The Army went trudging away under the continuous but unheed fire of orders, and presently disappeared round a corner, leaving the veteran chuckling feebly under his walnut tree and alone with the empty street. All trace of what he had said seemed to have been wiped from the grandson’s mind; but memory has curious ways. Ramsey had understood not a fifth nor a tenth of his grandfather’s talk, and already he had “forgotten” all of it—yet not only were there many, many times in the boy’s later life when, without ascertainable cause, he would remember the sunlight falling upon the old man’s white head, to make that semblance of a glittering bird’s-nest there, but with the picture came recollections of words and sentences spoken by the grandfather, though the listener, half-drowsily, had heard but the sound of an old, earnest voice—and even the veteran’s meaning finally took on a greater definiteness till it became, in the grandson’s thoughts, something clear and bright and beautiful that he knew without being just sure where or how he had learned it.
Ramsey Milholland sat miserably in school, his conscious being consisting principally of a dull hate. Torpor was a little dispersed during a fifteen-minute interval of “Music,” when he and all the other pupils in the large room of the “Five B. Grade” sang repeated fractions of what they enunciated as “The Star Span-guh-hulled Banner”; but afterward he relapsed into the low spirits and animosity natural to anybody during enforced confinement under instruction. No alleviation was accomplished by an invader’s temporary usurpation of the teacher’s platform, a brisk and unsympathetically cheerful young woman mounting thereon to “teach German.”
For a long time mathematics and German had been about equally repulsive to Ramsey, who found himself daily in the compulsory presence of both; but he was gradually coming to regard German with the greater horror, because, after months of patient mental resistance, he at last began to comprehend that the German language has sixteen special and particular ways of using the German article corresponding to that flexible bit of a word so easily managed English—the. What in the world was the use of having sixteen ways of doing a thing that could just as well be done in one? If the Germans had contented themselves with insisting upon sixteen useless variations for infrequent words, such as hippopotamus, for instance, Ramsey might have thought the affair unreasonable but not necessarily vicious—it would be easy enough to avoid talking about a hippopotamus if he ever had to go to Germany. But the fact that the Germans picked out a and the and many other little words in use all the time, and gave every one of them sixteen forms, and expected Ramsey Milholland to learn this dizzying uselessness down to the last crotchety detail, with “When to employ Which” as a nausea to prepare for the final convulsion when one didn’t use Which, because it was an “Exception”—there was a fashion of making easy matters hard that was merely hellish.