The recruiting-office was a dull, blank-looking place, the view from the windows was not inspiring, and the sight of the plump and black-eyed Jewess in front of the pawn-shop across the street, who was a vision of delight to Corporal Goddard, had no attractions to the officer upstairs. He put on his blue jacket, with the black braid down the front, lighted a cigar, and wrote letters on every other than official matters, and forgot about recruits. He was to have leave of absence on Christmas, and though the others had denounced him for leaving the mess-table on that day, they had forgiven him when he explained that he was going to spend it with his people at home. The others had homes as far away as San Francisco and as far inland as Milwaukee, and some called the big ship of war home; but Claflin’s people lived up in Connecticut, and he could reach them in a few hours. He was a very lucky man, the others said, and he felt very cheerful over it, and forgot the blank-looking office with its Rules and Regulations, and colored prints of uniforms, and models of old war-ships, and tin boxes of official documents which were to be filled out and sent to “the Honorable, the Secretary of the Navy.”
Corporal Goddard on the stoop below shifted from one foot to the other, and chafed his gloved hands softly together to keep them warm. He had no time to write letters on unofficial writing-paper, nor to smoke cigars or read novels with his feet on a chair, with the choice of looking out at the queer stream of human life moving by below the window on the opposite side of the Bowery. He had to stand straight, which came easily to him now, and to answer questions and urge doubtful minds to join the ranks of the government’s marines.
A drunken man gazed at Ogden’s colored pictures of the American infantry, cavalry, and marine uniforms that hung before the door, and placed an unsteady finger on the cavalry-man’s picture, and said he chose to be one of those. Corporal Goddard told him severely to be off and get sober and grow six inches before he thought of such a thing, and frowned him off the stoop.
Then two boys from the country asked about the service, and went off very quickly when they found they would have to remain in it for three years at least. A great many more stopped in front of the gay pictures and gazed admiringly at Corporal Goddard’s bright brass buttons and brilliant complexion, which they innocently attributed to exposure to the sun on long, weary marches. But no one came to offer himself in earnest. At one o’clock Lieutenant Claflin changed his coat and went down-town to luncheon, and came back still more content and in feeling with the season, and lighted another cigar.
But just as he had settled himself comfortably he heard Corporal Goddard’s step on the stairs and a less determined step behind him. He took his feet down from the rung of the other chair, pulled his undress jacket into place, and took up a pen.