He That Loseth His Life Shall Find It by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews
The Red Cross women had gone home. Half an hour before, the large library had been filled with white-clad, white-veiled figures. Two long tables full, forty of them today, had been working; three thousand surgical dressings had been cut and folded and put away in large boxes on shelves behind glass doors where the most valuable books had held their stately existence for years. The books were stowed now in trunks in the attic. These were war days; luxuries such as first editions must wait their time. The great living-room itself, the center of home for this family since the two boys were born and ever this family had been, the dear big room with its dark carved oak, and tapestries, and stained glass, and books, and memories was given over now to war relief work.
Sometimes, as the mistress walked into the spacious, low-ceilinged, bright place, presences long past seemed to fill it intolerably. Brock and Hugh, little chaps, roared in untidy and tumultuous from football, or came, decorous and groomed, handsome, smart little lads, to be presented to guests. Her own Hugh, her husband, proud of the beautiful new house, smiled from the hearth to her as he had smiled twenty-six years back, the night they came in, a young Hugh, younger than Brock was now. Her father and mother, long gone over "to the majority," and the exquisite old ivory beauty of a beautiful grandmother--such ghosts rose and faced the woman as she stepped into the room where they had moved in life, the room with its loveliness marred by two long tables covered with green oilcloth, by four rows of cheap chairs, by rows and rows of boxes on shelves where soft and bright and dark colors of books had glowed. She felt often that she should explain matters to the room, should tell the walls which had sheltered peace and hospitality that she had consecrated them to yet higher service. Never for one instant, while her soul ached for the familiar setting, had she regretted its sacrifice. That her soul did ache made it worth while.
And the women gathered for this branch Red Cross organization, her neighbors on the edge of the great city, wives and daughters and mothers of clerks, and delivery-wagon drivers, and icemen, and night-watchmen, women who had not known how to take their part in the war work in the city or had found it too far to go, these came to her house gladly and all found pleasure in her beautiful room. That made it a joy to give it up to them. She stood in the doorway, feeling an emphasis in the quiet of the July afternoon because of the forty voices which had lately gone out of the sunshiny silence, of the forty busy figures in long, white aprons and white, sweeping veils, the tiny red cross gleaming over the forehead of each one, each face lovely in the uniform of service, all oddly equalized and alike under their veils and crosses. She spoke aloud as she tossed out her hands to the room:
"War will be over some day, and you will be our own again, but forever holy because of this. You will be a room of history when you go to Brock--"
Brock! Would Brock ever come home to the room, to this place which he loved? Brock, in France! She turned sharply and went out through the long hall and across the terrace, and sat down where the steps dropped to the garden, on the broad top step, with her head against the pillar of the balustrade. Above her the smell of box in a stone vase on the pillar punctured the mild air with its definite, reminiscent fragrance. Box is a plant of antecedents of sentiment, of memories. The woman inhaling its delicate sharpness, was caught back into days past. She considered, in rapid jumps of thought, events, episodes, epochs. The day Brock was born, on her own twentieth birthday, up-stairs where the rosy chintz curtains blew now out of the window; the first day she had come down to the terrace--it was June--and the baby lay in his bassinet by the balustrade in that spot--she looked at the spot--the baby, her big Brock, a bundle of flannel and fine, white stuff in lacy frills of the bassinet. And she loved him; she remembered how she had loved that baby, how, laughing at herself, she had whispered silly words over the stolid, pink head; how the girl's heart of her had all but burst with the astonishing new tide of a feeling which seemed the greatest of which she was capable. Yet it was a small thing to the way she loved Brock now. A vision came of little Hugh, three years younger, and the two toddling about the terrace together, Hugh always Brock's satellite and adorer, as was fitting; less sturdy, less daring than Brock, yet ready to go anywhere if only the older baby led. She thought of the day when Hugh, four years old, had taken fright at a black log among the bushes under the trees.
"It's a bear!" little Hugh had whispered, shaking, and Brock, brave but not too certain, had looked at her, inquiring.
"No, love, it's not a bear; it's an old log of wood. Go and put your hand on it, Hughie."
Little Hugh had cried out and shrunk back. "I'm afraid!" cried little Hugh.
And Brock, not entirely clear as to the no-bear theory, had yet bluffed manfully. "Come on, Hughie; let's go and bang 'um," said Brock.
Which invitation Hugh accepted reluctantly with a condition, "If you'll hold my hand, B'ocky."
The woman turned her head to see the place where the black log had lain, there in the old high bushes. And behold! Two strong little figures in white marched along--she could all but see them today--and the bigger little figure was dragging the other a bit, holding a hand with masterful grip. She could hear little Hugh's laughter as they arrived at the terrible log and found it truly a log. Even now Hugh's laugh was music.
"Why, it's nuffin but an old log o' wood!" little Hugh had squealed, as brave as a lion.
As she sat seeing visions, old Mavourneen, Brock's Irish wolf-hound, came and laid her muzzle on the woman's shoulder, crying a bit, as was Mavourneen's Irish way, for pleasure at finding the mistress. And with that there was a brown ripple and a patter of many soft feet, and a broken wave of dogs came around the corner, seven little cairn-terriers. Sticky and Sandy and their offspring. The woman let Sticky settle in her lap and drew Sandy under her arm, and the puppies looked up at her from the step below with ten serious, anxious eyes and then fell to chasing quite imaginary game up and down the stone steps. Mavourneen sighed deeply and dropped with a heavy thud, a great paw on the edge of the white dress and her beautiful head resting on her paws, the topaz, watchful eyes gazing over the city. The woman put her free hand back and touched the rough head.
"Dear dog!" she spoke.
Another memory came: how they had bought Mavourneen, she and Hugh and the boys, at the kennels in Ireland, eight years ago; how the huge baby had been sent to them at Liverpool in a hamper; the uproarious drive the four of them--Hugh, the two boys, and herself--and Mavourneen had taken in a taxi across the city. The puppy, astonished and investigating throughout the whole proceeding, had mounted all of them, separately and together, and insisted on lying in big Hugh's lap, crying broken-heartedly at not being allowed. How they had shouted laughter, the four and the boy taxi-driver, all the journey, till they ached! What good times they had always had together, the young father and mother and the two big sons! She reflected how she had not been at all the conventional mother of sons. She had not been satisfied to be gentle and benevolent and look after their clothes and morals. She had lived their lives with them, she had ridden and gone swimming with them, and played tennis and golf, and fished and shot and skated and walked with them, yes, and studied and read with them, all their lives.
"I haven't any respect for my mother," young Hugh told her one day. "I like her like a sister."
She was deeply pleased at this attitude; she did not wish their respect as a visible quality. Vision after vision came of the old times and care-free days while the four, as happy and normal a family as lived in the world, passed their alert, full days together before the war. Memory after memory took form in the brain of the woman, the center of that light-hearted life so lately changed, so entirely now a memory. War had come.
At first, in 1914, there had been excitement, astonishment. Then the horror of Belgium. One refused to believe that at first; it was a lurid slander on the kindly German people; then one believed with the brain; one's spirit could not grasp it. Unspeakable deeds such as the Germans' deeds--it was like a statement made concerning a fourth dimension of space; civilized modern folk were not so organized as to realize the facts of that bestiality.
"Aren't you thankful we're Americans?" the woman had said over and over.
One day her husband, answering usually with a shake of the head, answered in words. "We may be in it yet," he said. "I'm not sure but we ought to be."
Brock, twenty-one then, had flashed at her: "I want to be in it. I may just have to be, mother."
Young Hugh yawned a bit at that, and stretching his long arm, he patted his brother's shoulder. "Good old hero, Brock! I'll beat you a set of tennis. Come on."
That sudden speech of Brock's had startled her, had brought the war, in a jump which was like a stab, close. The war and Lindow--their place--how was it possible that this nightmare in Europe could touch the peace of the garden, the sunlit view of the river, the trees with birds singing in them, the scampering of the dogs down the drive? The distant hint of any connection between the great horror and her own was pain; she put the thought away.
Then the Lusitania was sunk. All America shouted shame through sobs of rage. The President wrote a beautiful and entirely satisfactory note.
"It should be war--war. It should be war today," Hugh had said, her husband. "We only waste time. We'll have to fight sooner or later. The sooner we begin, the sooner we'll finish."
"Fight!" young Hugh threw at him. "What with? We can just about make faces at 'em, father."
The boy's father did not laugh. "We had better get ready to do more than make faces; we've got to get ready." He hammered his hand on the stone balustrade. "I'm going to Plattsburg this summer, Evelyn."
"I'm going with you." Brock's voice was low and his mouth set, and the woman, looking at him, saw suddenly that her boy was a man.
"Well, then, as man power is getting low at Lindow, I'll stay and take care of Mummy. Won't I? We'll do awfully well without them, won't we, Mum? You can drive Dad's Rolls-Royce roadster, and if you leave on the handbrake up-hill, I'll never tell."
Father and son had gone off for the month in camp, and, glad as she was to have the younger boy with her, there was yet an uneasy, an almost subconscious feeling about him, which she indignantly denied each time that it raised its head. It never quite phrased itself, this fear, this wonder if Hugh were altogether as American as his father and brother. Question the courage and patriotism of her own boy? She flung the thought from her as again and yet again it came. People of the same blood were widely different. To Brock and his father it had come easily to do the obvious thing, to go to Plattsburg. It had not so come to young Hugh, but that in good time he would see his duty and do it she would not for an instant doubt. She would not break faith with the lad in thought. With a perfect delicacy she avoided any word that would influence him. He knew. All his life he had breathed loyalty. It was she herself, reading to them night after night through years, who had taught the boys hero worship--above all, worship of American heroes, Washington, Paul Jones, Perry, Farragut, Lee; how Dewey had said, "You may fire now, Gridley, if you are ready"; how Clark had brought the Oregon around the continent; how Scott had gone alone among angry Indians. She had taught them such names, names which will not die while America lives. It was she who had told the little lads, listening wide-eyed, that as these men had held life lightly for the glory of America, so her sons, if need came, must be ready to offer their lives for their country. She remembered how Brock, his round face suddenly scarlet, had stammered out:
"I am ready, Mummy. I'd die this minute for--for America. Wouldn't you, Hughie?"
And young Hugh, a slim, blond angel of a boy, of curly, golden hair and unexpected answers, had ducked beneath the hero, upsetting him into a hedge to his infinite anger. "I wouldn't die right now, Brocky," said Hugh. "There's going to be chocolate cake for lunch."
One could never count on Hugh's ways of doing things, but Brock was a stone wall of reliability. She smiled, thinking of his youth and beauty and entire boyishness, to think yet of the saying from the Bible which always suggested Brock, "Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee." It was so with the lad; through the gay heart and eager interest in life pulsed an atmosphere of deep religiousness. He was always "in perfect peace," and his mother, less balanced, had stayed her mind on that quiet and right young mind from its very babyhood. The lad had seen his responsibilities and lifted them all his life. It came to her how, when her own mother, very dear to Brock, had died, she had not let the lads go with her to the house of death for fear of saddening their youth, and how, when she and their father came home from the hard, terrible business of the funeral, they met little Hugh on the drive, rapturous at seeing them again, rather absorbed in his new dog. But Brock, then fourteen, was in the house alone, quiet, his fresh, dear face red with tears, and a black necktie of his father's, too large for him, tied under his collar. Of all the memories of her boys, that grotesque black tie was the most poignant and most precious. It said much. It said: "I also, O, my mother, am of my people. I have a right to their sorrows as well as to their joys, and if you do not give me my place in trouble, I shall do what I can alone, being but a boy. I shall give up play, and I shall wear mourning as I can, not knowing how very well, but pushed by all my being to be with my own in their mourning."
Quickly affection for the other lad asserted itself. Brock and Hugh were different, but Hugh was a dear boy, too--undeveloped, that was all. He had never taken life seriously, little Hugh, and now that this war-cloud hung over the world, he simply refused to look at it; he turned away his face. That was all, a temperament which loved harmony and shrank from ugliness; these things were young Hugh's limitations, and no ignoble quality.
In a long dream, yet much faster than the words have told it, in comprehensive flashes of memory, her elbows on her knees and her face, in her slender hands, looking out over the garden with its arched way of roses, with its high hedge, looking past the loveliness that was home to the city pulsing in summer heat, to the shining zigzag of river beyond the city, the woman reviewed her boys' lives. Boys were not now merely one phase of humanity; they had suddenly become the nation. They stood in the foreground of a world crisis; back of them America was ranged, orderly, living and moving to feed, clothe, and keep happy these millions of lads holding in their hands the fate of the earth. Her boys were but two, yet necessary. She owed them to the country, as other mothers of men.
There was a whistle under the archway, a flying step, and young Hugh shot from beneath the rosiness of Dorothy Perkins vines and took the stone steps in four bounds. All the dogs fell into a community chorus of barks and whines and patterings about, and Hugh's hands were on this one and that as he bent over the woman.
"A good kiss, Mummy; that's cold baked potato," he complained, and she laughed and hugged him.
"Not cold; I was just thinking. Your knee, Hughie? You came up like a bird."
Hugh made a face. "Bad break, that," he grinned, and limped across the terrace and back. "Mummy, it doesn't hurt much now, and I do forget," he explained, and his color deepened. With that: "Tom Arthur is waiting for me in town. We're going to pick up Whitney, the tennis champion, at the Crossroads Club. May I take Dad's roadster?"
"Yes, Hughie. And, Hugh, meet the train, the seven-five. Dad's coming to-night, you know."
The boy took her hand, looked at her uneasily. "Mummy, dear, don't be thinking sinful thoughts about me. And don't let Dad. Hold your fire, Mummy."
She lifted her face, and her eyes were the eyes of faith he had known all his life. "You blessed boy of mine, I will hold my fire." And then Hugh had all but knocked her over with a violent kiss again, and he slammed happily through the screen doors and was leaping up the stairs. Ten minutes later she heard the car purring down the drive.
The dogs settled about her with long dog-sighs again. She looked at her wrist--only five-thirty. She went back with a new unrest to her thoughts. Hugh's knee--it was odd; it had lasted a long time, ever since--she shuddered a bit, so that old Mavourneen lifted her head and objected softly--ever since war was declared. Over a year! To be sure, he had hurt it again badly, slipping on the ice in December, just as it was getting strong. She wished that his father would not be so grim when Hugh's bad knee was mentioned. What did he mean? Did he dare to think her boy--the word was difficult even mentally--a slacker? With that her mind raced back to the days just before Hugh had hurt this knee. It was in February that Germany had proclaimed the oceans closed except along German paths, at German times. "This is war at last," her husband had said, and she knew the inevitable had come.
Night after night she had lain awake facing it, sometimes breaking down utterly and shaking her soul out in sobs, sometimes trying to see ways around the horror, trying to believe that war must end before our troops could get ready, often with higher courage glorying that she might give so much for country and humanity. Then, in the nights, things that she had read far back, unrealizing, rose and confronted her with awful reality. Brutalities, atrocities, wounds, barbarous captivity--nightmares which the Germans had dug out of the grave of savagery and sent stalking over the earth--such rose and stood before the woman lying awake night after night. At first her soul hid its face in terror at the gruesome thoughts; at first her mind turned and fled and refused to believe. Her boys, Brock and Hugh! It was not credible, it was not reasonable, it was out of drawing that her good boys, her precious boys trained to be happy and help the world, to live useful, peaceful lives, should be snatched from home, here in America, and pitched into the ghastly struggle of Europe. Push back the ocean as she might, the ocean surged every day nearer.
Daytimes she was as brave as the best. She could say: "If we had done it the day after the Lusitania, that would have been right. It would have been all over now." She could say: "My boys? They will do their duty like other women's boys." But nights, when she crept into bed and the things she had read of Belgium, of Serbia, came and stood about her, she knew that hers were the only boys in the world who could not, could not be spared. Brock and Hugh! It seemed as if it would be apparent to the dullest that Brock and Hugh were different from all others. She could suffer; she could have gone over there light-hearted and faced any danger to save them. Of course! That was natural! But--Brock and Hugh! The little heads that had lain in the hollow of her arm; the noisy little boys who had muddied their white clothes, and broken furniture, and spilled ink; the tall, beautiful lads who had been her pride and her everlasting joy, her playmates, her lovers--Brock and Hugh! Why, there had never been on earth love and friendship in any family close and unfailing like that of the four.
Night after night, nearer and nearer, the ghosts from Belgium and Serbia and Poland stood about her bed, and she fought with them as one had fought with the beasts at Ephesus. Day after day she cheered Brock and the two Hughs and filled them with fresh patriotism. Of course, she would not have her own fail in a hair's breadth of eager service to their flag. Of course! And as she lifted up, for their sakes, her heart, behold a miracle, for her heart grew high! She began to feel the words she said. It came to her in very truth that to have the world as one wanted it was not now the point; the point was a greater goal which she had never in her happy life even visualized. It began to rise before her, a distant picture glorious through a mist of suffering, something built of the sacrifice, and the honor, and the deathless bravery of millions of soldiers in battle, of millions of mothers at home. The education of a nation to higher ideals was reaching the quiet backwater of this one woman's soul. There were lovelier things than life; there were harder things than death. Service is the measure of living. If the boys were to compress years of good living into a flame of serving humanity for six months, who was she, what was life here, that she should be reluctant? To play the game, for herself and her sons, this was the one thing worth while. More and more entirely, as the stress of the strange, hard vision crowded out selfishness, this woman, as thousands and tens of thousands all over America, lifted up her heart--the dear things that filled and were her heart--unto the Lord.
And with that she was aware of a recurring unrest. She was aware that there was something her husband did not say to her about the boys, about young Hugh. Brock had been hard to hold for nearly two years now, but his father had thought for reasons, that he should not serve until his own flag called him. Now it would soon be calling, and Brock would go instantly. But young Hugh? What did the boy's attitude mean?
"I can't make out Hughie," his father had said to her in March, 1917, when it was certain that war was coming. "What does this devil-may-care pose about the war mean?"
And she answered: "Let Hughie work it out, Hugh. He's in trouble in his mind, but he'll come through. We'll give him time."
"Oh, very well," Hugh the elder had agreed, "but young Americans will have to take their stand shortly. I couldn't bear it if a son of mine were a slacker."
She tossed out her hands. "Slacker! Don't dare say it of my boy!"
The hideous word followed her. That night, when she lay in bed and looked out into the moonlit wood, and saw the pines swaying like giant fans across a pulsing, pale sky, and listened to the summer wind blowing through the tall heads of them, again through the peace of it the word stabbed. A slacker! She set to work to fancy how it would be if Brock and Hugh both went to war and were both killed. She faced the thought. Life--years of it--without Brock and Hugh! She registered that steadily in her mind. Then she painted to herself another picture, Brock and Hugh not going to war, at home ignominiously safe. Other women's sons marching out into the danger--men, heroes! Brock and Hugh explaining, steadily explaining why they had not gone! Brock and Hugh after the war, mature men, meeting returning soldiers, old friends who had borne the burden and heat, themselves with no memories of hideous, infinitely precious days, of hardships, and squalid trench life, and deadly pain--for America! Brock and Hugh going on through life into old age ashamed to hold up their heads and look their comrades in the eye! Or else--it might be--Brock and Hugh lying next year, this year, in unknown, honored graves in France! Which was worse? And the aching heart of the woman did not wait to answer. Better a thousand times brave death than a coward's life. She would choose so if she knew certainly that she sent them both to death. The education of the war, the new glory of patriotism, had already gone far in this one woman.
And then the thought stabbed again--a slacker--Hugh! How did his father dare say it? A poisonous terror, colder than the fear of death, crawled into her soul and hid there. Was it possible that Hugh, brilliant, buoyant, temperamental Hugh was--that? The days went on, and the cold, vile thing stayed coiled in her soul. It was on the very day war was declared that young Hugh injured his knee, a bad injury. When he was carried home, when the doctor cut away his clothes and bent over the swollen leg and said wise things about the "bursa," the boy's eyes were hard to meet. They constantly sought hers with a look questioning and anxious. Words were impossible, but she tried to make her glance and manner say: "I trust you. Not for worlds would I believe you did it on purpose."
And finally the lad caught her hand and with his mouth against it spoke. "You know I didn't do it on purpose, Mummy."
And the cold horror fled out of her heart, and a great relief flooded her.
On a day after that Brock came home from camp, and, though he might not tell it in words, she knew that he would sail shortly for France. She kept the house full of brightness and movement for the three days he had at home, yet the four--young Hugh on crutches now--clung to each other, and on the last afternoon she and Brock were alone for an hour. They had sat just here after tennis, in the hazy October weather, and pink-brown leaves had floated down with a thin, pungent fragrance and lay on the stone steps in vague patterns. Scarlet geraniums bloomed back of Brock's head and made a satisfying harmony with the copper of his tanned face. They fell to silence after much talking, and finally she got out something which had been in her mind but which it had been hard to say.
"Brocky," she began, and jabbed the end of her racket into her foot so that it hurt, because physical pain will distract and steady a mind. "Brocky, I want to ask you to do something."
"Yes'm," answered Brock.
"It's this. Of course, I know you're going soon, over there."
Brock looked at her gravely.
"Yes, I know, I want to ask you if--if it happens--will you come and tell me yourself? If it's allowed."
Brock did not even touch her hand; he knew well she could not bear it. He answered quietly, with a sweet, commonplace manner as if that other world to which he might be going was a place too familiar in his thoughts for any great strain in speaking of it. "Yes, Mummy," he said. "Of course I will. I'd have wanted to anyway, even if you hadn't said it. It seems to me--" He lifted his young face, square-jawed, fresh-colored, and there was a vision-seeing look in his eyes which his mother had known at times before. He looked across the city lying at their feet, and the river, and the blue hills beyond, and he spoke slowly, as if shaping a thought. "So many fellows have 'gone west' lately that there must he some way. It seems as if all that mass of love and--and desire to reach back and touch--the ones left--as if all that must have built a sort of bridge over the river--so that a fellow might probably come back and--and tell his mother--"
Brock's voice stopped, and suddenly she was in his arms, his face was against hers, and hot tears not her own were on her cheek. Then he was shaking his head as if to shake off the strong emotion.
"It's not likely to happen, dear. The casualties in this war are tremendously lower than in--"
"I know," she interrupted. "Of course, they are. Of course, you're coming home without a scratch, and likely a general, and conceited beyond words. How will we stand you!"
Brock laughed delightedly. "You're a peach," he stated. "That's the sort. Laughing mothers to send us off--it makes a whale of a difference."
That October afternoon had now dropped eight months back, and still the house seemed lost without Brock, especially on this June twentieth, the day that was his and hers, the day when there had always been "doings" second only to Christmas at Lindow. But she gathered up her courage like a woman. Hugh the elder was coming tonight from his dollar-a-year work in Washington, her man who had moved heaven and earth to get into active service, and who, when finally refused because of his forty-nine years and a defective eye, had left his great business as if it were a joke, and had put his whole time, and strength, and experience, and fortune at the service of the Government--as plenty of other American men were doing. Hugh was coming in time for her birthday dinner, and young Hugh was with them--Her heart shrank as if a sharp thing touched it. How would it be when they rose to drink Brock's health? She knew pretty well what her cousin, the judge, would say:
"The soldier in France! God bring him home well and glorious!"
How would it be for her other boy then, the boy who was not in France? Unphrased, a thought flashed, "I hope, I do hope Hughie will be very lame tonight."
The little dog slipped from her and barked in remonstrance as she threw out her hands and stood up. Old Mavourneen pulled herself to her feet, too, a huge, beautiful beast, and the woman stooped and put her arm lovingly about the furry neck. "Mavourneen, you know a lot. You know our Brock's away." At the name the big dog whined and looked up anxious, inquiring. "And you know--do you know, dear dog, that Hughie ought to go? Do you? Mavourneen, it's like the prayer-book says, 'The burden of it is intolerable.' I can't bear to lose him, and I can't, O God! I can't bear to keep him." She straightened. "As you say, Mavourneen, it's time to dress for dinner."
The birthday party went better than one could have hoped. Nobody broke down at Brock's name; everybody exulted in the splendid episode of his heroism, months back, which had won him the war cross. The letter from Jim Colledge and his own birthday letter, garrulous and gay, were read. Brock had known well that the day would be hard to get through and had made that letter out of brutal cheerfulness. Yet every one felt his longing to be at the celebration, missed for the first time in his life, pulsing through the words. Young Hugh read it and made it sweet with a lovely devotion to and pride in his brother. A heart of stone could not have resisted Hugh that night. And then the party was over, and the woman and her man, seeing each other seldom now, talked over things for an hour. After, through her open door, she saw a bar of light under the door of the den, Brock's and Hugh's den.
"Hughie," she spoke, and on the instant the dark panel flashed into light.
"Come in, Mummy, I've been waiting to talk to you."
"Waiting, my lamb?"
Hugh pushed her, as a boy shoves a sister, into the end of the sofa. There was a wood fire on the hearth in front of her, for the June evening was cool, and luxurious Hugh liked a fire. A reading lamp was lighted above Brock's deep chair, and there were papers on the floor by it, and more low lights. There were magazines about, and etchings on the walls, and bits of university plunder, and the glow of rugs and of books. It was as fascinating a place as there was in all the beautiful house. In the midst of the bright peace Hugh stood haggard.
"Hughie! What is it?"
"Mother," he whispered, "help me!"
"With my last drop of blood, Hugh."
"I can't go on--alone--mother." His eyes were wild, and his words labored into utterance. "I--I don't know what to do--mother."
"The war, Hughie?"
"Of course! What else is there?" he flung at her.
"But your knee?"
"Oh, Mummy, you know as well as I that my knee is well enough. Dad knows it, too. The way he looks at me--or dodges looking! Mummy--I've got to tell you--you'll have to know--and maybe you'll stop loving me. I'm--" He threw out his arms with a gesture of despair. "I'm--afraid to go." With that he was on his knees beside her, and his arms gripped her, and his head was hidden in her lap. For a long minute there was only silence, and the woman held the young head tight.
Hugh lifted his face and stared from blurred eyes. "A man might better be dead than a coward--you're thinking that? That's it." A sob stopped his voice, the young, dear voice. His face, drawn into lines of age, hurt her unbearably. She caught him against her and hid the beloved, impossible face.
"Hugh--I--judging you--I? Why, Hughie, I love you--I only love you. I don't stand off and think, when it's you and Brock. I'm inside your hearts, feeling it with you. I don't know if it's good or bad. It's--my own. Coward--Hughie! I don't think such things of my darling."
"'There's no--friend like a mother,'" stammered young Hugh, and tears fell unashamed. His mother had not seen the boy cry since he was ten years old. He went on. "Dad didn't say a word, because he wouldn't spoil your birthday, but the way he dodged--my knee--" He laughed miserably and swabbed away tears with the corner of his pajama coat. "I wish I had a hanky," he complained. The woman dried the tear-stained cheeks hastily with her own. "Dad's got it in for me," said Hugh. "I can tell. He'll make me go--now. He--he suspects I went skating that day hoping I'd fall--and--I know it wasn't so darned unlikely. Yes--I did--not the first time--when I smashed it; that was entirely--luck." He laughed again, a laugh that was a sob. "And now--oh, Mummy, have I got to go into that nightmare? I hate it so. I am--I am--afraid. If--if I should be there and--and sent into some terrible job--shell-fire--dirt--smells--dead men and horses--filth--torture--mother, I might run. I don't feel sure. I can't trust Hugh Langdon--he might run. Anyhow"--the lad sprang to his feet and stood before her--"anyhow--why am I bound to get into this? I didn't start it. My Government didn't. And I've everything, everything before me here. I didn't tell you, but that editor said--he said I'd be one of the great writers of the time. And I love it, I love that job. I can do it. I can be useful, and successful, and an honor to you--and happy, oh, so happy! If only I may do as Arnold said, be one of America's big writers! I've everything to gain here; I've everything to lose there." He stopped and stood before her like a flame.
And from the woman's mouth came words which she had not thought, as if other than herself spoke them. "'What shall it profit a man,'" she spoke, "'if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?'"
At that the boy plunged on his knees in collapse and sobbed miserably. "Mother, mother! Don't be merciless."
"Merciless! My own laddie!" There seemed no words possible as she stroked the blond head with shaking hand. "Hughie," she spoke when his sobs quieted. "Hughie, it's not how you feel; it's what you do. I believe thousands and thousands of boys in this unwarlike country have gone--are going--through suffering like yours."
Hugh lifted wet eyes. "Do you think so, Mummy?"
"Indeed I do. Indeed I do. And I pray that the women who love them are--faithful. For I know, I know that if a woman lets her men, if a mother let her sons fail their country now, those sons will never forgive her. It's your honor I'm holding to, Hughie, against human instinct. After this war, those to be pitied won't be the sonless mothers or the crippled soldiers--it will be the men of fighting age who have not fought. Even if they could not, even at the best, they will spend the rest of their lives explaining why."
Hugh sat on the sofa now, close to her, and his head dropped on her shoulder. "Mummy, that's some comfort, that dope about other fellows taking it as I do. I felt lonely. I thought I was the only coward in America. Dad's condemning me; he can't speak to me naturally. I felt as if"--his voice faltered--"as if I couldn't stand it if you hated me, too."
The woman laughed a little. "Hughie, you know well that not anything to be imagined could stop my loving you."
He went on, breathing heavily but calmed. "You think that even if I am a blamed fool, if I went anyhow--that I'd rank as a decent white man? In your eyes--Dad's--my own?"
"I know it, Hughie. It's what you do, not how you feel doing it."
"If Brock would hold my hand!" The eyes of the two met with a dim smile and a memory of the childhood so near, so utterly gone. "I'd like Dad to respect me again," the boy spoke in a wistful, uncertain voice. "It's darned wretched to have your father despise you." He looked at her then. "Mummy, you're tired out; your face is gray. I'm a beast to keep you up. Go to bed, dear."
He kissed her, and with his arm around her waist led her through the dark hall to the door of her room, and kissed her again. And again, as she stood and watched there, he turned on the threshold of the den and threw one more kiss across the darkness, and his face shone with a smile that sent her to bed, smiling through her tears. She lay in the darkness, fragrant of honeysuckle outside, and her sore heart was full of the boys--of Hugh struggling in his crisis; still more, perhaps, of Brock whose birthday it was, Brock in France, in the midst of "many and great dangers," yet--she knew--serene and buoyant among them because his mind was "stayed." Not long these thoughts held her; for she was so deadened with the stress of many emotions that nature asserted itself and shortly she feel asleep.
It may have been two or three hours she slept. She knew afterward that it must have been at about three of the summer morning when a dream came which, detailed and vivid as it was, probably filled in time only the last minute or so before awakening. It seemed to her that glory suddenly flooded the troubled world; the infinite, intimate joy, impossible to put into words, was yet a defined and long first chapter of her dream. After that she stood on the bank of a river, a river perhaps miles wide, and with the new light-heartedness filling her she looked and saw a mighty bridge which ran brilliant with many-colored lights, from her to the misty further shore of the river. Over the bridge passed a throng of radiant young men, boys, all in uniform. "How glorious!" she seemed to cry out in delight, and with that she saw Brock.
Very far off, among the crowd of others, she saw him, threading his way through the throng. He came, unhurried yet swift, and on his face was an amused, loving smile which was perhaps the look of him which she remembered best. By his side walked old Mavourneen, the wolf-hound, Brock's hand on the shaggy head. The two swung steadily toward her, Brock smiling into her eyes, holding her eyes with his, and as they were closer, she heard Mavourneen crying in wordless dumb joy, crying as she had not done since the day when Brock came home the last time. Above the sound Brock's voice spoke, every trick of inflection so familiar, so sweet, that the joy of it was sharp, like pain.
"Mother, I'm coming to take Hughie's hand--to take Hughie's hand," he repeated.
And with that Mavourneen's great cry rose above his voice. And suddenly she was awake. Somewhere outside the house, yet near, the dog was loudly, joyfully crying. Out of the deep stillness of the night burst the sound of the joyful crying.
The woman shot from her bed and ran barefooted, her heart beating madly, into the darkness of the hall to the landing on the stairway. Something halted her. There was a broad, uncurtained pane of glass in the front door of the house. From the landing one might look down the stone steps outside and see clearly in the bright moonlight as far as the beginning of the rose archway. As she stood gasping, from beneath the flowers Brock stepped into the moonlight and began, unhurried, buoyant, as she had but now seen him in her dream, to mount the steps. Mavourneen pressed at his side, and his hand was on the dog's head. As he came, he lifted his face to his mother with the accustomed, every-day smile which she knew, as if he were coming home, as he had come home on many a moonlit evening from a dance in town to talk the day over with her. As she stared, standing in the dark on the landing, her pulse racing, yet still with the stillness of infinity, an arm came around her, a hand gripped her shoulder, and young Hugh's voice spoke.
"Mother! It's Brock!" he whispered.
At the words she fled headlong down to the door and caught at the handle. It was fastened, and for a moment she could not think of the bolt. Brock stood close outside; she saw the light on his brown head and the bend in the long, strong fingers that caressed Mavourneen's fur. He smiled at her happily--Brock--three feet away. Just as the bolt loosened, with an inexplicable, swift impulse she was cold with terror. For the half of a second, perhaps, she halted, possessed by some formless fear stronger than herself--humanity dreading something not human, something unknown, overwhelming. She halted not a whole second--for it was Brock. Brock! Wide open she flung the door and sprang out.
There was no one there. Only Mavourneen stood in the cold moonlight, and cried, and looked up, puzzled, at empty air.
"Oh, Brock, Brock! Oh, dear Brock!" the woman called and flung out her arms. "Brock--Brock--don't leave me. Don't go!"
Mavourneen sniffed about the dark hall, investigating to find the master who had come home and gone away so swiftly. With that young Hugh was lifting her in his arms, carrying her up the broad stairs into his room. "You're barefooted," he spoke brokenly.
She caught his hand as he wrapped her in a rug on the sofa. "Hugh--you saw--it was Brock?"
"Yes, dearest, it was our Brock," answered Hugh stumblingly.
"You saw--and I--and Mavourneen."
"Mavonrneen is Irish," young Hugh said. "She has the second sight," and the big old dog laid her nose on the woman's knee and lifted topaz eyes, asking questions, and whimpered broken-heartedly.
"Dear dog," murmured the woman and drew the lovely head to her. "You saw him." And then; "Hughie--he came to tell us. He is--dead."
"I think so," whispered young Hugh with bent head.
Then, fighting for breath, she told what had happened--the dream, the intense happiness of it, how Brock had come smiling. "And Hugh, the only thing he said, two or three times over, was, 'I'm coming to take Hughie's hand.'"
The lad turned upon her a shining look. "I know, mother. I didn't hear, of course, but I knew, when I saw him, it was for me, too. And I'm ready. I see my way now. Mother, get Dad."
Hugh, the elder, still sleeping in his room at the far side of the house, opened heavy eyes. Then he sprang up. "Evelyn! What is it?"
"Oh, Hugh--come! Oh, Hugh! Brock--Brock--" She could not say the words; there was no need. Brock's father caught her hands. In bare words then she told him.
"My dear," urged the man, "you've had a vivid dream. That's all. You were thinking about the boys; you were only half awake; Mavourneen began to cry--the dog means Brock. It was easy--" his voice faltered--"to--to believe the rest."
"Hugh, I know, dear. Brock came to tell me. He said he would." Later, that day, when a telegram arrived from the War Office there was no new shock, no added certainty to her assurance. She went on: "Hughie saw him. And Mavourneen. But I can't argue. We still have a boy, Hugh, and he needs us--he's waiting. Oh, my dear, Hughie is going to France!"
"Thank God!" spoke Hugh's father.
Hand tight in hand like young lovers the two came across to the room where their boy waited, tense. "Father--Dad--you'll give me back your respect, won't you?" The strong young hand held out was shaking. "Because I'm going, Dad. But you have to know that I was--a coward."
"Yes. And Dad, I'm afraid--now. But I've got the hang of things, and nothing could keep me. Will you, do you despise me--now--that I still hate it--if--if I go just the same?"
The big young chap shook so that his mother, his tall mother, put her arms about him to steady him. He clutched her hand hard and repeated, through quivering lips, "Would you despise me still, Dad?"
For a moment the father could not answer. Then difficult tears of manhood and maturity forced their way from his eyes and unheeded rolled down his cheeks. With a step he put his arms about the boy as if the boy were a child, and the boy threw his about his father's shoulders.
For a long second the two tall men stood so. The woman, standing apart, through the shipwreck of her earthly life was aware only of happiness safe where sorrow and loss could not touch it. What was separation, death itself, when love stronger than death held people together as it held Hugh and her boys and herself? Then the older Hugh stood away, still clutching the lad's hand, smiling through unashamed tears.
"Hugh," he said, "in all America there's not a man prouder of his son than I am of you. There's not a braver soldier in our armies than the soldier who's to take my name into France." He stopped and steadied himself; he went on: "It would have broken my heart, boy, if you had failed--failed America. And your mother--and Brock and me. Failed your own honor. It would have meant for us shame and would have bowed our heads; it would have meant for you disaster. Don't fear for your courage, Hugh; the Lord won't forsake the man who carries the Lord's colors."
Young Hugh turned suddenly to his mother. "I'm at peace now. You and Dad--honor me. I'll deserve respect from--my country. It will be a wall around me--And--" he caught her to him and crushed his mouth to hers--"dearest--Brock will hold my hand."