Imágenes de páginas

form, "nowhere to go but out" and "out" was as near heaven as anything I have ever known. We talked of New York as if it might have been Calcutta. We read of the war, but it did not seem real. We knew that men were suffering and dying, but it was like reading about it years afterward. It was our own daily life there at Ilao that was real to us-the other thing was literary, like our books; so we sat round and read frayed copies out of Blanchard's library— Marion Crawford, Whyte-Melville, William Dean Howells, and others of a bygone literary age. I mention this because now it seems so extraordinary that, with our country at war, we should have been dreaming over "Saracinesca," or "Mr. Isaacs," or "The Rise of Silas Lapham," while the bodies of thousands of our fellow human beings lay rotting out in No Man's Land.

A Wall Street bond broker has no time for dreaming and he has no visions at all; but there at Ilao we dreamed that we were young again, and we had time to wonder why we no longer had any visions. And sometimes, though I missed, in a way, the activity of New York, the complex interests of work and amusement, our hundreds of friends and the excitement of the game, I told myself that now, for the first time, in this distant place, with none of my own kind about except my wife and daughter, I was in a position to estimate the real value of the sort of life I had worked so hard to live. Was it, I asked myself, worth the

candle? After all, did I get anything out of it—at a thousand times the cost-better than I got out of life at Ilao?

A bombshell fell among us one day, however, which shattered our dreaming. It had been arranged that after his spring examinations Jack should join us; and, now that July had come, we were daily expecting a letter containing the news that he had started West and giving us the approximate date of his arrival. I had been out with one of the Chinamen fishing for hilu when I saw the steamer rounding the headland. As she was several hours ahead of time and there was no one at the landing, we rowed over to meet her. The captain, a red-faced sea-dog, with watery eyes, was standing on the bridge.

"Hello!" I shouted. "What's the news?"

He mopped his forehead with a yellow madras handkerchief and regarded me thoughtfully. I was a perennial object of curiosity to him.

"They've put through conscription," he answered hoarsely, "and sold a couple of billion dollars' bond issue. Looks like Uncle Sam meant business-after all," he added.

Sitting in my pongee suit in that flimsy fishing-boat, rising and falling with my Chinaman in the wash of that stinking coasting steamer, the significance of what he said did not get across to me. Ilao would be just the same, no matter how many conscripts might be drafted or how many billions were raised through


bond issues or otherwise. That same wilting sun would blaze down on that same sagging old jetty, covered with its loose ends of hemp and its empty hogsheads; the same stoical Chinaman would plod down to meet the weekly steamer; and from the settlement behind the point the same softly crooned songs would rise under the moonlight to the sad wail of the ukulele.

"Sure!" I retorted. "What'd you expect?"

The captain did not answer my question. He probably had had no expectations in the matter.

"Here's a letter for you!" he called down, taking it from inside his cap. He passed it to a deck-hand, who relayed it over the side to me. "Look out there!" he warned us, as he gave the jingle, and the steamer, which had not made fast, began to back out.

The Chink pulled a few strokes away, while I lit a cigarette and watched the old tub back nearly into the coral reef, swing her nose round, and head for the open sea. Then the jingle rang again, her propeller thrashed the water like a hippo taking a mud-bath, and she spurted ahead into the rollers.

"An' a hundred million for the Red Cross!" bellowed the captain across the intervening waves. "I forgot that!"

"Red Cross!"-that was pretty fine, I thought. 'Then I looked at the handwriting on the envelope, saw that it was from Jack, and tore it open.

"Dear Dad," it ran, in a childish scrawl. "Most of the fellows are going to Plattsburg, so I thought you wouldn't mind if I went along, too. You will be coming home soon, anyhow. If I should be lucky enough to grab off a commission, there wouldn't be any chance of my going abroad for a long time yet. Lots of love to mother and Margery. The weather is ripping!-Aff'ly, Jack.”

The boy's letter gave me a mixed feeling of pride and disappointment. I was crazy to see him, of course; but it was quite natural and very creditable that he should want to get some military training. That he would ever actually be an officer in command of men was absurd. He hadn't the remotest idea of discipline.

Well, Plattsburg was a good thing for the health, anyhow, and I didn't blame him for wanting to go along with the rest of his friends. Nevertheless, the letter did not rest easily in my pocket as I trudged across the beach to the bungalow where Helen was reading in the hammock. I tossed it into her lap, without comment, and she gave a little cry of joy. When she had read it, however, she lifted a white face to me and said simply:

"Oh, John! Let's go home!"

Our trip back was smooth and uneventful. Gradually we gathered up the threads of what had been

going on in our absence and came to realize that the United States had gone into the war in earnest; but Europe seemed a long way off and it did not occur to us that our own lives would be made in any way different by what had occurred. My health was now completely re-established and we were all tanned as brown as native islanders.

In Frisco we saw plenty of young fellows in khaki, and occasionally, on our way across the continent, passed a troop train upon a siding jammed with ruddy lads, who waved to us out of car-windows over whitepainted inscriptions of "Can the Kaiser!" or "Berlin or Bust!" or "Potsdam Express!" But, in spite of what we read in the papers and the magazines, all of which we bought, in spite of the officers in uniform and the printed admonitions from Mr. Hoover, placed so conspicuously in the dining-car, it did not seem somehow in any way to affect us. We were at waryes; a lot of men were going over to fight-if peace wasn't declared first; the government was going to raise a stupendous sum of money and had embarked upon a gigantic programme of preparation; butother people, not we, were doing it!

We were just spectators! It was like seeing a big show at the Hippodrome from excellently chosen seats, or watching a procession on Fifth Avenue from a window. We could go home and to bed whenever we felt like it. Our reaction was that, though we

« AnteriorContinuar »