The Search (Chapter 4, page 2 of 7)


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Chapter 4

Off beyond the drill-field whichever way they looked, there were barracks the color of the dust, and long stark roads, new and rough, the color of the barracks, with jitneys and trucks and men like ants crawling furiously back and forth upon them all animated by the same great necessity that had brought the men here. Even the sky seemed yellow like the dust. The trees were gone except at the edges of the camp, cut down to make way for more barracks, in even ranks like men.

Out beyond the barracks mimic trenches were being dug, and puppets hung in long lines for mock enemies. There were skeleton bridges to cross, walls to scale, embankments to jump over, and all, everything, was that awful olive-drab color till the souls of the new-made soldiers cried out within them for a touch of scarlet or green or blue to relieve the dreary monotony. Sweat and dust and grime, weariness, homesickness, humbled pride, these were the tales of the first days of those men gathered from all quarters who were pioneers in the first camps.

Corporal Cameron marched his awkward squad back and forth, through all the various manoeuvres, again and again, giving his orders in short, sharp tones, his face set, his heart tortured with the thought of the long months and years of this that might be before him. The world seemed most unfriendly to him these days. Not that it had ever been over kind, yet always before his native wit and happy temperament had been able to buoy him up and carry him through hopefully. Now, however, hope seemed gone. This war might last till he was too old to carry out any of his dreams and pull himself out of the place where fortune had dropped him. Gradually one thought had been shaping itself clearly out of the days he had spent in camp. This life on earth was not all of existence. There must be something bigger beyond. It wasn't sane and sensible to think that any God would allow such waste of humanity as to let some suffer all the way through with nothing beyond to compensate. There was a meaning to the suffering. There must be. It must be a preparation for something beyond, infinitely better and more worth while. What was it and how should he learn the meaning of his own particular bit?

John Cameron had never thought about religion before in his life. He had believed in a general way in a God, or thought he believed, and that a book called the Bible told about Him and was the authentic place to learn how to be good. The doubts of the age had not touched him because he had never had any interest in them. In the ordinary course of events he might never have thought about them in relation to himself until he came to die--perhaps not then. In college he had been too much engrossed with other things to listen to the arguments, or to be influenced by the general atmosphere of unbelief. He had been a boy whose inner thoughts were kept under lock and key, and who had lived his heart life absolutely alone, although his rich wit and bubbling merriment had made him a general favorite where pure fun among the fellows was going. He loved to "rough house" as he called it, and his boyish pranks had always been the talk of the town, the envied of the little boys; but no one knew his real, serious thoughts. Not even his mother, strong and self-repressed like himself, had known how to get down beneath the surface and commune with him. Perhaps she was afraid or shy.

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