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The Major by Ralph Connor

Part 8 out of 8

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"Frank Smart! Oh! his poor mother! My God, this war is awful and
grows more awful every day."

"Jane says Mrs. Smart is at every meeting of the Women's Association,
quiet and steady, just like our Kathleen. Oh, Larry, how can they
do it? If my husband--if I had one--were killed I could not, I just
could not, bear it."

"I fancy, little girl, you would measure up like the others. This
is a damnable business, but we never knew our women till now. But
the sooner that cursed race is wiped off the face of the earth the

"Why, Larry, is that you? I cannot believe my ears."

"Yes, it is me. I have come to see that there is no possibility of
peace or sanity for the world till that race of mad militarists is
destroyed. I am still a pacifist, but, thank God, no longer a
fool. Is there no other news from Jane?"

"Did you hear about Ramsay Dunn? Oh, he did splendidly. He was
wounded; got a cross or something."

"Did you know that Mr. Murray had organised a battalion and is
Lieutenant-Colonel and that Doctor Brown is organising a Field
Ambulance unit and going out in command?"

"Oh, that is settled, is it? Jane told me it was possible."

"Yes, and perhaps Jane and Ethel Murray will go with the Ambulance
Unit. Oh, Larry, is there any way I might go? I could do so much--
drive a car, an ambulance, wash, scrub, carry despatches, anything."

"By Jove, you would be a good one!" exclaimed her brother. "I
would like to have you in my company."

"Couldn't it be worked in any possible way?" cried Nora.

But Larry made no reply. He knew well that no reply was needed.
What was her duty this splendid girl would do, whether in Flanders
or in Alberta.

At the door of their home the mother met them. As her eyes fell
upon her son in his khaki uniform she gave a little cry and ran to
him with arms uplifted.

"Come right in here," she whispered, and took him to the inner
room. There she drew him to the bedside and down upon his knees.
With their arms about each other they knelt, mingling tears and
sobs together till their strength was done. Then through the sobs
the boy heard her voice. "You gave him to me," he heard her
whisper, not in her ordinary manner of reverent formal prayer, but
as if remonstrating with a friend. "You know you gave him to me
and I gave him back.--I know he is not mine.--But won't you let me
have him for a little while?--It will not be so very long.--Yes,
yes, I know.--I am not holding him back.--No, no, I could not, I
would not do that.--Oh, I would not.--What am I better than the
others?--But you will give him back to me again.--There are so many
never coming back, and I have only one boy.--You will let him come
back.--He is my baby boy.--It is his mother asking."

Larry could bear it no longer. "Oh, mother, mother, mother," he
cried. "You are breaking my heart. You are breaking my heart."
His sobs were shaking the bed on which he leaned.

His mother lifted her head. "What is it, Lawrence, my boy?" she
asked in surprise. "What is it?" Her voice was calm and steady.
"We must be steadfast, my boy. We must not grudge our offering.
No, with willing hearts we must bring our sacrifice." She passed
into prayer. "Thou, who didst give Thy Son, Thine only Son, to
save Thy world, aid me to give mine to save our world to-day. Let
the vision of the Cross make us both strong. Thou Cross-bearer,
help us to bear our cross." With a voice that never faltered, she
poured forth her prayer of sacrifice, of thanksgiving, of
supplication, till serene, steady, triumphant, they arose from
their knees. She was heard "in that she feared," in her surrender
she found victory, in her cross, peace. And that serene calm of
hers remained undisturbed to the very last.

There were tears again at the parting, but the tears fell gently,
and through them shone ever her smile.

A few short days Larry spent at his home moving about among those
that were dearer to him than his own life, wondering the while at
their courage and patience and power to sacrifice. In his father
he seemed to discover a new man, so concentrated was he in his
devotion to business, and so wise, his only regret being that he
could not don the king's uniform. With Kathleen he spent many
hours. Not once throughout all these days did she falter in her
steady, calm endurance, and in her patient devotion to duty.
Without tears, without a word of repining against her cruel fate,
with hardly a suggestion, indeed, of her irreparable loss, she
talked to him of her husband and of his glorious death.

After two months an unexpected order called the battalion on
twenty-four hours' notice for immediate service over seas, and
amid the cheers of hundreds of their friends and fellow citizens,
although women being in the majority, the cheering was not of the
best, they steamed out of Melville Station. There were tears and
faces white with heartache, but these only after the last cheer
had been flung upon the empty siding out of which the cars of the
troop-train had passed. The tears and the white faces are for that
immortal and glorious Army of the Base, whose finer courage and
more heroic endurance make victory possible to the army of the
Fighting First Line.

At Winnipeg the train was halted for a day and a night, where the
battalion ENJOYED the hospitality of the city which never tires of
welcoming and speeding on the various contingents of citizen
soldiers of the West en route for the Front. There was a dinner
and entertainment for the men. For Larry, because he was Acting
Adjutant, there was no respite from duty through all the afternoon
until the men had been safely disposed in the care of those who
were to act as their hosts at dinner. Then the Colonel took him
off to Jane and her father, who were waiting with their car to take
them home.

"My! but you do look fine in your uniform," said Jane, "and so
strong, and so big; you have actually grown taller, I believe."
Her eyes were fairly standing out with pride and joy.

"Not much difference north and south," said Larry, "but east and
west, considerable. And you, Jane, you are looking better than
ever. Whatever has happened to you?"

"Hard work," said Jane.

"I hear you are in the Big Business up to your neck," said Larry.
"There is so much to do, I can well believe it. And so your father
is going? How splendid of him!"

"Oh, every one is doing what he can do best. Father will do the
ambulance well."

"And I hear you are going too."

"I do not know about that," said Jane. "Isn't it awfully hard to
tell just what to do? I should love to go, but that is the very
reason I wonder whether I should. There is so much to do here, and
there will be more and more as we go on, so many families to look
after, so much work to keep going; work for soldiers, you know, and
for their wives and children, and collecting money. And it is all
so easy to do, for every one is eager to do what he can. I never
knew people could be so splendid, Larry, and especially those who
have lost some one. There is Mrs. Smart, for instance, and poor
Scallan's mother, and Scuddy's."

"Jane," said Larry abruptly, "I must see Helen. Can we go at once
when we take the others home?"

"I will take you," said Jane. "I am glad you can go. Oh, she is
lovely, and so sweet, and so brave."

Leaving the Colonel in Dr. Brown's care, they drove to the home of
Helen Brookes.

"I dread seeing her," said Larry, as they approached the house.

"Well, you need not dread that," said Jane.

And after one look at Helen's face Larry knew that Jane was right.
The bright colour in the face, the proud carriage of the head, the
saucy look in the eye, once so characteristic of the "beauty queen"
of the 'Varsity, were all gone. But the face was no less beautiful,
the head carried no less proudly, the eye no less bright. There was
no shrinking in her conversation from the tragic fact of her lover's
death. She spoke quite freely of Scuddy's work in the battalion, of
his place with the men and of how they loved him, and all with a
fine, high pride in him.

"The officers, from the Colonel down, have been so good to me," she
said. "They have told me so many things about Harry. And the
Sergeants and the Corporals, every one in his company, have written
me. They are beautiful letters. They make me laugh and cry, but I
love them. Dear boys, how I love them, and how I love to work for
them!" She showed Larry a thick bundle of letters. "And they all
say he was so jolly. I like that, for you know, being a Y. M. C. A.
man in college and always keen about that sort of thing--I am
afraid I did not help him much in that way--he was not so fearfully
jolly. But now I am glad he was that kind of a man, a good man, I
mean, in the best way, and that he was always jolly. One boy says,
'He always bucked me up to do my best,' and another, a Sergeant,
says, 'He put the fear of God into the slackers,' and the Colonel
says, 'He was a moral tonic in the mess,' and his chum officer
said, 'He kept us all jolly and clean.' I love that. So you see I
simply have to buck up and be jolly too."

"Helen, you are wonderful," said Larry, who was openly wiping away
his tears. "Scuddy was a big man, a better man I never knew, and
you are worthy of him."

They were passing out of the room when Helen pulled Larry back
again. "Larry," she said, her words coming with breathless haste,
"don't wait, oh, don't wait. Marry Jane before you go. That is my
great regret to-day. Harry wanted to be married and I did too.
But father and mother did not think it wise. They did not know.
How could they? Oh! Larry," she suddenly wrung her hands, "he
wished it so. Now I know it would have been best. Don't make my
mistake, don't, Larry. Don't make my mistake. Thank you for
coming to see me. Good-bye, Larry, dear. You were his best
friend. He loved you so." She put her arms around his neck and
kissed him, hastily wiped her eyes, and passed out to Jane with a
smiling face.

They hurried away, for the hours in Winnipeg were short and there
was much to do and much to say.

"Let her go, Jane," said Larry. "I am in a deuce of a hurry."

"Why, Larry, what is the rush about just now?" said Jane in a
slightly grieved voice.

"I have something I must attend to at once," said Larry. "So let
her go." And Jane drove hard, for the most part in silence, till
they reached home.

Larry could hardly wait till she had given her car into the
chauffeur's charge. They found Dr. Brown and the Colonel in the
study smoking.

"Dr. Brown," said Larry, in a quick, almost peremptory voice, "may
I see you for a moment or two in your office?"

"Why, what's up? Not feeling well?" said Dr. Brown, while the
others looked anxiously at him.

"Oh, I am fit enough," said Larry impatiently, "but I must see

"I am sure there is something wrong," said Jane, "he has been
acting so queer this evening. He is so abrupt. Is that the
military manner?"

"Perhaps so," said the Colonel. "Nice chap, Larry--hard worker--
good soldier--awfully keen in his work--making good too--best
officer I've got. Tell you a secret, Jane--expect promotion for
him any time now."

Meantime Larry was facing Dr. Brown in his office. "Doctor," he
said, "I want to marry Jane."

"Good heavens, when did this strike you?"

"This evening. I want to marry her right away."

"Right away? When?"

"Right away, before I go. To-night, to-morrow."

"Are you mad? You cannot do things like that, you know. Marry
Jane! Do you know what you are asking?"

"Yes, Doctor, I know. But I have just seen Helen Brookes. She is
perfectly amazing, perfectly fine in her courage and all that, and
she told me about Scuddy's death without a tear. But, Doctor,
there was a point at which she broke all up. Do you know when?
When she told me of her chief regret, and that was that she and
Scuddy had not been married. They both wanted to be married, but
her parents were unwilling. Now she regrets it and she will always
regret it. Doctor, I see it very clearly. I believe it is better
that we should be married. Who knows what will come? So many of
the chaps do not come back. You are going out too, I am going out.
Doctor, I feel that it is best that we should be married."

"And what does Jane think about it?" enquired the Doctor, gazing at
Larry in a bewildered manner.

"Jane! Good Lord! I don't know. I never asked her!" Larry stood
gaping at the Doctor.

"Well, upon my word, you are a cool one!"

"I never thought of it, Doctor," said Larry.

"Never thought of it? Are you playing with me, boy?" said the
Doctor sternly.

"I will go and see her," said Larry, and he dashed from the room.
But as he entered the study, dinner was announced, and Larry's
question perforce must wait.

Never was a meal so long-drawn-out and so tedious. The Colonel and
Jane were full of conversation. They discussed the news from the
West, the mine and its prospects, the Lakeside Farm and its people,
the Colonel's own family, the boys who had enlisted and those who
were left behind, the war spirit of Canada, its women and their
work and their heroism (here the Colonel talked softly), the war
and its prospects. The Colonel was a brilliant conversationalist
when he exerted himself, and he told of the way of the war in
England, of the awakening of the British people, of the rush to the
recruiting offices, of the women's response. He had tales, too, of
the British Expeditionary Force which he had received in private
letters, of its glorious work in the Great Retreat and afterwards.
Jane had to tell of her father's new Unit, now almost complete, of
Mr. Murray's new battalion, now in barracks, of the Patriotic Fund
and how splendidly it was mounting up into the hundreds of
thousands, and of the Women's War Association, of which she was
Secretary, and of the Young Women's War Organisation, of which she
was President; and all with such animation, with such radiant
smiles, with such flashing eyes, such keen swift play of thought
and wit that Larry could hardly believe his eyes and ears, so
immense was the change that had taken place in Jane during these
ten months. He could hardly believe, as he glanced across the
table at her vivid face, that this brilliant, quick-witted, radiant
girl was the quiet, demure Jane of his college days, his good
comrade, his chum, whom he had been inclined to patronise. What
was this that had come to her? What had released those powers of
mind and soul which he could now recognise as being her own, but
which he had never seen in action. As in a flash it came to him
that this mighty change was due to the terribly energising touch of
War. The development which in normal times would have required
years to accomplish, under the quickening impulse of this mighty
force which in a day was brought to bear upon the life of Canada,
this development became a thing of weeks and months only. War had
poured its potent energies through her soul and her soul had
responded in a new and marvellous efflorescence. Almost over night
as it were the flower of an exquisite womanhood, strong, tender,
sweet, beautiful, had burst into bloom. Her very face was changed.
The activities with which her days and nights were filled had
quickened all her vital forces so that the very texture and colour
of her skin radiated the bloom of vigorous mental and physical
health. Yet withal there remained the same quick, wise sympathy,
quicker, wiser than before war's poignant sorrows had disciplined
her heart; the same far-seeing vision that anticipated problems and
planned for their solution; the same proud sense of honour that
scorned things mean and gave quick approval to things high. As he
listened Larry felt himself small and poor in comparison with her.
More than that he had the sense of being excluded from her life.
The war and its activities, its stern claims, its catastrophic
events had taken possession of the girl's whole soul. Was there a
place for him in this new, grand scheme of life? A new and
terrible master had come into the lordship of her heart. Had love
yielded its high place? To that question Larry was determined to
have an answer to-night. To-morrow he was off to the Front. The
growing fury of the war, its appalling losses, made it increasingly
doubtful that he should ever see her face again. What her answer
would be he could not surely say. But to-night he would have it
from her. If "yes" there was time to-morrow to be married; if "no"
then the more gladly he would go to the war.

After dinner the Doctor and the Colonel took their way to the study
to smoke and talk over matters connected with military organisation,
in regard to which the Doctor confessed himself to be woefully
ignorant. Jane led Larry into the library, where a bright fire
was burning.

"Awfully jolly, this fire. We'll do without the lights," said
Larry, touching the switch and drawing their chairs forward to the
fire, wondering the while how he should get himself to the point of
courage necessary to his purpose. Had it been a few months ago
how easy it would have been. He could see himself with easy
camaraderie put his arm about Jane with never a quiver of voice or
shiver of soul, and say to her, "Jane, you dear, dear thing, won't
you marry me?" But at that time he had neither desire nor purpose.
Now by some damnable perversity of things, when heart and soul were
sick with the longing for her, and his purpose set to have her, he
found himself nerveless and shaking like a silly girl. He pushed
his chair back so that, unaware to her, his eyes could rest upon
her face, and planned his approach. He would begin by speaking of
Helen, of her courage, of her great loss, then of her supreme
regret, at which point he would make his plea. But Jane would give
him no help at all. Silent she sat looking into the fire, all the
vivacity and brilliance of the past hour gone, and in its place a
gentle, pensive sadness. The firelight fell on her face, so
changed from what it had been in those pre-war days, now so long
ago, yet so familiar and so dear. To-morrow at this hour he would
be far down the line with his battalion, off for the war. What lay
beyond that who could say? If she should refuse--"God help me
then," he groaned aloud, unthinking.

"What is it, Larry?" she said, turning her face quickly toward him.

"I was just thinking, Jane, that to-morrow I--that is--" He paused

"Oh, Larry, I know, I know." Her hands went quickly to her breast.
In her eyes he saw a look of pain so acute, so pitiful, that he
forgot all his plan of approach.

"Jane," he cried in a voice sharp with the intensity of his

In an instant they were both on their feet and facing each other.

"Jane, dear, dear Jane, I love you so, and I want you so." He
stretched out his arms to take her.

Startled, her face gone deadly pale, she put out her hands against
his breast, pushing him away from her.

"Larry!" she said. "Larry, what are you saying?"

"Oh, Jane, I am saying I love you; with all my heart and soul, I
love you and I want you, Jane. Don't you love me a bit, even a
little bit?"

Slowly her arms dropped to her side. "You love me, Larry?" she
whispered. Her eyes began to glow like stars in a pool of water,
deep and lustrous, her lips to quiver. "You love me, Larry, and
you want me to--to--"

"Yes, Jane, I want you to be my wife."

"Your wife, Larry?" she whispered, coming a little closer to him.
"Oh, Larry," she laid her hands upon his breast, "I love you so,
and I have loved you so long." The lustrous eyes were misty, but
they looked steadily into his.

"Dear heart, dear love," he said, drawing her close to him and
still gazing into her eyes.

She wound her arms about his neck and with lips slightly parted
lifted her face to his.

"Jane, Jane, you wonderful girl," he said, and kissed the parted
lips, while about them heaven opened and took them to its bosom.

When they had come back to earth Larry suddenly recalled his
conversation with her father. "Jane," he said, "when shall we be
married? I must tell your father."

"Married?" said Jane in a voice of despair. "Not till you return,
Larry." Then she clung to him trembling. "Oh, why were you so
slow, Larry? Why did you delay so long?"

"Slow?" cried Larry. "Well, we can make up for it now." He looked
at his watch. "It's nine o'clock, Jane. We can be married to-

"Nonsense, you silly boy!"

"Then to-morrow we shall be married, I swear. We won't make
Helen's mistake." And he told her of Helen Brookes's supreme
regret. "We won't make that mistake, Jane. To-morrow! To-morrow!
To-morrow it will be!"

"But, Larry, listen. Papa--"

"Your father will agree."

"And my clothes?"

"Clothes? You don't need any. What you have on will do."

"This old thing?"

"Perfectly lovely, perfectly splendid. Never will you wear anything
so lovely as this."

"And then, Larry, what should I do? Where would I go? You are
going off."

"And you will come with me."

But Jane's wise head was thinking swiftly. "I might come across
with Papa," she said. "We were thinking--"

"No," cried Larry. "You come with me. He will follow and pick you
up in London. Hurry, come along and tell him."

"But, Larry, this is awful."

"Splendid, glorious, come along. We'll settle all that later."

He dragged her, laughing, blushing, almost weeping, to the study.
"She says she will do it to-morrow, sir," he announced as he pushed
open the door.

"What do you say?" said the Doctor, gazing open-mouthed at him.

"She says she will marry me to-morrow," he proclaimed as if
announcing a stupendous victory.

"She does!" said the Doctor, still aghast.

"Good heavens!" exclaimed the Colonel. "To-morrow? We are off

Larry swung upon him eagerly. "Before we go, sir. There is lots
of time. You see we do not pull out until after three. We have
all the morning, if you could spare me an hour or so. We could get
married, and she would just come along with us, sir."

Jane gasped. "With all those men?"

"Good Lord!" exclaimed the Colonel. "The boy is mad."

"We might perhaps take the later train," suggested Jane demurely.
"But, of course, Papa, I have never agreed at all," she added
quickly, turning to her father.

"That settles it, I believe," said Dr. Brown. "Colonel, what do
you say? Can it be done?"

"Done?" shouted the Colonel. "Of course, it can be done. Military
wedding, guard of honour, band, and all that sort of thing. Proper
style, first in the regiment, eh, what?"

"But nothing is ready," said Jane, appalled at the rush of events.
"Not a dress, not a bridesmaid, nothing."

"You have got a 'phone," cried Larry, gloriously oblivious of
difficulties. "Tell everybody. Oh, sir," he said, turning to Dr.
Brown with hand outstretched, "I hope you will let her come. I
promise you I will be good to her."

Dr. Brown looked at the young man gravely, almost sadly, then at
his daughter. With a quick pang he noted the new look in her eyes.
He put out his hand to her and drew her toward him.

"Dear child," he said, and his voice sounded hoarse and strained,
"how like you are to your mother to-night." Her arms went quickly
about his neck. He held her close to him for a few moments; then
loosing her arms, he pushed her gently toward Larry, saying, "Boy,
I give her to you. As you deal with her, so may God deal with

"Amen," said Larry solemnly, taking her hand in his.

Never was such a wedding in Winnipeg! Nothing was lacking to make
it perfectly, gloriously, triumphantly complete. There was a
wedding dress, and a bridal veil with orange blossoms. There were
wedding gifts, for somehow, no one ever knew how, the morning Times
had got the news. There was a church crowded with friends to wish
them well, and the regimental band with a guard of honour, under
whose arched swords the bride and groom went forth. Never had the
Reverend Andrew McPherson been so happy in his marriage service.
Never was such a wedding breakfast with toasts and telegrams from
absent friends, from Chicago, and from the Lakeside Farm in
response to Larry's announcements by wire. Two of these excited
wild enthusiasm. One read, "Happy days. Nora and I following your
good example. See you later in France. Signed, Dean." The other,
from the Minister of Militia at Ottawa to Lieutenant-Colonel
Waring-Gaunt. "Your suggestion approved. Captain Gwynne gazetted
to-morrow as Major. Signed, Sam Hughes."

"Ladies and Gentlemen," cried the Colonel, beaming upon the company,
"allow me to propose long life and many happy days for the Major and
the Major's wife." And as they drank with tumultuous acclaim, Larry
turned and, looking upon the radiant face at his side, whispered:

"Jane, did you hear what he said?"

"Yes," whispered Jane. "He said 'the Major.'"

"That's nothing," said Larry, "but he said 'the Major's wife!'"

And so together they went to the war.

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