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His voice trembled, and his eyes, sustained by some hidden energy, gazed steadily ahead. It was as if a shy animal had come suddenly out of his cave because he was hungry.
'I think I love you,' he said.
The girl sat motionless and silent, but the big bows fluttered like a butterfly poised on the chalice of a flower.
'I think it is time to go home,' said she, with a grown-up manner of acute propriety; her thin face, her little, thin, vivacious face was unable and too young to conceal its ecstasy. For a moment her head brushed his sleeve. 'I like you,' she said, in a little sharp voice. 'I like you a hundred times better than mother or father,' she added, with a frightened look at the sacrilegious thing she was saying. Her eyes were on a level with Edwin's shoulder. She could smell the dry-grass odor of his rough tweed jacket. She sat silent and immovable as a statue, and so did he. 'I love you,' she said.
Edwin went into training. He came home only occasionally. He looked as gawky and boyish as ever, but his uniform gave him prestige in his home. The servants showed at once that they recognized the change. As they waited at table, they watched the glittering word inscribed across his shoulder-straps: 'Canada.' His mother's attitude underwent a change, too. It reflected some of the tenderness and the infinite pride which she felt underneath, and was not tinged as formerly with much of a parent's patronizing, possessive, and slightly contemptuous authority. Edwin squirmed a little under the new deference of her manner.
When he came home from the training-camp on his hasty visits, he was always out at tea-time. His mother wondered, and guessed shrewdly where
he had been. At a bazaar where she was serving tea to soldiers, she noticed a girl who glanced often in her direction. Mrs. Byrne was immediately and subtly aware that she was an object of exciting interest to this girl, with a thin face framed in the big bows on the back of her hair. She went up to speak to her. The girl blushed, twisted her hands with embarrassment, and looked at her with very bright, shrewd eyes.
'I want to talk to you,' Mrs. Byrne said, pleasantly, 'because I have seen you twice before, and because you know Edwin.'
The girl's eyes devoured her when she said, 'Edwin.' With him she was a grown-up young lady, but with his mother she was a child on the rack before a stranger.
Beyond the most ordinary courtesies she had nothing to say. Mrs. Byrne smiled at her and she squirmed bashfully.
'What children they are!' the mother thought; 'what children! what children!'
A hint of amused condescension lurked in her smile, the polite surface reflection of an inner jealousy.
Nevertheless, when her son came home for a night, she intended to say to him, 'Edwin, dear, don't you think it would be nice? I'd so enjoy meeting the little Gilbert girl. She and I worked together at the bazaar. Could n't we have her here to dinner? We could go to the theatre afterwards.'
She had thought this all out carefully. She meant to say it in a matterof-fact way that would not ruffle her son's new dignity, for she had not forgotten the horror in his eyes the night after the opera, when she had suggested this same thing. She plucked up courage to make her little speech as he was drinking tea, although she was conscious that Edwin was preoccupied and not listening to her mild
'Hum, by the way,' he said again; then, stumblingly, 'Er - Doris Gilbert told me she met you at some bazaar or something. They've been very nice to me, and I thought it would be only decent to ask her here to dinner, you know, and then go to the theatre, I suppose. There's a ripping show in town now; I'd rather like to see it. You could send a note around by Jameson, could n't you?'
Mrs. Byrne's tone was suitably cordial, yet matter-of-fact.
'Why, yes; I think that would be a good idea. If they've been polite to you, you must be cordial in return.
Edwin seemed reassured, but he continued to pull Jackie's ears without looking at his mother. He could guess that hateful amusement in her eyes bent cautiously on the tea-table.
'She would n't be allowed to go to the theatre without an older person, I suppose,' he said hesitatingly; 'so won't you come with us?'
'Why, certainly; I'd love it,' declared Mrs. Byrne enthusiastically.
She sat down and wrote the note, and Edwin took it and gave it to the errand boy. He returned to the library and, without looking at his mother, he lay down on the sofa and picked up a magazine.
now. The big room at the corner had been his nursery before he went to school. The air was parched and motionless. He opened a window from which the iron bars had never been removed, and stood looking out. evening wind blew past him. It tasted curiously and faintly of the sea. He stood there, twisting his hands like a nervous girl and staring out over the crouching roofs. It was sombre late afternoon, and the deep-tinted sky had absorbed all the warmth from the streets, leaving them dreary and windblown except for shafts of sunlight which glittered coldly on iron gateposts and window-panes. Carriages passed in a preoccupied procession, and a solemn hubbub arose from the city.
The boy at the window leaned his curly head against the iron bars. He felt remote and deliciously concealed in the darkness. His eyes were full of an almost painful preoccupation and avidity, and he sighed helplessly from the intensity and burden of his mood, his inability to cope with the fierce raptures and melancholy of his first love. Beneath it all there lurked a foreboding that made the wistfulness of it terrible.
'At this time next year I'll probably be dead,' he said to himself.
He had enlisted, he was going to the war, and yet, until that moment death had seemed immeasurably remote. It had always been remote, except once
'Edwin, dear, don't put your feet when he was a small boy, when, for on the sofa.'
'I'm sorry, mother.'
He realized helplessly that the tenseness of his anticipation was being communicated to his mother. He felt suddenly unable to endure her presence, and lounged out of the room, whistling. He wandered uncertainly all over the house, loitering at the windows and staring out, and finally up to the fourth floor, which was not used
VOL. 121 - NO. 4
some reason, it had seemed near. He had cried of nights before going to sleep, and his mother had sat by his bed, and he had told her that he was sick, just because he felt too terribly ashamed to tell her that he was afraid. It was in this very corner room — in that little iron bed, now shrouded and pushed into a shadowy corner → that he had felt this fear. How it all came back, that agony of dread, clutching at
his heart! Edwin smiled compassionately, and a little tremulously, at the small boy that he had been, with rumpled hair and scared eyes, sitting up in bed and crying to his mother and his nurse that he was sick. Now he closed his eyes and patently throttled this self-same fear. When he opened them again, a lamplighter was coming down the street, touching the lamps, which flared up faintly in the pale twilight. A grocer's boy swung himself whistling on to his team and the horse trotted off contentedly, with no one holding the reins.
"They'll go, too,' thought Edwin, leaning out and seeing that the lamplighter and the grocer were youngsters. The fear began rapidly to abate. 'We'll all go, all the boys together,' thought Edwin; and he felt suddenly quite comforted and happy again. ‘All together,' he repeated to himself. 'Just for a moment we'll be alone, and then all together.'
The grocer's boy was whistling on his team, and a newsboy took up the tune. 'All together all together-all together,' the refrain seemed to be. The boy at the window felt such a flood of comradeship surging through him that it carried away the fear. No thought of religion, none of the conventional religious and patriotic sermons which had been dealt out to Edwin and his friends at training-camps by fervid ministers, came back into his head.
Now, at the window in his old nursery, it was just this feeling that gave him almighty comfort. 'We'll all go together.' And although he could not put his emotion into words, his pulse raced and he rejoiced to be part of that glorious company of boys-all together, and reckless in their desire to do a big share, surging, yelling, racing down to die.
An errand boy was coming down the street with a note, and Edwin saw him
away off, and his heart gave a great, joyful bound and immediately he knew that he hated the thought of death, and all his boundless, boyish optimism rose and assured him that he, at any rate, would not be killed.
Doris arrived. Hair crimped, bows immense, her face radiant and anxious with the effort of appearing quite sophisticated and at ease.
'Overdressed,' Mrs. Byrne decided, as she welcomed her warmly, a vague superciliousness stealing into her man
It was not a very gay party, and Mrs. Byrne wondered if it were her fault. Edwin and the girl with the grown-up manners baffled her. They were so terribly polite to her, and addressed all their conversation to her, instead of to each other.
After dinner she kept saying, 'Now don't mind me; I'm an old lady and don't expect any attention.'
But instead of putting them at their ease, everything she said in a playful or laughing manner made them more polite toward her, and more formal and more distant toward each other.
But at the theatre she sat one seat away, because they had not been able to get three seats together, and suddenly those two had a great deal to say. 'What do they talk about?' she wondered. All through the rest of the performance Mrs. Byrne asked herself if they could be engaged. No; the idea was too absurd. She only a baby and Edwin! Why, he was a child, too, of course. She watched his big hand on the back of the seat, the strong blue veins running to the finger-tips, and the square set of his shoulders. 'He's only a child,' she thought, stubbornly.
The 'children's' low tones reached her occasionally.
'You'll forget me.' 'No, I won't.' 'Yes, you will.'
'No; you don't know.' 'Don't know what?' 'I'll tell you some day.'
And so on a duet, meaningless and stupid except for the two who understood it; the love-language of the race.
It was the language that Edwin was to carry in his speechless heart for two years. After the evening at the theatre his mother saw little of him. He seldom got home now. His regiment was awaiting orders to proceed secretly to France. Although she was expecting it momentarily, when the summons came it of course seemed sudden. Coming home from a walk, on one of those interminable autumn afternoons, the door was opened by her housemaid who explained in French,
'Mr. Edwin's home from camp. He's leaving in an hour. We tried to get hold of you. He's leaving for the other side. He's up on the fourth floor.'
As Mrs. Byrne brushed by her, the woman tried to compose her face to conceal that extraordinary excitement, almost pleasurable, partly nervous, which we see on the faces of people under the stimulus of a tragedy.
His mother sped up to the fourth floor, that part of the house which was never used now. She went up the stairs carpeted with sheeting, which had been laid down to keep the dust out. The stairs were still barred by a little white gate that had been put up to keep Edwin from falling when he was a baby. The blinds were drawn. streak of light fell across a door ajar.
Edwin was standing in the dismantled room. He loomed up very big, a giant against the dwarfed child's furniture that was stored there, shrouded in sheets like shriveled ghosts. Once he had not been able to reach his head above the table. He stood motionless
in the middle of the room, the streak of sunlight striking him full in the eyes. What was he doing in that deserted nursery? Why was he there? At the rustle of his mother's dress he started, and his face lost its dreamy expression. 'It's you,' he said.
She went up to him and leaned against him.
'So you have to go at once, Edwin,' she said. She stroked his arm.
They sat down on two little children's chairs in the middle of the shrouded room. They seemed to have nothing to say to each other. No; they were strangers so far as communion went, with the strange, terrible shyness which exists between members of the same family.
She held his hand, and leaned harder against him. It reminded her of an incident long ago, when she had sat just like this just like this with Edwin's father. He was only a few years older than Edwin was now, when he married her, and he had seemed grown up to her! Oh, yes, entirely so, grandly grown up! She continued to lean against Edwin. For, after all, he might not confide in her, he might not tell her all his innermost thoughts as he probably did that little silly Doris, but he was flesh of her flesh, bone of her bone, just the same, —hers more than he could ever be anybody else's, — and he loved her. He had nothing to say to her but what he would say to a stranger; but he had come from her body, she had suckled him at her breast, his first look of recognition had been for her. The first time he had held out his arms, it had been to her. The first word he had spoken had been, 'Mother.' Every memory and impression, every tendency of his childhood which would be the background upon which the remainder of his life would rest, was built upon her. She leaned against him and willed him to put his arm around her.
'My only one-my only one!' she moaned to herself. Aloud she said, 'Edwin, dear, don't forget to write to your Aunt Louisa from France. She's so sensitive-she'll be heartbroken. Now don't forget to send a card or something, and don't forget about writing me very often, darling; and remember about boiled drinking water, and all the little things like that. Be careful and sensible; there's no use in running any more risk
'You must n't take it so seriously, Edwin,' she said. 'You'll know dozens of girls before you find the right one. Just because this is your first -'
Instantly she felt Edwin harden. It was the tone of patronage in her voice; the insinuation that he was too young to know the real thing.
The clock was striking downstairs
six. They went down together into Edwin's room, and he showed her some of the things he had bought for his out
But Edwin was not listening. He fit. It was getting nearer to quarter withdrew his hand.
'Mother,' he said, abruptly, with a sort of desperation, 'I suppose I'm too young to get married?'
Mrs. Byrne was taken aback.
Afterwards, in going over and over it in her mind, what he had said and what she had said, she feared that she had not been sympathetic enough. course, it was too absurd married at seventeen! But it was not easy to tell him so, poor child. You see he felt that way, leaving for the front. This war made all such little affairs so poignant, which normally would have passed with a shrug.
'It really would n't be fair to yourself or to her,' she said, in her reasonable voice, the voice which she had used toward him as a child, and which intimated, 'You're old enough to know better.' 'It would n't do at all, dear; in four or five years, if you feel the same way
'But,' said Edwin, coloring horribly, his eyes on the floor, 'but supposing I should get killed of course I won't,' he added, grinning.
'Oh, you won't!' cried his mother. But his words and his sheepish smile made her feel almost giddy. Beneath the terror cowered another sensation. How ridiculous that he should think that he cared seriously for that little common chit; that his mind should be on her now!
past six; she felt herself beginning to tremble. She watched Edwin put on his overcoat. Was it possible that he was going! The taxi was churning outside. What an incessant, impertinent noise it made! She wanted to scream it down. Thoughts whirled through her brain with the swiftness of a dream. What did he mean by going up to that forsaken nursery? How hard he had tried to say, 'Supposing I am killed,' when he had pleaded with her in his dumb way to find him old enough, and she had refused to admit the dignity of his childish love! By her patronizing attitude she had scoffed at it. After all, perhaps he was just reaching out his hand to grasp it alive, to fulfill it. Did he have a premonition that he would never know fulfillment?
Edwin reached for his hat. He put his arm around her and looked away. She longed to throw her whole weight against him, to let him see how she was trembling, how he was taking her life away, and the life of this waiting, breathless house with him. He was so dumb, so far away, even when he kissed her! But all of a sudden, looking up at him, she saw that Edwin was struggling with tears. Yes, he was almost crying - Edwin, who had not cried since he was twelve years old! who would rather die than have his mother see him cry!
'O Edwin!' she said; and there was