« AnteriorContinuar »
"Gee!" I says, sarcastic like. "Is that so? Well," I says, "you just better run along home, girlie, where you belong. This ain't no place for kids!" I says.
"Oh, Gee!" echoes his companion sympathetically, shifting his gum, and then ruminatively: “Ain't they a pest!"
There is a card game going on across the way, and up at the end of the car a mouth-organ contests supremacy with three "barber chord" artists. There is a lot of slouching up and down the aisle and some cheerful scrapping, which at times causes me to make myself as small as possible. It is not uninteresting, but two hours are likely to be more than enough of it. I try to read the paper, but the smoke makes my eyes smart and I light my pipe in self-defense. I wonder why on earth I ever went to the unnecessary trouble of going down to visit Jack at his camp, instead of waiting for him to come to New York. Really, the smoke is impossible! I speculate as to the probability of getting an express back to the city at an early hour.
The train halts at a road crossing, decorated by a few reeling sign-boards, and conveniently adjacent to a saloon. I can hear the panting of the engine. Evidently they are taking on water or beer or something. Then the door opens behind me, and there is a perceptible stiffening of backs—as the men turn round.
"Hello, father!" cries Jack, clapping me on the shoulder. "I got 'permish' to come down the road and pick you up. How are you?"
The chubby youth has risen and now stands at salute.
"Take this seat, sir," says he. "Me and my pal can move up front. You can turn her back-this
"Thanks!" returns Captain John Stanton, Junior, taking possession of the seat, and swinging it over to face me, as if he had spent a lifetime as the recipient of attentions from a military orderly. I watch him in wonder. There is a self-possession, an ease of manner, an assurance about him that had been nonexistent ten months before, and to which I am unable to accustom myself.
We had been too much excited at seeing him that first evening of our return home quite to grasp the transformation he had undergone; but, now that I could really look him over, he didn't seem to be the same Jack at all; there wasn't a trace of the original animal left. He had a new body and apparently he had gained a new soul. I suppose the mere uniform might have tended to create this effect, but with Jack the uniform was the merest incident. He had lost about twelve pounds, looked four inches taller, and in place of his habitual slouchiness had acquired an erect and almost graceful carriage.
Moreover, instead of calling me Dad, Old Top, Governor, or Boss, he now addressed me as Father, with an occasional Sir. I confess that in his previous state of existence any such formality would have been out of place. Before, he had always gone round whistling, never answering a question seriously, and apparently never thinking about anything. This grave youth was an utter stranger to me, and, at first, I felt the awkwardness engendered by his strangeness.
The last time I had visited Jack in Cambridge, prior to our return to New York in the autumn of 1917, had been in the November of his sophomore year, the occasion being a note from the dean of Harvard College, informing me that the enthusiasm roused in my son by a certain victory upon the football-field had so stimulated his desire for mural decoration that he had suspended a necklace of seven or eight glistening white water-pitchers from the cupola of Harvard Hall.
He had previously floundered along in the lower third of his form at Groton, occasionally, under the impetus of parental admonition, indulging in a rocketlike ascent to second or third place, from which inevitably, at the end of a month or two, he descended like the proverbial stick. At home his chief occupations had been coloring a large meerschaum pipe and singing Hawaiian love-songs through his nose to the accompaniment of the ukulele.
Once he had passed his college exams, any thought
of intellectual labor seemed to have departed from him; and, to my astonishment, I began to hear him spoken of as quite an extraordinary eccentric dancer. His chief form of amusement seemed to be going to the theatre in Boston with a couple of his chums and then motoring by night to New York, arriving at our house about breakfast-time, and returning the next evening in the same manner. During the spring term of his freshman year, while running for the Dicky, he had appeared at a symphony rehearsal in Boston covered with shoestrings, which he had attempted to sell between the musical numbers-until ejected. His general tendency to make a fool of himself had gradually diminished, to be sure; but the recollection of it had remained. I had regarded him with affection, tempered by distrust, and had always suspected him of laziness and frivolity. That was the Jack I had left in December, 1916. It was the portrait of him that I still carried in my mind when I returned to New York the following October.
But I soon saw that something had occurred undreamed of as possible in my philosophy. When I had first learned that Jack had donned the uniform of his country I had been guilty of making some unfeeling jest about an "ass in a lion's skin." Now, to my wonderment and pride, I found that the ass had grown to fit it. If not yet an adult lion-ass, at any rate, he was no longer. But to us he was a full-grown
lion already. We regarded him with respect and hung upon his words, thrilled with a sad happiness.
He himself knew that he had changed, was under no delusions as to what the future might have in store for him, and his constant effort was to convince us that his going into the army was the greatest thing that had ever happened to him. There was, even to our anxious minds, not the slightest doubt about that. The boy had actually become a man.
He offered me a cigarette, lit one for himself, andasked me whether I minded his putting his feet upon the seat beside me!
"Too bad it's such a rotten day!" he remarked, glancing through the window. "Anyhow, you can see our quarters and get some idea of what it's all like. Awfully good of you to bother to come.”
"Do you suppose anything could keep me away?" I demanded gruffly. "This war is the most momentous event in the history of the world. I want to see all I can of it—even if only vicariously. But I shall never be able to catch up with you, Jack.”
"Well," he conceded, "I'll have to admit I've learned a lot about all sorts of things-particularly my fellow citizens of the United States of America. Out of the two hundred and eighty men in my company, thirty of them-literally-couldn't speak a word of English!"
"Couldn't speak English!" I exclaimed, astounded.