rooms. And he waited, the fever of
cleanliness burning in his eye.
His turn came. He had waited more than an hour, reading, listening
to the phonograph and the electric piano, and watching.
Now he saw his chance and seized it. And then he went through a
ceremony that was almost a ritual. Stella Kamps, could she have seen
it, would have felt repaid for all her years of soap-and-water
First he washed out the stationary tub with soap, and brush, and
scalding water. Then he scalded the brush. Then the tub again. Then,
deliberately, and with the utter unconcern of the male biped he
divested himself, piece by piece, of every stitch of covering wherewith
his body was clothed. And he scrubbed them all. He took off his white
leggings and his white cap and scrubbed those, first. He had seen the
other boys follow that order of procedure. Then his flapping blue
flannel trousers, and his blouse. Then his underclothes, and his socks.
And finally he stood there, naked and unabashed, slim, and pink and
silver as a mountain trout. His face, as he bent over the steamy tub,
was very red, and moist and earnest. His yellow hair curled in little
damp ringlets about his brow. Then he hung his trousers and blouse in
the dryers without wringing them (wringing, he had been told, wrinkled
them). He rinsed and wrung, and flapped the underclothes, though, and
shaped his cap carefully, and spread his leggings, and hung those in
the dryer, too. And finally, with a deep sigh of accomplishment, he
filled one of the bathtubs in the adjoining room—filled it to the
slopping-over point with the luxurious hot water, and he splashed about
in this, and reclined in it, gloriously, until the waiting ones
threatened to pull him out. Then he dried himself and issued forth all
flushed and rosy. He wrapped himself in a clean coarse sheet, for his
clothes would not be dry for another half hour. Swathed in the sheet
like a Roman senator he lay down on one of the green velvet couches,
relics of past Pullman glories, and there, with the rumble and roar of
steel trains overhead, with the smart click of the billiard balls
sounding in his ears, with the phonograph and the electric piano going
full blast, with the boys dancing and larking all about the big room,
he fell sound asleep as only a boy cub can sleep.
When he awoke an hour later his clothes were folded in a neat pile
by the deft hand of some jackie impatient to use the drying space for
his own garments. Tyler put them on. He stood before a mirror and
brushed his hair until it glittered. He drew himself up with the
instinctive pride and self respect that comes of fresh clean clothes
against the skin. Then he placed his absurd round hat on his head at
what he considered a fetching angle, though precarious, and sallied
forth on the streets of Chicago in search of amusement and adventure.
He found them.
Madison and Canal streets, west, had little to offer him. He sensed
that the centre of things lay to the east, so he struck out along
Madison, trying not to show the terror with which the grim, roaring,
clamorous city filled him. He jingled the small coins in his pocket and
strode along, on the surface a blithe and carefree jackie on shore
leave; a forlorn and lonely Texas boy, beneath.
It was late afternoon. His laundering, his ablutions and his nap had
taken more time than he had realised. It was a mild spring day, with
just a Lake Michigan evening snap in the air. Tyler, glancing about
alertly, nevertheless felt dreamy, and restless, and sort of melting,
like a snow-heap in the sun. He wished he had some one to talk to. He
thought of the man on the train who had said, with such easy
confidence, “I got a date.” Tyler wished that he too had a date—he who
had never had a rendezvous in his life. He loitered a moment on the
bridge. Then he went on, looking about him interestedly, and comparing
Chicago, Illinois, with Marvin, Texas, and finding the former sadly
lacking. He passed LaSalle, Clark. The streets were packed. The noise
and rush tired him, and bewildered him. He came to a moving picture
theatre—one of the many that dot the district. A girl occupied the
little ticket kiosk. She was rather a frowsy girl, not too young, and
with a certain look about the jaw. Tyler walked up to the window and
shoved his money through the little aperture. The girl fed him a pink
ticket without looking up. He stood there looking at her. Then he asked
her a question. “How long does the show take?” He wanted to see the
colour of her eyes. He wanted her to talk to him.
“'Bout a hour,” said the girl, and raised wise eyes to his.
“Thanks,” said Tyler, fervently, and smiled. No answering smile
curved the lady's lips. Tyler turned and went in. There was an alleged
comic film. Tyler was not amused. It was followed by a war picture. He
left before the show was over. He was very hungry by now. In his blouse
pocket were the various information and entertainment tickets with
which the Y.M.C.A. man had provided him. He had taken them out,
carefully, before he had done his washing. Now he looked them over. But
a dairy lunch room invited him, with its white tiling, and its pans of
baked apples, and browned beans and its coffee tank. He went in and ate
a solitary supper that was heavy on pie and cake.
When he came out to the street again it was evening. He walked over
to State Street (the wrong side). He took the dance card out of his
pocket and looked at it again. If only he had learned to dance. There'd
be girls. There'd have to be girls at a dance. He stood staring into
the red and tin-foil window display of a cigar store, turning the
ticket over in his fingers, and the problem over in his mind.
Suddenly, in his ear, a woman's voice, very soft and low. “Hello,
Sweetheart!” the voice said. His nickname! He whirled around, eagerly.
The girl was a stranger to him. But she was smiling, friendlily, and
she was pretty, too, sort of. “Hello, Sweetheart!” she said, again.
“Why, how-do, ma'am,” said Tyler, Texas fashion.
“Where you going, kid?” she asked.
Tyler blushed a little. “Well, nowhere in particular, ma'am. Just
kind of milling around.”
“Come on along with me,” she said, and linked her arm in his.
And yet Texas people were always saying easterners weren't friendly.
He felt a little uneasy, though, as he looked down into her smiling
“Hello, Sweetheart!” said a voice, again. A man's voice, this time.
Out of the cigar store came Gunner Moran, the yellow string of a
tobacco bag sticking out of his blouse pocket, a freshly rolled
cigarette between his lips.
A queer feeling of relief and gladness swept over Tyler. And then
Moran looked sharply at the girl and said, “Why, hello, Blanche!”
“Hello yourself,” answered the girl, sullenly.
“Thought you was in 'Frisco.”
“Well, I ain't.”
Moran shifted his attention from the girl to Tyler. “Friend o'
Before Tyler could open his lips to answer the girl put in, “Sure he
is. Sure I am. We been around together all afternoon.”
Tyler jerked. “Why, ma'am, I guess you've made a mistake. I never
saw you before in my life. I kind of thought when you up and spoke to
me you must be taking me for somebody else. Well, now, isn't that
The smile faded from the girl's face, and it became twisted with
fury. She glared at Moran, her lips drawn back in a snarl. “Who're you
to go buttin' into my business! This guy's a friend of mine, I tell
“Yeh? Well, he's a friend of mine, too. Me an' him had a date to
meet here right now and we're goin' over to a swell little dance on
Michigan Avenoo. So it's you who's buttin' in, Blanche, me girl.”
The girl stood twisting her handkerchief savagely. She was panting a
little. “I'll get you for this.”
“Beat it!” said Moran. He tucked his arm through Tyler's, with a
little impelling movement, and Tyler found himself walking up the
street at a smart gait, leaving the girl staring after them.
Tyler Kamps was an innocent, but he was not a fool. At what he had
vaguely guessed a moment before, he now knew. They walked along in
silence, the most ill-sorted pair that you might hope to find in all
that higgledy-piggledy city. And yet with a new, strong bond between
them. It was more than fraternal. It had something of the character of
the feeling that exists between a father and son who understand each
Man-like, they did not talk of that which they were thinking.
Tyler broke the silence.
“Do you dance?”
“Me! Dance! Well, I've mixed with everything from hula dancers to
geisha girls, not forgettin' the Barbary Coast in the old days,
but—well, I ain't what you'd rightly call a dancer. Why you askin'?”
“Because I can't dance, either. But we'll just go up and see what
it's like, anyway.”
“See wot wot's like?”
Tyler took out his card again, patiently. “This dance we're going
They had reached the Michigan Avenue address given on the card, and
Tyler stopped to look up at the great, brightly lighted building. Moran
stopped too, but for a different reason. He was staring, open-mouthed,
at Tyler Kamps.
“You mean t' say you thought I was goin'—”
He choked. “Oh, my Gawd!”
Tyler smiled at him, sweetly. “I'm kind of scared, too. But Monicker
goes to these dances and he says they're right nice. And lots of—of
pretty girls. Nice girls. I wouldn't go alone. But you—you're used to
dancing, and parties and—girls.”
He linked his arm through the other man's. Moran allowed himself to
be propelled along, dazedly. Still protesting, he found himself in the
elevator with a dozen red-cheeked, scrubbed-looking jackies. At which
point Moran, game in the face of horror, accepted the inevitable. He
gave a characteristic jerk from the belt.
“Me, I'll try anything oncet. Lead me to it.”
The elevator stopped at the ninth floor. “Out here for the jackies'
dance,” said the elevator boy.
The two stepped out with the others. Stepped out gingerly, caps in
hand. A corridor full of women. A corridor a-flutter with girls. Talk.
Laughter. Animation. In another moment the two would have turned and
fled, terrified. But in that half-moment of hesitation and bewilderment
they were lost.
A woman approached them hand outstretched. A tall, slim, friendly
looking woman, low-voiced, silk-gowned, inquiring.
“Good-evening!” she said, as if she had been haunting the halls in
the hope of their coming. “I'm glad to see you. You can check your caps
right there. Do you dance?”
Two scarlet faces. Four great hands twisting at white caps in an
agony of embarrassment. “Why, no ma'am.”
“That's fine. We'll teach you. Then you'll go into the ball room and
have a wonderful time.”
“But—” in choked accents from Moran.
“Just a minute. Miss Hall!” She beckoned a diminutive blonde in
blue. “Miss Hall, this is Mr.—ah—Mr. Moran. Thanks. And
Mr.?—yes—Mr. Kamps. Tyler Kamps. They want to learn to dance. I'll
turn them right over to you. When does your class begin?”
Miss Hall glanced at a toy watch on the tiny wrist. Instinctively
and helplessly Moran and Tyler focused their gaze on the dials that
bound their red wrists. “Starting right now,” said Miss Hall, crisply.
She eyed the two men with calm appraising gaze. “I'm sure you'll both
make wonderful dancers. Follow me.”
She turned. There was something confident, dauntless, irresistible
about the straight little back. The two men stared at it. Then at each
other. Panic was writ large on the face of each. Panic, and mutiny.
Flight was in the mind of both. Miss Hall turned, smiled, held out a
small white hand. “Come on,” she said. “Follow me.”
And the two, as though hypnotised, followed.
A fair-sized room, with a piano in one corner and groups of
fidgeting jackies in every other corner. Moran and Tyler sighed with
relief at sight of them. At least they were not to be alone in their
Miss Hall wasted no time. Slim ankles close together, head held
high, she stood in the centre of the room. “Now then, form a circle
Twenty six-foot, well-built specimens of manhood suddenly became
shambling hulks. They clumped forward, breathing hard, and smiling
mirthlessly, with an assumption of ease that deceived no one, least of
all, themselves. “A little lively, please. Don't look so scared. I'm
not a bit vicious. Now then, Miss Weeks! A fox trot.”
Miss Weeks, at the piano, broke into spirited strains. The first
faltering steps in the social career of Gunner Moran and Tyler Kamps
To an onlooker, it might have been mirth-provoking if it hadn't
been, somehow, tear-compelling. The thing that little Miss Hall was
doing might have seemed trivial to one who did not know that it was
magnificent. It wasn't dancing merely that she was teaching these
awkward, serious, frightened boys. She was handing them a key that
would unlock the social graces. She was presenting them with a magic
something that would later act as an open sesame to a hundred
She was strictly business, was Miss Hall. No nonsense about her.
“One-two-three-four! And a one-two three-four.
One-two-three-four! And a turn-two, turn-four. Now then,
all together. Just four straight steps as if you were walking down the
street. That's it! One-two-three-four! Don't look at me. Look at my
feet. And a one-two three-four.”
Red-faced, they were. Very earnest. Pathetically eager and docile.
Weeks of drilling had taught them to obey commands. To them the little
dancing teacher whose white spats twinkled so expertly in the tangle of
their own clumsy clumping boots was more than a pretty girl. She was
knowledge. She was power. She was the commanding officer. And like
children they obeyed.
Moran's Barbary Coast experience stood him in good stead now, though
the stern and watchful Miss Hall put a quick stop to a certain tendency
toward shoulder work. Tyler possessed what is known as a rhythm sense.
An expert whistler is generally a natural dancer. Stella Kamps had
always waited for the sound of his cheerful whistle as he turned the
corner of Vernon Street. High, clear, sweet, true, he would approach
his top note like a Tettrazini until, just when you thought he could
not possibly reach that dizzy eminence he did reach it, and held it,
and trilled it, bird-like, in defiance of the laws of vocal
His dancing was much like that. Never a half-beat behind the
indefatigable Miss Weeks. It was a bit laboured, at first, but it was
true. Little Miss Hall, with the skilled eye of the specialist, picked
him at a glance.
“You've danced before?”
“Take the head of the line, please. Watch Mr. Kamps. Now then, all
And they were off again.
At 9.45 Tyler Kamps and Gunner Moran were standing in the crowded
doorway of the ballroom upstairs, in a panic lest some girl should ask
them to dance; fearful lest they be passed by. Little Miss Hall had
brought them to the very door, had left them there with a stern
injunction not to move, and had sped away in search of partners for
Gunner Moran's great scarlet hands were knotted into fists. His
Adam's apple worked convulsively.
“Le's duck,” he whispered hoarsely. The jackie band in the corner
crashed into the opening bars of a fox trot.
“Oh, it don't seem—” But it was plain that Tyler was weakening.
Another moment and they would have turned and fled. But coming toward
them was little Miss Hall, her blonde head bobbing in and out among the
swaying couples. At her right and left was a girl. Her bright eyes held
her two victims in the doorway. They watched her approach, and were
helpless to flee. They seemed to be gripped by a horrible fascination.
Their limbs were fluid.
A sort of groan rent Moran. Miss Hall and the two girls stood before
them, cool, smiling, unruffled.
“Miss Cunningham, this is Mr. Tyler Kamps. Mr. Moran, Miss
Cunningham. Miss Drew—Mr. Moran, Mr. Kamps.”
The boy and the man gulped, bowed, mumbled something.
“Would you like to dance?” said Miss Cunningham, and raised limpid
eyes to Tyler's.
“Why—I—you see I don't know how. I just started to—”
“Oh, that's all right,” Miss Cunningham interrupted,
cheerfully. “We'll try it.” She stood in position and there seemed to
radiate from her a certain friendliness, a certain assurance and
understanding that was as calming as it was stimulating. In a sort of
daze Tyler found himself moving over the floor in time to the music. He
didn't know that he was being led, but he was. She didn't try to talk.
He breathed a prayer of thanks for that. She seemed to know, somehow,
about those four straight steps and two to the right and two to the
left, and four again, and turn-two, turn-four. He didn't know that he
was counting aloud, desperately. He didn't even know, just then, that
this was a girl he was dancing with. He seemed to move automatically,
like a marionette. He never was quite clear about those first ten
minutes of his ballroom experience.
The music ceased. A spat of applause. Tyler mopped his head, and his
hands, and applauded too, like one in a dream. They were off again for
Five minutes later he found himself seated next Miss Cunningham in a
chair against the wall. And for the first time since their meeting the
mists of agony cleared before his gaze and he saw Miss Cunningham as a
tall, slim, dark-haired girl, with a glint of mischief in her eye, and
a mouth that looked as if she were trying to keep from smiling.
“Why don't you?” Tyler asked, and was aghast.
“Why don't I what?”
“Smile if you want to.”
At which the glint in her eye and the hidden smile on her lips sort
of met and sparked and she laughed. Tyler laughed, too, and then they
laughed together and were friends.
Miss Cunningham's conversation was the kind of conversation that a
nice girl invariably uses in putting at ease a jackie whom she has just
met at a war recreation dance. Nothing could have been more commonplace
or unoriginal, but to Tyler Kamps the brilliance of a Madame de Stael
would have sounded trivial and uninteresting in comparison.
“Where are you from?”
“Why, I'm from Texas, ma'am. Marvin, Texas.”
“Is that so? So many of the boys are from Texas. Are you out at the
station or on one of the boats?”
“I'm on the Station. Yes ma'am.”
“Do you like the navy?”
“Yes ma'am, I do. I sure do. You know there isn't a drafted man in
the navy. No ma'am! We're all enlisted men.”
“When do you think the war will end, Mr. Kamps?”
He told her, gravely. He told her many other things. He told her
about Texas, at length and in detail, being a true son of that
Brobdingnagian state. Your Texan born is a walking mass of statistics.
Miss Cunningham made a sympathetic and interested listener. Her brown
eyes were round and bright with interest. He told her that the distance
from Texas to Chicago was only half as far as from here to there in the
state of Texas itself. Yes ma'am! He had figures about tons of
grain, and heads of horses and herds of cattle. Why, say, you could
take little ol' meachin' Germany and tuck it away in a corner of Texas
and you wouldn't any more know it was there than if it was somebody's
poor no-'count ranch. Why, Big Y ranch alone would make the whole
country of Germany look like a cattle grazin' patch. It was bigger than
all those countries in Europe strung together, and every man in Texas
would rather fight than eat. Yes ma'am. Why, you couldn't hold 'em.
“My!” breathed Miss Cunningham.
They danced again. Miss Cunningham introduced him to some other
girls, and he danced with them, and they in turn asked him about the
station, and Texas, and when he thought the war would end. And
altogether he had a beautiful time of it, and forgot completely and
entirely about Gunner Moran. It was not until he gallantly escorted
Miss Cunningham downstairs for refreshments that he remembered his
friend. He had procured hot chocolate for himself and Miss Cunningham;
and sandwiches, and delectable chunks of caramel cake. And they were
talking, and eating, and laughing and enjoying themselves hugely, and
Tyler had gone back for more cake at the urgent invitation of the
white-haired, pink-cheeked woman presiding at the white-clothed table
in the centre of the charming room. And then he had remembered. A look
of horror settled down over his face. He gasped.
“W-what's the matter?” demanded Miss Cunningham.
“My—my friend. I forgot all about him.” He regarded her with
“Oh, that's all right,” Miss Cunningham assured him for the second
time that evening. “We'll just go and find him. He's probably forgotten
all about you, too.”
And for the second time she was right. They started on their quest.
It was a short one. Off the refreshment room was a great, gracious
comfortable room all deep chairs, and soft rugs, and hangings, and
pictures and shaded lights. All about sat pairs and groups of sailors
and girls, talking, and laughing and consuming vast quantities of cake.
And in the centre of just such a group sat Gunner Moran, lolling at his
ease in a rosy velvet-upholstered chair. His little finger was crookt
elegantly over his cup. A large and imposing square of chocolate cake
in the other hand did not seem to cramp his gestures as he talked.
Neither did the huge bites with which he was rapidly demolishing it
seem in the least to stifle his conversation. Four particularly pretty
girls, and two matrons surrounded him. And as Tyler and Miss Cunningham
approached him he was saying, “Well, it's got so I can't sleep in
anything but a hammick. Yessir! Why, when I was fifteen years
old I was—” He caught Tyler's eye. “Hello!” he called, genially. “Meet
me friend.” This to the bevy surrounding him. “I was just tellin' these
And he was off again. All the tales that he told were not
necessarily true. But that did not detract from their thrill. Moran's
audience grew as he talked. And he talked until he and Tyler had to run
all the way to the Northwestern station for the last train that would
get them on the Station before shore leave expired. Moran, on leaving,
shook hands like a presidential candidate.
“I never met up with a finer bunch of ladies,” he assured them,
again and again. “Sure I'm comin' back again. Ask me. I've had a
elegant time. Elegant. I never met a finer bunch of ladies.”
They did not talk much in the train, he and Tyler. It was a sleepy
lot of boys that that train carried back to the Great Central Naval
Station. Tyler was undressed and in his hammock even before Moran, the
expert. He would not have to woo sleep to-night. Finally Moran, too,
had swung himself up to his precarious nest and relaxed with a tired,
Quiet again brooded over the great dim barracks. Tyler felt himself
slipping off to sleep, deliciously. She would be there next Saturday.
Her first name, she had said, was Myrtle. An awful pretty name for a
girl. Just about the prettiest he had ever heard. Her folks invited
jackies to dinner at the house nearly every Sunday. Maybe, if they gave
him thirty-six hours' leave next time—
“Hey, Sweetheart!” sounded in a hissing whisper from Moran's
“Say, was that four steps and then turn-turn, or four and two steps
t' the side? I kinda forgot.”
“O, shut up!” growled Monicker, from the other side. “Let a fellow
sleep, can't you! What do you think this is? A boarding school!”
“Shut up yourself!” retorted Tyler, happily. “It's four steps, and
two to the right and two to the left, and four again, and turn two,
“I was pretty sure,” said Moran, humbly. And relaxed again.
Quiet settled down upon the great room. There were only the sounds
of deep regular breathing, with an occasional grunt or sigh. The normal
sleep sounds of very tired boys.