CAREFULLY locking the door behind him, Clark left his house at the usual time that morning. He went down the hill toward the stopping place of the line of electric cars that ran from the suburb where he lived to the city. It had been a hurried and disquieting night, after the stunning and unbelievable news. Then had come the gathering of friends and neighbors, and wives and daughters had been sent away, protesting, in various automobiles toward the state capital.
He had slept scarcely at all, but that was now no matter, for even if he was a little shaky, he was going to his office, to-day and every other day, to carry on the work of his publicity agency. His partners and staff must be on hand, too. There was to be no giving way to panic and hysteria, and the normal business life of the city must not suffer.
At the foot of the hill he found Carter and Higgins, lawyer and merchant, his neighbors and “social,” as well as “business,” friends. On the broad, double-tracked road leading cityward was no sign of any electric car.
“We have waited ten minutes,” said Carter. “I don’t believe they are running.”
“I don’t see any reason for this,” grumbled Higgins.
“Nor do I,” added Clark. “It is just the sort of thing that will foster hysteria. I suppose it is up to us to walk.”
He turned briskly, and the others followed him. Almost at once they began to meet men and women, mostly of the lower classes, heavily laden with shapeless bundles and bulging suit-cases, hastening from the city. Interspersed were carts loaded with furniture, on which were perched children and old people. Here and there an automobile threaded its way through the crowd with impatient, retching noises. The faces of all were pale and frightened.
Against this flood, at intervals, a few men struggled.
“Look at them,” cried Clark. “There is, of course, absolutely no need of this exodus. It is just the thing to start a bad panic and throw the whole community into confusion.”
“I expect to do business to-day anyway,” said the merchant. “I am doubtful about giving any more credit, but I telephoned to open the store.”
They stopped a man who carried a heavy bundle on his back. “Are any stores open?”
He shook his head vaguely; then—”Turn back, you fellers,” he cried suddenly. “There are a hundred thousand of them. They are burning houses and shooting people.”
They passed on.
“I, for one, don’t believe it,” Clark said; but the hearts of all three had quickened a little.
Nearer the city, the crowd was thicker.
“I don’t see any more autos,” remarked the lawyer.
“Those who are rich enough to own them have too much sense to run away,” Clark answered; and then continued, “These people have no right to clutter up the whole sidewalk. They ought to realize that some one is going in the opposite direction. The world isn’t coming to an end.”
The streaming throng, now pressing closer about them, consisted mostly of recent immigrants, moving with a spontaneous fear that Clark, Carter, and Higgins did not understand; for the apprehension that lurked in their own hearts was slightly stimulating and related only to their business. All three were actively considering ways and means by which to weather the crisis and its results, while breasting the moving mass of men and women with the unconscious skill of city men.
In the poorer quarters at the outskirts of the city, which they had reached, some houses were already closed, with drawn blinds, and from others the inmates were still hurrying, loaded with bundles of their household goods.
“Just what one expects of Greeks and dagoes,” said Clark, elbowing his way viciously.
In front of him the crowd had all at once become much thicker, and along both curbs, at a little distance ahead, were rows of automobiles.
A rectangular group of inconspicuous figures dressed in a uniform of neutral color were standing motionless across the middle of the street. For a moment Clark seemed to feel an icy finger stealing through his hair.
“Look!” he whispered, “there they are! They must be stopping automobiles.”
The crowd had thinned away to give the group of soldiers a wide berth, and the three men found themselves almost alone as they approached, resolutely, but with beating hearts.
An erect officer, tightly buttoned, stepped up to them.
“Where do you go?” he said with a strong foreign accent.
“I am going to my office to look after my business,” said Clark shortly; “so are these others.”
“Then you may pass,” the officer replied, and continued, pointing to a sign tacked to a near-by trolley-wire pole, “but read that, and remember for the next time.”
In heavy, black letters was the word
and under it paragraphs in finer print. They glanced at it,—Clark in his excitement scarcely comprehending its purport,—then hurried onward into the heart of the city.
“It is to be expected, I suppose,” remarked the lawyer nervously; “they have to take stringent measures.”
Down the narrowed way between the automobiles, which lined both curbs, a file of pedestrians and wagons, closely packed, was moving slowly.
They forced a pathway for themselves through the equally dense mass on the sidewalk. Clark’s mind, teased into desperation by the inert throng, reached forward anxiously to his office. Come what might, he would keep his contracts and make others keep theirs. Every man of business must carry on his business, as in any other time, for in business was the greatness of his country. He must bring off the “deals” he was planning, and then he could buy a motor-car in the spring, spend the summer at that hotel on the shore, do all the ambitious things he dreamed of.
The flood that they were stemming brought him at last to a stop. In front of them, headed as they, was a big man in a fur coat buffeting his way with two suit-cases.
Carter, recognizing a friend, hailed him.
“They have taken my car!” was the frantic answer. “I was going out to our summer place. Isn’t it horrible?—Do you think I shall ever get it back?”
“They probably intend to pay you,” replied the lawyer.
“I don’t believe it. I wish I did.”
“Well, that sign they put up says this is merely a temporary occupation for strategic purposes, and that everything is to be paid for,” said the lawyer without conviction. “Did you read it?”
“I did, but I don’t believe any of it. I tried first to get out by rail early this morning, but all service is suspended. They have seized all passenger and freight cars—they won’t pay for them.”
A low rumbling in the distance brought a sudden terrified silence. Those in the street began pressing back upon the sidewalk, and the crowd became rough and pushing.
Along the road came files of horsemen, all in their neutral color, riding in perfect line, and after them, with a heavy roar, rolled a long train of guns and gun carriages on which sat swaying soldiers.
The mass on the sidewalk moved back and forth. Clark felt it crushing him, and in an eddy was swept away from the others. With a final row of horsemen the passing regiment came to an end, and when the crowd flooded back into the street, he seized the opportunity offered by the loosening of pressure upon him, and pushed rapidly on.
At a news-stand where he regularly bought a morning paper he stopped.
“Have you got a Crier?” he asked the boy who was idly standing near.
“No papers to-day.”
This was a blow indeed, for newspapers were essential to much of his work.
“How long is it going to last?” he said to the boy.
“Don’t ask me.”
“Got any yesterday’s papers?”
“All sold out.”
Clark went on his way empty-handed. This could not continue, he told himself; there would be papers in a day or two; and though the text might be censored, the advertisements of course would not be.
In the business centre it was unexpectedly quiet. Only here and there were shops open, and in many of these an anxious salesman stood in the doorway, prepared to close at a moment’s notice. As on a Sunday, there were none of the innumerable wagons and drays of trade, whose rattle and rumble comforts the business man’s deep-lying love of movement and commerce.
Clark’s heart sank at the strange hush; his own fellow countrymen in their silent and complete abandonment of their daily labor seemed to be deserting him. Then he had a sudden idea: new fields for his work were perhaps open to him. There must be a way to reach the commissary of the invaders or the taste of the individual soldiers. He must procure the services of some one who spoke their language!
Here and there were knots of them, well armed and quiet, with officers, tightly uniformed, strutting proudly. Their numerous presence, that seemed so idle, was to keep his city in order! It was perhaps necessary from their point of view, but it was annoying that they had to flaunt themselves in doing it. Policing of this sort was not needed, if people kept their heads. Panic, he told himself, was often largely psychological. The business men of the city and these newcomers must somehow be brought together in an effort to keep matters normal until the latter withdrew,—he seemed to remember that in their proclamation they had made a promise so to do. The next one he came to he must read with more care.
In the square in front of City Hall a vast number of soldiers were massed in regular lines. Around the outskirts slowly moved a silent, loitering, sullen crowd.
Clark, in passing, examined the massed men. In their uniforms they looked all of the same size, a well-set-up, muscular lot, with foreign faces—veterans all. They were standing in close ranks, at attention, and their subservience to command made them seem to him sheepish and slightly absurd “This is not their doing,” said he, congratulating himself profoundly that he lived in a democratic land, where the people ruled and were not subject to a despot.
Something was evidently going on at City Hall. He hoped with all his heart that the mayor and aldermen were aware that they must bend every effort to preserve normal commercial life. If he only had a chance, he could make clear what was essential.
Seeing a copy of the proclamation, he stopped with several others to read it carefully.
In explicit terms it stated that the seizure of the city was a strategic necessity; that there was no intention to occupy it permanently if no resistance was offered, but that strict measures were required if any citizens in any way opposed or hindered military measures; that in such an event the city would be treated as conquered territory and all guilty persons would be punished with death; that the city officials were being held as hostages and would pay the penalty if there were outbreaks or sniping; that for all supplies taken by the garrisoning force prompt payment would be made in cash (or redeemable notes), but that all demands for any commodity must receive instantaneous compliance; that all citizens must remember that they were now subject to military rule and must at once obey implicitly any order or requirement of any soldier; that respect must be paid all soldiers, and, accordingly, civilians must salute officers; and, further, if in doubt as to whether a soldier were an officer, the civilian must still salute; and that if all these regulations were obeyed, great benefits would result from the kindly feelings and other advantages of the occupying force.
Clark turned away suddenly. This was going very far, he thought, although he had to admit that they were in a ticklish position, those fellows.
As he was leaving the proclamation, it was all at once as if a hand squeezed his heart. He was angry. What right had they to make such demands upon peaceful citizens? He quickened his steps.
In the great building that housed his offices there was none of the usual morning rush of workers. Only one elevator was running, and the middle-aged “boy” in charge could not tell where the other boys were. They had not come in, he stated, but he had seen no reason why he should not turn up.
“That is right,” cried Clark, “business must go on as usual.”
“Yes, sir,” said the boy.
At his office he found that only his youngest partner, Harry Miller, formerly an employee, had arrived. The absence of bookkeeper and stenographers was perhaps explained by the fact that they were women; but Smith, his immediate junior, and the other men ought to have come.
“Where is Smith?” he asked Miller crossly.
Miller shook his head. “Hadn’t we better close up shop for a few days?”
Clark had been expecting some such proposal and was ready. “No! not at all. I didn’t expect that, Miller. We must stick to the ship, and incidentally we will be an example to the panic-stricken fools who have shut down and tried to run away. We will be accustomed to this occupation in a day or two. Now, there are three hundred thousand persons in this city earning their daily bread, who face ruin if they stop work. We will perform our part. I am going to tell our large customers that we are doing business. I have several ideas. We have a busy day ahead.—I hope to God that the telephone is working.”
“Have you read the proclamation?” asked Miller.
“Yes, I have,” Clark replied; “you noticed that they urged us to keep on with our regular occupations.” He had spoken partly to reassure himself, for in his heart was an aching fear for his business, which was just beginning to seem a little gold mine of profit.
“Miller,” he said earnestly, “you and I must keep things going here. There is psychology in the present moment. If we do big things now, the future will take care of itself. First of all, we need a man who speaks their language. Can’t you drum up one of your college friends? Those fellows must do buying—so why not go after their trade?”
Under Miller’s eyes his face flushed slightly.
“Take it from me!” he continued vehemently. “Now find some such man. I am going after our customers—if I can get them——and tell them what we plan to do.”
The younger man turned and walked away slowly.
“Miller,” called Clark, “this is no time for sentiment.”
“I am not sentimental. I was just thinking what’s the use.”
Clark sat down at his desk and lifted the receiver of his telephone to his ear. Almost at once came a staccato voice, “What number?” and he felt like crying aloud with relief.
He interviewed such of his customers as he could reach, telling eagerly his plans. He found demoralization and dread of business loss, but the fearful minds of his “people” were susceptible to his suggestions. He felt that he was making progress. The telephone was a wonderful thing. If only his stenographer were here!
He gave to Central the number of the house in an outlying town where she lived, and was told that suburban and long-distance services had been discontinued.
They were isolating the city! He had a moment of quick rage. It was with effort that his thoughts returned to his work, and while he was telephoning, he organized mentally a representative delegation to present the needs of the business world to the general in charge. It was an idea which might help him. He rather flattered himself that he had great executive ability, once granted opportunity.
Miller, returning later in the morning, came to Clark’s desk, and said rather sullenly,—
“I think I have found the man you want—for a time at least. The schools are closed, so I hunted up one of the teachers of foreign languages. He is coming in this afternoon.”
“Good!” cried Clark, and in turn told what he had been accomplishing.
Miller did not brighten as usual.
“Are you with me, Miller, in all this?”
“Yes—I am with you, but I can’t get over the disgrace.”
“Disgrace? There is no disgrace in attending to business.”
“No—I suppose not, but there is disgrace in letting these fellows walk all over us.”
“Is Clark, Smith & Co. responsible for that? If any one, the government at Washington is to blame. What happened was this: we were not prepared to keep the invaders out and they knew it; this city makes a convenient base; they saw their chance and seized it; we are not at war with them; and it was necessity, from their point of view, I suppose. But all this gets you and me nowhere. As business men, we have a civic duty to perform in keeping things going right here at home.”
Miller did not answer for a moment, for he was too recently an employee to argue with his senior partner.
“I am with you, Clark,” he said.
The other clapped him on the shoulder, and exclaimed, “That’s the talk. Now to work!”—But in his heart was an unexpected and troubling sense of shame.
Shortly afterwards the advertising manager of a large retail grocery called upon them in response to a suggestion of Clark’s as to inserting an announcement in the newspapers in the language of the invaders; and after a conference, Clark went out for lunch and to make the rounds of the newspaper offices to ascertain what might be done there.
The street still wore the Sunday morning aspect of sombre desertion, now more ominous, and the few others who were abroad were moving hurriedly, close to the walls of buildings.
Stimulated and excited by the changed conditions, Clark walked along boldly toward the lunch counter, where perched on a high stool he often ate his noontime sandwich and drank a cup of coffee. Advertised as “Never Closed,” it was shut and lifeless now. That might be because the help were mostly women, he told himself, and sought a down-town hotel. In the restaurant were few diners, except at a centre table where a group of men were talking eagerly in a foreign language. They were in uniform, and Clark felt a slight tightening across his scalp.
There were no bills of fare on the table by the window where he sat.
“Where is the menu, Sam?” he asked of the old negro who came at last to take his order.
“None were printed, sir. We didn’t expect many gentlemen, and we are short-handed, but I guess we can serve you with something, sir.” A few dishes were named.
Clark was giving his order, when one of the officers called loudly to the old man, who hurried away instantly. The waiter was detained interminably.
“Damned rudeness!” said Clark to himself. “If they want to keep in our good graces, this isn’t the way to go about it.” And then it came to him suddenly that they did not care at all for the good graces either of himself or his fellow citizens.
His anger grew steadily. He was hungry. He wanted to expostulate, but was aware that he did not dare. One of the officers glanced over at him and laughed. The waiter, after being released and called back several times, at last started toward Clark to finish taking the order, but one of them bellowed at him and he turned and fled to the kitchen.
Clark sat in silence, endeavoring to be calm. Such insults had to be endured, he told himself, for he had a big task to perform. Still too angry not to rage at something, he transferred his wrath to the government of his country for not saving its citizens from this disgrace.
At last he was served, but not until the officers had finished. He ate hurriedly to make up time needlessly wasted, and feeling a little calmer, set out again toward the office of the Crier.
At a cross street leading up from the water-front, he found a straggling crowd on the sidewalk, in front of which were marching a long file of men, eight abreast, all in their neutrally colored uniforms. The precision of the lines was so perfect that they looked like lead soldiers turned out of a common mould.
Blocked from crossing the street, Clark felt his irritation returning with renewed force. He was not going to be stopped from attending to his business. Mastering a sudden sinking of the heart, he elbowed his way to the front of the crowd of bystanders, watched his chance, and made a dash between two ranks.
Foreign voices shouted around him, he was seized, prodded with something sharp, and hustled back to the spot whence he had come, while an angry man stood shaking him and yelling in his ear words he did not understand. His hat was knocked off, his hand was thrust up to his face and down in a forced salute, he was prodded again, and then he was left trembling and weak on the edge of the sidewalk.
A sullen murmur passed through the crowd around him, and he was steadied by a friendly hand. Though not frightened, he was badly shaken, and it was slowly that self-possession returned to him; but with it came anger, deeper and stronger.
“Best not to try that again,” said a voice in his ear. “There is no telling what they will do. You got off easy.”
At last the regiment passed and, with the others, he crossed the street a little unsteadily, still feeling pain in the places where he had been prodded.
Outside the Crier’s office was a file of soldiers standing with grounded arms, and a sentry at the door barred the way in. Clark explained why he had come, but the man shook his head, not understanding, and motioned him to stand aside and wait with several others. After a long time an officer appeared with an editor, and one by one those waiting were summoned, but only a few were admitted. When Clark’s turn came, the editor said to him, “Mr. Clark, I believe. I am afraid that I must ask your errand.”
“I want to arrange about some advertising. Some of my regular customers may want to place ads with you in those fellows’ language. It will help you, and me, too, in this crisis.”
The editor explained to the officer, who listened dubiously but at last nodded absently, and Clark was allowed to enter the building. He found his way to the desk of Green, the advertising editor, who received him dejectedly and told him, leaning over the desk and speaking low, that the paper was practically in the charge of the invaders now and that they had suppressed the issue of that morning but had given orders that the issue of the next day must appear as usual, containing matter largely of their own. Everything else would have to be passed by a censor. Clark’s idea, however, seemed to him a practicable one. He hazarded a guess that an advertisement, addressed to the invaders in their own language, of things they were accustomed to have at home, not only would be good business but would pass the censor as well. They discussed details.
Clark found himself quite unexpectedly weary. Surprise at the news of the invaders’ coming, that had spread on the magical swift feet of rumor during the evening and night before, the long hours of anxiety, the busy morning, ,and above all the shock of rough handling, had transported him into a strange realm of fatigue where other men moved before his eyes like mechanical, grimacing figures. With great effort he braced himself to think and act, deciding that he had need of a drink of something strong on his way to the office of the Courier.
“There are only two or three of us who can speak their language,” Green was saying; “we are much tied up consequently. Still, if you get your stuff around at the usual time we can print it, I think.”
Clark rose. “Business must go on—” he began wearily; but had not the energy to continue.
Once more in the street, he looked up at the sky. Overhead was the familiar, smoke-tinged blue, but in the motionless facades of the buildings, in the many curtained shops, in the emptiness of the streets, and in the furtive silence of the few passers was something chilling and sinister. Before the big guns of the invaders’ battleships in the harbor below, what houses of cards were all these apparently substantial structures! He knew that, in many of the trades which they housed, the margin of profit—gained with infinite care and worry—was figured so closely that without the usual pressure of daily business one would follow another in a widening circle of disaster, no less ruinous than destruction by bombardment. Against this moral ruin he must fight with other sane-minded men, and he, an intermediary between business and the public in his occupation, was above all able to act effectively. He must not let languor overcome him.
At that moment he saw a group of officers approaching and remembered the proclamation. He was supposed to salute! In an ecstasy of angry, silent swearing at these men, his plans were at once forgotten. He crossed the street to avoid them.
There was no guard at the offices of the Courier, but instead, a blackboard with the words: “CLOSED. The Courier has been ordered to suspend publication.”
At the near-by office of the Patriot (the great evening paper that begot prejudices and then fed them with garbled news) he found a placard: “Publication resumed in a few days.” The advertising manager, who was at his office, notwithstanding, told Clark that all the papers except the Crier had been suspended by order of the general in charge, but that the Patriot was moving heaven and earth to be allowed to continue publication, and, therefore, advertising matter would be accepted conditionally. A campaign to keep business going was to be started as soon as publication was resumed.
Clark kindled for a moment. “Count on me to help in that,” he said; “I have been talking it up all day. It is our only hope”—But suddenly his enthusiasm drained away. Not admitting that he was weary, he told himself that those Patriot fellows were a yellow crowd, and were not the sort with whom he cared to ally himself.
Returning to his office, he found Miller and the schoolmaster there. They had made a few drafts for proposed advertisements, but these had been cast aside unfinished.
“I have got in touch with the newspaper situation,” Clark began. “The Crier will be out to-morrow, and I have practically arranged to run two quarter-page ads for the rest of the week. That is a beginning. I hope you have something ready, Miller; if so, I’ll call up and arrange definitely about it.”
Miller showed the sketches.
“We must make these more striking,” said Clark. “Let us take the first word of their proclamation and run it in full block letters, translated, all the way across the top.”
He bent over the plans, but it was several minutes before he could force his mind to comprehend them fully.
“This is the strangest situation that ever was!” said Miller suddenly and irrelevantly. “Here is the city fallen into the hands of these fellows, with only half a dozen shots fired from an antiquated fort down the harbor and not a man killed on the ships. It makes my blood boil. Thirty men fell at the fort.”
“Thirty men killed!” cried Clark, a wave of red flashing before his eyes. “How did you learn that?”
“I went around to the Lodge, where I thought some of the men might drop in with news. There are all kinds of rumors abroad. The militia are called out all over the state, but round here nothing will happen, of course. They have seized the armory—marched right to it at once. Early this morning they commandeered every freight and passenger car in the yards, and ten thousand men at least are on their way inland now. They are trying to suppress it, but I was told for a fact that the Governor got out the militia at midnight and marched them all south to Bellport. Some of the local men are going there if they can get through. I’d go if I were in the militia.”
Clark, listening eagerly, felt a swell of pride at the Governor, forgetting that just before the last election he had called him and his party crooks.
“I wonder what militia can do,” he said meditatively.
““They can at least protest.”
“They will stick to it like men. We can be sure of that anyway.”
He had a mental vision of the militia—many were his friends—harried by the superior number and equipment of the invaders, but fighting and dying without a murmur. It was more than he could bear, and for refuge he turned again to the plans.
“This discussion is getting us nowhere. We must turn to on this job. The duty of us civilians here is to attend to business,” he said; but the thought of business seemed at that moment somehow a base desertion. He flushed first with shame and then with sudden anger.
“I suppose it is,” Miller was saying. “It is all we can do anyway. How helpless we are!”
Clark was quite motionless—but idleness helped no one. He turned to their work, and his mind wandered. The unusual silence of the street beneath the high window of the office made him listen constantly, breaking the thread of plans and schemes. Through his mind they ran, as memories of a day’s work run through an overtaxed brain at night, with endless repetitions leading nowhere; and continually he reverted to the ruinous, insulting blow dealt his city and country from a peaceful sky.
Yet under all his thoughts lay anger, impotent, helpless, and wearying. He wanted to slink away somewhere, until conditions were changed by forces outside himself into something within the grasp of his mind. He was actually becoming sympathetic with those who had dropped everything! He concentrated his attention with determination, and the draft was at last finished. The teacher left, to return on the morrow, and Miller and Clark were left alone.
It had begun to grow dark. The whole city was very still. In the cessation of the friendly activity, which usually wrapped so closely the busy days of the two men, was something terrible.
“This is awful,” murmured Miller.
“I wonder if they have met the militia yet.”
“What can militia do?”
“Nothing but hold them back for a while, and be killed doing it! These are trained veterans. We have no regulars within a thousand miles. Oh, have we got to lie down under it, Miller?”
“We have been cowards all these years, not getting ready for this!”
“Not a bit of it. We were too busy. But see here—you and I must not be morbid. I am going over to the Crier office with this stuff. Then I shall come back, and spend the night in town somewhere. I think that this evening I shall hunt up some of our big customers and talk things over.”
“I’ll stay here and wait for you.”
Once more in the street Clark felt very lonely, helpless, and isolated. He was a mere dot in the great city of his fellow countrymen, but was it not his duty, nevertheless, to live and work as usual and do his best to preserve the delicate adjustment of business life?
He made his way through the now deserted streets to the office of the newspaper. The wandering throng of curious idlers had found little to interest them in this part of the city, but outside the office of the Crier there was still a knot of them watching a group of sentries and the bulletin board, on which was now written: “The Crier will appear as usual to-morrow.”
Green was at his desk and the proposed advertisement was submitted to him and approved.
“I have to show this to the captain in charge,” he said to Clark, “before we can print it. Come with me. He has the president’s room. They have got together a lot of stuff for to-morrow’s issue. There was a great row, but the president finally induced them to sign all their articles, ‘Printed by order.’”
At the president’s desk sat a young officer, with a quick, intelligent face, who spoke excellent English. He looked through the advertisement hastily, signed it with a flourish, then gave a keen glance at Clark.
“Good,” he said; “we do not wish to hinder any more than is quite necessary the business of your city. We shall be most friendly, until provoked—then we shall strike and strike hard. But do not be afraid of us. Tell your men of business that we are glad to help them to keep their shops open. This advertisement is a right step. It may lead to friendly and profitable relations in future. I, therefore, approve it. That is all.”
“Little rat,” whispered Clark, to himself, “I would like to strangle you!”
The officer had ceased to regard him, and he turned and left the room and the building, too angry to speak to Green.
“You will have to keep cool,” he continued to himself, “if you wish to get along with these fellows.”
Twilight was nearer now. At rare intervals a window or door glowed wanly, and, except for these, the street was filled with a diffused and rather ghostly light reflected from the flaming sky overhead. He had often hurried home to his wife in this evening glow. It used to mean affection and peacefulness, dinner, and a few idle hours with newspaper or novel of adventure; but now his city was overrun with alien people; there was no peace anywhere, and no place was any longer his own privacy. The buildings about him seemed deserted and pitiful.
“You’ll have to keep cool,” he told himself again, and then laughed grimly; for anger, instead of lessening, had grown into something greater than himself, in which he could exult.
He made his way to his office by back streets, where the buildings towered over him, unlighted and enormous. There were no stragglers here.
All at once he saw approaching him two men who spoke loudly together in foreign voices. Something on their uniforms glittered for a moment. A wave of terror swept over him, but he continued steadily on his way with eyes to the front. The two men, abreast, were leaving no room to pass. He set his teeth and walked straight ahead, looking beyond them.
“Civilians must salute officers, and if in doubt—”
Suddenly a face with wide, bright eyes was close to his own, and his body had struck another body.
Two voices bellowed. He felt a hot, vinous breath. “Salute!” came a cry in his ear, and a hand leaped at his wrist to force it.
Hard and gloriously his fist came against something that crunched, and the face in front of him sank suddenly away.
As in a flash of light he remembered a trick of school days. With the sole of his boot he kicked sideways viciously at the ankle of the other officer, felt him fall, and then turned and ran.
Hearing behind him a furious shouting and uproar, he fled along the street, swung through the revolving door of an office building, raced along the entry and out again upon another street, and then through another building, across an alley, and out upon a third street. He knew his way unerringly.
His heart was pounding madly now, and he was laughing through his panting breath.
“I am good for two of them when I get going,” he repeated over and over.
He knew that the officers could not find him.
At last he reached his rooms, where he found Miller at the window looking out. It was dark now except for a fiery, saffron band in the west.
He sank into a chair, suddenly weary. His heart drummed frantically. Exultation seemed to be fading; he was a very weak and little thing after all.
There was a long silence.
“Clark,” said Miller, “in spite of all this shame, I never loved my country more.”
The older man collected himself slowly, resolutely, and mastered betraying weakness.
“Harry,” he answered firmly, “I am going to Bellport to-night if I have to walk all the way. Come with me. They need us there.”
“1915?” by Austin Tappan Wright was originally published in
The Atlantic Monthly v. 115, no. 4, April 1915; reprinted in
Dead Letters, and Other Pieces by Mary Tappan Wright, edited by Brian Kunde, Mountain House, Fleabonnet Press, 2008.
The work of Austin Tappan Wright here reproduced is in the public domain. All other material in this edition is
©2008 by Brian Kunde.