“They went to war as young men, because it promised to be more exciting than pushing a plow over a worn-out hillside. Or because there was nothing else to do. Or because they were conscripted and kicked into it. They came out of the war the most invincible grafters in history. The shiftless boor of a stable-boy found himself transformed into a shining hero, and he meant to lie back and live on it for the rest of his days. Be assured that he understood very well the cash value of his old uniform. If he had a peg-leg or an empty sleeve, so much the more impudently could he pass around his property cap. For forty years, he and his mendicant band have been a cursed albatross hung around the necks of their honest fellows. Able-bodied men, they have lolled back and eaten up millions of dollars, belonging to a State which they pretend to love and which, as they well know, has needed every penny for the desperate struggle of existence. Since the political party which dominates this State is too cowardly to tell them to go to work or go to the devil, it will be a God’s mercy when the last one of them is in his grave. You may take my word for that.”
But Queed, being a scientist by passion, never took anybody’s word for anything. He always went to the original sources of information, and found out for himself. It was a year now since he had begun saturating himself in the annals of the State and the South, and he had scoured the field so effectually that Colonel Cowles himself had been known to appeal to him on a point of history, though the Colonel had forty years’ start on him, and had himself helped to make that history.
Therefore Queed knew that Nicolovius, by taking the case of one soldier in ten, perhaps, or twenty or fifty, and offering it as typical of the whole, was bitterly caricaturing history; and he wondered why in the world the old man cared to do it.
“My own reading of the recent history of the South,” said Queed, “can hardly sustain such a view.”
“You have only to read further to be convinced.”
“But I thought you yourself never read recent history.”
Nicolovius flung him a sharp look, which the young man, staring thoughtfully at the floor, missed. The old professor laughed.
“My dear boy! I read it on the lips of Major Brooke, I read it daily in the newspapers, I read it in such articles as your Colonel Cowles wrote about this very Reunion. I cannot get away from history in the making, if I would. Ah, there is the supper bell—I’m quite ready for it, too. Let us go down.”
They went down arm in arm. On the stairs Nicolovius said: “These Southern manifestations interest me because, though extreme, they are after all so absurdly typical of human nature. I have even seen the same sort of thing in my own land.”
Queed, though he knew the history of Ireland very well, could not recall any parallel to the United Confederate Veterans in the annals of that country. Still, a man capable of distorting history as Nicolovius distorted it could always find a parallel to anything anywhere.