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Almost dressed! Five minutes! Usually Helen took fifty!
"You're crazy!" I retorted. "Of course, if you insist, I'll order a taxi, but I'm not going to have you go over there alone at this time of night. It isn't decent. I'm going with you!"
"Then you'd better get started!" she laughed, "instead of standing there talking, in your pajamas. Come ahead! It will probably do you good. Besides, it will give you a chance to meet Miss Pritchett."
Fuming, and still more than half asleep, I telephoned for a taxi and hurriedly began to dress, but long before I was ready the motor was at the door and Helen was calling to me from the front hall to hurry up. As I came down-stairs I noticed that she had on a brown military cap with a small red emblem above the visor. I hate anything conspicuous or ostentatious, but it was so becoming to her that I held my peace. Besides, this sudden call-in the middle of the night— once one was fully aroused-had something rather romantic and thrilling about it. She intercepted and interpreted my glance, however.
"It's the regular canteen uniform," she explained. "It helps a lot in a crowd. People understand who you are and let you by."
Up in the blue alley between the housetops the stars snapped in the crisp, keen air. A pale-greenish efflorescence suffused the sky across the park and marked
where glowed the as yet undimmed lights of Broadway. The city was still save now and then for the subdued clang of a surface-car and the rumble that, like a giant pulse, throbs in its arteries night and day. I felt the stimulus of the unusual, the excitement of being abroad before the dawn while the rest of the world slept. But Helen had stepped into the taxi and I clambered in after her as quickly as I could.
"Where to, sir?" asked the driver as he closed the door.
"To the Pennsylvania Station,” replied Helen before I could answer. "And please hurry!"
As we passed the illuminated clock in front of the Hotel Netherlands the hands pointed to twenty minutes to four. Straight ahead for a mile or more the street-lamps drew away in a long parallel until they merged far below us in the glow of Forty-second Street. The smooth asphalt reflected the lights of our taxi as if wet with rain. No one was abroad. The sidewalks and roadway were bare of traffic. We had the city to ourselves. Was it possible that we were on our way to meet fifteen hundred young crusaders sworn to rescue Europe from the clutches of a military despotism? It was as difficult to believe as that millions of men had died or been wounded in that same cause. We knew it, yet we didn't know it! The men whom Helen was going to meet to-day might be floating dead in mid-ocean before the week was out.
It occurred to me as we whirred down Fifth Avenue that the last time Helen and I had been out at such an hour together was when we had come home from the Highbilts' dinner-dance in February, 1914. Not since that grand affair had we been invited to any elaborate function. The concussion of the conflict had demolished the strongholds of American society much as the German siege-guns at the beginning of the war had levelled the fortresses of Liège and Namur and the garrisons had been driven out to mingle with the rest of the population-many of them for the first time on equal terms.
I had always deplored the fact that Helen, along with most of the other American women of her type, in spite of her keen intelligence and bodily vigor had been content to remain in a state of ignorance and inactivity so far as current affairs were concerned. She had been quite satisfied with her friends, her family, her social life. She was a "perfect lady" and her circle was composed of "perfect ladies." She had not wanted to meet any others, for she had had nothing in common with them. They hadn't entered into her cosmos. Helen's world had consisted exclusively of rich women, upper servants, and high-class shopkeepers. She had had no social relations with the kind of women who went to market in the morning. She had had an instinctive feeling that it was mean to care what it cost to run the house or to ask the price of anything.
She had never seen the butcher, the groceryman, or her own kitchen-maid-except the day she had engaged her. She had shrunk from any contact with people like street-car conductors, ticket-sellers, or taxicab-drivers. She had been so protected all her life that it had caused her acute suffering to talk to anybody whose point of view wasn't perfectly familiar to her beforehand. She had viewed women who "went in" for suffrage, temperance, or other movements as freakish or notoriety-seekers. She had held woman's place to be not so much in the home as in the drawingroom. In a word, even if not in the words of the hymn a "broken and useless vessel," she had been nevertheless a thing apart, whose value lay, if anywhere, in her very inutility-a "sensitive plant," moving in an atmosphere more rarefied than that of a noblewoman at the time of the French Revolution. Sometimes I have wondered if this war has not saved her from the guillotine. Anyhow, it has saved her from herself.
We had not been back in New York a month before I observed an extraordinary change in Helen's point of view. In the first place, as she had no motor she was obliged to make use of public conveyances, and, although at first she walked in preference to so doing, she soon so exhausted herself that she had no choice in the matter. How are the mighty fallen! Helen a strap-hanger! Her next discovery was that the
butcher was really a very well-meaning human being who would much rather transact his business with her than with her cook. She now confesses that she looks forward to her morning excursion to Third Avenue as one of the most interesting features of her day. Moreover, as she has fewer servants she is compelled to see more of them and to pay more attention to the way they perform their duties. She has incidentally learned that they have feelings of their own and are not the hostile automata that she supposed. Indeed, she now finds that there are no less than nine brothers and cousins of our small family of domestics fighting with the Allies and that two have already been killed. You can't say "Home, James!" with quite the same inflection or with your nose quite so high in the air when James's only brother got a machine-gun bullet through his heart only last week at Poelcappelle. It makes a vast difference, too, when you find the girls in the kitchen ready and eager to roll bandages and knit sweaters. Up to this time the sisterhood of women has always seemed more theoretical than the brotherhood of man. The ordinary lady of fashion has always had her butler and chauffeur standing on guard between her and the world. And now those guards are gone at least ours are.
A year ago I should have been inclined to believe that Helen couldn't have changed, that her attitude toward life would have been as immutable as the ex