Then he inked on the white inside of a paper-box cover, in large letters, these words:
This office will not be opened until the end of the war.
That office was never opened again.
The lives of sixty million people had become suddenly full of drill, organization, uniforms, military music, flags, hatred, love, and self-sacrifice, and the nations of the Old World stood about, note-book in hand, like so many medical students at a clinic: could a heart, cut in two, continue to supply a body with blood after the soul had been withdrawn? And the nations of the Old World hoped that there would be enough fresh meat left on the carcass for them to feed on, when the experiment should be at an end. Mother England was particularly hungry, and dearly hoped to have the sucking of the eggs which she herself had laid.
It was a great time for young men, and Margaret shed secret tears on behalf of five of them. It had fallen upon her to tell the old man that his three sons had enlisted, and that task had tortured her for an hour before she had dared go and accomplish it.
“Papa,” she said, “Ham has enlisted, and so has Bul.”
The senator had not moved a muscle.
“It was only a question of time,” he said. “I wish that I had begotten a dozen others.”
He had borrowed her well-marked Bible from old Mrs. Blankinship and read Isaiah at a gulp. Then he had sought out his boys and bantered them on their new clothes.
Margaret sat very still for a long time after the interview with her father. She knew that Bul, whom she loved best of her brothers, was going to be killed. She had never before seen his face so serenely happy as when he came to tell her that he had sworn in, nor had she ever before seen that unexplainable phenomenon, known variously as fate, doom, numbered, Nemesis, written upon a face. And there were others who might be taken.
Aladdin came in for a moment to give her the news. He was nervous with enthusiasm, and had been working like a horse. His regiment was to leave Friday for the front; he could stay but a minute; he had only dashed in on his way to drill. Would she care to come? Quite right; there was nothing much to look at. He talked as cheerfully and as rapidly as a mountain brook runs. And then he gave his best piece of news, and looked almost handsome as he gave it.
“Peter’s here,” he said. “He’s outside talking to the senator. He looks simply stunning, and he’s a whole lot of things on a staff—assistant adjutant-general with the rank of a colonel; and he’s floated up here on a dash against time to say good-by to us.”
Aladdin’s face puckered.
“You and Peter and I, Margaret,” he said, “Lord, what a muddle!”
“I’m terribly blue, old man,” said Margaret, “and it hurts to have you say things like that.”