The Search (Chapter 2, page 2 of 7)


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Chapter 2

Now she watched them seriously and found to her astonishment that she knew many of them. There were three college fellows in the front ranks whom she had met. She had danced with them and been taken out to supper by them, and had a calling acquaintance with their sisters. The sister of one stood on the sidewalk now in the common crowd, quite near to the runabout, and seemed to have forgotten that anybody was by. Her face was drenched with tears and her lips were quivering. Behind her was a gray-haired woman with a skewey blouse and a faded dark blue serge skirt too long for the prevailing fashion. The tears were trickling down her cheeks also; and an old man with a crutch, and a little round-eyed girl, seemed to belong to the party. The old man's lips were set and he was looking at the boys with his heart in his eyes.

Ruth shrank back not to intrude upon such open sorrow, and glanced at the line again as they straggled down the road to the platform; fifty serious, grave-eyed young men with determined mien and sorrow in the very droop of their shoulders. One could see how they hated all this publicity and display, this tense moment of farewell in the eyes of the town; and yet how tender they felt toward those dear ones who had gathered thus to do them honor as they went away to do their part in the great world-struggle for liberty.

As she looked closer the girl saw they were not mature men as at first glance they had seemed, but most of them mere boys. There was the boy that mowed the Macdonald lawn, and the yellow-haired grocery boy. There was the gas man and the nice young plumber who fixed the leak in the water pipes the other day, and the clerk from the post office, and the cashier from the bank! What made them look so old at first sight? Why, it was as if sorrow and responsibility had suddenly been put upon them like a garment that morning for a uniform, and they walked in the shadow of the great sadness that had come upon the world. She understood that perhaps even up to the very day before, they had most of them been merry, careless boys; but now they were men, made so in a night by the horrible sin that had brought about this thing called War.

For the first time since the war began Ruth Macdonald had a vision of what the war meant. She had been knitting, of course, with all the rest; she had spent long mornings at the Red Cross rooms--she was on her way there this very minute when Michael and the procession had interrupted her course--she had made miles of surgical dressings and picked tons of oakum. She had bade her men friends cheery good-byes when they went to Officers' Training Camps, and with the other girls welcomed and admired their uniforms when they came home on short furloughs, one by one winning his stripes and commission. They were all men whom she had known in society. They had wealth and position and found it easy to get into the kind of thing that pleased them in the army or navy. The danger they were facing seemed hardly a negligible quantity. It was the fashion to look on it that way. Ruth had never thought about it before. She had even been severe in her judgment of a few mothers who worried about their sons and wanted to get them exempt in some way. But these stern loyal mothers who stood in close ranks with heavy lines of sacrifice upon their faces, tears on their cheeks, love and self-abnegation in their eyes, gave her a new view of the world. These were the ones who would be in actual poverty, some of them, without their boys, and whose lives would be empty indeed when they went forth. Ruth Macdonald had never before realized the suffering this war was causing individuals until she saw the faces of those women with their sons and brothers and lovers; until she saw the faces of the brave boys, for the moment all the rollicking lightness gone, and only the pain of parting and the mists of the unknown future in their eyes.

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