Full Online Books
BOOK CATEGORIES
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
LINKS
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
donate
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Portygee - Chapter 14
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Portygee - Chapter 14 Post by :pearlventures Category :Long Stories Author :Joseph Crosby Lincoln Date :May 2012 Read :1532

Click below to download : The Portygee - Chapter 14 (Format : PDF)

The Portygee - Chapter 14

CHAPTER XIV

The telegram from the War Department was brief, as all such telegrams were perforce obliged to be. The Secretary of War, through his representative, regretted to inform Captain Zelotes Snow that Sergeant Albert Speranza had been killed in action upon a certain day. It was enough, however--for the time quite enough. It was not until later that the little group of South Harniss recovered sufficiently from the stunning effect of those few words to think of seeking particulars. Albert was dead; what did it matter, then, to know how he died?

Olive bore the shock surprisingly well. Her husband's fears for her seemed quite unnecessary. The Captain, knowing how she had idolized her daughter's boy, had dreaded the effect which the news might have upon her. She was broken down by it, it is true, but she was quiet and brave--astonishingly, wonderfully quiet and brave. And it was she, rather than her husband, who played the part of the comforter in those black hours.

"He's gone, Zelotes," she said. "It don't seem possible, I know, but he's gone. And he died doin' his duty, same as he would have wanted to die if he'd known 'twas comin', poor boy. So--so we must do ours, I suppose, and bear up under it the very best we can. It won't be very long, Zelotes," she added. "We're both gettin' old."

Captain Lote made no reply. He was standing by the window of the sitting-room looking out into the wet backyard across which the wind-driven rain was beating in stormy gusts.

"We must be brave, Zelotes," whispered Olive, tremulously. "He'd want us to be and we MUST be."

He put his arm about her in a sudden heat of admiration. "I'd be ashamed not to be after seein' you, Mother," he exclaimed.

He went out to the barn a few moments later and Rachel, entering the sitting-room, found Olive crumpled down in the big rocker in an agony of grief.

"Oh, don't, Mrs. Snow, don't," she begged, the tears streaming down her own cheeks. "You mustn't give way to it like this; you mustn't."

Olive nodded.

"I know it, I know it," she admitted, chokingly, wiping her eyes with a soaked handkerchief. "I shan't, Rachel, only this once, I promise you. You see I can't. I just can't on Zelotes's account. I've got to bear up for his sake."

The housekeeper was surprised and a little indignant.

"For his sake!" she repeated. "For mercy sakes why for his sake? Is it any worse for him than 'tis for you."

"Oh, yes, yes, lots worse. He won't say much, of course, bein' Zelotes Snow, but you and I know how he's planned, especially these last years, and how he's begun to count on--on Albert. . . . No, no, I ain't goin' to cry, Rachel, I ain't--I WON'T--but sayin' his name, you know, kind of--"

"I know, I know. Land sakes, DON'T I know! Ain't I doin' it myself?"

"Course you are, Rachel. But we mustn't when Zelotes is around. We women, we--well, times like these women HAVE to keep up. What would become of the men if we didn't?"

So she and Rachel "kept up" in public and when the captain was present, and he for his part made no show of grief nor asked for pity. He was silent, talked little and to the callers who came either at the house or office was uncomplaining.

"He died like a man," he told the Reverend Mr. Kendall when the latter called. "He took his chance, knowin' what that meant--"

"He was glad to take it," interrupted the minister. "Proud and glad to take it."

"Sartin. Why not? Wouldn't you or I have been glad to take ours, if we could?"

"Well, Captain Snow, I am glad to find you so resigned."

Captain Zelotes looked at him. "Resigned?" he repeated. "What do you mean by resigned? Not to sit around and whimper is one thing--any decent man or woman ought to be able to do that in these days; but if by bein' resigned you mean I'm contented to have it so--well, you're mistaken, that's all."

Only on one occasion, and then to Laban Keeler, did he open his shell sufficiently to give a glimpse of what was inside. Laban entered the inner office that morning to find his employer sitting in the desk chair, both hands jammed in his trousers' pockets and his gaze fixed, apparently, upon the row of pigeon-holes. When the bookkeeper spoke to him he seemed to wake from a dream, for he started and looked up.

"Cap'n Lote," began Keeler, "I'm sorry to bother you, but that last carload of pine was--"

Captain Zelotes waved his hand, brushing the carload of pine out of the conversation.

"Labe," he said, slowly, "did it seem to you that I was too hard on him?"

Laban did not understand. "Hard on him?" he repeated. "I don't know's I just get--"

"Hard on Al. Did it seem to you as if I was a little too much of the bucko mate to the boy? Did I drive him too hard? Was I unreasonable?"

The answer was prompt. "No, Cap'n Lote," replied Keeler.

"You mean that? . . . Um-hm. . . . Well, sometimes seems as if I might have been. You see, Labe, when he first come I--Well, I cal'late I was consider'ble prejudiced against him. Account of his father, you understand."

"Sartin. Sure. I understand."

"It took me a good while to get reconciled to the Portygee streak in him. It chafed me consider'ble to think there was a foreign streak in our family. The Snows have been straight Yankee for a good long while. . . . Fact is, I--I never got really reconciled to it. I kept bein' fearful all the time that that streak, his father's streak, would break out in him. It never did, except of course in his poetry and that sort of foolishness, but I was always scared 'twould, you see. And now--now that this has happened I--I kind of fret for fear that I may have let my notions get ahead of my fair play. You think I did give the boy a square deal, Labe?"

"Sure thing, Cap'n."

"I'm glad of that. . . . And--and you cal'late he wasn't--wasn't too prejudiced against me? I don't mean along at first, I mean this last year or two."

Laban hesitated. He wished his answer to be not an overstatement, but the exact truth.

"I think," he said, with emphasis, "that Al was comin' to understand you better every day he lived, Cap'n. Yes, and to think more and more of you, too. He was gettin' older, for one thing--older, more of a man--yes, yes."

Captain Zelotes smiled sadly. "He was more boy than man by a good deal yet," he observed. "Well, Labe, he's gone and I'm just beginnin' to realize how much of life for me has gone along with him. He'd been doin' better here in the office for the last two or three years, seemed to be catchin' on to business better. Didn't you think so, Labe?"

"Sartin. Yes indeed. Fust-rate, fust-rate."

"No, not first-rate. He was a long ways from a business man yet, but I did think he was doin' a lot better. I could begin to see him pilotin' this craft after I was called ashore. Now he's gone and . . . well, I don't see much use in my fightin' to keep it afloat. I'm gettin' along in years--and what's the use?"

It was the first time Laban had ever heard Captain Zelotes refer to himself as an old man. It shocked him into sharp expostulation.

"Nonsense!" he exclaimed. "You ain't old enough for the scrap heap by a big stretch. And besides, he made his fight, didn't he? He didn't quit, Al didn't, and he wouldn't want us to. No sir-ee, he wouldn't! No, sir, no! . . . I--I hope you'll excuse me, Cap'n Lote. I--declare it must seem to you as if I was talkin' pretty fresh. I swan I'm sorry. I am so . . . sorry; yes, yes, I be."

The captain was not offended. He waved the apologies aside.

"So you think it's worth while my fightin' it out, do you, Labe?" he asked, reflectively.

"I--I think it's what you ought to do anyhow, whether it's worth while or not. The whole world's fightin'. Uncle Sam's fightin'. Al was fightin'. You're fightin'. I'm fightin'. It's a darn sight easier to quit, a darn sight, but--but Al didn't quit. And--and we mustn't--not if we can help it," he added, drawing a hand across his forehead.

His agitation seemed to surprise Captain Zelotes. "So all hands are fightin', are they, Labe," he observed. "Well, I presume likely there's some truth in that. What's your particular fight, for instance?"

The little bookkeeper looked at him for an instant before replying. The captain's question was kindly asked, but there was, or so Laban imagined, the faintest trace of sarcasm in its tone. That trace decided him. He leaned across the desk.

"My particular fight?" he repeated. "You--you want to know what 'tis, Cap'n Lote? All right, all right, I'll tell you."

And without waiting for further questioning and with, for him, surprisingly few repetitions, he told of his "enlistment" to fight John Barleycorn for the duration of the war. Captain Zelotes listened to the very end in silence. Laban mopped his forehead with a hand which shook much as it had done during the interview with Albert in the room above the shoe store.

"There--there," he declared, in conclusion, "that's my fight, Cap'n Lote. Al and I, we--we kind of went into it together, as you might say, though his enlistin' was consider'ble more heroic than mine--yes indeed, I should say so . . . yes, yes, yes. But I'm fightin' too . . . er . . . I'm fightin' too."

Captain Zelotes pulled his beard.

"How's the fight goin', Labe?" he asked, quietly.

"Well--well, it's kind of--kind of spotty, as you might say. There's spots when I get along fairly smooth and others when--well, when it's pretty rough goin'. I've had four hard spots since Al went away, but there's two that was the hardest. One was along Christmas and New Year time; you know I 'most generally had one of my--er--spells along about then. And t'other is just now; I mean since we got word about--about Al. I don't suppose likely you surmised it, Cap'n, but--but I'd come to think a lot of that boy--yes, I had. Seems funny to you, I don't doubt, but it's so. And since the word come, you know--I--I--well, I've had some fight, some fight. I--I don't cal'late I've slept more'n four hours in the last four nights--not more'n that, no. Walkin' helps me most, seems so. Last night I walked to West Orham."

"To West Orham! You WALKED there? Last NIGHT?"

"Um-hm. Long's I can keep walkin' I--I seem to part way forget--to forget the stuff, you know. When I'm alone in my room I go 'most crazy--pretty nigh loony. . . . But there! I don't know why I got to talkin' like this to you, Cap'n Lote. You've got your troubles and--"

"Hold on, Labe. Does Rachel know about your fight?"

"No. No, no. Course she must notice how long I've been--been straight, but I haven't told her. I want to be sure I'm goin' to win before I tell her. She's been disappointed times enough before, poor woman. . . . There, Cap'n Lote, don't let's talk about it any more. Please don't get the notion that I'm askin' for pity or anything like that. And don't think I'm comparin' what I call my fight to the real one like Al's. There's nothin' much heroic about me, eh? No, no, I guess not. Tell that to look at me, eh?"

Captain Zelotes rose and laid his big hand on his bookkeeper's shoulder.

"Don't you believe it, Labe," he said. "I'm proud of you. . . . And, I declare, I'm ashamed of myself. . . . Humph! . . . Well, to-night you come home with me and have supper at the house."

"Now, now, Cap'n Lote--"

"You do as I tell you. After supper, if there's any walkin' to be done--if you take a notion to frog it to Orham or San Francisco or somewheres--maybe I'll go with you. Walkin' may be good for my fight, too; you can't tell till you try. . . . There, don't argue, Labe. I'm skipper of this craft yet and you'll obey my orders; d'you hear?"

The day following the receipt of the fateful telegram the captain wrote a brief note to Fletcher Fosdick. A day or two later he received a reply. Fosdick's letter was kindly and deeply sympathetic. He had been greatly shocked and grieved by the news.


Young Speranza seemed to me, (he wrote) in my one short interview with him, to be a fine young fellow. Madeline, poor girl, is almost frantic. She will recover by and by, recovery is easier at her age, but it will be very, very hard for you and Mrs. Snow. You and I little thought when we discussed the problem of our young people that it would be solved in this way. To you and your wife my sincerest sympathy. When you hear particulars concerning your grandson's death, please write me. Madeline is anxious to know and keeps asking for them. Mrs. Fosdick is too much concerned with her daughter's health to write just now, but she joins me in sympathetic regards.


Captain Zelotes took Mrs. Fosdick's sympathy with a grain of salt. When he showed this letter to his wife he, for the first time, told her of the engagement, explaining that his previous silence had been due to Albert's request that the affair be kept a secret for the present. Olive, even in the depth of her sorrow, was greatly impressed by the grandeur of the alliance.

"Just think, Zelotes," she exclaimed, "the Fosdick girl--and our Albert engaged to marry her! Why, the Fosdicks are awful rich, everybody says so. Mrs. Fosdick is head of I don't know how many societies and clubs and things in New York; her name is in the paper almost every day, so another New York woman told me at Red Cross meetin' last summer. And Mr. Fosdick has been in politics, way up in politics."

"Um-hm. Well, he's reformed lately, I understand, so we mustn't hold that against him."

"Why, Zelotes, what DO you mean? How can you talk so? Just think what it would have meant to have our Albert marry a girl like Madeline Fosdick."

The captain put his arm about her and gently patted her shoulder.

"There, there, Mother," he said, gently, "don't let that part of it fret you."

"But, Zelotes," tearfully, "I don't understand. It would have been such a great thing for Albert."

"Would it? Well, maybe. Anyhow, there's no use worryin' about it now. It's done with--ended and done with . . . same as a good many other plans that's been made in the world."

"Zelotes, don't speak like that, dear, so discouraged. It makes me feel worse than ever to hear you. And--and he wouldn't want you to, I'm sure."

"Wouldn't he? No, I cal'late you're right, Mother. We'll try not to."

Other letters came, including one from Helen. It was not long. Mrs. Snow was a little inclined to feel hurt at its brevity. Her husband, however, did not share this feeling.

"Have you read it carefully, Mother?" he asked.

"Of course I have, Zelotes. What do you mean?"

"I mean--well, I tell you, Mother, I've read it three time. The first time I was like you; seemed to me as good a friend of Al and of us as Helen Kendall ought to have written more than that. The second time I read it I begun to wonder if--if--"

"If what, Zelotes?"

"Oh, nothin', Mother, nothin'. She says she's comin' to see us just as soon as she can get away for a day or two. She'll come, and when she does I cal'late both you and I are goin' to be satisfied."

"But why didn't she WRITE more, Zelotes? That's what I can't understand."

Captain Zelotes tugged at his beard reflectively. "When I wrote Fosdick the other day," he said, "I couldn't write more than a couple of pages. I was too upset to do it. I couldn't, that's all."

"Yes, but you are Albert's grandfather."

"I know. And Helen's always . . . But there, Mother, don't you worry about Helen Kendall. I've known her since she was born, pretty nigh, and _I tell you she's all RIGHT."

Fosdick, in his letter, had asked for particulars concerning Albert's death. Those particulars were slow in coming. Captain Zelotes wrote at once to the War Department, but received little satisfaction. The Department would inform him as soon as it obtained the information. The name of Sergeant Albert Speranza had been cabled as one of a list of fatalities, that was all.

"And to think," as Rachel Ellis put it, "that we never knew that he'd been made a sergeant until after he was gone. He never had time to write it, I expect likely, poor boy."

The first bit of additional information was furnished by the press. A correspondent of one of the Boston dailies sent a brief dispatch to his paper describing the fighting at a certain point on the Allied front. A small detachment of American troops had taken part, with the French, in an attack on a village held by the enemy. The enthusiastic reporter declared it to be one of the smartest little actions in which our soldiers had so far taken part and was eloquent concerning the bravery and dash of his fellow countrymen. "They proved themselves," he went on, "and French officers with whom I have talked are enthusiastic. Our losses, considering the number engaged, are said to be heavy. Among those reported as killed is Sergeant Albert Speranza, a Massachusetts boy whom American readers will remember as a writer of poetry and magazine fiction. Sergeant Speranza is said to have led his company in the capture of the village and to have acted with distinguished bravery." The editor of the Boston paper who first read this dispatch turned to his associate at the next desk.

"Speranza? . . . Speranza?" he said aloud. "Say, Jim, wasn't it Albert Speranza who wrote that corking poem we published after the Lusitania was sunk?"

Jim looked up. "Yes," he said. "He has written a lot of pretty good stuff since, too. Why?"

"He's just been killed in action over there, so Conway says in this dispatch."

"So? . . . Humph! . . . Any particulars?"

"Not yet. 'Distinguished bravery,' according to Conway. Couldn't we have something done in the way of a Sunday special? He was a Massachusetts fellow."

"We might. We haven't a photograph, have we? If we haven't, perhaps we can get one."

The photograph was obtained--bribery and corruption of the Orham photographer--and, accompanied by a reprint of the Lusitania poem, appeared in the "Magazine Section" of the Sunday newspaper. With these also appeared a short notice of the young poet's death in the service of his country.

That was the beginning. At the middle of that week Conway sent another dispatch. The editor who received it took it into the office of the Sunday editor.

"Say," he said, "here are more particulars about that young chap Speranza, the one we printed the special about last Sunday. He must have been a corker. When his lieutenant was put out of business by a shrapnel this Speranza chap rallied the men and jammed 'em through the Huns like a hot knife through butter. Killed the German officer and took three prisoners all by himself. Carried his wounded lieutenant to the rear on his shoulders, too. Then he went back into the ruins to get another wounded man and was blown to slivers by a hand grenade. He's been cited in orders and will probably be decorated by the French--that is, his memory will be. Pretty good for a poet, I'd say. No 'lilies and languors' about that, eh?"

The Sunday editor nodded approval.

"Great stuff!" he exclaimed. "Let me have that dispatch, will you, when you've finished. I've just discovered that this young Speranza's father was Speranza, the opera baritone. You remember him? And his mother was the daughter of a Cape Cod sea captain. How's that? Spain, Cape Cod, opera, poetry and the Croix de Guerre. And have you looked at the young fellow's photograph? Combination of Adonis and 'Romeo, where art thou.' I've had no less than twenty letters about him and his poetry already. Next Sunday we'll have a special 'as is.' Where can I get hold of a lot of his poems?"

The "special as was" occupied an entire page. A reporter had visited South Harniss and had taken photographs of the Snow place and some of its occupants. Captain Zelotes had refused to pose, but there was a view of the building and yards of "Z. Snow and Co." with the picturesque figure of Mr. Issachar Price tastefully draped against a pile of boards in the right foreground. Issy had been a find for the reporter; he supplied the latter with every fact concerning Albert which he could remember and some that he invented on the spur of the moment. According to Issy, Albert was "a fine, fust-class young feller. Him and me was like brothers, as you might say. When he got into trouble, or was undecided or anything, he'd come to me for advice and I always gave it to him. Land, yes! I always give to Albert. No matter how busy I was I always stopped work to help HIM out." The reporter added that Mr. Price stopped work even while speaking of it.

The special attracted the notice of other newspaper editors. This skirmish in which Albert had taken so gallant part was among the first in which our soldiers had participated. So the story was copied and recopied. The tale of the death of the young poet, the "happy warrior," as some writer called him, was spread from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from Canada to the Gulf. And just at this psychological moment the New York publisher brought out the long deferred volume. The Lances of Dawn, Being the Collected Poems of Albert M. C. Speranza, such was its title.

Meanwhile, or, rather, within the week when the Lances of Dawn flashed upon the public, Captain Zelotes received a letter from the captain of Albert's regiment in France. It was not a long letter, for the captain was a busy man, but it was the kindly, sympathetic letter of one who was, literally, that well-advertised combination, an officer and a gentleman. It told of Albert's promotion to the rank of sergeant, "a promotion which, had the boy been spared, would, I am sure, have been the forerunner of others." It told of that last fight, the struggle for the village, of Sergeant Speranza's coolness and daring and of his rush back into the throat of death to save a wounded comrade.


The men tell me they tried to stop him (wrote the captain). He was himself slightly wounded, he had just brought Lieutenant Stacey back to safety and the enemy at that moment was again advancing through the village. But he insisted upon going. The man he was trying to rescue was a private in his company and the pair were great friends. So he started back alone, although several followed him a moment later. They saw him enter the ruined cottage where his friend lay. Then a party of the enemy appeared at the corner and flung grenades. The entire side of the cottage which he had just entered was blown in and the Germans passed on over it, causing our men to fall back temporarily. We retook the place within half an hour. Private Kelly's body--it was Private Kelly whom Sergeant Speranza was attempting to rescue--was found and another, badly disfigured, which was at first supposed to be that of your grandson. But this body was subsequently identified as that of a private named Hamlin who was killed when the enemy first charged. Sergeant Speranza's body is still missing, but is thought to be buried beneath the ruins of the cottage. These ruins were subsequently blown into further chaos by a high explosive shell.


Then followed more expressions of regret and sympathy and confirmation of the report concerning citation and the war cross. Captain Lote read the letter at first alone in his private office. Then he brought it home and gave it to his wife to read. Afterward he read it aloud to Mrs. Ellis and to Laban, who was making his usual call in the Snow kitchen.

When the reading was ended Labe was the first to speak. His eyes were shining.

"Godfreys!" he exclaimed. "Godfreys, Cap'n Lote!"

The captain seemed to understand.

"You're right, Labe," he said. "The boy's made us proud of him. . . . Prouder than some of us are of ourselves, I cal'late," he added, rising and moving toward the door.

"Sho, sho, Cap'n, you mustn't feel that way. No, no."

"Humph! . . . Labe, I presume likely if I was a pious man, one of the old-fashioned kind of pious, and believed the Almighty went out of his way to get square with any human bein' that made a mistake or didn't do the right thing--if I believed that I might figger all this was a sort of special judgment on me for my prejudices, eh?"

Mr. Keeler was much disturbed.

"Nonsense, nonsense, Cap'n Lote!" he protested. "You ain't fair to yourself. You never treated Al anyhow but just honest and fair and square. If he was here now instead of layin' dead over there in France, poor feller, he'd say so, too. Yes, he would. Course he would."

The captain made no reply, but walked from the room. Laban turned to Mrs. Ellis.

"The old man broods over that," he said. "I wish. . . . Eh? What's the matter, Rachel? What are you lookin' at me like that for?"

The housekeeper was leaning forward in her chair, her cheeks flushed and her hands clenched.

"How do you know he's dead?" she asked, in a mysterious whisper.

"Eh? How do I know who's dead?"

"Albert. How do you know he's dead?"

Laban stared at her.

"How do I know he's DEAD!" he repeated. "How do I know--"

"Yes, yes, yes," impatiently; "that's what I said. Don't run it over three or four times more. How do you know Albert's dead?"

"Why, Rachel, what kind of talk's that? I know he's dead because the newspapers say so, and the War Department folks say so, and this cap'n man in France that was right there at the time, HE says so. All hands say so--yes, yes. So don't--"

"Sh! I don't care if they all say so ten times over. How do they KNOW? They ain't found him dead, have they? The report from the War Department folks was sent when they thought that other body was Albert's. Now they know that wasn't him. Where is he?"

"Why, under the ruins of that cottage. 'Twas all blown to pieces and most likely--"

"Um-hm. There you are! 'Most likely!' Well, I ain't satisfied with most likelys. I want to KNOW."

"But--but--"

"Laban Keeler, until they find his body I shan't believe Albert's dead."

"But, Rachel, you mustn't try to deceive yourself that way. Don't you see--"

"No, I don't see. Labe, when Robert Penfold was lost and gone for all them months all hands thought he was dead, didn't they? But he wasn't; he was on that island lost in the middle of all creation. What's to hinder Albert bein' took prisoner by those Germans? They came back to that cottage place after Albert was left there, the cap'n says so in that letter Cap'n Lote just read. What's to hinder their carryin' Al off with 'em? Eh? What's to hinder?"

"Why--why, nothin', I suppose, in one way. But nine chances out of ten--"

"That leaves one chance, don't it. I ain't goin' to give up that chance for--for my boy. I--I--Oh, Labe, I did think SO much of him."

"I know, Rachel, I know. Don't cry any more than you can help. And if it helps you any to make believe--I mean to keep on hopin' he's alive somewheres--why, do it. It won't do any harm, I suppose. Only I wouldn't hint such a thing to Cap'n Lote or Olive."

"Of course not," indignantly. "I ain't quite a fool, I hope. . . . And I presume likely you're right, Laban. The poor boy is dead, probably. But I--I'm goin' to hope he isn't, anyhow, just to get what comfort I can from it. And Robert Penfold did come back, you know."

For some time Laban found himself, against all reason, asking the very question Rachel had asked: Did they actually KNOW that Albert was dead? But as the months passed and no news came he ceased to ask it. Whenever he mentioned the subject to the housekeeper her invariable reply was: "But they haven't found his body, have they?" She would not give up that tenth chance. As she seemed to find some comfort in it he did not attempt to convince her of its futility.

And, meanwhile The Lances of Dawn, Being the Collected Poems of Albert M. C. Speranza was making a mild sensation. The critics were surprisingly kind to it. The story of the young author's recent and romantic death, of his gallantry, his handsome features displayed in newspapers everywhere, all these helped toward the generous welcome accorded the little volume. If the verses were not inspired--why, they were at least entertaining and pleasant. And youth, high-hearted youth sang on every page. So the reviewers were kind and forbearing to the poems themselves, and, for the sake of the dead soldier-poet, were often enthusiastic. The book sold, for a volume of poems it sold very well indeed.

At the Snow place in South Harniss pride and tears mingled. Olive read the verses over and over again, and wept as she read. Rachel Ellis learned many of them by heart, but she, too, wept as she recited them to herself or to Laban. In the little bookkeeper's room above Simond's shoe store The Lances of Dawn lay under the lamp upon the center table as before a shrine. Captain Zelotes read the verses. Also he read all the newspaper notices which, sent to the family by Helen Kendall, were promptly held before his eyes by Olive and Rachel. He read the publisher's advertisements, he read the reviews. And the more he read the more puzzled and bewildered he became.

"I can't understand it, Laban," he confided in deep distress to Mr. Keeler. "I give in I don't know anything at all about this. I'm clean off soundin's. If all this newspaper stuff is so Albert was right all the time and I was plumb wrong. Here's this feller," picking up a clipping from the desk, "callin' him a genius and 'a gifted youth' and the land knows what. And every day or so I get a letter from somebody I never heard of tellin' me what a comfort to 'em those poetry pieces of his are. I don't understand it, Labe. It worries me. If all this is true then--then I was all wrong. I tried to keep him from makin' up poetry, Labe--TRIED to, I did. If what these folks say is so somethin' ought to be done to me. I--I--by thunder, I don't know's I hadn't ought to be hung! . . . And yet--and yet, I did what I thought was right and did it for the boy's sake . . . And--and even now I--I ain't sartin I was wrong. But if I wasn't wrong then this is . . . Oh, I don't know, I don't know!"

And not only in South Harniss were there changes of heart. In New York City and at Greenwich where Mrs. Fosdick was more than ever busy with war work, there were changes. When the newspaper accounts of young Speranza's heroic death were first published the lady paid little attention to them. Her daughter needed all her care just then--all the care, that is, which she could spare from her duties as president of this society and corresponding secretary of that. If her feelings upon hearing the news could have been analyzed it is probable that their larger proportion would have been a huge sense of relief. THAT problem was solved, at all events. She was sorry for poor Madeline, of course, but the dear child was but a child and would recover.

But as with more and more intensity the limelight of publicity was turned upon Albert Speranza's life and death and writing, the wife of the Honorable Fletcher Fosdick could not but be impressed. As head of several so-called literary societies, societies rather neglected since the outbreak of hostilities, she had made it her business to hunt literary lions. Recently it was true that military lions--Major Vermicelli of the Roumanian light cavalry, or Private Drinkwater of the Tank Corps--were more in demand than Tagores, but, as Mrs. Fosdick read of Sergeant Speranza's perils and poems, it could not help occurring to her that here was a lion both literary and martial. Decidedly she had not approved of her daughter's engagement to that lion, but now the said lion was dead, which rendered him a perfectly harmless yet not the less fascinating animal. And then appeared The Lances of Dawn and Mrs. Fosdick's friends among the elect began to read and talk about it.

It was then that the change came. Those friends, one by one, individuals judiciously chosen, were told in strict confidence of poor Madeline's romantic love affair and its tragic ending. These individuals, chosen judiciously as has been stated, whispered, also in strict confidence, the tale to other friends and acquaintances. Mrs. Fosdick began to receive condolences on her daughter's account and on her own. Soon she began to speak publicly of "My poor, dear daughter's dead fiance. Such a loss to American literature. Sheer genius. Have you read the article in the Timepiece? Madeline, poor girl, is heartbroken, naturally, but very proud, even in the midst of her grief. So are we all, I assure you."

She quoted liberally from The Lances of Dawn. A copy specially bound, lay upon her library table. Albert's photograph in uniform, obtained from the Snows by Mr. Fosdick, who wrote for it at his wife's request, stood beside it. To callers and sister war workers Mrs. Fosdick gave details of the hero's genius, his bravery, his devotion to her daughter. It was all so romantic and pleasantly self-advertising--and perfectly safe.

Summer came again, the summer of 1918. The newspapers now were gravely personal reading to millions of Americans. Our new army was trying its metal on the French front and with the British against the vaunted Hindenburg Line. The transports were carrying thousands on every trip to join those already "over there." In South Harniss and in Greenwich and New York, as in every town and city, the ordinary summer vacations and playtime occupations were forgotten or neglected and war charities and war labors took their place. Other soldiers than Sergeant Speranza were the newspaper heroes now, other books than The Lances of Dawn talked about.

As on the previous summer the new Fosdick cottage was not occupied by its owners. Mrs. Fosdick was absorbed by her multitudinous war duties and her husband was at Washington giving his counsel and labor to the cause. Captain Zelotes bought to his last spare dollar of each successive issue of Liberty Bonds, and gave that dollar to the Red Cross or the Y. M. C. A.; Laban and Rachel did likewise. Even Issachar Price bought Thrift Stamps and exhibited them to anyone who would stop long enough to look.

"By crimus," declared Issy, "I'm makin' myself poor helpin' out the gov'ment, but let 'er go and darn the Kaiser, that's my motto. But they ain't all like me. I was down to the drug store yesterday and old man Burgess had the cheek to tell me I owed him for some cigars I bought--er--last fall, seems to me 'twas. I turned right around and looked at him--'I've got my opinion,' says I, 'of a man that thinks of cigars and such luxuries when the country needs every cent. What have you got that gov'ment poster stuck up on your wall for?' says I. 'Read it,' I says. 'It says' '"Save! Save! Save!"' don't it? All right. That's what I'M doin'. I AM savin'.' Then when he was thinkin' of somethin' to answer back I walked right out and left him. Yes sir, by crimustee, I left him right where he stood!"

August came; September--the Hindenburg Line was broken. Each day the triumphant headlines in the papers were big and black and also, alas, the casualty lists on the inside pages long and longer. Then October. The armistice was signed. It was the end. The Allied world went wild, cheered, danced, celebrated. Then it sat back, thinking, thanking God, solemnly trying to realize that the killing days, the frightful days of waiting and awful anxiety, were over.

And early in November another telegram came to the office of Z. Snow and Co. This time it came, not from the War Department direct, but from the Boston headquarters of the American Red Cross.

And this time, just as on the day when the other fateful telegram came, Laban Keeler was the first of the office regulars to learn its contents. Ben Kelley himself brought this message, just as he had brought that telling of Albert Speranza's death. And the usually stolid Ben was greatly excited. He strode straight from the door to the bookkeeper's desk.

"Is the old man in, Labe?" he whispered, jerking his head toward the private office, the door of which happened to be shut.

Laban looked at him over his spectacles. "Cap'n Lote, you mean?" he asked. "Yes, he's in. But he don't want to be disturbed--no, no. Goin' to write a couple of important letters, he said. Important ones. . . . Um-hm. What is it, Ben? Anything I can do for you?"

Kelley did not answer that question. Instead he took a telegram from his pocket.

"Read it, Labe," he whispered. "Read it. It's the darndest news--the--the darnedest good news ever you heard in your life. It don't seem as if it could he, but, by time, I guess 'tis. Anyhow, it's from the Red Cross folks and they'd ought to know."

Laban stared at the telegram. It was not in the usual envelope; Kelley had been too anxious to bring it to its destination to bother with an envelope.

"Read it," commanded the operator again. "See if you think Cap'n Lote ought to have it broke easy to him or--or what? Read it, I tell you. Lord sakes, it's no secret! I hollered it right out loud when it come in over the wire and the gang at the depot heard it. They know it and it'll be all over town in ten minutes. READ IT."

Keeler read the telegram. His florid cheeks turned pale.

"Good Lord above!" he exclaimed, under his breath.

"Eh? I bet you! Shall I take it to the cap'n? Eh? What do you think?"

"Wait. . . . Wait . . . I--I--My soul! My soul! Why . . . It's--it's true. . . . And Rachel always said . . . Why, she was right . . . I . . ."

From without came the sound of running feet and a series of yells.

"Labe! Labe!" shrieked Issy. "Oh, my crimus! . . . Labe!"

He burst into the office, his eyes and mouth wide open and his hands waving wildly.

"Labe! Labe!" he shouted again. "Have you heard it? Have you? It's true, too. He's alive! He's alive! He's alive!"

Laban sprang from his stool. "Shut up, Is!" he commanded. "Shut up! Hold on! Don't--"

"But he's alive, I tell you! He ain't dead! He ain't never been dead! Oh, my crimus! . . . Hey, Cap'n Lote! HE'S ALIVE!"

Captain Zelotes was standing in the doorway of the private office. The noise had aroused him from his letter writing.

"Who's alive? What's the matter with you this time, Is?" he demanded.

"Shut up, Issy," ordered Laban, seizing the frantic Mr. Price by the collar. "Be still! Wait a minute."

"Be still? What do I want to be still for? I cal'late Cap'n Lote'll holler some, too, when he hears. He's alive, Cap'n Lote, I tell ye. Let go of me, Labe Keeler! He's alive!"

"Who's alive? What is it? Labe, YOU answer me. Who's alive?"

Laban's thoughts were still in a whirl. He was still shaking from the news the telegraph operator had brought. Rachel Ellis was at that moment in his mind and he answered as she might have done.

"Er--er--Robert Penfold," he said.

"Robert PENFOLD! What--"

Issachar could hold in no longer.

"Robert Penfold nawthin'!" he shouted. "Who in thunder's he? 'Tain't Robert Penfold nor Robert Penholder neither. It's Al Speranza, that's who 'tis. He ain't killed, Cap'n Lote. He's alive and he's been alive all the time."

Kelley stepped forward.

"Looks as if 'twas so, Cap'n Snow," he said. "Here's the telegram from the Red Cross."

If you like this book please share to your friends :
NEXT BOOKS

The Portygee - Chapter 18 The Portygee - Chapter 18

The Portygee - Chapter 18
CHAPTER XVIIIThe next morning Albert met old Mr. Kendall. After breakfast Captain Zelotes had gone, as usual, directly to the office. His grandson, however, had not accompanied him. "What are you cal'latin' to do this mornin', Al?" inquired the captain. "Oh, I don't know exactly, Grandfather. I'm going to look about the place a bit, write a letter to my publishers, and take a walk, I think. You will probably see me at the office pretty soon. I'll look in there by and by." "Ain't goin' to write one or two of those five hundred dollar stories before dinner time, are
PREVIOUS BOOKS

The Portygee - Chapter 13 The Portygee - Chapter 13

The Portygee - Chapter 13
CHAPTER XIIIAnd so, in this unexpected fashion, came prematurely the end of the four year trial agreement between Albert Speranza and Z. Snow and Co. Of course neither Captain Zelotes nor Albert admitted that it had ended. Each professed to regard the break as merely temporary. "You'll be back at that desk in a little while, Al," said the captain, "addin' up figgers and tormentin' Issy." And Albert's reply was invariably, "Why, of course, Grandfather." He had dreaded his grandmother's reception of the news of his intended enlistment. Olive worshiped her daughter's boy and, although an ardent patriot, was by no
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT