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"Undoubtedly!" he replied. "Your young men will come back with a new respect for law and order; a new regard for their government; a keener appreciation of the ideals which that government represents."
I hope that Dr. Carrel is right. Certainly they will return with a new and broader outlook, a sense of solidarity as Americans, and a militant patriotism that will bode ill for any purveyor of sedition, however insidious his methods.
But I cannot see these young men of ours, after the excitement of trench raiding and fighting above the clouds, settling down very speedily to desk work in office-buildings, however airy. Neither will they be willing, the majority of them, to resume the threads of their interrupted education. There will be a new movement toward the ever-vanishing frontier, a setting westward in the search for wider ranges, for life in the open air.
"So for one the wet sail arching through the rainbow round the bow;
And for one the creak of snow-shoes on the crust;
And for one the lake-side lilies where the bull moose waits the
And for one the mule-train coughing in the dust."
We reached the shed twenty minutes before train time, and sat down on a damp bench under a smoking kerosene-lamp. Over our heads the rain drove upon
the roof in a never-ceasing tattoo. Jack was inhaling the omnipresent cigarette. A pall-I believe that is the word-had fallen upon our conversation, engendered by our mutual consciousness that all this mere informative talk was beside the mark.
I hadn't come down there in the mud to try the beef and test the beds. I knew it and he knew it. The beds and the beef had nothing to do with what had been uppermost in our minds and hearts all day. But the words wouldn't come. Jack lit another cigarette and changed his position, and a water-soaked tramp edged in and slumped down in the corner, with his head on his chest. More than ten minutes had gone by. Then Jack suddenly said awkwardly:
"I suppose you and mother would like to know before I go what I think about things-religious things, you know. Some of us get together by ourselves here and talk them over now and then. We didn't before we came. But, you see, we all can't help knowing, of course, that we mayn't come back; and-and-so you wonder if there would be anything else afterward if you didn't."
I nodded. It had come.
"Well, honestly, dad"-how sweet the word was!— "I don't know. I haven't much faith, I guess, of the orthodox kind; but I can't help feeling that it doesn't make much difference so long as you know that you're doing the right thing."
"No," I muttered. "But how do you know it's the right thing?"
He shook his head.
"But I do know it!" he said. "To fight-to diefor one's country is bound to be the right thing. It doesn't matter that I can't tell you why. It's the thing itself that's worth while-not the reason.'
In the grimy old shed I put my arm about his strong young shoulders.
"Listen, Jack," I whispered, though the tramp was oblivious of our presence. "Years ago I heard a Memorial Day address by Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, and it made such an impression on me that I learned it by heart. It is the answer to my question. What he said was this:
""I do not know what is true. I do not know the meaning of the universe. But in the midst of doubt, in the collapse of creeds, there is one thing I do not doubt that no man who lives in the same world with most of us can doubt-and that is that the faith is true and adorable which leads a soldier to throw away his life in obedience to a blindly accepted duty, in a cause which he little understands, in a plan of campaign of which he has no notion, under tactics of which he does not see the use!'"
Jack made no reply.
""For high and dangerous action,'
," I continued, "teaches us to believe as right beyond dispute things
for which our doubting minds are slow to find words of proof. Out of heroism grows faith in the worth of heroism.'
The bell beside the track began to ring its staccato warning, and above the noise of the rain there came the whistle of the up-train. We got to our feet.
"That's pretty good stuff,” he said in an embarrassed fashion. "You might send it to me, if you will. I'd like the other fellows to see it."
The sailing of Jack's regiment was a topic never referred to by us, save indirectly. Sometimes Helen would begin a sentence and abruptly discontinue it, such as, "I suppose he'll need-" And I would have verbal evidence of what she was thinking of in addition to the pile of neat packages and bundles that gradually accumulated on the hall-table for Jack to take away when he should come to say good-by. But we had a sneaking idea that maybe it wouldn't be necessary for him to go after all.
Down-town they were saying that the war would be over in six weeks-in three months, anyway. News of a peace conference might come at any moment. Germany, it was predicted with confidence, had no wish permanently to antagonize the United States, and would see to it that hostilities would be over long before our boys could get within range of the guns. That hope was always shining through the gray clouds
of our depression. And we were so proud of him that we'd hardly condescend to speak to those of our friends who hadn't a service-flag with at least one star on it.
Being the father or the mother of a soldier is the next thing to being one yourself. Unconsciously I aped Jack's manner of standing, and walked and talked in a military sort of way, arrogating to myself a special knowledge of the purposes of the War Department by virtue of my vicarious connection with the service. We didn't more than half believe that anything more would come of it. Germany would probably back down at the last minute and there would be all the honor and glory without any actual fighting, and Uncle Sam would be sitting at the head of a Thanksgiving peace table, handing around slices of Turkey as he saw fit.
Of course I knew the transports were sailing right along, and that we had thousands of troops on the other side; but that knowledge was literary rather than actual. It was like the background on an enlistment poster. The phrase "Our boys are already in the trenches" didn't mean anything more to us than "Food is Ammunition," or "Ring It Again!" You can't have your boy lounging in a brand-new uniform, smoking a cigarette by the library fire, with the sun pouring in through the Seventy-second Street window, and grasp the fact that in three weeks he may be sitting in a listening post within ten yards of a gang of Prus