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honestly, beats anything you can get on Broadway. Right in my own company I've got two professional actors, a professional dancer, an acrobat, and juggler, three men that were leaders in college theatricals, and so much amateur musical talent that I don't know what to do with it. I'm not joking; you couldn't get for a dollar in New York City what our men get at that vaudeville show every ten days—and the bill is time."
"How about your equipment?"
Jack shrugged his shoulders.
"Rotten! I suppose it will come some time. At present in my company we've got sixty Krags and that's all; but, of course, we're not going to use Krags on the other side. However, I guess the government will look out for us! But having the wrong kind of rifles is bad business, because the balance is different, and it is bound to handicap us more or less.
"However, equipment or no equipment, I tell you the men are getting into fine shape. Physically they're a ripping lot of fellows. They can go out with a pick and shovel, and work four hours in the morning and four hours again in the afternoon, and not turn a hair!
"I've seen some remarkable changes in physique too. You know, there are a lot of fellows down here who are a great deal better off than they ever were before in their lives. For example, there are about fifteen men in my company who worked in sweat
shops on the East Side. I don't suppose they got more than eleven or twelve dollars a week at the outside. You wonder how they ever got by inspection. That's another question. You know they send us a lot of cripples-real cripples, I mean!
"Well, to get back to my sweat-shop men. When they came here they were as pasty-faced, narrowchested, and clammy-handed a bunch as you ever saw. They had all claimed exemption, were scared to death, and thought they were just going to be trotted out and shot. When they recovered from fright they bellowed like steers about tyranny and injustice! What's happened? They have been given regular exercise and all they can eat three times a day, including red meat, and they're fit as prize-fighters and as happy as clams.
"To-day you wouldn't know 'em! Their chests have expanded about five inches; their complexions have cleared up; they've been in English school right along, so that by this time they can talk pretty intelligibly, and they can go to the Y. M. C. A. and read, or watch a good vaudeville show for nothing, instead of paying their money to go to a cheap movie or sitting around talking socialism.
"I tell you when those fellows come out of the army they will have a respect for the United States Government they'd never get in any other way. When Ikey and Abie go back to the East Side, if any greasy an
archist attempts to put anything over on them, Ikey and Abie will stand him up against the wall and say: 'See here, old sport! Have you ever had any dealings with the United States Government? Well, we have! Uncle Sam's all right! Get out!'... Hello! We're there!"
The train had come to a stop. Outside I could see a half-open shed with an appurtenant tobacco-stand, apparently floating upon a sea of yellow mud.
"This is the lower station," announced Jack as the men swarmed off the car. "I'm afraid you'll have to walk over to the camp. It's not much over half a mile. Glad you've got your galoshes.'
Look as far as I could in every direction, there was nothing but a welter of ooze. Ahead of us wallowed our train companions, the more distant indistinguishable through the rain from the medium in which they wallowed. We wallowed after them. It was highly uncomfortable.
"This isn't war,"" I panted. "It's murder !"") Jack held the umbrella nearer.
"I guess it's the nearest thing to real war this side of the trenches," he answered grimly. "We're well used to mud! There can't be anything worse even in Flanders."
Presently we passed the stable sheds of the new remount station, planned to hold thirty thousand horses, and round which we could see the guards rid
ing like cowboys; then a wilderness of low wooden barracks appeared out of the rain, and we found ourselves unexpectedly walking on firm macadam down a street that looked something like an apotheosized mining-camp and which was marked "Third Avenue.”
Everywhere fellows in uniform were coming and going. Fours of newly arrived conscripts tramped past under the fearsome direction of a regular noncom, and at one point I saw the bleu ciel and red cap of a French officer, who was instructing a bombing squad in an open field, the motions of the men producing a strange effect, as if they were playing a combination of cricket, handball, and tenpins, with a dash of jumping-jack.
We walked along for an interminable distance in the rain, past myriads of barracks, all exactly alike, until we stopped finally before one with which Jack evidently claimed relationship.
"It's messtime," he said. "We're a bit late as it is. I guess we'd better go right in at once."
Jack conducted me into what somewhat resembled the lunch-room of a Western railroad junction, save that it was cleaner. All the tables were empty but one. Evidently the men had just finished dinner. Two fellows about Jack's age were sitting near a counter, from behind which the food was lifted from the range smoking hot, by a cook in a white coat. I was introduced to my son's junior messmates-both
second lieutenants-and found that, in spite of my experiences in the smoking-car, I had an excellent appetite for the plentiful and well-cooked meal that was placed before me.
Our two table companions soon excused themselves, and when we had taken our last cup of coffee and had had a second helping of pie, Jack led me across the way to officers' barracks and into his own ten-by-twelve bedroom. Above us the rain drummed steadily on the roof. The room was rather close and smelled strongly of pine boards. To me it was dull, dreary, and monotonous; yet I could see that for him it was all invested with a glamour like that of the Round Table of King Arthur. Rain and mud, mud and rain; yet beyond that ocean of mud and through that curtain of rain there gleamed for him a vision of eternal glory.
"Do you have any time to yourself, Jack? Aren't you all tired out?" I queried, though he looked hard as nails.
"I don't have time to think at all," he answered. "If I take reveille I get up at five-forty, and if I don't take it I get up at quarter to six. Anyhow, I always eat breakfast at six-fifteen. From that time on I haven't a minute until I hit my bunk, between eleven and twelve at night. The amount of detail work is something fierce! I spend nearly a third of my time at my desk, writing out reports, making up lists, and doing clerical work of one sort or another.