So Jimmie did not even stop to read all the paper; he signed. “And now,” said the sergeant, “the train leaves at nine-seventeen this evening. I’ll be there to give you your ticket. Don’t fail to be on hand. You understand, you’re under military discipline now.” There was a new tone in these last words, and Jimmie quaked inwardly, and went out with a sort of hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach.
He rushed away to tell Comrade Stankewitz, who hugged him with delight and shouted that they would meet in France! Then he went to tell Emil Forster, who was equally glad. He found himself with an impulse to hunt up Comrade Schneider and tell him. Jimmie discovered in himself a sudden and curious antagonism to Schneider; he wanted to have matters out with him, to say to him: “Wake up, you mutt—forget that fool dream of yours that the Kaiser’s goin’ to win the war!”
There were others Jimmie thought of, upon whom he would not call. Comrade Mary Allen, for example—he would let her get the news after he was out of the reach of her sharp tongue! Also he thought of Comrade Evelyn; he might never see her again; if he did see her, she might refuse to speak to him! But Jimmie repressed the pang of dismay which this realization brought him. He was going to war, and the longings and delights of love must be put to one side!
He went to the Meissners for supper, and broke the news to them. He had expected protests and arguments, and was surprised by the lack of them. Had the little bottle-packer been impressed by the experiences of Comrade Stankewitz? Or could it be that he was afraid to voice his full mind to Jimmie—just as Jimmie had been afraid in the case of Emil Forster?
Jimmie had some commissions to entrust to the Meissners; he would leave with them the diary of “Wild Bill”, which he had hung on to, but which seemed hardly the sort of literature to take on a transport.
“Sure,” assented Meissner. “Besides, the subs might get it.”
And Jimmie gave a sudden start. By heck! It was the first time the idea had occurred to him. He would have to pass through the barred zone! He might be in some fighting after all! He might never get to France! “Say!” he exclaimed. “That ocean must be cold this time of year!”
For a moment he wavered. Surely it would have been more sensible to wait till later in the season, when the consequences of a plunge overboard would be less distressing! But Jimmie remembered the armies, locked in their grip of death; never would despatch-riders need their motor-cycles more urgently than now! Also Jimmie remembered the sergeant at the recruiting-office. “You understand, you’re under military discipline now!” He set his jaw in a grim resolve. The “subs” be damned, he would go and do his part! Already he felt the thrill of his responsibility in this mighty hour of history; he was a military man, with a stern duty to do, with the destinies of nations depending upon his behaviour!