Active Service

by Stephen Crane

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Chapter XIX

"Good-morning," said Mrs. Wainwright jovially to the students and then she stared at Coleman as if he were a sweep at a wedding.

" Good-morning," said Marjory.

Coleman and the students made reply. " Good-morning. Good-morning. Good-morning. Good-morning—" It was curious to see this greeting, this common phrase, this bit of old ware, this antique, come upon a dramatic scene and pulverise it. Nothing remained but a ridiculous dust. Coke, glowering, with his lips still trembling from heroic speech, was an angry clown, a pantaloon in rage. Nothing was to be done to keep him from looking like an ass. He, strode toward the door mumbling about a walk before breakfast.

Mrs. Wainwright beamed upon him. " Why, Mr. Coke, not before breakfast ? You surely won't have time." It was grim punishment. He appeared to go blind, and he fairly staggered out of the door mumbling again, mumbling thanks or apologies or explanations. About the mouth of Coleman played a sinister smile. The professor cast. upon his wife a glance expressing weariness. It was as if he said " There you go again. You can't keep your foot out of it." She understood the glance, and so she asked blankly: "Why, What's the matter? Oh." Her belated mind grasped that it waw an aftermath of the quarrel of Coleman and Coke. Marjory looked as if she was distressed in the belief that her mother had been stupid. Coleman was outwardly serene. It was Peter Tounley who finally laughed a cheery, healthy laugh and they all looked at him with gratitude as if his sudden mirth had been a real statement or recon- ciliation and consequent peace.

The dragoman and others disported themselves until a breakfast was laid upon the floor. The adventurers squatted upon the floor. They made a large company. The professor and Coleman discussed the means of getting to Athens. Peter Tounley sat next to Marjory. " Peter," she said, privately, " what was all this trouble between Coleman and Coke ? "

Peter answered blandly: " Oh, nothing at Nothing at all."

" Well, but—" she persisted, " what was the cause of it?"

He looked at her quaintly. He was not one of those in love with her, but be was interested in the affair. " Don't you know ? " he asked.

She understood from his manner that she had been some kind of an issue in the quarrel. " No," she answered, hastily. " I don't."

"Oh, I don't mean that," said Peter. "I only meant —I only meant—oh, well, it was nothing-really."

" It must have been about something," continued Marjory. She continued, because Peter had denied that she was concerned in it. " Whose fault ? "

"I really don't know. It was all rather confusing," lied Peter, tranquilly.

Coleman and the professor decided to accept a plan of the correspondent's dragoman to start soon on the first stage of the journey to Athens. The dragoman had said that he had found two large carriages rentable.

Coke, the outcast, walked alone in the narrow streets. The flight of the crown prince's army from Larissa had just been announced in Arta, but Coke was probably the most woebegone object on the Greek peninsula.

He encountered a strange sight on the streets. A woman garbed in the style for walking of an afternoon on upper Broadway was approaching him through a mass of kilted mountaineers and soldiers in soiled overcoats. Of course he recognised Nora Black.

In his conviction that everybody in the world was at this time considering him a mere worm, he was sure that she would not heed him. Beyond that he had been presented to her notice in but a transient and cursory fashion. But contrary to his conviction, she turned a radiant smile upon him. " Oh," she said, brusquely, " you are one of the students. Good morning." In her manner was all the confidence of an old warrior, a veteran, who addresses the universe with assurance because of his past battles.

Coke grinned at this strange greeting. " Yes, Miss Black," he answered, " I am one of the students."

She did not seem to quite know how to formulate her next speech. " Er-I suppose you're going to Athens at once " You must be glad after your horrid experiences."

" I believe they are going to start for Athens today," said Coke. Nora was all attention. "'They ?'" she repeated. "Aren't you going with them? " " Well," he said, " * * Well—-"

She saw of course that there had been some kind of trouble. She laughed. " You look as if somebody had kicked you down stairs," she said, candidly. She at once assumed an intimate manner toward him which was like a temporary motherhood. " Come, walk with me and tell me all about it." There was in her tone a most artistic suggestion that whatever had happened she was on his side. He was not loath. The street was full of soldiers whose tongues clattered so loudly that the two foreigners might have been wandering in a great cave of the winds. " Well, what was the row about ? " asked Nora. " And who was in it? "

It would have been no solace to Coke to pour out his tale even if it had been a story that he could have told Nora. He was not stopped by the fact that he had gotten himself in the quarrel because he had insulted the name of the girt at his side. He did not think of it at that time. The whole thing was now extremely vague in outline to him and he only had a dull feeling of misery and loneliness. He wanted her to cheer him.

Nora laughed again. " Why, you're a regular little kid. Do you mean to say you've come out here sulking alone because of some nursery quarrel? " He was ruffled by her manner. It did not contain the cheering he required. " Oh, I don't know that I'm such a regular little kid," he said, sullenly. " The quarrel was not a nursery quarrel."

"Why don't you challenge him to a duel? " asked Nora, suddenly. She was watching him closely.

" Who?" said Coke.

" Coleman, you stupid," answered Nora.

They stared at each other, Coke paying her first the tribute of astonishment and then the tribute of admiration. "Why, how did you guess that?" he demanded.

" Oh," said Nora., " I've known Rufus Coleman for years, and he is always rowing with people."

"That is just it," cried Coke eagerly. "That is just it. I fairly hate the man. Almost all of the other fellows will stand his abuse, but it riles me, I tell you. I think he is a beast. And, of course, if you seriously meant what you said about challenging him to a duel—I mean if there is any sense in that sort of thing-I would challenge Coleman. I swear I would. I think he's a great bluffer, anyhow. Shouldn't wonder if he would back out. Really, I shouldn't.

Nora smiled humourously at a house on her side of the narrow way. "I wouldn't wonder if he did either " she answered. After a time she said " Well, do you mean to say that you have definitely shaken them? Aren't you going back to Athens with them or anything? "

" I-I don't see how I can," he said, morosely.

" Oh," she said. She reflected for a time. At last she turned to him archly and asked: "Some words over a lady?"

Coke looked at her blankly. He suddenly remembered the horrible facts. " No-no-not over a lady."

" My dear boy, you are a liar," said Nora, freely. "You are a little unskilful liar. It was some words over a lady, and the lady's name is Marjory Wainwright."

Coke felt as though he had suddenly been let out of a cell, but he continued a mechanical denial. "No, no * * It wasn't truly * * upon my word * * "

"Nonsense," said Nora. " I know better. Don't you think you can fool me, you little cub. I know you're in love with Marjory Wainwright, and you think Coleman is your rival. What a blockhead you are. Can't you understand that people see these things?"

" Well-" stammered Coke.

"Nonsense," said Nora again. "Don't try to fool me, you may as well understand that it's useless. I am too wise."

" Well-" stammered Coke.

" Go ahead," urged Nora. " Tell me about it. Have it out."

He began with great importance and solemnity. "Now, to tell you the truth * * that is why I hate him * * I hate him like anything. * * I can't see why everybody admires him so. I don't see anything to him myself. I don't believe he's got any more principle than a wolf. I wouldn't trust him with two dollars. Why, I know stories about him that would make your hair curl. When I think of a girl like Marjory— "

His speech had become a torrent. But here Nora raised her hand. " Oh! Oh! Oh! That will do. That will do. Don't lose your senses. I don't see why this girl Marjory is any too good. She is no chicken, I'll bet. Don't let yourself get fooled with that sort of thing."

Coke was unaware of his incautious expressions. He floundered on. while Nora looked at him as if she wanted to wring his neck. " No-she's too fine and too good-for him or anybody like him-she's too fine and too good-"

" Aw, rats," interrupted Nora, furiously. "You make me tired."

Coke had a wooden-headed conviction that he must make Nora understand Marjory's infinite superiority to all others of her sex, and so he passed into a pariegyric, each word of which was a hot coal to the girl addressed. Nothing would stop him, apparently. He even made the most stupid repetitions. Nora finally stamped her foot formidably. "Will you stop? Will you stop ? " she said through her clenched teeth. " Do you think I want to listen to your everlasting twaddle about her? Why, she's-she's no better than other people, you ignorant little mamma's boy. She's no better than other people, you swab! "

Coke looked at her with the eyes of a fish. He did not understand. "But she is better than other people," he persisted.

Nora seemed to decide suddenly that there would be no accomplishment in flying desperately against this rock-walled conviction. " Oh, well," she said, with marvellous good nature, " perhaps you are right, numbskull. But, look here; do you think she cares for him?"

In his heart, his jealous heart, he believed that Marjory loved Coleman, but he reiterated eternally to himself that it was not true. As for speaking it to, another, that was out of the question. " No," he said, stoutly, " she doesn't care a snap for him." If he had admitted it, it would have seemed to him that. he was somehow advancing Coleman's chances.

"'Oh, she doesn't, eh ?" said Nora enigmatically.

"She doesn't?" He studied her face with an abrupt, miserable suspicion, but he repeated doggedly: " No, she doesn't."

"Ahem," replied Nora. " Why, she's set her cap for him all right. She's after him for certain. It's as plain as day. Can't you see that, stupidity ?"

"No," he said hoarsely.

"You are a fool," said Nora. " It isn't Coleman that's after her. It is she that is after Coleman."

Coke was mulish. " No such thing. Coleman's crazy about her. Everybody has known it ever since he was in college. You ask any of the other fellows."

Nora was now very serious, almost doleful. She remained still for a time, casting at Coke little glances of hatred. " I don't see my way clear to ask any of the other fellows," she said at last, with considerable bitterness. " I'm not in the habit of conducting such enquiries."

Coke felt now that he disliked her, and he read plainly her dislike of him. If they were the two villains of the play, they were not having fun together at all. Each had some kind of a deep knowledge that their aspirations, far from colliding, were of such character that the success of one would mean at least assistance to the other, but neither could see how to confess if. Pethapt it was from shame, perhaps it was because Nora thought Coke to have little wit ; perhaps it was because Coke thought Nora to have little conscience. Their talk was mainly rudderless. From time to time Nora had an inspiration to come boldly at the point, but this inspiration was commonly defeated by, some extraordinary manifestation of Coke's incapacity. To her mind, then, it seemed like a proposition to ally herself to a butcher-boy in a matter purely sentimental. She Wondered indignantly how she was going to conspire With this lad, who puffed out his infantile cheeks in order to conceitedly demonstrate that he did not understand the game at all. She hated Marjory for it. Evidently it was only the weaklings who fell in love with that girl. Coleman was an exception, but then, Coleman was misled, by extraordinary artifices. She meditatecf for a moment if she should tell Coke to go home and not bother her. What at last decided the question was his unhappiness. Shd clung to this unhappiness for its value as it stood alone, and because its reason for existence was related to her own unhappiness. " You Say you are not going back toAthens with your party. I don't suppose you're going to stay here. I'm going back to Athens to-day. I came up here to see a battle, but it doesn't seem that there are to be any more battles., The fighting will now all be on the other side of'the mountains." Apparent she had learned in some haphazard way that the Greek peninsula was divided by a spine of almost inaccessible mountains, and the war was thus split into two simultaneous campaigns. The Arta campaign was known to be ended. "If you want to go back to Athens without consorting with your friends, you had better go back with me. I can take you in my carriage as far as the beginning of the railroad. Don't you worry. You've got money enough, haven't you ? The pro- fessor isn't keeping your money ?"

"Yes," he said slowly, "I've got money enough." He was apparently dubious over the proposal. In their abstracted walk they had arrived in front of the house occupied by Coleman and the Wainwright party. Two carriages, forlorn in dusty age, stood be- fore the door. Men were carrying out new leather luggage and flinging it into the traps amid a great deal of talk which seemed to refer to nothing. Nora and Coke stood looking at the scene without either thinking of the importance of running away, when out tumbled seven students, followed immediately but in more decorous fashion by the Wainwrights and Coleman.

Some student set up a whoop. " Oh, there he is. There's Coke. Hey, Coke, where you been? Here he is, professor." For a moment after the hoodlum had subsided, the two camps stared at each other in silence.

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