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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tin Soldier - BOOK THREE _ THE BUGLE CALLS - Chapter XXVII. MARCHING FEET
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The Tin Soldier - BOOK THREE _ THE BUGLE CALLS - Chapter XXVII. MARCHING FEET Post by :efsinter Category :Long Stories Author :Temple Bailey Date :April 2012 Read :3307

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The Tin Soldier - BOOK THREE _ THE BUGLE CALLS - Chapter XXVII. MARCHING FEET

BOOK THREE THE BUGLE CALLS - CHAPTER XXVII. MARCHING FEET

The end of April brought much rain; torrents swept down the smooth streets, and the beauty of the carefully kept flower beds in the parks was blurred by the wet.

The General, limping from window to window, chafed. He wanted to get out, to go over the hills and far away; with the coming of the spring the wander-hunger gripped him, and with this restless mood upon him he stormed at Bronson.

"It's a dog's life."

"Yes, sir," said Bronson, dutifully.

"It is dead lonesome, Bronson, and I can't keep Jean tied here all of the time. She is looking pale, don't you think she is looking pale?"

"Yes, sir. I think she misses Mr. Derry."

"Well, she'll miss him a lot more before she gets him back," grimly. "He'll be going over soon--"

"Yes, sir."

"I wish I were going," the old man was wistful. "Think of it, Bronson, to be over there--in the thick of it, playing the game, instead of rotting here--"

It was, of course, the soldier's point of view. Bronson, being hopelessly civilian, did his best to rise to what was expected of him. "You like it then, sir?"

"Like it? It is the only life. We've lost something since men took up the game of business in place of the game of fighting."

"But you see, sir, there's no blood--in business." Bronson tried to put it delicately.

"Isn't there? Why, more men are killed in accidents in factories than are killed in war--murdered by money-greedy employers."

"Oh, sir, not quite that."

"Yes, quite," was the irascible response. "You don't know what you are talking about, Bronson. Read statistics and find out."

"Yes, sir. Will you have your lunch up now, sir?"

"I'll get it over and then you can order the car for me."

"But the rain--?"

"I like rain. I'm not sugar or salt."

Bronson, much perturbed, called up Jean. "The General's going out."

"Oh, but he mustn't, Bronson."

"I can't say 'mustn't' to him, Miss," Bronson reported dismally. "You'd better see what you can do--"

But when Jean arrived, the General was gone!

"We'll drive out through the country," the old man had told his chauffeur, and had settled back among his cushions, his cane by his side, his foot up on the opposite seat to relieve him of the weight.

And it was as he rode that he began to have a strange feeling about that foot which no longer walked or bore him lightly.

How he had marched in those bygone days! He remembered the first time he had tried to keep step with his fellows. The tune had been Yankee Doodle--with a fife and drum--and he was a raw young recruit in his queer blue uniform and visored cap--.

And how eager his feet had been, how strongly they had borne him, spurning the dust of the road--as they would bear him no more--.

There were men who envied him as he swept past them in the rain, men who felt that he had more than his share of wealth and ease, yet he would have made a glad exchange for the feet which took them where they willed.

He came at last to one of his old haunts, a small stone house on the edge of the Canal. From its wide porch he had often watched the slow boats go by, with men and women and children living in worlds bounded by weather-beaten decks. To-day in the rain there was a blur of lilac bushes along the tow path, but no boats were in sight; the Canal was a ruffled gray sheet in the April wind.

Lounging in the low-ceiled front room of the stone house were men of the type with whom he had once foregathered--men not of his class or kind, but interesting because of their very differences--human derelicts who had welcomed him.

But now, for the first time he was not one of them. They eyed his elegances with suspicion--his fur coat, his gloves, his hat--the man whose limousine stood in front of the door was not one of them; they might beg of him, but they would never call him "Brother."

So, because his feet no longer carried him, and he must ride, he found himself cast out, as it were, by outcasts.

He ordered meat and drink for them, gave them money, made a joke or two as he limped among them, yet felt an alien. He watched them wistfully, seeing for the first time their sordidness, seeing what he himself had been, more sordid than any, because of his greater opportunities.

Sitting apart, he judged them, judged himself. If all the world were like these men, what kind of world would it be?

"Why aren't you fellows fighting?" he asked suddenly.

They stared at him. Grumbled. Why should they fight? One of them wept over it, called himself too old--.

But there were young men among them. "For God's sake get out of this--let me help you get out." The General stood up, leaned on his cane. "Look here, I've done a lot of things in my time--things like this--" his arm swept out towards the table, "and now I've only one good foot--the other will never be alive again. But you young chaps, you've got two good feet--to march. Do you know what that means, to march? Left, right, left, right and step out bravely--. Yankee Doodle and your heads up, flags flying? And you sit here like this?"

Two of the men had risen, young and strong. The General's cane pounded--he had their eyes! "Left, right, left, right--all over the world men are marching, and you sit here--"

The years seemed to have dropped from him. His voice rang with a fire that had once drawn men after him. He had led a charge at Gettysburg, and his men had followed!

And these two men would follow him. He saw the dawn of their resolve in their faces. "There's fine stuff in both of you," he said, "and the country needs you. Isn't it better to fight than to sit here? Get into my car and I'll take you down."

"Aw, what's eatin' you," one of the older men growled. "What game's this? Recruitin'?"

But the young men asked no questions. They came--glad to come. Roused out of a lethargy which had bound them. Waked by a ringing old voice.

The General was rather quiet when he reached home. Jean and Bronson, who had suffered torments, watched him with concerned eyes. And, as if he divined it, he laid his hand over Jean's. "I did a good day's work, my dear. I got two men for the Army, and I'm going to get more--"

And he did get more. He went not only in the rain, but in the warmth of the sun, when the old fruit trees bloomed along the tow path, and the backs of the mules were shining black, and the women came out on deck with their washing.

And always he spoke to the men of marching feet--. Now and then he sang for them in that thin old voice whose thinness was so overlaid by the passion of his patriotism that those who listened found no flaw in it.

"He has sounded forth the trumpet that has never called retreat, He is sifting forth the hearts of men before his Judgment seat, O be swift my soul to answer him, be jubilant my feet, Our God is marching on--"

There was no faltering now, no fumbled words. With head up, singing--"Be jubilant, my feet--"

Sometimes he took Jean with him, but not always. "There are places that I don't like to have you go, my dear, but those are where I get my men."

At other times when he came out to where she sat in the car there would flash before his eyes the vision of his wife's face, as she, too, had once sat there, waiting--

Sometimes he took the children, and rode with them on a slow-moving barge from one lock to another, with the limousine meeting them at the end.

So he travelled the old paths, innocently, as he might have travelled them throughout the years.

Yet if he thought of those difficult years, he said never a word. He felt, perhaps, that there was nothing to say. He took to himself no credit for the things he was doing. If age and infirmity had brought to him a realization of all that he had missed, he was surely not to be praised for doing that which was, obviously, his duty.

Yet it gave him a new zest for life, and left Jean freer than she had been before. It left her, too, without the fear of him, which had robbed their relationship of all sense of security.

"You see, I never knew," she wrote in her memory book, "what might happen. I had visions of myself going after him in the night as Derry had gone and his mother. I used to dream about it, and dread it."

Yet she had said nothing of her dread to Derry in her smiling letters, and as men think of women, he had thought of her in the sick room as a guardian angel, shining and serene.

* * * * * *

And now, faint and far came to the men in the cantonments the sound of battles across the sea. The bugles calling them each morning seemed to say, "Soon, soon, you will go, you will go, you will go--"

To Derry, listening, it seemed the echo of the fairy trumpets, "_Trutter-a-trutt, trutter-a-trutt, you will go, you will go, you will go--_"

It was strange how the thought of it drew him, drew him as even the thoughts of Jean his bride did not draw--. He remembered that years ago he had smiled with a tinge of tolerant sophistication over the old lines:

"I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not honor more--"


Yet here it was, a truth in his own life. A woman meaning more to him than she could ever have meant in times of peace, because he could go forth to fight for her, his life at stake, for her. It was for her, and for other women that his sword was unsheathed.

"If only they could understand it," he wrote to Jean. "You haven't any idea what rotten letters some of the women write. Blaming the men for going over seas. Blaming them for going into it at all. Taking it as a personal offense that their lovers have left them. 'If you had loved me, you couldn't have left me,' was the way one woman put it, and I found a poor fellow mooning over it and asked him what was the matter. 'It isn't a question of what we want to do, it is a question of what we've got to do, if we call ourselves men,' he said. But she couldn't see that, she was measuring her emotions by an inch rule.

"But, thank God, most of the women are the real thing--true as steel and brave. And it is those women that the men worship. It is a masculine trait to want to be a sort of hero in the eyes of the woman you love. When she doesn't look at it that way, your plumes droop!"

And now the bugles rang with a clearer note--not, "You will go, you will go--" but, "Do not wait, do not wait, do not wait."

The cry from abroad was Macedonian. "Come over and help us!" It was to America that the ghosts of those fighting hordes appealed.

"Take up our quarrel with the foe,
To you from falling hands we throw
The torch--be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders' field--"


Gradually there had grown up in the hearts of simple men a flaming response to that sacred charge. Men whose dreams had never reached beyond a day's frivolity, found springing up in their souls a desire to do some deed to match that of the other fellow who slept "in Flanders field."

"To you from falling hands we throw the torch--be yours to hold it high--," the little man who had measured cloth behind a counter, the boy who had sold papers on the streets, the bank clerk who had bent over his books, the stenographer who had been bound to the wheel of everlasting dictation, were lighted by the radiance of that vision, "to hold it high--."

"Gee, I never used to think," said Tommy Tracy, "that I might have a chance to do a stunt like that."

"Like what?" Derry asked.

Tommy found it a thing rather hard to express. "Well, when you've been just a common sort of chap, to die--for the other fellow--"

So men's bodies grew and their muscles hardened. But their souls grew, too, expanding to the breadth and height of the things which were waiting for them to do across the sea.

And one morning Derry was granted a furlough, and started home. He sent no word ahead of him. He wanted to come upon them unawares. To catch the light that would be on Jean's face when she looked up and saw him.

There was rain and more rain when at last he arrived in Washington. The trees as his taxi traversed the wide avenues showed clear green, melting into vistas of amethyst and gray. The parks as he passed were starred with the bright yellow and pinks of flowering shrubs. Washington, in spite of the rain, was as lovely as a woman whose color blooms behind a veil.

He came into the great house unannounced, having his key with him. The General was out for a ride, the children with him, Margaret and Emily and Jean away, the servants in the back of the house.

Derry, going up the stairs, two steps at a time, stopped on the landing with head uncovered to greet his mother.

Oh, lovely painted lady, is this the little white-faced lad you loved, the big bronzed man, fresh from hardships, strong in the sense of the thing he has to do?

No promise made to you could hold him now. He has weighed your small demands is the balance with the world's great need.

He did not tarry long. Straight as an eagle to its mate, he swept through the hall and knocked at the door of Jean's room. There was no response. He knocked again, turned the handle, entered, and found the room empty. The tin soldier on the shelf shouted, "Welcome, welcome--comrade," but Derry had no ears to hear. Everywhere were signs of Jean; her fat memory book open on her desk, the ivory and gold appointments of her dressing table, her pink slippers, her prayer book--his own picture with flowers in front of it as before a shrine.

"My dear, my darling," his heart said when he saw that. What, after all, was he that she should worship him?

Impatient, he rang for Bronson, and the old man came--bewildered, hurried, joyful. "It's a great surprise, sir, but it's good to see you."

"It's good to see you, Bronson. Where's Miss Jean?"

"At Miss Emily's shop, sir."

"As late as this?"

"Sometimes later. She tries to get home in time for dinner."

"Where's Dad?"

"Driving with the children, and the ladies are out on war work."

A year ago women had played bridge at this hour in the afternoon, but there was no playing now.

"Don't tell Dad that I am here. I'll come back presently with Mrs. Drake."

And now down the hall came an old gray dog, wild with delight, outracing Polly Ann, who thought it was a play and leaped after him--Muffin had found his master!

But Derry left Muffin, left Bronson, left Polly Ana, a wistful trio at the front door. He must find Jean!

The day was darkening, and a light burned far back on the Toy Shop. Derry, standing outside, saw a room which was the very wraith of the gay little shop as he had left it--with its white tables, its long counters piled high with finished dressings; the white elephants in a spectral row behind glass doors on the top shelf the only reminder of what it once had been.

He saw, too, a small nun-like figure behind the counter, a figure all in white, with a white veil banded about her forehead and flowing down behind.

All of her bright hair was hidden, her eyes were on the compresses that she was counting. It seemed to him that there was a sharpened look on the little face.

He had not expected this. He had felt that he would find her glowing as she had been on that first night when he had followed his father through the rain--his dream had been of crinkled copper hair, of silver and rose, of youth and laughter and lightness--.

Her letters had been like that--gay, sparkling--there had been times when they had seemed almost too exuberant, times when he had wondered if she had really waked to the seriousness of the great struggle, and the part he was to play in it.

Yet now he saw signs of suffering. He opened the door. "Jean," he cried.

With the blood all drained from her face, she stared at him as if she saw a specter--"Derry," she whispered.

With his strong arms, he lifted her over the counter. "Jean-Joan, Jean-Joan--"

When at last she released herself, it was to laugh through her tears. "Derry, pull down the shades; what will people think?"

He cared little what people would think. And, anyway, very few people were passing at that late hour in the rain. But he pulled them down, and when he came back, he held her off at arm's length. "What have you been doing to yourself, dearest? You are a feather-weight."

"Well, I've been working."

"How does it happen that you are here alone?"

"Emily had to go down to order supplies, and Margaret went to a Liberty Loan meeting. I often stay like this to count and tie."

"Don't you get dreadfully tired?"

"Yes. But I think I like to get tired. It keeps me from thinking too much."

He drew her to him. "Take off your veil," he said, almost roughly. "I want to see your hair."

Divested of her headcovering, she was more like herself, but even then he was not content. He loosed a hairpin here and there and ran his fingers through the crinkled gold. "If you knew how I've dreamed of it, Jean-Joan."

But he had not dreamed of the dearness of the little face. "My darling, you have been pining, and I didn't know it."

"Well, didn't you like my smiling letters?"

"So that was it? You've been trying to cheer me up, and letting yourself get like this."

"I didn't want to worry you."

"Didn't you know that I'd want to be worried with anything that pertained to you? What's a husband for, dearest, if you can't tell him your troubles?"

"Yes, but a soldier-husband, Derry, is different. You've got to keep smiling--"

Her lips trembled and she clung to him. "It is so good to have you here, Derry."

She admitted, later, that she had confided her troubles to her memory book. "There weren't any big things, really--just missing you and all that--"

He was jealous of the memory book. "I shall read every word of it."

"Not until you come back from the war--and then we can laugh at it together."

They fell into silence after that. With his arms about her he thought that he might not come back, and she clinging to him had the same thought. But neither told the other.

"Do you know," she said at last, sitting up and sticking the hairpins into her crinkled knot. "Do you know that it's almost time for dinner, and that the General will wonder where I am?"

"I told Bronson not to tell him."

"Oh, really, Derry? Let's make it a great surprise."

Providentially the General was late. He and the children came home to find the house quite remarkably illumined, and Margaret flushed and excited, and in white.

"Is it a party, Mother?" Teddy asked, lending his shoulder manfully to the General's hand, as, with the chauffeur on the other side, they helped the old man up the stairs.

"No, but on such a rainy night Bronson and I thought we'd have a little feast. Don't you think that would be fun?"

The General was tired. "I had planned not to come down again--"

"Please do," she begged,

Bronson, knowing his master's moods, was on tip-toe with anxiety. "I've your things all laid out, sir."

"Well, well, I'll see."

Teddy, somewhat out of breath as they reached the top landing was inspired to remark, "We'll be 'spointed if you don't come down--"

"You want me, eh?"

"Yes, I do. There isn't any other man--"

The General chuckled. "Well, that's reason enough--. You can count on me, Ted, for masculine support."

The table was laid for six. Teddy appearing presently in the dining room pointed out the fact to Bronson, who was taking a last look.

"Is Margaret-Mary coming down?"

"She may later, for the sweets."

"Those aren't her spoons and forks."

"Well, well," said Bronson, "so they aren't"; but he did not have them changed.

The General in his dinner coat, perfectly groomed, immaculate, found Jean in rose and silver waiting for him.

"How gay we are," he said, and pinched her cheek.

Teddy in white linen and patent leathers also approved. "You've got on your spangly dwess, and it makes you pwetty--"

"Oh, Ted, is it just my clothes that make me pretty?"

"I didn't mean that. Only tonight you're so nice and--shining."

She shone, indeed, with such effulgence, that it was a wonder that the General did not suspect. But he did not, even when she said, "We have a surprise for you."

"For me, my dear?"

"Yes. A parcel--it came this afternoon. We want you to untie the string."

"Where is it?" Teddy demanded.

"On the table in the blue room."

Teddy rushed in ahead of the rest, came back and reported, "It's a big one."

It was a big one, cone-shaped and tied up in brown paper. It was set on a heavy carved table, a length of tapestry was under it and hid the legs of the table.

"It looks like a small tree," the General remarked. "But why all this air of mystery?"

He was plainly bored by the fuss they were making. He was tired, and he wanted his dinner.

But Jean, in an excited voice, was telling him to cut the string, and Bronson was handing him a knife.

And then--the paper dropped and everybody was laughing, and Teddy was screaming wildly and he was staring at the khaki-clad upper half of a tall young soldier whose silver-blond hair was clipped close, and whose hand went up in salute.

"It's Cousin Derry. It's Cousin Derry," Teddy was shouting, and Margaret-Mary piped up, "It's Tousin Dee."

Derry stepped out from behind the table, where leaning forward and wrapped up he had lent himself to the illusion, and put both hands on the General's shoulders. "Glad to see me, Dad?"

"Glad; my dear boy--" It was almost too much for him.

Yet as supported by his son's arm, they went a moment later into the dining room, he had a sense of renewed strength in the youth and vigor of this youth who was bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh. If his own feet could not march here were feet which would march for him.

There were flowers on the table, most extravagantly, for these war times, orchids; and there were tall white candles in silver holders.

Jean shining between the candles was a wonder for the world to gaze upon. Derry couldn't keep his eyes off her. This was no longer a little nun of the Toy Shop, yet he held the vision of the little nun in his heart, lest he should forget that she had suffered.

He talked to them all. But beating like a wave against his consciousness was always the thought of Jean. Of the things he had to tell her which he could tell to no one else. He knew now that he could reveal to her the depths of his nature. He had withheld so much, fearing to crush her butterfly wings, but she was not a butterfly. They had been playing at cross purposes, and writing letters that merely skimmed the surface of their emotions. It had taken those moments in the Toy Shop to teach them their mistake.

Teddy, feeling that the occasion called for a relaxing of the children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard rule, asked questions.

"How long can you stay?"

"Ten days."

"Are you going to Fwance?"

"I hope so."

"Mother says I've got to pray for the Germans."

"Teddy," Margaret admonished.

"Well, I rather think I would," Derry told him. "They need it."

This was a new angle. "Shall you hate to kill them?"

There was a stir about the table. The old man and the women seemed to hang on Derry's answer.

"Yes, I shall hate it. I hate all killing, but it's got to be done."

He spoke presently, at length, of what many men thought of war.

"We are red-blooded enough, we Americans, but I think we hate killing the other man rather more than we fear being killed. It's sickening--bayonet practice. Killing at long range is different. The children of my generation were trained to tender-heartedness. We looked after the birds and rescued kittens, and were told that wars were impossible--long wars. But war is not impossible, and it has come upon us, and we are finding that men must be brave not merely in the face of losing their own lives, but in the face of taking the lives of--others. I sometimes wonder what it must have seemed to those Germans who went first into Belgium. Some of them must have been kind--some of them must have asked to be shot rather than be set at the work of butchery.

"I sometimes think," he pursued, "that if we could give moving pictures of the war just as it is--in all its horror and hideousness--show the pictures in every little town in every country in the world, that war would stop at once. If the Germans could see themselves in those towns in Belgium--if the world could see them. If we could see men mowed down--wounded, close up, as our soldiers see them. If our people should be forced to look at those pictures, as the people of war-ridden countries have been forced to gaze upon realities, money would be provided and men provided in such amounts and numbers that those who began the war would be forced to end it on the terms the world would set for them.

"The fact that men are going into this war in spite of their aversion to killing shows the stuff of which they are made. It is like drowning kittens," he smiled a little. "It has to be done or the world would be overrun by cats."

Teddy, wide-eyed, was listening. "Do people drown kittens?" he asked. "Oh, I didn't think they would." It was a sad commentary on the conditions of war that he was more heavily oppressed by the thought of drowned little cats than by the murder of men.

"My dear fellow," Derry said, "we won't talk about such things. I must beg your pardon for mentioning it."

The talk flowed on then in lighter vein. "Ralph Witherspoon is in town," Jean vouchsafed. "He had a bad fall and was sent home to get over it. Mrs. Witherspoon has asked me there to dine. I shall take you with me."

"I didn't know that people were dining out in these times."

"Mrs. Witherspoon prides herself on her conservation menus. She says that she serves war things, that she gives us nothing to eat that the men need, and she likes her friends about her."

"We shall miss Drusilla," Derry said. "I've been worried about her since the Huns recaptured those towns in France."

"Daddy wrote that she is not far from his hospital, doing splendid work, and that the men adore her."

"They would," said Derry. "She is a great-hearted creature. I can fancy her singing to them over there. You know what a wonder she was at that sort of thing--"

After dinner the General was eager to have his son to himself. "The women will excuse us while we smoke and talk."

Derry's eyes wandered to Jean. "All right," he said with an effort.

The General's heart tightened. His son was his son. The little girl in silver and rose was in a sense an outsider. She had not known Derry throughout the years, as his father had known him. How could she care as much?

Yet she did care. He realized how Derry's coming had changed her. He heard her laugh as she had not laughed in all the weeks of loneliness. She came up and stood beside Derry, and linked her arm in his and looked up at him with shining eyes.

"Isn't he--wonderful?" she asked, with a catch of her breath.

"Oh, take her away," the old gentleman said. "Go and talk to her somewhere."

Derry's face brightened. "You don't mind?"

"Of course not," stoutly. "Bronson says that the rain has stopped. There's probably a moon somewhere, if you'll look for it."

Margaret went up to put the children to bed. Emily, promising to come back, withdrew to write a letter. The old man sat alone.

He limped into the blue room, and gazed indifferently around on its treasures. Once he had cared for these plates and cups--his quest for rare porcelains had been eager.

And now he did not care. The lovely glazed things were for the eye, not for the heart. He would have given them all for the touch of a loving hand, for a voice that grew tender--.

There was the patter of little feet on the polished floor. Margaret-Mary in a diminutive blue dressing gown and infinitesimal slippers, with her curls brushed tidily up from the back of her neck and skewered with a hairpin, came over and laid her hand on his knee. "Dus a 'itte 'tory?" she asked ingratiatingly. She adored stories.

He picked her up, and she curled herself into the corner of his arm.

Her mother found her there. "Mother's naughty little girl," she said, "to run away--"

"Let her stay," the General begged. "Somehow my heart needs her tonight."

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