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30,000 on the Hoof
Zane Grey (1940) Country of origin: USA
Available texts by the same author here
It was an evening in fall when the warmth of the Indian summer day and the pervading melancholy stillness of the season lingered long after darkness mantled the canyon.
George and Grant had returned from Flagg bursting with news of the war in Europe, which was now beginning its third year. At first it had hardly touched them, remote in their canyon. But as time went on and America seemed to become more and more involved, they discussed it with quickening interest.
Lucinda could not quite grasp why a war in far-off Europe held such interest for her sons and husband.
"It's because they're men, Barbara," she said to the listening young woman, who stood with great eyes like midnight gulfs fixed upon Abe. "It's even got Abe fascinated...Men would rather fight than eat."
"But listen, Mother," replied Barbara.
Huett looked up from the newspaper he had spread over his knees. His grey eyes had the old keen flash. Lucinda noted that it was not the front page of the paper which had interested him.
"Cattle, wheat, cotton, corn--all keep going up," he boomed.
"Well, as to that, I'd forgotten," replied George. "Business all over the U.S. has had a tremendous boom. If the war keeps on we'll all get rich."
"Keeps on? Humph, when it started we thought it would last a few months, and now it's in its third year...Cattle at twenty-two dollars! Big price. What're the Babbitts doing?"
"They're holding on, Dad. Running eighty thousand head."
"That's what I'll do," declared the rancher, ponderingly.
"You'd have to, even if you wanted to sell. Too late this fall, Paw," said George, shortly, as if the matter of cattle was a secondary consideration. "Take a look at the front page of that paper."
"I don't read so well as I used to, son. And the war itself doesn't interest me. I reckon they're all crazy."
Grant interposed earnestly: "But, Dad, it's spreading. It might involve the whole world. Even America!"
"Shucks! That's ridiculous. Let 'em kill each other off over there. But the U.S. must keep out of it."
"Suppose Germany sinks American ships with her submarines?"
That query arrested Huett.
"Tell us more, George," put in Abe, quietly. He showed no excitement, but he was sombre.
"The Germans have got the bit between their teeth," declared George, with pale face and flashing eyes. "And you bet they'll keep coming. It looks bad for France and England."
"Suppose Germany licks France and England. What'll she do then?" asked Abe.
"God only knows. But that outfit would sure be swelled...If they tried to make a clean sweep, and tackled the U.S.----"
"Hell! You boys are loco. That's not conceivable," interrupted Huett.
"There are a lot of brainy men who say it is possible," said Grant.
"Bab, I've a piece of news that will flabbergast you," went on George.
She did not encourage him. Evidently Barbara had come across a thought she could not surmount or get around.
"You know how loco Joe Hardy was over airplanes. First it was: cars and then planes. Joe sure was a rotten horseman. Well, Joe has left for France, where he's going in the air service."
"Doggone!" ejaculated Huett. "I've seen the day I'd have jumped at that. I was in the army three years."
"I'd want mine on foot," said Abe. "Never savvied what held those airplanes up."
"They don't all stay up, so I read," rejoined George. "Dad, I wish you'd been in town. You'd have found out there are more places in the world than Sycamore. And more things to think about than we ever dreamed of. I declare I felt like a hick. Mr. Little said if Teddy Roosevelt had been President he'd kept Europe from going to war. And the Kaiser warns the United States that if we send contraband goods abroad he'll sink the ships."
"That would be right," spoke up Abe, stoutly.
"Sure! But what if these grafters had power to get their contraband on passenger ships? And the Germans sunk them with Americans on board? What a hell of a mess that would make!"
"Americans should stay home," interposed Huett, with finality.
"Dad, haven't you taken sides yet?" asked Grant.
"No, I haven't. But if you press me I am for England. And France fought for the United States during the Revolution. That shouldn't be forgotten."
Lucinda went back to the neglected housework, but Barbara stood behind Abe; her hand on his shoulder, and listened. It was a new and strange kind of talk in that cabin. It troubled Lucinda. She tried to dismiss the vague unrest with an acceptance of Logan's failure to see aught for them to worry about, but she could not do it. Logan's thoughts revolved around cattle. Her sons were backwoods cowboys, but they had intelligence, education, and intense patriotism. Logan had patriotism, too; Lucinda used to think it the only religion he had. But during the long years of his struggle that had been relegated to oblivion. It would take a shock to wake up Logan. The boys, however, were quick to grasp how a great war, even far beyond the Atlantic shores, must affect all Americans. That was the realization which troubled Lucinda. Her--consciousness refused to face the thought that had darkened Barbara's beautiful eyes. She hoped that with the hunting season nearer, and winter to follow, there would be no more news about war, and her loved ones would forget.
But when this most desirable thing had almost happened, Logan and Abe met a party of hunters just in from town, and they stirred anew the curious fire of interest. Snow fell in early December, assuring a white Christmas. Owing to increased automobile traffic from Flagg and Winslow to Phoenix:--and points south, the road was kept open. Occasionally one of the Huetts ran into travellers to hear more news. There came a respite, however, during the later months of winter and early spring. Lucinda's menfolk heard no more to augment their excitement, and it gradually subsided.
But the nameless something that had troubled Lucinda did not subside. It seemed to be a shadow without substance, a premonition of a vague and undefined trial of the future. She drove it away, but it continually returned. Lucinda feared the years of toil and worry had made her morbid. She divined, however, that this intangible recurring emotion was not morbidness. It was deep, primitive, mystic--a something inherited from the mother of the race, a whisper from the beyond.
Logan was reluctant to start for Flagg that spring. Lucinda and Barbara backed him up, overcoming the eagerness of the young men. They decided, however, that when they did go George would drive the car with Lucinda and Barbara, while Logan would go in the wagon with Abe and Grant. Logan wanted to finish a stone-walled corral before they left. It had long been his intention to utilize the hundreds of rocks that had rolled down from the bluff on the west side of the canyon. They lay everywhere near the corrals and the shed for horses and cattle to stumble over.
"Dad, it's too big a job," complained George, when they had one wall half laid. "We'll never get it done."
Huett shook his shaggy grey head obstinately. "We've more time now that we don't have to guard the cattle."
One sunny spring day, when the wet slopes Were drying up and the turkeys had begun to gobble, Lucinda went out with Barbara to see the men. Abe had prevailed upon Barbara to coax Lucinda to make Logan leave off the stone-wall work and go to town.
"We'll go," declared Lucinda. "A little more of this uncertain dread will finish me."
"Mother! What uncertain dread?" asked Barbara anxiously.
"I don't know." Lucinda untied her apron and laid it aside.
As she left the cabin with Barbara she saw the sunflowers sprouting green from the brown soil and bladed grass showing along the log wall. How many years had she tended that garden with its homely flowers! Some association full of sweet and pervading melancholy attended the observance.
When they arrived at the scene of Logan's new enterprise, George and Grant were loading a sled with rocks from the slope, and Abe and Logan were working on the wall.
"Look who's here!" boomed Logan, and Abe, after a steady glance at Barbara, slowly laid down the stone he had been about to set in place.
"Logan, we want to start at once for town," announced Lucinda.
"Doggone my pictures! George and Grant have pestered me. And now you womenfolk! Now what's..."
"Hello!--Riders coming lickitty cut down the road," interrupted Abe. "Luke Flesher and that cowboy who used to ride for Mooney."
"Yes, that's Luke...Something is up," rejoined Logan.
The horsemen reached the corral and reined their sweaty mounts. Lucinda knew Flesher to be a neighbour down the road. He doffed his sombrero to her and Barbara. The cowboy hung back a little, shy and silent.
"Howdy, Huett, an' you fellers," called Flesher, with flashing, tawny eyes upon them. His sallow visage showed strong excitement "Bet you my house you haven't heahed the news."
"Howdy, Luke...What makes you reckon we haven't heard the news?" returned Huett, curiously.
Abe leaned over the wall. George and Grant came striding up.
"Wal, if you had you'd shore not be layin' that wall," retorted Flesher, with a short laugh.
"No? It takes a heap to throw me off a job."
"Huett, cattle are sellin' at forty dollars on the hoof, an' going up."
"What?" boomed the rancher, his tanned face suddenly going red.
"Yes, what! But that ain't nothin' at all...United States has declared war on Germany!"
In the blank pregnant silence that ensued Flesher lighted a cigarette, while his keen, hard eyes studied the effect of his terrible announcement. For an instant Lucinda was concerned with a blinding shock to her consciousness. Then she saw Logan sit back utterly confounded. Under Abe's dark, clear skin worked a miracle of change. George greeted the news with a ringing whoop. Grant stood transfixed and quivering. Barbara's strong, sweet face turned pearly white.
"That was three days ago," went on Flesher. "I was in town before the wires came. Course everybody was het-up about the Boches sinkin' the Lusitania with hundreds of Americans on board. France is licked. England is licked. An' if the good old U.S. don't step in, to hell with democracy an' freedom! Germany shore has her eye on America. All the same, when the news came, Flagg went loco. Arizona is buzzin' like a nest of mad yellow-jackets. The draft is cumin' for able-bodied young men between twenty-one and thirty."
"Draft!...What's that?" queried Logan, huskily.
"Government order forcin' all fit young men to train for war...But a good many cowboys an' other fellers are not waitin' on the draft. They're enlistin'. Jack Campbell was the first."
That information appeared to sting Logan. He might as well have boomed out that if his sons had known, they would have been the first.
"My sons will not wait for the draft," he said stiffly.
"Good! There'll shore be a hell of a lot of speculation on how many Huns yore Abe will bore. Haw! haw! haw!...Arizona will send a regiment of riders an' shots that couldn't be beat nowhere...Wal, Huett, heah's the papers I was commissioned to give you. I've been ridin' all over to the outlyin' ranchers in the woods. Don't like the job. Shore falls tough on women. I'm sorry, Mrs. Huett, to have to tell you an' Miss Barbara. But it strikes into every home...We must be mozyin' on."
"Wait," called Logan, as Flesher gathered up his reins.
"Are the Babbitts holding on to their stock?"
"They are not--an' cussin' themselves blue in the face. Sold out for thirty-three dollars a haid."
"Stockmen in Kansas City and Chicago. Speculators. Big cattle barons. Stock movin' this last ten days. Santa Fe have wired for all available freight cars. Everybody figurin' that the Government will begin to buy beef an' hides."
"They'll shove the price up?"
"Sky-high, Huett. You want to be in on this. How much stock you runnin'?"
"I reckon--thirty thousand head," returned Logan, swallowing hard.
"Dad, the count will be more this spring," interposed George.
"My Gawd!" ejaculated the astonished Flesher. "Ain't you settin' pretty? Hang on, Huett, but not too long."
Then the visitors wheeled their horses and made off up the road at a gallop. The Huetts did not soon rouse out of their trance. Lucinda felt herself to be a part of the stone wall upon which she leaned, numb, halted, dead except in her consciousness which was a maelstrom of conflicting thoughts.
Logan tumbled the stone off his knee that he had forgotten was there.
"Sons, we'll never finish this corral," he said, loud and clear. "We leave for town at once...George, get out your car. Luce, you and Bab pack pronto. Abe, you and Grant rustle with the wagon."
Grant ran off with thudding boots. But Abe had not heard. He fixed a strained, soft gaze from his wonderful grey eyes upon Barbara. She saw only him.
"Bab, will you--marry me--at once?" he asked trenchantly.
"Oh--yes--Abe!" she cried. A radiant transfixed face attested to joy that overcame grief. Abe took her hand and put an arm around her. They forgot the others. Lucinda walked behind, leaving Logan by his unfinished stone corral.
Lucinda's perceptions magnified to startling clear and vivid reactions. She saw that a profound and tremendous excitement had seized upon her family, stultifying, inhibiting, blinding them to the incredible and insupportable truth. Her husband, after thirty years of the poverty and toil of a galley-slave, saw suddenly the grand rainbow of his dreams looming before him in an arch of gold. His sons would not wait to be drafted! Those sons, reared in the wilderness, red-blooded and virile as savages, to whom the world and cities and ships and armies had been but names, had rudely been shocked into a passion of patriotism, had had flashed before their serene vision the kaleidoscopic train of great scenes, of brilliant images, of the glory of adventure, of the romance of war. As for Barbara, she had been staggered, and before her sensitive soul had grasped the significance of this catastrophe, love with its fulfilment, with the wifehood delayed so long, closed her mind for the time to all but the tumultuous truth.
But upon Lucinda descended the doom of the mother. She thought of her sons. She remembered the travail of their birth. She saw them from the beautiful moment to this fatal hour. They were a part of her flesh and blood, of her spirit; the inexplicable dread that had weighed upon her for months gathered strength, yet never clarified its sinister meaning. The tall pines, black and old, moaned with the old voice that had been a bane to her all her life there; the looming walls, grey and silent, looked down upon her in pitiless knowledge of her plight.
Presently entering the cabin with this burden, Lucinda was plunged into the vortex of her family's wild excitement. Logan was a young man again. George and Grant raved like two boys upset by prospect of an adventure too grand to grasp. Abe had got no farther than his marriage to Barbara. And Barbara, her eyes like stars, her thought and emotion meeting those of her lifelong playmate and sweetheart, ran and packed and laughed without realizing her eyes were wet with tears.
"Folks, pack all your things and throw them into the wagon," said Logan. "We're leaving Sycamore for good. I'll keep the ranch...We'll come back for a visit every fall, when the leaves colour and the deer take on their blue coats...At last--by God!...Thirty thousand head and more!...Forty dollars and going up!"
George drove the old Ford at a speed that would have appalled Lucinda during a less poignant time. She sat in the front seat with Barbara and held on tightly. The back of the car was loaded full with their baggage.
Every familiar landmark along the road gave Lucinda a pang. Barbara laughed at every bump. She saw something beautiful, but not along the road. It never crossed George's absorbed mind that he might be passing the entrance to Sycamore Canyon for the last time, and Turkey Flat and Cedar Ridge. He never saw them at all.
For once the Huetts did not stop at Mormon Lake. Lucinda saw with pity the run-down ranch of the Holberts, and she thought sadly of their disintegration, and the old man still living there, waiting for the prodigal son who would never come back.
It was dark when George ended the drive with a grand rattling flourish in front of Wetherington's Hotel. He engaged rooms, stored the baggage, and took Lucinda and Barbara to supper. Afterwards they went out. The main street was bright with lights and thronged with people. Cowboys in groups jangled their spurs along the sidewalks. They had heated faces and eyes that flashed.
"Kinda like July Fourth, circus day, fiesta, and Saturday night all messed up," said George. "Everybody going some place but don't know where!"
"Take us to the motion-pictures," entreated Barbara.
They went. The big, barnlike hall was crowded with a noisy, motley crowd of cowboys and lumbermen. When Lucinda's eyes grew accustomed to the dim light she saw a sprinkling of girls all over the theatre. It seemed full of a charged atmosphere. Before the regular picture came on there were shown comic features, and then a kind of bulletin of war news and Government propaganda, the first of which elicited roars of mirth from the audience, and the second drew a fearful din of stamping boots, shrill whistles, and wild whoops. Lucinda felt the surge of feeling that was rampant. She wept over a screen drama which at a normal hour would have been as nauseous as sawdust.
After the show they squeezed out of the theatre, merging with the stream of excited humanity. Cowboys sidled up to Barbara and made bold advances. One of them said: "Sweetheart, I'm goin' to fight the Huns for you. Come out an' play with me." Barbara appeared bewildered, but not angry. George laughed at the cowboys, and placed Barbara between him and Lucinda.
"Town wide open. Everything goes. Bab, I reckon you'd better not run around alone."
"Oh, I can take care of myself. I like it."
But Lucinda probed deeper. She guessed a laxity, a levity, a hurried, audacious, haunting something in the crowd of young people. She had never known there were so many girls in and around Flagg. She had never seen them so unreserved, so silly, giggling, flirting, brazen. The old-time western girls, except the dance-hall type and the street-walkers, had been noted for their poise, their dignity, but these virtues seemed gone. Something had let loose. The rows of saloons fronting the railroad were thronged with cowboys. Lucinda was relieved and Barbara disappointed when George took them back to the hotel. Lucinda closed weary eyes on Barbara preening herself before the mirror, listening to the strange hum in the street.
Next morning Lucinda awoke to the tasks at hand. After breakfast she and Barbara called upon Mrs. Hardy to ask about a furnished house to rent. That worthy friend did not know of one and could not help them. She talked volubly about her son Joe, who had gone to France and was flying an airplane in the famed Lafayette Escadrille. Lucinda could not understand the woman's pride, or Barbara's shining-eyed wonder!
Mr. Al Doyle, an old friend of Logan's whom they met on the street, directed them to a house that was to be had for renting. It had just become vacant, but would not be so for long, The town was full, the landlord said. Lucinda took it, mainly for the cosy sitting-room with open fireplace, which she knew Logan would like when the cold nights came. Flagg stood at a high altitude and had bitter winters.
Lucinda sent Barbara down town to purchase many needed things for the house, while she set to work to clean the place and make it comfortable. George came presently with the baggage.
"This shack will do for the present, Maw," he said. "But when Dad sells out you can afford the swellest house in town."
Lucinda could not accustom herself to the idea that they were rich and could afford everything. George moved furniture about, stowed the baggage where Lucinda wanted it, then drove down town for Barbara's purchases. By nightfall they were comfortable, but George dragged them down town to supper, and again to the movies. This was a Saturday night, and for noise, crowd, hilarity, and a wild clinging of young men and women, eclipsed anything Lucinda had ever seen.
"When will Abe get in?" asked Barbara, for the hundredth time.
"I reckon to-morrow sure, maybe early," replied George.
"Hope so...Mother," he hesitated a moment. "Did I tell you I--I passed A Number One?"
"Why, the army examination for soldiers."
"Ah--I see," murmured Lucinda, so low she was scarcely heard.
"Grant is as fit as I am," went on George. "And, of course, Abe could pass anything...Grant and I want to go into the Cavalry or, if not that, the Light Artillery. Anything with horses!
"What'll Abe go in for?" asked Barbara, tensely.
"He wants to be a sharpshooter, like Dad's father was in the Civil War...God help the Huns that Abe draws a bead on!"
Lucinda thought there would be many beside the Germans in need of God's help. Mothers--Wives--sweethearts deserted! Men had always, from the remote aboriginal days, loved to fight. But it was the women who bore sons, and therefore the brunt of war. In that moment Lucinda regretted the lapse of her religion after her marriage to Logan. She had to face her soul now, and perhaps some day the final sacrifice of a mother, and she needed God.
Late on Sunday afternoon Logan arrived with Abe and Grant, having made a record trip from Sycamore. George, who hurried to the house to tell his mother and Barbara, declared: "Dad is hipped with his cattle prospects. Grant is crazy about war. Abe is sold on marriage...Son-of-a-gun rushed off to fix it up with the pastor. Guess we're leaving to-morrow-----Bab, I think you should wait until we come back from the war."
"Why?" interrupted Lucinda, softly.
"Aw, looks like Abe wanted to cinch her before he goes," declared George, not without bitterness. "Suppose he came back with a leg shot off? Bab would be tied to half a man all her life."
"I'd rather be tied to half of Abe than to the whole world of men."
"Bab! Forgive me. I reckon it still hurts. But I hope and pray Abe will come back and you'll be happy."
"Thank you, George," replied Barbara, with emotion. "You'll see us married?"
"Sure. I'll be game, Bab. So long as I can't have you, I'm glad it's that lucky hombre, Abe...I wish I had an anchor like you. My God, it seems a soldier needs one! I'm finding that out. These cowboys are loco. And the girls--clean out of their heads!"
Presently Abe strode in to fold both Lucinda and Barbara in a bearish hug. Rough-clad, unshaven, smelling of horses and dust and hay--how splendidly virile he was! A devoted spirit shone from his eyes.
"Darling, we're to be married at seven," he said, fervently. "Gosh, it's too wonderful to be true!...Mr. Haskell, the new pastor, can get a licence for us, even if it is Sunday. You've got just an hour to make yourself the loveliest bride that ever was. I'll change at the hotel and be back pronto."
He was gone. Lucinda saw through dim eyes how Barbara faced the door by which he had left, with her quivering hands half outstretched.
"Hurry, dear," admonished Lucinda. "It's well you have everything ready to put on. I must rustle, too."
Logan did not appear. Lucinda thought impatiently that the man was so insane over his cattle project that he could not remember his wife or his children. Abe came, shining of face, his eyes bright as stars, with a white flower in the lapel of his dark coat. Barbara could well worship that young giant of the woods. He was like a superb pine. Lucinda lived over again in anguish the conception, the birth, the growth of this her favourite son, and at last, in that supreme moment, loved him so greatly she would not have had his life otherwise.
Grant arrived, gay and handsome.
"Oh, Bab, but you're sweet! You're a peach! How can' Abe ever leave you? I couldn't."
Then George followed, pale, dark of eye, gallant of speech, the unaccepted lover who had come through the fires of relinquishment. But Logan did not come. They waited until seven; then Abe led Barbara out, followed by Lucinda with George and Grant. It was but a short walk to the pastor's house. How pleased Lucinda was to learn that Abe had thought of being married in church! Mr. Haskell's wife and sister accompanied the party. The church was brightly lighted, and Abe had thought to have flowers at the altar. The minister's deep voice, quavering a little, broke the silence. How quick the ceremony! Lucinda wanted it to be long. She scarcely heard the solemn queries of the pastor, Abe's deep affirmative, and Barbara's low and eloquent promises. The scene at the altar seemed to fade. Lucinda saw envisioned a little ragged boy leading a curly-haired girl along the lonely road. So long ago and far away! So appallingly sweet this picture. So tragic the reality of Abe bending to kiss the bride!
George snatched her away with a gay cry and leaned to kiss her. "One for me, Bab--one for Abe--and one for you...God bless you and bring him back!"
Grant took his turn. "Barbara, you're a Huett at last." Then Lucinda embraced Barbara, and held her close for a mute, convulsive moment.
They went down town for dinner. No one would have thought that it was Sunday. The saloons, the dance-halls, the gambling halls, the theatres and restaurants were wide open. Among the stream of cowboys with their girls moved beaded and brick-coloured Indians, dark of visage, sombre of eye.
"Bunch of Navajos from the Painted Desert in town to enlist," announced George, as the wedding-party found seats reserved for them in the restaurant. "Won't wait for the draft any more than we would! I call that just great. And say, won't there be hell among the German front when these Navvies slip out of the trenches at night to throw bombs? They'll just eat that job up...Redskins, niggers, greasers, all enlisting! Are they Americans? Well, I guess!"
"Brother, that'll do you," said Abe, shaking a brown fist at George. "Barbara and I have just been married. We don't know there's a war. To-morrow is a thousand years away for us. Let us be happy at our wedding-dinner. Let us think of Sycamore and the old days that will never return."
Logan came at last to join them, regretful, impressive in his felicitations to the bride and groom--a Logan Huett who had evidently found himself to be one of the State's big cattlemen. It seemed as if he had left off a plodding and unsuccessful character with his old clothes. Barbara beamed upon him. Lucinda forced her subtle and clairvoyant divinations into the background of her consciousness. She would be happy with them all this last time. And they all were happy, if to be happy was to rise above and forget their agony, to eat and talk and laugh, to tease the bride with reminiscences of the past, to speak lovingly of Sycamore and the days that were no more.
Lucinda lay awake long hours that night, praying to bear up, hoping the dawn would never arrive. But it did come--a grey, cold breaking of day at the window.
She heard trotting horses and whistling cowboys go by, and the creak of wagon wheels and hum of motors. The business of the world did not halt for heart-broken mothers.
At breakfast Logan talked about the cattle market. Lucinda at last, in desperation, turned upon him.
"Logan Huett, are you mad about cattle?...Good God, man, don't you realize your sons are leaving to-day for the war?"
"Why, Luce!...What the hell?...Aw, don't be so cut up. Sure the boys are going to enlist. And it's the proudest day of my life. But it doesn't faze me, wife. You women jump at conclusions. America will never get in this war. Once our army reaches Europe, if it ever does, those Germans will quit like yellow dogs. They're licked right now. Well, then, what of that? Our boys will get some military work--a good thing in itself--they'll see some of the U.S. if not France, and they'll come back all the better for service. We'll have our new house then, and a couple of nice girls picked out for George and Grant."
Thus the practical cattleman dismissed the dreadful thing, which, like a poisonous lichen, was eating into Lucinda's heart. For a while after Logan was gone, Lucinda attended to the housework, and she derived some comfort from his deductions. But this did not last long under the pitiless light of her intuition. She was a woman--a mother--and she could not explain what she knew. There seemed to be a sixth sense in her, an intelligence that had not yet clarified for her its subtlety.
Barbara came at noon, transformed into a woman, her face lovely with its pale pearl colour, her eyes shadowed, the exquisite violet dark and dim.
"Mother--he--they leave at two," she sobbed. "It's a special train--westbound...They go to some place in Washington State--a training camp for soldiers...I've had my last moment alone with Abe. He's rushed to get through. But they accepted him pronto...Dad is down there bragging about how many Germans my--my husband will kill...Yes, Dad is, Mother. He's smoking a big cigar, his chest swelled out, his thumbs in the armholes of his vest. Oh, it's disgusting!...It's terrible! Dad can't see. George is drinking and doesn't care. Grant is on fire with some strange passion that I think is false...But Abe, he is different--his heart is breaking, too."
"Then why does he go?" asked Lucinda, stern in her judgment.
"He'd have to go, anyway. But Abe wants to. Down street he pointed out a war poster on the billboard. It was a picture of a gorilla making off with a white woman. It said in big black letters: 'Save your sweetheart from the Huns!' Abe wants to go because of that. Oh, Mother, I--I can't endure it!" She seemed on the verge of collapse.
"You must, Barbara. At least until after they go. We must not let them carry away memories of miserable faces. Our woman's lot is harder. Men fight and women weep, you know."
At two o'clock that day, when the special train pulled into the station, all the people of Flagg and its environs were present. Banners and flags waved from the windows. Young faces, keen, tanned, somehow raw and primitive, flashed upon the spectators. These young men joked and made witty remarks to the girls present.
Lucinda's little party was only one of a dozen such groups. They could not be alone, even if they thought of such a thing. The crowd was loud in its good cheer, its well-wishing, its farewell to its youthful champions. All along the front of that line Lucinda saw the wet eyes of women. They were all mothers, all sisters, all sweethearts of these boys going away to war. That light of glory in their eyes, dimmed by tears, told the secret of that sacrifice. This woman acclaim of the soldier was in the race.
"All aboard!" yelled the conductor.
Grant put his arms around Barbara and Lucinda. Tears coursed down his cheeks.
"Good-bye, Bab...Good-bye, Mother...Don't take it--hard. Ten to one we'll never get to France...So long, Dad! Good luck with the herd!" He snatched up his luggage and ran to board the train.
Abe stood aside to let George at Barbara. The parting had sobered him. His farewell was a kiss and a gallant smile. "Barbara, if I make a good soldier, I'll owe it to you." And he turned to Lucinda: "Mother!" That was all he said, but he clasped her close. As he kissed her, Lucinda suffered the ghastly illumination of her dark forebodings. George would never come back to her. But he, young, physical, elemental, never divined that awful truth. He broke from her, wrung Logan's hand, and rushed away. The train was moving. Abe let go of his mother, pressed Barbara's rapt face to his breast, then followed his brothers. Logan ran along the car-step from which Abe was waving.
"Son," he shouted huskily, "you gotta be at that turkey shootin' at Pine!"
The long, sustained cheer of the watchers died into a strange sobbing breath as the train pulled out and left them standing there.