‘You get there at 9.23,’said Mrs. Latimer.
‘Do I, my dear?’ he said.
‘I looked it up when I bought your ticket, and I have written Harriet to have a cold supper ready for you. I don’t trust the food in the diner overmuch. ’ She ran an expert eye over the little heap of luggage at his feet. ‘I think you have everything, — bag, umbrella, raincoat, golf-sticks, — and here are some magazines I have picked out; the right kind.’ She smiled. Without looking he knew they were the allfiction magazines and not disturbing. ‘And I think I will say good-bye.’
‘There’s still ten minutes,’ said Latimer.
‘I’d rather not wait,’ she said; and lifted up her face to be kissed.
He had to bend his lips to the level of his shoulders.
‘My dear,’ he said, ‘I want to beg your pardon.’
‘I have been hard to live with.’
‘Nonsense,’ she said. ‘Take care of yourself. Go to bed early. Don’t overeat. Walk every day, but not in the sun. Don’t read except what I send you. And no excitement. Good-bye.’
She took her kiss and walked down the platform without haste and without bravado. But there was about the parting of this elderly pair an unmistakable aroma of sentiment which drew an amused smile from the pretty young woman in a green sporting coat who was saying her modern, indifferent, clipped farewell to a young man in a paddock coat and gray spats.
All the way down the platform Latimer watched his wife’s resolute, tiny figure. Then he beckoned to a porter and climbed, breathing heavily, up the steps of the car. His great, unathletic bulk filled the passageway.
Latimer told the truth. He had been hard to live with ever since the first of August, 1914, although that was not the reason of his banishment to Sister Harriet’s place up-state. He was being sent away for his own good, as far as possible from the War, which from the first day had laid hold of his soul’s peace and put it to the rack. Every campaign in the three continents and on and under the seas had been fought simultaneously somewhere in Latimer. His heart was seldom out of the trenches. The war had mobilized him more completely than if it had placed a rifle in his hands and sent him to the firing line. It had not altered his habits; he was as fond as ever of rich foods, of wine on occasion, of his afternoon nap, of friendship, of loud and colored talk, of the buoyant, intellectual, epicurean, big-city existence in which his robust being was at ease after thirty years on a college campus. But the war had shaken the foundations of his daily practice. It would sweep upon him and empty all life of its meaning. The war would descend upon him on bright summer mornings, as he was shaving or lacing his shoes.
‘ Why am I doing this? ’ he would say. ‘Over there men are flat in the mud with unseeing eyes to the sky.’ He woke nights, lest Russia conclude a separate peace. He hurt his digestion by thinking suddenly of Bethmann-Hollweg.
‘You are particularly fond of veal,’ Mrs. Latimer would complain, ‘and you have n’t touched it.’ Veal, she was saying; and if casualties on the Aisne continued to mount up, how long could poor France stand it?
He lost his temper frequently. To be sure, after you had called a man a scoundrel at your own table, you could always telephone to him at midnight in an agony of repentance and beg his pardon. Still, it was a strain on friendship and it was very bad for his bloodpressure. He could not deny it.: as one dear old lady told him to his face, his views on the war did not show good taste. That was after she had suggested a way of combating the submarines and Latimer had shouted, ‘Nonsense!’
Decidedly, if Mrs. Latimer had not been living with him for thirty-five years, she would have found it hard to live with him now. His going was by the doctor’s orders. He was not sorry to go. He longed for the peace of mind that had been his before Von Kluck outflanked it. He was fond of Sister Harriet’s cooking. He took his golfclubs along as a matter of etiquette; what he would do would be to walk — ‘I am still good for fifteen miles a day, my friend.’
‘Three miles a day will do nicely the first week,’ said Dr. Gross. ‘And only one newspaper a day, the smaller the headlines the better. No letters; as little conversation as you can live on. Work in the garden, take your good old Walter Scott along and go to sleep over him whenever you feel like it.’
‘There’s more life and wit in a page of Scott,’ shouted Latimer, ‘than in a trunkful of your Wellses and Bennetts.’
‘All right,’ said Dr. Gross. ‘I said anything that will keep you quiet. If you can go to sleep on Bennett, I have no objections.’
‘I have never read him and never will,’ sputtered Latimer.
‘But why shout?’ said the doctor. ‘And remember, if you behave yourself, you can come back in a month. If not, it’s for the duration of the war!’
He began by obeying orders. He dozed while the train ran across the desolation of the Hackensack meadows and climbed the foothills of commuterland. He woke in fifteen minutes greatly refreshed. Mrs. Latimer’s resolution must have given way when she laid in her stock of light literature for his journey. Tucked away among the all-fiction magazines he found a copy of the Nation. Manfully he passed by the editorials, the foreign correspondence, the letters to the editor and the chronicle of the week, to give himself to a lengthy review on a New Syllabary of Early Babylonian, a subject of which he knew nothing whatever, but which he could always follow with interest. It was one of those conscientious bits of work in which the reviewer points out that the author has erred in rendering an obscure text, ‘I, the King, have built six temples for my glory,’ and that the proper translation would rather be, ‘I, the King, have bestowed six oxen on my daughters (nieces?)’ He read the article through, and was on the whole inclined to believe that oxen and daughters was the sounder version. From Babylonia he drifted on to a letter on the London dramatic season by the wise and gentle William Archer. In the middle of the second page a name caught his eye and he read quickly for half a minute.
‘That is a lie!’ he called out; so loudly that the lady in a black velvet hat with a green veil in the next chair turned to look at him. He did not notice her. He was staring for the second time at the lines that had roused him to such swift condemnation.
‘There are some things for which war destroys one’s palate,’ Mr. Archer wrote,‘and Mr. Shaw’s persiflage is one of them. His whole habit of mind is out of place in such a crisis, and I cannot but think that an uneasy consciousness of this fact leads him to exaggerate his foibles and to assume an aloofness, not to say a callousness, which he does not really feel. He gives one the impression of caring for nothing so long as he can crack his joke. I am sure that in this he does his real nature injustice.’
‘That is a lie,’ said Latimer, and threw the paper from him. There was hot wrath in his eyes and his face was a dull red in its framework of closeclipped whiskers. ‘ Injustice to Bernard Shaw’s real nature! This is his real nature!’
The lady in the black velvet hat made up her mind about him and returned to her magazine.
He had read much of the real nature of the author of Man and Superman. He had heard anecdotes of the man’s kindliness; the secret charities that lay behind the mask of japing irreverence. He had wished them to be true, but this war had made it impossible. Yes, there are people who do not wear their hearts upon their sleeves. Yes, there are shy people who will scold to conceal the shame of tenderness. But there must be a limit. ‘I refuse to believe,’ said Latimer to himself, ‘ that there is a real nature which can be permanently concealed. Smith robs his employer and shoots his wife in a drunken rage. Very well, perhaps I do not know his real nature. But when Smith reveals a talent for burning down orphan asylums, when he takes pleasure in administering poison to canary birds, when he likes to jostle cripples from the sidewalk into the traffic,’ — Latimer cudgeled his brains for specimens of Smith’s iniquity,— ‘please, please, don’t ask me to fix my mind on the man’s real nature. Or at least tell me when that real nature will exhibit itself. If the calvary of a world, if the blood of millions, if the dead of the Lusitania and the babies slain by the Zeppelin, if the spectacle of a world in dissolution and rebirth, is not enough to bring out the real nature in Bernard Shaw, then tell me what will. Nothing! Nothing!’
‘I beg your pardon,’ said the lady in the green veil. ‘Were you addressing me?’
Latimer turned utterly red.
‘I beg yours, madam; I was only talking to myself,’ he said.
‘Oh,’ said the lady, and went back to her magazine.
‘ I am violating orders,’ thought Latimer. ‘ I must be calm.’ And he went to look for calm in the smoking compartment. It was dinner-time and he had the place to himself. He lit a cigar and watched the shadows falling on the hillside.
‘The trouble with me,’ thought Latimer, ‘ is that I have no measuring-stick for life. I have no formula. I am just a sentimental old fool. I go about saying, “What does this mean, what does that mean, what does this whole idiotic, booming confusion of a world mean?” Because I have no standards and no formulæ to explain away things as they happen, they shatter me and keep me awake nights. Why should I always be agonizing over Russia and over General Nivelle and the submarines and American democracy after the war? The trouble is, I am a clumsy amateur of life.’
He thought of the others, the professionals he called them, the men of his own station in the clubs, the colleges, on the newspapers — thinkers, writers, politicians, reformers, standpatters, socialists, æsthetes, revolutionists, and Satanists, — the men who had worked out their formula, — they called it creed, — who had perfected themselves in the use of their professional yardstick, which could measure everything and appraise everything.
‘Lucky dogs,’ thought Latimer, ‘nothing can shake ’em, nothing can puzzle ’em, not even a world war. It fits into their formula, and if the war has to be clipped a bit before it fits, or the formula has to be stretched a bit, what’s the odds? But most of the time the facts are made to fit the formula. For every Socialist whom the war has converted to a new explanation, there are five who have converted the war to the Socialist explanation. The Pacifist who wrote books before the war to prove that war had become economically, socially, and psychologically impossible — will he admit now that he was in error? Not at all; the war only proves his contention, though how, I have not for the life of me been able to determine,’ thought Latimer. ‘The man who argued that only a great standing army could have kept the United States out of war— does Europe of August 1, 1914, armed to the chin, worry him? Not at all. A little twist to the facts here and a little turn to logic there, and the formula is as good as ever. Oh, the comfort of a good, double-jointed, collapsible, extension formula! Oh, the saving on a man’s heart and nerves!’
Only one cigarette at a time, Dr. Gross had said; but the question was, when did the new régime begin. Could the train journey be properly regarded as part of one’s vacation? Obviously not. Old Gross must have referred to the moment one stepped out of the train at Williamsport. But this much he would do without loss of time — he simply would not give another moment’s thought to the war. And, by heavens, he would not have another cigarette!
He picked up a picture magazine. It was sedative. Film stars; Ty Cobb in action; multimillionairesses hoeing potatoes; drawdng-room in the new 200-foot motor-yacht Aloha; Billy Sunday in action, and underneath the picture, in large type in a box, ‘Billy Sunday’s Own Formula: How I Keep Myself Fit.’
He did not study the formula. He lit a cigarette and thought of Billy Sunday and the vast roaring assemblies that went on in New York in the early months after we had entered the war. Surely the war should have made its mark on Billy Sunday and his gospel, if on any one. Here was a man whose concern was entirely with the soul; and what had not happened to the souls of men since the summer of 1914? The war could not help but drive some men, through despair of humanity, to take refuge in God. It should have driven others, through despair of finding a meaning in things, into a denial of God. Some change there must have come, and that change should have been registered in Billy Sunday, given the man’s preoccupation with God and Satan.
Latimer smiled to recall the evangelist on the platform, as he had seen him only a fortnight ago. The mental outlook, the methods, the verbiage, all the tricks of the game were exactly what they had been during the last halfdozen years. The painfully spontaneous, piping-hot sermons were the same, except for an occasional interlude of flag-waving — the timely ‘gag’ with which the vaudeville performer seasons his carefully rehearsed ‘act.’ The show was the same. For Billy Sunday the war had not been. Precisely like the chorusgirl processions with drums and flags in the Broadway midnight theatres.
No; whatever might be the effect of the war upon our world of twenty-five years from now, for the present the old formulas held. It was Business as Usual, Salvation as Usual, Militarism as Usual, Pacifism as Usual, Socialism, Suffragism, Æstheticism, Advertising, Athleticism as Usual, Mr. Bernard Shaw as Usual, Mr. H. G. Wells as Usual; even the pictured advertisements of ready-made clothes in the back of the magazine, Distinctively Different, as usual.
The clouds were scurrying in from the west, and rain-drops spattered on the sill of the open window. He took in with parted lips, gratefully, the little puffs of cold wind. The train was laboring upwards in sweeping loops; the hills were closing in from either side — shadow, mountain, cool, and wet. Everywhere was the glint and murmur and freshness of water. It was the region from which the great city one hundred and twenty miles away gathered in its drink and its cleanliness. The country was a-brim — ponds, streams, dams, bridges, rain, shallow reaches among the boulder beds, springs, rain, wells, wells —
Yes, even though Mr. Wells, as a result of the war, did discover the Kingdom of God. What then? Wells the materialist, Wells the sexualist, the irreconcilable critic of stale and shopworn faiths, the reorganizer of life in accordance with the latest schedules from the institutes of technology — was not the case of Wells the case of Ignatius Loyola, of Francis of Assisi, of Saul of Tarsus? Alas, no, Latimer felt. In this reaction of Mr. Wells to the war and to God, he saw only a busy professional spirit at work. It was the man’s business to respond to the great question of the moment, to make of himself a sensitized plate, as the hack phrase went. Precisely as the modern, acutely alive Wells had responded to the new technical education, to the new democracy, to the new woman, to the new morality, so now, ‘Hello, here is something very tremendous going on: it is a world war, it is the biggest thing yet, and I, Wells, gifted cosmic reporter, who have recorded and analyzed all kinds of social phenomena am going to tackle this huge proposition!’ And the result was the Kingdom of God. Latimer did not mean to question the sincerity of the Wellsian report; but somehow it was not quite Paul, Francis, Ignatius. It was not the case of a great event seizing on Mr. Wells and wringing his entrails.
‘ No, I take it all back,’ said Latimer. ‘I apologize. What an eager, searching spirit it is, this man Wells! Suppose he does turn out answers to the world-riddle which next week go into the junk heap? They are working hypotheses. Some day he will find the right answer. While I —’
‘The trouble with me is that at the age of sixty-two I am still drifting,’ said Latimer. ‘Too sentimental, too sincere; an ancient arteriosclerotic baby.’ For the space of five minutes he was very unhappy. Then a warm current of satisfaction invaded him. He was immensely pleased with himself at being sentimental and vibrating and utterly open-minded in a world full of shrewd, practical people.
And that in turn reminded him how hungry he was. He did not share his wife’s distrust of railway food, and since it was inevitable that he should be violating her long list of instructions, there was no harm in beginning now. Only he must not do it all at once. He picked out a table all to himself, so that no one would speak to him about the war.
A chill rain was falling when he left the train at Williamsport. He had thought that Harriet might be at the station, and had worked himself up into a fine emotional glow. She was not there. The disappointment, the rain, the dim lights and the mouldy smell of the archaic railway shed, made him feel suddenly cold and tired.
An elderly dignitary in best Sunday clothes of black, with a black bow under a turn-down collar over a starched shirt, climbed out of the driver’s seat of a buggy and shuffled across the platform. It was old Runkle, who with Mrs. Runkle comprised his sister Harriet’s domestic establishment.
At the sight of the man Latimer felt the recent evil years fall from him. Here was something of the good old solid world he once had known. Old Runkle was still wearing his heavy black worsted and starched shirt from May to October. With the first fall of snow he would put on a corduroy vest and a straw hat and so go about his labors. Why, no one had ever been able to discover. But it was good to find it so.
‘Hello, Nicholas!’ And Latimer’s hand shot out and seized Runkle’s limp fingers. ‘How’s my sister?’
‘Hrumph,’ said Runkle and turned away. He piled the luggage under the driver’s seat and climbed in.
‘And Selma?’ asked Latimer as he buttoned the flaps of the wagon against the rain.
Now Selma was Mrs. Runkle.
‘Hrumph,’ said Runkle, and clicked to the horse.
Latimer laughed. He should have remembered that Runkle’s attitude to newcomers in Williamsport was one of consistent suspicion. Runkle spoke to no one the first twenty-four hours after a meeting. Not even to Harriet when she came back from a visit to town, bringing with her presumably some of its taint. Strangers had to undergo a quarantine of three days before Runkle answered questions. It was good to find things as they had been, thought Latimer. He fell into a doze.
Harriet was not at home. The Red Cross local, Selma told him, was being reorganized at a special meeting in the Methodist church and she would probably be late. Latimer was not to sit up for her. His supper was waiting for him and his room was ready. Selma showed an inclination for light conversation. But he had eaten, and he was tired and a trifle homesick.
‘You are looking younger than ever, Selma,’ he said; ‘I think I will go to bed.'
The sun was on the grass and in his eyes when he came out on the porch next morning — the first one to stir in the house. He opened his mouth to the quickening breeze from the hills. He made no haste to renew acquaintance with his surroundings. Rather, like an elderly epicure, he let the savor of the familiar scene swim in upon him. Lazily, but with a friendly smile, he identified it bit by bit — the trees in their places, the outbuildings quite where they ought to be, and all the minute geography of the garden. He went down to the lawn to let his eye run over the old house; and finding it quite itself from cellar-window to chimney, nodded his greeting to it.
He let himself out of the gate and strolled down Main Street. The village was asleep. The ancient chairs on the porch of the general store were waiting for their daily load of sages and loafers. Behind the closed doors of the post-office lay the promise of a day’s emotion for an entire community. To Latimer there came across the years a whiff of the cool and awe which summer mornings used to bring to a lonely little boy in a small town. He would get up with the sun, slip on his clothes, and wander through such a street of drowsy shop-windows and barred doors, a street of dreams and poetry. Then, of course, he had no words to clothe the peace and wonder that encompassed him. And now that he had the words, he would often try to bring back the miracle of those fresh mornings; but it would not come except at unbidden moments and as a dissolving mist that vanished as he snatched at it.
He turned off from Main Street and into an unpaved road where the houses, close set at first, thinned out into open fields. He peered over fences into small garden-beds whose primitive colors were still wet with the dew. He stopped to listen to sleepy, metallic noises from back kitchens, where the altar fires of the common life were being lighted for the day. He smiled over the scattered childhood casualties of yesterday — a rag doll abandoned in the swinging chair in the garden because of an enforced retreat to bed; a pair of horse-reins with bells on the porchsteps; a bonnet with ribbons dangling from the door-handle.
A furious scandal-mongering was under way in the tree-tops, where the business of the day had been going on for some hours.
And then, above the chatter of the birds at their front doors, Latimer heard a squeal of pain. It came from close to the ground, apparently a few steps away, under a barbed-wire fence which enclosed a vacant lot. The sound was repeated, and Latimer, stooping close to the ground, discerned commotion in the grass under the fence. He ran to the spot, plumped down on his knees, and parting the grass with his hands, nearly let his fingers fall on a little, twitching mass of reddish-brown hair under the bottom strand of the wire. Brown eyes looked up at him in pain and fear.
‘Poor little devil!’ said Latimer. ‘Out to see the world, and seeing it with a vengeance.’
The guinea-pig, trying to slip under the wire, had caught its pelt in the prongs and succumbed to panic. It insisted on twitching forward, and so drove the barbs in deep, and as it struggled it squealed. Latimer laid a firm hand on the palpitating little body, and with the other snapped the wire upward. The little beast gave one loud cry of pain and relief, and with a squirm was out of Latimer’s grasp and scurrying back to a hutch in the neighboring garden, which it never should have left.
Latimer remained on his knees, and watched the adventurer out of sight. He saw blood on the finger of his left hand and the wire was brown with rust. For a minute or two he sucked his finger before twisting his handkerchief around it, his mind nevertheless engrossed with the departed stranger. And while he was still cording the handkerchief around his finger, with his knees in the grass, he found himself thinking aloud.
‘O guinea-pig under the barbedwire,’ said Latimer, ‘dumb brother now licking your lacerated fur, deeply humiliated, in the sympathetic family circle, take no shame for your misadventure. If you must whine, whine; but those are honorable scars, won against the hereditary enemy. More splendid reputations than yours have been ripped and torn by barbed-wire — Von Moltke and Viscount French of Ypres, Ian Hamilton and Von Kluck and Nicholas Nicholaievitch. Some have been more fortunate than others, but none has escaped from the barbedwire with a whole skin. Lick your fur without undue shame, dumb brother of the back-garden. Joffre, Friedrich Wilhelm, Kuropatkin, and Sir Douglas Haig are licking theirs.
‘Only you are greater than any of these. Who are you, you ask? I will tell you, silent brother of the back-garden and the research laboratory. You are the ultrascientific guardian of life, and the barbed-wire is our perfected formula of death, and the encounter between you two is the tragedy of man in this our twentieth century.’
(Latimer observed a stirring in the grass at the other end of the vacant lot. A blunt nose was thrust out from under cover and a pair of brown eyes peered across the zone of safety. The guineapig was fast recovering from its wounds and succumbing to curiosity.)
‘Not in vain, inarticulate brother,’ went on Latimer, ‘ has nature bestowed on you and your mate a bounteous fertility. You and yours are the cannonfodder for the General Staff’s of bacteriology. Your regiments are perpetually mobilized for the defense of our race. Into your veins we inject all the ills and poisons of our higher civilization — anthrax and diphtheria, cancer, smallpox and tuberculosis, leprosy, meningitis, pneumonia, typhus and typhoid, and all the infections of the eye and ear, of nose and throat, of bone and muscle and cartilage and nerve and gland, which humanity has accumulated in its march upward. All these bitter questions we put to you with the hypodermic needle and the scalpel, and you give answer. You react positively or you react negatively, but always to the full measure of your ability, and most often at the cost of your life. So it is your tiny paw which falls cool on the fevered heads of little children, and mothers counting the red lines on the clinical thermometer give thanks to you, O guinea-pig, who, strictly speaking, art neither pig nor from Guinea, but only six inches of wild rabbit, the friend of man, the martyr and scapegoat of humanity, and the close associate of little boys and girls.
‘Yes, you do your best, silent brother. And when with your aid we have saved a million little children from diphtheria and meningitis, and they have grown into strapping, clear-eyed young men, the barbed-wire takes them.’
(The guinea-pig had launched himself into a sudden dash across the field, with the mad intention of trying a second bout with the wire, but came to a stand-still at the sight of Latimer, a few yards away.)
‘Take no shame in your wounds, little snub-nosed Field-Marshal,’ continued Latimer. ‘ ’He is no mean opponent, this barbed-wire. He is a snake in the grass and a mighty rampart. By driving stakes into the ground and stringing thin threads of steel, we have created ten thousand miles of fortress and made a jest of Jericho and Troy and Camelot, of Vicksburg, Plevna, Metz, and Verdun. It is well for Cæsar and Napoleon that they are dead before the age of barbed-wire. Their fame would now be hanging in shreds on its teeth. It is the mightiest instrument of death we have invented, the most portable, and the most economical, showing the heaviest returns for every dollar invested.’
(With the same unreasoning impetus that had brought him forward, the guinea-pig whirled about and dashed off to his house across the field.)
‘You do right to be wary of your enemy, silent brother,’ said Latimer. ‘Do not give in to him, but do not despise him. There are difficult times before you. For after this barbed-wire age there may come the age of barbedwireless. A machinist may press a button and a hundred thousand men will be impaled on a network of flesh-eating vibrations. To-day it is a tie between you two. But you must look to the future, to the casualties of the barbedwireless age, and the greater supply of life for the growing demand. Give heed to preparedness. Multiply your kind for the test-tube and the microscope, O crown of brute creation, mightier than Behemoth, more conquering than the lion of Judah, guinea-pig, brother, fulcrum of our scientific universe!’
(Latimer paused, held his nose to the wind, and quickly got to his feet. From the kitchen giving on the back-yard to which the guinea-pig had retired came the delightful fragrance of frying bacon.)
‘I feel much better already,’ said Latimer as he made his way back through Main Street, which was just starting into life. ‘How lovely the old place is! I must come back more often.’
And if some reader should object that the preceding discourse, because of its measured cadences, should properly have been set down as free verse instead of as prose, I would point out that the guinea-pig, listening without the text before him, would not have known the difference.
Harriet, the night before, had triumphantly reorganized the Williamsport Red Cross by having herself elected president and treasurer, and she was now hurrying to catch the 8.59 for Bloomingport, to make extensive purchases of cotton and gauze. Hence she considered it a very happy suggestion of her brother’s that he load a knapsack and start out for a few days in the hills.
Latimer teased his strong-minded, capable, crisp-tongued sister.
‘But you are under instruction from Lucy’ —Lucy was Mrs. Latimer — ‘to take particular care of me.’
‘I am,’ said Harriet; and ran for her train.
At the gate Latimer was accosted by Nicholas Runkle, whose suspicions of him had softened sufficiently overnight to permit conversation.
‘When d’ye think now this war of theirs will be over, Professor Latimer?’ said Nicholas.
‘You know as much about it as I do, Nicholas. A year perhaps.’
Nicholas looked around to see if he was overheard.
‘I don’t believe there’s goin’ to be any fighting,’ he said. ‘I don’t believe we are goin’ into the war.’
‘ But we are in it. Half a million men are drilling.’
‘So they say,’ said Nicholas, with an ironic upward twist of the lips.
(Ah, thought Latimer, the old fellow is suspicious of the war. He is determined not to be imposed upon.)
‘One thing I can tell you,’ said Latimer; ‘America won’t stop till every German helmet has been cleared out of Belgium.’
‘How do I know the Germans are in Belgium? I have to take their word for it,’ said Nicholas.
Latimer grew angry, slammed the gate behind him, laughed out loud, and returned.
‘Nicholas, —’ he said.
Nicholas Runkle believed that Doctor Cook discovered the North Pole and that Admiral Peary was an impostor. He believed that Congress was forced to declare war by the secret machinations of the Catholic Church. He believed that Kitchener did not perish off the Orkney Islands, but is alive to-day, a prisoner in the Tower for having sold military secrets to Germany for the sum of $100,000,000 and the promise of the British crown under German suzerainty. But he had his doubts as to whether President Wilson really wrote his messages on a typewriter, and he was convinced that the city of New York had nothing like the population credited to it in the Census reports. In no case would Nicholas take ‘their’ word for it, ‘they’ being various gigantic conspiracies for disseminating false information — the Catholic Church, which Nicholas thought of as meeting at midnight in subterranean places for the framing of mischief; the newspapers, which received their orders every morning in a sealed envelope from the office of J. P. Morgan and Company; the colleges; and the book-publishers, who were the worst conspiracy of all.
As against the books published by such publishers associated for the deception of the people, Nicholas had in his attic room a very impressive library that really told the truth. They were books in paper covers, put out at the author’s expense, in a job printing office that evidently dispensed with proofreaders. The authors had plainly frustrated the evil conspiracy of the public schools for the dissemination of the elementary rules of grammar. They usually began with the Seven Circles of Existence and the Universal Law of Vegetarianism as developed by the sages of India; and from these premises went on to prove that Cook had discovered the North Pole, that Mr. Roosevelt had Japanese blood in his veins, that the Catholic Church was responsible for the failure of the wheat crop, and so forth.
‘Nicholas,’ said Latimer, ‘do you believe the earth is which — round or flat?’
Nicholas twisted his lips to a point and would not answer. Flat, of course. And if people believed otherwise it was because the school-book-publishers had to make a living.
Harriet had pointed out that for the purposes of mountaineering Latimer’s wardrobe was overstocked in starched collars and red cravats, and deficient in rough foot-gear. She directed him to the General Store.
‘Dekker’s Emporium,’ Latimer read on the sign. ‘Except for the word Emporium, which shows the urban influence, there is about the primitive aspect of this store sufficient evidence that the old spirit is maintaining itself. Dekker is an ancient name in this region. It harks back to the Palatinate and the year 1700, when the sturdy German farmers first made their way into the valley of the Delaware. That there should still be a Dekker keeping store argues the persistence of the past.’
From behind a wall of packing-cases piled up to the ceiling at the back of the store, an elderly, quick-eyed person with a closely cropped red beard came forth at the sound of the door-bell. His alert manner in the presence of a customer was not of the rural shopkeeper type. Latimer tried to identify in his features the traits of the eighteenthcentury Palatines, and was puzzled. He believed he had stumbled right at the start upon a remarkable example of eccentric racial development.
‘Mr. Dekker?’ said Latimer.
‘This used to be Dekker’s, yes, sir,’ said the proprietor. ‘ My name is Rosenbaum.’
‘You are new here?’
‘Three years this June,’ said Rosenbaum.
’I should like a pair of shoes.'
‘Certainly. Our new line is just in. Something about —?’
‘The price hardly matters,’said Latimer. ‘I want a pair of comfortable shoes.’
Before Latimer had composed himself to his ethnological discovery, Rosenbaum was holding up a shoe by the latchet for his approval. It was in patent leather, and Latimer thought it extremely attractive; but he recalled what Harriet had said about comfort as the first requisite.
‘No,’ he said. ‘Show me something that will stand hard wear.'
Rosenbaum flashed behind the counter and returned.
‘Our best-seller,’he said. ‘The cloth top comes in three shades, but this is the most popular,'
‘You don’t quite follow me,’said Latimer. ‘I want a plain, all-leather shoe, broad toe, heavy soles; the kind all your people here buy.’
Rosenbaum looked up in dismay.
‘This is what they all buy. I have n’t had a call for any other kind for a month,'
‘Let me understand you,’ said Latimer. ‘You assert that the demand for shoes in this community is confined to patent leathers and cloth tops?'
‘Well, now and then, some of the old fellows from up the mountain will ask for the other kind.’
‘That is the kind I want,’said Latimer. ‘See if you can find a pair.’
And something of the kind was found among the discards in the storage room behind the packing-cases.
‘Anything in the line of socks?’ said Rosenbaum.
‘By all means.’
‘Silk? Half-silk? Lisle? I can show a first-class assortment.’
‘ No,’ said Latimer, ‘ cotton. Doublesoled if that is possible, or wool if they are not too heavy.'
Rosenbaum made a second trip to the back room and after a search brought back two pairs of heavy, blue cotton socks. Latimer proceeded to change his foot-gear. The act of stooping put him into a perspiration and he bethought himself of flannel shirts.
‘We have them in madras, pongee, silk,’said Rosenbaum. ‘Soft cuffs or laundered.’
Latimer lost patience.
‘A couple of gray flannel shirts of the kind that the people around here wear about their ordinary occupations.'
‘But they don’t,’ said Rosenbaum. ‘They never wear rough flannels. The summer visitors do. Only this is early in the year.'
Latimer made shift with a plain gray sweater, which Rosenbaum hunted up in the limbo behind the partition, after his customer had rejected a white sweater, in half silk, with scarlet facings round the collar. Rosenbaum would charge only a nominal price for his derelict stock, and this led to a friendly argument which passed by natural gradations into a discussion of Biblical literature, into which it is not my purpose to enter. It seemed that Rosenbaum believed that the Old Testament was written by Moses, punctuation marks and all; whereat Latimer sighed, shook hands, and set forth on his journey. It was now well on toward nine o’clock, and the village was alive.
(To be continued)