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Dec. 15, 19—.
There’s no use talking, I can never be the same again. My life is wrecked—ruined—blighted; my heart is broken, my faith in Man shattered, but try as I like I can’t forget him. His image is graven on my heart, and there it will be until I die. But for all that, I hate him—hate him—hate him! I don’t want to be unpatriotic, but I do hope he gets killed in the very first battle he’s in. Then at least she won’t have him! But a few short weeks ago I was a mere child, playing at life, a schoolgirl, carefree and heedless, with no other thought in the world beside winning the freshman basketball championship and surviving midyear’s; to-day I am a woman, old in experience, having eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge and found it bitter as gall. And I must bear it all alone, because if I told the girls here they would laugh at me, and some would be spiteful enough to be glad about it. But I have to tell somebody or explode, and I know you will neither laugh nor tell anybody, being a perfect Tombstone on secrets.
It’s really all Agony and Oh-Pshaw’s fault anyway, for being born. Not that that actually had anything to do with it, but if they hadn’t been born they wouldn’t have had any birthday, and if they hadn’t had any birthday they wouldn’t have given that box party to the LAST OF THE WINNEBAGOS and I never would have met Captain Bannister.
You will readily understand, Katherine, how I burn to serve my country at a time like this. There is nothing I would not do to save her from the clutches of the enemy. It is all very well to say that woman’s part in the war is to knit socks and sweaters and fold bandages and conserve the Food Supply, for that is all that the average woman would be capable of doing anyhow, but as for me, I know that my part is to be a much more definite and a far nobler one. Of course, I do all the other things, too, along with the other Winnies and the whole college, for that matter; joined the Patriotic League, go to Red Cross two nights a week and go without sugar and wheat as much as possible. When I wrote and told Nyoda that I hadn’t eaten one speck of candy for three months except what was given me and was sending the money I usually spent for it to the Belgians, she said I ought to have the Cross of the Legion of Honor, and that “greater love hath no man than this, that he give up the craving of his stomach for his country.” You see, Nyoda understands perfectly what it means to have an awful candy hunger gnawing at your vitals like the vulture at the giant’s liver and look the other way when you go past a window full of your favorite bon-bons. But somehow candy doesn’t seem so satisfying when you know there are little Belgian and French children suffering from a much worse gnawing than candy hunger, and usually dropping the price of a box of bonbons into the Relief Fund stops the craving almost as much as the bonbons themselves would.
But this is only doing what thousands of other girls all over the country are doing and there isn’t any individual glory in it. What I long to do is carry the message that saves the army from destruction, or discover the spy at his nefarious work. If only the chance would come for me to do something like that I could die happy.
Agony and Oh-Pshaw’s birthday celebration was quite an event. We had luncheon first at the Golden Dragon, a wonderful new Chinese restaurant that was recently opened, and had chop suey and chow main and other funny things in a little stall lit up with a gorgeous blue and gold lantern. Of course, after that luncheon and the funny toasts we made to the long life and health of Agony and Oh-Pshaw, we felt pretty frolicsome, and by the time we got settled in our seats at the Opera House we were ready to start something. Our seats were in the first row of the balcony, center aisle, and very prominent. I had my knitting along as usual, intending to do a few rows between the acts. I always knit in public places; it sets a good example to other people. Besides, my new knitting bag is too sweet for anything.
I had just got started knitting in the intermission between the first and second acts when the orchestra began to play “Over There,” and Agony got an inspiration. “Let’s all stand up,” she whispered, “and see how many people will bite and stand up, too.”
So, stifling our giggles, we sprang promptly to our feet and stood stiffly at attention. In less than a minute more than half of the audience, not knowing why they should stand up for that piece, but blindly following our lead, gathered up their hats, wraps and programs in their arms and dutifully stood up. Then as soon as they were standing we sat down and laughed at the poor dupes, who sat down in a hurry when they saw us, looking terribly foolish. I haven’t seen anything so funny in a long time.
“Stop laughing,” said Gladys, giving me a poke with her elbow. “You’re shaking the seat so I’m getting seasick.” But I couldn’t stop.
“Look out, Hinpoha, there goes your knitting,” said Migwan. “Catch it, somebody!”
But it was too late. When we stood up I had laid the sock and the ball of yarn on the broad, low rail in front of us, and now the ball had rolled over the edge and dropped down into the audience below, right into the lap of a young man who was sitting on the end seat. He looked up in great surprise and everybody laughed. They just roared! There I stood, leaning over the balcony, hanging on to the sock for dear life and trying to keep it from raveling, and there he stood down below holding onto the ball, and plainly puzzled what to do with it.
“Throw down the sock, silly,” whispered Agony, reaching over and pulling my sleeve. “Do you think he’s going to throw up the ball?”
I dropped the sock and the man caught it in his other hand and stood there laughing, as he started to wind up the yards and yards of yarn between the ball and the sock. When he had it wound up he brought it upstairs to me. I went out into the corridor to get it. Then for the first time I got a good look at the man. He was dressed in uniform and wore an officer’s cap. He was very tall and slim, with black eyes and hair and a small black mustache.
“Here, patriotic little knitting lady,” he said, making a deep bow and handing me my knitting. I looked up into his handsome, smiling face, and little needle points began pricking in my spine. His eyes met mine, he smiled, blushed to the roots of his hair and looked away. All in one instant I knew. I had met my fate. This was my Man, my own. I felt faint and light-headed and all I could see was his black eyes shining like stars. His deep, thrilling voice still rang in my ears. With another low bow he turned to leave me.
“Captain Bannister, at your service,” he said.
I went back to my seat with my head swimming. “Patriotic little knitting lady,” I found myself whispering under my breath. The girls suddenly seemed awfully young and silly as they sat there giggling at me and at each other. My mind was above all such childish things; it was soaring up in the blue realms of true love. I was glad he was tall and thin. I think fat girls should marry thin men, don’t you? And he was dark, too, just the right mate for redheaded me. And he was a Captain in the army! How the other girls would envy me! Some of them had friends who were lieutenants and were quite uppish about it, but none that I knew had a Captain.
Then at another thought my heart stood still. Suppose he should be killed? I pictured myself in deep mourning, wearing on my breast the medal he had won for bravery, which with his dying breath he had asked his comrades to send to “my wife!” I couldn’t help brushing away a tear then and was quite bewildered when Agony poked me and wanted to know if I wasn’t ever going to make a move to go home. The show was over and the people were streaming out. I hadn’t seen a bit of the last two acts.
Down in the lobby I saw Him again. He was standing by the door talking to another man in uniform. How he stood out among all other men! He was one out of a thousand. My heart beat to suffocation and I couldn’t raise my eyes. In a moment more I must pass him. I tried to look straight ahead, but something I couldn’t resist drew my head around and I turned and looked straight into his eyes. He tilted back his head and gave me one long, thrilling glance, raised his hand to his cap, then blushed and looked down. Just then Gladys pulled at my sleeve and dragged me over to some girls we knew and we were swept out with the crowd to the sidewalk.
I scarcely knew where I was going. My feet walked along between Gladys and Migwan, but my soul was in the clouds, listening to strains of heavenly music, while the others squabbled over ice cream flavors and who should stand treat after the show. Ice cream! Ye gods! Who could eat ice cream with their soul seething in love?
From that hour when I had looked into Captain Bannister’s eyes and read the truth in them, I was a changed being. I listened in silence to the idle chatter of the girls around me as we walked to and from classes. Their souls were wrapped up in their knitting, in their lessons, in their meals. Agony and Oh-Pshaw were trying to learn a new and difficult back dive and they talked of nothing else night and day. They were constantly at me to come and try it, too, but I sat loftily apart, hugging my delicious secret. As it says in the poem we learned in literature class:
“What were the garden bowers of Thebes to me?”
Like Semele, I scorned the sports of mortals and thought only of my Beloved. I didn’t envy her a bit because her Love was Jupiter. What was Jupiter compared to Captain Bannister?
Twice I had seen him since that day in the theater—had spoken to him, in fact. He was stationed in the recruiting office and one day I happened to be walking past with old Professor Remie and he knew him and stopped and talked and introduced me. As if we needed any introduction! We chatted of commonplaces, but all the while our eyes told volumes. However, soul cannot speak to soul in a public recruiting station where curious eyes are looking on.
I had an errand uptown every day after that. Only once did I see him as I passed the recruiting station, however. Then he was throwing out a Socialist who had tried to stop the recruiting and he didn’t see me.
But the next day there came a perfectly huge box of chocolates, addressed quaintly to “Miss Bradford, Somewhere in Purgatory.” Inside the box was a card which read:
“The strand you dropped with careless art
Has wound itself around my heart.”
Underneath was written “Captain Bannister,” in a bold, masculine hand.
I buried the chocolates in the depths of my shirtwaist box where no profane eye could see them or profane tooth bite into them. I didn’t mean to be selfish, but I just couldn’t bear to pass his chocolates around to the crowd and hear Agony’s delighted squeal as she dove into them,
“Come on, girls, have one on Hinpoha’s latest crush!”
For Agony has absolutely no understanding of affairs of the heart—everything is a “crush” to her.
The chocolates were fine and I ate a great many of them, thinking of my Captain all the while, and wondering when I would see him again.
“Hinpoha, what on earth is the matter with you?” said Gladys that night. “You didn’t eat a bite of supper and you’re as pale as a ghost. Have you upset your stomach again?”
I drew myself up haughtily. The idea! To call this delicious turmoil in my bosom an upset stomach! I was glad I looked pale. I am usually as red as a beet. It was more in keeping with the way I felt to be pale.
“I am not myself,” I replied loftily, “but it’s not my stomach.”
“Go to bed, honey,” said Gladys, “and I’ll bring you a glass of hot water.”
I curled up in bed with Captain Bannister’s card in my hand under the pillow. I was so happy I felt dizzy. Gladys came back with the hot water and made me drink it in spite of my protests, and, strange to say, I felt much calmer after it.
Needless to say, I couldn’t pin my mind down on my lessons. I did such queer things that people began to notice it. For instance, mild old Professor Remie, the chemistry teacher, handed back my paper one day after he had given us a written lesson on the Atomic Theory, and inquired in a puzzled tone if I had meant just what I wrote. I glanced at it and blushed furiously when I realized that I had written down some lines that had been running through my head all day:
“Why do I fearfully cling to thee, Maidenhood?
’Tis but a pearl to be cast in thy waves, O Love!”
Then one day the word went around that He was coming to make a speech in the college chapel. How my heart fluttered! I could hardly sit still in the seat when he came out on the platform. It seemed as if everyone could hear what my heart was saying. Soon that deep voice of his was filling the room, thrilling me with unearthly things. Again and again his eyes sought mine, full of joyous recognition, of love and longing. I smiled reassuringly, trying to telegraph the message, “Be patient, all will be well.”
To myself I was singing, “O Captain, my Captain!”
Unknown to himself, I had seen him before he came into chapel. I was stooping down in the shadow of the gymnasium steps, tying my shoestring, when he came along the walk and was met by Dr. Thorn, our President. They stood there and talked a minute and I heard Captain Bannister say that he was going to Washington that afternoon on the five o’clock train and that he was going directly from the college to the station. He carried a small black handbag, which Dr. Thorn offered to relieve him of, but he said no, he didn’t want to leave it out of his hand even for a minute, there were valuable papers in it.
When he came out on the platform I noticed that he had the bag with him. He set it down on the table while he talked and never got very far away from it. I looked at that bag with deep interest. What was in it? Something terribly important, I knew. I thrilled with pride that my Captain should have such great things to look after, and longed to be of service to him.
His speech came to an end all too soon for me, who could have gone on listening for a week, and he went out before the rest of us were dismissed. No chance to speak to me or give me one word of farewell for the brief separation; only one long, lingering look between us that left me shaken to the soul. Now I knew what the Poet meant when he spoke of “the troth of glance and glance.”
I wandered around by myself after he had gone. I didn’t desire to speak to any of the girls or have them speak to me. I just wanted to be by myself. Roaming thus I came to the little rustic summerhouse in the park behind the college buildings, and stopped in to rest a moment. It was a lovely mild day, not a bit like winter, and not too cold to sit in a summerhouse and dream. I didn’t sit down, though. For on the bark-covered bench I spied something that brought my heart up into my mouth. It was Captain Bannister’s bag. No doubt about it. There was his name on a card tied to the handle. How came it here? They must have shown him around the grounds after his speech and in some way he had put the bag down in here and then gone off and forgotten it. How dreadful he would feel when he found it out!
My mind was made up in a minute. Here was a real chance to “Give Service.” If I hurried I could get down to the station and catch him before he got on the train. I made sure from the watchman that he had left the college grounds. I looked at my wrist watch. It was quarter to five. Without a moment’s hesitation I picked up the bag and ran out to the street. I caught a car right away and sank down in a seat breathless, but easy in my mind, because the station was only a ten minutes’ ride in the car.
Then, of course, something had to happen. A sand wagon was in the cartrack ahead of us and the motorman jingled his bell so furiously that the driver got excited and pulled the lever that dumped the whole load of sand on the car track.
I jumped out of the car and looked wildly up and down the road to see if there was a taxi in sight. There wasn’t; nothing but a motor truck from the glue factory. There was something covered with canvas in the back of it, and I knew instinctively that it was a dead horse. Did I hesitate a second? Not I. For the sake of my Captain and my country I would have endured anything. I hailed the driver. “I’ll give you a dollar if you’ll take me to the station,” I panted.
The driver laughed out loud. “This is some depoe hack,” he said, “but if you can stand it I guess I can.”
With that he gave me a sidewise glance that was meant to be admiring, I suppose, but I froze him with a look and climbed gravely up beside him.
“It is very important that I be there in time for the five o’clock train,” I remarked by way of explanation.
“You ain’t running away from school, are you?” inquired the driver genially.
“I am not,” I replied frigidly, and looked loftily past him for the remainder of the five minutes’ ride to the station.
I flung the man the dollar and was out of the truck before he had time to say a word, and raced into the long waiting room of the station. I could have shouted with relief when I saw on the blackboard the notice that the five o’clock train for Washington was forty minutes late. I was in time!
But where was Captain Bannister? Nowhere in sight. I walked up and down the length of the waiting room several times, growing more nervous every minute. Suppose that he had discovered that he had left the bag behind and gone back after it only to find it gone? The thought made my blood run cold. Would he come down to the train at all without the bag? Would he not go back and search for it, alarming the whole college? And all the while I had it safe with me! What should I do? Should I go back and run the risk of missing him, or stay and see if he came? One thing I could do. I could telephone back to the college and find out if he had returned for it.
I had just gotten inside the telephone booth and was ringing up the number when there was a commotion in the upper end of the waiting room and a large party of people entered, men and women and soldiers and young girls, laughing and shrieking and pelting somebody with rice and old shoes. Soon they came past the booth and I caught a glimpse of the bride and groom. The telephone receiver fell out of my hand and my heart stopped beating. For there, in the midst of that crowd, laughing and dodging the showers of rice, and hanging for dear life to the arm of a pretty young girl in a traveling suit, was Captain Bannister, my Captain! I shrank back into the depths of the telephone booth and struggled to swallow the lump in my throat. Bits of talk floated in through the closed door.
“Thought you’d do it up quietly this morning and then sneak out this afternoon without anybody finding it out,” I heard a voice shout, as a fresh shower of rice flew through the air.
“Went out and made a speech this afternoon, too, just as unconcerned as if it wasn’t his wedding day,” said another voice. “Pretty sly, Captain. They ought to put you in the diplomatic service. You’d be an ornament.”
I crouched miserably in the telephone booth, trying to collect my scattered thoughts. My Captain was married this morning! How I hated that pretty girl clinging to him and laughing as the showers of rice fell around her!
Then all of a sudden my hand touched the bag on the floor. The papers! In the excitement of his wedding day he had forgotten them! Well, even if he had, I hadn’t. I would still serve my country if it did nearly kill me to go out there and face Captain Bannister. I shut my eyes and prayed for strength. It would have been so easy to slip out and throw the bag over the bridge into the river, and get Captain Bannister into a bad predicament. But I did not waver in my duty. Opening the door of the booth softly, I crept out. Resolutely I approached the crowd and walked right up to Captain Bannister.
“Here are the papers, Captain Bannister,” I said in a voice I tried to make coldly sarcastic, as is fitting when talking to a man who has let his wedding make him forget his country’s business.
Captain Bannister whirled around and faced me with a look of astonishment that changed to annoyance when he saw the bag. He did not offer to take it from my outstretched hand. He could not look into my eyes. He stood there, his face getting redder every minute, while the people stared curiously. At last he pulled himself together and took the bag. “Thank you,” he said in a flat voice.
A dozen hands pulled the bag away from him. “Let’s see the papers, Banny,” called several voices. “Are they the plans of your wedding journey or your new home?”
He made a desperate effort to regain possession of the bag, but they kept it away from him and opened it. Then such a roar of laughter went up as I have never heard. Everybody was laughing but the bride, and she looked like a thundercloud. Soon the things from the bag were being handed around and I saw what they were. They were a girl’s ballet dress, very flimsy and very short and very much bespangled; a pair of light blue silk stockings and a pair of high-heeled dancing slippers.
Standing on the edge of the crowd I heard one man explain to another, between snorts of laughter, how Captain Bannister had taken part in a show that the soldiers had given a week before and had worn that ballet dress. His bride-to-be had been at the show, and being a very straight-laced sort of a person had been very much shocked at the men dressed as girls. She didn’t know that Captain Bannister had been one of them, and he didn’t intend that she should find out. Some of his friends knew this and for a joke they got hold of the handbag in which he had packed his clothes for his wedding journey and hid them away, putting in the ballet dress instead. He found it out on the way out to the college, and conceived the brilliant idea of leaving it there. He figured that a suit like that found in a girls’ college would cause no commotion; nothing like what would happen if his bride should find it among his things. But of all things—here the man who was telling all this nearly turned inside out—somebody sees him leave the bag behind and chases after him with it!
I fled without ever looking behind. My heart was broken, my life wrecked, my hopes shattered. My Captain, my Man, whose eyes had told me the secret of his love, was pledged to another! If I hadn’t known it beyond any doubt, I wouldn’t have believed such perfidy possible. And the “valuable papers” he was carrying around were nothing but a girl’s dancing dress! For this I had raced to catch the train, for this I had ridden on a truck with a dead horse! No doubt he had lied to Dr. Thorn about the bag, because he was afraid he would find out what really was in it.
Righteous anger drowned my heartbroken tears. With head high I wandered down to the swimming pool in the gym and prepared to go in.
“Oh, Hinpoha, come and watch me do the new back dive,” called Agony. She mounted the diving platform and went off badly, striking the water with the flat of her back and making a splash like a house falling into the water. She righted herself and swam around lazily.
“Hinpoha,” she said suddenly, popping her head out of the water like a devil fish, “what did you ever do with them all? I expected to get at least one.”
“What did I do with what?” I asked in bewilderment.
“Chocolates, sweet cherub,” said Agony, kicking the water into foam with her feet. “I sent you five pounds.”
“You sent them?” I echoed blankly.
“Yes, dearest child, I sent them, and it took the last of my birthday check. Who did you think sent them?” And with a malicious grin she sank down under the surface of the water.
So it had been Agony who had sent the chocolates, and not Captain Bannister! I might have known—— Oh, what a fool I had been!
“What did you do with them all?” came Agony’s teasing voice from the other end of the pool, where she had risen to take the air.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” I said mysteriously.
Agony looked at me gravely for a minute. “Didn’t I hear Gladys putting you to bed that night and going off for hot water?” she murmured dreamily. “Seems to me I have a faint, far off recollection.” She made little snorting noises, plainly in imitation of a pig, and sank below the surface again.
I was filled with a blind fury at Agony. I wanted to jump on her and choke her. I had been standing on the diving board and on the spur of the moment I went off backwards. I had only one thought in my mind; to reach Agony and duck her as she deserved. There was a great shout as I went off, followed by a round of applause.
“What is it?” I asked, coming up and blinking stupidly at the knot of watchers gathered around the pool.
“The Hawaiian dive!” they cried. “You did it perfectly. Do it again.”
Agony came up out of the pool and watched enviously. For four weeks she had been practising that dive and hadn’t mastered it yet. I hadn’t ever hoped to learn it. And here I had done it the very first time! They made me do it again and again, and clapped until the ceiling echoed as I got the somersault in every time. It was glorious. I forgave Agony for fooling me about the Captain; I even forgave the Captain for the time being. He could go off and get married if he wanted to; I could do the Hawaiian back dive!
“How did you ever do it?” asked Agony enviously, as we dressed together, “somersault and all? Do you really think there’s any chance of my ever doing it?”
“Sure, you’ll do it some day,” I replied out of the fullness of my wisdom,—“if you get mad enough.”
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