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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tin Soldier - BOOK TWO _ THROUGH THE CRACK - Chapter XVIII. THE BROAD HIGHWAY
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The Tin Soldier - BOOK TWO _ THROUGH THE CRACK - Chapter XVIII. THE BROAD HIGHWAY Post by :Scot_Standke Category :Long Stories Author :Temple Bailey Date :April 2012 Read :1827

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The Tin Soldier - BOOK TWO _ THROUGH THE CRACK - Chapter XVIII. THE BROAD HIGHWAY

BOOK TWO THROUGH THE CRACK - CHAPTER XVIII. THE BROAD HIGHWAY

"I will go to the wars! I will go to the wars!" the Tin Soldier cried as loud as he could, and he threw himself from the shelf. . . .

What could have become of him? The old man looked, and the little boy looked. "I shall find him," the old man said, but he did not find him. For the Tin Soldier had fallen through a crack in the floor, and there he lay as in an open grave.


THE BROAD HIGHWAY

The Doctor's house in Maryland was near Woodstock, and from the rise of the hill where it stood one could see the buildings of the old Jesuit College, and the river which came so soon to the Bay.

In his boyhood the priests had been great friends of Bruce McKenzie. While of a different faith, he had listened eagerly to the things they had to tell him, these wise men, the pioneers of missionary work in many lands, teachers and scholars. His imagination had been fired by their tales of devotion, and he had many arguments with his Covenanter grandfather, to whom the gold cross on the top of the college had been the sign and symbol of papacy.

"But, grandfather, the things we believe aren't so very different, and I like to pray in their chapel."

"Why not pray in your own kirk?"

"It's so bare."

"There's nothing to distract your thoughts."

"And I like the singing, and the lights and the candles--"

"We need no candles; we have light enough in our souls."

But Bruce had loved the smell of the incense, and the purple and red of the robes, and, seeing it all through the golden haze of the lights, his sense of beauty had been satisfied, as it was not satisfied in his own plain house of worship.

Yet it had been characteristic of the boy as it was of the man that neither kirk nor chapel held him, and he had gone through life liking each a little, but neither overmuch.

Something of this he tried to express to Jean as, arriving at Woodstock in the early afternoon, they passed the College. "I might have been a priest," he said, "if I hadn't been too much of a Puritan or a Pagan. I am not sure which held me back--"

Jean shuddered. "How can people shut themselves away from the world?"

"They have a world of their own, my dear," said the Doctor, thoughtfully, "and I'm not sure that it isn't as interesting as our own."

"But there isn't love in it," said Jean.

"There's love that carries them above self--and that's something."

"It is something, but it isn't much," said his small daughter, obstinately. "I don't want to love the world, Daddy. I want to love Derry--"

The Doctor groaned. "I thought I had escaped him, for a day."

"You will never escape him," was the merciless rejoinder, but she kissed him to make up for it.

In spite of the fact of her separation for the moment from her lover, she had enjoyed the ride. There had been much wind, and a little snow on the way. But now the air was clear, with a sort of silver clearness--the frozen river was gray-green between its banks, there were blue shadows flung by the bare trees. As they passed the College, a few black-frocked fathers and scholastics paced the gardens.

Jean wished that Derry were there to see it all. It was to her a place of many memories. Most of the summers of her little girlhood had been spent there, with now and then a Christmas holiday.

The house did not boast a heating plant, but there were roaring open fires in all the rooms, except in the Connollys' sitting room, which was warmed by a great black stove.

The Connollys were the caretakers. They occupied the left wing of the house, and worked the farm. They were both good Catholics, and Mrs. Connolly looked after the little church at the crossroads corner, where the good priests came from the College every week to say Mass. She was a faithful, hard-working, pious soul, with her mind just now very much on her two sons who had enlisted at the first call for men, and were now in France.

She talked much about them to Jean, who came into the kitchen to watch her get supper. The deep, dark, low-ceiled room was lighted by an oil lamp. The rocking chair in which Jean sat had a turkey-red cushion, and there was another turkey-red cushion in the rocking chair on the other side of the cookstove. They ate their meals on the table under the lamp. It was only when guests were in the house that the dining room was opened.

The Doctor and Jim Connolly were at the barn, where were kept two fat mules, a fat little horse, a fat little cow, and a pair of fat pigs. There were also a fat house dog, and a brace of plump pussies, for the Connollys were a plump and comfortable couple who wanted everything about them comfortable, and who had had little to worry them until the coming of the war.

Yet even the war could not shake Mrs. Connolly's faith in the rightness of things.

"I was glad to have our country get into it, and to have my sons go. If they had stayed at home, I shouldn't have felt satisfied."

"Didn't it nearly break your heart?"

Mrs. Connolly, beating eggs for an omelette, shook her head. "Women's hearts don't break over brave men, Miss Jean. It is the sons who are weak and wayward who break their mothers' hearts--not the ones that go to war."

She poured the omelette into a pan. "When I have a bad time missing them, I remember how the Mother of God gave her blessed Son to the world. And He set the example, to give ourselves to save others. No, I don't want my boys back until the war is over."

Jean said nothing. She rocked back and forth and thought about what Mary Connolly had said. One of the fat pussies jumped on her lap and purred. It was all very peaceful, all as it had been since some other cook made omelettes for the little aristocrat of an Irish grandmother who would not under any circumstances have sat in the kitchen on terms of familiarity with a dependent. The world had progressed much in democracy since those days. Those who had fought in this part of the country for liberty and equality had not really known it. They had seen the Vision, but it was to be given to their descendants to realize it.

Jean rocked and rocked. "I hate war," she said, suddenly. "I didn't until Daddy said he was going, and then it seemed to come--so near--all the time I am trying to push the thought of it away. I wouldn't tell him, of course. But I don't want him to go."

"No, I wouldn't tell him. We women may be scared to death, but it ain't the time to tell our men that we are scared."

"Are you scared to death, Mrs. Connolly?"

The steady eyes met hers. "Sometimes, in the night, when I think of the wet and cold, and the wounded groaning under the stars. But when the morning comes, I cook the breakfast and get Jim off, and he don't know but that I am as cheerful as one of our old hens, and then I go over to the church, and tell it all to the blessed Virgin, and I am ready to write to my boys of how proud I am, and how fine they are--and of every little tiny thing that has happened on the farm."

Thus the heroic Mary Connolly--type of a million of her kind in America--of more than a million of her kind throughout the world--hiding her fears deep in her heart that her men might go cheered to battle.

The omelette was finished, and the Doctor and Jim Connolly had come in. "The stars are out," the Doctor said. "After supper we'll walk a bit."

Jean was never to forget that walk with her father. It was her last long walk with him before he went to France, her last intimate talk. It was very cold, and he took her arm, the snow crunched under their feet.

Faintly the chimes of the old College came up to them. "Nine o'clock," said the Doctor. "Think of all the years I've heard the chimes, I have lived over half a century--and my father before me heard them--and they rang in my grandfather's time. Perhaps they will ring in the ears of my grandchildren, Jean."

They had stopped to listen, but now they went on. "Do you know what they used to say to me when I was a little boy?

'The Lord watch
Between thee and--me--'"


"My mother and I used to repeat it together at nine o'clock, and when I brought your mother here for our honeymoon--that first night we, too, stood and listened to the chimes--and I told her what they said.

"Men drift away from these things," he continued, with something of an effort. "I have drifted too far. But, Jean, will you always remember this, that when I am at my best, I come back to the things my mother taught her boy? If anything should happen, you will remember?"

(Illustration: "If anything should happen, you will remember?")

She clung to his arm. She had no words. Never again was she to hear the chimes without that poignant memory of her father begging her to remember the best--.

"I have been thinking," he said, out of a long silence, "of you and Derry. I--I want you to marry him, dear, before I go."

"Before you go--Daddy--"

"Yes. Emily says I have no right to stand in the way of your happiness. And I have no right. And some day, perhaps, oh, my little Jean, my grandchildren may hear the chimes--"

White and still, she stood with her face upturned to the stars. "Life is so wonderful, Daddy."

And this time she said it out of a woman's knowledge of what life was to mean.

They went in, to find that the Connollys had retired. Jean slept in a great feather-bed. And all the night the chimes in the College tower struck the hours--

In the morning, Jean went over to the church with Mrs. Connolly. It was Saturday, and things must be made ready for the services the next day. Jean had been taught as a child to kneel reverently while Mrs. Connolly prayed. To sit quietly in a pew while her good friend did the little offices of the altar.

Jean had always loved to sit there, to wonder about the rows of candles and the crucifix, to wonder about the Sacred Heart, and St. Agnes with the lamb, and St. Anthony who found things when you lost them, and St. Francis in the brown frock with the rope about his waist, and why Mrs. Connolly never touched any of the sacred vessels with bare hands.

But most of all she had wondered about that benignant figure in the pale blue garments who stood in a niche, with a light burning at her feet, and with a baby in her arms.

_Mary_--

Faintly as she gazed upon it on this winter morning, Jean began to perceive the meaning of that figure. Of late many women had said to her, "Was my son born for this, to be torn from my arms--to be butchered?"

Well, Mary's son had been torn from her arms--butchered--her little son who had lain in a manger and whom she had loved as much as any less-worshipped mother,--and he had told the world what he thought of sin and injustice and cruelty, and the world had hated him because he had set himself against these things--and they had killed him, and from his death had come the regeneration of mankind.

And now, other men, following him, were setting themselves against injustice and cruelty, and they were being killed for it. But perhaps their sacrifices, too, would be for the salvation of the world. Oh, if only it might be for the world's salvation!

She walked quite soberly beside Mrs. Connolly back to the house. She took her knitting to the kitchen. Mrs. Connolly was knitting socks. "I don't mind the fighting as much as I do the chance of their taking cold. And I'm afraid they won't have the sense to change their socks when they are wet. I have sent them pairs and pairs--but they'll never know enough to change--

"It is funny how a mother worries about a thing like that," she continued. "I suppose it is because you've always worried about their taking cold, and you've never had to worry much about their being killed. I always used to put them to bed with hot drinks and hot baths, and a lot of blankets, and I keep thinking that there won't be anybody to put them to bed."

Jean knitted a long row, and then she spoke. "Mrs. Connolly, I'm going to be married, before Daddy leaves for France."

"I am happy to hear that, my dear."

"I didn't know it until last night--Daddy wasn't willing. I--I feel as if it couldn't be really true--that I am going to be married, Mrs. Connolly."

There was a tremble of her lip and clasping of her little hands.

Mary Connolly laid down her work. "I guess you miss your mother, blessed lamb. I remember when she was married. I was young, too, but I felt a lot older with my two babies, and Jim and I were so glad the Doctor had found a wife. He needed one, if ever a man did--for he liked his gay good time."

"Daddy?" said Jean, incredulously. It is hard for youth to visualize the adolescence of its elders. Dr. McKenzie's daughter beheld in him none of the elements of a Lothario. He was beyond the pale of romance! He was fifty, which settled at once all matters of sentiment!

"Indeed, he was gay, my dear, and he had broken half the hearts in the county, and then your mother came for a visit. She didn't look in the least like you, except that she was small and slender. Her hair was dark and her eyes. You have your father's eyes and hair.

"But she was so pretty and so loving--and you never saw such a honeymoon. They were married in the spring, and the orchards were in bloom, and your father filled her room with apple blossoms, and the first day when Jim drove them up from the station, your father carried her in his arms over the threshold and up into that room, and when she came down, she said, 'Mary Connolly, isn't life--wonderful?'"

"Did she say that, Mrs. Connolly, really? Daddy always teases me when I go into raptures. He says that I think everything is wonderful from a sunset to a chocolate soda."

"Well, she did, too. Her husband was the most wonderful man, and her baby was the most wonderful baby--and her house was the most wonderful house. You make me think of her in every way. But you won't have apple blossoms for your honeymoon, my dear."

"No. But, oh, Mrs. Connolly--it won't make any real difference."

"Not a bit. And if you'll come up here, Jim and I will promise not to be in the way. Your mother said we were never in the way. And I'll serve your meals in front of the sitting-room fire. They used to have theirs out of doors. But you'll be just as much alone, with me and Jim eating in the kitchen."

It was very easy after that to tell Mrs. Connolly all about it. About Derry, and how he had fallen in love with her when he had thought she was just the girl in the Toy Shop. But there were things which she did not tell, of the shabby old gentleman and of the shadow which had darkened Derry's life.

Then when she had finished, Mary Connolly asked the thing which everybody asked--"Why isn't he fighting?"

Jean flushed. "He--he made a promise to his mother."

"I'd never make my boys promise a thing like that. And if I did, I'd hope they'd break it."

"Break it?" tensely.

"Of course. Their honor's bigger than anything I could ever ask them. And they know it."

"Then you think that Derry ought to break his promise?"

"I do, indeed, my dear."

"But--. Oh, Mrs. Connolly, I don't know whether I want him to break it."

"Why not?"

With her face hidden. "I don't know whether I could let him--go."

"You'd let him go. Never fear. When the moment came, the good Lord would give you strength--"

There were steps outside. Jean leaned over and kissed Mary Connolly on the cheek. "You are such a darling--I don't wonder that my mother loved you."

"Well, you'll always be more than just yourself to me," said Mary. "You'll always be your mother's baby. And after I get lunch for you and the men I am going back to the church and ask the blessed Virgin to intercede for your happiness."

So it was while Mary was at church, and the two men had gone to town upon some legal matter, that Jean, left alone, wandered through the house, and always before her flitted the happy ghost of the girl who had come there to spend her honeymoon. In the great south chamber was a picture of her mother, and one of her father as they looked at the time of their marriage. Her mother was in organdie with great balloon sleeves, and her hair in a Psyche knot. She was a slender little thing, and the young doctor's picture was a great contrast in its blondness and bigness. Daddy had worn a beard then, pointed, as was the way with doctors of his day, and he looked very different, except for the eyes which had the same teasing twinkle.

The window of this room looked out over the orchard, the orchard which had been bursting with bloom when the bride came. The trees now were slim little skeletons, with the faint gold of the western sky back of them, and there was much snow. Yet so vivid was Jean's impression of what had been, that she would have sworn her nostrils were assailed by a delicate fragrance, that her eyes beheld wind-blown petals of white and pink.

The long mirror reflecting her showed her in her straight frock of dark blue serge, with the white collars and cuffs. The same mirror had reflected her mother's organdie. It, too, had been blue, Mary had told her, but blue with such a difference! A faint forget-me-not shade, with a satin girdle, and a stiff satin collar!

Two girls, with a quarter of a century between them. Yet the mother had laughed and loved, and had looked forward to a long life with her gay big husband. They had had ten years of it, and then there had been just her ghost to haunt the old rooms.

Jean shivered a little as she went downstairs. She found herself a little afraid of the lonely darkening house. She wished that Mary would come.

Curled up in one of the big chairs, she waited. Half-asleep and half-awake; she was aware of shadow-shapes which came and went. Her Scotch great-grandfather, the little Irish great-grandmother; her copper-headed grandfather, his English wife, her own mother, pale and dark-haired and of Huguenot strain, her own dear father.

From each of these something had been given her, some fault, some virtue. If any of them had been brave, there must have been handed down to her some bit of bravery--if any of them had been cowards--

But none of them had been cowards.

"_We came to a new country," said the great-grandparents. "There were hardships, but we loved and lived through them--_"

"_The Civil war tore our hearts," said the grand-parents. "Brother hated brother, and friend hated friend, but we loved and lived through it--_"

"_We were not tested," said her own parents. "You are our child and test has come to you. If you are brave, it will be because we have given to you that which came first to us--_"

Jean sat up, wide-awake--"_I am not brave_," she said.

She stood, after that, at a lower window, watching. Far down the road a big black motor flew straight as a crow towards the hill on which the Doctor's house stood. It stopped at the gate. A man stepped out. Jean gave a gasp, then flew to meet him.

"Oh, Derry, Derry--"

He came in and shut the door behind him, took her in his arms, kissed her, and kissed her again. "I love you," he said, "I love you. I couldn't stay away--"

It seemed to Jean quite the most wonderful thing of all the wonderful things that had happened, that he should be here in this old house where her parents had come for their honeymoon--where her own honeymoon was so soon to be--.

She saved that news for him, however. He had to tell her first of how he had taken the wrong road after he had left Baltimore. He had gone without his lunch to get to her quickly. No, he wasn't hungry, and he was glad Mary Connolly was out, "I've so much to say to you."

Then, too, she delayed the telling so that he might see the farm before darkness fell. She wrapped herself in a hooded red cloak in which he thought her more than ever adorable.

The sun rested on the rim of the world, a golden disk under a wind-blown sky. It was very cold, but she was warm in her red cloak, he in his fur-lined coat and cap.

She told him about her father's honeymoon, hugging her own secret close. "They came here, Derry, and it was in May. I wish you could see the place in May, with all the appleblooms.

"It seems queer, doesn't it, Derry, to think of father honeymooning. He always seems to be making fun of things, and one should be serious on a honeymoon."

She flashed a smile at him and he smiled back. "I shall be very serious on mine."

"Of course. Derry, wouldn't you like a honeymoon here?"

"I should like it anywhere--with you--"

"Well," she drew a deep breath, "Daddy says we may--"

"We may what, Jean-Joan?"

"Get married--"

"Before he goes?"

"Yes."

She leaned forward to get the full effect of his surprise, to watch the dawn of his delight.

But something else dawned. Embarrassment? Out of a bewildering silence she heard him say, "I am not sure, dear, that it will be best for us to marry before he goes."

She had a stunned feeling that, quite unaccountably, Derry was failing her. A shamed feeling that she had offered herself and had been rejected.

Something of this showed in her face. "My dear, my dear," he said, "let us go in. I can tell you better there."

Once more in the warm sitting room with the door shut behind them, he lifted her bodily in his arms. "Don't you know I want it," he whispered, tensely. "Tell me that you know--"

When he set her down, his own face showed the stress of his emotion. "You are always to remember this," he said, "that no matter what happens, I am yours, yours--always, till the end of time."

Instinctively she felt that this Derry was in some way different from the Derry she had left the day before. There was a hint of masterfulness, a touch of decision.

"Will you remember?" he repeated, hands tight on her shoulders.

"Yes," she said, simply.

He bent and kissed her. "Then nothing else will matter." He placed a big chair for her in front of the fire, and drew another up in front of it. Bending forward, he took her hands. "I am glad I found you alone. What luck it was to find you alone!"

He tried then to tell her what he had come to tell. Yet, after all there was much that he left unsaid. How could he speak to her of the things he had seen in his father's shadowed house? How fill that delicate mind with a knowledge of that which seemed even to his greater sophistication unspeakable?

So she wondered over several matters. "How can he want to marry Hilda? I can't imagine any man wanting Hilda."

"She is handsome in a big fine way."

"But she is not big and fine. She is little and mean, but I could never make Daddy see it."

He wondered if McKenzie would see it now.

Mary Connolly, coming in through the back door to her warm kitchen, heard voices. Standing in the dark hall which connected the left wing with the house, she could see through into the living room where Jean sat with her lover.

There was much dark wood and the worn red velvet--low bookshelves lining the walls, a grand piano on a cover by the window. In the dimness Jean's copper head shone like the halo of a saint. Mary decided that Derry was "queer-looking," until gathering courage, she went in and was warmed by his smile.

"He hasn't had any lunch, Mary," Jean told her, "and he wouldn't let me get any for him."

"I'll have something in three whisks of a lamb's tail," said Mary with Elizabethan picturesqueness, and away she went on her hospitable mission.

"Marrying just now," said Derry, picking up the subject, where he had dropped it, when Mary came in, "is out of the question."

"Did you think that I was marrying you for your money?"

"No. But two months' pay wouldn't buy a gown like this,"--he lifted a fold with his forefinger--"to say nothing of your little shoes." He dropped his light tone. "Oh, my dear, can't you see?"

"No. I can't see. Daddy would let us have this house, and I have a little money of my own from my mother, and--and the Connollys would take care of everything, and we should see the spring come, and the summer."

He rose and went and stood with his back to the fire. "But I shan't be here in the spring and summer."

She clasped her hands nervously. "Derry, I don't want you to go."

"You don't mean that."

"I do. I do. At least not yet. We can be married--and have just a little, little month or two--and then I'll let you go--truly."

He shook his head. "I've stayed out of it long enough. You wouldn't want me to stay out of it any longer, Jean-Joan."

"Yes, I should. Other men can go, but I want to keep you--it's bad enough to give--Daddy--. I haven't anybody. Mary Connolly has her husband, but I haven't anybody--" her voice broke--and broke again--.

He came over and knelt beside her. "Let me tell you something," he said. "Do you remember the night of the Witherspoon dinner? Well, that night you cut me dead because you thought I was a coward--and I thanked God for the women who hated cowards."

"But you weren't a coward."

"I know, and so I could stand it--could stand your scorn and the scorn of the world. But what if I stayed out of it now, Jean?

"What if I stayed out of it now? You and I could have our little moment of happiness, while other men fought that we might have it. We should be living in Paradise, while other men were in Hell. I can't see it, dearest. All these months I have been bound. But now, my dear, my dear, do you love me enough not to keep me, but to let me go?"

There was a beating pause. She lifted wet eyes. "Oh, Derry, darling, I love you enough--I love you--"

Thus, in a moment, little Jean McKenzie unlatched the gate which had shut her into the safe and sunshiny garden of pampered girlhood and came out upon the broad highway of life, where men and women suffer for the sake of those who travel with them, sharing burdens and gaining strength as they go.

Dimly, perhaps, she perceived what she had done, but it was not given to her to know the things she would encounter or the people she would meet. All the world was to adventure with her, throughout the years, the poor distracted world, dealing death and destruction, yet dreaming ever of still waters and green pastures.

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