Part 5 out of 7
"Got his father's vagabond blood in his veins," declared Judge Penniman.
"Crazy, too, like his father. You can't tell me Dave Cowan was in his
right mind when the Whipples offered, in so many words, to set him up in
any business he wanted to name, and pay all expenses, and he spurned 'em
like so much dirt beneath his heel. Acted like a crazy loon is what I
say, and this Jack-of-all-trades is showing the strain. Mark my words,
they'll both end their days in a madhouse!"
No one did mark his words. Not even Winona, to whom they were uttered
with the air of owlish, head-snapping wisdom which marked so many of the
invalid's best things. She was concerned only with the failure of Wilbur
to select a seemly occupation. His working dress was again careless; he
reeked with oil, and his hands--hard, knotty hands--seemed to be
permanently grimed. Even Lyman Teaford managed his thriving flour and
feed business, with a butter and eggs and farm produce department, in
the garments of a gentleman. True, he often worked with his coat off,
but he removed his cuffs and carefully protected the sleeves of his
white shirt with calico oversleeves held in place by neat elastics. Once
away from the store he might have been anybody--even a banker.
Winona sought to enlist Lyman's help in the matter of Wilbur's future.
Lyman was flaccid in the matter. The boy had once stolen into the
Penniman parlour while Lyman and Winona were out rifling the ice box of
delicacies, and enticed by the glitter of Lyman's flute had thrillingly
taken it into his hands to see what made it go, dropping it in his
panic, from the centre table to the floor, when he heard their returning
steps. Lyman had never felt the same toward Wilbur after that. Now, even
under the blandishments of Winona, he was none too certain that he would
make a capable flour and feed merchant. Wilbur himself, to whom the
possibility was broached, proved all too certain that he would engage in
no mercantile pursuit whatever; surely none in which he might be
associated ever so remotely with Lyman Teaford, whom for no reason he
had always viewed with profound dislike. This incident closed almost
before it opened.
Winona again approached Sharon Whipple in Wilbur's behalf. But Sharon
was not enough depressed by the circumstance that Wilbur's work was hard
on clothes, or that tasks were chosen at random and irregularly toiled
"Let him alone," advised Sharon. "Pretty soon he'll harden and settle.
Besides, he's getting his education. He ain't educated yet."
"Education?" demanded Winona, incredulous. "But he's left school!"
"He'll get it out of school. Only kind ever I got. He's educating
himself every day. Never mind his clothes. Right clothes are only right
when they fit your job. Give the boy a chance to find himself. He's
still young, Buck is--still in the gristle."
Winona winced at "gristle." It seemed so physiological--almost coarse.
* * * * *
A year went by in which Wilbur was perforce left to his self-education,
working for Porter Howgill or at the garage or for Sam Pickering as he
listed. "I'm making good money," was his steady rejoinder to Winona's
"As if money were everything," wrote Winona in her journal, where she
put the case against him.
Then when she had ceased to hope better things for him Wilbur Cowan
seemed to waken. There were signs and symptoms Winona thus construed. He
became careful in his attire, bought splendid new garments. His lean,
bold jaw was almost daily smoothed by the razor of Don Paley, and Winona
discovered a flask of perfume on his bureau in the little house. The
label was Heart of Flowers. It was perhaps a more florid essence than
Winona would have chosen, having a downright vigour of assertion that
left one in no doubt of its presence; but it was infinitely superior to
the scent of machine oil or printer's ink which had far too often
betrayed the boy's vicinity.
Now, too, he wore his young years with a new seriousness; was more
restrained of speech, with intervals of apparently lofty meditation.
Winona rejoiced at these evidences of an awakening soul. The boy might
after all some day become one of the better sort. She felt sure of this
when he sought her of his own free will and awkwardly invited her to
beautify his nails. He who had aforetime submitted to the ordeal under
protest; who had sworn she should never again so torture him! Surely he
was striving at last to be someone people would care to meet.
Poor Winona did not dream that a great love had come into Wilbur Cowan's
life; a deep and abiding love that bathed all his world in colourful
radiance and moved him to those surface elegances for which all her own
pleading had been in vain. Not even when he asked her one night--while
she worked with buffer and orange-wood stick--if she believed in love at
first sight did she suspect the underlying dynamics, the true
inebriating factor of this reform. He put the query with elaborate and
deceiving casualness, having cleared a road to it with remarks upon a
circumspect historical romance that Winona had read to him; and she had
merely said that she supposed it often did happen that way, though it
were far better that true love come gently into one's life, based upon a
profound mutual respect and esteem which would endure through long years
of wedded life.
Wilbur had questioned this, but so cautiously and quite impersonally
that Winona could not suspect his interest in the theme to be more than
academic. She believed she had convinced him that love at first sight,
so-called, is not the love one reads about in the better sort of
literature. She was not alarmed--not even curious. In her very presence
the boy had trifled with his great secret and she had not known!
So continuously had Winona dwelt in the loftier realms of social and
spiritual endeavour, it is doubtful if she knew that an organization
known as the Friday Night Social Club was doing a lot to make life
brighter for those of Newbern's citizens who were young and sportive and
yet not precisely people of the better sort. In the older days of the
town, when Winona was twenty, there was but one social set. Now she was
thirty, and there were two sets. She knew the town had grown; one
nowadays saw strange people that one did not know, even many one would
not care to know. If she had been told that the Friday Night Social Club
met weekly in Knights of Pythias Hall to dance those sinister new dances
that the city papers were so outspoken about she would have considered
it an affair of the underworld, about which the less said the letter.
Had it been disclosed to her that Wilbur Cowan, under the chaperonage of
Edward--Spike--Brennon, 133 lbs., ringside, had become an addict of
these affairs, a determined and efficient exponent of the weird new
steps--"a good thing for y'r footwork," Spike had said--she would have
considered he had plumbed the profoundest depths of social ignominy. Yet
so it was. Each Friday night he danced. He liked it, and while he
disported himself from the lightest of social motives love came to him;
the world was suddenly a place of fixed rainbows, and dancing--with
her--no longer a gladsome capering, but a holy rite.
On a certain Friday evening unstarred by any portent she had burst upon
his yielding eyes. Instantly he could have told Winona more than she
would ever know about love at first sight. A creature of rounded beauty,
peerlessly blonde, her mass of hair elaborately coifed and bound about
her pale brow with a fillet of sable velvet. He saw her first in the
dance, sumptuously gowned, regal, yet blithe, yielding as might a
goddess to the mortal embrace of Bill Bardin as they fox-trotted to the
viol's surge. He was stricken dumb until the dance ended. Then he
gripped an arm of Spike Brennon, who had stood by him against the wall,
"looking 'em over," as Spike had put it.
"Look!" he urged in tones hushed to the wonder of her. Spike had looked.
"Gee!" breathed the stricken one mechanically. He would not have chosen
the word, but it formed a vent for his emotion.
"Bleached blonde," said Spike after a sharper scrutiny of the fair one,
who now coquetted with a circle of gallants.
"Isn't she?" exclaimed the new lover, admiringly.
With so golden a result to dazzle him, was he to quarrel pettishly with
the way it had been wrought?
"Do you suppose I could be introduced to her?" demanded Wilbur, timidly.
This marked the depth of his passion. He was too good a dancer to talk
such nonsense ordinarily.
"Surest thing you know," said Spike. "Could you be introduced to her?
In a split second! Come on!"
"But you don't know her yourself?" Wilbur hung back.
"Stop your kiddin'!"
Spike half dragged his fearful charge across the floor, not too subtly
shouldered a way between Bill Bardin and Terry Stamper, bowed gracefully
to the strange beauty, and said, "Hello, sister! Shake hands with my
friend, Kid Cowan."
"Pleased to meet you!" She smiled graciously upon Wilbur and extended a
richly jewelled hand, which he timidly pressed. Then she turned to Spike
Brennon. "I know your name, all right," she declared. "You're that
Mister Fresh we hear so much about--giving introductions to parties you
ain't met yourself."
Wilbur Cowan blushed for Spike's _faux pas_, looking to see him slink
off abashed, but there were things he had yet to learn about his friend.
"Just for that," said Spike, "I'll take this dance with you." And
brazenly he encircled her waist as the music came anew.
"It's hot to-night," said Wilbur very simply to Terry Stamper and Bill
Bardin as they moved off the floor to an open window.
His dancing eyes followed Beauty in the dance, and he was at her side
when the music ceased. Until it came again he fanned by an open window
her flushed and lovely face. Her name was Pearl.
"I wish this night would last forever," he murmured to her.
"Tut, tut!" said Pearl in humorous dismay, "and me having to be at
business at seven A.M.!"
Only then did he learn that she was not a mere social butterfly, but one
of the proletariat; that, in truth, she waited on table at the Mansion.
Instantly he constructed their future together. He would free her from
that life of toil.
"You're too beautiful for work like that," he told her.
Pearl eyed him with sudden approval.
"You're all right, kid. I often said the same thing myself, but no one's
fell for it up to date."
They danced, and again they danced.
"You're the nicest boy in the bunch," murmured Pearl.
"I never saw any one so beautiful," said Wilbur.
Pearl smiled graciously. "I love the sound of your voice," she said.
She was wrested from him by Bill Bardin. When he would have retrieved
her Terry Stamper had secured her notice. So through another dance he
stood aloof against the wall, moody now. It might be only social finesse
in Pearl but she was showing to others the same pleased vivacity she had
shown to him. Could it be she did not yet understand? Had she possibly
not divined that they two were now forever apart from the trivial world?
They danced again.
"Don't you feel as if we'd always known each other?" he demanded.
"Sure, kid!" breathed Pearl.
It was after still another dance--she had meantime floated in the arms
of a mere mill foreman. This time he led her into the dusky hallway,
where open windows brought the cool night to other low-voiced couples.
He led her to the farthest window, where the shadow was deepest, and
they looked out-above the roof of Rapp Brothers, Jewellery-to a sky of
pale stars and a blond moon.
"Ain't it great?" said Pearl.
He stood close to her, trembling from the faintest contact with her
loveliness. He wished to kiss her-he must kiss her. But he was afraid.
Pearl was sympathetic. She divined his trouble, and in the deep shadow
she adroitly did it herself. Then she rebuked his boldness.
"Say, but you're the quick little worker, seems to me!"
For a moment he was incapable of speech, standing mute, her warm hand in
"It's been a dream," he managed at last. "Just like a dream! Now you
belong to me, don't you?"
"Sure, if you want to put it that way," said Pearl "Come on! there's the
At the door she was taken from him by the audacious mill foreman.
Wilbur was chilled. Pearl had instantly recovered her public, or
ballroom, manner. Could it be that she had not been rightly uplifted by
the greatness of their moment? Did she realize all it would mean to
them? But she was meltingly tender when at last they swayed in the waltz
to "Home, Sweet Home." And it was he who bore her off under the witching
moon to the side entrance of the Mansion. They lingered a moment in the
protecting shadows. Pearl was chatty--not sufficiently impressed, it
seemed to him, with the sweet gravity of this crisis.
"We're engaged now," he reminded her. Pearl laughed lightly.
"Have it your own way, kid! Wha'd you say your name was?"
She kissed him again. Then he wandered off in the mystic night, far over
a world reeling through golden moonshine, to reach his dark but glowing
little room at an hour that would have disquieted Winona. It was the
following day that he cheered her by displaying a new attention to his
apparel, and it was before the ensuing Friday night dance that he had
submitted his hands to her for embellishment--talking casually of love
at first sight.
There followed for him a time of fearful delight, not unmarred by spells
of troubled wonder. Pearl was not exclusively enough his. She danced
with other men; she chatted with them as with her peers. She seemed even
to encourage their advances. He would have preferred that she found
these repulsive, but she continued gay, even hard, under his chiding.
"Tut, tut! I been told I got an awfully feminine nature. A girl of my
type is bound to have gentleman friends," she protested.
He aged under this strain. He saw now that he must abandon his easy view
about his future. He must, indeed, plan his life. He must choose his
vocation, follow it grimly, with one end in view. Pearl must become his
in the sight abandon his easy view about his future. He must, indeed,
plan his life. He must choose his vocation, follow it grimly, with one
end in view. Pearl must become his in the sight of God and
man--especially man--with the least delay. He delighted Sam Pickering by
continuing steadily at the linotype for five consecutive weeks, while
business piled up at the First-Class Garage and old Porter Howgill was
asked vainly to do everything.
Then on a fateful night Lyman Teaford assumed a new and disquieting
value in his life. Lyman Teaford, who for a dozen years had gone with
Winona Penniman faithfully if not spectacularly; Lyman Teaford,
dignified and genteel, who belonged to Newbern's better set, had one
night appeared at an affair of the Friday Night Social Club. Perhaps
because he had reached the perilous forties he had suddenly determined
to abandon the safe highway and seek adventure in miry bypaths. Perhaps
he felt that he had austerely played the flute too long. At any rate, he
came and danced with the lower element of Newbern, not oftener with
Pearl than with others that first night. But he came again and danced
much oftener with Pearl. There was no quick, hot alarm in the breast of
Wilbur Cowan. Lyman Teaford was an old man, chiefly notable, in Wilbur's
opinion, for the remarkable fluency of his Adam's apple while--with chin
aloft--he played high notes on his silver flute.
Yet dimly at last he felt discomfort at Lyman's crude persistence with
Pearl. He danced with others now only when Pearl was firm in refusals.
Wilbur to her jested with venomous sarcasm at the expense of Lyman.
Women were difficult to understand, he thought. What could her motive
The drama, Greek in its severity, culminated with a hideous, a sickening
velocity. On a Monday morning, in but moderate torment at Pearl's
inconsistency, Wilbur Cowan sat at the linotype in the _Advance_ office,
swiftly causing type metal to become communicative about the week's
doings in Newbern. He hung a finished sheet of Sam Pickering's pencilled
copy on a hook, and casually surveyed the sheet beneath. It was a social
item, he saw--the notice of a marriage. Then names amazingly leaped from
it to sear his defenseless eyes. Lyman Teaford--Miss Pearl King! He
gasped and looked about him. The familiar routine of the office was
under way. In his little room beyond he could see Sam Pickering
scribbling other items. He constrained himself to read the monstrous
slander before him.
"Lyman N. Teaford, one of our best-known business men, was last evening
united in the bonds of holy wedlock to Miss Pearl King, for some months
employed at the Mansion House. The marriage service was performed by the
Reverend Mallett at the parsonage, and was attended by only a few chosen
friends. The happy pair left on the six-fifty-eight for a brief
honeymoon at Niagara Falls, and on their return will occupy the Latimer
mansion on North Oak Street, recently purchased by the groom in view of
his approaching nuptials. A wide circle of friends wish them all
Wilbur Cowan again surveyed the office, and again peered sharply in at
Sam Pickering. His first wild thought was that Sam had descended to a
practical joke. If so it was a tasteless proceeding. But he must be
game. It was surely a joke, and Sam and the others in the office would
be watching him for signs of anguish. His machine steadily clicked off
the item. He struck not one wrong letter. He hung the sheet of copy on
its hook and waited for the explosion of crude humour. He felt that his
impassive demeanour had foiled the mean intention. But no one regarded
him. Sam Pickering wrote on. Terry Stamper stolidly ran off cards on the
job press. They were all indifferent. Something told him it was not a
He finished the next sheet of copy. Then, when he was certain he had not
been jested with, he rose from the torturing machine, put on his coat,
and told Sam Pickering he had an engagement. Sam hoped it wouldn't keep
him from work that afternoon.
Wilbur said "Possibly not," though he knew he would now loathe the
"By the way"--he managed it jauntily, as Sam bent again over his pad of
yellow copy paper--"I see Lyme Teaford's name is going to be in print
Sam paused in his labour and chuckled.
"Yes, the old hard-shell is landed. That blonde hasn't been bringing him
his three meals a day all this time for nothing."
"She must have married him for his money," Wilbur heard himself saying
in cold, cynical tones. The illumining thought had just come. That
"Sure," agreed Sam. "Why wouldn't she?"
* * * * *
Late that afternoon, in the humble gymnasium at the rear of Pegleg
McCarron's, Spike Brennon emerged from a rally in which Wilbur Cowan had
displayed unaccustomed spirit. Spike tenderly caressed his nose with a
glove and tried to look down upon it. The swelling already showed to his
"Say, kid," he demanded, irritably, "what's the big idea? Is this murder
or jest a friendly bout? You better behave or I'll stop pullin' my
It could not be explained to the aggrieved Spike that his opponent had
for the moment convinced himself that he faced one of Newbern's
best-known business men.
Later he contented himself with observing Lyman Teaford at Niagara
Falls. The fatuous groom stood heedlessly at the cataract's verge. There
was a simple push, and the world was suddenly a better place to live in.
As for his bereaved mate--he meditated her destruction, also, but this
was too summary. It came to him that she had been a lovely and helpless
victim of circumstances. For he had stayed on with Spike through the
evening, and in a dearth of custom Spike, back of the bar, had sung in a
whining tenor, "For she's only a bird in a gilded cage----"
That was it. She had discarded him because he was penniless--had sold
herself to be a rich man's toy. She would pay for it in bitter anguish.
"Only a bird in a gilded cage," sang Spike again. An encore had been
At noon the following day Winona Penniman, a copy of the _Advance_
before her, sat at the Penniman luncheon table staring dully into a dish
of cold rice pudding. She had read again and again the unbelievable
item. At length she snapped her head, as Spike Brennon would when now
and again a clean blow reached his jaw, pushed the untouched dessert
from her with a gesture of repugnance, and went aloft to her own little
room. Here she sat at her neat desk of bird's eye maple, opened her
journal, and across a blank page wrote in her fine, firm hand, "What
Life Means to Me."
It had seemed to her that it meant much. She would fill many pages. The
name of Lyman Teaford would not there appear, yet his influence would be
continuously present. She was not stricken as had been another reader of
that fateful bit of news. But she was startled, feeling herself
perilously cast afloat from old moorings. She began bravely and easily,
with a choice literary flavour.
"My sensations may be more readily imagined than described."
This she found true. She could imagine them readily, but could not, in
truth, describe them. She was shocked to discern that for the first time
in her correct life there were distinctly imagined sensations which she
could not bring herself to word, even in a volume forever sacred to her
own eyes. A long time she sat imagining. At last she wrote, but the
words seemed so petty.
All apparently that life meant to her was "How did she do it?"
She stared long at this. Then followed, as if the fruit of her further
meditation: "There is a horrid bit of slang I hear from time to
time--can it be that I need more pepper?"
After this she took from the bottom drawer of her bureau that
long-forgotten gift from the facetious Dave Cowan. She held the
stockings of tan silk before her, testing their fineness, their
sheerness. She was still meditating. She snapped her dark head, perked
it as might a puzzled wren.
"Certainly, more pepper!" she murmured.
A world once considered of enduring stability had crashed fearsomely
about the ears of Winona Penniman and Wilbur Cowan. After this no
support was to be trusted, however seemingly stout. Old foundations had
crumbled, old institutions perished, the walls of Time itself lay
wrecked. They stared across the appalling desolation with frightened
eyes. What next? In a world to be ruined at a touch, like a house of
cards, what vaster ruin would ensue?
It did not shock Wilbur Cowan that nations should plunge into another
madness the very day after a certain fair one, mentioned in his
meditations as "My Pearl--My Pearl of great price," and eke--from the
perfume label--"My Heart of Flowers," had revealed herself but a mortal
woman with an eye for the good provider. It occasioned Winona not even
mild surprise that the world should abandon itself to hideous war on the
very day after Lyman Teaford had wed beyond the purple. It was awful,
yet somehow fitting. Anything less than a World War would have appeared
inconsequent, anti-climactic, to these two so closely concerned in the
preliminary catastrophe, and yet so reticent that neither ever knew the
other's wound. Wilbur Cowan may have supposed that the entire Penniman
family, Winona included, would rejoice that no more forever were they to
hear the flute of Lyman Teaford. Certainly Winona never suspected that a
mere boy had been desolated by woman's perfidy and Lyman's mad
abandonment of all that people of the better sort most prize.
Other people, close observers of world events, declared that no real war
would ensue; it would be done in a few days--a few weeks at most. But
Winona and Wilbur knew better. Now anything could happen--and would. Of
all Newbern's wise folk these two alone foresaw the malign dimensions of
the inevitably approaching cataclysm. They would fall grimly silent in
the presence of conventional optimists. They knew the war was to be
unparalleled for blood and tears, but they allowed themselves no more
than sinister, vague prophecies, for they could not tell how they knew.
And they saw themselves active in war. They lost no time in doing that.
The drama of each drew to a splendid climax with the arrival in Newbern
of a French officer--probably a general--bound upon a grave mission.
Wilbur's general came to seek out the wife of Lyman Teaford.
To her he said in choice English: "Madame, I bring you sad news. This
young man died gallantly on the field of battle--the flag of my country
was about to be captured by the enemy when he leaped bravely forward,
where no other would dare the storm of shot and shell, and brought the
precious emblem safely back to our battle line. But even as the cheers
of his comrades rang in his ears an enemy bullet laid him low. I sprang
to his side and raised his head. His voice was already weak, for the
bullet had found rest in his noble heart.
"'Tell her,' he breathed, 'that she sent me to my death so that she
might become only a bird in a gilded cage. But tell her also that I wish
her happiness in her new life.' Madame, he died there, while weeping
soldiers clustered about with hats off and heads bowed--died with your
name on his pale lips---'My Pearl of great price,' he whispered, and all
was over. I bring you this photograph, which to the last he wore above
his heart. Observe the bullet hole and those dark stains that discolour
your proud features."
Whereupon Mrs. Lyman Teaford would fall fainting to the floor and never
again be the same woman, bearing to her grave a look of unutterable
sadness, even amid the splendours of the newly furnished Latimer
residence on North Oak Street.
Winona's drama was less depressing. Possibly Winona at thirty-two had
developed a resilience not yet achieved by Wilbur at twenty. She was not
going to die upon a field of battle for any Lyman Teaford. She would
brave dangers, however. She saw herself in a neat uniform, searching a
battlefield strewn with the dead and wounded. To the latter she
administered reviving cordial from a minute cask suspended at her trim
waist by a cord. Shells burst about her, but to these she paid no heed.
It was thus the French officer--a mere lieutenant, later promoted for
gallantry under fire--first observed her. He called her an angel of
mercy, and his soldiers--rough chaps, but hearty and outspoken--cheered
her as La Belle Americaine.
So much for the war. But the French officer--a general now, perhaps with
one arm off--came to Newbern to claim his bride. He had been one of the
impetuous sort that simply would not take no for an answer. The wedding
was in the Methodist church, and was a glittering public function. The
groom was not only splendidly handsome in a French way, but wore a
shining uniform, and upon his breast sparkled a profusion of medals. A
vast crowd outside the church waited to cheer the happy couple, and
slinking at the rear of this was a drab Lyman Teaford--without medals,
without uniform, dull, prosaic, enduring at this moment pangs of the
keenest remorse for his hasty act of a year before. He, too, would never
be the same man again.
In truth, the beginning Teaford menage lay under the most unfavourable
portents. Things looked dark for it.
Yet despite the forebodings of Wilbur and Winona, it began to be
suspected, even by them, that the war would wear itself out, as old
Doctor Purdy said, by first intention. And in spite of affecting
individual dramas they began to feel that it must wear itself out with
no help from them. It seemed to have settled into a quarrel among
foreign nations with which we could rightfully have no concern. Winona
learned, too, that her picture of the nurse on a battlefield
administering cordial to wounded combatants from the small keg at her
waist was based upon an ancient and doubtless always fanciful print.
Wilbur, too, gathered from the newspapers that, though he might die upon
a battlefield, there was little chance that a French general would be
commissioned to repeat his last words to Mrs. Lyman Teaford of Newbern
Center. He almost decided that he would not become a soldier. Some years
before, it is true, he had been drawn to the life by a government
poster, designed by one who must himself have been a capable dramatist.
"Join the Army and See the World," urged the large-lettered legend above
The latter revealed an entrancing tropical scene with graceful palms
adorning the marge of a pinkly sun-kissed sea. At a table in the
background two officers consulted with a private above an
important-looking map, while another pleased-looking private stood at
attention near by. At the left foreground a rather obsequious-looking
old colonel seemed to be entreating a couple of spruce young privates to
drop round for tea that afternoon and meet the ladies.
Had Wilbur happened upon this poster in conjunction with the resolve of
Miss Pearl King to be sensible, it is possible his history might have
been different. But its promise had faded from his memory ere his life
was wrecked. He felt now merely that he ought to settle down to
something. Even Sharon Whipple plainly told him so. He said it was all
right to knock about from one thing to another while you were still in
the gristle. Up to twenty a boy's years were kind of yeasty and
uncertain, and if he was any way self-headed he ought to be left to run.
But after twenty he lost his pinfeathers and should begin to think about
So Wilbur began to think about things. He continued to do everything
that old Porter Howgill was asked to do, to repair cars for the Mansion
garage, and to be a shield and buckler to Sam Pickering in time of need.
The _Advance_ office became freshly attractive at this time, because Sam
had installed a wonderful new power press to print the paper daily; for
the _Advance_, as Sam put it, could be found ever in the van of
The new press had innermost secrets of structure that were presently
best known to Wilbur Cowan. No smeared small boy was required to ink its
forms and no surmounting bronze eagle was reported to scream for beer
when the last paper was run off. Even Dave Cowan, drifting in from out
of the nowhere--in shoes properly describable as only memories of
shoes--said she was a snappy little machine, and applauded his son's
easy mastery of it.
So the days of Wilbur were busy days, even if he had not settled far
enough down to suit either Sam Pickering, Porter Howgill--who did
everything, if asked--or the First-Class Garage. And the blight put upon
him by a creature as false as she was beautiful proved not to be
enduring. He was able, indeed, to behold her without a tremor, save of
sympathy for one compelled to endure the daily proximity of Lyman
But the war prolonged itself as only he and Winona had felt it would,
and presently it began to be hinted that a great nation, apparently
unconcerned with its beginning, might eventually be compelled to a
livelier interest in it. Herman Vielhaber was a publicly exposed
barometer of this sentiment. At the beginning he beamed upon the world
and predicted the Fatherland's speedy triumph over all the treacherous
foes. When the triumph was unaccountably delayed he appeared mysterious,
but not less confident. The Prussian system might involve delay, but
Prussian might was none the less invincible. Herman would explain the
Prussian system freely to all who cared to listen--and many did
attentively--from high diplomacy to actual fighting. He left many of his
hearers with a grateful relief that neutrality had been officially
enjoined upon them.
Later Herman beamed less brightly as he recounted tales of German
prowess. He came to exhibit a sort of indignant pity for the Fatherland,
into whose way so many obstacles were being inopportunely thrown. He
compared Germany to a wounded deer that ravenous dogs were seeking to
bring down, but his predictions of her ultimate victory were not less
confident. Minna Vielhaber wept back of the bar at Herman's affecting
picture of the stricken deer with the arrow in her flank, and would be
comforted only when he brought the war to a proper close.
It was at this time that Winona wrote in her journal: "General Sherman
said that war is the bad place. He knew."
It was also at this time that a certain phrase from a high source
briefly engaged the notice of Sharon Whipple.
"Guinea pigs," said he, "are also too proud to fight, but they ain't
ever won the public respect on that account. They get treated
It was after this that Sharon was heard ominously to wish that he were
thirty or forty years younger. And it was after this that Winona became
active as a promoter of bazaars for ravaged Belgium and a pacifist whose
watchword was "Resist not evil!" She wrote again in her journal: "If
only someone would reason calmly with them!" She presently became
radiant with hope, for a whole boatload of earnest souls went over to
reason calmly with the combatants.
But the light she had seen proved deceiving. The earnest souls went
forward, but for some cause, never fully revealed to Winona, they had
been unable to reason calmly with those whose mad behaviour they had
meant to correct. It was said that they had been unable to reason calmly
even among themselves. It was merely a mark of Winona's earnestness that
she felt things might have gone differently had the personnel of this
valiant embassy been enlarged to include herself. Meantime, war was
becoming more and more the bad place, just as General Sherman had said.
She had little thought now for silk stockings or other abominations of
the frivolous, for her own country seemed on the very verge of
committing a frightful error.
Some time had elapsed since Wilbur Cowan definitely knew that he would
never go to war because of the mother of Lyman Teaford's infant son. He
began to believe, however, that he would relish a bit of fighting for
its own sake. Winona reasoned with him as she would have reasoned with
certain high personages on the other side of the water, and perhaps with
as little success. He replied cryptically that he was an out-and-out
phagocyte, and getting more so every time he read a newspaper. Winona
winced at the term--it seemed to carry sinister implications. Where did
the boy hear such words?
This one he had heard on a late Sunday afternoon when he sat, contrary
to a municipal ordinance of Newbern, in the back room of Herman
Vielhaber, with certain officials sworn to uphold that ordinance, who
drank beer and talked largely about what we should do; for it had then
become shockingly apparent that the phrase about our being too proud to
fight had been, in its essential meaning, misleading. Dave Cowan,
citizen of the world and student of its structure, physical and social,
had proved that war, however regrettable, was perhaps never to be
avoided; that in any event one of the best means to avoid it was to be
known for your fighting ways. Anyway, war was but an incident in human
Dave's hair had thinned in the years of his wandering to see a man at
Seattle or New Orleans, and he now wore spectacles, without which he
could no longer have enlarged his comprehension of cosmic values, for
his latest Library of Universal Knowledge was printed in very small
type. Dave said that since the chemicals had got together to form life
everything had lived on something else, and the best livers had always
been the best killers. He did not pretend to justify the plan, but there
it was; and it worked the same whether it was one microscopic organism
preying on another or a bird devouring a beetle or Germany trying to
swallow the world. Rapp, Senior, said that was all very well, but these
pacifists would keep us out of war yet. Doctor Purdy, with whom he had
finished a game of pinochle--Herman Vielhaber had lately been unable to
keep his mind on the game--set down his beer stein in an authoritative
manner, having exploded with rage even while he swallowed some of the
last decent beer to come to Newbern Center. He wiped froth from his
"Pacifists!" he stormed. "Why don't they ever look into their own
bodies? They couldn't live a day on non-resistance to evil. Every one of
their bodies is thronged with fighting soldiers. Every pacifist is a
living lie. Phagocytes, that's what they are--white corpuscles--and it's
all they're there for. They believe in preparedness hard enough. See 'em
march up to fight when there's an invasion! And how they do fight! These
pacifists belie their own construction. They're built on a fight from
the cradle and before that.
"I wish more of their own phagocytes would begin to preach
non-resistance and try to teach great moral lessons to invading germs.
We wouldn't have to listen to so many of 'em. But phagocytes don't act
that way. They keep in training. They don't say, like that poor old
maunderer I read this morning, that there's no use preparing--that a
million phagocytes will spring to arms overnight if their country's
invaded. They keep in trim. They fight quick. If they didn't we wouldn't
"These phagocytes--is infantry, yes?" demanded Herman Vielhaber. "I
never hear 'em named before like that."
"Infantry, and all the other branches, in a healthy body--and our own
body is healthy. Watch our phagocytes come forward now, just as those
tiny white corpuscles rush through the blood to an invaded spot. You'll
see 'em come quick. Herman, your country has licked Belgium and
Serbia--you can rightly claim that much. But she'll never get another
decision. Too many phagocytes."
Dave Cowan, who always listened attentively to Doctor Purdy for new
words, was thus enabled to enlighten Winona about her own and other
people's phagocytes; and Winona, overwhelmed by his mass of detail--for
Dave had supplemented Purdy's lecture with fuller information from his
encyclopedia--had sighed and said: "Oh, dear! We seem to be living over
This had caused Dave to become more volubly instructive.
"Of course! Didn't you know that? How thick do you suppose the crust of
the earth is, anyway? All we humans are--we're plants that have grown
out of the cooled crust of a floating volcano; plants that can walk and
talk, but plants just the same. We float round the sun, which is only
another big volcano that hasn't cooled yet--good thing for us it
hasn't--and the sun and us are floating round some other volcano that no
one has discovered yet because the circle is too big, and that one is
probably circling round another one--and there you are. That's plain,
"Not very," said Winona.
"Well, I admit there's a catch in it I haven't figured out yet, but the
facts are right, as far as I've gone. Anyway, here we are, and we got
here by fighting, and we'll have to keep on fighting, one way or
another, if we're to get any place else."
"I don't know anything about all that," said Winona; "but sometimes I
almost think the Germans deserve a good beating."
This was extreme for Winona, the arch pacifist.
"You almost think so, eh? Well, that's a good specimen of almost
thinking. Because the Germans don't deserve any such thing unless
someone can give it to them. If the bird can swallow the worm the bird
deserves the worm. The most of us merely almost think."
It was much later--an age later, it seemed to Winona--for her country,
as she wrote in her journal, had crossed the Rubicon--that she went to
attend a meeting of protest in a larger city than Newbern; a meeting of
mothers and potential mothers who were persuaded that war was never
She had listened to much impassioned oratory, with a sickening surprise
that it should leave her half-hearted in the cause of peace at any
price; and she had gone to take her train for home, troubled with a
monstrous indecision. Never before had she suffered an instant's
bewilderment in detecting right from wrong.
As she waited she had observed on a siding a long, dingy train, from the
windows of which looked the faces of boys. She was smitten with a quick
curiosity. There were tall boys and short boys; and a few of them were
plump, but mostly they were lean, with thin, browned faces, and they
were all ominously uniformed. Their keen young faces crowded the open
windows of the cars, and they thronged upon the platforms to make noisy
purchases from younger boys who offered them pitiful confections from
baskets and trays.
Winona stared at them with a sickened wonder. They were all so alive, so
alert, so smiling, so eager to be on with the great adventure. In one of
the cars a band of them roared a stirring chorus. It stirred Winona
beyond the calm that should mark people of the better sort. She forgot
that a gentleman should make no noise and that a lady is serene; forgot
utterly. She waved a hand--timidly at first--to a cluster of young heads
at a car window, and was a little dismayed when they waved heartily in
return. She recovered and waved at another group--less timidly this
time. Again the response was instant, and a malign power against which
she strove in vain carried Winona to the train's side. Heads were thrust
forth and greetings followed, some shy and low-toned, some with feigned
Winona was no longer Winona. A freckled young vender with a basket
halted beside her. Winona searched for her purse and emptied its hoard
into one gloved hand. Coins spilled from this and ran about the
platform. Hands sprang from the window above her to point out their
resting places, and half a dozen of the creatures issued from the car to
recover them for her. Flustered, eager, pleasantly shocked at her own
daring, Winona distributed gifts from the basket, seeing only the hands
that came forth to receive them.
Chewing gum, candy, popcorn, figs--even cigarettes--and Winona the first
vice-president and recording secretary of Newbern's anti-tobacco
league! War was assuredly what Sherman had so pithily described it, for
she now sent the vender back to replenish his stock of cigarettes, and
bought and bestowed them upon immature boys so long as her coin lasted.
Their laughter was noisy, their banter of one another and of Winona was
continuous, and Winona laughed, even bantered. That she should banter
strangers in a public place! She felt rowdy, but liked it.
There was a call from the front of the train, and the group about her
sprang to the platform as the cars began to move, waving her gracious,
almost condescending adieus, as happy people who go upon a wondrous
journey will wave to poor stay-at-homes. Winona waved wildly now, being
lost to all decorum; waved to the crowded platform and then to the cloud
of heads at the window above her.
From this window a hand reached down to her--a lean, hard, brown
hand--and the shy, smiling eyes of the boy who reached it sought hers in
something like appeal. Winona clutched the hand and gripped it as she
had never gripped a human hand before.
"Good-bye, sister!" said the boy, and Winona went a dozen steps with the
train, still grasping the hand.
"Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye--all of you!" she called, and was holding
the hand with both her own when the train gathered speed and took it
from her grasp.
She stood then watching other windows thronged with young heads as the
train bore them on; she still waved and was waved at. Faint strains of
the resumed chorus drifted back to her. Her face was hurting with a set
She stumbled back across the platform, avoiding other groups who had
cheered the passing train, and found sanctuary by a baggage truck loaded
with crates of live chickens. Here she wept unnoticed, and wondered why
she was weeping. Later, in her own train, she looked down and observed
the white-ribboned badge which she had valiantly pinned above her heart
that very morning. She had forgotten the badge--and those boys must have
seen it. Savagely she tore it from its mooring, to the detriment of a
new georgette waist, and dropped it from the open window.
That night she turned back in her journal to an early entry: "If only
someone would reason calmly with them. Resist not evil!" She stared at
this a long time, then she dipped a new pen in red ink and full across
it she wrote "What rotten piffle!" That is, she nearly wrote those
words. What she actually put down was "What r-tt-n piffle!"
To Wilbur Cowan, in recounting her fall from the serene heights of
pacifism, she brazenly said: "Do you know--when that poor boy reached
down to shake hands with me, if I could have got at him I just know I
should have kissed him."
"Gee whiz!" said Wilbur in amazed tribute.
"I don't care!" persisted Winona. "That's the way I felt--he was such a
nice boy. He looked like you, as if he'd come from a good home and had
good habits, and I did want to kiss him, and I would have if I could
have reached him--and I'm not going to tell a falsehood about it for any
one, and I'm--I'm hostile."
"Well, I guess pretty soon I'll be going," said Wilbur.
Winona gazed at him with strangely shining eyes.
"You wouldn't be any good if you didn't!" she said, suddenly.
It was perhaps the least ornate sentence she had ever spoken.
"Gee whiz!" said Wilbur again. "You've changed!"
"Something came over me," said Winona.
Wilbur Cowen had hesitated in the matter of war. He wanted to be in a
battle--had glowed at the thought of fighting--but if the war was going
to be stopped in its beginning, what would be the use of starting? And
he was assured and more than half believed that it would be stopped.
Merle Whipple was his informant--Merle had found himself. The war was
to be stopped by the _New Dawn_, a magazine of which Merle had been
associate editor since shortly after his release from college.
Merle, on that afternoon of golf with Wilbur, had accurately forecast
his own future. Confessing then that he meant to become a great writer,
he was now not only a great writer but a thinker, in the true sense of
the word. He had taken up literature--"not muck like poetry, but serious
literature"--and Whipple money had lavishly provided a smart little
craft in which to embark. The money had not come without some bewildered
questioning on the part of those supplying it. As old Sharon said, the
Whipple chicken coop had hatched a gosling that wanted to swim in
strange waters; but it was eventually decided that goslings were meant
to swim and would one way or another find a pond. Indeed, Harvey Whipple
was prouder of his son by adoption than he cared to have known, and
listened to him with secret respect, covered with perfunctory business
hints. He felt that Merle was above and beyond him. The youth, indeed,
made him feel that he was a mere country banker.
In the city of New York, after his graduation, Merle had come
into his own, forming a staunch alliance with a small circle of
intellectuals--intelligentzia, Merle said--consecrated to the cause of
American culture. He had brought to Newbern and to the amazed Harvey
Whipple the strange news that America had no native culture; that it was
raw, spiritually impoverished, without national self-consciousness; with
but the faintest traces of art in any true sense of the word. Harvey
Whipple would have been less shocked by this disclosure, momentous
though it was, had not Merle betrayed a conviction that his life work
would now be to uphold the wavering touch of civilization.
This brought the thing home to Harvey D. Merle, heading his valiant
little band of thinkers, would light a pure white flame to flush
America's spiritual darkness. He would be a vital influence, teaching
men and women to cultivate life for its own sake. For the cheap and
tawdry extravagance of our national boasting he would substitute a
chastening knowledge of our spiritual inferiority to the older nations.
America was uncreative; he would release and nurse its raw creative
intelligence till it should be free to function, breaking new
intellectual paths, setting up lofty ideals, enriching our common life
with a new, self-conscious art. Much of this puzzled Harvey D. and his
father, old Gideon. It was new talk in their world. But it impressed
them. Their boy was earnest, with a fine intelligence; he left them
Sharon Whipple was a silent, uneasy listener at many of these talks. He
declared, later and to others, for Merle was not his son, that the young
man was highly languageous and highly crazy; that his talk was the
crackling of thorns under a pot; that he was a vain canter--"forever
canting," said Sharon--"a buffle-headed fellow, talking, bragging." He
was equally intolerant of certain of Merle's little band of
forward-looking intellectuals who came to stay week-ends at the Whipple
New Place. There was Emmanuel Schilsky, who talked more pithily than
Merle and who would be the editor-in-chief of the projected _New Dawn_.
Emmanuel, too, had come from his far-off home to flush America's
spiritual darkness with a new light. He had written much about our
shortage of genuine spiritual values; about "the continual frustrations
and aridities of American life." He was a member of various groups--the
Imagist group, the Egoist group, the Sphericists, other groups piquantly
named; versed in the new psychology, playing upon the word "pragmatism"
as upon a violin.
Sharon Whipple, the Philistine, never quite knew whether pragmatism was
approved or condemned by Schilsky, and once he asked the dark-faced
young man what it meant. He was told that pragmatism was a method, and
felt obliged to pretend that this enlightened him. He felt a reluctant
respect for Schilsky, who could make him feel uncomfortable.
And there was the colourful, youngish widow, Mrs. Truesdale, who wrote
free verse about the larger intimacies of life, and dressed noticeably.
She would be a contributing editor of the _New Dawn_, having as her
special department the release of woman from her age-long slavery to
certain restraints that now made her talked unpleasantly about if she
dared give her soul free rein. This lady caused Sharon to wonder about
the departed Truesdale.
"Was he carried away by sorrowing friends," asked Sharon, "or did he get
tired one day and move off under his own power?" No one ever enlightened
Others of the younger intelligentzia came under his biased notice. He
spoke of them as "a rabble rout," who lived in a mad world--"and God
bless us out of it."
But Sharon timed his criticism discreetly, and the _New Dawn_ lit its
pure white flame--a magazine to refresh the elect. Placed superbly
beyond the need of catering to advertisers, it would adhere to rigorous
standards of the true, the beautiful. It would tell the truth as no
other magazine founded on gross commercialism would dare to do. It said
so in well-arranged words. The commercial magazines full well knew the
hideous truth, but stifled it for hire. The _New Dawn_ would be honest.
The sinister truth about America as revealed in the initial number of
the brave new venture was that America was crude, blatant, boastful,
vulgar, and money-grubbing. We were without ideals beyond the dollar;
without desires save those to be glutted by material wealth. It was the
high aim of the _New Dawn_--said the associate editor, Merle Dalton
Whipple--to dethrone the dollar, to hasten and to celebrate the passing
of American greed.
Not until the second number was it revealed that the arch criminals were
to be found in the exploiting class, a sinister combination,
all-powerful, working to the detriment of the common people; an
industrial oligarchy under whose rule the cowed wage slave toiled for
his crust of bread. This number unflinchingly indicted the capitalistic
ruling class; fearlessly called upon the exploited masses to rise and
throw off the yoke put upon them by this nefarious plunderbund. The
worker's plight was depicted with no sparing of detail--"the slaves
groaning and wailing in the dark the song of mastered men, the sullen,
satanic music of lost and despairing humanity."
Succeeding numbers made it plain that the very republic itself had been
founded upon this infamy. Our Revolutionary War had marked the triumph
of the capitalistic state--the state that made property sovereign. The
Revolutionary fathers had first freed themselves from English creditors,
then bound down as their own debtors an increasing mass of the American
population. The document known as the Constitution of the United States
had been cunningly and knowingly contrived to that end, thus thrusting
upon us the commercial oligarchy which persisted to this day. It had
placed the moneyed classes securely in the saddle, though with fine
phrases that seemed not to mean this.
"A conscious minority of wealthy men and lawyers, guided by the genius
of Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, and Madison," had worked their full
design upon the small farmer and the nascent proletariat; we had since
been "under the cult and control of wealth."
After this ringing indictment it surprised no Whipple to read that we
had become intolerant, materialistic, unaesthetic. Nor was it any wonder
that we were "in no mood to brook religious or social dissension." With
such a Constitution fraudulently foisted upon us by the money-loving
fathers of the Revolution, it was presumably not to be expected that we
should exhibit the religious tolerance of contemporary Spain or Italy or
"Immersed in a life of crass material endeavour," small wonder that the
American had remained in spiritual poverty of the most debasing sort
until the _New Dawn_ should come to enrich him, to topple in ruins an
exploiting social system.
Now the keen eyes of young America, by aid of the magnifying lens
supplied by Emmanuel Schilsky, would detect the land of the free to be
in fact a land of greedy and unscrupulous tyrants; the home of the brave
a home of economic serfs. Young America, which fights for the sanctity
of life, solid and alive with virile beauty, would revolt and destroy
the walls of the capitalistic state, sweeping away the foul laws that
held private property sacred. They would seek a cure for the falsehood
of modern life in a return to Nature, a return to the self where truth
ever is. They would war with the privilege and ascendancy of the group
over the individual conscience. Already the exploiting class, as it
neared the term of its depleted life, was but a mass of purulence.
Society was rotten, the state a pious criminal, the old truths tawdry
lies. Everywhere the impotence of senility--except in young America. We
faced the imminence of a vast breaking-up. The subtlest oligarchy of
modern times was about to crumble. The revolution was at hand.
* * * * *
A succeeding number of the _New Dawn_ let out the horrid truth about the
war, telling it in simple words that even Wilbur Cowan could understand.
Having sold munitions to the warring nations, we must go in to save our
money. In short, as the _New Dawn_ put it: "The capitalistic ruling
classes tricked the people into war." It was to be a war waged for
greed. Young America, not yet perusing in large enough numbers the _New
Dawn_, was to be sent to its death that capital might survive--the
dollar be still enthroned. But the _New Dawn_ was going to see about
that. Young America would be told the truth.
Two of the Whipples were vastly puzzled by these pronouncements, and
not a little disquieted. Old Gideon and Harvey D. began to wonder if by
any chance their boy, with his fine intellect, had not been misled.
Sharon was enraged by the scandalous assertions about George Washington,
whom he had always considered a high-minded patriot. He had never
suspected and could not now be persuaded that Washington had basely
tricked the soldiers of the Revolution into war so that the capitalistic
class might prevail in the new states. Nor would he believe that the
framers of the Constitution had consciously worded that document with a
view to enslaving the common people. He was a stubborn old man, and not
aware of his country's darkness. Perhaps it was too much to expect that
one of his years and mental habit should be hospitable to these newly
He was not young America. He had thought too long the other way. Being
of a choleric cast, he would at times be warmed into regrettable
outbursts of opinion that were reactionary in the extreme. Thus when he
discussed with Gideon and Harvey D. the latest number of the
magazine--containing the fearless exposure of Washington's chicanery--he
spoke in terms most slighting of Emmanuel Schilsky. He meant his words
to lap over to Merle Whipple, but as the others were still proud--if in
a troubled way--of the boy's new eminence, he did not distinguish him
too pointedly. He pretended to take it all out on Emmanuel, whom he
declared to be no fair judge of American history. The other Whipples
were beginning to suspect this but were not prepared to admit it either
to Sharon or to each other. For the present they would defend Emmanuel
against the hot-headed aspersions of the other.
"You said yourself, not a month ago," expostulated Harvey D., "that he
was a smart little Jew."
Sharon considered briefly.
"Well," he replied, "I don't know as I'd change that--at least not much.
I'd still say the same thing, or words to that effect."
"Just how would you put it now?" demanded Gideon, suavely.
Sharon brightened. He had hoped to be asked that.
"The way I'd put it now--having read a lot more of his new-dawning--I'd
say he was a little Jew smarty."
The other Whipples had winced at this. The _New Dawn_ was assuredly not
the simple light-bringer to America's spiritual darkness that they had
supposed it would be; but they were not yet prepared to believe the
"If only they wouldn't be so extreme!" murmured the troubled Harvey D.
"If only they wouldn't say the country has been tricked into war by
"That's a short horse and soon curried," said Sharon. "They can't say it
if you quit paying for it."
"There you are!" said Harvey D. "Merle would say that that's an example
of capitalism suppressing the truth. Of course I don't know--maybe it
"Sure! Anyway, it would be an example of capital suppressing something.
Depends on what you call the truth. If you think the truth is that
Germany ought to rule the earth you got it right. That's what all these
pacifists and anti-militaries are arguing, though they don't let on to
that. Me, I don't think Germany ought to rule the earth. I think she
ought to be soundly trounced, and my guess is she's goin' to be.
Something tells me this _New Dawn_ ain't goin' to save her from her
come-uppance. I tell you both plain out, I ain't goin' to have a
magazine under my roof that'll talk such stuff about George Washington,
the Father of his Country. It's too scandalous."
Thus the _New Dawn_ lost a subscriber, though not losing, it should be
said, a reader. For Sharon Whipple, having irately stopped his
subscription by a letter in which the editor was told he should be
ashamed of himself for calling George Washington a crook that way,
thereafter bought the magazine hurriedly at the Cut-Rate Pharmacy and
read every word of it in secret places not under his roof.
Wilbur Cowan, though proud of the _New Dawn_ because his brother's name
adorned it, had nevertheless failed to profit by its teachings. He was
prepared to admit that America groped in spiritual darkness which the
_New Dawn_ would flush with its pure white light; he could not have
contended with any authority that it was not a land of dollar hunters,
basely materialistic, without ideals, artistically impoverished, and
devoid of national self-consciousness, whatever that meant. These things
were choice words to him, nothing more; and he had no valid authority on
which to deny that the country was being tricked into war by the
Interests, something heinous that the _New Dawn_ spelled with a capital
letter. In a way he believed this, because his brother said so. His
brother had been educated. He even felt shame-faced and apologetic about
his resolve to enter the fight.
But this resolve was stanch; he wanted to fight, even if he had been
tricked by Wall Street into feeling that way. The _New Dawn_ said he had
been tricked, and he supposed it was true, even if he couldn't clearly
detect how Wall Street had made Germany pursue the course that made him
want to fight. So far as his direct mental processes could inform him,
the only trickery involved had been employed by Germany and Spike
Brennon. Germany's behaviour was more understandable than the _New
Dawn_, and Spike Brennon was much simpler in his words. Spike said it
was a dandy chance to get into a real scrap, and all husky lads should
be there in a split second at the first call. Perhaps Wall Street had
tricked Spike into tricking Wilbur Cowan. Anyway, Spike was determined.
Their decision was made one day after a brisk six rounds of mimic
battle. They soaped and bathed and dried their bodies. Then they
rested--sitting upon up-ended beer kegs in the storeroom of Pegleg
McCarron--and talked a little of life. Spike for a week had been
laconic, even for him, and had taken little trouble to pull his punches.
To-day he revealed that the Interests had triumphed over his simple
mind. He was going and going quick. He recovered a morsel of gum from
beneath the room's one chair, put it again into commission, and spoke
"I'm goin' quick," he said.
"When do we leave?" demanded Wilbur.
"I'm leavin' in two days."
"We're leaving in two days."
They chewed gum for an interval.
"Way it is," said Spike at length, "I'm nothing but about a fourth-rater
in my game. I wasn't never a first-rater. I used to kid myself I was,
but handier guys took it out of me. Never was better than a third-rater,
I guess. But maybe in this other game I could git to be a first-rater.
You can't tell. I still got the use of myself, ain't I? And I wouldn't
be so much afraid as a guy who never fought no fights at all. It looks
good to me. Of course I don't know much about this here talk you
read--makin' the world safe for Democrats, and so forth, but they's
certain parts of it had ought to be made unsafe for Germans. I got that
"Where do we go from here?" demanded Wilbur Cowan.
"N'York," said Spike. "Enlist there. I got a friend in Tamm'ny will see
we git treated right."
"Sent over quick--not kept here. This guy is high up; he can get us
"Only thing worries me," said Spike--"sleepin' out of doors. It ain't
healthy. They tell me you sleep any old place--on the ground or in a
chicken coop--makes no matter. I never did sleep out of doors, and I
hate to begin now; but I s'pose I got to. Mebbe, time we git there,
they'll have decent beds. I admit I'm afraid of sleepin' out on the
ground. It ain't no way to keep your health."
He ruminated busily with the gum.
"Another thing, kid, you got to remember. In the box-fightin' game
sometimes even second money is good. I pulled down a few nice purses in
my time. But this here gun-fightin' stuff, it's winner take all every
time. In a gun fight second money is mud. Remember that. And we ain't
got the education to be officers. We got to do plain fightin'."
"Plain fighting!" echoed Wilbur. "And I'll tell you another thing. From
what I hear they might put me to driving a car, but you bet I ain't
going to take that long trip and get seasick, probably, just to fool
round with automobiles. I'm going to be out where you are--plain
fighting. So remember this--I don't know a thing about cars or motors.
Never saw one till I come into the Army."
"You're on!" said Spike. "Now let's eat while we can. They tell me over
in the war your meals is often late."
They ate at T-bone Tommy's, consuming a vast quantity of red meat with
but a minor accompaniment of vegetables. They were already soldiers.
They fought during the meal several sharp engagements, from which they
emerged without a scratch.
"We'll be takin' a lot of long chances, kid," cautioned Spike. "First
thing we know--they might be saying it to us with flowers."
"Let 'em talk!" said the buoyant Wilbur. "Of course we'll get into
trouble sooner or later."
"Sure!" agreed Spike. "Way I look at it, I got about one good fight left
in me. All I hope is, it'll be a humdinger."
Later they wandered along River Street, surveying the little town with
new eyes. They were far off---"over where the war was taking place," as
Spike neatly put it--surveying at that long range the well-remembered
scene; revisiting it from some remote spot where perhaps it had been
said to them with flowers.
"We'd ought to tell Herman Vielhaber," said Spike. "Herman's a Heinie,
but he's a good scout at that."
"Sure!" agreed Wilbur.
They found Herman alone at one of his tables staring morosely at an
untouched glass of beer. The Vielhaber establishment was already
suffering under the stigma of pro-Germanism put upon it by certain of
the watchful towns-people. Judge Penniman, that hale old invalid, had
even declared that Herman was a spy, and signalled each night to other
spies by flapping a curtain of his lighted room above the saloon. The
judge had found believers, though it was difficult to explain just what
information Herman would be signalling and why he didn't go out and tell
it to his evil confederates by word of mouth. Herman often found trade
dull of an evening now, since many of his old clients would patronize
his rival, Pegleg McCarron; for Pegleg was a fervent patriot who
declared that all Germans ought to be in hell. Herman greeted the
newcomers with troubled cordiality.
"Sed down, you boys. What you have? Sasspriller? All right! Mamma, two
sassprillers for these young men."
Minna Vielhaber brought the drink from the bar. Minna had red eyes, and
performed her service in silence, after which she went moodily back to
They drank to Herman's health and to Minna's, and told of their
"Right!" said Herman. "I give you right." He stared long at his beer. "I
tell you, boys," he said at last, "mamma and me we got in a hard place,
yes. Me? I'm good American--true blue. I got my last papers twenty-two
years ago. I been good American since before that. Mamma, too. Both
good. Then war comes, and I remember the Fatherland--we don't never
furgit that, mind you, even so we are good Americans. But I guess mebbe
I talk a lot of foolishness about Germany whipping everybody she fight
with. I guess I was too proud of that country that used to be mine. You
know how it is, you boys; you remember your home and your people kind of
"Sure!" said Spike. "Me? I was raised down back of the tracks in
Buffalo--one swell place fur a kid to grow up--but honest, sometimes I
git waked up in the night, and find m'self homesick fur that rotten
dump. Sure, I know how you feel, Herman."
Herman, cheered by this sympathy, drank of his beer. Putting down the
glass, he listened intently. Minna, at the bar, was heard to be weeping.
"Mamma," he called, gruffly, "you keep still once. None of that!"
Minna audibly achieved the commanded silence. Herman listened until
satisfied of this, then resumed:
"Well, so fur, so good. Then Germany don't act right, so my own country
got to fight her. She's got to fight her! I'd get me another country if
she didn't. But now people don't understand how I feel so. They say:
'Yes, he praise Germany to the sky; now I guess he talk the other side
of his mouth purty good.' They don't understand me. I want Germany
should be punished good, and my country she's goin' to do it good. That
is big in my heart. But shall I go out on the street and holler, 'To
hell with Germany?' Not! Because people would know I lied, and I would
know. I want Germany should be well whipped till all them sheep's heads
is out of high places, but I can't hate Germans. I could punish someone
good and not hate 'em. I'm a German in my blood, but you bet I ain't a
"Mamma, again I tell you keep still once--and now you boys goin' to
fight. That's good! Me, I would go if I was not too old; not a better
German fighter would they have than me. I kill 'em all what come till I
fall over myself. You boys remember and fight hard, so we make the world
nice again. I bet you fight good--strong, husky boys like you. And I
hope you come back strong and hearty and live a long time in a world you
helped to put it right. I hope some day you have children will be proud
because you was good Americans, like mine would be if we had a little
one. I hope you teach 'em to fight quick for their own good country.
They drank, and in the stillness Minna Vielhaber was again heard to be
lamenting. Herman addressed her harshly:
"Mamma, now again I beg you shall keep still once."
Minna appeared from back of the bar and became coherent.
"I wassn't cryin' no tears for Germans--wass cryin' fur them!" She
waved a damp towel at Herman's guests. Herman soothed her.
"Now, now--them boys take care of themselves. Likely they have a little
trouble here and there or some place, but they come back sound--I tell
you that. Now you dry up--you make some other people feel that way. Hear
me?" Minna subsided.
"You bet," resumed Herman, "we're Americans good. Mebbe I can't tell
people so now, like they believe me; it's hard to believe I want Germans
whipped good if I don't hate 'em, but it's true--and lots others besides
me. They come in my place, Dagoes, Wops, Hunnyacks, Swedes, Jews, every
breed, and what you think--they keep talkin' about what us Americans had
ought to do to lick Germany. It's funny, yes? To hear 'em say us
Americans, but when you know them foreigners mean it so hard--well, it
ain't funny! It's good!
"And me? Say, I tell you something. If any one say I ain't good American
I tell you this: I stand by America like I was born here. I stand by her
if she fight Germany just as if she fight France. I stand by her in war,
and I do more than that. You listen! Now comes it they say the country's
goin' to be dry and put me out of business. What you think of that, hey?
So they will shut booze joints like that feller McCarron runs, and even
a nice place like this. So you can't buy a glass beer or a schoppen
Rhine wine. What you think? Mebbe it's all talk, mebbe not. But listen!
This is my country, no matter what she does; I stand by her if she
fights Germany to death; and by God, I stand by her if she goes dry!
Could I say more? _Prosit_!"
The next day Wilbur Cowan sought Sharon Whipple with the news that he
meant to do a bit of plain fighting overseas. He found the old man in
the stable, in troubled controversy with a rebellious car. He sat
stonily at the wheel and at intervals pressed a determined heel upon a
self-starter that would whir but an impotent protest. He glared up at
Wilbur as the latter came to rest beside the car.
"Well, what now?" He spoke impatiently.
"I'm going to enlist; I thought I would tell you."
Sharon pointed the heavy brows at him with a thumb and uttered a
disparaging "Humph!" Then he appeared to forget the announcement, and
pressed again on the self-starter, listening above its shrill song for
the deeper rumble of the engine. This did not ensue, and he shifted his
heel, turning a plaintive eye upon the young man.
"She don't seem to excite," he said. "I've tried and tried, and I can't
It was an old, old story to Wilbur Cowan.
"Press her again," he directed. Sharon pressed and the other raptly
listened. "Ignition," he said.
He lifted the hood on one side and with a pair of pliers manipulated
what Sharon was never to know as anything but her gizzard, though the
surgeon, as he delicately wrought, murmured something about platinum
"Try her!" Sharon tried her.
"Now she excites!" he exploded, gleefully, as the hum of the motor took
up the shrill whir of the self-starter. He stopped the thing and bent a
reproachful gaze upon Wilbur.
"Every one else leaving me--even that Elihu Titus. I never thought you
would, after the way we've stood together in this town. I had a right to
expect something better from you. I'd like to know how I'm goin' to get
along without you. You show a lot of gratitude, I must say."
"Well, I thought--"
"Oh, I knew you'd go--I expected that!"
"Yes, sir," said Wilbur.
"You wouldn't been any good if you hadn't. Even that Elihu Titus went."
"Yes, sir," said Wilbur. He had been waiting to ask Sharon's opinion
about the only troubling element in his decision. This seemed the
moment. "You don't suppose--you don't think perhaps the war will be
stopped or anything, just as I get over there?"
Sharon laboured with a choice bit of sarcasm.
"No, I guess it'll take more'n you to stop it, even with that Elihu
Titus going along. Of course, some spy may get the news to 'em that
you've started, and they may say, 'Why keep up the struggle if this
Cowan boy's goin' in against us?' But my guess is they'll brazen it out
for a month or so longer. Of course they'll be scared stiff."
Wilbur grinned at him, then spoke gravely.
"You know what I mean--Merle. He says the plain people will never allow
this war to go on, because they've been tricked into it by Wall Street
or something. I read it in his magazine. They're working against the war
night and day, he says. Well, all I mean, I'd hate to go over there and
be seasick and everything and then find they had stopped it."
Intently, grimly, Sharon climbed from his car. His short, fat leg went
back and he accurately kicked an empty sprinkling can across the floor.
It was a satisfying object to kick; it made a good noise and came to a
clattering rest on its dented side. It was so satisfying that with
another kick he sent the can bounding through an open door.
"Gave it the second barrel, didn't you?" said Wilbur. Sharon grinned
"Just a letter to your brother," he explained. Then he became profanely
impassioned. "Fudge! Fudge and double fudge! Scissors and white aprons!
Prunes and apricots! No! That war won't be stopped by any magazine! Go
on--fight your fool head off! Don't let any magazine keep you back!"
"Yes, sir," said Wilbur.
"They can't stop the war, because there are too many boys like you all
over this land. Trick or no trick, that's what they're up against.
You'll all fight--while they're writing their magazines. Your reactions
are different. That's a word I got from the dirty thing--and from that
brother of yours. He gets a lot of use out of that word--always talking
about his reactions. Just yesterday I said to him: 'Take care of your
actions and your reactions will take care of themselves.' He don't
cotton to me. I guess I never buttered him up with praise any too much.
His languageousness gets on me. He's got Gideon and Harvey D. on a hot
griddle, too, though they ain't lettin' on. Here the Whipples have
always gone to war for their country--Revolutionary War and 1812,
Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American--Harvey D. was in that. Didn't
do much fighting, but he was belligerent enough. And now this son of his
sets back and talks about his reactions! What I say--he's a Whipple in
"He's educated," protested Wilbur, quick to defend this brother, even
should he cheat him out of the good plain fighting he meant to do.
"Educated!" Sharon imitated a porpoise without knowing it. "Educated out
of books! All any of that rabble rout of his knows is what they read
secondhand. They don't know people. Don't know capitalists. Don't even
know these wage slaves they write about. That's why they can't stop the
war. They may be educated, but you're enlightened. They know more books,
but you know more life in a minute than they'll ever know--you got a
better idea of the what-for in this world. Let 'em write! You fight! If
it rests on that hairy bunch to stop the war you'll get a bellyful of
fighting. They're just a noisy fringe of buzzers round the real folks of
"Yes, sir," said Wilbur. "I thought I'd ask."
"Well, now you know. Shove off!"
"Yes, sir." Sharon's tone changed to petulance.
"That's right, and leave me here to farm twenty-five hundred acres all
by myself, just when I was going to put in tractors. That's the kind you
are--just a fool country-town boy, with a head full of grand notions.
Well, somebody's got to raise food for the world. She's goin' short
pretty soon or I miss my guess. Somebody's got to raise bread and meat.
All right, leave me here to do the dirty work while you flourish round
over there seein' the world and havin' a good time. I'm sick of the
sight of you and your airs. Get out!"
"When you leaving?"
"Sooner the better!"
Sharon turned back to the car, grumbling incoherent phrases. He affected
to busy himself with the mechanism that had just been readjusted,
looking at it wisely, thumbing a valve, though with a care to leave
things precisely as they were.
* * * * *
That afternoon as Sharon made an absorbed progress along River Street he
jostled Winona Penniman, who with even a surpassing absorption had been
staring into the window of one of those smart shops marking Newbern's
later growth. Whereas boots and shoes had been purchased from an
establishment advertising simple Boots and Shoes, they were now sought
by people of the right sort from this new shop which was labelled the
Winona had halted with assumed carelessness before its attractively
dressed window displaying a colourful array of satin dancing slippers
with high heels and bejewelled toes. Winona's assumption of carelessness
had been meant to deceive passers-by into believing that she looked upon
these gauds with a censorious eye, and not as one meaning flagrantly to
purchase of them. Her actual dire intention was nothing to flaunt in the
public gaze. Nor did she mean to voice her wishes before a shopful of
people who might consider them ambiguous.
Four times she had passed the door of the shop, waiting for a dull
moment in its traffic. Now but two women were left, and they seemed to
be waiting only for change. Her resolution did not falter; she was
merely practising a trained discretion. She was going to buy a pair of
satin dancing slippers though the whole world should look upon her as
lost. Too long, she felt, had she dwelt among the untrodden ways. As she
had confided to her journal, the placid serenity of her life had become
a sea of mad unrest. Old moorings had been wrenched loose; she floated
with strange tides. And Wilbur Cowan, who was going to war, had invited
her to be present that evening at the opening of Newbern's new and
gorgeous restaurant, where the diners, between courses and until late
after dinner, would dance to the strains of exotic and jerky music,
precisely as they did in the awful city.
Winona had not even debated a refusal. The boy should be gratified. Nor
did she try to convince herself that her motive was wholly altruistic.
She had suddenly wished to mingle in what she was persuaded would be a
scene of mad revelry. She had definitely abandoned the untrodden ways.
She thought that reading about war might have unsettled her ideals.
Anyway, they were unsettled. She was going to this place of the gay
night life--and she was going right!
It was while she still waited, perturbed but outwardly cool, that the
absorbed Sharon Whipple brushed her shoulder. She wondered if her secret
purpose had been divined. But Sharon apparently was engrossed by other
matters than the descent into frivolity of one who had long been
"Well," he said, beaming on her, "our boy is going over."
Winona was relieved.
"Yes, he's off, but he'll come back safe."
"Oh, I know that! Nothing could hurt him, but I'll miss the skeesicks."
He ruminated, then said pridefully: "That boy is what my son would have
been if I'd had one. You can't tell me any son of my get and raising
would have talked about his reactions when this time come!"
Winona winced ever so slightly at this way of putting it, but smiled
"Publishing magazines full of slander about George Washington, and this
new kind of stubby-ended poetry!"
"It is very different from Tennyson," said Winona.
"The other one's a man," went on Sharon. "You remember when you was
worried because he wouldn't settle down to anything? Well, you watch him
from now on! He hasn't got the book knowledge, but he's got a fine
outdoors education, and that's the kind we need most. Don't you see that
fine look in his eye--afraid of nothing, knowing how to do most
anything? His is the kind makes us a great country--outdoor boys from
the little towns and farms. They're the real folks. I'm awful proud of
him, though I ain't wanting that to get out on me. I been watching him
since he was in short pants. He's dependable--knows how. Say, I'm glad
he took to the outdoors and didn't want to dress up every day and be a
clerk in a store or a bank or some place like that. Wasn't it good?"
"Wasn't it?" said Winona, bravely.
"We need this kind in war, and we'll need it even more when the war is
over--when he comes back."
"When he comes back," echoed Winona. And then with an irrelevance she
could not control: "I'm going to a dance with him to-night." Her own
eyes were dancing strangely as she declared it.
"Good thing!" said Sharon. He looked her over shrewdly. "Seems to me
you're looking younger than you ought to," he said.
Winona pouted consciously for the first time in her hitherto honest
"You're looking almighty girlish," added Sharon with almost a leer, and
Winona suffered a fearful apprehension that her ribs were menaced by his
alert thumb. She positively could not be nudged in public. She must draw
the line somewhere, even if she had led him on by pouting. She stepped
quickly to the door of the Elite Bootery.
"He'll come back all right," said Sharon. "Say, did I ever tell you how
he got me to shootin' a good round of golf? I tried it first with the
wooden bludgeons, and couldn't ever make the little round lawns under
seven or eight--parties snickering their fool heads off at me. So I says
I can never make the bludgeons hit right. I don't seem to do more'n
harass the ball into 'em, so he says try an iron all the way. So I tried
the iron utensils, and now I get on the lawn every time in good shape, I
can tell you. Parties soon begun to snicker sour all at once, I want you
to know. It ain't anything for me to make that course in ninety-eight
or"--Sharon's conscience called aloud--"or a hundred and ten or fifteen
or thereabouts, in round numbers."
"I'm so glad," said Winona.
"I give him all the credit. And"--he turned after starting on--"he'll
come back--he'll come back to us!"
Winona drew a fortifying breath and plunged into the Elite Bootery. She
was perhaps more tight-lipped than usual, but to the not-too-acute
observer this would have betokened mere businesslike determination
instead of the panic it was. She walked grimly to a long bench, seated
herself, and placed her right foot firmly upon a pedestal, full in the
gaze of a clerk who was far too young, she instantly perceived, for
negotiations of this delicacy.
"I wish to purchase," she began through slightly relaxed lips, "a pair
of satin dancing slippers like those in your window--high-heeled, one
strap, and possibly with those jewelled buckles." She here paused for
another breath, then continued tremendously: "Something in a shade to
go with--with these!"
With dainty brazenness the small hand at her knee obeyed an amazing
command from her disordered brain and raised the neat brown skirt of
Winona a full two inches, to reveal a slim ankle between which and an
ogling world there gleamed but the thinnest veneer of tan silk.
Winona waited breathless. She had tortured herself with the possible
consequences of this adventure. She had even conceived a clerk of
forbidding aspect who would now austerely reply: "Woman, how dare you
come in here and talk that way? You who have never worn anything but
black cotton stockings, or lisle at the worst, and whose most daring
footwear has been a neat Oxford tie with low heels, such as respectable
women wear? Full well you know that a love for the sort of finery you
now describe--and reveal--is why girls go wrong. And yet you come
shamelessly in here--no, it is too much! You forget yourself! Leave the
place at once!"
Sometimes this improvisation had concluded with a homily in kinder
words, in which she would be entreated to go forth and try to be a
better woman. And sometimes, but not often, she had decided that a shoe
clerk, no matter his age, would take her request as a mere incident in
the day's trade. Other women wore such things, and perforce must buy
them in a public manner. She had steeled her nerve to the ordeal, and
now she flushed with a fine new confidence, for the clerk merely said,
"Certainly, madam"--in the later shops of Newbern they briefly called
you madam--and with a kind of weary, professional politeness fell to the
work of equipping her. A joyous relief succeeded her panic. She not only
declared a moment later that her instep was far too high, but fitted at
last in a slipper of suitable shade she raised her skirt again as she
posed before a mirror that reached the floor. Winona was coming on. Had
* * * * *
Late that afternoon, while a last bit of chiffon was being tacked to a
dancing frock which her mother had been told to make as fancy as she
pleased, Winona hastily scribbled in her journal: "Am I of a gay
disposition? Too gay, too volatile? No matter! It is an agreeable defect
where one retains discretion sufficient for its regulation. This very
night I am one of a party avowedly formed for pleasure, something my
reflective mind would once have viewed with disapprobation. But again no
matter. Perhaps I have been too analytical, too introspective. Perhaps
the war has confused my sense of spiritual values. War is such a
It was a flushed and sparkling Winona who later fluttered down the dull
old stairs of the respectable Penniman home at the call of the waiting
Wilbur Cowan. Her dark hair was still plainly, though rather
effectively, drawn about her small head--she had definitely rebuffed the
suggestion of her mother that it be marcelled--but her wisp of a frock
of bronze gossamer was revolutionary in the extreme. Mrs. Penniman had
at last been fancy in her dressmaking for her child, and now stood by to
exclaim at her handiwork. Winona, with surprising _aplomb_, bore the
scrutiny of the family while she pulled long white gloves along her bare
arms. A feathered fan dangled from one of them.
"Now, I guess you believe me," said Mrs. Penniman. "Haven't I always
said what a few little touches would do for you?" Proudly she adjusted a
filmy flounce to a better line. "And such lovely, lovely slippers!"
The slippers were indeed to be observed by one and all. The short
dancing frock was in that year.
Wilbur Cowan was appreciative.
"Some kid!" he cried; "an eyeful!"
Winona pouted for the second time that day, instead of rebuking him for
these low phrases of the street. Only Judge Penniman caviled.
"Well, I'd like to know what we're coming to," he grumbled. "The idee of
a mere chit like her goin' out to a place that's no better than a
saloon, even if you do guzzle your drinks at a table--and in a dug-out
Winona, instead of feeling rebuked, was gratified to be called a mere
chit. She pouted at the invalid.
"Poor father!" she loftily murmured, and stood while her mother threw
the evening cloak about her acceptable shoulders.
It was true that at the La Boheme alcoholic stimulant would be served to
those who desired it, but this was not compulsory, and the place was in
no sense a common saloon. Her father was old-fashioned, as he had shown
himself to be about the lawless new dance steps that Wilbur had been
teaching her. He had declared that if people performed such antics in
public without music they'd mighty soon find themselves in the lockup,
and Winona had not even shuddered. Now, as he continued to grumble at
this degeneracy, she gracefully tapped his arm with her fan. She had
read of this device being effectively employed by certain conquerors of
men, and coolly she tried it upon her father. She performed the trifle
gracefully, and it seemed of value audacious and yet nothing to be
misunderstood by a really clean-minded man. She tapped the judge again
as they left, with a minor variation of the technic. The judge little
knew that he but served as a dummy at target practice.
The car in which Wilbur conveyed his guest to the scene of revelry was
not of an elegance commensurate with Winona's. It was a mongrel of many
makes, small, battered, and of a complaining habit. He had acquired it
as a gift from one who considered that he bestowed trash, and had
transformed it into a thing of noisy life, knowing, as a mother knows of
her infant, what each of its squeaks and rattles implied. It was
distressing, in truth, to look upon, but it went. Indeed, the proud
owner had won a race with it from a too-outspoken critic who drove a
much superior car. It was Wilbur Cowan who first in Newbern discovered
that you could speed up a car by dropping a few moth balls into the
gasoline tank. He called his car the Can, but, unreasonably, was not too
cordial to others using the name.
The Can bore the pair to a fretful halt under the newest electric
lights on River Street. "The La Boheme" read the dazzling sign. And
Winona passed into her new life. She was feeling strangely young as she
relinquished her cloak to a uniformed maid. She stood amid exotic
splendour, and was no longer herself but some regal creature in the
Sunday supplement of a great city paper. She had always wanted to be a
girl, but had not known how--and now at thirty-five how easy it seemed!
She preceded Wilbur to a table for two, impressive with crystal and
damask, and was seated by an obsequious foreigner who brought to the act
a manner that had never before in Newbern distinguished this
service--when it had been performed at all.
Other tables about them were already filled with Newbern's elect,
thrilled as was Winona, concealing it as ably as she, with the town's
new distinction. Hardly had food been ordered when a hidden orchestra
blared and the oblong polished space of which their own table formed
part of the border was thronged with dancing couples. Winona glowingly
surrendered to the evil spell. Wilbur merely looked an invitation and
she was dancing as one who had always danced. She tapped him with her
fan as he led her back to the table where their first course had
arrived. She trifled daintily with strange food, composing a sentence
for her journal: "The whole scene was of a gayety hitherto unparalleled
in the annals of our little town."
There was more food, interspersed with more dancing. Later Winona, after
many sidewise perkings of her brown head, discovered Merle and Patricia
Whipple at a neighbouring table. She nodded and smiled effusively to
them. Patricia returned her greeting gayly; Merle removed a shining
cigarette holder of remarkable length and bowed, but did not smile. He
seemed to be aloof and gloomy.
"He's got a lot on his mind," said Wilbur, studying his brother
Merle's plenteous hair, like his cigarette holder, was longer than is
commonly worn by his sex, and marked by a certain not infelicitous
disorder. He had trouble with a luxuriant lock of it that persistently
fell across his pale brow. With a weary, world-worn gesture he absently
brushed this back into place from moment to moment. His thick eyeglasses
were suspended by a narrow ribbon of black satin. His collar was low and
his loosely tied cravat was flowing of line.
"Out of condition," said Wilbur, expertly. "Looks pasty."
"But very, very distinguished," supplemented Winona.
Patricia Whipple now came to their table with something like a dance
step, though the music was stilled. She had been away from Newbern for
"Europe and Washington," she hurriedly explained as Wilbur held a chair
for her, "and glad to get back--but I'm off again. Nurse! Begin the
course next week in New York--learning how to soothe the bed of pain. I
know I'm a rattlepate, but that's what I'm going to do. All of us mad
about the war."
Wilbur studied her as he had studied Merle. She was in better condition,
he thought. She came only to his shoulder as he stood to seat her, but
she was no longer bony. Her bones were neatly submerged. Her hair was
still rusty, the stain being deeper than he remembered, and the freckles
were but piquant memories. Here and there one shone faintly, like the
few faint stars showing widely apart through cloud crevices on a murky
night. Her nose, though no longer precisely trivial, would never be the
Whipple nose. Its lines were now irrevocably set in a design far less
noble. Her gown was shining, of an elusive shade that made Wilbur think
of ripe fruits--chiefly apricots, he decided. She was unquestionably
what she had confessed herself to be--a rattlepate. She rattled now,
with a little waiting, half-tremulous smile to mark her pauses, as if
she knew people would weigh and find her wanting, but hoped for
judgments tempered with mercy.
"Mad about the war? I should think so! Grandpa Gideon mad, and Harvey
D.--that dear thing's going to do something at Washington for a dollar a
year. You'd think it was the only honest money he'd ever earned if you
heard Merle talk about bankers sucking the life blood of the people.
Juliana taking charge of something and Mother Ella mad about
knitting--always tangled in yarn. She'll be found strangled in her own
work some day. And Uncle Sharon mad about the war, and fifty times
madder about Merle.
"D'you see Merle's picture in that New York paper yesterday?--all hair
and eyeglasses, and leaning one temple on the two first fingers of the
right hand--and guess what it said--'Young millionaire socialist who
denounces country's entrance into war!' Watch him--he's trying to look
like the picture now! Uncle Sharon read the 'millionaire socialist,' and
barked like a mad dog. He says: 'Yes, he'd be a millionaire socialist if
he was going to be any kind, and if he was going to be a burglar he'd
have to be one of these dress-suit burglars you always read about.'
"Of course he's awfully severe on Merle for not going to fight, but how
could he with his bad eyes? He couldn't see to shoot at people, poor
thing; and besides, he's too clever to be wasted like a common soldier.
He starts people to thinking--worth-while people. He says so himself.
Mixed up with all sorts of clever things with the most wonderful
names--garment workers and poet radicals and vorticists and new-arters
and everything like that, who are working to lift us up so nobody will
own anything and everybody can have what he wants. Of course I don't
understand everything they say, but it sounds good, so sympathetic,
don't you think?"
She had paused often with the little smile that implored pity for her
rattlepatedness. Now it prolonged itself as the orchestra became wildly
Winona had but half listened to Patricia's chatter. She had been staring
instead at the girl's hair--staring and wondering lawlessly. She had
seen advertisements. Might her own hair be like that--"like tarnished
gold," she put it? Of course you had to keep putting the stuff on at the
roots as it grew out. But would her colour blend with that shade?
Patricia's skin had the warm fairness of new milk, but Winona was
dusky. Perhaps a deeper tint of auburn----
She was recalled from this perilous musing by Rapp, Senior, who came
pressing his handkerchief to a brow damp from the last dance. He bowed
"May I have this pleasure?" he said. Winona rose like a woman of the
"We're on the map at last," said Rapp, Senior, referring to Newbern's
newest big-town feature.
"I know I'm on the map at last," said Winona, coyly, and tapped the arm
of Rapp, Senior, with her feathered trifle of a fan.
"Dance?" said Wilbur to Patricia.
"Thanks a heap! Merle won't. He says how can he dance when thinking of
free Russia? But did you see those stunning Russian dancers? It doesn't
keep them from dancing, does it? Poor old Merle is balmy--mice in his
They danced, and Patricia was still the rattlepate.
"You're going over, Uncle Sharon told us. Merle says you're a victim of
mob reaction--what does that mean? No matter. Pretty soon he said you'd
be only a private. Grandpa Gideon looked as if he had bitten into a
lemon. He says, 'I believe privates form a very important arm of the
service'--just like that. He's not so keen on Merle, but he won't admit
it. With him it's once a Whipple always a Whipple! When he saw Merle's
picture, leaning the beautiful head on the two long fingers and the hair
kind of scrambly, he just said, 'Ah, you young scamp of a socialist!' as
if he were saying, 'Oh, fie on you!' Merle can talk the whole bunch down
when he gets to shooting on all six--sounds good, but I've no doubt it's
just wise twaddle.
"What a stunning dancer you are! Ask me quick again so I won't have to
go back to free Russia. I'll promise to nurse you when you get wounded
over there. I'll have learned to do everything by that time. Wouldn't it
be funny if you were brought in some day with a lot of wounds and I'd
say, 'Why, dear me, that's someone I know! You must let me nurse him
back to health,' and of course they would. Anyway, the family's keen
about my going. They think I ought to do my bit, especially as Merle
can't, because of his eyes. Be sure you ask me again."
He asked her again and yet again. He liked dancing with her. Sometimes
when she talked her eyes were like green flames. But she talked of
nothing long and the flames would die and her little waiting smile come
entreating consideration for her infirmities.
"Now you be sure to come straight to me directly you're wounded," she
again cautioned him as they parted.
He shook hands warmly with her. He liked the girl, but he hoped there
would be other nurses at hand if this thing occurred; that is, if it
proved to be anything serious.
"Anyway, I hope I'll see you," he said. "I guess home faces will be
scarce over there."
She looked him over approvingly.
"Be a good soldier," she said.
Again they shook hands. Then she fluttered off under the gloomy charge
of Merle, who had remained austerely aloof from the night's gayety.
Wilbur had had but a few words with him, for Patricia claimed his time.
"You seem a lot older than I do now," he said, and Merle, brushing back
the errant lock, had replied: "Poor chap, you're a victim of the mob
reaction. Of course I'm older now. I'm face to face with age-long
problems that you've never divined the existence of. It does age one."
"I suppose so," agreed Wilbur.
He felt shamed, apologetic for his course. Still he would have some
plain fighting, Wall Street or no Wall Street.
He wrested a chattering Winona from Mrs. Henrietta Plunkett at the door
of the ladies' cloakroom. Mrs. Plunkett was Newbern's ablest exponent of
the cause of woman, and she had been disquieted this night at observing
signs of an unaccustomed frivolity in one of her hitherto stanchest
"I can't think what has come over you!" she had complained to Winona.
"You seem like a different girl!"
"I am a different girl!" boasted Winona.
"You do look different--your gown is wonderfully becoming, and what
lovely slippers!" Mrs. Plunkett inspected the aged debutante with kindly
eyes. "But remember, my dear, we mustn't let frivolities like this
divert our attention from the cause. A bit more of the good fight and we
shall have come into our own."
"All this wonderful mad evening I have forgotten the cause," confessed
"Mercy!" said Mrs. Plunkett. "Forgotten the cause? One hardly does that,
does one, without a reason?"
"I have reasons enough," said Winona, thinking of the new dancing
slippers and the frock.
"Surely, my dear, you who are so free and independent are not thinking
Winona had not been thinking of marriage. But now she did.
"Well"--she began--"of course, I----"
"Mercy! Not really! Why, Winona Penniman, would you barter your
independence for a union that must be demeaning, at least politically,
until our cause is won?"
"Well, of course----" Winona again faltered, tapping one minute toe of a
dancing slipper on the floor.
"Do you actually wish," continued Henrietta Plunkett, rising to the
foothills of her platform manner, "to become a parasite, a man's bond
slave, his creature? Do you wish to be his toy, his plaything?"
"I do!" said Winona low and fervently, as if she had spoken the words
under far more solemn auspices.
"Mercy me! Winona Penniman!"
And Wilbur Cowan had then come to bear her off to her room, that echoed
with strange broken music and light voices and the rhythmic scuffing of
feet on a floor--and to the privacy of her journal.
"I seem," she wrote, "to have flung wisdom and prudence to the winds.
Though well I know the fading nature of all sublunary enjoyments, yet
when I retire shortly it will be but to protract the fierce pleasure of
this night by recollection. Full well I know that Morpheus will wave his
ebon wand in vain."
Morpheus did just that. Long after Winona had protracted the fierce
enjoyment of the night to a vanishing point she lay wakeful, revolving
her now fixed determination to take the nursing course that Patricia
Whipple would take, and go far overseas, where she could do a woman's
work; or, as she phrased it again and again, be a girl of some use in a
In the morning she learned for the first time that Wilbur was to go to
war in company with a common prize fighter. It chilled her for the
moment, but she sought to make the best of it.
"I hope," she told Wilbur, "that war will make a better man of your