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"Matey" from Saturday Evening Post

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Saturday Evening Post
by Ellis Parker Butler

Mrs. Dugan came dashing out of the kitchen door of her cottage, slamming it behind her; but when she was halfway across the small garden she stopped short and faced about. She laughed a short, bitter laugh and put her hand to her hair, woman fashion. This was her left hand; her right one held the rolling-pin.

No one followed her. With her right hand she pulled her torn left sleeve up to her shoulder. Observing that His head did not ring hollow, but sounded like a dull thud. she was standing on a head of lettuce, she stepped off of it. Then she felt cautiously of her right eye, which was beginning to swell. From the kitchen there came a sound that suggested a brown glazed teapot crashing to pieces against an iron cookstove. It was exactly that.

Mrs. Dugan uttered an exclamation and her eyes blazed. She was a well-built person of twenty-five years or so, muscular of arms and with sturdy hips. From the kitchen came another crash. Mrs. Dugan could not quite identify the article by the noise it made as its career ended, but it sounded like her best yellow mixing bowl.

"You he-devil!" she muttered, and started for the kitchen on a run. At the steps she stopped. "Mike!" she called.

The only answer from the kitchen was another crash.

"Oh, dear!" Mrs. Dugan mourned. "He'll not be leaving a blessed thing whole. Mike!" She raised her voice this time. She called again: "Mike!"

"Aw, shut your face! What do you want?" came a gruff voice from the kitchen.

Mrs. Dugan bit her lip. She looked to the left, where the Thorleys lived in an exactly similar cottage.

"Mike, can I come in?" she called. "Will you let me come in? What will the neighbors be thinking?"

"What do I care what they think?" Mr. Dugan shouted.

Mrs. Dugan came close to the door.

"Listen, Mike," she said. "Let me come in, will you?"

"Come in or stay out. What do I care?" Mr. Dugan demanded, and followed it with another crash of ceramics.

Mrs. Dugan opened the door a crack and looked in.

"Aw, Mike!" she pleaded. "Don't! That's the bowl I just bought."

Bash! The bowl she had just bought went to pieces against the cookstove. Mrs. Dugan opened the door wider, ready to flee if Mr. Dugan seemed inclined to break the next piece of pottery against her head instead of against the stove.

"Wait, Mike!" she begged. "I'll give in."

Mr. Dugan stood in the middle of the small kitchen. From where he stood he could reach the shelf of kitchenware, and his hand was even then on a blue jar with yellow flowers that held or was supposed to hold crackers. He was a short, strong man with a hard fist. He was clean-shaved, the corners of his big mouth stained with tobacco juice. Just now his eyes were small and he had the look of an angry bulldog. From where his reddish hair met his low forehead and thence across one cheek was a red scratch that was already beginning to swell into a white welt.

Katie had given him that. She had also given him the abrasion on the back of his left hand. She had given him this -- which was now beginning to show stipples of blood as a sliced orange peel exudes oil -- with the rolling pin. The scratch she had given him with the nail of the middle finger of her left hand.

Mr. and Mrs. Dugan had been united by the bonds of matrimony for more than four and less than five years, and they were having fight number about three hundred. As Katie entered the kitchen Mike pushed the cracker jar back on the shelf.

"Aw, Mike," she said, "how are we going to keep house if you bust up everything? Look what you done!"

"Shut up!" he said. "I'll do as I please in my own house."

"My brown teapot that mother gave me! Ain't it a shame? Aw, you great big rowdy, you!"

She bent to pick up a shard of the teapot and Mike wiped the scratch with the back of one hand. He looked at the raw bruise on the back of the other.

"You hellcat, you!" he said. "Look what you done to me!"

"And look what you done to my teapot!" she answered.

The teapot lay among the wet leaves it had contained. The handle was not broken and Katie picked this up, together with the large piece of pottery that still adhered to it, and placed it on the kitchen table.

"Neighbors!" Mike Dugan scoffed. "A lot you care for the neighbors -- you do! A lot you care for them, yelling and scrapping like Kilkenny cats! They could hear you to Main Street, I bet."

"Aw, close up!" said Katie. "Look what you went and done to all my nice things! Who started scrapping? Tell me that!"

"A nice life I have when I come home all tired out earning you a living."

"Aw, say! Cut it out, can't you? You've said that before."

"You and your mother! A fine life I have!"

"Well, you don't need to start scrapping --"

"Who starts scrapping?"

"And this will be the last time too! Look at my dishes. Once more and I'm done. Once more and I'll quit you!"


"I've stood more than any girl would. One more row and I'm through for good. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mike Dugan! Look at my eye, all swelling up. One more rough-house and it's all off between us for good and all."

"Same here," said Mike. "It's a fool's job, trying to live together when we hate the sight of each other. It's a fool I am not to have quit you long ago. And listen to me, you: Once more, and I go. See? Just once more! I've hung on and put up with your nonsense year after year --"

"You put up with my nonsense! I'd like to know what I've been doing!"

"I've stood it these four years and more --"

"You needn't have done it on my account, God knows!"

"No need to tell me that. You'd be glad enough to be rid of me."

"I would that!"

Katie pushed the kitchen table back against the wall. It had been pushed all awry when they bumped against it in the clinch, just before she broke away and crashed the rolling pin against his hand. As she moved the table she saw something that made her eyes glitter angrily, even the one that was beginning to be hidden behind the swelling.

"Oh!" she cried, like an animal in angry agony.

Except for the debris of battle the kitchen floor was spotless. Her custom was to scrub the kitchen floor on her knees, and the pine was as white as a sheet of paper. The kitchen floor was her badge of merit; her insignia of perfect housewifery.

"You -- you slob!" she cried. "I'll teach you to spit your dirty tobacco on my floor!"

She was at him before he could square his shoulders. Her nails raked his face again, and he jolted her off with his shoulder as he threw up his arms to cover his face. She staggered back and struck the stove; but as he uncovered his face and rushed at her she swung the rolling pin and caught him on the head. His head did not ring hollow, but sounded a dull thud. His big mouth was twisted into an angry grin. Katie's mouth was twisted into a grin too. She did not give him time to clinch, but rained more blows on him.

Then she dropped the rolling pin and screamed, running toward the corner of the kitchen. She picked up the poker as she ran, and Mike stopped short. Before he could reach her she had raised the poker for a blow and he caught it on the side of his face, and the hand he had put forth grasped empty air. He turned and ran before she could strike him again. He bolted for the door and jerked it open, dashing outside and halfway across the garden before he stopped. Then he faced about and laughed a short, bitter laugh.

Mrs. Thorley, taking interesting observations from her kitchen window, was not surprised. Sometimes it had been Katie and sometimes it had been Mike who fled from the kitchen during their ructions.

No one followed Mike from the kitchen door. He looked down and saw he was standing on a row of beets and stepped off of them.

"That'll do!" he exclaimed, and walked to the kitchen door. He held up his hand, palm toward the open door. "Enough!" he said.

"You bet it's enough!" Katie laughed. "I'll enough you!"

"And plenty," said Mike. "And more than that! Good-by!" There was no reply. "I gave you warning," he said. "I'm through! Good-by!"

"And good riddance!" said Katie.

She looked through the window as he passed it where the path ran close to the side of the kitchen, but the sight of his profile gave her no emotion. She seated herself in one of the two cheap kitchen chairs and breathed deeply, for her exertion had winded her. When her breath came more easily she went to the sink and bathed her eye.

Then she picked up the larger pieces of broken pottery and threw them into the coal scuttle at the side of the stove, and took her dustpan from the side of the wall and swept the tea leaves and smaller bits of broken ware into it. As she straightened up, the trend of her thoughts was shown by the words she uttered to herself.

"He must have a head like a rock," she said.

Mike Dugan was a good workman and work was plenty. He made his way to Watertown, New York, and held down a job in a factory there for three weeks; and then the war fever got him. A lot of fellows were joining in by way of Canada, and Mike went on up to Clayton and crossed over to Kingston. Thereafter, to hear him tell it, he was a native of Kingston and had been in the States but once, when he visited a cousin for two weeks.

From the day he left home by way of the kitchen door he felt but one regret -- he was sorry he had not brought along his other pair of pants. So far as Katie was concerned, he felt nothing but gladness at having severed home ties. Now and then he used to think of her; but whenever he did the bulldog look would come upon his face. When he joined in with the Princess Pats he gave himself as single. The name and address of the person to be notified in case of casualty was that of Bill Steems, at Watertown, the foreman of the factory where Mike had worked for a few weeks.

There is a union closer than that of a college man for his chum, and it is that of a soldier for his mate -- for his own particular matey. Perhaps in all life there is no deeper, more virile affection than that of a man for his matey. A man and a maid, marrying, may plan to go through a heaven of days together, but a man and his matey are jounced together by Fate, with every likelihood of going through hell in company.

Before they hit the trenches at Ypres, Mike Dugan and Tolly were mateys; made so without rede or book. They slept together, batted round together on leave, shared cigarettes, and joshed the same girl -- many of her -- wherever they met her. Long before they had left Canada they had opened the secrets of their hearts to each other.

"But never again!" Mike Dugan had said. "I've had my dose of woman, and I'm good and fed up, you mind. I was married."

"Gwan! You?"

"I'm telling you, ain't I? And this Yur'peen war ain't nothing to the one we kept goin' for near five years."

"Have you got a photo of the wife?"

"If I had I'd tear it in seven and throw it in the waste. Oh, but she was a devil! The way we hated each other was top hole, I'm tellin' you. We could give lessons to the Belgiums and the Huns. From the ---- It took us about one month to find it out, Tolly, you mind. One month, and we knew what was the matter -- she hated me worse than a cat hates water, and I hated her like a worm hates salt. And the worse, the more of it! She drove me from home."

"Gwan! You?"

"Not but what I was glad to go, mind you," said Dugan, grinning. "Would a man be glad to be drove from poison?"

Tolly was a tall, raw Westerner. He was rather serious-minded and somewhat given to slow speculations regarding matters that Dugan decided and put aside with an oath or a laugh.

"How does a woman go to work to drive a man from his home that way, Micky?" he asked. "I've heard of such doings, but it has always been a wonder to me. It's not like them -- is it, now?"

"You've never had one of them," said Dugan.

"I've been a bit shy; that's right," agreed Tolly. "But it's not like them -- is it, now? They're clinging things, like the vine --"

"Holy mack'rel!" Dugan ejaculated. "Vines!"

"The man is the oak and the woman is the ivy; I've heard that more than often," insisted Tolly. "She clings like the vine --"

"I wisht you could have seen Katie doin' some of that clinging stuff," said Dugan. "Some of her catch-as-catch-can clinging, with her nails dug in like nice little rootlets! Believe me, Tolly, she was some vine!"

Tolly rolled a cigarette.

"Wasn't you to fault, maybe, Micky?" he asked gently.

"Well, not but what I gave her as good as I got most of the time," said Dugan with some pride. "She must have had a noble black eye the day after I left. Oh, when I think of the thump she gave me on top of the conch with that rolling pin! Bee-zazza! Ouch!"

"You -- you fought with her? Like that?"

"Rough-house, and all the time," said Dugan. "She was one of them gentle little clingin' vines that wop you on the ivory with whatever is handiest, whether it is the stove lid or the stove complete. She was one of them tender little plantlets that shrink from the sun like a dippy orangutan. When she got her dander up she had no more strength than a rhinoceros. You should have seen her throwing crockery at me, countin' 'I love you, I love you not!' The last one was always the big platter, and the count was 'not!'"

"The trouble," said Tolly somewhat diffidently, "was that you did not love her or she did not love you."

"And listen to the wise man!" said Dugan. "How did you ever guess it? No," he said seriously; "that was the trouble. We was so far from bein' in love that we hated the sight of each other's face. Can you get that right, Tolly? We hated the sight of each other's face! Be careful when you marry, Tolly -- if you're ever fool enough to do it -- that you pick out one you won't hate. It's hell! Nothin' but fight and scrap and scrap and fight! Oh, forget it! How does that song go you was trying to learn me? 'Oh, the moon was bright when o'er the summer sea went sailing --'"

"Oh, you poor lobster!" laughed Tolly. "You don't go up on 'bright' like that. You sing it this way -- 'bri-yi-yight.' Like that!"

Presently their two saw-edged voices were ripping the night into ragged shreds of discord. They were happy.

The Royal Rifles were fought to exhaustion and the Princess Pats were yanked out of the barracks they had hardly got into to go to the front trenches and relieve them. It was the Second Battle of Ypres that had unkindly busted the rest of the Pats, dragging them back into the mud they had left only the day before.

In the line that worked its way through the communication trench to the front trench Tolly walked just in front of Dugan. They were old hands at the game now and still mates. As another writer has well said, this meant that there existed between them that "relationship for which there is no equal, outside that one of the sexes, for sweetness and faith and service, and all the dear things that count." They fought and were ready to die together.

Their mating was, perhaps, the more remarkable because Dugan was so efficient in all things that tended Keep your distance, can't you? If you don't quit pawing into me you'll have the whole infernal lot of boches coming in on us. toward comfort and convenience, while Tolly was, in matters of war, all thumbs. Perhaps it would be truer to say that their mating was the less remarkable for that reason. The one complemented the other; completed him; together they were enough. They were even known as D and J, this being an abbreviation for David and Jonathan.

"Th' w'y them two loves each other is flat sickenin', Hi calls it," a little cockney complained. "Bloody turkle-doves, that's wot they is! Wot did Dugan do to me but step all over my feet, and all I says to 'im is: 'D--- your ---- ---- hide to ---- !' -- and this Tolly up an' 'alf murders me, 'e does!"

Now as Tolly walked ahead of Dugan, the smaller man -- stumbling his way in the dark -- bumped into him. With all the anger of a cross, harassed man driven back to a job he had hoped he was quit of for a while, Tolly lunged back at Dugan with his elbow, striking him fair in the face.

"Keep your distance, can't you, you God-forsaken idiot?" Tolly asked in a bitter whisper. "Walking all over a man like a blessed fool! If you don't quit pawing into me you'll have the whole infernal lot of boches coming in on us."

"Aw, shut up!" said Dugan. "And bend your head down, can't you? A guy would think you were never in a trench before. The next time I hook up with a giraffe I'll be blasted if I don't pick out one that ain't a jackass!"

Tolly stopped. The light of a star shell showed that his face was white with anger.

"That's about all, Dugan!" he said tensely. "One bit more and I'll let you have it! You --"

"Aw, shut up! You'll let me have nothing! That's what you'll let me have."

Tolly moved on. They passed dugout after dugout, stopping to peer into the blackness of each; and all were occupied. For this Tolly blamed Dugan and Dugan blamed Tolly, and each did it in hearty whole-souled words. It was, in reality, nobody's fault. It was a case of first come, first served.

In no manner known to human science could Tolly have soared in the air like a dove from the mud of the trenches to speed ahead of the line and choose a snug, dry dugout. By no means yet invented could Dugan have burrowed like a hasty mole to pass under the feet of those ahead of him and preempt a clean, undripping nest. But that did not matter. Tolly denounced Dugan bitterly. Dugan ragged Tolly crossly for his utter and well-known inefficiency in all things mundane.

"A preacher, that's what you ought to have been," he said. "You ought to have been an old maid, all wrapped up in cotton bats and laid on a shelf. You need a nurse -- a nurse with cap strings and a baby carriage. Army! A nice kind of army this would be if they was all like you! We ain't going to get no hole to sleep in at all -- that's what we'll get. You're a nice one, you are!"

"And you said 'Don't go picking like you did last time, and pick a blasted bowl of mud to bunk in!' Was that what you said, or wasn't it? Did you say 'You let me pick this time?' Did you? And a nice picking you're doing, ain't you? You're picking nothing -- that's what you're picking."

Time after time they poked into a dugout. "Pull up!" were the words that greeted them, and they went on again. There were two men in the dugout they finally reached with not more than enough room for three, and that uncomfortably.

"Come in! Come in! Always room for a dozen more, of course!" said a sarcastic voice. "What do you think this is -- the Ritz Hotel?"

"You bet your eye we'll come in!" said Dugan promptly. "Shunt your kit, Tolly; if these lobs give us any mouth we'll show them what for. This is my matey -- see? And don't you forget I'm Scrappy Dugan. This is a sweet little violet of a cave, I don't think! Get over there and give Tolly room to squat. Who'll take first sentry go?"

"You guys."

"Yes, we will!" said Dugan. "We will not! Old Tol here has a punk heel I've got to bandage up -- ain't you, Tolly?"

"Show it," said one of the others. "My matey here has curvature of the spine and I've got to give him his massidge. Ain't I, matey? W'enever he gits in a 'alf-dry spot he gets curvature, like your mate gets sore heel; just like it."

Tolly was taking off his boot. He did have a rub on his heel. It was nothing to speak of, but it gave a color of truth to what Dugan had said.

"Oh, well!" said their comrade. "Wot fell! Somebody's got to take first swing. Come on, Joe!"

They went out. Tolly put his boot on again. The water in the dugout was something like a foot deep, but there were two shelves carved in the sides, on each of which a man could double himself into a posture that was sure to bring on numb legs and an ache in the back. The door of the dugout was a wet sandbag, dripping water. The shelves themselves were slimy with moisture. There was no light unless, as when Dugan exhibited Tolly's heel, a match was struck.

"A nice sweet home you fetched us to!" said Dugan bitterly.

"I fetched you!" said Tolly. "I fetched nothing. You was the one that hounded me in here. I was goin' on --"

"And then we'd have had nothing," said Dugan. "We'd have had a bed in the slop outside -- that's what we'd have had."

"And a lot of difference!" said Tolly. "A lot of difference!"

Unfortunately Dugan chose that moment to stretch out his arms. The back of his hand tapped Tolly not lightly on the face. Tolly uttered something like a growl.

"You will, will you?" he asked between his teeth. "Hit me will you? All right --"

He swung out in the darkness and his fist hit something hard. Dugan swore. The next minute they were clinched, twisting back and forth. They went down in the water at the bottom of the dugout and continued the fight there, like alligators battling in the muck.

Tolly was bigger, but he was deeper in the water, being underneath. They fought well, striking real blows and venting their anger in harsh whispers as they fought. Slowly Tolly worked himself round. He got his hand on Dugan's neck and pushed his head under the muddy water; and then Dugan bit. He found a wrist and set his teeth into it, and Tolly struck him in the face and wrenched the wrist free. He scrambled to his feet and, even as Katie had dashed from the kitchen, he leaped for the dugout door and scrambled through into the trench.

The upper part of the inner wall of the trench was white just then with the light of a star shell; and as Tolly stood with his face to the dugout the phut! of a rifle sounded from the German trenches, and Tolly fell forward, first on his hands and knees and then sidewise.

Dugan got his three days later, but in the arm; and they were cleared to the same hospital back of the lines, where Tolly's scalp wound healed quicker than Dugan's flesh puncture in the arm. Tolly was out of bed a day before Dugan; and he sat all that day in a chair at Dugan's side, talking to him. That Dugan talked so little worried him. He carefully avoided the subject of their fight all day; but when the night lights were lighted he broached it.

"I gave you a couple of grand punches there in the dugout, Micky," he said. "If I could have got a full swing I would have put you to sleep, sure!"

"I never knowed you was such a good scrapper," said Dugan without animosity.

"Neither did I," said Tolly. "It come to me all of a sudden."

Dugan, propped up in bed, was silent.

"Well, it's all right now -- ain't it, matey?" continued Tolly.

"Right?" queried Dugan, like a man far away. "Oh, the scrappin', you mean? Oh, sure! That was all right. All in the day's work, as you might say. That's all right, Tolly."

"You been so kinda silent all day, Mike, I thought maybe you was sore at me," said Tolly. " I'd hate that. I sure would!"

"Sore? Me sore at you!" exclaimed Dugan. "Why, you old horse, you! You old giraffe! Me sore at you? Why, that's all right, Tolly! I ain't never been sore at you. That scrappin' -- that's nothing. You know that. We sort of get that way being together so much. That kinda thing don't count. You know that."

"Sure!" said Tolly. "And when I heard they had brung you in from the trench --"

"And me, when I crawled out there and seen you dead! Yes, blast you -- dead I thought you was! When I seen that --"

"Yeah!" said Tolly, and sighed happily.

"You blasted blooming bounder, you!" said Dugan affectionately.

Tolly carefully scratched the hair just under his head wrappings and smiled.

"And you, you swab," he said lovingly, "having me scared all this day, the way you kept quiet!"

"I was thinkin'," said Dugan. "I sort o' got to thinkin', Tolly. War's a funny box of tricks, ain't it? Look at the way it teaches a guy what he didn't know before."

"It sure is," admitted Tolly. "It's all of that, Mick."

e and Tully would go right ahead and die for each other any day. But, gee ,the scraps we have!

To think that I was almost starting to begin to think I didn't like you! Ain't it the limit?"

They sat silent a while, blissfully content -- mateys, side by side. Dugan was the first to speak. "Say, sorehead," he said, "go and ask the nurse to stake me to a pencil and a piece of paper, will you?"

"Now don't you start in calling me sorehead!" said Tolly hotly. "You start that and I'll --"

"Go on, you big brute!" grinned Dugan. "Get me that pencil I told you I wanted."

When Tolly returned with pencil and paper he began again.

"That's one thing I wont stand," he growled. "You start naming a man a name like that and he never gets rid of it."

"Aw, shut up!" said Dugan.

He wet the end of his pencil as a hint that he wanted to be permitted to write in peace. Tolly moved over to his own bed and spread himself out in comfort. A part of what Dugan wrote was this:


"Dear Madam: This is to let you know I been shot in the wing; but nothing much to brag about. Well, Kate, war is all they say it is; but it ain't bad if you get a good scout for a mate like a guy named Tolliver, that me and him is friends in our Co. Well, Katie, I been thinking about you today, and I take back what I said about us hating each other, because me and Tolliver beat each other up the same way, and we don't hate each other. I guess maybe you figgered this out long ago, before I did -- that scraps don't mean nothing but a little excitement in the family. Because me and Tolly would go right ahead and die for each other any day. But, gee, the scraps we have! So I see now that you and me was the same. We scrapped like good mateys. So I hope this war will soon be over, because I see now I never did hate you; but it was the other way, because I love you like hell!"

For a moment or two Dugan studied the last word. It seemed to express what he wished to say better than any other word he could think of; but he had his doubts about the censor. He scratched it out and gnawed the rubber of the pencil as he tried to think of a substitute. No other word expressed the full strength of his feeling.

Slowly he erased another word, and then studied the result. On the whole, it seemed eminently satisfactory.

"Because I love you!" was simple and sincere. It was exactly what he wished to say. So he left it that way.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:20:01am USA Central
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