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The Next of Kin: Those who Wait and Wonder By Nellie L. McClung Characters: 22509

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


When all the evidence is in-

When all the good-and all the sin-

The Impulses-without-within

Are catalogued-with reasons showing-

What great surprises will await

The small, the near-great and the great

Who thought they knew how things were going!

Stories crowd in upon me as I write. Let no one ever say that this is a dull world! It is anything but dull! It is a pitiful, heartbreaking world, full of injustice, misunderstandings, false standards, and selfishness, but it is never dull. Neither is it a lost world, for the darkest corners of it are illuminated here and there by heroic deeds and noble aspirations. Men who hilariously sold their vote and influence prior to 1914, who took every sharp turn within the law, and who shamelessly mocked at any ideals of citizenship, were among the first to put on the King's uniform and march out to die.

To-day I read in the "paper from home" that Private William Keel is "missing, believed killed"; and it took me back to the old days before the war when the late Private Keel was accustomed to hold up the little town. Mr. Keel was a sober man-except upon occasions. The occasions were not numerous, but they left an undying impression on his neighbors and fellow townsmen; for the late private had a way all his own. He was a big Welshman, so strong that he never knew how strong he was; and when he became obsessed with the desire to get drunk, no one could stop him. He had to have it out. At such times his one ambition was to ride a horse up the steps of the hotel, and then-George Washington-like-rise in his stirrups and deliver an impassioned address on what we owe to the Old Flag. If he were blocked or thwarted in this, he became dangerous and hard to manage, and sometimes it took a dozen men to remove him to the Police Station. When he found himself safely landed there, with a locked door and small, barred window between himself and liberty, his mood changed and the remainder of the night was spent in song, mostly of "A life on the ocean wave and a home on the rolling deep"; for he had been a sailor before he came land-seeking to western Canada.

After having "proved up" his land in southern Manitoba-the Wanderlust seized him and he went to South America, where no doubt he enlivened the proceedings for the natives, as he had for us while he lived among us.

Six weeks after the declaration of war he came back-a grizzled man of forty; he had sold out everything, sent his wife to England, and had come to enlist with the local regiment. Evidently his speech about what we owe to the Old Flag had been a piece of real eloquence, and Bill himself was the proof.

He enlisted with the boys from home as a private, and on the marches he towered above them-the tallest man in the regiment. No man was more obedient or trustworthy. He cheered and admonished the younger men, when long marches in the hot sun, with heavy accouterments, made them quarrelsome and full of complaints. "It's all for the Old Flag, boys," he told them.

To-day I read that he is "missing, believed killed"; and I have the feeling, which I know is in the heart of many who read his name, that we did not realize the heroism of the big fellow in the old days of peace. It took a war to show us how heroic our people are.

Not all the heroes are war-heroes either. The slow-grinding, searching tests of peace have found out some truly great ones among our people and have transmuted their common clay into pure gold.

It is much more heartening to tell of the woman who went right rather than of her who went wrong, and for that reason I gladly set down here the story of one of these.

Mrs. Elizabeth Tweed is the wife of Private William Tweed-small, dark-eyed, and pretty, with a certain childishness of face which makes her rouged cheeks and blackened eyebrows seem pathetically, innocently wicked.

Mrs. Elizabeth Tweed, wife of Private William Tweed, was giving trouble to the Patriotic Society. It was bad enough for her to go out evenings with an officer, and dance in the afternoon at the hotel dansant in a perfect outburst of gay garments; but there was no excuse for her coming home in a taxi-cab, after a shopping expedition in broad daylight, and to the scandal of the whole street, who watched her from behind lace curtains.

The evil effects of Mrs. Tweed's actions began to show in the falling-off of subscriptions to the Patriotic Fund, and the collectors heard many complaints about her gay habits of life and her many and varied ways of squandering money. Mrs. Tweed became a perfect wall of defense for those who were not too keen on parting with their money. They made a moral issue of it, and virtuously declared, "That woman is not going to the devil on my money." "I scrimp and save and deny myself everything so I can give to the Patriotic Fund, and look at her!" women cried.

It was in vain that the collectors urged that she was only getting five dollars a month, anyway, from the Patriotic Fund, and that would not carry her far on the road to destruction or in any other direction. When something which appears to set aside the obligation to perform a disagreeable duty comes in view, the hands of the soul naturally clamp on it.

Mrs. Tweed knew that she was the bad example, and gloried in it. She banged the front door when she entered the block late at night, and came up the stairs gayly singing, "Where did Robinson Crusoe go with Friday on Saturday night?" while her sleepy neighbors anathematized all dependents of the Patriotic Fund.

The Red Cross ladies discussed the matter among themselves and decided that some one should put the matter before Mrs. Tweed and tell her how hard she was making it for the other dependents of soldiers. The president was selected for the task, which did not at first sight look like a pleasant one, but Mrs. Kent had done harder things than this, and she set out bravely to call on the wayward lady.

The D.O.E. visitor who called on all the soldiers' wives in that block had reported that Mrs. Tweed had actually put her out, and told her to go to a region which is never mentioned in polite society except in theological discussions.

"I know," Mrs. Tweed said, when the Red Cross President came to see her, "what you are coming for, and I don't blame you-I sure have been fierce, but you don't know what a good time I've had. Gee, it's great! I've had one grand tear!-one blow-out! And now I am almost ready to be good. Sit down, and I'll tell you about it; you have more give to you than that old hatchet-face that came first; I wouldn't tell her a thing!

"I am twenty-five years old, and I never before got a chance to do as I liked. When I was a kid, I had to do as I was told. My mother brought me up in the fear of the Lord and the fear of the neighbors. I whistled once in church and was sent to bed every afternoon for a week-I didn't care, though, I got in my whistle. I never wanted to do anything bad, but I wanted to do as I liked-and I never got a chance. Then I got married. William is a lot older than I am, and he controlled me-always-made me economize, scrimp, and save. I really did not want to blow money, but they never gave me a chance to be sensible. Every one put me down for a 'nut.' My mother called me 'Trixie.' No girl can do well on a name like that. Teachers passed me from hand to hand saying, 'Trixie is such a mischief!' I had a reputation to sustain.

"Then mother and father married me off to Mr. Tweed because he was so sensible, and I needed a firm hand, they said. I began everything in life with a handicap. Name and appearance have always been against me. No one can look sensible with a nose that turns straight up, and I will have bright colors to wear-I was brought up on wincey, color of mud, and all these London-smoke, battleship-gray colors make me sick. I want reds and blues and greens, and I am gradually working into them."

She held out a dainty foot as she spoke, exhibiting a bright-green stocking striped in gold.

"But mind you, for all I am so frivolous, I am not a fool exactly. All I ask is to have my fling, and I've had it now for three whole months. When William was at home I never could sit up and read one minute, and so the first night he was away I burned the light all night just to feel wicked! It was great to be able to let it burn. I've gone to bed early every night for a week to make up for it. What do you think of that? It is just born in me, and I can't help it. If William had stayed at home, this would never have showed out in me. I would have gone on respectable and steady. But this is one of the prices we pay for bringing up women to be men's chattels, with some one always placed in authority over them. When the authority is removed, there's the devil to pay!"

The President of the Red Cross looked at her in surprise. She had never thought of it this way before; women were made to be protected and shielded; she had said so scores of times; the church had taught it and sanctioned it.

"The whole system is wrong," Mrs. Tweed continued, "and nice women like you, working away in churches ruled by men, have been to blame. You say women should be protected, and you cannot make good the protection. What protection have the soldiers' wives now? Evil tongues, prying eyes, on the part of women, and worse than that from the men. The church has fallen down on its job, and isn't straight enough to admit it! We should either train our women to take their own part and run their own affairs, or else we should train the men really to honor and protect women. The church has done neither. Bah! I could make a better world with one hand tied behind my back!"

"But, Mrs. Tweed," said the president, "this war is new to all of us-how did we know what was coming? It has taken all of us by surprise, and we have to do our bit in meeting the new conditions. Your man was never a fighting man-he hates it; but he has gone and will fight, although he loathes it. I never did a day's work outside of my home until now, and now I go to the office every day and try to straighten out tangles; women come in there and accuse me of everything, down to taking the bread out of their children's mouths. Two of them who brought in socks the other day said, 'Do you suppose the soldiers ever see them?' I did all I could to convince them that we were quite honest, though I assure you I felt like telling them what I thought of them. But things are abnormal now, everything is out of sorts; and if we love our country we will try to remedy things instead of making them worse. When I went to school we were governed by what they called the 'honor system.' It was a system of self-government; we were not watched and punished and bound by rules, but graded and ruled ourselves-and the strange thing about it was that it worked! When the teacher went out of the room, everything went on just the same. Nobody left her desk or talked or idled; we just worked on, minding our own affairs; it was a great system."

Mrs. Tweed looked at her with a cynical smile. "Some system!" she cried mockingly; "it may work in a school, where the little pinafore, pig-tail Minnies and Lucys gather; it won

't work in life, where every one is grabbing for what he wants, and getting it some way. But see here," she cried suddenly, "you haven't called me down yet! or told me I am a disgrace to the Patriotic Fund! or asked me what will my husband say when he comes home! You haven't looked shocked at one thing I've told you. Say, you should have seen old hatchet-face when I told her that I hoped the war would last forever! She said I was a wicked woman!"

"Well-weren't you?" asked the president.

"Sure I was-if I meant it-but I didn't. I wanted to see her jump, and she certainly jumped; and she soon gave me up and went back and reported. Then you were sent, and I guess you are about ready to give in."

"Indeed, I am not," said the president, smiling. "You are not a fool-I can see that-and you can think out these things for yourself. You are not accountable to me, anyway. I have no authority to find fault with you. If you think your part in this terrible time is to go the limit in fancy clothes, theaters, and late suppers with men of questionable character-that is for you to decide. I believe in the honor system. You are certainly setting a bad example-but you have that privilege. You cannot be sent to jail for it. The money you draw is hard-earned money-it is certainly sweated labor which our gallant men perform for the miserable little sum that is paid them. It is yours to do with as you like. I had hoped that more of you young women would have come to help us in our work in the Red Cross and other places. We need your youth, your enthusiasm, your prettiness, for we are sorely pressed with many cares and troubles, and we seem to be old sometimes. But you are quite right in saying that it is your own business how you spend the money!"

After Mrs. Kent had gone, the younger woman sat looking around her flat with a queer feeling of discontent. A half-eaten box of chocolates was on the table and a new silk sweater coat lay across the lounge. In the tiny kitchenette a tap dripped with weary insistence, and unwashed dishes filled the sink. She got up suddenly and began to wash the dishes, and did not stop until every corner of her apartment was clean and tidy.

"I am getting dippy," she said as she looked at herself in the mirror in the buffet; "I've got to get out-this quiet life gets me. I'll go down to the dansant this afternoon-no use-I can't stand being alone."

She put on her white suit, and dabbing rouge on her cheeks and penciling her eyes, she went forth into the sunshiny streets.

She stopped to look at a display of sport suits in a window, also to see her own reflection in a mirror placed for the purpose among the suits.

Suddenly a voice sounded at her elbow: "Some kid, eh? Looking good enough to eat!"

She turned around and met the admiring gaze of Sergeant Edward Loftus Brown, recruiting sergeant of the 19-th, with whom she had been to the theater a few nights before. She welcomed him effusively.

"Come on and have something to eat," he said. "I got three recruits to-day-so I am going to proclaim a half-holiday."

They sat at a table in an alcove and gayly discussed the people who passed by. The President of the Red Cross came in, and at a table across the room hastily drank a cup of tea and went out again.

"She came to see me to-day," said Mrs. Tweed, "and gave me to understand that they were not any too well pleased with me-I am too gay for a soldier's wife! And they do not approve of you."

Sergeant Brown smiled indulgently and looked at her admiringly through his oyster-lidded eyes. His smile was as complacent as that of the ward boss who knows that the ballot-box is stuffed. It was the smile of one who can afford to be generous to an enemy.

"Women are always hard on each other," he said soothingly; "these women do not understand you, Trixie, that's all. No person understands you but me." His voice was of the magnolia oil quality.

"Oh, rats!" she broke out. "Cut that understanding business! She understands me all right-she knows me for a mean little selfish slacker who is going to have a good time no matter what it costs. I have been like a bad kid that eats the jam when the house is burning! But remember this, I'm no fool, and I'm not going to kid myself into thinking it is anything to be proud of, for it isn't."

Sergeant Brown sat up straight and regarded her critically. "What have you done," he said, "that she should call you down for it? You're young and pretty and these old hens are jealous of you. They can't raise a good time themselves and they're sore on you because all the men are crazy about you."

"Gee, you're mean," Mrs. Tweed retorted, "to talk that way about women who are giving up everything for their country. Mrs. Kent's two boys are in the trenches, actually fighting, not just parading round in uniform like you. She goes every day and works in the office of the Red Cross and tries to keep every tangle straightened out. She's not jealous of me-she despises me for a little feather-brained pinhead. She thinks I am even worse than I am. She thinks I am as bad as you would like me to be! Naturally enough, she judges me by my company."

Sergeant Brown's face flushed dull red, but she went on: "That woman is all right-take it from me."

"Well, don't get sore on me," he said quickly; "I'm not the one who is turning you down. I've always stuck up for you and you know it!"

"Why shouldn't you?" she cried. "You know well that I am straight, even if I am a fool. These women are out of patience with me and my class--"

"Men are always more charitable to women than women are to each other, anyway-women are cats, mostly!" he said, as he rolled a cigarette.

"There you go again!" she cried,-"pretending that you know. I tell you women are women's best friends. What help have you given to me to run straight, for all your hot air about thinking so much of me? You've stuck around my flat until I had to put you out-you've never sheltered or protected me in any way. Men are broad-minded toward women's characters because they do not care whether women are good or not-they would rather that they were not. I do not mean all men,-William was different, and there are plenty like him-but I mean men like you who run around with soldiers' wives and slam the women who are our friends, and who are really concerned about us. You are twenty years older than I am. You're always blowing about how much you know about women-also the world. Why didn't you advise me not to make a fool of myself?"

Sergeant Brown leaned over and patted her hand. "There now, Trixie," he said, "don't get excited; you're the best girl in town, only you're too high-strung. Haven't I always stood by you? Did I ever turn you down, even when these high-brow ladies gave you the glassy eye? Why are you going back on a friend now? You had lots to say about the Daughter of the Empire who came to see you the last time."

"She wasn't nice to me," said Mrs. Tweed; "but she meant well, anyway. But I'm getting ashamed of myself now-for I see I am not playing the game. Things have gone wrong through no fault of ours. The whole world has gone wrong, and it's up to us to bring it right if we can. These women are doing their share-they've given up everything. But what have I done? I let William go, of course, and that's a lot, for I do think a lot of William; but I am not doing my own share. Running around to the stores, eating late suppers, saying snippy things about other women, and giving people an excuse for not giving to the Patriotic Fund. You and I sitting here to-day, eating expensive things, are not helping to win the war, I can tell you."

"But my dear girl," he interrupted, "whose business is it? and what has happened to you anyway? I didn't bring you here to tell me my patriotic duty. I like you because you amuse me with your smart speeches. I don't want to be lectured-and I won't have it."

Mrs. Tweed arose and began to put on her gloves. "Here's where we part," she said; "I am going to begin to do my part, just as I see it. I've signed on-I've joined the great Win-the-War-Party. You should try it, Sergeant Brown. We have no exact rules to go by-we are self-governed. It is called the honor system; each one rules himself. It's quite new to me, but I expect to know more about it."

"Sit down!" he said sternly; "people are looking at you-they think we are quarreling; I am not done yet, and neither are you. Sit down!"

She sat down and apologized. "I am excited, I believe," she said; "people generally are when they enlist; and although I stood up, I had no intention of going, for the bill has not come yet and I won't go without settling my share of it."

"Forget it!" he said warmly; "this isn't a Dutch treat. What have I done that you should hit me a slam like this?"

"It isn't a slam," she said; "it is quite different. I want to run straight and fair-and I can't do it and let you pay for my meals; there's no sense in women being sponges. I know we have been brought up to beat our way. 'Be pretty, and all things will be added unto you,' is the first commandment, and the one with the promise. I've laid hold on that all my life, but to-day I am giving it up. The old way of training women nearly got me, but not quite-and now I am making a new start. It isn't too late. The old way of women always being under an obligation to men has started us wrong. I'm not blaming you or any one, but I'm done with it. If you see things as I do, you'll be willing to let me pay. Don't pauperize me any more and make me feel mean."

"Oh, go as far as you like!" he said petulantly. "Pay for me, too, if you like-don't leave me a shred of self-respect. This all comes of giving women the vote. I saw it coming, but I couldn't help it! I like the old-fashioned women best-but don't mind me!"

"I won't," she said; "nothing is the same as it was. How can anything go on the same? We have to change to meet new conditions and I'm starting to-day. I'm going to give up my suite and get a job-anything-maybe dishwashing. I'm going to do what I can to bring things right. If every one will do that, the country is safe."

* * *

In a certain restaurant there is a little waitress with clustering black hair and saucy little turned-up nose. She moves quickly, deftly, decidedly, and always knows what to do. She is young, pretty, and bright, and many a man has made up his mind to speak to her and ask her to "go out and see a show"; but after exchanging a few remarks with her, he changes his mind. Something tells him it would not go! She carries trays of dishes from eight-thirty to six every day except Sunday. She has respectfully refused to take her allowance from the Patriotic Fund, explaining that she has a job. The separation allowance sent to her from the Militia Department at Ottawa goes directly into the bank, and she is able to add to it sometimes from her wages.

The people in the block where Mrs. Tweed lived will tell you that she suddenly gave up her suite and moved away and they do not know where she went, but they are very much afraid she was going "wrong." What a lot of pleasant surprises there will be for people when they get to heaven!

* * *

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