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She suddenly threw her arms about my neck and burst into tears.
"Oh, John!" she sobbed. “I don't care how I live. We started on nothing and we never have been happier than we were in our first little flat; but I didn't tell you
before I didn't want to until you'd had your lunch!—but, Oh, John, I'm frightened to death about Jack!”
“Why?” I choked, startled at her tone. "What about Jack?”
She picked up a newspaper that was lying beside her and pointed to an item on the back sheet; then turned away her head.
“Gallant - -th to sail for France next week,” I read through blurred eyes. "So rapid has been the improvement in the condition and training of the
-th Regiment, stationed at Fort that it is now authoritatively announced that it will break camp within a few days and sail within the week for the other side, where the men will receive instruction in the field from specially detailed French army officers in the use of trench-bombs, raiding, etc.
“Among the sons of well-known New Yorkers upon the staff are Lieutenant Ogden Baker, son of Maxwell Baker, of Park Avenue; Lieutenant John Stanton, Junior” For a moment the motes in the sunlight swam in
dizzying circles and I grasped the table to steady myself. Jack! Jack going ?
“Oh, Helen !” I cried, wholly unnerved. "He can't go! He's too young. My God, it never occurred to me! Why, he's only a boy! I'll go to Washington-see Wilson. It would be a crime!
I sank down at the table and put my face in my hands. Then I heard my wife's voice saying:
"John, dear, it's all right-it's simply splendid ! Of course it's a surprise; but you-you wouldn't have
it otherwise! It's where he ought to be! We should be the proudest people in New York. Our boy is going among the very first to fight to make the world safe for democracy, for Christian ideals; so that there never can be such an awful, awful war again; and and-and- Oh, John! John! I can't bear it!"
She threw herself down beside me and held me tight. We sat there clinging to each other for some time. Then Helen raised her head and wiped her eyes.
"John, dear,” she said, "let's go up to the house. I'll leave word for Margery at the office. I can't think in this place. I want to have my own things round me--my own books and pictures and furniture
-not all this gilt and plush! I don't feel as if I were all here-at this hotel. I'm sure we can talk things over better there than in this horrible suite !"
I paid my bill to the dapper young gentleman at the hotel office, who seemed rather surprised at our sudden change of plans and who “trusted that everything had been satisfactory"; stated that I would send for my baggage that evening, helped Helen into a taxi, and started for Seventy-second Street. It was a lovely afternoon, sunlight everywhere, children playing with their nurses in Park Avenue, the streets clean and quiet; nothing seemed changed since we had gone away. As we turned into our own block Helen leaned out of the window of the taxi and looked up at the house.
"How nice!" she exclaimed. “Some one has hung out a big American flag! It must have been Henry!”
Sure enough, there over our white Colonial doorway, the pole suspended from the iron grill of the library windows, curling and uncurling in the soft afternoon breeze, floated the Stars and Stripes.
"Splendid !" I answered. “It was bully of your brother to do that."
Then my eye caught another and smaller flag beneath-a red flag enclosing an oblong field of white upon which was a single star of blue.
“Hello!” I cried. “What do you suppose that is ? Do you see that other flag, Helen ?"
“Why, yes!” she answered curiously. "I wonder what it can mean!” The decrepit taxi-driver touched his hat.
"Pardon me, ma’am,” he said. “That blue star means that some one from this house has gone to the front. God bless him, whoever he is!”
We looked at each other in silence.
“God bless him," I repeated, though my lips quivered, “whoever he is !”
How familiar, yet how strange, seemed the silent interior of our house, with its shrouded furniture, its shadowy corners, its drawn curtains. For the first time I realized what it meant to me to Helen-to all of us. There was the room where Margery had been born. There was Jack's half workshop, half stateroom, with that yellow Teddy-bear he had never quite brought himself to relinquish, sitting astride the football he had forced across the St. Mark's goalline for a victory for Groton.
I closed the door quickly lest Helen should see it. Yet I felt that it was best that we should give up our home; best to surrender it to the unsympathetic hands of strangers than not to do our bit in teaching the rest of the nation the lesson of economy. At any price -however seemingly extravagant-a hotel would be cheaper than housekeeping.
“Well," I said finally when, after our inspection, we had gone down-stairs into the library and thrown open the windows to the afternoon sun, “it's tough, but we'll have to give it up!” “Isn't there anything else we could do first?" asked my wife. “I would do almost anything rather than lose my home!”
“The only way to really save any substantial sum of money is to make a radical change in our mode of life," I answered. “You would find it almost impossible to give up living here as you have always lived. Let's do the thing right and start differently.”
Helen made no further protest, except to give a little sigh as she glanced at the portraits of my father and mother, which hung on either side of the fireplace.
“All right, dear,” she agreed. “If we must, that is all there is to it."
There was, however, one factor in the situation upon which it appeared that we had not sufficiently reckoned. It had never occurred to me that we should have any difficulty about leasing our house if we cared to do so; but a brief colloquy over the telephone with our real-estate agent was enough to satisfy me that it would be practically impossible for us to find a tenant who would be willing to pay enough rent to enable us either to take an apartment or go to a hotel and effect any real saving. Practically every house in New York was for rent, he said; in fact, there were five other houses in our own block on the market.
Everybody had gone to Washington, or was going to spend the winter in the country; he mentioned several of our friends. People were cutting down on