Infomotions, Inc.The Deserter / Davis, Richard Harding, 1864-1916

Author: Davis, Richard Harding, 1864-1916
Title: The Deserter
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): hamlin; salonika; davis; kid; hotel; john; literary; trademark; deserter
Contributor(s): Bright, Mynors, 1818-1883 [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 9,694 words (really short) Grade range: 8-11 (high school) Readability score: 62 (easy)
Identifier: etext15089
Delicious Bookmark this on Delicious

Discover what books you consider "great". Take the Great Books Survey.

The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Deserter, by Richard Harding Davis

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

Title: The Deserter

Author: Richard Harding Davis

Release Date: February 17, 2005 [EBook #15089]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII


Produced by Audrey Longhurst, Stephanie Tarnacki and the PG Online
Distributed Proofreading Team.









When Mr. Davis wrote the story of "The Deserter," he could not
possibly have foreseen that it was to be his last story--the last
of those short stories which gave him such eminence as a
short-story writer.

He apparently was as rugged and as vigorous as ever.

And yet, had he sat down to write a story which he knew was to be
his last, I do not think he could have written one more fittingly
designed to be the capstone of his literary monument. The theme is
one in which he has unconsciously mirrored his own ideals of
honorable obligation, as well as one which presents a wholesome
lesson to young soldiers who have taken an oath to do faithful
service to a nation.

It is a story with a moral so subtly expressed that every soldier
or sailor who reads it will think seriously of it if the
temptation to such disloyalty should enter his mind. This story of
the young man who tried to desert at Salonika may well have a
heartening influence upon all men in uniforms who waver in the
path of duty--especially in these days of vast military operations
when a whole world is in arms. It belongs in patriotic literature
by the side of Edward Everett Hale's "The Man Without a Country."
The motif is the same--that of obligation and service and loyalty
to a pledge.

In "The Deserter" Mr. Davis does not reveal the young soldier's
name, for obvious reasons, and the name of the hotel and ship in
Salonika are likewise disguised. It is part of the art of the
skilful story-writer to dress his narrative in such a way as to
eliminate those matter-of-fact details which would be emphasized
by one writing the story as a matter of news. For instance, the
Hotel Hermes in Mr. Davis's story is the Olympos Palace Hotel, and
the _Adriaticus_ is the Greek steamer _Helleni_. The name of the
young soldier is given as "Hamlin," and under this literary
"camouflage," to borrow a word born of the war, the story may be
read without the thought that a certain definite young man will be
humiliated by seeing his own name revealed as that of a potential

But the essentials of the story are all true, and its value as a
lasting influence for good is in no way impaired by the necessary
fictions as to places and identities.

It was my privilege to see the dramatic incidents of the story of
"The Deserter" as they unfolded during the time included in Mr.
Davis's story. The setting was in the huge room--chamber,
living-room, workroom, clubroom, and sometimes dining-room that we
occupied in the Olympos Palace Hotel in Salonika. William G.
Shepherd, of the United Press, James H. Hare, the veteran war
photographer, and I were the original occupants of this room,
which owed its vast dimensions to the fact that it formerly had
been the dining-room of the hotel, later the headquarters of the
Austrian Club, and finally, under the stressful conditions of an
overcrowded city, a bedroom. Mr. Davis joined us here in November
of 1915, and for some days shared the room until he could secure
another in the same hotel.

The city was seething with huge activities. We lived from day to
day, not knowing what moment some disaster might result as a
consequence of an incongruous military and political situation, in
which German and Austrian consular officials walked the streets
side by side with French and British officers. Men who had lived
through many strange situations declared that this motley of
tongues and nationalities and conflicting interests to be found in
Salonika during those last weeks of 1915 was without a parallel in
their experiences.

Into this atmosphere occasionally came the little human dramas
that were a welcome novelty beside the big drama that dominated
the picture, and it was thus that the drama of the young soldier
who wished to desert came into our lives as a gripping, human

To Mr. Davis the drama was more than a "news" story; it was
something big and fundamental, involving a young man's whole
future, and as such it revealed to his quick instinct for dramatic
situations the theme for a big story.

No sooner had "Hamlin" left our room, reclad in his dirty uniform
and headed for certain punishment back at his camp, than Mr. Davis
proclaimed his intention to write the story.

"The best war story I ever knew!" he exclaimed.

Of course the young soldier did not see it as a drama in real
life, and he certainly did not comprehend that he might be playing
a part in what would be a tragedy in his own life. To him the
incident had no dramatic possibilities. He was merely a young man
who had been racked by exposure and suffering to a point where he
longed to escape a continuance of such hardship, and the easiest
way out of it seemed by way of deserting.

He was "fed up" on discomfort and dirt and cold, and harassed by
the effects of an ill-healed wound received in Flanders some
months before, and he wanted to go home.

The story, as Mr. Davis tells it in the following pages, is
complete as it stands. So far as he knew up to the time of his
death, there was no sequel. He died thinking of "Hamlin" as a
potential deserter who had been shamed out of his purpose to
desert and who had left, ungrateful and bitter with resentment at
his fellow Americans, who had persuaded him to go back to camp,
"take his medicine," and "see it through."

The Hotel "Hermes" is probably no more. Only a few days ago the
news came that all of the water-front of Salonika, a district
stretching in splendid array from the "White Tower" to the Customs
House, had been wiped out by a tremendous fire. It was in this
district that most of the finest buildings, including the Olympos
Palace Hotel--the Hotel Hermes of Mr. Davis's story--were located,
and there is little likelihood that any of this part of the city
escaped. The magnitude of the fire is indicated by the estimated
loss, which is $100,000,000, with about $26,000,000 insurance.

The government has authorized the construction of barracks outside
the burned zone, but has decided not to permit repairs or
temporary construction within that area until plans for rebuilding
the city are complete.

Thus the setting of the story of "The Deserter" is gone, the
author is gone, and who can tell at this moment whether "Hamlin,"
fighting in the trenches on the British front in Prance, is not
also gone.

I hope it may not affect the interest or the moral of the story if
I give the sequel. I know that Mr. Davis would have been glad to
hear what became of the young man who left our room with an angry
word of resentment against us. I hope, too, that the reader will
feel a natural interest in knowing how he fared, and what
punishment he received for having overstayed his leave, and for
shaving his mustache as part of his plan to escape detection, both
of which infractions made him subject to punishment.

One day about three weeks after Davis had left Salonika homeward
bound, a soldier brought us a note from "Hamlin." He was on a Red
Cross lighter down at the pier, and we at once went down to see
him. He was lying on a stretcher among scores of men. His face was
thin and pale, and in answer to our eager questions he told how he
had fared when he returned to camp.

"Oh, they gave it to me good," he said. "But they still think I
got drunk. They took away my stripes and made me a private. But I
was sick the night I got back to camp and I've been laid up ever
since. They say there is something the matter with my intestines
and they're going to cut me open again. Gee, but the captain was
surprised! He said he had always counted on me as a teetotaller
and that he was grieved and disappointed in me. And just think,
I've never taken a drink in my life!"

We said good-by, and this time it was a friendly good-by. That
night he left on a hospital ship for Alexandria.

Once more the course of young Mr. "Hamlin's" life was swallowed up
in the vast oblivion of army life, and we heard no more of him
until, one day in London, three months later, Shepherd felt an arm
thrown about his shoulder and turned to find the healthy and
cheerful face of "Hamlin."

A few minutes later, at a luncheon-table, Shepherd heard his

After leaving Alexandria he was sent to a hospital in Manchester.
On the day of his discharge he was asked to report to a certain
major, who informed him that the government had conferred upon him
the D.C.M.--the medal for Distinguished Conduct in the field--in
recognition of his service in recovering a wounded man from No
Man's land in Flanders ten months before. The following day,
before a file of soldiers drawn up on the parade-ground, the honor
was officially conferred and a little ribbon was pinned upon his
coat to testify to the appreciative, though somewhat tardy,
gratitude of the government.

"Hamlin" pointed to the little ribbon on his lapel and proudly
drew from his pocket an official paper in which his heroic
achievement was duly recited.

He had not heard of Davis's death, and was deeply touched when Mr.
Shepherd told him of it. At once he expressed his endless
gratitude to Davis and the rest of us for what we had done for him
in Salonika.

In a few days he was to return to France with his regiment. What
has happened to him since then I have no means of knowing. His
movements are again wrapped in that dense fog which veils the
soldier's life to all the outside world except those to whom he

In view of what we now know of Hamlin's physical condition at the
time his mind was obsessed with the idea of deserting, both Mr.
Shepherd and I are glad to believe that his decision to desert was
the consequence of physical rather than mental or moral weakness,
for his stamina was at its lowest ebb because of a weakened body.


September 15, 1917.


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 faces 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 worktable. 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
frostbitten were lifted into the motorboats, 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

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
snowdrifts 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 motorcycle,
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 the price.

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

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 suitcase," 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

"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

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

"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
his forefinger.

"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 war 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 persiflage, either!"

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-by, Mr. Hamlin," called Billy. "You had everything and you
chucked it away. I can spell your finish. It's 'check' for

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.

End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of The Deserter, by Richard Harding Davis


***** This file should be named 15089.txt or *****
This and all associated files of various formats will be found in:

Produced by Audrey Longhurst, Stephanie Tarnacki and the PG Online
Distributed Proofreading Team.

Updated editions will replace the previous one--the old editions
will be renamed.

Creating the works from public domain print editions means that no
one owns a United States copyright in these works, so the Foundation
(and you!) can copy and distribute it in the United States without
permission and without paying copyright royalties.  Special rules,
set forth in the General Terms of Use part of this license, apply to
copying and distributing Project Gutenberg-tm electronic works to
protect the PROJECT GUTENBERG-tm concept and trademark.  Project
Gutenberg is a registered trademark, and may not be used if you
charge for the eBooks, unless you receive specific permission.  If you
do not charge anything for copies of this eBook, complying with the
rules is very easy.  You may use this eBook for nearly any purpose
such as creation of derivative works, reports, performances and
research.  They may be modified and printed and given away--you may do
practically ANYTHING with public domain eBooks.  Redistribution is
subject to the trademark license, especially commercial



To protect the Project Gutenberg-tm mission of promoting the free
distribution of electronic works, by using or distributing this work
(or any other work associated in any way with the phrase "Project
Gutenberg"), you agree to comply with all the terms of the Full Project
Gutenberg-tm License (available with this file or online at

Section 1.  General Terms of Use and Redistributing Project Gutenberg-tm
electronic works

1.A.  By reading or using any part of this Project Gutenberg-tm
electronic work, you indicate that you have read, understand, agree to
and accept all the terms of this license and intellectual property
(trademark/copyright) agreement.  If you do not agree to abide by all
the terms of this agreement, you must cease using and return or destroy
all copies of Project Gutenberg-tm electronic works in your possession.
If you paid a fee for obtaining a copy of or access to a Project
Gutenberg-tm electronic work and you do not agree to be bound by the
terms of this agreement, you may obtain a refund from the person or
entity to whom you paid the fee as set forth in paragraph 1.E.8.

1.B.  "Project Gutenberg" is a registered trademark.  It may only be
used on or associated in any way with an electronic work by people who
agree to be bound by the terms of this agreement.  There are a few
things that you can do with most Project Gutenberg-tm electronic works
even without complying with the full terms of this agreement.  See
paragraph 1.C below.  There are a lot of things you can do with Project
Gutenberg-tm electronic works if you follow the terms of this agreement
and help preserve free future access to Project Gutenberg-tm electronic
works.  See paragraph 1.E below.

1.C.  The Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation ("the Foundation"
or PGLAF), owns a compilation copyright in the collection of Project
Gutenberg-tm electronic works.  Nearly all the individual works in the
collection are in the public domain in the United States.  If an
individual work is in the public domain in the United States and you are
located in the United States, we do not claim a right to prevent you from
copying, distributing, performing, displaying or creating derivative
works based on the work as long as all references to Project Gutenberg
are removed.  Of course, we hope that you will support the Project
Gutenberg-tm mission of promoting free access to electronic works by
freely sharing Project Gutenberg-tm works in compliance with the terms of
this agreement for keeping the Project Gutenberg-tm name associated with
the work.  You can easily comply with the terms of this agreement by
keeping this work in the same format with its attached full Project
Gutenberg-tm License when you share it without charge with others.

1.D.  The copyright laws of the place where you are located also govern
what you can do with this work.  Copyright laws in most countries are in
a constant state of change.  If you are outside the United States, check
the laws of your country in addition to the terms of this agreement
before downloading, copying, displaying, performing, distributing or
creating derivative works based on this work or any other Project
Gutenberg-tm work.  The Foundation makes no representations concerning
the copyright status of any work in any country outside the United

1.E.  Unless you have removed all references to Project Gutenberg:

1.E.1.  The following sentence, with active links to, or other immediate
access to, the full Project Gutenberg-tm License must appear prominently
whenever any copy of a Project Gutenberg-tm work (any work on which the
phrase "Project Gutenberg" appears, or with which the phrase "Project
Gutenberg" is associated) is accessed, displayed, performed, viewed,
copied or distributed:

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

1.E.2.  If an individual Project Gutenberg-tm electronic work is derived
from the public domain (does not contain a notice indicating that it is
posted with permission of the copyright holder), the work can be copied
and distributed to anyone in the United States without paying any fees
or charges.  If you are redistributing or providing access to a work
with the phrase "Project Gutenberg" associated with or appearing on the
work, you must comply either with the requirements of paragraphs 1.E.1
through 1.E.7 or obtain permission for the use of the work and the
Project Gutenberg-tm trademark as set forth in paragraphs 1.E.8 or

1.E.3.  If an individual Project Gutenberg-tm electronic work is posted
with the permission of the copyright holder, your use and distribution
must comply with both paragraphs 1.E.1 through 1.E.7 and any additional
terms imposed by the copyright holder.  Additional terms will be linked
to the Project Gutenberg-tm License for all works posted with the
permission of the copyright holder found at the beginning of this work.

1.E.4.  Do not unlink or detach or remove the full Project Gutenberg-tm
License terms from this work, or any files containing a part of this
work or any other work associated with Project Gutenberg-tm.

1.E.5.  Do not copy, display, perform, distribute or redistribute this
electronic work, or any part of this electronic work, without
prominently displaying the sentence set forth in paragraph 1.E.1 with
active links or immediate access to the full terms of the Project
Gutenberg-tm License.

1.E.6.  You may convert to and distribute this work in any binary,
compressed, marked up, nonproprietary or proprietary form, including any
word processing or hypertext form.  However, if you provide access to or
distribute copies of a Project Gutenberg-tm work in a format other than
"Plain Vanilla ASCII" or other format used in the official version
posted on the official Project Gutenberg-tm web site (,
you must, at no additional cost, fee or expense to the user, provide a
copy, a means of exporting a copy, or a means of obtaining a copy upon
request, of the work in its original "Plain Vanilla ASCII" or other
form.  Any alternate format must include the full Project Gutenberg-tm
License as specified in paragraph 1.E.1.

1.E.7.  Do not charge a fee for access to, viewing, displaying,
performing, copying or distributing any Project Gutenberg-tm works
unless you comply with paragraph 1.E.8 or 1.E.9.

1.E.8.  You may charge a reasonable fee for copies of or providing
access to or distributing Project Gutenberg-tm electronic works provided

- You pay a royalty fee of 20% of the gross profits you derive from
     the use of Project Gutenberg-tm works calculated using the method
     you already use to calculate your applicable taxes.  The fee is
     owed to the owner of the Project Gutenberg-tm trademark, but he
     has agreed to donate royalties under this paragraph to the
     Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation.  Royalty payments
     must be paid within 60 days following each date on which you
     prepare (or are legally required to prepare) your periodic tax
     returns.  Royalty payments should be clearly marked as such and
     sent to the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation at the
     address specified in Section 4, "Information about donations to
     the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation."

- You provide a full refund of any money paid by a user who notifies
     you in writing (or by e-mail) within 30 days of receipt that s/he
     does not agree to the terms of the full Project Gutenberg-tm
     License.  You must require such a user to return or
     destroy all copies of the works possessed in a physical medium
     and discontinue all use of and all access to other copies of
     Project Gutenberg-tm works.

- You provide, in accordance with paragraph 1.F.3, a full refund of any
     money paid for a work or a replacement copy, if a defect in the
     electronic work is discovered and reported to you within 90 days
     of receipt of the work.

- You comply with all other terms of this agreement for free
     distribution of Project Gutenberg-tm works.

1.E.9.  If you wish to charge a fee or distribute a Project Gutenberg-tm
electronic work or group of works on different terms than are set
forth in this agreement, you must obtain permission in writing from
both the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation and Michael
Hart, the owner of the Project Gutenberg-tm trademark.  Contact the
Foundation as set forth in Section 3 below.


1.F.1.  Project Gutenberg volunteers and employees expend considerable
effort to identify, do copyright research on, transcribe and proofread
public domain works in creating the Project Gutenberg-tm
collection.  Despite these efforts, Project Gutenberg-tm electronic
works, and the medium on which they may be stored, may contain
"Defects," such as, but not limited to, incomplete, inaccurate or
corrupt data, transcription errors, a copyright or other intellectual
property infringement, a defective or damaged disk or other medium, a
computer virus, or computer codes that damage or cannot be read by
your equipment.

of Replacement or Refund" described in paragraph 1.F.3, the Project
Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, the owner of the Project
Gutenberg-tm trademark, and any other party distributing a Project
Gutenberg-tm electronic work under this agreement, disclaim all
liability to you for damages, costs and expenses, including legal

defect in this electronic work within 90 days of receiving it, you can
receive a refund of the money (if any) you paid for it by sending a
written explanation to the person you received the work from.  If you
received the work on a physical medium, you must return the medium with
your written explanation.  The person or entity that provided you with
the defective work may elect to provide a replacement copy in lieu of a
refund.  If you received the work electronically, the person or entity
providing it to you may choose to give you a second opportunity to
receive the work electronically in lieu of a refund.  If the second copy
is also defective, you may demand a refund in writing without further
opportunities to fix the problem.

1.F.4.  Except for the limited right of replacement or refund set forth
in paragraph 1.F.3, this work is provided to you 'AS-IS' WITH NO OTHER

1.F.5.  Some states do not allow disclaimers of certain implied
warranties or the exclusion or limitation of certain types of damages.
If any disclaimer or limitation set forth in this agreement violates the
law of the state applicable to this agreement, the agreement shall be
interpreted to make the maximum disclaimer or limitation permitted by
the applicable state law.  The invalidity or unenforceability of any
provision of this agreement shall not void the remaining provisions.

1.F.6.  INDEMNITY - You agree to indemnify and hold the Foundation, the
trademark owner, any agent or employee of the Foundation, anyone
providing copies of Project Gutenberg-tm electronic works in accordance
with this agreement, and any volunteers associated with the production,
promotion and distribution of Project Gutenberg-tm electronic works,
harmless from all liability, costs and expenses, including legal fees,
that arise directly or indirectly from any of the following which you do
or cause to occur: (a) distribution of this or any Project Gutenberg-tm
work, (b) alteration, modification, or additions or deletions to any
Project Gutenberg-tm work, and (c) any Defect you cause.

Section  2.  Information about the Mission of Project Gutenberg-tm

Project Gutenberg-tm is synonymous with the free distribution of
electronic works in formats readable by the widest variety of computers
including obsolete, old, middle-aged and new computers.  It exists
because of the efforts of hundreds of volunteers and donations from
people in all walks of life.

Volunteers and financial support to provide volunteers with the
assistance they need, is critical to reaching Project Gutenberg-tm's
goals and ensuring that the Project Gutenberg-tm collection will
remain freely available for generations to come.  In 2001, the Project
Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation was created to provide a secure
and permanent future for Project Gutenberg-tm and future generations.
To learn more about the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation
and how your efforts and donations can help, see Sections 3 and 4
and the Foundation web page at

Section 3.  Information about the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive

The Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation is a non profit
501(c)(3) educational corporation organized under the laws of the
state of Mississippi and granted tax exempt status by the Internal
Revenue Service.  The Foundation's EIN or federal tax identification
number is 64-6221541.  Its 501(c)(3) letter is posted at  Contributions to the Project Gutenberg
Literary Archive Foundation are tax deductible to the full extent
permitted by U.S. federal laws and your state's laws.

The Foundation's principal office is located at 4557 Melan Dr. S.
Fairbanks, AK, 99712., but its volunteers and employees are scattered
throughout numerous locations.  Its business office is located at
809 North 1500 West, Salt Lake City, UT 84116, (801) 596-1887, email  Email contact links and up to date contact
information can be found at the Foundation's web site and official
page at

For additional contact information:
     Dr. Gregory B. Newby
     Chief Executive and Director

Section 4.  Information about Donations to the Project Gutenberg
Literary Archive Foundation

Project Gutenberg-tm depends upon and cannot survive without wide
spread public support and donations to carry out its mission of
increasing the number of public domain and licensed works that can be
freely distributed in machine readable form accessible by the widest
array of equipment including outdated equipment.  Many small donations
($1 to $5,000) are particularly important to maintaining tax exempt
status with the IRS.

The Foundation is committed to complying with the laws regulating
charities and charitable donations in all 50 states of the United
States.  Compliance requirements are not uniform and it takes a
considerable effort, much paperwork and many fees to meet and keep up
with these requirements.  We do not solicit donations in locations
where we have not received written confirmation of compliance.  To
SEND DONATIONS or determine the status of compliance for any
particular state visit

While we cannot and do not solicit contributions from states where we
have not met the solicitation requirements, we know of no prohibition
against accepting unsolicited donations from donors in such states who
approach us with offers to donate.

International donations are gratefully accepted, but we cannot make
any statements concerning tax treatment of donations received from
outside the United States.  U.S. laws alone swamp our small staff.

Please check the Project Gutenberg Web pages for current donation
methods and addresses.  Donations are accepted in a number of other
ways including including checks, online payments and credit card
donations.  To donate, please visit:

Section 5.  General Information About Project Gutenberg-tm electronic

Professor Michael S. Hart is the originator of the Project Gutenberg-tm
concept of a library of electronic works that could be freely shared
with anyone.  For thirty years, he produced and distributed Project
Gutenberg-tm eBooks with only a loose network of volunteer support.

Project Gutenberg-tm eBooks are often created from several printed
editions, all of which are confirmed as Public Domain in the U.S.
unless a copyright notice is included.  Thus, we do not necessarily
keep eBooks in compliance with any particular paper edition.

Most people start at our Web site which has the main PG search facility:

This Web site includes information about Project Gutenberg-tm,
including how to make donations to the Project Gutenberg Literary
Archive Foundation, how to help produce our new eBooks, and how to
subscribe to our email newsletter to hear about new eBooks.


This file was acquired from Project Gutenberg, and it is in the public domain. It is re-distributed here as a part of the Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts ( by Eric Lease Morgan (Infomotions, Inc.) for the purpose of freely sharing, distributing, and making available works of great literature. Its Infomotions unique identifier is etext15089, and it should be available from the following URL:

Infomotions, Inc.

Infomotions Man says, "Give back to the 'Net."