Her Country Too by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews
David Lance sat wondering. He was not due at the office till ten this Saturday night and he was putting in a long and thorough wonder. About the service in all its branches; about finance; about the new Liberty Loan. First, how was he to stop being a peaceful reporter on the Daybreak and get into uniform; that wonder covered a class including the army, navy and air-service, for he had been refused by all three; he wondered how a small limp from apple-tree acrobatics at ten might be so explained away that he might pass; reluctantly he wondered also about the Y.M.C.A. But he was a fighting man par excellence. For him it would feel like slacking to go into any but fighting service. Six feet two and weighing a hundred and ninety, every ounce possible to be muscle was muscle; easy, joyful twenty-four-year-old muscle which knew nothing of fatigue. He was certain he would make a fit soldier for Uncle Sam, and how, how he wanted to be Uncle Sam's soldier!
He was getting desperate. Every man he knew in the twenties and many a one under and over, was in uniform; bitterly he envied the proud peace in their eyes when he met them. He could not bear to explain things once more as he had explained today to Tom Arnold and "Beef" Johnson, and "Seraph" Olcott, home on leave before sailing for France. He had suffered while they listened courteously and hurried to say that they understood, that it was a shame, and that: "You'll make it yet, old son." And they had then turned to each other comparing notes of camps. It made little impression that he had toiled and sweated early and late in this struggle to get in somewhere--army, navy, air-service--anything to follow the flag. He wasn't allowed. He was still a reporter on the Daybreak while the biggest doings of humanity were getting done, and every young son of America had his chance to help. With a strong, tireless body aching for soldier's work, America, his mother, refused him work. He wasn't allowed.
Lance groaned, sitting in his one big chair in his one small room. There were other problems. A Liberty Loan drive was on, and where could he lay hands on money for bonds? He had plunged on the last loan and there was yet something to pay on the $200 subscription. And there was no one and nothing to fall back on except his salary as reporter for the Daybreak. His father had died when he was six, and his mother eight years ago; his small capital had gone for his four years, at Yale. There was no one--except a legend of cousins in the South. Never was any one poorer or more alone. Yet he must take a bond or two. How might he hold up his head not to fight and not to buy bonds. A knock at the door.
"Come in," growled Lance.
The door opened, and a picture out of a storybook stood framed and smiling. One seldom sees today in the North the genuine old-fashioned negro-woman. A sample was here in Lance's doorway. A bandanna of red and yellow made a turban for her head; a clean brownish calico dress stood crisply about a solid and waistless figure, and a fresh white apron covered it voluminously in front; a folded white handkerchief lay, fichu-wise, around the creases of a fat black neck; a basket covered with a cloth was on her arm. She stood and smiled as if to give the treat time to have its effect on Lance. "Look who's here!" was in large print all over her. And she radiated peace and good-will.
Lance was on his feet with a shout. "Bless your fat heart, Aunt Basha--I'm glad to see you," he flung at her, and seized the basket and slung it half across the room to a sofa with a casualness, alarming to Aunt Basha--christened Bathsheba seventy-five years ago, but "rightly known," she had so instructed Lance, as "Aunt Basha."
"Young marse, don' you ruinate the washin', please sir," she adjured in liquid tones.
"Never you mind. It's the last one you'll do for me," retorted Lance. "Did I tell you you couldn't have the honor of washing for me anymore, Aunt Basha?"
Aunt Basha was wreathed in smiles.
"Yassir, young marse. You tole me dat mo'n tree times befo', a'ready, sir."
"Well--it's final this time. Can't stand your prices. I can't stand your exorbitant prices. Now what do you have the heart to charge for dusting off those three old shirts and two and a half collars? Hey?"
Aunt Basha, entirely serene, was enjoying the game. "What does I charges, sir? Fo' dat wash, which you slung 'round acrost de room, sir? Well, sir, young marse, I charges fo' dollars 'n sev'nty fo' cents, sir, dis week. Fo' dat wash."
Lance let loose a howl and flung himself into his chair as if prostrated, long legs out and arms hanging to the floor. Aunt Basha shook with laughter. This was a splendid joke and she never, never tired of it. "You see!" he threw out, between gasps. "Look at that! Fo' dollars 'n sev'nty fo' cents." He sat up suddenly and pointed a big finger, "Aunt Basha," he whispered, "somebody's been kidding you. Somebody's lied. This palatial apartment, much as it looks like it, is not the home of John D. Rockefeller." He sprung up, drew an imaginary mantle about him, grasped one elbow with the other hand, dropped his head into the free palm and was Cassius or Hamlet or Faust--all one to Aunt Basha. His left eyebrow screwed up and his right down, and he glowered. "List to her," he began, and shot out a hand, immediately to replace it where it was most needed, under his elbow. "But list, ye Heavens and protect the lamb from this ravening wolf. She chargeth--oh high Heavens above!--she expecteth me to pay"--he gulped sobs--"the extortioner, the she-wolf--expecteth me to pay her--fo' dollars 'n sev'nty fo' cents!"
Aunt Basha, entranced with this drama, quaked silently like a large coffee jelly, and with that there happened a high, rich, protracted sound which was laughter, but laughter not to be imitated of any vocal chords of a white race. The delicious note soared higher, higher it seemed than the scale of humanity, and was riotous velvet and cream, with no effort or uncertainty. Lance dropped his Mephistopheles pose and grinned.
"It's Q sharp!" he commented. "However does she do it!"
"Naw, sir, young marse," Aunt Basha began, descending to speech. "De she-wolf, she don' expecteth you to pay no fo' dollars 'n sev'nty fo' cents, sir. Dat's thes what I charges. Dat ain' what you pay. You thes pay me sev'nty fo' cents sir. Dat's all."
"Oh!" Lance let it out like a ten-year-old. It was hard to say which enjoyed this weekly interview more, the boy or the old woman. The boy was lonely and the humanity unashamed of her race and personality made an atmosphere which delighted him. "Oh!" gasped Lance. "That's a relief. I thought it was goodbye to my Sunday trousers."
Aunt Basha, comfortable and efficient, was unpacking the basket and putting away the wash in the few bureau drawers which easily held the boy's belongings. "Dey's all mended nice," she announced. "Young marse, sir, you better wa' out dese yer ole' undercloses right now, endurin' de warm weather, 'caze dey ain' gwine do you fo' de col'. You 'bleeged to buy some new ones sir, when it comes off right cool."
Lance smiled, for there was no one but this old black woman to take care of him and advise his haphazard housekeeping, and he liked it. "Can't buy new ones," he made answer. "There you go again, mixing me up with Rockefeller. I'm not even the Duke of Westminster, do you see. I haven't got any money. Only sev'nty fo' cents for the she-wolf."
Aunt Basha chuckled. Long ago there had been a household of young people in the South whose clothes she, a very young woman then, had mended; there had been a boy who talked nonsense to her much as this boy--Marse Pendleton. But trouble had come; everything had broken like a card-house under an ocean wave. "De fambly" was lost, and she and her young husband, old Uncle Jeems of today, had drifted by devious ways to this Northern city. "Ef you ain't got de money handy dis week, young marse, you kin pay me nex' week thes as well," suggested the she-wolf.
Then the big boy was standing over her, and she was being patted on the shoulder with a touch that all but brought tears to the black, dim eyes. "Don't you dare pay attention to my drool, or I'll never talk to you again," Lance ordered. "Your sev'nty fo' cents is all right, and lots more. I've got heaps of cash that size, Aunt Basha. But I want to buy Liberty Bonds, and I don't know how in hell I'm going to get big money." The boy was thinking aloud. "How am I to raise two hundred for a couple of bonds, Aunt Basha? Tell me that?" He scratched into his thatch of hair and made a puzzled face.
"What fo' you want big money, young marse?"
"Bonds. Liberty Bonds. You know what that is?"
"You don't? Well you ought to," said Lance. "There isn't a soul in this country who oughtn't to have a bond. It's this way. You know we're fighting a war?"
"Yassir. Young Ananias Johnson, he's Sist' Amanda's boy, he done tole his Unk Jeems 'bout dat war. And Jeems, he done tole me."
Lance regarded her. Was it possible that the ocean upheaval had stirred even the quietest backwater so little? "Well, anyhow, it's the biggest war that ever was on earth."
Aunt Basha shook her head. "You ain't never seed de War of de Rebullium," she stated with superiority. "You's too young. Well, I reckon dis yer war ain't much on to dat war. Naw, sir! Dat ar was a sure 'nough war--yas, sir!"
Lance considered. He decided not to contest the point. "Anyhow Aunt Basha, this is an awfully big war. And if we don't win it the Germans will come over here and murder the most of us, and make you and Uncle Jeems work in the fields from daylight till dark."
"Dem low down white trash!" commented Aunt Basha.
"Yes, and worse. And Uncle Sam can't beat the Germans unless we all help. He needs money to buy guns for the soldiers, and food and clothes. So he's asking everybody--just everybody--to lend him money--every cent they can raise to buy things to win the war. He gives each person who lends him any, a piece of paper which is a promise to pay it back, and that piece of paper is called a bond--Uncle Sam's promise to pay. Everybody ought to help by giving up every cent they have. The soldiers are giving their lives to save us from the horrible Germans. They're going over there to live in mud and water and sleep in holes of the earth, to be shot and wounded and tortured and killed. They're facing that for our sakes, to save us from worse than death, for you and Uncle Jeems and me, Aunt Basha. Now, oughtn't we to give all we've got to take care of those boys--our soldiers?"
Lance had forgotten his audience, except that he was wording his speech carefully in the simplest English. It went home.
"Oh, my Lawd!" moaned Aunt Basha, sitting down and rocking hard. "Does dey sleep in de col' yeth? Oh, my Lawd have mercy!" It was the first realization she had had of the details of the war. "You ain't gwine over dar, is you young marse, honey?" she asked anxiously.
"I wish to God I was," spoke Lance through set teeth. "No, Aunt Basha, they won't take me. Because I'm lame. I'd give my life to go. And because I can't fight I must buy bonds. Do you see? I must. I'd sell my soul to get money for Liberty Bonds. Oh, God!" Lance was as if alone, with only that anxious old black face gazing up at him. "Oh, God--it's my country!"
Suddenly the rich flowing voice spoke. "Young marse, it's my country too, sir," said Aunt Basha.
Lance turned and stared. How much did the words mean to the old woman? In a moment he knew.
"Yas, my young marseter, dis yer America's de ole black 'oman's country, thes like it's fine young white man's, like you, sir. I gwine give my las' cent, like you say. Yas, I gwine do dat. I got two hun'erd dollars, sir; I b'en a-savin' and a-savin' for Jeems 'n me 'ginst when we git ole, but I gwine give dat to my country. I want Unc' Sam to buy good food for dem boys in the muddy water. Bacon 'n hominy, sir--'n corn bread, what's nourishin'. 'N I want you to git de--de Liberty what-je-call-'ems. Yassir. 'Caze you ain't got no ma to he'ep you out, 'n de ole black 'oman's gwine to be de bes' ma she know how to her young marse. I got de money tied up--" she leaned forward and whispered--"in a stockin' in de bottom draw' ob de chist unner Jeem's good coat. Tomorrow I gwine fetch it, 'n you go buy yo' what-je-calls-'ems."
Lance went across and knelt on the floor beside her and put his arms around the stout figure. He had been brought up with a colored mammy and this affection seemed natural and homelike. "Aunt Basha, you're one of the saints," he said. "And I love you for it. But I wouldn't take your blessed two hundred, not for anything on earth. I'd be a hound to take it. If you want some bonds"--it flashed to him that the money would be safer so than in the stocking under Jeem's coat--"why, I'll get them for you. Come into the Daybreak office and ask for me, say--Monday. And I'll go with you to the bank and get bonds. Here's my card. Show anybody that at the office." And he gave directions.
Five minutes later the old woman went off down the street talking half aloud to herself in fragments of sentences about "Liberty what-je-call-'ems" and "my country too." In the little shack uptown that was home for her and her husband she began at once to set forth her new light. Jeems, who added to the family income by taking care of furnaces and doing odd jobs, was grizzled and hobbling of body, but argumentative of soul.
"'Oman," he addressed Aunt Basha, "Unc' Sam got lots o' money. What use he gwine have, great big rich man lak Unc' Sam, fo' yo' two hun'erd? But we got mighty lot o' use fo' dat money, we'uns. An' you gwine gib dat away? Thes lak a 'oman!" which, in other forms, is an argument used by male people of many classes.
Aunt Basha suggested that Young Marse David said something about a piece of paper and Uncle Sam paying back, but Jeems pooh-poohed that.
"Naw, sir. When big rich folks goes round collectin' po' folkses money, is dey liable to pay back? What good piece o' paper gwine do you? Is dey aimin' to let you see de color ob dat money agin? Naw, sir. Dey am not." He proceeded to another branch of the subject. "War ain' gwine las' long, nohow. Young Ananias he gwine to Franch right soon, an' de yether colored brothers. De Germans dey ain't gwine las' long, once ef dey see us Anglo-Saxons in de scrablin'. Naw, sir.
"White man what come hyer yether day, he say how dey ain't gwine 'low de colored sojers to fight," suggested Aunt Basha. German propaganda reaches far and takes strange shapes.
"Don' jer go to b'lieve dat white man, 'oman," thundered Jeems, thumping with his fist. "He dunno nawthin', an' I reckon he's a liar. Unc' Sam he say we kin fight an' we gwine fight. An' de war ain't las' long atter we git to fightin' good."
Aunt Basha, her hands folded on the rounded volume of apron considered deeply. After a time she arrived at a decision.
"Jeems," she began, "yo' cert'nly is a strong reasoner. Yassir. But I got it bo'ne in upon me powerful dat I gotter give dese yer savin's to Unc' Sam. It's my country too, Jeems, same as dem sojers what's fightin', dem boys in de mud what ain' got a soul to wash fo' 'em. An' lak as not dey mas not dere. Dem boys is fightin', and gittin' wet and hunted up lak young marse say, fo' Aunt Basha and--bress dere hearts"--Aunt Basha broke down, and the upshot was that Jeems washed his hands of an obstinate female and--the savings not being his in any case--gave unwilling consent.
Youth of the sterner set is apt to be casual in making appointments. It had not entered Lance's head to arrange in case he was not at the office. As for Aunt Basha, her theory was that he reigned there over an army of subordinates from morning till evening. So that she was taken aback when told that Mr. Lance was out and no one could say when he would be in. She had risen at dawn and done her housework and much of the fine washing which she "took in," and had then arrayed herself in her best calico dress and newest turban and apron for the great occasion and had reported at the Daybreak office at nine-thirty. And young marse wasn't there.
"I'll set and rest ontwell he comes in," she announced, and retired to a chair against the wall.
There she folded her hands statelily and sat erect, motionless, an image of fine old dignity. But much thinking was going on inside the calm exterior. What was she going to do if young marse did not come back? She had the $200 with her, carefully pinned and double pinned into a pocket in her purple alpaca petticoat. She did not want to take it home. Jeems had submitted this morning, but with mutterings, and a second time there might be trouble. The savings were indeed hers, but a rebellious husband in high finance is an embarrassment. Deeply Aunt Basha considered, and memory whispered something about a bank. Young marse was going to the bank with her to give her money to Uncle Sam. She had just passed a bank. Why could she not go alone? Somebody certainly would tell her what to do. Possibly Uncle Sam was there himself--for Aunt Basha's conception of our national myth was half mystical, half practical--as a child with Santa Claus. In any case banks were responsible places, and somebody would look after her. She crossed to the desk where two or three young men appeared to be doing most of the world's business.
The three looked up.
"Good mawnin', young marsters. I'm 'bleeged to go now. I cert'nly thank you-all fo' lettin' me set in de cheer. I won't wait fo' marse David Lance no mo', sir. Good mawnin', marsters."
A smiling courtesy dropped, and she was gone.
"I'll be darned!" remarked reporter number one.
"Where did that blow in from?" added reporter number two.
But reporter number three had imagination. "The dearest old soul I've seen in a blue moon," said he.
Aunt Basha proceeded down the street and more than one in the crowd glanced twice at the erect, stout figure swinging, like a quaint and stately ship in full sail, among the steam-tuggery of up-to-date humanity. There were high steps leading to the bank entrance, impressive and alarming to Aunt Basha. She paused to take breath for this adventure. Was a humble old colored woman permitted to walk freely in at those grand doors, open iron-work and enormous of size? She did not know. She stood a moment, suddenly frightened and helpless, not daring to go on, looking about for a friendly face. And behold! there it was--the friendliest face in the world, it seemed to the lost old soul--a vision of loveliness. It was the face of a beautiful young white lady in beautiful clothes who had stepped from a huge limousine. She was coming up the steps, straight to Aunt Basha. She saw the old woman, saw her anxious hesitation, and halted. The next event was a heavenly smile. Aunt Basha knew the repartee to that, and the smile that shone in answer was as heavenly in its way as the girl's.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" spoke a voice of gentleness.
And the world had turned over and come up right side on top. "Mawnin', Miss. Yas'm, I was fixin' to go in dat big do' yander, but I dunno as I'm 'lowed. Is I 'lowed, young miss, to go in dar an' gib my two hun'erd to Unc' Sam?"
"What?" The tone was kindness itself, but bewildered.
Aunt Basha elucidated. "I got two hun'erd, young miss, and I cert'nly want to gib it to Unc' Sam to buy clo'se for dem boys what's fightin' for us in Franch."
"I wonder," spoke the girl, gazing thoughtfully, "if you want to get a Liberty Bond?"
"Yas'm--yas, miss. Dat's sho' it, a whatjer-ma-call-'em. I know'd 'twas some cu'is name lak dat." The vision nodded her head.
"I'm going in to do that very thing myself," she said. "Come with me. I'll help you get yours."
Aunt Basha followed joyfully in the wake, and behold, everything was easy. Ready attention met them and shortly they sat in a private office carpeted in velvet and upholstered in grandeur. A personage gave grave attention to what the vision was saying.
"I met--I don't know your name," she interrupted herself, turning to the old negro woman.
Aunt Basha rose and curtsied. "Dey christened me Bathsheba Jeptha, young miss," she stated. "But I'se rightly known as Aunt Basha. Jes' Aunt Basha, young miss. And marster."
A surname was disinterred by the efforts of the personage which appeared to startle the vision.
"Why, it's our name, Mr. Davidson," she exclaimed. "She said Cabell."
Aunt Basha turned inquiring, vague eyes. "Is it, honey? Is yo' a Cabell?"
And then the personage, who was, after all, cashier of the Ninth National Bank and very busy, cut in. "Ah, yes! A well known Southern name. Doubtless a large connection. And now Mrs.--ah--Cabell--"
"I'd be 'bleeged ef yo' jis' name me Aunt Basha, marster."
And marster, rather intrigue because he, being a New Englander, had never in his life addressed as "aunt" a person who was not sister to his mother or his father, nevertheless became human and smiled. "Well, then, Aunt Basha."
At a point a bit later he was again jolted when he asked the amount which his newly adopted "aunt" wanted to invest. For an answer she hauled high the folds of her frock, unconscious of his gasp or of the vision's repressed laughter, and went on to attack the clean purple alpaca petticoat which was next in rank, Mr. Davidson thought it wise at this point to make an errand across the room. He need not have bothered as far as Aunt Basha was concerned. When he came back she was again a la mode and held an ancient beaded purse at which she gazed. Out of a less remote pocket she drew steel spectacles, which were put on. Mr. Davidson repeated his question of how much.
"It's all hyer, marster. It's two hun'erd dollars, sir. I ben savin' up fo' twenty years an' mo', and me'n Jeems, we ben countin' it every mont, so I reckon I knows."
The man and the girl regarded the old woman a moment. "It's a large sum for you to invest," Mr. Davidson said.
"Yassir. Yas, marster. It's right smart money. But I sho' am glad to gib dis hyer to Unc' Sam for dem boys."
The cashier of the Ninth National Bank lifted his eyes from the blank he was filling out and looked at Aunt Basha thoughtfully. "You understand, of course, that the Government--Uncle Sam--is only borrowing your money. That you may have it back any time you wish."
Aunt Basha drew herself up. "I don' wish it, sir. I'm gibin' dis hyer gif,' a free gif' to my country. Yassir. It's de onliest country I got, an' I reckon I got a right to gib dis hyer what I earned doin' fine washin' and i'nin. I gibs it to my country. I don't wan' to hyer any talk 'bout payin' back. Naw, sir."
It took Mr. Davidson and the vision at least ten minutes to make clear to Aunt Basha the character and habits of a Liberty Bond, and then, though gratified with the ownership of what seemed a brand new $200 and a valuable slip of paper--which meandered, shamelessly into the purple alpaca petticoat--yet she was disappointed.
"White folks sho' am cu'is," she reflected, "Now who'd 'a thought 'bout dat way ob raisin' money! Not me--no, Lawd! It do beat me." With that she threw an earnest glance at Mr. Davidson, lean and tall and gray, with a clipped pointed beard. "'Scuse me, marster," said Aunt Basha, "mout I ask a quexshun?"
"Surely," agreed Mr. Davidson blandly.
"Is you'--'scuse de ole 'oman, sir--is you' Unc' Sam?"
The "quexshun" left the personage too staggered to laugh. But the girl filled the staid place with gay peals. Then she leaned over and patted the wrinkled and bony worn black knuckles. "Bless your dear heart," she said; "no, he isn't, Aunt Basha. He's awfully important and good to us all, and he knows everything. But he's not Uncle Sam."
The bewilderment of the old face melted to smiles. "Dar, now," she brought out; "I mout 'a know'd, becaze he didn't have no red striped pants. An' de whiskers is diff'ent, too. 'Scuse me, sir, and thank you kindly, marster. Thank you, young miss. De Lawd bress you fo' helpin' de ole 'oman." She had risen and she dropped her old time curtsey at this point. "Mawnin' to yo', marster and young miss."
But the girl sprang up. "You can't go," she said. "I'm going to take you to my house to see my grandmother. She's Southern, and our name is Cabell, and likely--maybe--she knew your people down South."
"Maybe, young miss. Dar's lots o' Cabells," agreed Aunt Basha, and in three minutes found herself where she had never thought to be, inside a fine private car.
She was dumb with rapture and excitement, and quite unable to answer the girl's friendly words except with smiles and nods. The girl saw how it was and let her be, only patting the calico arm once and again reassuringly. "I wonder if she didn't want to come. I wonder if I've frightened her," thought Eleanor Cabell. When into the silence broke suddenly the rich, high, irresistible music which was Aunt Basha's laugh, and which David Lance had said was pitched on "Q sharp." The girl joined the infectious sound and a moment after that the car stopped.
"This is home," said Eleanor.
Aunt Basha observed, with the liking for magnificence of a servant trained in a large house, the fine facade and the huge size of "home." In a moment she was inside, and "young miss" was carefully escorting her into a sunshiny big room, where a wood fire burned, and a bird sang, and there were books and flowers.
"Wait here, Aunt Basha, dear," Eleanor said, "and I'll get Grandmother." It was exactly like the loveliest of dreams, Aunt Basha told Jeems an hour later. It could not possibly have been true, except that it was. When "Grandmother" came in, slender and white-haired and a bit breathless with this last surprise of a surprising granddaughter, Aunt Basha stood and curtsied her stateliest.
Then suddenly she cried out, "Fo' God! Oh, my Miss Jinny!" and fell on her knees.
Mrs. Cabell gazed down, startled. "Who is it? Oh, whom have you brought me, Eleanor?" She bent to look more closely at Aunt Basha, kneeling, speechless, tears streaming from the brave old eyes, holding up clasped hand imploring. "It isn't--Oh, my dear, I believe it is our own old nurse, Basha, who took care of your father!"
"Yas'm. Yas, Miss Jinny," endorsed Aunt Basha, climbing to her feet. "Yas, my Miss Jinny, bress de Lawd. It's Basha." She turned to the girl. "Dis yer chile ain't nebber my young Marse Pendleton's chile!"
But it was; and there was explanation and laughter and tears, too, but tears of happiness. Then it was told how, after that crash of disaster was over; the family had tried in vain to find Basha and Jeems; had tried always. It was told how a great fortune had come to them in the turn of a hand by the discovery of an unsuspected salt mine on the old estate; how "young Marse Pendleton," a famous surgeon now, had by that time made for himself a career and a home in this Northern state; how his wife had died young, and his mother, "Miss Jinny," had come to live with him and take care of his one child, the vision. And then the simple annals of Aunt Basha and Uncle Jeems were also told, the long struggle to keep respectable, only respectable; the years of toil and frugality and saving--saving the two hundred dollars which she had offered this morning as a "free gif" to her country. In these annals loomed large for some time past the figure of a "young marse" who had been good to her and helped her much and often in spite of his own "res augusta domi,"--which was not Aunt Basha's expression. The story was told of his oration in the little hall bedroom about Liberty "whatjer-m'-call-'ems," and of how the boy had stirred the soul of the old woman with his picture of the soldiers in the trenches.
"So it come to me, Miss Jinny, how ez me'n Jeems was thes two wuthless ole niggers, an' hadn't fur to trabble on de road anyways, an' de Lawd would pervide, an' ef He didn't we could scratch grabble some ways. An' dat boy, dat young Marse David, he tole me everbody ought to gib dey las' cent fo' Unc' Sam an' de sojers. So"--Aunt Basha's high, inexpressibly sweet laughter of pure glee filled the room--"so I thes up'n handed over my two hun'erd."
"It was the most beautiful and wonderful thing that's been done in all wonderful America," pronounced Eleanor Cabell as one having authority. She went on. "But that young man, your young Marse David, why doesn't he fight if he's such a patriot?"
"Bress gracious, honey," Aunt Basha hurried to explain, "he's a-honin' to fight. But he cayn't. He's lame. He goes a-limpin'. Dey won't took him."
"Oh!" retracted Eleanor. Then: "What's his name? Maybe father could cure him."
"He name Lance. Marse David Lance."
Why should Miss Jinny jump? "David Lance? It can't be, Aunt Basha."
With no words Aunt Basha began hauling up her skirts and Eleanor, remembering Mr. Davidson's face, went into gales of laughter. Aunt Basha baited, looked at her with an inquiring gaze of adoration. "Yas'm, my young miss. He name dat. I done put the cyard in my ridicule. Yas'm, it's here." The antique bead purse was opened and Lance's card was presented to Miss Jinny.
"Eleanor! This is too wonderful--look!"
Eleanor looked, and read: "Mr. David Pendleton Lance." "Why, Grandmother, it's Dad's name--David Pendleton Cabell. And the Lance--"
Mrs. Cabell, stronger on genealogy than the younger generation, took up the wandering thread. "The 'Lance' is my mother's maiden name--Virginia Lance she was. And her brother was David Pendleton Lance. I named your father for him because he was born on the day my young uncle was killed, in the battle of Shiloh."
"Well, then--who's this sailing around with our family name?"
"Who is he? But he must be our close kin, Eleanor. My Uncle David left--that's it. His wife came from California and she went out there again to live with her baby. I hadn't heard of them for years. Why, Eleanor, this boy's father must have been--my first cousin. My young Uncle David's baby. Those years of trouble after we left home wiped out so much. I lost track--but that doesn't matter now. Aunt Basha," spoke Miss Jinny in a quick, efficient voice, which suddenly recalled the blooming and businesslike mother of the young brood of years ago, "Aunt Basha, where can I find your young Marse David?"
Aunt Basha smiled radiantly and shook her head. "Cayn't fin' him, honey? I done tried, and he warn't dar."
"At de orfice, Miss Jinny."
"At what office?"
"Why, de Daybreak orfice, cose, Miss Jinny. What yether orfice he gwine be at?"
"Oh!" Miss Jinny followed with ease the windings of the African mind. "He's a reporter on the Daybreak then."
"'Cose he is, Miss Jinny, ma'am. Whatjer reckon?"
Miss Jinny reflected. Then: "Eleanor, call up the Daybreak office and ask if Mr. Lance is there and if he will speak to me."
But Aunt Basha was right. Mr. Lance was not at the Daybreak office. Mrs. Cabell was as grieved as a child.
"We'll find him, Grandmother," Eleanor asserted. "Why, of course--it's a morning paper. He's home sleeping. I'll get his number." She caught up the telephone book.
Aunt Basha chuckled musically. "He ain't got no tullaphome, honey chile. No, my Lawd! Whar dat boy gwine git money for tullaphome and contraptions? No, my Lawd!"
"How will we get him?" despaired Mrs. Cabell. The end of the council was a cryptic note in the hand of Jackson, the chauffeur, and orders to bring back the addressee at any cost.
Meanwhile, as Jackson stood in his smart dark livery taking orders with the calmness of efficiency, feeling himself capable of getting that young man, howsoever hidden, the young man himself was wasting valuable hours off in day-dreams. In the one shabby big chair of the hall bedroom he sat and smoked a pipe, and stared at a microscopic fire in a toy grate. It was extravagant of David Lance to have a fire at all, but as long as he gave up meals to do it likely it was his own affair. The luxuries mean more than the necessities to plenty of us. With comfort in this, his small luxury, he watched the play of light and shadow, and the pulsing of the live scarlet and orange in the heart of the coals. He needed comfort today, the lonely boy. Two men of the office force who had gotten their commissions lately at an officer's training-camp had come in last night before leaving for Camp Devens; everybody had crowded about and praised them and envied them. They had been joked about the sweaters, and socks made by mothers and sweethearts, and about the trouble Uncle Sam would have with their mass of mail. The men in the office had joined to give each a goodbye present. Pride in them, the honor of them to all the force was shown at every turn; and beyond it all there was the look of grave contentment in their eyes which is the mark of the men who have counted the cost and given up everything for their country. Most of all soldiers, perhaps, in this great war, the American fights for an ideal. Also he knows it; down to the most ignorant drafted man, that inspiration has lifted the army and given it a star in the East to follow. The American fights for an ideal; the sign of it is in the faces of the men in uniform whom one meets everywhere in the street.
David Lance, splendidly powerful and fit except for the small limp which was his undoing, suffered as he joined, whole-hearted, in the glory of those who were going. Back in his room alone, smoking, staring into his dying fire, he was dreaming how it would feel if he were the one who was to march off in uniform to take his man's share of the hardship and comradeship and adventure and suffering, and of the salvation of the world. With that, he took his pipe from his mouth and grinned broadly into the fire as another phase of the question appeared. How would it feel if he was somebody's special soldier, like both of those boys, sent off by a mother or a sweetheart, by both possibly, overstocked with things knitted for him, with all the necessities and luxuries of a soldier's outfit that could be thought of. He remembered how Jarvis, the artillery captain, had showed them, proud and modest, his field glass.
"It's a good one," he had said. "My mother gave it to me. It has the Mills scale."
And Annesley, the kid, who had made his lieutenant's commission so unexpectedly, had broken in: "That's no shakes to the socks I've got on. If somebody'll pull off my boots I'll show you. Made in Poughkeepsie. A dozen pairs. Not my mother."
Lance smiled wistfully. Since his own mother died, eight years ago, he had drifted about unanchored, and though women had inevitably held out hands to the tall and beautiful lad, they were not the sort he cared for, and there had been none of his own sort in his life. Fate might so easily have given him a chance to serve his country, with also, maybe, just the common sweet things added which utmost every fellow had, and a woman or two to give him a sendoff and to write him letters over there sometimes. To be a soldier--and to be somebody's soldier! Why, these two things would mean Heaven! And hundreds of thousands of American boys had these and thought nothing of it. Fate certainly had been a bit stingy with a chap, considered David Lance, smiling into his little fire with a touch of wistful self-pity.
At this moment Fate, in smart, dark livery, knocked at his door. "Come in," shouted Lance cheerfully.
The door opened and he stared. Somebody had lost the way. Chauffeurs in expensive livery did not come to his hall bedroom. "Is dis yer Mr. Lance?" inquired Jackson.
Lance admitted it and got the note and read it while Jackson, knowing his Family intimately, knew that something pleasant and surprising was afoot and assisted with a discreet regard. When he saw that the note was finished, Jackson confidently put in his word. "Cyar's waitin', sir. Orders is I was to tote you to de house."
Lance's eyes glowered as he looked up. "Tell me one thing," he demanded.
"Yes, sir," grinned Jackson, pleased with this young gentleman from a very poor neighborhood, who quite evidently was, all the same, "quality."
"Are you," inquired Lance, "are you any relation to Aunt Basha?"
Jackson, for all his efficiency a friendly soul, forgot the dignity of his livery and broke into chuckles. "Naw, sir; naw, sir. I dunno de lady, sir; I reckon I ain't, sir," answered Jackson.
"All right, then, but it's the mistake of your life not to be. She's the best on earth. Wait till I brush my hair," said Lance, and did it.
Inside three minutes he was in the big Pierce-Arrow, almost as unfamiliar, almost as delightful to him as to Aunt Basha, and speeding gloriously through the streets. The note had said that some kinspeople had just discovered him, and would he come straight to them for lunch.
Mrs. Cabell and Eleanor crowded frankly to the window when the car stopped.
"I can't wait to see David's boy," cried Mrs. Cabell, and Eleanor, wise of her generation, followed with:
"Now, don't expect much; he may be deadly."
And out of the limousine stepped, unconscious, the beautiful David, and handed Jackson a dollar.
"Oh!" gasped Mrs. Cabell.
"It was silly, but I love it," added Eleanor; and David limped swiftly up the steps, and one heard Ebenezer, the butler, opening the door with suspicious promptness. Everyone in the house knew, mysteriously, that uncommon things were doing.
"Pendleton," spoke Mrs. Cabell, lying in wait for her son, the great doctor, as he came from his office at lunch time, "Pen, dear, let me tell you something extraordinary." She told, him, condensing as might be, and ended with; "And oh, Pen, he's the most adorable boy I ever saw. And so lonely and so poor and so plucky. Heartbroken because he's lame and can't serve. You'll cure him. Pen, dear, won't you, for his country?"
The tall, tired man bent down and kissed his mother. "Mummy, I'm not God Almighty. But I'll do my damdest for anything you want. Show me the paragon."
The paragon shot up, with the small unevenness which was his limp, and faced the big doctor on a level. The two pairs of eyes from their uncommon height, looked inquiringly into each other.
"I hear you have my name," spoke Dr. Cabell tersely.
"Yes, sir," said David, "And I'm glad." And the doctor knew that he also liked the paragon.
Lunch was an epic meal above and below stairs. Jeems had been fetched by that black Mercury Jackson, messenger today of the gods of joy. And the two old souls had been told by Mrs. Cabell that never again should they work hard or be anxious or want for anything. The sensation-loving colored servants rejoiced in the events as a personal jubilee, and made much of Aunt Basha and Unc' Jeems till their old heads reeled. Above stairs the scroll unrolled more or loss decorously, yet in magic colors unbelievable. Somehow David had told about Annesley and Jarvis last night.
"Somebody knitted him a whole dozen pairs of socks!" he commented, "Really she did. He said so. Think of a girl being as good to a chap as that."
"I'll knit you a dozen," Miss Eleanor Cabell capped his sentence, like the Amen at the end of a High Church prayer. "I'll begin this afternoon."
"And, David," said Mrs. Cabell--for it had got to be "David" and "Cousin Virginia" by now--"David, when you get your commission, I'll have your field glass ready, and a few other things."
Dr. Cabell lifted his eyes from his chop. "You'll spoil that boy," he stated. "And, mother, I pointed out that I'm not the Almighty, even on joints, I haven't looked at that game leg yet. I said it might be curable."
"That boy" looked up, smiling, with long years of loneliness and lameness written in the back of his glance. "Please don't make 'em stop, doctor," he begged. "I won't spoil easily. I haven't any start. And this is a fairy-story to me--wonderful people like you letting me--letting me belong. I can't believe I won't wake up. Don't you imagine it will go to my head. It won't. I'm just so blamed--grateful."
The deep young voice trailed, and the doctor made haste to answer. "You're all right, my lad," he said, "As soon as lunch is over you come into the surgery and I'll have a glance at the leg." Which was done.
After half an hour David came out, limping, pale and radiant. "I can't believe it," he spoke breathless. "He says--it's a simple--operation. I'll walk--like other men. I'll be right for--the service." He choked.
At that Mrs. Cabell sped across the room and put up hands either side of the young face and drew it down and kissed the lad whom she did not, this morning, know to be in existence. "You blessed boy," she whispered, "you shall fight for America, and you'll be our soldier, and we'll be your people." And David, kissing her again, looked over her head and saw Eleanor glowing like a rose, and with a swift, unphrased shock of happiness felt in his soul the wonder of a heaven that might happen. Then they were all about the fire, half-crying, laughing, as people do on top of strong feelings.
"Aunt Basha did it all," said David. "If Aunt Basha hadn't been the most magnificent old black woman who ever carried a snow-white soul, if she hadn't been the truest patriot in all America, if she hadn't given everything for her country--I'd likely never have--found you." His eyes went to the two kind and smiling faces, and his last word was a whisper. It was so much to have found. All he had dreamed, people of his own, a straight leg--and--his heart's desire--service to America.
Mrs. Cabell spoke softly, "I've lived a long time and I've seen over and over that a good deed spreads happiness like a pebble thrown into water, more than a bad one spreads evil, for good is stronger and more contagious. We've gained this dear kinsman today because of the nobility of an old negro woman."
David Lance lifted his head quickly. "It was no small nobility," he said. "As Miss Cabell was saying--"
"I'm your cousin Eleanor," interrupted Miss Cabell.
David lingered over the name. "Thank you, my cousin Eleanor. It's as you said, nothing more beautiful and wonderful has been done in wonderful America than this thing Aunt Basha did. It was as gallant as a soldier at the front, for she offered what meant possibly her life."
"Her little two hundred," Eleanor spoke gently. "And so cross at the idea of being paid back! She wanted to give it."
David's face gleamed with a thought as he stared into the firelight, "You see," he worked out his idea, "by the standards of the angels a gift must be big not according to its size but according to what's left. If you have millions and give a few thousand you practically give nothing, for you have millions left. But Aunt Basha had nothing left. The angels must have beaten drums and blown trumpets and raised Cain all over Paradise while you sat in the bank, my cousin Eleanor, for the glory of that record gift. No plutocrat in the land has touched what Aunt Basha did for her country."
Eleanor's eyes, sending out not only clear vision but a brown light as of the light of stars, shone on the boy. She bent forward, and her slender arms were about her knee. She gazed at David, marveling. How could it be that a human being might have all that David appeared to her to have--clear brain, crystal simplicity, manliness, charm of personality, and such strength and beauty besides!
"Yes," she said, "Aunt Basha gave the most. She has more right than any of us to say that it's her country." She was silent a moment and then spoke softly a single word. "America!" said Eleanor reverently.
America! Her sound has gone out into all lands and her words into the end of the world. America, who in a year took four million of sons untried, untrained, and made them into a mighty army; who adjusted a nation of a hundred million souls in a turn of the hand to unknown and unheard of conditions. America, whose greatest glory yet is not these things. America, of whom scholars and statesmen and generals and multi-millionaires say with throbbing pride today: "This is my country," but of whom the least in the land, having brought what they may, however small, to lay on that flaming altar of the world's safety--of whom the least in the land may say as truly as the greatest, "This is my country, too."