I could see the frantic pulsing of the great artery in his neck. I turned for another look at his examination-form, and found there the tell-tale notation, ‘Tachycardia,’ written in by the medical advisory board.
He rose from his chair with a savage oath when I told him that he could not go. To no purpose, I attempted to console him.
‘You fellows are plumb crazy,’ he flung back at me bitterly; ‘I guess if I can shovel coal for the “Limited” over the summit and back three times a week, I can carry a gun for Uncle Sam without any trouble.’
He left in a towering rage.
I think of him and his poor, struggling heart whenever I am tempted to leniency with some whimpering slacker seeking to impress us with the dire import of a trivial ailment.
Our board has a scant half-dozen Africans on its lists, but they have furnished their full share of colorful incident. We had our merriest morning when Oscar William Davis, looking much like a well-groomed milk chocolate, appeared with his imposing wife, Amanda, to claim deferred classification. We were suspicious of Oscar, and we had evidence that the degree in which he supported his wife was in inverse ratio to her own earnings.
Amanda wept convincingly, and argued with the startling verbiage of her race. Life simply would not be worth living for her if he was taken away.
‘But,’ it was put to her, ‘isn’t it true that you work in a maid at one of the hotels?’
‘Yes, suh, ah does occupy myself occasionally with a little lucrative employment, but what ah makes ain’t but just exactly enough to keep me clothed.’
‘And don’t you know that your husband will have to send you fifteen dollars a month of his pay as a solider, and that the government will send another fifteen dollars? Won’t that be sufficient, with your earnings?’
Amanda’s eyes opened wide in unbelief. ‘Do you mean to tell me, suh, that the gov’ment’s gwine a send me thu’ty dollahs a month if dat nigger goes to war?’
Being assured that such was the prospect, she turned slowly to where Mr. Davis had shrunk, fearfully, into a far corner.
‘Shame on you, Oscar!’ she shouted, pointing an accusing finger at him. ‘Youse agwine to swerve you Uncle Sam from dis minute. You go on home and pack youh trunk.’
And in an aside to a dusky friend who had come with her she was heard to say, ‘Why, dat fool man done cost me more ‘n thu’ty dollahs a month.’
Voluntary inductions are closed now, but still the men come seeking entrance to the great game ahead of their turns, impatient of restraint, eager to go.
We have come far from the worrisome days of the beginning. We have tamed the juggernaut. We are no longer priests of Moloch. The draft knows itself now, and is strong with the strength of confidence. Not for trivial things did millions of Americans pass in and out of draft-board doors during the toiling weeks in which the nation sorted its man-power. Not for nothing did they bring to a common scale, for a common judging, all the intimate circumstance of their lives, pooling their precious liberties that all the world might partake.