Jimmie thanked his stars he was no nearer. But that coward’s comfort did not last him long, for Jimmie was not a coward, he was not used to letting other men struggle and suffer for him. His conscience began to gnaw at him. If that was what it cost to beat down the Beast, to make the world safe for democracy, why should he be escaping? Why should he be warm and dry and well-fed, while working-men of France lay out in the trenches in the rain?
Jimmie went back and worked overtime without extra pay—something that old man Granitch had never got out of him, you bet, nor old man Kumme either. For three whole days he stayed a militarist, forgetting his life-long training in rebellion. But then he got into an argument with a red-headed Orangeman in his unit, who expressed the opinion that every Socialist was a traitor at heart, and that after the war the army should be used to make an end of them all. Jimmie in his rage went farther than he really meant, and again got a “calling down” from his superior officer; so for several days his proletarian feelings blazed, he wanted the revolution right away, Huns or no Huns.
But most of the time now the spirit of the herd mastered Jimmie; he wanted what all the men about him wanted—to hold back the Beast from these fair French fields and quaint old villages, and these American hospitals and rest-camps and Y.M.C.A. huts—to say nothing of motor-cycle repair-sheds with Jimmie Higgins in them! And the trouble was that the Beast was not being held back; he was coming nearer and nearer—one bull rush after another! Jimmie’s village was near the valley of the Marne, and that was the road to Paris; the Beast wanted to get to Paris, he really expected to get to Paris!
The sound of guns grew louder and louder, and rumour flew wild-eyed and wild-tongued about the country. The traffic in the roads grew denser, but moving more slowly now, for the Germans were shelling the road ahead, and blockades were frequent; one huge missile had fallen into a French artillery-train only a couple of miles away. “They’ll be moving us back, if this keeps up,” said Jimmie’s sergeant; and Jimmie wondered: suppose they didn’t move them! Suppose they forgot all about it? Was there any person whose particular duty it was to remember to see that motor-cycle units got moved in the precise nick of time? And what if the Germans were to break through and sweep over all calculations? This was a little more than Jimmie Higgins had bargained for when he entered the recruiting-office in Leesville, U.S.A.!
They gave out gas-masks to everyone in Jimmie’s unit, and put an alarm bell in the shed, and made everybody practise putting on the masks in a hurry. Jimmie was so scared that he thought seriously of running away; but—such is the perversity of human nature—what he did was to run in the opposite direction! His officer in command came into the shed and demanded, “Can any of you men ride?” And imagine any fellow who worked at repairing motor-cycles admitting that he couldn’t ride! “I can!” said Jimmie. “I can!” said every other workman in the place.