Ramsey Milholland by Booth Tarkington
It was easy enough for him to evade Fred Mitchell's rallyings these days; the sprig's mood was truculent, not toward his roommate but toward Congress, which was less in fiery haste than he to be definitely at war with Germany. All through the university the change had come: athletics, in other years spotlighted at the centre of the stage, languished suddenly, threatened with abandonment; students working for senior honours forgot them; everything was forgotten except that growing thunder in the soil. Several weeks elapsed after Dora's bitter dismissal of Ramsey before she was mentioned between the comrades. Then, one evening, Fred asked, as he restlessly paced their study floor:
"Have you seen your pacifist friend lately?"
"No. Not exactly. Why?"
"Well, for my part, I think she ought to be locked up," Fred said, angrily. "Have you heard what she did this afternoon?"
"It's all over college. She got up in the class in jurisprudence and made a speech. It's a big class, you know, over two hundred, under Dean Burney. He's a great lecturer, but he's a pacifist--the only one on the faculty--and a friend of Dora's. They say he encouraged her to make this break and led the subject around so she could do it, and then called on her for an opinion, as the highest-stand student in the clas. She got up and claimed there wasn't any such thing as a legitimate cause for war, either legally or morally, and said it was a sign of weakness in a nation for it to believe that it did have cause for war.
"Well, it was too much for that little, spunky Joe Stansbury, and he jumped up and argued with her. He made her admit all the Germans have done to us, the sea murders and the land murders, the blowing up of the factories, the propaganda, the strikes, trying to turn the United States into a German settlement, trying to get Japan and Mexico to make war on us, and all the rest. He even made her admit there was proof they mean to conquer us when they get through with the others, and that they've set out to rule the world for their own benefit, and make whoever else they kindly allow to live, to work for them.
"She said it might be true, but since nothing at all could be a right cause for war, than all this couldn't be a cause of war. Of course she had her regular pacifist 'logic' working; she said that since war is the worst thing there is, why, all other evils were lesser, and a lesser evil can't be a just cause for a greater. She got terribly excited, they say, but kept right on, anyway. She said war was murder and there couldn't be any other way to look at it; and she'd heard there was already talk in the university of students thinking about enlisting, and whoever did such a thing was virtualy enlisting to return murder for murder. Then Joe Stansbury asked her if she meant that she'd feel toward any student that enlisted the way she would toward a murderer, and she said, yes, she'd have a horror of any student that enlisted.
"Well, that broke up the class; Joe turned from her to the platform and told old Burney that he was responsible for allowing such talk in his lecture-room, and Joe said so far as he was concerned, he resigned from Burney's classes right there. That started it, and practically the whole class got up and walked out with Joe. They said Burney streaked off home, and Dora was left alone in there, with her head down on her desk--and I gues she certainly deserves it. A good many have alread stopped speaking to her."
Ramsey fidgeted with a pen on the table by which he sat. "Well, I don't know," he said, slowly; "I don't know if they ought to do that exactly."
"Why oughtn't they?" Fred demanded, sharply.
"Well, it looks to me as if she was only fightin' for her principles. She believes in 'em. The more it costs a person to stick to their principles, why, the more I believe the person must have something pretty fine about 'em likely."
Yes!" said the hot-headed Fred. "That may be in ordinary times, but not when a person's principles are liable to betray their country! We won't stand that kind of principles, I tell you, and we oughtn't to. Dora Yocum's finding that out, all right. She had the biggest position of any girl in this place, or any boy either, up to the last few weeks, and there wasn't any student or hardly even a member of the faculty that had the influence or was more admired and looked up to. She had the whole show! But now, since she's just the same as called any student a murderer if he enlists to fight for his country and his flag--well, now she hasn't got anything at all, and if she keeps on she'll have even less!"
He paused in his walking to and fro and came to a halt behind his friend's chair, looking down compassionately upon the back of Ramsey's motionless head. His tone changed. "I guess it isn't just the ticket--me to be talking this way to you, is it?" he said, with a trace of huskiness.
"Oh--it's all right," Ramsey murmured, not altering his position.
"I can't help blowing up," Fred went on. "I want to say, though, I know I'm not very considerate to blow up about her to you this way. I've been playing horse with you about her ever since freshman year, but--well, you must have understood, Ram, I never meant anything that would really bother you much, and I thought--well, I really thought it was a good thing, you--your--well, I mean about her, you know. I'm on, all right. I know it's pretty serious with you." He paused.
Ramsey did not move, except that his right hand still fidgeted with the pen upon the table.
"Oh--well--" he said.
"It's--it's kind of tough luck!" his friend contrived to say; and he began to pace the floor again.
"See here, ole stick-in-the-mud," Fred broke out abruptly. "After her saying what she did-- Well, it's none o' my business, but-- but--"
"Well, what?" Ramsey murmured. "I don't care what you say, if you want to say anything."
"Well, I got to say it," Fred half groaned and half blurted. "After she said that--and she meant it--why, if I were in your place I'd be darned if I'd be seen out walking with her again."
"I'm not going to be," Ramsey said, quietly.
"By George!" And now Fred halted in front of him, both being huskily solemn. "I think I understand a little of what that means to you, old Ramsey; I think I do. I think I know something of what it costs you to make that resolution for your country's sake." Impulsively he extended his hand. "It's a pretty big thing for you to do. Will you shake hands?"
But Ramsey shook his head. "I didn't do it. I wouldn't ever have done anything just on account of her talkin' that way. She shut the door on me--it was a good while ago."
"She did! What for?"
"Well, I'm not much of a talker, you know, Fred," said Ramsey, staring at the pen he played with. "I'm not much of anything, for that matter, prob'ly, but I--well--I--"
"Well, I had to tell her I didn't feel about things the way she did. She'd thought I had, all along, I guess. Anyway, it made her hate me or something, I guess; and she called it all off. I expect there wasn't much to call off, so far as she was concerned, anyhow." He laughed feebly. "She told me I better go and enlist."
"Pleasant of her!" Fred muttered. "Especially as we know what she thinks enlisting means." He raised his voice cheerfully. "Well, that's settled; and, thank God, old Mr. Bernstorff's on his way to his sweet little vine-clad cottage home! They're getting guns on the ships, and the big show's liable to commence any day. We can hold up our heads now, and we're going to see some great times, old Ramsey boy! It's hard on the home folks--Gosh! I don't like to think of that! And I guess it's going to be hard on a lot of boys that haven't understood what it's all about, and hard on some that their family affairs, and business, and so on, have got 'em tied up so it's hard to go--and of course there's plenty that just can't, and some that aren't husky enough--but the rest of us are going to have the big time in our lives. We got an awful lot to learn; it scares me to think of what I don't know about being any sort of a rear-rank private. Why, it's a regular profession, like practising law, or selling for a drug house on the road. Golly! Do you remember how we talked about that, 'way back in freshman year, what we were going to do when we got out of college? You were going to be practising law, for instance, and I--well, f'r instance, remember Colburn; he was going to be a doctor, and he did go to some medical school for one year. Now he's in the Red Cross, somewhere in Persia. Golly!"
He paused to digest this impossibility, then chattered briskly on. "Well, there's one good old boy was with our class for a while, back in freshman year; I bet we won't see him in any good old army! Old rough-neck Linski that you put the knob on his nose for. Tommie Hopper says he saw him last summer in Chicago soapboxin', yellin' his head off cussin' every government under the sun, but mostly ours and the Allies', you bet, and going to run the earth by revolution and representatives of unskilled labour immigrants, nobody that can read or write allowed to vote, except Linski. Tommie Hopper says he knows all about Linski; he never did a day's work in his life--too busy trying to get the workingmen stirred up against the people that exploit 'em! Tommie says he had a big crowd to hear him, though, and took up quite a little money for a 'cause' or something. Well, let him holler! I guess we can attend to him when we get back from over yonder. By George, old Ram, I'm gettin' kind of floppy in the gills!" He administered a resounding slap to his comrade's shoulder. "It certainly looks as if our big days were walking toward us!"
He was right. The portentous days came on apace, and each one brought a new and greater portent. The faces of men lost a driven look besetting them in the days of badgered waiting, and instead of that heavy apprehension one saw the look men's faces must have worn in 1776 and 1861, and the history of the old days grew clearer in the new. The President went to the Congress, and the true indictment he made there reached scoffing Potsdam with an unspoken prophecy somewhat chiling even to Potsdam, one guesses--and then through an April night went almost quietly the steady work: we were at war with Germany.
The bugles sounded across the continent; drums and fifes played up and down the city streets and in town and village squares and through the countrysides. Faintly in all ears there was multitudinous noise like distant, hoarse cheering... and a sound like that was what Dora Yocum heard, one night, as she sat lonely in her room. The bugles and fifes and drums had been heard about the streets of the college town, that day, and she thought she must die of them, they hurt her so, and now to be haunted by this imaginary cheering--
She started. Was it imaginary?
She went downstairs and stood upon the steps of the dormitory in the open air. No; the cheering was real and loud. It came from the direction of the railway station, and the night air surged and beat with it.
Below her stood the aged janitor of the building, listening. "What's the cheering for?" she asked, remembering grimly that the janitor was one of her acquaintances who had not yet stopped "speaking" to her. "What's the matter?"
"It's a good matter," the old man answered. "I guess there must be a big crowd of 'em down there. One of our students enlisted to-day, and they're givin' him a send-off. Listen to 'em, how they do cheer. He's the first one to go."
She went back to her room, shivering, and spent the next day in bed with an aching head. She rose in the evening, however--a handbill had been slid under her door at five o'clock, calling a "Mass Meeting" of the university at eight, and she felt it her duty to go; but when she got to the great hall she found a seat in the dimmest corner, farthest from the rostrum.
The president of the university addressed the tumultuous many hundreds before him, for tumultuous they were until he quieted them. He talked to them soberly of patriotism, and called upon them for "deliberation and a little patience." There was danger of a stampede, he said, and he and the rest of the faculty were in a measure responsible to their fathers and mothers for them.
"You must keep your heads," he said. "God knows, I do not seek to judge your duty in this gravest moment of your lives, nor assume to tell you what you must or must not do. But by hurrying into service now, without careful thought or consideration, you may impair the extent of your possible usefulness to the very cause you are so anxious to serve. Hundreds of you are taking technical courses which should be completed--at least to the end of the term in June. Instructors from the United States Army are already on the way here, and military training will be begun at once for all who are physically eligible and of acceptable age. A special course will be given in preparation for flying, and those who wish to become aviators may enroll themselves for the course at once.
"I speak to you in a crisis of the university's life, as well as that of the nation, and the warning I utter has been made necessary by what took place yesterday and to-day. Yesterday morning, a student in the junior class enlisted as a private in the United States Regular Army. Far be it from me to deplore his course in so doing; he spoke to me about it, and in such a way that I felt I had no right to dissuade him. I told him that it would be preferable for college men to wait until they could go as officers, and, aside from the fact of a greater prestige, I urged that men of education could perhaps be more useful in that capacity. He replied that if he were useful enough as a private a commission might in time come his way, and, as I say, I did not feel at liberty to attempt dissuasion. He left to join a regiment to which he had been assigned, and many of you were at the station to bid him farewell.
"But enthusiasm may be too contagious; even a great and inspiring motive may work for harm, and the university must not become a desert. In the twenty-four hours since that young man went to join the army last night, one hundred and eleven of our young men students have left our walls; eighty-four of them went off together at three o'clock to catch an east-bound train at the junction and enlist for the Navy at Newport. We are, I say, in danger of a stampede."
He spoke on, but Dora was not listening; she had become obsessed by the idea which seemed to be carrying her to the border of tragedy. When the crowd poured forth from the building she went with it mechanically, and paused in the dark outside. She spoke to a girl whom she did not know.
"I beg your pardon--"
"I wanted to ask: Do you know who was the student Doctor Corvis spoke of? I mean the one that was the first to enlist, and that they were cheering last night when he went away to be a private in the United States Army. Did you happen to hear his name?"
"Yes, he was a junior."
"Who was it?"