Part 6 out of 7
"What do you mean--a better man?" he quickly wanted to know. "Let me
tell you, Spike's a pretty good man right now for his weight. You ought
to see him in action once! Don't let any one fool you about that boy!
What do you expect at a hundred and thirty-three--a heavyweight?"
After he had gone, late that afternoon, after she had said a solemn
farewell to him in the little room of the little house in the side yard,
Winona became reckless. She picked up and scanned with shrewd eyes the
photograph of Spike that had been left: "To my friend Kid Cowan from his
friend Eddie--Spike--Brennon, 133 lbs. ringside."
She studied without wincing the crouched figure of hostile eye, even
though the costume was not such as she would have selected for a young
"After all, he's only a boy," she murmured. She studied again the intent
face. "And he looks as if he had an abundance of pepper."
She hoped she would be there to nurse them both if anything happened.
She had told Wilbur this, but he had not been encouraging. He seemed to
believe that nothing would happen to either of them.
"Of course we'll be shot at," he admitted, "but like as not they'll miss
Winona sighed and replaced the photograph. Now they would be a couple of
heads clustered with other heads at a car window; smiling, small-town
boys going lightly out to their ordeal. She must hurry and be over!
* * * * *
Wilbur, with his wicker suitcase, paused last to say goodbye to Frank,
the dog. Frank was now a very old dog, having reached a stage of yapping
senility, where he found his sole comfort in following the sun about the
house and dozing in it, sometimes noisily dreaming of past adventures.
These had been exclusively of a sentimental character, for Frank had
never been the fighting dog his first owner had promised he would be. He
was an arch sentimentalist and had followed a career of determined
motherhood, bringing into the world litter after litter of puppies,
exhibiting all the strains then current in Newbern. He had surveyed each
new family with pride--families revealing tinges of setter, Airedale,
Newfoundland, pointer, collie--with the hopeful air of saying that a dog
never knew what he could do until he tried. Now he could only dream of
past conquests, and merely complained when his master roused him.
"I hope you'll be here when I get back--and I hope I'll be here, too,"
said his master, and went on, sauntering up to the station a bit later
as nonchalantly as ever Dave Cowan himself had gone there to begin a
long journey on the six-fifty-eight. Spike Brennon lounged against a
baggage truck. Spike's only token of departure was a small bundle
covered with that day's _Advance_. They waited in silence until the
dingy way train rattled in. Then Sharon Whipple appeared from the
freight room of the station. He affected to be impatient with the
railway company because of a delayed shipment which he took no trouble
to specify definitely, and he affected to be surprised at the sight of
Wilbur and Spike.
"Hello! I thought you two boys went on the noon train," he lied,
carelessly. "Well, long as you're here you might as well take these--in
case you get short." He pressed a bill into the hand of each. "Good-bye
and good luck! I had to come down about that shipment should have been
here last Monday--it beats time what these railroads do with stuff
nowadays. Five days between here and Buffalo!"
He continued to grumble as the train moved on, even as the two waved to
him from a platform.
"A hundred berries!" breathed Spike, examining his bill. "Say, he sheds
it easy, don't he?"
They watched him where he stood facing the train. He seemed to have quit
grumbling; his face was still.
"Well, kid, here we go! Now it's up to the guy what examines us. You'll
breeze through--not a nick in you. Me--well, they're fussy about teeth,
I'm told, and, of course, I had to have a swift poke in the mush that
dented my beak. They may try to put the smother on me."
"Cheer up! You'll make the grade," said Wilbur.
Through the night he sat cramped and wakeful in the seat of a crowded
day coach, while Spike beside him slept noisily, perhaps owing to the
dented beak. His head back, he looked out and up to a bow moon that
raced madly with the train, and to far, pale stars that were still. He
wondered if any one out there noted the big new adventure down here.
Wilbur Cowan's fear that his brother might untimely stop the war proved
baseless. The war went on despite the _New Dawn's_ monthly exposure of
its motive and sinister aims; despite its masterly paraphrase of a
celebrated document declaring that this Government had been "conceived
in chicanery and dedicated to the industrial slavery of the masses." Not
even the new social democracy of Russia sufficed to inspire any
noticeable resistance. The common people of the United States had
refused to follow the example of their brothers of Russia and destroy a
tyranny equally hateful, though the _New Dawn_ again and again set forth
the advantages to accrue from such action. War prevailed. As the
Reverend Mallet said: "It gathered the vine of the earth and cast it
into the great wine press of the wrath of God."
But the little cluster of intellectuals on the staff of the _New Dawn_
persevered. Monthly it isolated the causative bacteria of unrest, to set
the results before those who could profit would they but read. Merle,
the modernist, at the forefront of what was known as all the new
movements, tirelessly applied the new psychology to the mind of the
common man and proved him a creature of mean submissions. He spoke of
"our ranks" and "our brave comrades of Russia," but a selective draft
had its way and an army went forward.
In Newbern, which Merle frequented between issues of the magazine, he
received perhaps less appreciation than was his due. Sharon Whipple was
blindly disparaging. Even Gideon was becoming less attentive when the
modernist expounded the new freedom. Gideon was still puzzled. He
quoted, as to war: "The sign of a mad world. God bless us out of it!"
But he was beginning to wonder if perhaps this newest Whipple had not,
with all his education, missed something that other Whipples had
Harvey D. had once or twice spoken with frank impatience of the _New
Dawn's_ gospel. And one Kate Brophy, cook at the Whipple New Place, said
of its apostle that he was "a sahft piece of furniture." Merle was
sensitive to these little winds of captiousness. He was now convinced
that Newbern would never be a cultural centre. There was a spirit of
Sharon Whipple, becoming less and less restrained as the months went on,
spoke of the staff of the _New Dawn_ in Merle's hearing. He called it a
cage of every unclean and hateful bird. Merle smiled tolerantly, and
called Sharon a besotted reactionary, warning him further that such as
he could never stem the tide of revolution now gathering for its full
sweep. Sharon retorted that it hadn't swept anything yet.
"Perhaps not yet--on the surface," said Merle. "But now we shall show
Sharon fell to a low sort of wit in his retort.
"Better not show your teeth to the Government!" he warned. "If you do
you want to have the address of a good dentist handy."
And after another month--when the magazine of light urged resistance to
the draft--it became apparent not only that the _New Dawn_ would not
stop the war, but that the war would incredibly stop the _New Dawn_. The
despoilers of America actually plotted to destroy it, to smother its
message, to adjust new shackles about the limbs of labour.
Sharon Whipple was the first of the privileged class to say that
something had got to be done by the family--unless they wanted to have
the police do it. Gideon was the second. These two despoilers of the
people summoned Harvey D. from Washington, and the conspiracy against
spiritual and industrial liberty ripened late one night in the library
of the Whipple New Place. It was agreed that the last number of the
_New Dawn_ went pretty far--farther than any Whipple ought to go. But it
was not felt that the time had come for extreme measures. It was
believed that the newest Whipple should merely be reasoned with. To this
end they began to reason among themselves, and were presently wrangling.
It developed that Sharon's idea of reasoning lacked subtlety. It
developed that Gideon and Harvey D. reasoned themselves into sheer
bewilderment in an effort to find reasons that would commend themselves
to Merle; so that this first meeting of the conspirators was about to
break up fruitlessly, when Sharon Whipple was inspired to a suggestion
that repelled yet pricked the other two until they desperately yielded
to it. This was that none other than Dave Cowan be called into
"He'll know more about his own son than we do," urged Sharon.
Harvey D.'s feeling of true fatherhood was irritated by this way of
putting it, but in the end he succumbed. He felt that his son was now
far removed from the sphere of Dave Cowan, yet the man might retain some
influence over the boy that would be of benefit to all concerned.
"He's in town," said Sharon. "He's a world romper, but he's here now. I
heard him to-day in the post office telling someone how many stars there
are in the sky--or something like that."
The following afternoon Dave Cowan, busy at the typesetting machine of
the Newbern _Advance_, Daily and Weekly, was again begged to meet a few
Whipples in the dingy little office of the First National. The office
was unchanged; it had kept through the years since Dave had last
illumined its gloom an air of subdued, moneyed discretion. Nor had the
Whipples changed much. Harvey D. was still neat-faced and careful of
attire, still solicitous of many little things. Gideon, gaunt and dour,
was still erect. His hair was white now, but the brows shot their
questioning glance straight. Sharon was as he had been, round-chested,
plump; perhaps a trifle readier to point the ends of the grizzled brows
in choleric amaze. The Whipple nose on all three still jutted forward
boldly. It was a nose never to compromise with Time.
Dave Cowan, at first glance, was much the same, even after he had
concealed beneath the table that half of him which was never quite so
scrupulously arrayed as the other. But a second glance revealed that the
yellow hair was less abundant. It was now cunningly conserved from ear
to ear, above a forehead that had heightened. The face was thinner, and
etched with new lines about the orator's mouth, but the eyes shone with
the same light as of old and the same willingness to shed its beams
through shadowed places such as first national banks. He no longer
accepted the cigar, to preserve in the upper left-hand waist coat pocket
with the fountain pen, the pencil, and the toothbrush. He craved rather
permission to fill and light the calabash pipe. This was a mere bit of
form, for he was soon talking so continuously that the pipe was no
longer a going concern.
Delay was occasioned at the beginning of the interview. It proved to be
difficult to convey to Dave exactly why he had been summoned. It
appeared that he did not expect a consultation--rather a lecture by
Dave Cowan upon life in its larger aspects. The Whipples, strangely,
were all not a little embarrassed in his presence, and the mere mention
of his son caused him to be informative for ten minutes before any of
them dared to confine the flow of his discourse within narrower banks.
He dealt volubly with the doctrines espoused by Merle, whereas they
wished to be told how to deal with Merle. As he talked he consulted from
time to time a sheaf of clippings brought from a pocket.
"A joke," began Dave, "all this socialistic talk. Get this from their
platform: They demand that the country and its wealth be redeemed from
the control of private interests and turned over to the people to be
administered for the equal benefit of all. See what they mean? Going to
have a law that a short man can reach as high as a tall man. Good joke,
yes? Here again: 'The Socialist Party desires the workers of America to
take the economic and political power from the capitalistic class.'
Going to pull themselves off the ground by their boot straps, yes? Have
a law to make the weak strong and the strong weak. Reads good, don't it?
And here's the prize joke--one big union: Socialist Party does not
interfere in the internal affairs of labour unions, but supports them in
all their struggles. In order, however, that such struggles might attain
the maximum of efficiency the socialists favour the closest organic
cooperation of all unions as one organized working body.
"Get that? Lovely, ain't it? And when we're all in one big union, who
are we going to strike against? Against ourselves, of course--like we do
now. Bricklayers striking against shoemakers and both striking against
carpenters, and all of 'em striking against the honest farmer and the
farmer striking back, because every one of 'em wants all he can get for
his labour and wants to pay as little as he has to for the other
fellow's labour. One big union, my eye! Socialists are jokes. You never
saw two of 'em yet that could agree on anything for ten minutes--except
that they want something for nothing."
The speaker paused impressively. His listeners stirred with relief, but
the tide of his speech again washed in upon them.
"They lack," said he, pointing the calabash pipe at Gideon Whipple,
sitting patiently across the table from him, "they lack the third eye of
wisdom." He paused again, but only as if to await applause. There was no
intimation that he had done.
"Dear me!" murmured Gideon, politely. The other Whipples made little
sounds of amazement and approval.
"You want to know what the third eye of wisdom is?" continued Dave, as
one who had read their secret thought. "Well, it's the simple gift of
being able to look at facts as they are instead of twisting 'em about as
they ain't. The most of us, savages, uneducated people, simples, and
that sort, got this third eye of wisdom without knowing it; we follow
the main current without knowing or asking why. But professors and
philosophers and preachers and teachers and all holy rollers like
socialists ain't got it. They want to reduce the whole blamed cosmos to
a system, and she won't reduce. I forget now just how many billion cells
in your body"--he pointed the pipe at Sharon Whipple, who stirred
uneasily--"but no matter." Sharon looked relieved.
"Anyway, we fought our way up to be a fish with lungs, and then we
fought on till we got legs, and here we are. And the only way we got
here was by competition--some of us always beating others. Holy rollers
like socialists would have us back to one cell and keep us there with
equal rewards for all. But she don't work that way. The pot's still
a-boiling, and competition is the eternal fire under it.
"Look at all these imaginary Utopias they write about--good stories,
too, about a man waking up three thousand years hence and finding
everything lovely. But every one of 'em, and I've read all, picture a
society that's froze into some certain condition--static. Nothing is!
She won't freeze! They can spray the fire of competition with speeches
all they like, but they can't put it out. Because why? Well, because
this life thing is going on, and competition is the only way it can get
on. Call it Nature if you want to. Nature built star dust out of
nothing, and built us out of star dust, but she ain't through; she's
still building. Old Evolution is still evoluting, and her only tool is
competition, the same under the earth and on the earth, the same out in
the sky as in these states.
"Of course there's bound to be flaws and injustice in any scheme of
government because of this same competition you can't get away from any
more than the planets can. There's flaws in evolution itself, only these
holy rollers don't see it, because they haven't got the third eye of
wisdom; they can't see that the shoemaker is always going to want all he
can get for a pair of shoes and always going to pay as little as he can
for his suit of clothes, socialism or no socialism.
"What would their one big union be? Take these unions that are striking
now all over the country. They think they're striking against something
they call capital. Well, they ain't. They're striking against each
other. Railroad men striking against bricklayers, shoemakers striking
against farmers, machinists striking against cabinetmakers, printers
striking against all of 'em--and the fools don't know it; think they're
striking against some common enemy, when all the time they're hitting
against each other. Oh, she's a grand bit of cunning, this Old
"This is all very interesting, Mr. Cowan"--Harvey D. had become uneasy
in his chair, and had twice risen to put straight a photograph of the
Whipple block that hung on the opposite wall--"but what we would like to
"I know, I know"--Dave silenced him with a wave of the calabash--"you
want to know what it's all about--what it's coming to, what we're here
for. Well, I can tell you a little. There used to be a catch in it that
bothered me, but I figured her out. Old Evolution is producing an
organism that will find the right balance and perpetuate itself
eternally. It's trying every way it knows to get these cells of
protoplasm into some form that will change without dying. Simple enough,
only it takes time. Think how long it took to get us this far out of
something you can't see without glasses! But forget about time. Our time
don't mean anything out there in the real world. Say we been produced in
one second from nothing; well, think what we'll become in another ten
seconds. We'll have our balance by that time. This protoplasm does what
it's told to do--that's how it made eyes for us to see, and ears to
hear, and brains to think with--so by that time we'll be really living;
we'll have a form that's plastic, and can change round to meet any
change of environment, so we won't have to die if it gets too cold or
too hot. We want to live--we all want to live; by that time we'll be
able to go on living.
"Of course we won't be looking much like we are now, we're pretty clumsy
machines so far. I suppose, for one thing, we'll be getting our
nourishment straight from the elements instead of taking it through
plants and animals. We'll be as superior to what we are now as he is to
a hoptoad." The speaker indicated Sharon Whipple with the calabash.
Sharon wriggled self-consciously. "And pretty soon people will forget
that any one ever died; they won't believe it when they read it in old
books; they won't understand it. This time is coming, as near as I can
figure it, in seven hundred and fifty thousand years. That is, in round
numbers, it might be an odd hundred thousand years more or less. Of
course I can't be precise in such a matter."
"Of course not," murmured Harvey D., sympathetically; "but what we were
wanting to get at--"
"Of course," resumed the lecturer, "I know there's still a catch in it.
You say, 'What does it mean after that?' Well, I'll be honest with you,
I haven't been able to figure it out much farther. We'll go on and on
till this earth dries up, and then we'll move to another, or build
one--I can't tell which--and all the time we're moving round something,
but I don't know what or why. I only know it's been going on
forever--this life thing--and we're a little speck in the current, and
it will keep going on forever.
"But you can bet this: It will always go on by competition. There won't
ever be any Utopia, like these holy rollers can lay out for you in five
minutes. I been watching union labour long enough to know that. But
she's a grand scheme. I'm glad I got this little look at it. I wouldn't
change it in any detail, not if you come to me with full power. I
couldn't think of any better way than competition, not if I took a
life-time to it. It's a sporty proposition."
The speaker beamed modestly upon his hearers. Gideon was quick to clutch
the moment's pause.
"What about this boy Merle?" he demanded before Dave could resume.
"Oh, him?" said Dave. "Him and his holy rolling? Is that all you want to
know? Why didn't you say so? That's easy! You've raised him to be a
house cat. So shut off his cream."
"A house cat!" echoed Harvey D., shocked.
"No education," resumed Dave. "No savvy about the world. Set him down in
Spokane with three dollars in his jeans and needing to go to Atlanta.
Would he know how? Would he know a simple thing like how to get there
and ride all the way in varnished cars?"
"Is it possible?" murmured Harvey D.
The Whipples had been dazed by the cosmic torrent, but here was
something specific;--and it was astounding. They regarded the speaker
with awe. They wanted to be told how one could perform the feat, but
dreaded to incur a too-wordy exposition.
"Not practical enough, I dare say," ventured Harvey D.
"You said it!" replied Dave. "That's why he's took this scarlet rash of
socialism and holy rolling that's going the rounds. Of course there are
plenty that are holy rollers through and through, but not this boy. It's
only a skin disease with him. I know him. Shut off his cream."
"I said the same!" declared Sharon Whipple, feeling firm ground beneath
his feet for the first time.
"You said right!" approved Dave. "It would be a shock to him," said
Harvey D. "He's bound up in the magazine. What would he say? What would
"Something pretty," explained Dave. "Something pretty and high-sounding.
Like as not he'd cast you off."
"Cast me off!" Harvey D. was startled.
"Tell you you are no longer a father of his. Don't I know that boy?
He'll half mean it, too, but only half. The other half will be showing
off--showing off to himself and to you people. He likes to be noticed."
Sharon Whipple now spoke.
"I always said he wouldn't be a socialist if he couldn't be a
"You got him!" declared Dave.
"I shall hate to adopt extreme measures," protested Harvey D. "He's
always been so sensitive. But we must consider his welfare. In a time
like this he might be sent to prison for things printed in that
"Trust him!" said Dave. "He wouldn't like it in prison. He might get
close enough to it to be photographed with the cell door back of
him--but not in front of him."
"He'll tell us we're suppressing free speech," said Harvey D.
"Well, you will be, won't you?" said Dave. "We ain't so fussy about free
speech here as they are in that free Russia that he writes about, but
we're beginning to take notice. Naturally it's a poor time for free
speech when the Government's got a boil on the back of its neck and is
feeling irritable. Besides, no one ever did believe in free speech, and
no government on earth ever allowed it. Free speakers have always had to
use judgment. Up to now we've let 'em be free-speakinger than any other
country has, but now they better watch out until the boat quits rocking.
They attack the machinery and try to take it apart, and then cry when
they're smacked. Maybe they might get this boy the other side of a cell
door. Wouldn't hurt him any."
"Of course," protested Harvey D., "we can hardly expect you to have a
father's feeling for him."
"Well, I have!" retorted Dave. "I got just as much father's feeling for
him as you have. But you people are small-towners, and I been about in
the world. I know the times and I know that boy. I'm telling you what's
best for him. No more cream! If it had been that other boy of mine you
took, and he was believing what this one thinks he believes, I'd be
telling you something different."
"Always said he had the gumption," declared Sharon Whipple.
"He's got the third eye," said Dave Cowan.
"We want to thank you for this talk," interposed Gideon Whipple. "Much
of what you have said is very, very interesting. I think my son will now
know what course to pursue."
"Don't mention it!" said Dave, graciously. "Always glad to oblige."
The consultation seemed about to end, but even at the door of the
little room Dave paused to acquaint them with other interesting facts
about life. He informed them that we are all brothers of the earth,
being composed of carbon and a few other elements, and grow from it as
do the trees; that we are but super-vegetables. He further instructed
them as to the constitution of a balanced diet--protein for building,
starches or sugar for energy, and fats for heating and also for their
The Whipples, it is to be feared, were now inattentive. They appeared to
listen, but they were merely surveying with acute interest the now
revealed lower half of Dave Cowan. The trousers were frayed, the shoes
were but wraiths of shoes. The speaker, quite unconscious of this
scrutiny, concluded by returning briefly to the problems of human
"We'll have socialism when every man is like every other man. So far
Nature hasn't made even two alike. Anyway, most of us got the third eye
of wisdom too wide open to take any stock in it. We may like it when we
read it in a book, but we wouldn't submit to it. We're too inquiring. If
a god leaned out of a cloud of fire and spoke to us to-day we'd put the
spectroscope on his cloud, get a moving picture of him, and take his
voice on a phonograph record; and we wouldn't believe him if he talked
Dave surveyed the obscure small-towners with a last tolerant smile and
"My!" said Gideon, which for him was strong speech.
"Talks like an atheist," said Sharon.
"Mustn't judge him harshly," warned Harvey D.
* * * * *
So it came that Merle Dalton Whipple, born Cowan, was rather
peremptorily summoned to meet these older Whipples at another
conference. It was politely termed a conference by Harvey D., though
Sharon warmly urged a simpler description of the meeting, declaring that
Merle should be told he was to come home and behave himself. Harvey D.
and Gideon, however, agreed upon the more tactful summons. They
discussed, indeed, the propriety of admitting Sharon to the conference.
Each felt that he might heedlessly offend the young intellectual by
putting things with a bluntness for which he had often been conspicuous.
Yet they agreed at last that he might be present, for each secretly
distrusted his own firmness in the presence of one with so strong an
appeal as their boy. They admonished Sharon to be gentle. But each hoped
that if the need rose he would cease to be gentle.
Merle obeyed the call, and in the library of the Whipple New Place,
where once he had been chosen to bear the name of the house, he listened
with shocked amazement while Harvey D., with much worried straightening
of pictures, rugs, and chairs, told him why Whipple money could no
longer meet the monthly deficit of the _New Dawn_. The most cogent
reason that Harvey D. could advance at first was that there were too
many Liberty Bonds to be bought.
Merle, with his world-weary gesture, swept the impeding lock from his
pale brow and set pained eyes upon his father by adoption. He was unable
to believe this monstrous assertion. He stared his incredulity. Harvey
D. winced. He felt that he had struck some defenseless child a cruel
blow. Gideon shot the second gun in this unhuman warfare.
"My boy, it won't do. Harvey is glossing it a bit when he says the money
is needed for bonds. You deserve the truth--we are not going to finance
any longer a magazine that is against all our traditions and all our
"Ah, I see," said Merle. His tone was grim. Then he broke into a dry,
bitter laugh. "The interests prevail!"
"Looks like it," said Sharon, and he, too, laughed dryly.
"If you would only try to get our point of view," broke in Harvey D. "We
He was superbly silenced by Merle, who in his best _New Dawn_ manner
exposed the real truth. The dollar trembled on its throne, the fat
bourgeoisie--he spared a withering glance for Sharon, who was the only
fat Whipple in the world--would resort to brutal force to silence those
who saw the truth and were brave enough to speak it out.
"It's the age-old story," he went on, again sweeping the lock of hair
from before his flashing glance. "Privilege throttles truth where it
can. I should have expected nothing else; I have long known there was no
soil here that would nourish our ideals. I couldn't long hope for
sympathy from mere exploiters of labour. But the die is cast. God
helping me, I must follow the light."
The last was purely rhetorical, for no one on the staff of the _New
Dawn_ believed that God helped any one. Indeed, it was rather felt that
God was on the side of privilege. But the speaker glowed as he achieved
"If you would only try to get our point of view," again suggested Harvey
D., as he straightened the Reading From Homer.
"I cannot turn aside."
"Meaning?" inquired Sharon Whipple.
"Meaning that we cannot accept another dollar of tainted money for our
great work," said Merle, crisply.
"Oh," said Sharon, "but that's what your pa just told you! You accepted
it till he shut off on you."
"Against my better judgment and with many misgivings," returned the
apostle of light. "Now we can go to the bitter end with no false sense
"But your magazine will have to stop, I fear," interposed Gideon gently.
Merle smiled wanly, shaking his head the while as one who contradicts
from superior knowledge.
"You little know us," he retorted when the full effect of the silent,
head-shaking smile had been had. "The people are at last roused. Money
will pour in upon us. Money is the last detail we need think of. Our
movement is solidly grounded. We have at our back"--he glanced defiantly
at each of the three Whipples--"an awakened proletariat."
"My!" said Gideon.
"You are out of the current here," explained Merle, kindly. "You don't
suspect how close we are to revolution. Yet that glorious rising of our
comrades in Russia might have warned you. But your class, of course,
never is warned."
"Dear me!" broke in Harvey D. "You don't mean to say that conditions are
as bad here as they were in Russia?"
"Worse--a thousand times worse," replied Merle. "We have here an
autocracy more hateful, more hideous in its injustices, than ever the
Romanoffs dreamed of. And how much longer do you think these serfs of
ours will suffer it? I tell you they are roused this instant! They await
only a word!"
"Are you going to speak it?" demanded Sharon.
"Now, now!" soothed Harvey D. as Merle turned heatedly upon Sharon, who
thus escaped blasting.
"I am not here to be baited," protested Merle.
"Of course not, my boy," said the distressed Harvey D.
Merle faced the latter.
"I need not say that this decision of yours--this abrupt withdrawal, of
your cooperation--must make a profound difference in our relations. I
feel the cause too deeply for it to be otherwise. You understand?"
"He's casting you off," said Sharon, "like the other one said he would."
"_Ssh_!" It was Gideon.
"I shall stay no longer to listen to mere buffoonery," and for the last
time that night Merle swept back the ever-falling lock. He paused at the
door. "The old spirit of intolerance," he said. "You are the sort who
wouldn't accept truth in France in 1789, or in Russia the other day."
And so he left them.
"My!" exclaimed Gideon, forcefully.
"Dear me!" exclaimed Harvey D.
"Shucks!" exclaimed Sharon.
"But the boy is goaded to desperation!" protested Harvey D.
"Listen!" urged Sharon. "Remember what his own father said! He's only
half goaded. The other half is showing off--to himself and us. That man
knew his own flesh and blood. And listen again! You sit tight if you
want to get him back to reason!"
"Brother, I think you're right," said Gideon.
"Dear me!" said Harvey D. He straightened an etched cathedral, and then
with a brush from the hearth swept cigar ashes deeper into the rug about
the chair of Sharon. "Dear me!" he sighed again.
* * * * *
Early the following morning Merle Whipple halted before the show window
of Newbern's chief establishment purveying ready-made clothing for men.
He was about to undergo a novel experience and one that would have
profoundly shocked his New York tailors. There were suits in the window,
fitted to forms with glovelike accuracy. He studied these
disapprovingly, then entered the shop.
"I want," he told the salesman, "something in a rough, coarse,
common-looking suit--something such as a day labourer might wear."
The salesman was momentarily puzzled, yet seemed to see light.
"Yes, sir--right this way, sir," and he led his customer back between
the lines of tables piled high with garments. He halted and spanned the
chest of the customer with a tape measure. From halfway down a stack of
coats he pulled one of the proper size.
"Here's a snappy thing, sir, fitted in at the back--belted--cuffs on
the trousers, neat check----"
But the customer waved it aside impatiently.
"No, no! I want something common--coarse cloth, roughly made, no style;
it mustn't fit too well."
The salesman deliberated sympathetically.
"Ah, I see--masquerade, sir?"
The customer again manifested impatience.
"No, no! A suit such as a day labourer might wear--a factory worker, one
of the poorer class."
The salesman heightened his manifestation of sympathy.
"Well, sir"--he deliberated, tapping his brow with a pencil, scanning
the long line of garments--"I'm afraid we're not stocked with what you
wish. Best go to a costumer, sir, and rent one for the night perhaps."
The customer firmly pushed back a pendent lock of hair and became
"I tell you it is not for a masquerade or any foolishness of that sort.
I wish a plain, roughly made, common-looking suit of clothes, not too
well fitting--the sort of things working people wear, don't you
"But certainly, sir; I understand perfectly. This coat here is what the
working people are buying; sold a dozen suits myself this week to some
of the mill workers--very natty, sir, and only sixty-five dollars. If
you'll look closely at the workers about town you'll see the same
suits--right dressy, you'll notice. I'm afraid the other sort of thing
has gone a little out of style; in fact, I don't believe you'll be able
to find a suit such as you describe. They're not being made. Workers are
buying this sort of garment." He picked up the snappy belted coat and
fondled its nap affectionately. "Of course, for a fancy-dress party----"
"No, no, no! I tell you it isn't a masquerade!"
The salesman seemed at a loss for further suggestions. The customer's
eye lighted upon a pile of coats farther down the line.
"What are those?"
"Those? Corduroy, sir. Splendid garments--suitable for the woods,
camping, hunting, fishing. We're well stocked with hunting equipment.
Will you look at them?"
"I suppose so," said the customer, desperately.
* * * * *
Late that afternoon the three older Whipples, on the piazza of the
Whipple New Place, painfully discussed the scene of the previous
evening. It was felt by two of them that some tragic event impended.
Sharon alone was cheerful. From time to time he admonished the other two
to sit tight.
"He'll tell you you ain't any longer a father of his, or a grandfather,
either, but sit tight!"
He had said this when Merle appeared before them as a car drew up to the
door. There was an immediate sensation from which even Sharon was not
immune. For Merle was garbed in corduroy, and the bagging trousers were
stuffed into the tops of heavy, high-laced boots. The coat was belted
but loose fitting. The exposed shirt was of brown flannel, and the gray
felt hat was low-crowned and broad of brim. The hat was firmly set on
the wearer's head, and about his neck was a wreath of colour--a knotted
handkerchief of flaming scarlet.
The three men stared at him in silent stupefaction. He seemed about to
pass them on his way to the waiting car, but then paused and confronted
them, his head back. He laughed his bitter laugh.
"Does it seem strange to see me in the dress of a common workingman?" he
"Dress of a what?" demanded Sharon Whipple. The other ignored this.
"You have consigned me to the ranks," he continued, chiefly to Harvey D.
"I must work with my hands for the simple fare that my comrades are able
to gain with their own toil. I must dress as one of them. It's absurdly
"My!" exclaimed Gideon.
Harvey D. was suffering profoundly, but all at once his eyes flashed
"Haven't those boots nails in them?" he suddenly demanded.
"I dare say they have."
"And you've been going across the hardwood floors?" demanded Harvey D.
"This is too absurd!" said Merle, grimly.
Harvey D. hesitated, then smiled, his alarm vanishing.
"Of course I was absurd," he admitted, contritely. "I know you must have
kept on the rugs."
"Oh, oh!" Again came the dry, bitter laugh of Merle.
"Say," broke in Sharon, "you want to take a good long look at the next
workingman you see."
Merle swept him with a glance of scorn. He stepped into the waiting car.
"I could no longer brook this spirit of intolerance, but I'm taking
nothing except the clothes I'm wearing," he reminded Harvey D. "I go to
my comrades barehanded." He adjusted the knot of crimson at his white
throat. "But they will not be barehanded long, remember that!"
Nathan Marwick started the car along the driveway. Merle was seen to
order a halt.
"Of course, for a time, at least, I shall keep the New York apartment.
My address will be the same."
The car went on.
"Did that father know his own flesh and blood--I ask you?" demanded
"Dear me, dear me!" sighed Harvey D.
"Poor young thing!" said Gideon.
Merle, on his way to the train, thought of his hat. He had not been able
to feel confidence in that hat. There was a trimness about it, an
assertive glamour, an air of success, that should not stamp one of the
oppressed. He had gone to the purchase of it with vague notions that a
labouring man, at least while actually labouring, wears a square cap of
paper which he has made himself. So he was crowned in all cartoons. But,
of course, this paper thing would not do for street wear, and the hat he
now wore was the least wealth-suggesting he had been able to find. He
now decided that a cap would be better. He seemed to remember that the
toiling masses wore a lot of caps.
A week later one of the New York evening papers printed an inspiring
view of Merle Dalton Whipple in what was said to be the rough garb of
the workingman. He stanchly fronted the world in a corduroy suit and
high-laced boots, a handkerchief knotted at his throat above a flannel
shirt, and a somewhat proletarian cap set upon his well-posed head. The
caption ran: "Young Millionaire Socialist Leaves Life of Luxury to be
A copy of this enterprising sheet, addressed in an unknown hand, arrived
at the Whipple New Place, to further distress the bereft family. Only
Sharon Whipple was not distressed. He remarked that the toiler was not
so simple as some people might think, and he urged that an inquiry be
set on foot to discover the precise nature of the toil now being engaged
in by this recruit to the ranks of labour. He added that he himself
would be glad to pay ninety dollars a month and board to any toiler
worth his salt, because Juliana was now his only reliable helper, and it
did seem as if she would never learn to run a tractor, she having no
gift for machinery. If Merle Whipple was bent on toil, why should he not
come to the Home Farm, where plenty of it could be had for the asking?
Both Harvey D. and Gideon rebuked him for this levity, reminding him
that he did not take into account the extreme sensitiveness of Merle.
Sharon merely said: "Mebbe so, mebbe not."
There came another issue of the _New Dawn_. It was a live issue, and
contained a piece by the associate editor entitled, This Unpopular War,
in which it was clearly shown that this war was unpopular. It was
unpopular with every one the writer had questioned; no one wanted it,
every one condemned it, even those actually engaged in it at Washington.
The marvel was that an army could continue to go forward with existing
public sentiment as the _New Dawn_ revealed it. But a better day was
said to be dawning. The time was at hand when an end would be put to
organized exploitation and murder, which was all that the world had thus
far been able to evolve in the way of a government.
In a foreword to the readers of the _New Dawn_, however, a faintly
ominous note was sounded. It appeared that the interests had heinously
conspired to suppress the magazine because of its loyalty to the ideals
of free thought and free speech. In short, its life was menaced. Support
was withdrawn by those who had suddenly perceived that the _New Dawn_
meant the death of privilege; that "this flowering of mature and
seasoned personalities" threatened the supremacy of the old order of
industrial slavery. The mature and seasoned personalities had sounded
the prelude to the revolution which "here bloodily, there peaceably, and
beginning with Russia, would sweep the earth." Capital, affrighted, had
drawn back. It was therefore now necessary that the readers of the _New
Dawn_ bear their own burden. If they would send in money in such sums as
they could spare--and it was felt that these would flow in abundantly
upon a hint--the magazine would continue and the revolution be a matter
of days. It was better, after all, that the cause should no longer look
to capital for favours. Contributors were to sign on the dotted line.
There were no more _New Dawns_. The forces of privilege had momentarily
prevailed, or the proletariat had been insufficiently roused to its
plight. The _New Dawn_ stopped, and in consequence the war went on. For
a time, at least, America must continue in that spiritual darkness which
the _New Dawn_ had sought to illumine.
Later it became known in Newbern that the staff of the _New Dawn_ would
now deliver its message by word of mouth. Specifically, Merle Whipple
was said to be addressing throngs of despairing toilers not only in New
York, but in places as remote as Chicago. Sharon Whipple now called him
a crimson rambler.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, news of the other Cowan twin trickled into Newbern through
letters from Winona Penniman, a nurse with the forces overseas. During
her months of training in New York the epistolary style of Winona had
maintained its old leisurely elegance, but early in the year of 1918 it
suffered severely under the strain of active service and became blunt to
the point of crudeness. The morale of her nice phrases had been
shattered seemingly beyond restoration.
"D--n this war!" began one letter to her mother. "We had influenza
aboard coming over and three nurses died and were buried at sea. Also,
one of our convoy foundered in a storm; I saw men clinging to the wreck
as she went down.
"Can it be that I once lived in that funny little town where they make a
fuss about dead people--flowers and a casket and a clergyman and careful
burial? With us it's something to get out of the way at once. And life
has always been this, and I never knew it, even if we did take the
papers at home. Ha, ha! Yes, I can laugh, even in the face of it. 'Life
is real, life is earnest'--how that line comes back to me with new
A succeeding letter from a base hospital somewhere in France spelled in
full certain words that had never before polluted Winona's pen. Brazenly
she abandoned the seemly reticence of dashes.
"Damn all the war!" she wrote; and again: "War is surely more hellish
than hell could be!"
"Mercy! Can the child be using such words in actual talk?", demanded
Mrs. Penniman of the judge, to whom she read the letter.
"More'n likely," declared the judge. "War makes 'em forget their home
training. Wouldn't surprise me if she went from bad to worse. It's just
a life of profligacy she's leadin'--you can't tell me."
"Nonsense!" snapped the mother.
"'And whom do you think I had a nice little visit with two days ago? He
was on his way up to the front again, and it was our Wilbur. He's been
in hot fighting three times already, but so far unscathed. But oh, how
old he looks, and so severe and grim and muddy! He says he is the
worst-scared man in the whole Army, bar none. He thought at first he
would get over his fright, but each time he goes in he hates worse and
worse to be shot at, and will positively never come to like it. He says
the only way he can get over being frightened is to go on until he
becomes very, very angry, and then he can forget it for a time. You can
tell by his face that it would be easy to anger him.
"'But do not think he is cowardly, even if habitually frightened,
because I also talked with his captain, who is an outspoken man, and he
tells me that Wilbur is a regular fighting so-and-so. These were his
very words. They are army slang, and mean that he is a brave soldier. A
young man, a Mr. Edward Brennon from Newbern, a sort of athlete, came
over with him, and they have been constantly together. I did not see
this Mr. Brennon, but I hear that he, too, is gallantly great, and also
a regular fighting so-and-so, as these rough men put it in their slang.
"'Wilbur spoke of Merle's writing about the war, and about America's
being rotten to the core because of capital that people want to keep
from the workingman, and he says he now sees that Merle must have been
misled; as he puts it in his crude, forceful way, this man's country has
come to stay. He says that is what he always says to himself when he has
to go over the top, while he is still scared and before he grows
angry--"This man's country has come to stay." He says this big American
Army would laugh at many of Merle's speeches about America and the war.
He says the country is greater than any magazine, even the best. Now my
rest hour is over, and I must go in where they are doing terrible things
to these poor men. For a week I have been on my feet eighteen hours out
of each twenty-four. I have just time for another tiny cigarette before
going into that awful smell.'
"Mercy!" cried the amazed mother.
"There you are!" retorted the judge. "Let her go into the Army and she
takes up smoking. War leads to dissipation--ask any one."
"I must send her some," declared Mrs. Penniman; "or I wonder if she
rolls her own?"
"Yes, and pretty soon we'll have the whole house stenched up worse'n
what Dave Cowan's pipe does it," grumbled the judge. "The idee of a girl
of her years taking up cigarettes! A good thing the country's going dry.
Them that smoke usually drink."
"High time the girl had some fun," returned his wife, placidly.
"Needn't be shameless about it," grumbled the judge. "A good woman has
to draw the line somewhere."
The unbending moralist later protested that Winona's letters should not
be read to her friends. But Mrs. Penniman proved stubborn. She softened
no word of Winona's strong language, and she betrayed something like a
guilty pride in revealing that her child was now a hopeless tobacco
A month later Winona further harassed the judge.
"'I think only about life and death,'" read Mrs. Penniman, "'and I'm
thinking now that the real plan of things is something greater than
either of them. It is not rounded out by our dying in the right faith.
Somehow it must go on and on, always in struggle and defeat. I used to
think, of course, that our religious faith was the only true one, but
now I must tell you I don't know what I am.'"
"My Lord!" groaned the horrified judge. "The girl's an atheist! That's
what people are when they don't know what they are. First swearing, then
smoking cigarettes, now forsaking her religion. Mark my words, she's
coming home an abandoned woman!"
"Stuff!" said Mrs. Penniman, crisply. "She's having a great experience.
Listen! 'You should see them die here, in all faiths--Jews, Catholics,
Protestants, and very, very many who have never enjoyed the consolation
of any religious teachings whatsoever. But they all die alike, and you
may think me dreadful for saying it, but I know their reward will be
equal. I don't know if I will come out of it myself, but I don't think
about that, because it seems unimportant. The scheme--you remember Dave
Cowan always talking about the scheme--the scheme is so big, that dying
doesn't matter one bit if you die trying for something. I couldn't argue
about this, but I know it and these wonderful boys must know it when
they go smiling straight into death. They know it without any one ever
having told them. Sometimes I get to thinking of my own little set
beliefs about a hereafter--those I used to hold--and they seem funny to
"There!" The judge waved triumphantly. "Now she's makin' fun of the
church! That's what comes of gittin' in with that fast Army set."
Mrs. Penniman ignored this.
"'Patricia Whipple feels the same way I do about these matters; more
intensely if that were possible. I had a long talk with her yesterday.
She has been doing a wonderful work in our section. She is one of us
that can stand anything, any sort of horrible operation, and never
faint, as some of the nurses have done. She is apparently at such times
a thing of steel, a machine, but she feels intensely when it is over and
she lets down.
"'You wouldn't know her. Thin and drawn, but can work twenty hours at a
stretch and be ready for twenty more next day. She is on her way up to a
first-aid station, which I myself would not be equal to. It is terrible
enough at this base hospital. For one who has been brought up as she
has, gently nurtured, looked after every moment, she is amazing. And, as
I say, she feels as I do about life and death and the absurd little
compartments into which we used to pack religion. She says she expects
never to get back home, because the world is coming to an end. You
would not be surprised at her thinking this if you could see what she
has to face. She is a different girl. We are both different. We won't
ever be the same again.'"
"Wha'd I tell you?" demanded the judge.
"'The war increases in violence--dreadful sights, dreadful smells. I am
so glad Merle's eyes kept him out of it. He would have been ill fitted
for this turmoil. Wilbur was the one for it. I saw him a few minutes the
other day, on his way to some place I mustn't write down. He said: "Do
you know what I wish?" I said: "No; what do you wish?" He said: "I wish
I was back in the front yard, squirting water on the lawn and flower
beds, where no one would be shooting at me, and it was six o'clock and
there was going to be fried chicken for supper and one of those
deep-dish apple pies without any bottom to it, that you turn upside down
and pour maple sirup on. That's what I wish."'"
"Always thinking of his stomach!" muttered the judge.
"'But he has gone on, and I can't feel distressed, even though I know it
is probable he will never come back. I know it won't make any difference
in the real plan, and that it is only important that he keep on being a
fighting so-and-so, as they say in the Army. It is not that I am
callous, but I have come to get a larger view of death--mere death. I
said good-bye to him for probably the last time with as little feeling
as I would have said good-bye to Father on departing for a three-days'
trip to the city.'"
"Naturally she'd forget her parents," said the judge. "That's what it
* * * * *
Late in June of that year the shattered remains of a small town
somewhere in France, long peaceful with the peace of death, became noisy
with a strange new life. Two opposing and frenzied lines of traffic
clashed along the road that led through it and became a noisy jumble in
the little square at its centre, a disordered mass of camions,
artillery, heavy supply wagons, field kitchens, ambulances, with
motorcycles at its edges like excited terriers, lending a staccato
vivacity to its uproar.
Artillery and soldiers went forward; supply wagons, empty, and
ambulances, not empty, poured back in unending succession; and only the
marching men, gaunt shapes in the dust, were silent. They came from a
road to the south, an undulating double line of silent men in
dust-grayed khaki, bent under a burden of field equipment, stepping
swiftly along the narrow, stone-paved street, heads down, unheeding the
jagged ruin of small shops and dwellings that flanked the way. Reaching
the square, they turned to cross a makeshift bridge--beside one of stone
that had spanned the little river but now lay broken in its shallow bed.
Beyond this stream they followed a white road that wound gently up a
sere hill between rows of blasted poplars. At the top of the rise two
shining lines of helmets undulated rhythmically below the view.
At moments the undulations would cease and the lines dissolve. The
opposing streams of traffic would merge in a tangle beyond extrication
until a halt enabled each to go its way. A sun-shot mist of fine dust
softened all lines until from a little distance the figures of men and
horses and vehicles were but twisting, yellowish phantoms, strangely
troubled, strangely roaring.
At these times the lines of marching men, halted by some clumsy clashing
of war machines, instantly became mere huddles of fatigue by the
wayside, falling to earth like rows of standing blocks sent over by a
Facing the square was a small stone church that had been mistreated. Its
front was barred by tumbled masonry, but a well-placed shell had widely
breached its side wall. Through this timbered opening could be seen rows
of cots hovered over by nurses or white-clad surgeons. Their forms
flashed with a subdued radiance far back in the shaded interior. Litter
bearers came and went.
From the opening now issued a red-faced private, bulky with fat. One of
his eyes was hidden from the public by a bandage, but the other
surveyed the milling traffic with a humorous tolerance. Though
propelling himself with crutches, he had contrived to issue from the
place with an air of careless sauntering. Tenderly he eased his bulk to
a flat stone, aforetime set in the church's facade, and dropped a crutch
at either side. He now readjusted his hat, for the bandage going up over
his shock of reddish hair had affected its fit. Next he placed an
inquiring but entirely respectful palm over the bandaged eye.
"Never was such a hell of a good eye, anyhow," he observed, and winked
the unhidden eye in testimony of his wit. Then he plucked from back of
an ear a half-smoked cigarette, relighted this, and leered humorously at
the spreading tangle before him.
"Naughty, naughtykins!" he called to a driver of four mules who had
risen finely to an emergency demanding sheer language. "First chance I
had to get a good look at the war, what with one thing and another," he
amiably explained to a sergeant of infantry who was passing.
Neither of his sallies evoked a response, but he was not rebuffed. He
wished to engage in badinage, but he was one who could entertain himself
if need be. He looked about for other diversion.
To the opening in the church wall came a nurse. She walked with short,
uncertain steps and leaned against the ragged edge of the wall, with one
arm along its stone for support. Her face was white and drawn, and for a
moment she closed her eyes and breathed deeply of the dust-laden air.
The fat private on the stone, a score of feet away, studied her
approvingly. She was slight of form and her hair beneath the cap was of
gold, a little tarnished. He waited for her eyes to open, then hailed
her genially as he waved at a tangle of camions and ambulances now
blocking the bridge.
"Worse'n fair week back home on Main Street, hey, sister?"
But she did not hear him, for a battered young second lieutenant with
one arm in a sling had joined her from the dusk of the church.
"Done up, nurse?" he demanded.
"Only for a second. We just finished something pretty fierce."
She pointed back of her, but without looking.
"Why not sit down on that stone?"
He indicated a fallen slab at her feet. She looked at it with frank
longing, but smiled a refusal.
"Dassent," she said. "I'd be asleep in no time."
"Cheer up! We'll soon finish this man's job."
The girl looked at him with eyes already freshened.
"No, it won't ever be finished. It's going on forever. Nothing but war
and that inside."
Again she pointed back without turning her head.
The second lieutenant waved toward the makeshift bridge. The girl
watched the muddle of wheeled things and stiffened with indignation.
"That's why it'll last so long," she said. "Because these officers of
ours can't learn anything. Look at that muddle--while men are dying on
beyond. You'd think they were a lot of schoolboys. Haven't they been
told to keep one road for their up traffic and another road for their
down traffic? But they wouldn't do it, because it was the British who
told 'em. But the British had found out, hadn't they? Catch them having
a senseless mix-up like that! But our men won't listen. They won't even
listen to me. I've told one general and six or seven colonels only this
morning. Told the general to keep certain roads for troops and wagons
going to the front, and other roads of traffic coming back to camps and
depots, and all he could say was that he hoped to God there wouldn't be
another war until the women could staff it."
"Hooray, hooray!" squeaked the listening private in a subdued falsetto
not meant to be overheard.
Then he turned to stare up the street of broken shop fronts. One of
these diverted his attention from the nurse. Above its door protruded a
bush, its leaves long since withered. He knew this for the sign of a
wine shop, and with much effort regained his feet to hobble toward it.
He went far enough to note that the bush broke its promise of
refreshment, for back of it was but dry desolation.
"_Napoo_!" he murmured in his best French, and turned to measure the
distance back to his stone seat. To this he again sauntered carelessly,
as a gentleman walking abroad over his estate.
The second lieutenant was leaving the nurse by the extemporized portal
of the church, though she seemed not to have done with exposing the
incompetence of certain staff officers. She still leaned wearily against
the wall, vocal with irritation.
"Bawl 'em out, sister! I think anything you think," called the private.
Then from his stone seat he turned to survey the double line of marching
men that issued from the street into the square. They came now to a
shuffling halt at a word of command relayed from some place beyond the
bridge, where a new jumble of traffic could be dimly discerned. The
lines fell apart and the men sank to earth in the shade of the broken
buildings across the square. The private waved them a careless hand,
with the mild interest of one who has been permanently dissevered from
One of them slouched over, gave the private a new cigarette, and
slouched back to his resting mates. In the act of lighting the cigarette
the fat private noted that another of these reclining figures had risen
and was staring fixedly either at him or at something beyond him. He
turned and perceived that the nurse and not himself must be the object
of this regard.
The risen private came on a dozen paces, halted hesitatingly, and stared
once more. The nurse, who had drooped again after the departure of the
second lieutenant, now drew a long breath, threw up her shoulders, and
half turned as if to reenter the church. The hesitating private,
beholding the new angle of her face thus revealed to him, darted swiftly
forward with a cry that was formless but eloquent. The nurse stayed
motionless, but with eyes widened upon the approaching figure. The
advancing private had risen wearily, and his first steps toward the
church had been tired, dragging steps, but for the later distance he
became agile and swift, running as one refreshed. The fat private on the
stone observed the little play.
The couple stood at last, tensely, face to face. The watcher beheld the
girl's eyes rest with wild wonder upon the newcomer, eyes that were
steady, questioning green flames. He saw her form stiffen, her shoulders
go back, her arms rise, her clenched hands spread apart in a gesture
that was something of fear but all of allure. The newcomer's own hands
widened to meet hers, the girl's wrists writhed into his tightened
grasp, her own hands clasped his arms and crept slowly, tightly along
the dusty sleeves of his blouse. Still her eyes were eyes of wild
wonder, searching his face. They had not spoken, but now the hands of
each clutched the shoulders of the other for the briefest of seconds.
Then came a swift enveloping manoeuvre, and the girl was held in a close
The watching private studied the mechanics of this engagement with an
expert eye. He saw the girl's arms run to tighten about the soldier's
neck. He saw her face lift. The soldier's helmet obscured much of what
ensued, and the watcher called softly. "Hats off in front!" Then
fastidiously dusting the back of one hand, he kissed it audibly. Behind
him, across the square, a score of recumbent privates were roused to
emulation. Dusting the backs of their hands they kissed them both
tenderly and audibly.
The two by the church were oblivious of this applause. Their arms still
held each other. Neither had spoken. The girl's face was set in wonder,
in shining unbelief, yet a little persuaded. They were apart the reach
of their arms.
"As you were!" ordered the fat private in low tones, and with a little
rush they became as they were. Again the girl's arms ran to tighten
about the soldier's neck. The watcher noticed their earnest
"I bet that lad never reads his dice wrong," he murmured, admiringly.
"Oh, lady, lady! Will you watch him June her!"
He here became annoyed to observe that his cigarette had been burning
wastefully. He snapped off its long ash and drew tremendously upon it.
The two were still close, but now they talked. He heard sounds of
amazement, of dismay, from the girl.
"Put a comether on her before she knew it," explained the private to
There followed swift, broken murmurs, incoherent, annoyingly, to the
listener, but the soldier's arms had not relaxed and the arms of the
girl were visibly compressed about his neck. Then they fell half apart
once more. The watcher saw that the girl was weeping, convulsed with
long, dry, shuddering sobs.
"As you were!" he again commanded, and the order was almost instantly
Presently they talked again, quick, short speech, provokingly blurred to
the private's ears.
"Louder!" he commanded. "We can't hear at the back of the hall."
The muffled talk went on, one hand of the girl ceaselessly patting the
shoulder where it had rested.
Now a real command came. The line of men rose, its head by the bridge
coming up first. The pair by the church drew apart, blended again
momentarily. The soldier sped back to his place, leaving the girl erect,
head up, her shining eyes upon him. He did not look back. The line was
The fat private saw his moment. He reached for his crutches and
laboriously came to his feet. Hands belled before his mouth, he
trumpeted ringingly abroad: "Let the war go on!"
An officer, approaching from the bridge, seemed suddenly to be stricken
with blindness, deafness, and a curious facial paralysis.
Once more the column undulated over the tawny crest of the hill. The
nurse stood watching, long after her soldier had become
indistinguishable in the swinging, grayish-brown mass.
"Hey, nurse!" the fat private, again seated, called to her.
To his dismay she came to stand beside him, refreshed, radiant.
"What you think of the war?" he asked.
He was embarrassed by her nearness. He had proposed badinage at a
"This war is nothing," said the girl.
"No?" The private was entertained.
"Nothing! A bore, of course, but it will end in a minute."
"Sure it will!" agreed the private. "Don't let no one tell you
"I should think not! This man's war won't bother me any more."
"Not any more?" demanded the private with insinuating emphasis.
"Not any more."
The private felt emboldened.
"Say, sister"--he grinned up at her--"that boy changed your view a lot,
"You mean to say you were here?" She flashed him a look of annoyance.
"Was I here? Sister, we was all here! The whole works was here!"
She reflected, the upper lip drawn down.
"Who cares?" she retorted. She turned away, then paused, debating with
herself. "You--you needn't let it go any farther, but I've got to tell
someone. It was a surprise. I was never so bumped in my whole life."
The private grinned again.
"Lady, that lad just naturally put a comether on you."
She considered this, then shook her head.
"No, it was more like--we must have put one on each other. It--it was
"Happy days!" cheered the private. She lighted him with the effulgence
of a knowing smile.
"Thanks a lot," she said.
The war went on.
* * * * *
In her next letter Winona Penniman wrote: "We moved up to a station
nearer the front last Tuesday. I spent a night with Patricia Whipple.
The child has come through it all wonderfully so far. A month ago she
was down and out; now she can't get enough work to do. Says the war
bores her stiff. She means to stick it through, but all her talk is of
going home. By the way, she told me she had a little visit with Wilbur
Cowan the other day. She says she never saw him looking better."
Two lines of helmeted men went over the crest of the hill. Private Cowan
was no longer conscious of aching feet and leaden legs or of the burden
that bowed his shoulders. There was a pounding in his ears, and in his
mind a verse of Scripture that had lingered inexplicably there since
their last billet at Comprey. His corporal, late a theological student,
had read and expounded bits of the Bible to such as would listen.
Forsaking beaten paths, he had one day explored Revelations. He had
explained the giving unto seven angels of seven golden vials of the
wrath of God, but later came upon a verse that gave him pause:
"And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the
sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve
It seemed that everything in Revelations had a hidden meaning, and the
expert found this obscure. There had been artless speculation among the
listeners. A private with dice had professed to solve the riddle of the
Number Seven, and had even alleged that twelve might be easier to throw
if one kept repeating the verse, but this by his fellows was held to be
rank superstition. No really acceptable exposition had been offered of
the woman clothed with the sun, and under her feet the moon, and upon
her head a crown of twelve stars.
Wilbur Cowan, marching up the hill, now sounded the words to himself;
they went with that pounding in his ears. At last he knew what they
meant--a great wonder in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, and under
her feet the moon. Over and over he chanted the words.
So much was plain to him. But how had it come about? They had looked,
then enveloped each other, not thinking, blindly groping. They had been
out of themselves, not on guard, not held by a thousand bands of old
habit that back in Newbern would have restrained them. Lacking these,
they had rushed to that wild contact like two charged clouds, and
everything was changed by that moment's surrender to some force beyond
their relaxed wills. Something between them had not been, now it was;
something compelling; something that had, for its victory, needed only
that they confront each other, not considering, not resisting, biddable.
In his arms she had cried: "But how did we know--how did we know?"
He had found no answer. Holding her fiercely as he did, it seemed enough
that they did know. He had surrendered, but could not reason--was even
At the last she had said: "But if it shouldn't be true; if it's only
because we're both worn down and saw someone from home. Suppose it's
She had broken off to thump his shoulder in reassurance, to cling more
abjectly. It was then she had wept, shakingly, in a vast impatience with
herself for trying to reason.
"It is true! It is true--it's true, it's true!" she had told him with
piteous vehemence, then wilted again to his support, one hand stroking
his dusty cheek.
When the command had come down the line she seemed about to fall, but
braced herself with new strength from some hidden source. When he
released her she stood erect, regarding him with something of the
twisted, humorous quirk about her lips that for an instant brought her
back to him as the little girl of long ago. Not until then had he been
able to picture her as Patricia Whipple. Then he saw. Her smile became
"You've gone and spoiled the whole war for me!" she called to him.
* * * * *
The war, too, had been spoiled for Private Cowan. He was unable to keep
his mind on it. Of the Second Battle of the Marne he was to remember
little worth telling.
Two nights later they came to rest in the woods back of St. Eugene, in
the little valley of the Surmelin, that gateway to Paris from the
farthest point of the second German drive. It was a valley shining with
the gold of little wheat fields, crimson-specked with poppies. It
recalled to Private Cowan merely the farmland rolling away from that old
house of red brick where he had gone one day with Sharon
Whipple--yesterday it might have been. Even the winding creek--though
the French called theirs a river--was like the other creek, its course
marked by a tangle of shrubs and small growths; and the sides of the
valley were flanked familiarly with stony ridges sparsely covered with
second-growth timber. Newbern, he kept thinking, would lie four miles
beyond that longest ridge, and down that yellow road Sharon Whipple
might soon be driving his creaking, weathered buggy and the gaunt roan.
The buggy would sag to one side and Sharon would be sitting
"slaunchwise," as he called it. Over the ridge, at Newbern's edge, would
be the bony little girl who was so funny and willful.
They moved forward to the south bank of the Marne. Beyond that
fifty-yard stream lay the enemy, reported now to be stacking up drive
impedimenta. The reports bored Private Cowan. He wished they would hurry
the thing through. He had other matters in hand. A woman clothed with
the sun, and under her feet the moon, and upon her head a crown of--he
could not make the crown of stars seem right. She was crowned with a
nurse's cap, rusty hair showing beneath, and below this her wan,
wistful, eager face, the eyes half shutting in vain attempts to reason.
The face would be drawn by some inner torment; then its tortured lines
melt to a smile of sure conviction. But she was clothed with the sun,
and the moon was under her feet. So much he could make seem true.
The dark of a certain night fell on the waiting regiment. Crickets
sounded their note, a few silent birds winged furtively overhead.
Rolling kitchens brought up the one hot meal of the day, to be taken to
the front by carrying parties. Company commanders made a last
reconnaissance of their positions. For Private Cowan it was a moment of
double waiting. Waiting for battle was now secondary. In a tiny slit
trench on the forward edge of a railway embankment Private Brennon
remarked upon the locomotion of the foreign frog.
"Will you look at 'em walk!" said Spike. "Just like an animal! Don't
they ever learn to hop like regular gorfs?"
Said Private Cowan: "I suppose you saw that girl back there the other
"Me and the regiment," said Spike, and chewed gum discreetly.
"She's a girl from back home. Funny! I'd never taken much notice of her
"You took a-plenty back there. You've raised your average awful high.
I'll say it!"
"I hardly knew what I was doing."
"Didn't you? We did!"
"Since then sometimes I forget what we're here for."
"Don't worry, kid! You'll be told."
"It's funny how things happen that you never expected, but afterward you
see it was natural as anything."
* * * * *
At midnight the quiet sky split redly asunder. German guns began to feel
a way to Paris. The earth rocked in a gentle rhythm under a rain of
shells. Shrapnel and gas lent vivacity to the assault. Guns to their
utmost reach swept the little valley like a Titan's sickle. Private
Cowan nestled his cheek against the earthen side of his little slit
trench and tried to remember what she had worn that last night in
Newbern. Something glistening, warm in colour, like ripe fruit; and a
rusty braid bound her head. She had watched, doubtfully, to see if
people were not impatient at her talk. A rattlepate, old Sharon called
her. She was something else now; some curious sort of woman, older, not
afraid. She wouldn't care any more if people were impatient.
At four o'clock of that morning the bombardment of the front line gave
way to a rolling barrage. Close behind this, hugging it, as the men
said, came gray waves of the enemy. It was quieter after the barrage had
passed: only the tack-tack of machine guns and the clash of meeting
"Going to have some rough stuff," said Private Brennon.
For a long time then Private Cowan was so engrossed with the routine of
his present loose trade that the name of Whipple seemed to have no room
in his mind. For four hours he had held a cold rifle and thought. Now
the gun was hot, its bayonet wet, and he thought not at all. When it was
over he was one of fifty-two men left of his company that had numbered
two hundred and fifty-one. But his own uniform would still be clean of
Two divisions of German shock troops had broken against a regiment of
American fighting men.
"I don't like fighting any more," said Private Cowan.
"Pushed 'em across the crick," said Private Brennon. "Now we chase 'em!"
So they joined the chase and fought again at Jaulgonne, where it rained
for three days and nights, and Private Cowan considered his life in
danger because he caught cold; it might develop into pneumonia. He
didn't want to get sick and die--not now. It had not, of late, occurred
to him that he would be in any danger save from sickness. But he threw
off the menacing cold and was fit for the big battle at Fismes,
stubbornly pronounced "Fissims" by Private Brennon, after repeated
Private Cowan thought now, when not actually engaged at his loose trade,
of his brother. He wished the boy could have been with him. He would
have learned something. He would have learned that you feel differently
about a country if once you fight for it. His country had been only a
name; he had merely ached to fight. Now he hated fighting; words could
never tell how he loathed it; but his country had become more than a
name. He would fight again for that. He wished Merle could have had this
new feeling about his country.
It was before Fismes, being out where he had no call to be, and after
winning a finish fight with a strangely staring spectacled foe, that he
stumbled across the inert form of Private Brennon, who must also have
gone where he had no call to go. He leaned over him. Spike's mask was
broken, but half adjusted. He shouldered the burden, grunting as he did
so, angered by the weight of it. He was irritated, too, by men who were
firing at him, but his greater resentment was for Spike's unreasonable
"You son of a gun--hog fat! Overweight, that's what you are! You'll
never make a hundred and thirty-three again, not you! Gee, gosh, a light
heavyweight, that's what you are!"
He complained to the unhearing Spike all the way back to a dressing
station, though twice refusing help to carry his load.
"Mustard gas," said the surgeon.
He was back there when Spike on his stretcher came violently to life.
"What a dark night!" said Spike between two of the spasms that wrenched
him. "Can't see your hand before your face!"
"Say, you're hog fat!" grumbled Private Cowan. "You weigh a ton!"
"It's dark, but it feels light--it's warm."
Private Cowan leaned to shield the sun from Spike's garbled face.
"Sure it's dark!" said he.
"Can't see your hand before your face!"
Spike was holding up a hand, thumb and fingers widely spread, moving it
before his sightless eyes.
"You got to go back. You're too fat to be up here."
He rested his hand on Spike's forehead but withdrew it quickly when
He went on with the war; and the war went on.
* * * * *
"You would never guess," wrote Winona, "who was brought to this base
hospital last week. It was the Mr. Brennon I wrote you of, Mr. Edward
Brennon, the friend of Wilbur's who went with him from Newbern. He is
blind from gas, poor thing! Our head surgeon knew him. It seems he is
one of the prettiest lightweights the head surgeon ever saw in action, a
two-handed fighter with a good right and a good left. These are terms
used in the sport of boxing.
"Of course he knows he is blind, but at first he thought he was
only in the dark. Wilbur had told him of me. The most curious
misunderstanding--he is positive he once saw me at home. Says I am the
prettiest thing he ever looked at, and don't I remember coming into the
post office one day in a white dress and white shoes and a blue parasol
and getting some mail and going out to a motor where some people waited
for me? The foolish thing insists I have blue eyes and light brown hair
and I was smiling when I looked at him in passing; not smiling at him,
of course, but from something the people in the car had said; and I had
one glove off and carried the other with the blue sunshade. And I think
he means a girl from Rochester that visited the Hendricks, those mill
people, summer before last. She was pretty enough, in a girlish way, but
not at all my type. But I can't convince Edward it was not I he saw. I
have given up trying. What harm in letting him think so? He says,
anyway, he would know I am beautiful, because he can feel it even if I
come into the room. Did you ever hear such talk? But I am looking a lot
better, in spite of all I have been through.
"I had a week in Paris last month, and bought some clothes, a real Paris
dress and things." You would not know me in the new outfit. The skirt is
of rather a daring shortness, but such is the mode now, and I am told it
becomes me. Poor Edward, he is so patient, except for spells when he
seems to go mad with realizing his plight. He is still a man. His
expression is forceful. He doesn't smoke, and warns me against it,
though the few cigarettes I allow myself are a precious relief. But I
have promised him to give up the habit when the war is over. He is a
strong man, but helpless. He still believes I am the pretty thing he saw
in the post office. The skirt is pleated, light summer stuff, and falls
in a straight line. Of course I have the shoes and stockings that go
"There!" exploded the judge. "Taking up with prize fighters--traipsing
round in a regular French dress, looking like something she's not
supposed to be!"
"Lysander!" rebuked his wife hotly.
"He tells me lots about Wilbur," continued the letter. "He hints that
the boy is in love, but will say nothing definite. Men are so
close-mouthed. I hope our boy doesn't marry some little French anybody.
His face is not exactly pleasant to look upon for the time being, but he
has a very winning personality."
"Who's she mean that for?" demanded the Judge, truculently. "The Cowan
On a day late in June of 1919 Wilbur Cowan dropped off the noon train
that paused at Newbern Center. He carried the wicker suitcase he had
taken away, and wore the same clothes. He had the casual, incurious look
of one who had been for a little trip down the line. No one about the
station heeded him, nor did he notice any one he knew. There was a new
assemblage of station loafers, and none of these recognized him.
Suitcase in hand, his soft hat pulled well down, he walked quickly round
the crowd and took a roundabout way through quiet streets to the
The town to his eye had shrunk; buildings were not so high as he
remembered them, wide spaces narrower, streets shorter, less thronged.
On his way he met old Mr. Dodwell, muffled about the throat, though the
day was hot, walking feebly, planting a stout cane before him. Mr.
Dodwell passed blinking eyes over him, went on, then turned to call
"Ain't that Wilbur Cowan? How de do, Wilbur? Ain't you been away?"
"For a little while," answered Wilbur. "Thought I hadn't seen you for
some time. Hot as blazes, ain't it?"
He came to the Penniman place at the rear. The vegetable garden, lying
between the red barn and the white house, was as he had known it,
uncared for, sad, discouraged. The judge's health could be no better. On
bare earth at the corner of the woodshed Frank, the dog, slumbered
fitfully in the shade. He merely grumbled, rising to change his posture,
when greeted. Feebly he sniffed the newcomer. It could be seen that his
memory was stirred, but his eyes told him nothing; he had a complaining
air of saying one met so many people. It was beyond one to place them
all. He whimpered when his ears were rubbed, seeming to recall a
familiar touch. Then with a deep sigh he fell asleep once more. His
master took up the suitcase and gained, without further encounters, the
little room in the side-yard house. Yet he did not linger here. He kept
seeing a small, barefoot boy who rummaged in a treasure box labelled
"Cake." This boy made him uncomfortable. He went round to the front of
the other house. On the porch, behind the morning-glory vine, Judge
Penniman in his wicker chair languidly fanned himself, studying a
thermometer held in his other hand. He glanced up sharply.
"Well, come back, did you?"
"Yes, sir," said Wilbur, and sat on the top step to fan himself with his
hat. "Warm, isn't it?"
The judge brightened.
"Warm? Warm ain't any name for it! We been having a hot spell nobody
remembers the like of, man nor boy, for twenty years. Why, day before
yesterday--say, I wish you'd been here! Talk about suffering! I was
having one of my bad days, and the least little thing I'd do I'd be
panting like a tuckered hound. Say, how was the war?"
"Oh, so-so," answered the returned private.
"You tell it well. Seems to me if I'd been off skyhootin' round in
foreign lands--say, how about them French women? Pretty bold lot, I
guess, if you can believe all you--"
The parrot in its cage at the end of the porch climbed to a perch with
beak and claw.
"Flapdoodle, Flapdoodle, Flapdoodle!" it screeched. The judge glared
murderously at it.
"Wilbur Cowan, you bad, bad, bad child--not to let us know!" Mrs.
Penniman threw back the screen door and rushed to embrace him. "You
regular fighting so-and-so!" she sobbed.
"Where'd you get that talk?" he demanded.
Mrs. Penniman wiped her eyes with a dish towel suspended from one arm.
"Oh, we heard all about you!"
She was warm, and shed gracious aromas. The returned one sniffed these.
"It's chops," he said--"and--and hot biscuits."
"And radishes from the garden, and buttermilk and clover honey and
raspberries, and--let me see--"
"Let's go!" said the soldier.
"Then you can tell us all about that war," said the invalid as with
groans he raised his bulk from the wicker chair.
"What war?" asked Wilbur.
* * * * *
He spent the afternoon in the little room, where he would glance up to
find the small, barefoot boy staring at him in wonder; and out in the
Penniman front yard, where the summer flowers bloomed. These
surroundings presented every assurance of safety, yet his restless,
wide-sweeping gaze was full of caution, especially after the aeroplane
went over. At the first ominous note of its droning he had broken for
cover. After that, in spite of himself, he would be glancing uneasily at
the Plummer place across the road. This was fronted by a hedge of
cypress--ideal machine-gun cover. But not once during the long afternoon
was he shot at. He brought out and repaired the lawn mower, oiled its
rusted parts and ran it gayly over the grass. At suppertime, when Dave
Cowan came, he was wetting the shorn sward with spray from a hose.
"Back?" said Dave, peering as at a bit of the far cosmos flung in his
"Back," said his son.
They shook hands.
"You haven't changed any," said Wilbur, scanning Dave's placid face
under the straw hat and following the lines of his spare figure down to
the vestiges of a once noble pair of shoes.
"You only been away two years," said Dave. "I wouldn't change much in
that time. That's the way of the mind, though. We always forget how
slowly evolution works its wonders. Anyhow, you know what they say in
our trade--when a printer dies he turns into a white mule. I'm no white
mule yet. You've changed, though."
"I didn't know it."
"Face harder--about ten years older. Kind of set and sour looking. Ever
laugh any more?"
"Of course I laugh."
"You don't look it. Never forget how to laugh. It's a life-saver. Laugh
even at wars and killings. Human life in each of us isn't much. It's
like that stream you're spreading over the ground. The drops fall back
to earth, but the main stream is constant. That's all the life force
cares about--the main stream. Doesn't care about the drops; a few more
or less here and there make no difference."
"Yes, sir," said Wilbur.
Dave Cowan scanned the front of the house. The judge was not in sight.
He went softly to lean above the parrot's cage and in low, wheedling
tones, uttered words to it.
"Flapdoodle, Flapdoodle, Flapdoodle!" screeched the parrot in return,
and laughed harshly. The bird was a master of sarcastic inflection.
Dave came back looking pleased and proud.
"Almost human," he declared. "Kept back a few million years by
accident--our little feathered brother." He gestured toward the house.
"Old Flapdoodle, in there, he's a rabid red these days. Got tired of
being a patriot. Worked hard for a year trying to prove that Vielhaber
was a German spy, flapping his curtain at night to the German Foreign
Office. But no one paid any attention to him except a few other
flapdoodles, so then he began to read your brother's precious words, and
now he's a violent comrade. Fact! expecting any day that the workers
will take things over and he'll come into money--money the interests
have kept him out of. He kind of licks his chops when he talks about it.
Never heard him talk about his wife's share, though. Say, that brother
of yours is making a plumb fool of himself!"
"He didn't understand."
"No--and he doesn't yet."
"Where is he now?"
"Oh"--Dave circled a weary hand to the zenith--"off somewhere
holy-rolling. Gets his name in the papers--young poet radical that
abandoned life of luxury to starve with toiling comrades. Say, do you
know what a toiling comrade gets per day now? No matter. Your brother
hasn't toiled any. Makes red-hot speeches. That Whipple bunch reared at
last and shut off his magazine money, so he said he couldn't take
another cent wrung from the anguished sweat of serfs. But it ain't his
hands he toils with, and he ain't a real one, either. Plenty of real
ones in his bunch that would stand the gaff, but not him. He's a shine.
Of course they're useful, these reds. Keep things stirred up--human
yeast cakes, only they get to thinking they're the dough, too. That
brother of yours knows all the lines; says 'em hot, too, but that's only
so he'll get more notice. Say, tell us about the war.
"It was an awful big one," said his son.
* * * * *
Soon after a novel breakfast the following morning--in that it was late
and leisurely and he ate from a chair at a table--he heard the squealing
brakes of a motor car and saw one brought to a difficult stop at the
Penniman gate. Sharon Whipple, the driver, turned to look back at the
machine indignantly, as if it had misbehaved. Wilbur Cowan met him at
It became Sharon's pretense that he was not hugging the boy, merely
feeling the muscles in his shoulders and back to see if he were as good
a lightweight as ever. He pounded and thumped and punched and even made
as if to wrestle with the returned soldier, laughing awkwardly through
it; but his florid face had paled with the excitement.
"I knew you'd come back! Old Sammy Dodwell happened to mention he'd seen
you; said he hadn't noticed you before for most a month, he thought. But
I knew you was coming, all right! Time and time again I told people you
would. Told every one that. I bet you had some narrow escapes, didn't
Wilbur Cowan considered.
"Well, I had a pretty bad cold in the Argonne."
"I want to know!" said Sharon, much concerned. He pranced heavy-footedly
before the other, thumping his chest. "Well, I bet you threw it off! A
hard cold ain't any joke. But look here, come on for a ride!"
They entered the car and Sharon drove. But he continued to bubble with
questions, to turn his head and gesture with one hand or the other. The
passenger applied imaginary brakes as they missed a motor truck.
"Better let me take that," he suggested, and they changed seats.
"Out to the Home Farm," directed Sharon. "You ain't altered a mite," he
went on. "Little more peaked, mebbe--kind of more mature or judgmatical
or whatever you call it. Well, go on--tell about the war."
But there proved to be little to tell, and Sharon gradually wearied from
the effort of evoking this little. Yes, there had been fights. Big ones,
lots of noise, you bet! The food was all right. The Germans were good
fighters. No; he had not been wounded; yes, that was strange. The French
were good fighters. The British were good fighters. They were all good
"But didn't you have any close mix-ups at all?" persisted Sharon.
"Oh, now and then; sometimes you couldn't get out of it."
"Well, my shining stars! Can't you tell a fellow?"
"Oh, it wasn't much! You'd be out at night, maybe, and you'd meet one,
and you'd trade a few punches, and then you'd tangle."
"And you'd leave him there, eh?"
"Who did win the war, anyway?" Sharon was a little irritated by this
The other grinned.
"The British say they won it, and the last I heard the French said it
was God Almighty. Take your choice. Of course you did hear other gossip
going round--you know how things get started."
"I should think as much. Great prunes and apricots! I should think there
would of been talk going round! Anyway, it was you boys that stopped the
fight. I guess they'd admit that much--small-towners like you that was
ready to fight for their country. Dear me, Suz! I should think as much!"
On the crest of a hill overlooking a wide sweep of valley farmland the
driver stopped the car in shade and scanned the fields of grain where
the green was already fading.
"There's the Home Farm," said Sharon. "High mighty! Some change since my
grandad came in here and fit the Injins and catamounts off it. I wonder
what he'd say if he could hear what I'm paying for farm help right
now--and hard to get at that. I don't know how I've managed. See that
mower going down there in the south forty? Well, the best man I've had
for two years is cutting that patch of timothy. Who do you guess? It's
my girl, Juliana. She not only took charge for me, but she jumped in
herself and did two men's work.
"Funny girl, that one. So quiet all these years, never saying much,
never letting out. But she let out when the men went. I guess lots have
been like her. You can see a woman doing anything nowadays. Why, they
got a woman burglar over to the county seat the other night! And I just
read the speech of a silly-softy of a congressman telling why they
shouldn't have the vote. Hell! Excuse me for cursing so."
Unconsciously Wilbur had been following with his eyes the course of the
willow-bordered creek. He half expected to hear the crisp little tacking
of machine guns from its shelter, and he uneasily scanned the wood at
his left. It was the valley of the Surmelin, and yonder was the Marne.
"I keep thinking I'll be shot at," he explained.
"You won't be. Safe as a church here--just like being in God's pocket.
Say, don't that house look good to you?" He cocked a thumb toward the
dwelling of the Home Farm in a flat space beyond the creek. It was the
house of dull red brick, broad, low, square fronted, with many windows,
the house in a green setting to which they had gone so many years
before. Heat waves made it shimmer.
"Yes, it looks good," conceded Wilbur.
"Then listen, young man! You're to live there. It'll be your
headquarters. You're going to manage the four other farms from there,
and give me a chance to be seventy-three years old next Tuesday without
a thing on my mind. You ain't a farmer, but you're educated; you can
learn anything after you've seen it done; and farming is mostly
commonsense and machinery nowadays. So that's where you'll be,
understand? No more dubbing round doing this and that, printing office
one day, garage the next, and nothing much the next. You're going to
settle down and take up your future, see?"
"Well, if you think I can."
"I do! You're an enlightened young man. What I can't tell you Juliana
can. I got a dozen tractors out of commission right now. Couldn't get
any one to put 'em in shape. None of them dissipated noblemen round the
Mansion garage would look at a common tractor. You'll start on them.
You're fixed--don't tell me no!"
"Yes, sir," said Wilbur.
"You done your bit in a fighting war; now you'll serve in a peaceful
one. I don't know what the good Lord intends to come out of all this
rumpus, but I do know the world's going to need food. We'll raise it."
Sharon glanced shrewdly at him sidewise.
"You're a better Whipple than any one else of your name ever got to be."
"He didn't understand; he was misled or something."
"Or something," echoed Sharon. "Listen! There's one little job you got
to do before you hole up out here. You heard about him, of course--the
worry he's been to poor Harvey and the rest. Well, he's down there in
New York still acting squeamishy. I want you should go down and put the
fear of God into him."
"I understand he's mixed up with a lot of reds down there."