A large, mute Swedish man greets the soldiers as they enter Wet Goods. Maria ushers them all into a private room and urges the soldiers to mingle and dance with the women, and a prostitute named Ella forces Robert to pair up with her. Everyone continues dancing, and Clifford eventually falls down drunk and is carried upstairs by the Swede.
The fact that the soldiers have to be encouraged to mingle with the prostitutes demonstrates how young and inexperienced they are despite the supposedly mature undertaking of being a soldier. This loss of sexual innocence also marks the beginning of the loss of moral innocence that they will experience at war.
As the men begin to retire upstairs with different prostitutes, Robert is shocked to see a cowboy fondling a prostitute’s breasts under her dress. Robert is terrified that they might have sex in front of everyone and is also alarmed that his own hands seem uncontrollably drawn to his groin. Overwhelmed, he agrees to go upstairs with Ella.
In early-20th-century Europe and North America, sex was still very socially taboo. Robert’s terrified reaction to watching the cowboy touch a woman’s breasts makes sense, given that many young people during this time grew up sheltered from anything sexually suggestive.