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   Chapter 3 IIIToC

The Next of Kin: Those who Wait and Wonder By Nellie L. McClung Characters: 6412

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


LET'S PRETEND

Let's pretend the skies are blue,

Let's pretend the world is new,

And the birds of hope are singing

All the day!

Short of gladness-learn to fake it!

Long on sadness-go and shake it!

Life is only-what you make it,

Anyway!

There is wisdom without end

In the game of "Let's pretend!"

We played it to-day. We had to, for the boys went away, and we had to send our boys away with a smile! They will have heartaches and homesickness a-plenty, without going away with their memories charged with a picture of their mothers in tears, for that's what takes the heart out of a boy. They are so young, so brave, we felt that we must not fail them.

With such strong words as these did we admonish each other, when we met the last night, four of us, whose sons were among the boys who were going away. We talked hard and strong on this theme, not having a very good grip on it ourselves, I am afraid. We simply harangued each other on the idleness of tears at stations. Every one of us had something to say; and when we parted, it was with the tacit understanding that there was an Anti-Tear League formed-the boys were leaving on an early train in the morning!

* * *

The morning is a dismal time anyway, and teeth will chatter, no matter how brave you feel! It is a squeamish, sickly, choky time,-a winter morning before the sun is up; and you simply cannot eat breakfast when you look round the table and see every chair filled,-even the five-year-old fellow is on hand,-and know that a long, weary time is ahead of the one who sits next you before he comes again to his father's house. Even though the conversation is of the gayest, every one knows what every one else is thinking.

* * *

There is no use trying-I cannot write the story of that morning.... I will tell you of other troop-trains I have seen go. I will tell you of another boy who carried off all the good-byes with a high hand and great spirits, and said something to every one of the girls who brought him candy, telling one that he would remember her in his will, promising another that he would marry her when he got to be Admiral of the Swiss Navy, but who, when he came to say good-bye to his father, suddenly grew very white and very limp, and could only say, "Oh, dad! Good old dad!"

* * *

I will tell you of other troop-trains I have seen go out, with other boys waving to other women who strained their eyes and winked hard, hard, hard to keep back the tears, and stood still, quite still until the last car had disappeared around the bend, and the last whistle had torn the morning air into shreds and let loose a whole wild chorus of echoes through the quiet streets!

* * *

There was a mist in the air this morning, and a white frost covered the trees with beautiful white crystals that softened their leafless limbs. It made a soft and graceful drapery on the telegraph poles and wires. It carpeted the edges of the platform that had not been walked on, and even covered the black roofs of the station buildings and the flatcars which stood in the yard. It seemed like a beautiful white decoration for the occasion, a beautiful, heavy, elaborate mourning-for those

who had gone-and white, of course-all white,-because they were so young!

* * *

Then we came home. It was near the opening time of the stores, and the girls were on their way to work, but their footfalls made no sound on the pavement. Even the street-cars seemed to glide quietly by. The city seemed grave and serious and sad, and disposed to go softly.... In the store windows the blinds were still down-ghastly, shirred white things which reminded me uncomfortably of the lining of a coffin! Over the hotel on the corner, the Calgary Beer Man, growing pale in the sickly dawn, still poured-and lifted-and drank-and poured-and lifted-and drank,-insatiable as the gods of war.

* * *

I wandered idly through the house-what a desolate thing a house can be when every corner of it holds a memory!-not a memory either, for that bears the thought of something past,-when every corner of it is full of a boyish presence!... I can hear him rushing down the stairs in the morning to get the paper, and shouting the headlines to me as he brings it up. I can hear him come in at the front door and thump his books down on the hall seat, and call "Mother!" I sit down and summon them all, for I know they will fade soon enough-the thin, sharp edge of everything wears mercifully blunt in time!

* * *

Then I gathered up his schoolbooks, and every dog-eared exercise-book, and his timetable, which I found pinned on his window curtain, and I carried them up to the storeroom in the attic, with his baseball mitt-and then, for the first time, as I made a pile of the books under the beams, I broke my anti-tear pledge. It was not for myself, or for my neighbor across the street whose only son had gone, or for the other mothers who were doing the same things all over the world; it was not for the young soldiers who had gone out that day; it was for the boys who had been cheated of their boyhood, and who had to assume men's burdens, although in years they were but children. The saddest places of all the world to-day are not the battle fields, or the hospitals, or the cross-marked hillsides where the brave ones are buried; the saddest places are the deserted campus and playgrounds where they should be playing; the empty seats in colleges, where they should be sitting; the spaces in the ranks of happy, boisterous schoolboys, from which the brave boys have gone,-these boys whose boyhood has been cut so pitifully short. I thought, too, of the little girls whose laughter will ring out no more in the careless, happy abandonment of girlhood, for the black shadow of anxiety and dread has fallen even on their young hearts; the tiny children, who, young as they are, know that some great sorrow has come to every one; the children of the war countries, with their terror-stricken eyes and pale faces; the unspeakable, unforgivable wrong that has been done to youth the world over.

* * *

There, as I sat on the floor of the storeroom, my soul wandered down a long, dark, silent valley, and met the souls of the mothers of all countries, who had come there, like me, to mourn ... and our tears were very hot, and very bitter ... for we knew that it was the Valley of Lost Childhood!

* * *

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