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stairs preparatory to going through the family safe. Some of us have to stay here, but the curse of the thing is that those of us who do can never explain why. We'll be classed with the swine that are making money out of it! God, some of these fellows make me think of a man watching his sister fighting for her honor with a tramp and trying to sell a chance to take a picture of it to a movie concern! And, by the Lord, they hope (damn them !) that she'll last until the camera
He threw down his soup-spoon and glared around the table. I had never seen the wizened little lawyer under such emotional stress.
“Oh, forget 'em !" recommended Thomas. “Try and think only of us heroes !” he added with humorous sarcasm.
“Of course it's rotten to make an opportunity out of another chap's extremity—and pretty nearly treason to take advantage of national adversity
-a man who sells the market short at such a time as this ought to be taken out in front of the Mint and shot-but, after all, somebody's got to keep the show going at home and a chap mustn't get the idea that, just because he'd rather like to wear shoulder-straps and get credit for a willingness to give his life for his country, Pershing can't get along without him. I used to get my living by making a whole lot of people think they wanted to buy something for about twice what somebody else was willing to sell it for. Now I'm free to satisfy the cravings of my imagination. I shall probably sit on a pier and count boxes of bully beef for two or three years and curse the day I was bitten by the bug of bravery. But suppose I was the editor of a paper or a magazine with an audience as big as the whole country. Is there any doubt but that, if I exerted my influence in the right direction, I could do literally a million times more good than if I counted those boxes or ripped up a German's abdomen with a bayonet?”
“Of course!” “Quite right!” "Sure !” agreed several of the others.
“Well,” continued Rogers with emphasis. "My point is this. That editor has no business to enlist or to chuck up his job. He belongs where he is. If he volunteered it wouldn't be because he honestly thought he could serve his country better, but because he was afraid that people would think he was a slacker. In à word, he'd be a coward-nothing else! Now I say that the really brave man—the patriot-is the chap that's big enough to endure the censure of public opinion and keep right on working, when instead of a chance for the croix de guerre, all he's got a chance of getting is a kick in the pants!”
“Hear! Hear!” cried old Kessler bitterly. “I'd rather you'd say that in uniform than some other fellow in tennis trousers. Don't preach that doctrine too loud or the country will be swamped with
self-abnegators crucified to their present nice little jobs !”
“It's the truth all the same !" shot back Thomas defiantly. “For example, the worst danger we have got to face is the undermining of our national morale. Unless we stamp out sedition here at home--and somebody's got to stay here and attend to it-we shall just ship our boys over into a shambles that will go on forever.”
“Say, you fellows! Cut it out, will you!” requested Robinson, a cotton-broker, who had two sons in France, turning a rather ghastly hue. “This war stuff is all right, but, after all, it's lunch-time. Here, waiter! Bring us our coffee and some of those new domestic cigars that only cost twelve cents apiece.”
Our party broke up a few minutes later and I found to my amazement that it was only half after one. Formerly we had spent an hour or more over the table. Indeed, it had always taken nearly an hour to serve the three or four courses that we inevitably had had-our oysters, soup, entrée, and dessert. But I observed that to-day, with but two exceptions, the men had ordered only soup and corn-bread, or "crackers and milk” and pie, or some light dish of that sort, and although we had lingered as long as we wished, we were through in half the usual time. Down in the hall I picked up Thomas again and invited him to smoke another cigarette before going away.
“You can't understand how this, my first morning down-town in nearly a year, has got under my skin," I told him. “Everything's different !"
“Of course it is !” he replied. “We're different, too-a good many of us. But there are a lot of us who aren't-yet. I suppose it takes people a long time to wake up-get going. It took England just as long, they say. But, my God, man! This nation as a nation isn't plunging into war! It's wading in, one foot at a time! We're about up to our ankles, all nice and dry up above. Wait till an ice-cold roller hits us!”
“It's hit me already," I hastened to assure him. “You see I've come back to these things all at once, while the rest of you have had plenty of time to get used to them gradually. You seem to have thought a lot about it all.”
“Yes,” he said, “I have. More than I ever thought about anything else in my life before. It came over me all at once. It doesn't matter what started it. That's personal. I've seen it in a lot of other men, too. You're sort of getting ready for it without knowing it--and then it breaks on you suddenly-like Paul when he walked unexpectedly into the celestial spotlight. I feel now as if I had a sort of mission to go around preaching—but, of course, I can't. Yet the fierce part of it is that there's generally no fair way to tell whether a man is a slacker or not-and all the swine take advantage of that fact.”
“But you're looking at it only from the point of view of trying to pillory the cowards," I cautioned him. “Why not look at it from the other side and be glad that the war has brought forward so many men one would never have suspected of being the right stuff. Why, my regard for human nature has gone up a thousand per cent in the past three hours !”
He looked at me intently for several moments.
“By George! You're right,” he answered finally. “And this war has done a tremendous amount for a lot of us fellows who didn't know we needed it. Take my own case. I was a successful man. You know that, Stanton. I made three hundred thousand dollars in 1913. I've got a knack for it. I can make money any time. And I've been doing the things that fellows like me do-playing golf for a hundred dollars a hole and racing around over the country in big motor-cars and giving my wife all the money to put into clothes and jewelry she wanted and all that. I thought it was fine! Well, when this war came along I saw men whose abilities and bank-accounts were ten times as big as mine letting the whole business slide. Why, you know
he's given up a hundred-thousand-dollar salary to go down to Washington for a dollar a year! There are dozens of 'em. They didn't seem to think the money amounted to a row of pins. It set me thinking. Was it? I asked myself. What was my kind of success worth if fellows