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MY WIFE AND OTHERS
Out of space-as infinite as the remotest star, as cold as the wind that blows between the worlds, and as black as the primordial darkness that covered the face of the waters at the creation of the earth-I heard the faint, persistent, muffled ringing of a bell. At first, in fact for some time, I lay there comfortably in that detached, impersonal, superior fashion so familiar to those who see other fellows' houses burning up or other fellows' wives running off with their best friends. Some poor devil had forgotten his latch-key, probably, or some unfortunate physician was needed sooner than had been expected!
I turned over and tried to go to sleep again, then a cold chill broke out upon my face, and I started up in bed, straining my ears for that ominous, distant-now quite personal-sound. It was my own telephonethree stories below! Jack! My God! Jack! Had Yaphank been blown up? Or had they shipped him off without my knowing it and the transport been torpedoed? Bzz-zz-zz !
Trembling violently I switched on the night light and threw on my wrapper as quietly as I could, so as not to arouse Helen, who was sleeping in the next room. My little Jack! My only son! I stumbled out into the hall and down the stairs like a drunken man, fearful to answer that mandatory summons, but equally apprehensive lest it might cease before I could do so.
Bz-zz-zz-ZZ-ZZ! The change in the size of type illustrates the effect produced upon my sleep-drugged ears as I pushed open the pantry door.
“Hello!” I answered huskily. "Hello! What is it?"
"Is Mrs. Stanton there?" inquired a metallic female voice.
"This is Mister Stanton," I replied. "Give me the message.'
"I must speak to Mrs. Stanton!" retorted the person at the other end of the wire.
"If it's any bad news-" I choked. "Pleasetell-me!"
"Oh, it isn't any bad news! I'm sorry if I frightened you," said SHE, for that is the only typographical method of describing this authoritative lady. "But I want Mrs. Stanton at once. I need her at the Pennsylvania Station."
Me. "What the How do you mean? What are you talking about? She's sound asleep in bed!"
SHE. "Naturally! This is Miss Pritchett talking, chairwoman of your wife's Committee of the Local Canteen. She's under orders, you know. We've fifteen hundred soldiers coming in from Spartanburg at four o'clock and it's now two fifty-five. I've got to get thirty women down there to feed those men in an hour, Mrs. Stanton among them. I shall see that the food is there."
Me. "But-! How on earth! You can't expect my wife to get up in the middle of the night and go down to the Pennsylvania Station! You're crazy!" SHE (icily). "Will-you-kindly-transmit-theorder-to-your-wife?"
Me. "Look here, Miss Whateveryournameis! You must have got hold of the wrong Stanton-” stopped abruptly, confronted by the peculiar opaqueness of sound that clothes a transmitter when the other party has hung up.
"Well!" I remarked to the alarm-clock on the shelf. "What do you think of that!"
Well, what did I think of it? I didn't know what I thought of it. Miss Whateverhernamewas seemed to know very definitely what she was talking about-but to arouse my wife at three A. M., even if she had been careless enough to allow her name to be used on a committee, and send her chasing off across the city was inconceivable!
I found a tin box of cigarettes, lit one, and sat down
on the ice-box. The business just showed how foolish it was for anybody to get mixed up with things one didn't know anything about. Canteen! Imagine Helen-far more gentle and retiring than her namesake of Troy (Asia Minor)—trying to hustle coffeecans and sandwich-trays for a lot of rookies who would probably yell at her as if she were a barmaid. It wasn't decent! It wasn't possible absolutely not possible! Imagine some one calling my wife "Birdie"!
"No!" said I sternly to the alarm-clock. "If there isn't any mistake, there ought to be! That antique Amazon can get along without Helen. I'm going back to bed."
Having reached this most sensible decision I opened the ice-chest, took a couple of bites out of an apple that I found there, drank half a glass of milk, and slowly climbed up the stairs again. Helen was looking over the banisters.
"What is it?" she queried sharply. "Anything about Jack?"
"Oh, no-it's nothing!" I replied, taking a final pull on my cigarette. "Nothing at all! Let's go to bed!"
She eyed me suspiciously.
"Who was it?" she demanded.
"Oh, some woman-I didn't get the name."
"What did she want?"
It was no use!
"She said that she wanted you to go and help feed a lot of soldiers over at the Pennsylvania
Helen-the elegant Helen!-had suddenly become galvanized!
"Miss Pritchett-it was Miss Pritchett!" she almost shouted. "My captain! Order me a taxi, will you?"
Already she had hurried back to her bedroom.
"There'll be plenty of women
"I'll be one of them."
"Helen," I expostulated. "You mustn't do this kind of thing. You're not fitted for it! You're not strong enough, to begin with. And you won't know how to handle that kind of people. The sort of woman that is needed to feed a lot of soldiers is a- -a-masculine sort of woman-like Miss Pritchett!"
I was shouting through the door now.
A subdued laugh came from inside. "Be a good boy-order my taxi!"
"Hanged if I will!”
The door opened just a crack.
"John, you goose, don't you realize I've got to go? I'm pledged to. I'd be forever disgraced if I didn't. Besides, I want to! Please order me a taxi. If If you don't, I'll be late. I'm almost dressed!"