THE GAY COCKADE
From the moment that Jimmie Harding came into the office, he created an atmosphere. We were a tired lot. Most of us had been in the government service for years, and had been ground fine in the mills of departmental monotony.
But Jimmie was young, and he wore his youth like a gay cockade. He flaunted it in our faces, and because we were so tired of our dull and desiccated selves, we borrowed of him, remorselessly, color and brightness until, gradually, in the light of his reflected glory, we seemed a little younger, a little less tired, a little less petrified.
In his gay and gallant youth there was, however, a quality which partook of earlier times. He should, we felt, have worn a feather in his cap—and a cloak instead of his Norfolk coat. He walked with a little swagger, and stood with his hand on his hip, as if his palm pressed the hilt of his sword. If he ever fell in love, we told one another, he would, without a doubt, sing serenades and apostrophize the moon.
He did fall in love before he had been with us a year. His love-affair was a romance for the whole office. He came among us every morning glorified; he left us in the afternoon as a knight enters upon a quest.
He told us about the girl. We pictured her perfectly before we saw her, as a little thing, with a mop of curled brown hair; an oval face, pearl-tinted; wide, blue eyes. He dwelt on all her small perfections—the brows that swept across her forehead in a thin black line, the transparency of her slender hands, the straight set of her head on her shoulders, the slight halt in her speech like that of an enchanting child.
Yet she was not in the least a child. “She holds me up to my best, Miss Standish,” Jimmie told me; “she says I can write.”
We knew that Jimmie had written a few things, gay little poems that he showed us now and then in the magazines. But we had not taken them at all seriously. Indeed, Jimmie had not taken them seriously himself.
But now he took them seriously. “Elise says that I can do great things. That I must get out of the Department.”
To the rest of us, getting out of the government service would have seemed a mad adventure. None of us would have had the courage to consider it. But it seemed a natural thing that Jimmie should fare forth on the broad highway—a modern D’Artagnan, a youthful Quixote, an Alan Breck—!
We hated to have him leave. But he had consolation. “Of course you’ll come and see us. We’re going back to my old house in Albemarle. It’s a rotten shack, but Elise says it will be a corking place for me to write. And you’ll all come down for week-ends.”
We felt, I am sure, that it was good of him to ask us, but none of us expected that we should ever go. We had a premonition that Elise wouldn’t want the deadwood of Jimmie’s former Division. I know that for myself, I was content to think of Jimmie happy in his old house. But I never really expected to see it. I had reached the point of expecting nothing except the day’s work, my dinner at the end, a night’s sleep, and the same thing over again in the morning.