Part 3 out of 3
apologize!" she said. "~I~ didn't when I said it seemed to me that
we've gone walking so often, when in reality it's only four or five
times altogether. I think I can explain, though: I thhink it came
partly from a feeling I have that I can rely on you--that you're a
good, solid, reliable sort of person. I remember from the time we
were little children, you always had a sort of worried, honest look
in school; and you used to make a dent in your forehead--you meant
it for a frown--whenever I caught your eye. You hated me so
honestly, and you were so honestly afraid I wouldn't see it!"
"Oh, yes--yes!" she laughed, then grew serious. "My feeling about
you--that you were a person to be relied on, I mean--I think it began
that evening in our freshman year, after the ~Lusitania~, when I
stopped you on campus and you went with me, and I couldn't help
crying, and you were so nice and quiet. I hardly realized then that
it was the first time we'd ever really talked together--of course ~I~
did all the talking!--and yet we'd known each other so many years.
I thought of it afterward. But what gave me such a different view
of you, I'd always thought you were one of that truculent sort of
boys, always just bursting for a fight; but you showed me you'd
really never had a fight in your life and hated fighting, and that
you sympathized with my feeling about war." She stopped speaking to
draw in her breath with a sharp sigh. "Ah, don't you remember what
I've told you all along? How it keeps coming closer and closer--and
now it's almost here! Isn't it ~unthinkable?~ And what can we do
to stop it, we poor few who feel that we ~must~ stop it?"
"Well--" Ramsey began uncomfortably. "Of course I--I--"
"You can't do much," she said. "I know. None of us can. What can
any little group do? There are so few of us among the undergraduates
--and only one in the whole faculty. All the rest are for war. But
we mustn't give up; we must never feel afterward that we left anything
undone; we must fight to the last breath!"
"'Fight'?" he repeated wonderingly, then chuckled.
"Oh, as a figure of speech," she said, impatiently. "Our language
is full of barbaric figures left over from the dark ages. But, oh,
Ramsey!"--she touched his sleeve--"I've heard that Fred Mitchell is
saying that he's going to Canada after Easter, to try to get into the
Canadian aviation corps. If it's true, he's a dangerous firebrand,
I think. Is it true?"
"I guess so. He's been talking that way some."
"But why do you ~let~ him talk that way?" she cried. "He's your
roommate; surely you have more influence with him than anybody else
has. Couldn't you--"
He shook his head slowly, while upon his face the faintly indicated
modellings of a grin hinted of an inner laughter at some
surreptitious thought. "Well, you know, Fred says himself sometimes,
I don't seem to be much of a talker exactly!"
"I know. But don't you see? That sort of thing is contagious.
Others will think they ought to go if he does; he's popular and
quite a leader. Can't you do anything with him?"
She waited for him to answer. "Can't you?" she insisted.
The grin had disappeared, and Ramsey grew red again. He seemed to
wish to speak, to heave with speech that declined to be spoken and
would not rouse up from his inwards. Finally he uttered words.
"Oh, I know," she said. "A man--or a boy!--always hates to be
intruding his own convictions upon other men, especially in a case
like this, where he might be afraid of some idiot's thinking him
unmanlike. But Ramsey--" Suddenly she broke off and looked at him
attentively; his discomfort had become so obvious that suspicion
struck her. She spoke sharply. "Ramsey ~you~ aren't dreaming of
doing such a thing, are you?"
"What such a thing?"
"Fred hasn't influenced ~you~, has he? You aren't planning to go
with him, are you?"
"To join the Canadian aviation."
"No; I hadn't thought of doing it."
She sighed again, relieved. "I had a queer feeling about you just
then--that you ~were~ thinking of doing some such thing. You looked
so odd--and you're always so quiet, anybody might not really know
what you do think. But I'm not wrong about you, am I, Ramsey?"
They had come to the foot of the steps that led up to the entrance
of her dormitory, and their walk was at an end. As they stopped and
faced each other, she looked at him earnestly; but he did not meet
the scrutiny, his eyelids fell.
"I'm not wrong, am I, Ramsey?"
"About what?" he murmured, uncomfortably.
"You are my friend, aren't you?"
"Then it's all right," she said. "That relieves me and makes me
happier than I was just now, for of course if you're my friend you
wouldn't let me make any mistake about you. I believe you, and now,
just before I go in and we won't see much of each other for a week
--if you still want me to go with you again next Sunday--"
"Yes--won't you, please?"
"Yes, if you like. But I want to tell you now that I count on you
in all this, even though you don't 'talk much,' as you say; I count
on you more than I do on anybody else, and I trust you when you say
you're my friend, and it makes me happy. And I think perhaps you're
right about Fred Mitchell. Talk isn't everything, nobody knows that
better than I, who talk so much! and I think that, instead of talking
to Fred, a steady, quiet influence like yours would do more good than
any amount of arguing. So I trust you, you see? And I'm sorry I had
that queer doubt of you." She held out her hand. "Unless I happen
to see you on the campus for a minute, in the meantime, it's good-bye
until a week from to-day. So--well, so, good-bye until then!"
"Wait," said Ramsey.
"What is it?"
He made a great struggle. "I'm not influencing Fred not to go," he
said. "I--don't want you to trust me to do anything like that."
"I think it's all right for him to go, if he wants to," Ramsey said,
"You do? For him to go to ~fight?~"
He swallowed. "Yes."
"~Oh!~" she cried, turned even redder than he, and ran up the stone
steps. But before the storm doors closed upon her she looked down
to where he stood, with his eyes still lowered, a lonely-seeming
figure, upon the pavement below. Her voice caught upon a sob as she
"If you feel like that, you might as well go and enlist, yourself,"
she said, bitterly. "I can't--I couldn't--speak to you again after
It was easy enough for him to evade Fred Mitchell's rallyings these
days; the sprig's mood was truculent, not toward his roommate but
toward Congress, which was less in fiery haste than he to be
definitely at war with Germany. All through the university the
change had come: athletics, in other years spotlighted at the centre
of the stage, languished suddenly, threatened with abandonment;
students working for senior honours forgot them; everything was
forgotten except that growing thunder in the soil. Several weeks
elapsed after Dora's bitter dismissal of Ramsey before she was
mentioned between the comrades. Then, one evening, Fred asked, as
he restlessly paced their study floor:
"Have you seen your pacifist friend lately?"
"No. Not exactly. Why?"
"Well, for my part, I think she ought to be locked up," Fred said,
angrily. "Have you heard what she did this afternoon?"
"It's all over college. She got up in the class in jurisprudence and
made a speech. It's a big class, you know, over two hundred, under
Dean Burney. He's a great lecturer, but he's a pacifist--the only
one on the faculty--and a friend of Dora's. They say he encouraged
her to make this break and led the subject around so she could do it,
and then called on her for an opinion, as the highest-stand student
in the clas. She got up and claimed there wasn't any such thing as
a legitimate cause for war, either legally or morally, and said it
was a sign of weakness in a nation for it to believe that it did have
cause for war.
"Well, it was too much for that little, spunky Joe Stansbury, and
he jumped up and argued with her. He made her admit all the Germans
have done to us, the sea murders and the land murders, the blowing up
of the factories, the propaganda, the strikes, trying to turn the
United States into a German settlement, trying to get Japan and
Mexico to make war on us, and all the rest. He even made her admit
there was proof they mean to conquer us when they get through with
the others, and that they've set out to rule the world for their own
benefit, and make whoever else they kindly allow to live, to work for
"She said it might be true, but since nothing at all could be a right
cause for war, than all this couldn't be a cause of war. Of course
she had her regular pacifist 'logic' working; she said that since war
is the worst thing there is, why, all other evils were lesser, and
a lesser evil can't be a just cause for a greater. She got terribly
excited, they say, but kept right on, anyway. She said war was
murder and there couldn't be any other way to look at it; and she'd
heard there was already talk in the university of students thinking
about enlisting, and whoever did such a thing was virtualy enlisting
to return murder for murder. Then Joe Stansbury asked her if she
meant that she'd feel toward any student that enlisted the way she
would toward a murderer, and she said, yes, she'd have a horror of
any student that enlisted.
"Well, that broke up the class; Joe turned from her to the platform
and told old Burney that he was responsible for allowing such talk
in his lecture-room, and Joe said so far as ~he~ was concerned, he
resigned from Burney's classes right there. That started it, and
practically the whole class got up and walked out with Joe. They
said Burney streaked off home, and Dora was left alone in there,
with her head down on her desk--and I gues she certainly deserves it.
A good many have alread stopped speaking to her."
Ramsey fidgeted with a pen on the table by which he sat. "Well, I
don't know," he said, slowly; "I don't know if they ought to do that
"Why oughtn't they?" Fred demanded, sharply.
"Well, it looks to me as if she was only fightin' for her principles.
She believes in 'em. The more it costs a person to stick to their
principles, why, the more I believe the person must have something
pretty fine about 'em likely."
Yes!" said the hot-headed Fred. "That may be in ordinary times, but
not when a person's principles are liable to betray their country!
We won't stand that kind of principles, I tell you, and we oughtn't
to. Dora Yocum's finding that out, all right. She had the biggest
position of any girl in this place, or any boy either, up to the last
few weeks, and there wasn't any student or hardly even a member of
the faculty that had the influence or was more admired and looked up
to. She had the whole show! But now, since she's just the same as
called any student a murderer if he enlists to fight for his country
and his flag--well, now she hasn't got anything at all, and if she
keeps on she'll have even less!"
He paused in his walking to and fro and came to a halt behind his
friend's chair, looking down compassionately upon the back of
Ramsey's motionless head. His tone changed. "I guess it isn't just
the ticket--me to be talking this way to you, is it?" he said, with
a trace of huskiness.
"Oh--it's all right," Ramsey murmured, not altering his position.
"I can't help blowing up," Fred went on. "I want to say, though, I
know I'm not very considerate to blow up about her to you this way.
I've been playing horse with you about her ever since freshman year,
but--well, you must have understood, Ram, I never meant anything that
would really bother you much, and I thought--well, I ~really~ thought
it was a good thing, you--your--well, I mean about her, you know.
I'm on, all right. I know it's pretty serious with you." He paused.
Ramsey did not move, except that his right hand still fidgeted with
the pen upon the table.
"Oh--well--" he said.
"It's--it's kind of tough luck!" his friend contrived to say; and
he began to pace the floor again.
"See here, ole stick-in-the-mud," Fred broke out abruptly. "After
her saying what she did-- Well, it's none o' my business, but--
"Well, what?" Ramsey murmured. "I don't care what you say, if you
want to say anything."
"Well, I ~got~ to say it," Fred half groaned and half blurted.
"After she said ~that~--and she meant it--why, if I were in your
place I'd be darned if I'd be seen out walking with her again."
"I'm not going to be," Ramsey said, quietly.
"By George!" And now Fred halted in front of him, both being huskily
solemn. "I think I understand a little of what that means to you,
old Ramsey; I think I do. I think I know something of what it costs
you to make that resolution for your country's sake." Impulsively he
extended his hand. "It's a pretty big thing for you to do. Will you
But Ramsey shook his head. "I didn't do it. I wouldn't ever have
done anything just on account of her talkin' that way. She shut the
door on me--it was a good while ago."
"She did! What for?"
"Well, I'm not much of a talker, you know, Fred," said Ramsey,
staring at the pen he played with. "I'm not much of anything,
for that matter, prob'ly, but I--well--I--"
"Well, I had to tell her I didn't feel about things the way she did.
She'd thought I had, all along, I guess. Anyway, it made her hate me
or something, I guess; and she called it all off. I expect there
wasn't much to call off, so far as she was concerned, anyhow." He
laughed feebly. "She told me I better go and enlist."
"Pleasant of her!" Fred muttered. "Especially as we know what she
thinks enlisting means." He raised his voice cheerfully. "Well,
that's settled; and, thank God, old Mr. Bernstorff's on his way to
his sweet little vine-clad cottage home! They're getting guns on the
ships, and the big show's liable to commence any day. We can hold up
our heads now, and we're going to see some great times, old Ramsey
boy! It's hard on the home folks--Gosh! I don't like to think of
that! And I guess it's going to be hard on a lot of boys that
haven't understood what it's all about, and hard on some that their
family affairs, and business, and so on, have got 'em tied up so it's
hard to go--and of course there's plenty that just can't, and some
that aren't husky enough--but the rest of us are going to have the
big time in our lives. We got an awful lot to learn; it scares me
to think of what I don't know about being any sort of a rear-rank
private. Why, it's a regular ~profession~, like practising law, or
selling for a drug house on the road. Golly! Do you remember how we
talked about that, 'way back in freshman year, what we were going to
do when we got out of college? You were going to be practising law,
for instance, and I--well, f'r instance, remember Colburn; he was
going to be a doctor, and he did go to some medical school for one
year. Now he's in the Red Cross, somewhere in ~Persia~. Golly!"
He paused to digest this impossibility, then chattered briskly on.
"Well, there's ~one~ good old boy was with our class for a while,
back in freshman year; I bet we won't see him in any good old army!
Old rough-neck Linski that you put the knob on his nose for. Tommie
Hopper says he saw him last summer in Chicago soapboxin', yellin' his
head off cussin' every government under the sun, but mostly ours and
the Allies', you bet, and going to run the earth by revolution and
representatives of unskilled labour immigrants, nobody that can read
or write allowed to vote, except Linski. Tommie Hopper says he knows
all about Linski; he never did a day's work in his life--too busy
trying to get the workingmen stirred up against the people that
exploit 'em! Tommie says he had a big crowd to hear him, though,
and took up quite a little money for a 'cause' or something. Well,
let him holler! I guess we can attend to him when we get back from
over yonder. By George, old Ram, I'm gettin' kind of floppy in the
gills!" He administered a resounding slap to his comrade's shoulder.
"It certainly looks as if our big days were walking toward us!"
He was right. The portentous days came on apace, and each one
brought a new and greater portent. The faces of men lost a driven
look besetting them in the days of badgered waiting, and instead of
that heavy apprehension one saw the look men's faces must have worn
in 1776 and 1861, and the history of the old days grew clearer in
the new. The President went to the Congress, and the true indictment
he made there reached scoffing Potsdam with an unspoken prophecy
somewhat chiling even to Potsdam, one guesses--and then through an
April night went almost quietly the steady work: we were at war with
The bugles sounded across the continent; drums and fifes played up
and down the city streets and in town and village squares and through
the countrysides. Faintly in all ears there was multitudinous noise
like distant, hoarse cheering... and a sound like that was what Dora
Yocum heard, one night, as she sat lonely in her room. The bugles
and fifes and drums had been heard about the streets of the college
town, that day, and she thought she must die of them, they hurt her
so, and now to be haunted by this imaginary cheering--
She started. Was it imaginary?
She went downstairs and stood upon the steps of the dormitory in the
open air. No; the cheering was real and loud. It came from the
direction of the railway station, and the night air surged and beat
Below her stood the aged janitor of the building, listening. "What's
the cheering for?" she asked, remembering grimly that the janitor was
one of her acquaintances who had not yet stopped "speaking" to her.
"What's the matter?"
"It's a good matter," the old man answered. "I guess there must be
a big crowd of 'em down there. One of our students enlisted to-day,
and they're givin' him a send-off. Listen to 'em, how they ~do~
cheer. He's the first one to go."
She went back to her room, shivering, and spent the next day in bed
with an aching head. She rose in the evening, however--a handbill
had been slid under her door at five o'clock, calling a "Mass
Meeting" of the university at eight, and she felt it her duty to go;
but when she got to the great hall she found a seat in the dimmest
corner, farthest from the rostrum.
The president of the university addressed the tumultuous many
hundreds before him, for tumultuous they were until he quieted them.
He talked to them soberly of patriotism, and called upon them for
"deliberation and a little patience." There was danger of a stampede,
he said, and he and the rest of the faculty were in a measure
responsible to their fathers and mothers for them.
"You must keep your heads," he said. "God knows, I do not seek to
judge your duty in this gravest moment of your lives, nor assume to
tell you what you must or must not do. But by hurrying into service
now, without careful thought or consideration, you may impair the
extent of your possible usefulness to the very cause you are so
anxious to serve. Hundreds of you are taking technical courses
which should be completed--at least to the end of the term in June.
Instructors from the United States Army are already on the way here,
and military training will be begun at once for all who are
physically eligible and of acceptable age. A special course will
be given in preparation for flying, and those who wish to become
aviators may enroll themselves for the course at once.
"I speak to you in a crisis of the university's life, as well as that
of the nation, and the warning I utter has been made necessary by
what took place yesterday and to-day. Yesterday morning, a student
in the junior class enlisted as a private in the United States
Regular Army. Far be it from me to deplore his course in so doing;
he spoke to me about it, and in such a way that I felt I had no right
to dissuade him. I told him that it would be preferable for college
men to wait until they could go as officers, and, aside from the fact
of a greater prestige, I urged that men of education could perhaps
be more useful in that capacity. He replied that if he were useful
enough as a private a commission might in time come his way, and, as
I say, I did not feel at liberty to attempt dissuasion. He left to
join a regiment to which he had been assigned, and many of you were
at the station to bid him farewell.
"But enthusiasm may be too contagious; even a great and inspiring
motive may work for harm, and the university must not become a
desert. In the twenty-four hours since that young man went to join
the army last night, one hundred and eleven of our young men students
have left our walls; eighty-four of them went off together at three
o'clock to catch an east-bound train at the junction and enlist for
the Navy at Newport. We are, I say, in danger of a stampede."
He spoke on, but Dora was not listening; she had become obsessed by
the idea which seemed to be carrying her to the border of tragedy.
When the crowd poured forth from the building she went with it
mechanically, and paused in the dark outside. She spoke to a girl
whom she did not know.
"I beg your pardon--"
"I wanted to ask: Do you know who was the student Doctor Corvis
spoke of? I mean the one that was the first to enlist, and that they
were cheering last night when he went away to be a private in the
United States Army. Did you happen to hear his name?"
"Yes, he was a junior."
"Who was it?"
Fred Mitchell, crossing the campus one morning, ten days later, saw
Dora standing near the entrance of her dormitory, where he would pass
her unless he altered his course; and as he drew nearer her and the
details of her face grew into distinctness, he was indignant with
himself for feeling less and less indignation toward her in
proportion to the closeness of his approach. The pity that came over
him was mingled with an unruly admiration, causing him to wonder what
unpatriotic stuff he could be made of. She was marked, but not
whipped; she still held herself straight under all the hammering and
cutting which, to his knowledge, she had been getting.
She stopped him, "for only a moment," she said, adding with a wan
profoundness: "That is, if you're not one of those who feel that
I shouldn't be 'spoken to'?"
"No," said Fred, stiffly. "I may share their point of view, perhaps,
but I don't feel called upon to obtrude it on you in that manner."
"I see," she said, nodding. "I've wanted to speak with you about
She bit her lip, then asked, abruptly: "What made him do it?"
"Enlist as a private with the regulars?"
"No. What made him enlist at all?"
"Only because he's that sort," Fred returned briskly. "He may be
inexplicable to people who believe that his going out to fight for
his country is the same thing as going out to commit a mur--"
She lifted her hand. "Couldn't you--"
"I beg your pardon," Fred said at once. "I'm sorry, but I don't know
just how to explain him to you."
He laughed, apologetically. "Well, you see, as I understand it, you
don't think it's possible for a person to have something within him
that makes him care so much about his country that he--"
"Wait!" she cried. "Don't you think I'm willing to suffer a little
rather than to see my country in the wrong? Don't you think I'm
"Well, I don't want to be rude; but, of course, it seems to me that
you're suffering because you think you know more about what's right
and wrong than anybody else does."
"Oh, no. But I--"
"We wouldn't get anywhere, probably, by arguing it," Fred said.
"You asked me."
"I asked you to tell my why he enlisted."
"The trouble is, I don't think I ~can~ tell that to anybody who needs
an answer. He just went, of course. There isn't any question about
it. I always thought he'd be the first to go."
"Oh, no!" she said.
"Yes, I always thought so."
"I think you were mistaken," she said, decidedly. "It was a special
reason--to make him act so cruelly."
"Cruelly!" Fred cried.
"Cruel to whom?"
"Oh, to his mother--to his family. To have him go off that way,
without a word--"
"Oh, no' he'd been home," Fred corrected her. "He went home the
Saturday before he enlisted, and settled it with them. They're all
broken up, of course; but when the saw he'd made up his mind, they
quit opposing him, and I think they're proud of him about it, maybe,
in spite of feeling anxious. You see, his father was an artilleryman
in the war with Spain, and his grandfather was a Colonel at the end
of the War of the Rebellion, though he went into it as a private,
like Ramsey. He died when Ramsey was about twelve; but Ramsey
remembers him; he was talking of him a little the night before he
Dora made a gesture of despairing protest. "You don't understand!"
"What is it I don't understand?"
"Ramsey! ~I~ know why he went--and it's just killing me!"
Fred looked at her gravely. "I don't think you need worry about it,"
he said. "There's nothing about his going that you are responsible
She repeated her despairing gesture. "You don't understand. But
it's no use. It doesn't help any to try to talk of it, though I
thought maybe it would, somehow." She wnet a little nearer the
dormitory entrance, leaving him where he was, then turned. "I
suppose you won't see him?"
"I don't know. Most probably not till we meet-if we should--in
France. I don't know hwere he's stationed; and I'm going with the
aviation--if it's ever ready! And he's with the regulars; he'll
probably be among the first to go over."
"I see." She turned sharply away, calling back over her shoulder
in a choked voice. "Thankd you. Good-bye!"
But Fred's heart had melted; gazing after her, he saw that her proud
young head had lowered now, and that her shoulders were moving
convulsively; he ran after her and caught her as she bagan slowly
to ascend the dormitory steps.
"See here," he cried. "Don't--"
She lifted a wet face. "No, no! He went in bitterness because I
told him to, in my own bitterness! I've killed him! Long ago, when
he wasn't much more than a child, I heard he'd said that some day
he'd 'show' me, and now he's done it!"
Fred whistled low and long when she had disappeared. "Girls!" he
murmured to himself. "Some girls, anyhow--they will be girls! You
can't tell 'em what's what, and you can't change 'em, either!"
Then, as more urgent matters again occupied his attention, he went on
at an ardent and lively gait to attend his class in map-making.
That thunder in the soil, at first too deep within it to be audible,
had come to the surface now and gradually became heard as the thunder
of a million feet upon the training grounds. The bugles rang
sharper; the drums and fifes of town and village and countryside were
the drums and fifes of a war that came closer and closer to every
hearth between the two oceans.
All the old symbols became symbols bright and new, as if no one had
ever seen them before. "America" was like a new word, and the song
"America" was like a new song. All the dusty blatancies of orating
candidates, seeking to rouse bored auditors with "the old flag"; all
the mechanical patriotics of school and church and club; all these
time-worn flaccid things leaped suddenly into living colour. The
flag became brilliant and strange to see--strange with a meaning that
seemed new, a meaning long known, yet never known till now.
And so hearts that thought they knew themselves came upon ambushes
of emotion and hidden indwellings of spirit not guessed before. Dora
Yocum, listening to the "Star Spangled Banner," sung by children of
immigrants to an out-of-tune old piano in a mission clubroom, in
Chicago, found herself crying with a soul-shaking heartiness in a way
different from other ways that she had cried. Among the many things
she thought of then was this: That the banner the children were
singing about was in danger. The great country, almost a continent,
had always seemed so untouchable, so safe and sure; she had never
been able to conceive of a hostile power mighty enough to shake or
even jar it. And since so great and fundamental a thing could not be
injured, a war for its defence had appeared to be, in her eyes, not
only wicked but ridiculous. At last, less and less vaguely, she had
come to comprehend something of the colossal German threat, and the
shadow that touched this bright banner of which the immigrants'
children piped so briskly in the mission club-room.
She had begun to understand, though she could not have told just why,
or how, or at what moment understanding reached her. She began to
understand that her country, threatened to the life, had flung its
line those thousands of miles across the sea to stand and hold
Hindenburg and Ludendorff and all their Kaisers, Kings, Dukes, and
Crown Princes, their Krupp and Skoda monstrous engines, and their
monstrous other engines of men made into armies. Through the long
haze of misted sea-miles and the smoke of land-miles she perceived
that brown line of ours, and knew it stood there that Freedom, and
the Nation itself, might not perish from the earth.
And so, a week later, she went home, and came nervously to Ramsey's
mother and found how to direct the letter she wanted to write. He
was in France.
As the old phrase went, she poured out her heart. It seems to apply
to her letter.
Don't misunderstand me. I felt that my bitter speech to you had
driven you to take the step you did. I felt that I had sent you
to be killed, and that I ought to be killed for doing it, but I
knew that you had other motives, too. I knew, of course, that you
thought of the country more than you did of me, or of any mad thing
I would say--but I thought that what I said might have been the
prompting thing, the word that threw you into it so hastily and
before you were ready, perhaps. I dreaded to bear that terrible
responsibility. I hope you understand.
My great mistake has been--I thought I sas so "logical"--it's been
in my starting everything with a thought I'd never proven; that war
is the worst thing, and all other evils were lesser. I was wrong.
I was wrong, because war isn't the worst evil. Slavery is the
worse evil, and now I want to tell you I have come to see that you
are making war on those that make slavery. Yes, you are fighting
those that make both war and slavery, and you are right, and I
humbly reverence and honour all of you who are in this right war.
I have come home to work in the Red Cross here; I work there all
day, and all day I keep saying to myself--but I really mean to
~you~--it's what I pray, and oh, how I pray it: "God be with you
and grant you the victory!" For you must win and you will win.
Forgive me, oh, please--and if you will, could you write to me?
I know you have things to do more important than "girls"--but oh,
couldn't you, please?
This letter, which she had taken care not to dampen, as she wrote,
went in slow course to the "American Expeditionary Forces in France,"
and finally found him whom it patiently sought. He delayed not long
to answer, and in time she held in a shaking hand the pencilled
missive he had sent her.
You forget all that comic talk about me enlisting because of your
telling me to. I'd written my father I was going at the first
chance a month and a half before that day when you said it. My
mind was made up at the first time there was any talk of war, and
you had about as much responsibility for my going as some little
sparrow or something. Of course I don't mean I didn't pay any
attention to the different things you said, because I always did,
and I used to worry over it because I was afraid some day it would
get you in trouble, and I'm mighty glad you've cut it out. That's
right; you be a regular girl now. You always were one, and I knew
it all right. I'm not as scared to write to you as I was to talk
to you, so I guess you know I was mighty tickled to get your
letter. It sounded blue, but I was glad to get it. You ~bet~ I'll
write to you! I don't suppose you could have any idea how glad I
was to get your letter. I could sit here and write to you all day
if they'd let me, but I'm a corporal now. When you answer this, I
wish you'd say how the old town looks and if the grass in the front
yards is as green as it usually is, and everything. And tell me
some more about everything you think of when you are working down
at the Red Cross like you said. I guess I've read your letter five
million times, and that part ten million. I mean where you
underlined that "~you~" and what you said to yourself at the Red
Cross. Oh, murder, but I was glad to read that! Don't forget
about writing anything else you think of like that.
Well, I was interrupted then and this is the next day. Of course,
I can't tell you where we are, because that darned censor will read
this letter, but I guess he will let this much by. Who do you
think I ran across in a village yesterday? Two boys from the old
school days, and we certainly did shake hands a few times! It was
the old foolish Dutch Krusemeyer and Albert Paxton, both of them
lieutenants. I heard Fred Mitchell is still training in the States
and about crazy because they won't send him over yet.
If you had any idea how glad I was to get your letter, you wouldn't
lose any time answering this one. Anyhow, I'm going to write to
you again every few days if I get the chance, because maybe you'll
answer more than one of 'em.
But see here, cut out that "sent you to be killed" stuff. You've
got the wrong idea altogether. We've got the big job of our lives,
we know that, but we're going to do it. There'll be mistakes and
bad times, but we won't fall down. Now you'll excuse me for saying
it this way, Dora, but I don't know just how to express myself
except saying of course we know everybody isn't going to get back
home--but listen, we didn't come over here to get killed
particularly, we came over here to give these Dutchmen h--l!
Perhaps you can excuse language if I write it with a blank like
that, but before we get back we're going to do what we came for.
They may not all of them be as bad as some of them--it's a good
thing you don't know what we do, because some of it would make you
sick. As I say, there may be quite a lot of good ones among them;
but we know what they've done to this country, and we know what
they mean to do to ours. So we're going to attend to them. Of
course that's why I'm here. It wasn't you.
Don't forget to write pretty soon, Dora. You say in your letter--I
certainly was glad to get that letter--well, you say I have things
to do more important than "girls." Dora, I think you probably know
without my saying so that of course while I have got important
things to do, just as every man over here has, and everybody at
home, for that matter, well, the thing that is most important in
the world to me, next to helping win this war, it's reading the
next letter from you.
Don't forget how glad I'll be to get it, and don't forget you
didn't have anything to do with my being over here. That was--it
was something else. And you bet, whatever happens I'm glad I came!
Don't ever forget ~that~!
Dora knew it was "something else." Her memory went back to her first
recollection of him in school: from that time on he had been just an
ordinary, everyday boy, floundering somehow through his lessons in
school and through his sweethearting with Milla, as the millions of
other boys floundered along with their own lessons and their own
Millas. She saw him swinging his books and romping homeward from the
schoolhouse, or going whistling by her father's front yard, rattling
a stick on the fence as he went, care-free and masterful, but shy as
a deer if strangers looked at him, and always "not much of a talker."
She had always felt so superior to him, she shuddered as she thought
of it. His quiet had been so much better than her talk. His
intelligence was proven now, when it came to the great test, to be
of a stronger sort than hers. He was wise and good and gentle--and
a fighting man! "We know what they've done to this country and what
they mean to do to ours. So we're going to attend to them." She
read this over, and she knew that Ramsey, wise and gentle and good,
would fight like an unchained devil, and that he and his comrades
would indeed and indeed do what they "came for."
"It wasn't you," he said. She nodded gently, agreeing, and knew what
it was that sent him. Yet Ramsey had his own secret there, and did
not tell it. Sometimes there rose, faint in his memory, a whimsical
picture, yet one that had always meant much to him. He would see an
old man sitting with a little boy upon a rustic bench under a walnut
tree to watch the "Decoration Day Parade" go by--and Ramsey would see
a shoot of sunshine that had somehow got through the walnut tree and
made a bedazzlement of glinting fine lines over a spot about the size
of a saucer, upon the old man's thick white hair. And in Ramsey's
memory, the little boy, sitting beside the veteran, would half close
his eyes, drowsily, playing that this sunshine spot was a white
bird's-nest, until he had a momentary dream of a glittering little
bird that dwelt there and wore a blue soldier cap on its head. And
Ramsey would bring out of his memory toughts that the old man had got
into the child's head that day. "We knew that armies fighting for
the Freedom of Man ~had~ to win, in the long run.... We were on the
side of God's Plan.... Long ago we began to see hints of His
Plan.... Man has to win his freedom from himself--men in the light
have to fight against men in the dark.... That light is the
answer.... We had the light that made us never doubt."
A long while Dora sat with the letter in her hand before she answered
it and took it upon her heart to wear. That was the place for it,
since it was already within her heart, where he would find it when
he came home again. And she beheld the revelation sent to her. This
ordinary life of Ramsey's was but the outward glinting of a high and
splendid spirit, as high and splendid as earth can show. And yet it
was only the life of an everyday American boy. The streets of the
town were full, now, of boys like Ramsey.
At first they were just boys in uniform; then one saw that they were
boys no more.
They were soldiers.