“I lost my boys just as suddenly as this,” she said. “Billy and Tom went out together—they were killed at Saint-Eloi, but Frank came through it all to Vimy Ridge. Then the message came ... sudden too. One day I had him—then I lost him! Why shouldn’t nice things come suddenly too—just like this!”
“You sure can have me—mother,” the big fellow said.
The conductor was giving the last call. Then the boy took her in his arms and kissed her withered cheek, which took on a happy glow that made us all look the other way.
She and I stood together and watched the grinding wheels as they began to move. The spirit of youth, the indomitable, imperishable spirit of youth was in her eyes, and glowed in her withered face as she murmured happily,—
“I am one of the Next of Kin ... again, and my new boy is on that train.”
We stood together until the train had gone from our sight.
“Let me see,” I said, “how many chickens did you tell me that Biddy hen of yours had when the winter came?”
“Twenty-two,” she laughed.
“Well,” I said, “it’s early yet.”
“I just can’t help it,” she said seriously; “I have to be in it! After I got the word about my last boy, it seemed for a few days that I had come to the end of everything. I slept and slept and slept, just like you do when you’ve had company at your house,—the very nicest company, and they go away!—and you’re so lonely and idle, and tired, too, for you’ve been having such a good time you did not notice that you were getting near the edge. That’s how I felt; but after a week I wanted to be working at something. I thought maybe the Lord had left my hands quite free so I could help some one else.... You have played croquet, haven’t you? You know how the first person who gets out has the privilege of coming back a ‘rover,’ and giving a hand to any one. That’s what I felt; I was a ‘rover,’ and you’d be surprised at all I have found to do. There are so many soldiers’ wives with children who never get downtown to shop or see a play, without their children. I have lots to do in that line, and it keeps me from thinking.
“I want you to come with me now,” she went on, “to see a woman who has something wrong with her that I can’t find out. She has a sore thought. Her man has been missing since September, and is now officially reported killed. But there’s something else bothering her.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
She turned quickly toward me and said, “Have you any children?”
“Five,” I said.
“Oh, well, then, you’ll understand. Can’t you tell by a child’s cry whether it is hungry, or hurt, or just mad?”
“I can, I think,” I said.
“Well, that’s how I know. She’s in deep grief over her husband, but there’s more than that. Her eyes have a hurt look that I wish I could get out of them. You’ll see it for yourself, and maybe we can get her to tell us. I just found her by accident last week—or at least, I found her; nothing happens by accident!”