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The Next of Kin: Those who Wait and Wonder By Nellie L. McClung Characters: 11004

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The day after we went to the city I got my first real glimpse of war! It was the white face of our French neighbor. His wife and two little girls had gone to France a month before the war broke out, and were visiting his family in a village on the Marne. Since the outbreak of war he had had no word from them, and his face worked pitifully when he told me this. "Not one word, though I cabled and got friends in London to wire aussi," he said. "But I will go myself and see."

"What about your house and motor?" he was asked.

He raised his shoulders and flung out his hands. "What difference?" he said; "I will not need them."

I saw him again the day he left. He came out of his house with a small Airedale pup which had been the merry playmate of Alette and Yvonne. He stood on the veranda holding the dog in his arms. Strangers were moving into the house and their boxes stood on the floor. I went over to say good-bye.

"I will not come back," he said simply; "it will be a long fight; we knew it would come, but we did not know when. If I can but find wife and children-but the Germans-they are devils-Boches-no one knows them as we do!"

He stood irresolute a moment, then handed me the dog and went quickly down the steps.

"It is for France!" he said.

I sat on the veranda railing and watched him go. The Airedale blinded his eyes looking after him, then looked at me, plainly asking for an explanation. But I had to tell him that I knew no more about it than he did. Then I tried to comfort him by telling him that many little dogs were much worse off than he, for they had lost their people and their good homes as well, and he still had his comfortable home and his good meals. But it was neither meals nor bed that his faithful little heart craved, and for many weeks a lonely little Airedale on Chestnut Street searched diligently for his merry little playmates and his kind master, but he found them not.

There was still a certain unreality about it all. Sometimes it has been said that the men who went first went for adventure. Perhaps they did, but it does not matter-they have since proved of what sort of stuff they were made.

When one of the first troop trains left Winnipeg, a handsome young giant belonging to the Seventy-ninth Highlanders said, as he swung himself up on the rear coach, "The only thing I am afraid of is that it will all be over before we get there." He was needlessly alarmed, poor lad! He was in time for everything; Festubert, Saint-éloi, Ypres; for the gas attacks before the days of gas-masks, for trench-fever, for the D.C.M.; and now, with but one leg, and blind, he is one of the happy warriors at St. Dunstan's whose cheerfulness puts to shame those of us who are whole!

There were strange scenes at the station when those first trains went out. The Canadians went out with a flourish, with cheers, with songs, with rousing music from the bands. The serious men were the French and Belgian reservists, who, silently, carrying their bundles, passed through our city, with grim, determined faces. They knew, and our boys did not know, to what they were going. That is what made the difference in their manner.

The government of one of the provinces, in the early days of the war, shut down the public works, and, strange to say, left the bars open. Their impulse was right-but they shut down the wrong thing; it should have been the bars, of course. They knew something should be shut down. We are not blaming them; it was a panicky time. People often, when they hear the honk of an automobile horn, jump back instead of forward. And it all came right in time.

A moratorium was declared at once, which for the time being relieved people of their debts, for there was a strong feeling that the cup of sorrow was so full now that all movable trouble should be set off for another day!

The temperance people then asked, as a corresponding war measure, that the bars be closed. They urged that the hearts of our people were already so burdened that they should be relieved of the trouble and sorrow which the liquor traffic inevitably brings. "Perhaps," they said to the government, "when a happier season comes, we may be able to bear it better; but we have so many worries now, relieve us of this one, over which you have control."

Then the financial side of the liquor traffic began to pinch. Manitoba was spending thirteen million dollars over the bars every year. The whole Dominion's drink bill was one hundred millions. When the people began to rake and save to meet the patriotic needs, and to relieve the stress of unemployment, these great sums of money were thought of longingly-and with the longing which is akin to pain! The problem of unemployment was aggravated by the liquor evil and gave another argument for prohibition.

I heard a woman telling her troubles to a sympathetic friend one day, as we rode in an elevator.

"'E's all right when 'e's in work," she said; "but when 'e's hidle 'e's something fierce: 'e knocks me about crool. 'E guzzles all the time 'e's out of work."

It was easy to believe. Her face matched her story; she was a poor, miserable, bedraggled creature, with teeth out in front. She wore black cotton gloves such as undertakers supply for the pallbearers, and every finger was out. The liquor traffic would have a better chance if there were not so many arguments against it walking round.

About this time, too, the traffic suffered a great bereavement,

for the personal liberty argument fell, mortally wounded. The war did that, too.

All down the ages there have been men who believed that personal liberty included the right to do what one wished to do, no matter who was hurt. So, if a man wished to drink, by the sacred rights for which his forefathers had bled and died he was at liberty to do so, and then go home and beat up his own wife and family if he wanted to; for if you can't beat your own wife, whom can you beat, I'd like to know? Any one who disputed this sacred right was counted a spoil-fun and a joy-killer!

But a change came over the world's thought in the early days of the war. Liberty grew to be a holy word, a sacred thing, when the blood of our brightest and best was being poured out in its defense, and never again will the old, selfish, miserable conception of liberty obtain favor. The Kaiser helped here, too, for he is such a striking example of the one who claims absolute liberty for himself, no matter who is hurt, that somehow we never hear it mentioned now. I believe it is gone, forever!

The first step in the curtailment of the liquor traffic was the closing of the bars at seven o'clock, and the beneficial effect was felt at once. Many a man got home early for the first time in his life, and took his whole family to the "movies."

The economy meetings brought out some quaint speeches. No wonder! People were taken unawares. We were unprepared for war, and the changes it had brought;-we were as unprepared as the woman who said, in speaking of unexpected callers, "I had not even time to turn my plants." There was much unintentional humor. One lady, whose home was one of the most beautiful in the city, and who entertained lavishly, told us, in her address on "Economy," that at the very outbreak of the war she reduced her cook's wages from thirty to twenty dollars, and gave the difference to the Patriotic Fund; that she had found a cheaper dressmaker who made her dresses now for fifteen dollars, where formerly she had paid twenty-five; and she added artlessly, "They are really nicer, and I do think we should all give in these practical ways; that's the sort of giving that I really enjoy!"

Another woman told of how much she had given up for the Patriotic Fund; that she had determined not to give one Christmas present, and had given up all the societies to which she had belonged, even the Missionary Society, and was giving it all to the Red Cross. "I will not even give a present to the boy who brings the paper," she declared with conviction. Whether or not the boy's present ever reached the Red Cross, I do not know. But ninety-five per cent of the giving was real, honest, hard, sacrificing giving. Elevator-boys, maids, stenographers gave a percentage of their earnings, and gave it joyously. They like to give, but they do not like to have it taken away from them by an employer, who thereby gets the credit of the gift. The Red Cross mite-boxes into which children put their candy money, while not enriching the Red Cross to any large extent, trained the children to take some share in the responsibility; and one enthusiastic young citizen, who had been operated on for appendicitis, proudly exhibited his separated appendix, preserved in alcohol, at so much per look, and presented the proceeds to the Red Cross.

The war came home to the finest of our people first. It has not reached them all yet, but it is working in, like the frost into the cellars when the thermometer shows forty degrees below zero. Many a cellar can stand a week of this-but look out for the second! Every day it comes to some one.

"I don't see why we are always asked to give," one woman said gloomily, when the collector asked her for a monthly subscription to the Red Cross. "Every letter that goes out of the house has a stamp on it-and we write a queer old lot of letters, and I guess we've done our share."

She is not a dull woman either or hard of heart. It has not got to her yet-that's all! I cannot be hard on her in my judgment, for it did not come to me all at once, either.

When I saw the first troops going away, I wondered how their mothers let them go, and I made up my mind that I would not let my boy go,-I was so glad he was only seventeen,-for hope was strong in our hearts that it might be over before he was of military age. It was the Lusitania that brought me to see the whole truth. Then I saw that we were waging war on the very Princes of Darkness, and I knew that morning when I read the papers, I knew that it would be better-a thousand times better-to be dead than to live under the rule of people whose hearts are so utterly black and whose process of reasoning is so oxlike-they are so stupidly brutal. I knew then that no man could die better than in defending civilization from this ghastly thing which threatened her!

Soon after that I knew, without a word being said, that my boy wanted to go-I saw the seriousness come into his face, and knew what it meant. It was when the news from the Dardanelles was heavy on our hearts, and the newspapers spoke gravely of the outlook.

One day he looked up quickly and said, "I want to go-I want to help the British Empire-while there is a British Empire!"

And then I realized that my boy, my boy, had suddenly become a man and had put away childish things forever.

I shall always be glad that the call came to him, not in the intoxication of victory, but in the dark hour of apparent defeat.

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