“They came to-night in droves, Nettie,” he said, as he drank the cocoa she had made for him.
“They can’t help it, Fred,” she declared enthusiastically, “when you put it to them the way you do. You are right, dear; it is not a time for any person to hold others back from doing what they see they should. It’s a personal matter between us and God—we are not individuals any more—we are a state, and each man and woman must get under the burden. I hate this talk of ’business as usual’—I tell you it is nothing as usual.”
He regarded her with surprise! Nettie had never made so long a speech before.
“It’s your speeches, Fred; they are wonderful. Why, man alive, you have put backbone even into me—I who have been a jelly-fish all my life—and last night, when I heard you explain to that young fellow that he must not let his wife be his conscience, I got a sudden glimpse of things. You’ve been my conscience all my life, but, thank God, you’ve led me out into a clear place. I’m part of the State, and I am no slacker—I am going to do my bit. Come, Fred, I want to show you something.”
He followed her without a word as she led the way to the room upstairs where two children slept sweetly.
“They are mine, Fred,—mine until the war is over, at least, and Private Wilson comes back; and if he does not come back, or if he will let me have them, they are mine forever.”
He stared at this new woman, who looked like his wife.
“It was your last speech, Fred,—what you said to that young man. You told him to go ahead—his wife would come around, you said—she would see her selfishness. Then I saw a light shine on my pathway. Every speech has stiffened my backbone a little. I was like the mouse who timidly tiptoed out to the saucer of brandy, and, taking a sip, went more boldly back, then came again with considerable swagger; and at last took a good drink and then strutted up and down saying, ’Bring on your old black cat!’ That’s how I feel, Fred,—I’m going to be a mother to these two little children whose own mother has passed on and whose father is holding up the pillars of the Empire. It would hardly be fair to leave them to public charity, now, would it?”
“Well, Nettie,” the Doctor said slowly, “I’ll see that you do not attend any more recruiting meetings—you are too literal. But all the same,” he said, “I am proud of my convert.”
Olga Jasonjusen tiptoed gently away from the door, and going down the back stairs hugged herself gayly, saying, “All over—but the kissing. Oh, gee! He ain’t too bad! He’s just needed some one to cheek up to him. Bet she’s sorry now she didn’t sass him long ago.”
I saw my old train friend again. It was the day that one of our regiments went away, and we were all at the station to bid the boys good-bye.