Captain Jones had come down from Fort Sheridan late that afternoon. He had been in Chicago for several days, as a member of a board assembled up at Fort Sheridan. The work was over and he would return to the Arsenal that night.
But he was not to go until midnight. He would have dinner and go to the theater with some of the friends with whom he had been in those last few days.
He wished it were otherwise. He was in no mood for them. He would far rather have been alone.
He had a little time alone in his room before dinner and sat there smoking, thinking, looking at the specks of men and women moving about in the streets way down there below.
He was in no humor that night to keep to the everlasting talk about army affairs, army grievances and schemes, all those things of a world within a world treated as if larger than the whole of the world. The last few days had shown him anew how their hold on him was loosening.
There seemed such a thing as the army habit of mind. Within their own domain was orderliness, discipline, efficiency, subservience to the collectivity, pride in it, devotion to it—many things of mind and character sadly needed in the chaotic world without. But army men lacked perspective; in isolation they had lost their sense of proportion, of relationships. They had not a true vision of themselves as part of a whole. They had, on the other hand, unconsciously fallen into the way of assuming the whole existed for the part, that they were larger than the thing they were meant to serve. Their whole scale was so proportioned; their whole sense of adjustment so perverted.
They lacked flexibility—openness—all-sides-aroundness.
Life in the army disciplined one in many things valuable in life. It failed in giving a true sense of the values of life.
He could not have said why it was those inflated proportions irritated him so. They lent an unreality to everything. They made for false standards. And more and more the thing which mattered to him was reality.
He tried to pull away from the things that thought would lure him into.
He had not the courage to let himself think of her tonight.
He feared he had not increased his popularity in the last few days. At a dinner the night before a colonel had put an end to a discussion on war, in which several of the younger officers showed dangerous symptoms of hospitality to the civilian point of view, with the pious pronouncement: "War was ordained by God."
"But man pays the war tax," he had not been able to resist adding, and the Colonel had not joined in the laugh.
He found it wearisome the way the army remained so smug in its assumption that God stood right behind it. When worsted on economic grounds—and perhaps driven also from "survival of the fittest" shelter—a pompous retreat could always be effected to divinity.
It was that same colonel who, earlier in the evening, had thus ended a discussion on the unemployed. "The poor ye have always with you," said the Colonel, delicately smacking his lips over his champagne and gently turning the conversation to the safer topic of high explosives.
He turned impatiently from thought of it to the men and women far down below. He was always looking now at crowds of men and women, always hoping for a familiar figure in those crowds.
With all the baffling unreality there had been around her, she seemed to express reality. She made him want it. She made him want life. Made him feel what he was missing—realize what he had never had.
It seemed that if he did not find her he would not find life.
She, too, had wanted life. Her quest had been for life—that he knew. And he wanted to find her that he might tell her he understood, tell her—what he had never told any one—that all his life he, too, had dreamed of a something somewhere.
And he was growing the farther apart from his army friends because he had come to think of them as standing between.
During the summer he had seen. In the mornings when they were going to work, in the evenings when they were going home, he had many times been upon the streets with the people who worked. He could not any longer regard the enlargement of the army, its organization and problems as the most vital thing in the world. It did not seem to him that what the world wanted was a more deadly rifle. His lip curled a little as he looked down at the men and women below and considered how little difference it made to them whether rifles were improved or not. And so many things did make difference with them—they needed improvements on so many things—that to be giving one's life to perfecting instruments of destruction struck him as a sorry vocation.
It made him feel very distinctly apart.
He knew of no class of men more isolated from the real war of the world than were the men of the army. They were tied up in their own war of competition—competition in preparedness for war. They were frantically occupied in the creation of a Frankenstein. They would so perfect destruction as to destroy themselves. Meanwhile their blood had grown so hot in their war of competition that they were in prime condition for persuading themselves a real war awaited them. This hot blood found its way into much talk of hardihood and strenuousness, vigor, martial virtues, "the steeps of life," "the romance of history"—all calculated to raise the temperature of tax-paying blood. So successful was the self-delusion of the militarist that sanity appeared mollycoddelism.
Their greatest fear was fear of the loss of fear.
And now they were threatened by colorless economists who were mollycoddelistically making clear that the "stern reality" was the giant hallucination.
It seemed rather close to farce.
That night he was going back. Katie, too, had gone. For the first time that summer neither of them would be there. It seemed giving up.
Loneliness reached out into places vast and barren in the thought that both in the things of the heart and the affairs of men he seemed destined to remain apart.
He looked far more the dreamer than the man of warfare as he sat there, his face, which was so finely sensitive as sometimes to be called cold, saddened with the light of dreams which know themselves for dreams alone.
That very first night, night when she had been so shy, he had felt in her that which he called the real thing, which he knew for the great thing, which had been, for him, the thing unattainable. And with all her timidity, aloofness, elusiveness, he had felt an inexplicable nearness to her.
He had found out something about the conditions girls had to meet. His face hardened, then tightened with pain in the thought of those being the conditions Ann was meeting. He did not believe those conditions would go on many days longer if every man had to see them in relation to some one he cared for. "The poor ye have always with you" might then prove less authoritative—less satisfying—as the final word.
And the other conditions—things his sort stood for—Darrett—the whole story—He had come to loathe the words chivalry and honor and all the rest of the empty terms that resounded so glibly against false standards.
Something was wrong with the world and he could not see that improving a rifle was going to go very far toward setting it right.
And there was springing up within him, even in his loneliness and gloom, a passion to be doing something that would help set it right.
An older officer with whom he had been talking that day had spoken lovingly of his father, under whom he had served; spoken of his hardihood and integrity, his manliness and soldierliness. As he thought of it now it seemed to him that just because he was his father's son—had in him the blood of the soldier—he should help fight the real battles of the day—the long stern battles of peace.
His father had served, faithfully and well. He, too, would like to serve. But yesterday's needs were not to-day's needs, nor were the methods of yesterday desirable, even possible, for to-day. What could be farther from serving one's own day than rendering to it the dead forms of what had been the real service to a day gone by?
There came a curious thought that to give up the things of war might be the only way to save the things that war had left him. That perhaps he could only transmit his heritage by recasting the form of giving.
Looking out across the miles of the city's roofs, hearing the rumble of the city as it came faintly up to him, watching the people hurrying to and fro, there was something puerile in the argument that men any longer needed war to fill their lives, must have the war fear to keep them from softness and degeneration. Thinking of the problems of that very city, it seemed men need not worry greatly about having nothing to fight for, no stimulus to manhood.
Men and women! Those men and women passing back and forth and all the millions of their kind, they were what counted. The things that mattered to them were the things that mattered. Their needs the things to fight for.
So he reflected and drifted, brushing now this, now that, in thought and fancy.
Weary—lonely—he dreamed a dream, dream such as the weary and the lonely have dreamed before, will dream again. Too utterly alone, he dreamed he was not alone. Heart-hungry, he dreamed of love. He dreamed of Ann. He had dreamed of her before, would dream of her again. Dream of her, if for nothing else, because he knew she had dreamed of love; because she made him know that it was there, because, unreasoningly, she made him hope.
Her face that night at the dance—that night in the boat, when they had talked almost not at all, had seemed to feel no need for talking—things remembered blended with things desired until it seemed he could feel her hair brush his face, feel her breath upon his cheek, her arms about his neck—vivid as if given by memories instead of wooed from dreams.
But the benign dream became torturing vision—vision of Ann with hands held out to him—going down—her wonderful eyes fearful with terror.
It was that which dreaming held for him.
And it seemed that he—he and his kind—all of those who stood for the things not real were the thing beating Ann down.
Dreams gone and vision mercifully falling away there came a yearning, just a simple human yearning, to know where she was. He felt he could bear anything if only he knew that she was safe.
The telephone rang. He supposed it was some of his friends—something about the hour for dining.
He would not answer. Could not. Too sick of it all—too sore.
But it kept ringing, and, habit in the ascendency, he took down the receiver.
It was not a man's voice. It was a woman's. A faint voice—he could scarcely catch it.
And could with difficulty reply. He did not know the voice, it was too faint, too far-away, but a suggestion in it made his own voice and hand unsteady as he said: "Yes? What is it?"
"Is this—Captain Jones?"
The voice was stronger, clearer. His hand grew more unsteady.
"Yes," he replied in the best voice he could muster. "Yes—this is
Captain Jones. Who is it, please?"
There was a silence.
"Tell me, please," he managed to say. "Is it—?"
The voice came faintly back, "Why it's—Ann."
The keenest joy he had ever known swept through him. To be followed by the most piercing fear. The voice was so faint—so unreal—what if it were to die away and he would have no way to get it back!
It seemed he could not hold it. For an instant he was crazed with the sense of powerlessness. He felt it must even then be slipping back into the abyss from which it had emerged.
Then he fought. Got himself under command; sent his own voice full and strong over the wire as if to give life to the voice it seemed must fade away.
"Ann," he said firmly, authoritatively, "listen to me. No matter what happens—no matter what's the matter—I've got something you must hear. If we're cut off, call up again. Will you do that? Are you listening?"
"Yes," came Ann's voice, more sure.
"I've got to see you. You hear what I say? It's about Katie. You care a little something for Katie, don't you, Ann?"
It was a sob rather than a voice came back to him.
"Then tell me where I can find you."
"Tell me where you're living—or where I can find you. Now tell me the truth, Ann. If you knew the condition Katie was in—"
She gave him an address on a street he did not know.
"Would you rather I came there? Or rather I meet you down town? Just as you say. Only I must see you tonight."
"I—I can't come down town. I'm sick."
His hand on the receiver tightened. His voice, which had been almost harsh in its dominance, was different as he said: "Then I'll come there—right away."
There was no reply, but he felt she was still there. "And, Ann," he said, very low, and far from harshly, "I want to see you, too."
There was a little sob in which he faintly got "Good-bye."
He sank to a chair. His face was buried in his hands. It was several minutes before he moved.