by Richard Harding Davis
In Salonika, the American consul, the Standard Oil man, and
the war correspondents formed the American colony. The
correspondents were waiting to go to the front. Incidentally,
as we waited, the front was coming rapidly toward us. There
was "Uncle" Jim, the veteran of many wars, and of all the
correspondents, in experience the oldest and in spirit the
youngest, and there was the Kid, and the Artist. The Kid
jeered at us, and proudly described himself as the only Boy
Reporter who jumped from a City Hall assignment to cover a
European War. "I don't know strategy," he would boast; "neither
does the Man at Home. He wants 'human interest' stuff, and I give
him what he wants. I write exclusively for the subway guard and
the farmers in the wheat belt. When you fellows write about the
'Situation,' they don't understand it. Neither do you. Neither does
Venizelos or the King. I don't understand it myself. So, I write my
people heart-to-heart talks about refugees and wounded, and what
kind of ploughs the Servian peasants use, and that St. Paul wrote
his letters to the Thessalonians from the same hotel where I write
mine; and I tell 'em to pronounce Salonika 'eeka,' and not put
the accent on the 'on.' This morning at the refugee camp I found
all the little Servians of the Frothingham unit in American Boy
Scout uniforms. That's my meat. That's 'home week' stuff. You
fellows write for the editorial page; and nobody reads it. I write
for the man that turns first to Mutt and Jeff, and then looks to see
where they are running the new Charlie Chaplin release. When
that man has to choose between 'our military correspondent' and
the City Hall Reporter, he chooses me!"
The third man was John, "Our Special Artist." John could write
a news story, too, but it was the cartoons that had made him
famous. They were not comic page, but front page cartoons, and
before making up their minds what they thought, people waited to
see what their Artist thought. So, it was fortunate his thoughts
were as brave and clean as they were clever. He was the original
Little Brother to the Poor. He was always giving away money.
When we caught him, he would prevaricate. He would say the man
was a college chum, that he had borrowed the money from him,
and that this was the first chance he had had to pay it back. The Kid
suggested it was strange that so many of his college chums should
at the same moment turn up, dead broke, in Salonika, and that
half of them should be women.
John smiled disarmingly. "It was a large college," he explained,
"and coeducational." There were other Americans; Red Cross
doctors and nurses just escaped through the snow from the
Bulgars, and hyphenated Americans who said they had taken
out their first papers. They thought hyphenated citizens were
so popular with us, that we would pay their passage to New York.
In Salonika they were transients. They had no local standing. They
had no local lying-down place, either, or place to eat, or to wash,
although they did not look as though that worried them, or place
to change their clothes. Or clothes to change. It was because we
had clothes to change, and a hotel bedroom, instead of a bench in
a cafe, that we were ranked as residents and from the Greek police
held a "permission to sojourn." Our American colony was a very
close corporation. We were only six Americans against 300,000
British, French, Greek, and Servian soldiers, and 120,000 civilian
Turks, Spanish Jews, Armenians, Persians, Egyptians, Albanians,
and Arabs, and some twenty more other races that are not listed.
We had arrived in Salonika before the rush, and at the Hotel Hermes
on the water-front had secured a vast room. The edge of the stone
quay was not forty feet from us, the only landing steps directly
opposite our balcony. Everybody who arrived on the Greek
passenger boats from Naples or the Piraeus, or who had shore
leave from a man-of-war, transport, or hospital ship, was raked
by our cameras. There were four windows--one for each of us
and his work table. It was not easy to work. What was the use?
The pictures and stories outside the windows fascinated us, but
when we sketched them or wrote about them, they only proved
us inadequate. All day long the pinnaces, cutters, gigs, steam
launches shoved and bumped against the stone steps, marines
came ashore for the mail, stewards for fruit and fish, Red Cross
nurses to shop, tiny midshipmen to visit the movies, and the
sailors and officers of the Russian, French, British, Italian,
and Greek war-ships to stretch their legs in the park of the Tour
Blanche, or to cramp them under a cafe table. Sometimes the
ambulances blocked the quay and the wounded and frost-bitten
were lifted into the motor-boats, and sometimes a squad of marines
lined the landing stage, and as a coffin under a French or English
flag was borne up the stone steps stood at salute. So crowded
was the harbor that the oars of the boatmen interlocked.
Close to the stone quay, stretched along the three-mile circle,
were the fishing smacks, beyond them, so near that the anchor
chains fouled, were the passenger ships with gigantic Greek flags
painted on their sides, and beyond them transports from Marseilles,
Malta, and Suvla Bay, black colliers, white hospital ships, burning
green electric lights, red-bellied tramps and freighters, and, hemming
them in, the grim, mouse-colored destroyers, submarines, cruisers,
dreadnaughts. At times, like a wall, the cold fog rose between us
and the harbor, and again the curtain would suddenly be ripped
asunder, and the sun would flash on the brass work of the fleet,
on the white wings of the aeroplanes, on the snow-draped
shoulders of Mount Olympus. We often speculated as to how
in the early days the gods and goddesses, dressed as they were,
or as they were not, survived the snows of Mount Olympus. Or
was it only their resort for the summer?
It got about that we had a vast room to ourselves, where one
might obtain a drink, or a sofa for the night, or even money to
cable for money. So, we had many strange visitors, some half
starved, half frozen, with terrible tales of the Albanian trail,
of the Austrian prisoners fallen by the wayside, of the mountain
passes heaped with dead, of the doctors and nurses wading
waist-high in snow-drifts and for food killing the ponies. Some
of our visitors wanted to get their names in the American papers
so that the folks at home would know they were still alive,
others wanted us to keep their names out of the papers, hoping
the police would think them dead; another, convinced it was of
pressing news value, desired us to advertise the fact that he had
invented a poisonous gas for use in the trenches. With difficulty
we prevented him from casting it adrift in our room. Or, he had
for sale a second-hand motor-cycle, or he would accept a position
as barkeeper, or for five francs would sell a state secret that, once
made public, in a month would end the war. It seemed cheap at
Each of us had his "scouts" to bring him the bazaar rumor, the
Turkish bath rumor, the cafe rumor. Some of our scouts journeyed
as far afield as Monastir and Doiran, returning to drip snow on
the floor, and to tell us tales, one-half of which we refused to
believe, and the other half the censor refused to pass. With each
other's visitors it was etiquette not to interfere. It would have
been like tapping a private wire. When we found John sketching
a giant stranger in a cap and coat of wolf skin we did not seek
to know if he were an Albanian brigand, or a Servian prince
incognito, and when a dark Levantine sat close to the Kid,
whispering, and the Kid banged on his typewriter, we did not
So, when I came in one afternoon and found a strange American
youth writing at John's table, and no one introduced us, I took
it for granted he had sold the Artist an "exclusive" story, and
asked no questions. But I could not help hearing what they said.
Even though I tried to drown their voices by beating on the Kid's
typewriter. I was taking my third lesson, and I had printed, "I
Amm 5w writjng This, 5wjth my own lilly w?ite handS," when I
heard the Kid saying:
"You can beat the game this way. Let John buy you a ticket to the
Piraeus. If you go from one Greek port to another you don't need
a vise. But, if you book from here to Italy, you must get a permit
from the Italian consul, and our consul, and the police. The plot
is to get out of the war zone, isn't it? Well, then, my dope is to get
out quick, and map the rest of your trip when you're safe in Athens."
It was no business of mine, but I had to look up. The stranger
was now pacing the floor. I noticed that while his face was
almost black with tan, his upper lip was quite white. I noticed
also that he had his hands in the pockets of one of John's blue
serge suits, and that the pink silk shirt he wore was one that
once had belonged to the Kid. Except for the pink shirt, in the
appearance of the young man there was nothing unusual. He was
of a familiar type. He looked like a young business man from our
Middle West, matter-of-fact and unimaginative, but capable and
self-reliant. If he had had a fountain pen in his upper waistcoat
pocket, I would have guessed he was an insurance agent, or the
publicity man for a new automobile. John picked up his hat,
and said, "That's good advice. Give me your steamer ticket, Fred,
and I'll have them change it." He went out; but he did not ask
Fred to go with him.
Uncle Jim rose, and murmured something about the Cafe Roma,
and tea. But neither did he invite Fred to go with him. Instead,
he told him to make himself at home, and if he wanted anything
the waiter would bring it from the cafe downstairs. Then the Kid,
as though he also was uncomfortable at being left alone with us,
hurried to the door. "Going to get you a suit-case," he explained.
"Back in five minutes."
The stranger made no answer. Probably he did not hear him. Not a
hundred feet from our windows three Greek steamers were huddled
together, and the eyes of the American were fixed on them. The
one for which John had gone to buy him a new ticket lay nearest.
She was to sail in two hours. Impatiently, in short quick steps,
the stranger paced the length of the room, but when he turned and
so could see the harbor, he walked slowly, devouring it with his
eyes. For some time, in silence, he repeated this manoeuvre; and
then the complaints of the typewriter disturbed him. He halted
and observed my struggles. Under his scornful eye, in my
embarrassment I frequently hit the right letter. "You a
newspaper man, too?" he asked. I boasted I was, but
begged not to be judged by my typewriting.
"I got some great stories to write when I get back to God's country,"
he announced. "I was a reporter for two years in Kansas City before
the war, and now I'm going back to lecture and write. I got enough
material to keep me at work for five years. All kinds of stuff--
specials, fiction, stories, personal experiences, maybe a novel."
I regarded him with envy. For the correspondents in the
greatest of all wars the pickings had been meagre. "You
are to be congratulated," I said. He brushed aside my
congratulations. "For what?" he demanded. "I didn't go
after the stories; they came to me. The things I saw I had
to see. Couldn't get away from them. I've been with the
British, serving in the R. A. M. C. Been hospital steward,
stretcher bearer, ambulance driver. I've been sixteen months
at the front, and all the time on the firing-line. I was in the
retreat from Mons, with French on the Marne, at Ypres, all
through the winter fighting along the Canal, on the Gallipoli
Peninsula, and, just lately, in Servia. I've seen more of this
war than any soldier. Because, sometimes, they give the soldier
a rest; they never give the medical corps a rest. The only rest I
got was when I was wounded."
He seemed no worse for his wounds, so again I tendered
congratulations. This time he accepted them. The recollection
of the things he had seen, things incredible, terrible, unique in
human experience, had stirred him. He talked on, not boastfully,
but in a tone, rather, of awe and disbelief, as though assuring
himself that it was really he to whom such things had happened.
"I don't believe there's any kind of fighting I haven't seen," he
declared; "hand-to-hand fighting with bayonets, grenades, gun
butts. I've seen 'em on their knees in the mud choking each
other, beating each other with their bare fists. I've seen every
kind of airship, bomb, shell, poison gas, every kind of wound.
Seen whole villages turned into a brickyard in twenty minutes;
in Servia seen bodies of women frozen to death, bodies of babies
starved to death, seen men in Belgium swinging from trees; along
the Yzer for three months I saw the bodies of men I'd known
sticking out of the mud, or hung up on the barb wire, with the
crows picking them.
"I've seen some of the nerviest stunts that ever were pulled off
in history. I've seen real heroes. Time and time again I've seen
a man throw away his life for his officer, or for a chap he didn't
know, just as though it was a cigarette butt. I've seen the women
nurses of our corps steer a car into a village and yank out a wounded
man while shells were breaking under the wheels and the houses
were pitching into the streets." He stopped and laughed consciously.
"Understand," he warned me, "I'm not talking about myself, only of
things I've seen. The things I'm going to put in my book. It ought
to be a pretty good book-what?"
My envy had been washed clean in admiration.
"It will make a wonderful book," I agreed. "Are you going to
syndicate it first?"
Young Mr. Hamlin frowned importantly.
"I was thinking," he said, "of asking John for letters to the magazine
editors. So, they'll know I'm not faking, that I've really been through
it all. Letters from John would help a lot." Then he asked anxiously:
"They would, wouldn't they?"
I reassured him. Remembering the Kid's gibes at John and his
numerous dependents, I said: "You another college chum of John's?"
The young man answered my question quite seriously. "No," he said;
"John graduated before I entered; but we belong to the same fraternity.
It was the luckiest chance in the world my finding him here. There was
a month-old copy of the Balkan News blowing around camp, and his
name was in the list of arrivals. The moment I found he was in Salonika,
I asked for twelve hours leave, and came down in an ambulance. I made
straight for John; gave him the grip, and put it up to him to help me."
"I don't understand," I said. "I thought you were sailing on the
The young man was again pacing the floor. He halted and faced the
"You bet I'm sailing on the Adriaticus," he said. He looked out at
that vessel, at the Blue Peter flying from her foremast, and grinned.
"In just two hours!"
It was stupid of me, but I still was unenlightened. "But your twelve
hours' leave?" I asked.
The young man laughed. "They can take my twelve hours' leave,"
he said deliberately, "and feed it to the chickens. I'm beating it."
"What d'you mean, you're beating it?"
"What do you suppose I mean?" he demanded. "What do you
suppose I'm doing out of uniform, what do you suppose I'm lying
low in the room for? So's I won't catch cold?"
"If you're leaving the army without a discharge, and without
permission," I said, "I suppose you know it's desertion."
Mr. Hamlin laughed easily. "It's not my army," he said. "I'm an
"It's your desertion," I suggested.
The door opened and closed noiselessly, and Billy, entering,
placed a new travelling bag on the floor. He must have heard my
last words, for he looked inquiringly at each of us. But he did
not speak and, walking to the window, stood with his hands in his
pockets, staring out at the harbor. His presence seemed to encourage
the young man. "Who knows I'm deserting?" he demanded. "No
one's ever seen me in Salonika before, and in these 'cits' I can get on
board all right. And then they can't touch me. What do the folks at
home care how I left the British army? They'll be so darned glad to
get me back alive that they won't ask if I walked out or was kicked
out. I should worry!"
"It's none of my business," I began, but I was interrupted. In
his restless pacings the young man turned quickly.
"As you say," he remarked icily, "it is none of your business.
It's none of your business whether I get shot as a deserter, or
go home, or--"
"You can go to the devil for all I care," I assured him. "I
wasn't considering you at all. I was only sorry that I'll never
be able to read your book."
For a moment Mr. Hamlin remained silent, then he burst forth
with a jeer.
"No British firing squad," he boasted, "will ever stand me up."
"Maybe not," I agreed, "but you will never write that book."
Again there was silence, and this time it was broken by the Kid.
He turned from the window and looked toward Hamlin. "That's
right!" he said.
He sat down on the edge of the table, and at the deserter pointed
"Son," he said, "this war is some war. It's the biggest war in
history, and folks will be talking about nothing else for the next
ninety years; folks that never were nearer it than Bay City, Mich.
But you won't talk about it. And you've been all through it.
You've been to hell and back again. Compared with what you
know about hell, Dante is in the same class with Dr. Cook. But
you won't be able to talk about this war, or lecture, or write a
book about it."
"I won't?" demanded Hamlin. "And why won't I?"
"Because of what you're doing now," said Billy. "Because
you're queering yourself. Now, you've got everything." The
Kid was very much in earnest. His tone was intimate, kind, and
friendly. "You've seen everything, done everything. We'd give
our eye-teeth to see what you've seen, and to write the things you
can write. You've got a record now that'll last you until you're
dead, and your grandchildren are dead-and then some. When
you talk the table will have to sit up and listen. You can say 'I
was there.' 'I was in it.' 'I saw.' 'I know.' When this war is
over you'll have everything out of it that's worth getting-all
the experiences, all the inside knowledge, all the 'nosebag'
news; you'll have wounds, honors, medals, money, reputation.
And you're throwing all that away!"
Mr. Hamlin interrupted savagely.
"To hell with their medals," he said. "They can take their medals
and hang 'em on Christmas trees. I don't owe the British army
anything. It owes me. I've done my bit. I've earned what I've
got, and there's no one can take it away from me."
"You can," said the Kid. Before Hamlin could reply the door
opened and John came in, followed by Uncle Jim. The older
man was looking very grave, and John very unhappy. Hamlin
turned quickly to John.
"I thought these men were friends of yours," he began, "and
Americans. They're fine Americans. They're as full of human
kindness and red blood as a kippered herring!"
John looked inquiringly at the Kid.
"He wants to hang himself," explained Billy, "and because we
tried to cut him down, he's sore."
"They talked to me," protested Hamlin, "as though I was a
yellow dog. As though I was a quitter. I'm no quitter! But,
if I'm ready to quit, who's got a better right? I'm not an
Englishman, but there are several million Englishmen haven't
done as much for England in this was as I have. What do you
fellows know about it? You write about it, about the 'brave
lads in the trenches'; but what do you know about the trenches?
What you've seen from automobiles. That's all. That's where
you get off! I've lived in the trenches for fifteen months, froze
in 'em, starved in 'em, risked my life in 'em, and I've saved other
lives, too, by hauling men out of the trenches. And that's no airy
He ran to the wardrobe where John's clothes hung, and from the
bottom of it dragged a khaki uniform. It was still so caked with
mud and snow that when he flung it on the floor it splashed like
a wet bathing suit. "How would you like to wear one of those?" he
Demanded. "Stinking with lice and sweat and blood; the blood of
other men, the men you've helped off the field, and your own
As though committing hara-kiri, he slashed his hand across his
stomach, and then drew it up from his waist to his chin. "I'm
scraped with shrapnel from there to there," said Mr. Hamlin.
"And another time I got a ball in the shoulder. That would have
been a 'blighty' for a fighting man--they're always giving them
leave--but all I got was six weeks at Havre in hospital. Then it
was the Dardanelles, and sunstroke and sand; sleeping in sand,
eating sand, sand in your boots, sand in your teeth; hiding in
holes in the sand like a dirty prairie dog. And then, 'Off to
Servia!' And the next act opens in the snow and the mud!
Cold? God, how cold it was! And most of us in sun helmets."
As though the cold still gnawed at his bones, he shivered.
"It isn't the danger," he protested. "It isn't that I'm getting
away from. To hell with the danger! It's just the plain
discomfort of it! It's the never being your own master, never
being clean, never being warm." Again he shivered and
rubbed one hand against the other. "There were no bridges
over the streams," he went on, "and we had to break the ice
and wade in, and then sleep in the open with the khaki frozen
to us. There was no firewood; not enough to warm a pot of tea.
There were no wounded; all our casualties were frost bite and
Pneumonia. When we take them out of the blankets their toes
fall off. We've been in camp for a month now near Doiran, and
it's worse there than on the march. It's a frozen swamp. You can't
sleep for the cold; can't eat; the only ration we get is bully beef,
and our insides are frozen so damn tight we can't digest it. The
cold gets into your blood, gets into your brains. It won't let you
think; or else, you think crazy things. It makes you afraid." He
shook himself like a man coming out of a bad dream.
So, I'm through," he said. In turn he scowled at each of us, as
though defying us to contradict him. "That's why I'm quitting,"
he added. "Because I've done my bit. Because I'm damn well fed
up on it." He kicked viciously at the water-logged uniform on the
floor. "Any one who wants my job can have it!" He walked to the
window, turned his back on us, and fixed his eyes hungrily on the
Adriaticus. There was a long pause. For guidance we looked at
John, but he was staring down at the desk blotter, scratching on it
marks that he did not see.
Finally, where angels feared to tread, the Kid rushed in. "That's
certainly a hard luck story," he said; "but," he added cheerfully,
"it's nothing to the hard luck you'll strike when you can't tell
why you left the army." Hamlin turned with an exclamation,
but Billy held up his hand. "Now wait," he begged, "we haven't
time to get mussy. At six o'clock your leave is up, and the troop
train starts back to camp, and--"
Mr. Hamlin interrupted sharply. "And the Adriaticus starts at
Billy did not heed him. "You've got two hours to change your
mind," he said. "That's better than being sorry you didn't the
rest of your life."
Mr. Hamlin threw back his head and laughed. It was a most
unpleasant laugh. "You're a fine body of men," he jeered.
"America must be proud of you!"
"If we weren't Americans," explained Billy patiently, "we
wouldn't give a damn whether you deserted or not. You're
drowning and you don't know it, and we're throwing you a
rope. Try to see it that way. We'll cut out the fact that you
took an oath, and that you're breaking it. That's up to you.
We'll get down to results. When you reach home, if you can't
tell why you left the army, the folks will darned soon guess.
And that will queer everything you've done. When you come
to sell your stuff, it will queer you with the editors, queer you
with the publishers. If they know you broke your word to the
British army, how can they know you're keeping faith with them?
How can they believe anything you tell them? Every 'story' you
write, every statement of yours will make a noise like a fake.
You won't come into court with clean hands. You'll be licked
before you start.
"Of course, you're for the Allies. Well, all the Germans at home
will fear that; and when you want to lecture on your 'Fifteen
Months at the British Front,' they'll look up your record; and
what will they do to you? This is what they'll do to you. When
you've shown 'em your moving pictures and say, 'Does any
gentleman in the audience want to ask a question?' a German
agent will get up and say, 'Yes, I want to ask a question. Is it
true that you deserted from the British army, and that if you
return to it, they will shoot you?'"
I was scared. I expected the lean and muscular Mr. Hamlin to
fall on Billy, and fling him where he had flung the soggy uniform.
But instead he remained motionless, his arms pressed across his
chest. His eyes, filled with anger and distress, returned to the
"I'm sorry," muttered the Kid.
John rose and motioned to the door, and guiltily and only too
gladly we escaped. John followed us into the hall. "Let me talk
to him," he whispered. "The boat sails in an hour. Please don't
come back until she's gone."
We went to the moving picture palace next door, but I doubt if
the thoughts of any of us were on the pictures. For after an
hour, when from across the quay there came the long-drawn
warning of a steamer's whistle, we nudged each other and rose
and went out.
Not a hundred yards from us the propeller blades of the
Adriaticus were slowly churning, and the rowboats were falling
away from her sides.
"Good-bye, Mr. Hamlin," called Billy. "You had everything and
you chucked it away. I can spell your finish. It's 'check' for yours."
But when we entered our room, in the centre of it, under the
bunch of electric lights, stood the deserter. He wore the
water-logged uniform. The sun helmet was on his head.
"Good man!" shouted Billy.
He advanced, eagerly holding out his hand.
Mr. Hamlin brushed past him. At the door he turned and glared
at us, even at John. He was not a good loser. "I hope you're
satisfied," he snarled. He pointed at the four beds in a row. I
felt guiltily conscious of them. At the moment they appeared so
unnecessarily clean and warm and soft. The silk coverlets at the
foot of each struck me as being disgracefully effeminate. They
made me ashamed.
"I hope," said Mr. Hamlin, speaking slowly and picking his words,
"when you turn into those beds to-night you'll think of me in the
mud. I hope when you're having your five-course dinner and your
champagne you'll remember my bully beef. I hope when a shell or
Mr. Pneumonia gets me, you'll write a nice little sob story about
the 'brave lads in the trenches.' "
He looked at us, standing like schoolboys, sheepish, embarrassed,
and silent, and then threw open the door. "I hope," he added,
"you all choke!"
With an unconvincing imitation of the college chum manner,
John cleared his throat and said: "Don't forget, Fred, if there's
anything I can do--"
Hamlin stood in the doorway smiling at us.
"There's something you can all do," he said.
"Yes?" asked John heartily.
"You can all go to hell!" said Mr. Hamlin.
We heard the door slam, and his hobnailed boots pounding down
the stairs. No one spoke. Instead, in unhappy silence, we stood
staring at the floor. Where the uniform had lain was a pool of
mud and melted snow and the darker stains of stale blood.