As soon as he woke up, even through his eyes half closed with sleep, he could see that it was going to be a fine day. The sun fell on the floor just beyond the bed and, although it did not touch him, he could feel its early warmth. He reached up and pushed the blankets toward the foot of the bed and then glanced at the watch on the table at his side. It was only quarter to seven, and since it was a holiday no one was up yet. In the bed next to him Helen was still sleeping soundly.
He yawned and put his hands behind his head and looked along the covers at the open window and the tree and the warm sun-filled sky beyond. He felt fully awake now and not like staying in bed any longer. He held his breath for a moment and listened to the silence of the house around him. He looked at the watch again and cleared his throat. Helen stirred in her sleep, but did not wake.
He partly sat up, leaning on one elbow, and scratched his head with his other hand. He yawned again, this time more loudly. Helen slowly opened her eyes.
‘Oh,’ he said, ‘did I wake you?’
She shook her head and yawned.
‘I’ve been awake some time,’he said. ‘I don’t seem to need as much sleep as I used to.’
The idea made him feel virtuous. Napoleon never slept more than three hours a night.
‘No?’ she said, and yawned again.
‘We waste a lot of time sleeping. Just think of all the things you might be doing instead of sleeping eightnine hours a night. You know: reading and ... I never seem to get time to read.’
‘No. That’s true.’
‘ Well, anyway,’ he said, ‘it’s a great day.’
She looked toward the window, blinking a little in the strong light.
‘For the parade, I mean,’ he said.
She seemed surprised for a moment. Then she said: ‘Oh, yes, that’s so. Goodness . . .’
He looked at her and gave a short laugh.
‘I guess maybe you’d forgotten all about it.‘
‘Why, yes, I really had,’ she said. ‘Oh, I’m so sleepy.’
She yawned again. He pushed the covers aside and slid his feet into his slippers and got up.
He frowned as he walked across the room. Then he saw his uniform hanging over the back of a chair and his expression changed. He paused and bent down to look at it. He touched the sleeve with his hand.
‘You have it pressed?’ he called over his shoulder.
‘No moths in it, were there?’
He looked up.
‘You keep it in one of those bags, do you?‘
She nodded her head.
He stood looking down at the khaki cloth with a slight smile on his face, then turned and went on into the bathroom. As he stropped his razor blade ho softly whistled to himself ‘Over There.‘
He shaved, and while he was taking his shower Helen came in and washed and brushed her teeth. He talked to her from behind the shower curtain, raising his voice to be heard above the down-swishing of the water.
‘Remember when we left? The sendoff we got?’
‘ Left ? Left where ? ’
‘For the other side. For France.‘
‘Oh . . . oh, yes. Goodness, does n’t it seem long ago?’
‘Oh, I don’t know. It doesn’t seem so long ago.‘
‘How long is it, anyway?’ she said, and he could tell from her voice that she was talking with hairpins between her teeth. ‘Fifteen years?’
‘Seventeen,’ he said.
‘ Seventeen! ’
‘Seventeen years,’ he said, slowly.
He turned on the cold water.
‘It’s awful,’ she said. ‘So long ago . . .’
He started to speak, but the cold water took his breath away.
‘That’s right, though,’ she said. ‘Shirley was only one then and she’ll be eighteen next month.’
He shut off the water and swept the curtain aside and reached over for a towel. He rubbed himself vigorously, breathing deeply and feeling hard and strong at having taken a cold shower and having waked up early on this clear tine morning.
‘They don’t remember a thing about it,’ he said.
‘That’s why it’s a good thing to have a parade like this. To remind them ... uh ... I mean to show them, you know, give them something to think about . . . the sacrifices we had to make ... I mean so Democracy and . . .‘
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Yes, that’s true.’
He leaned forward to look in the mirror, carefully parting his wet hair.
‘Otherwise people forget ... I mean the sacrifices . . .’
‘Excuse me just a second, dear . . .’ She reached in front of him and opened the mirror door of the bathroom cabinet. ‘I just wanted to get that Kleenex . . . there.’
She smiled up at him and went out.
When he went back into the bedroom she had already gone downstairs. He heard her talking to the cook in the dining room. He glanced at the watch and saw that it was half past seven. It was still early, but he felt the long beautiful morning slipping away from him and he hurried to get dressed.
He put on the shirt and trousers of the uniform. The khaki cloth felt rough and hard after the clothes that you were used to wearing every day. He opened the door of the closet and put on the coat, looking into the fulllength mirror on the inside of the door. He buttoned the coat and stood looking at himself in the mirror. The coat seemed tight. It was all right across the chest, but it seemed tight farther down. Creases ran out from each of the lower buttons. He stood up straighter and held in his stomach. He went across the room and got his Sam Browne belt and came back and put it on in front of the mirror. He tried to buckle it at the place where the darker mark in the leather showed that he had always worn it, but it felt too tight and he let it out to the next hole. He stood very straight in front of the mirror, holding in his stomach and frowning, his chin thrust out and his shoulders squared. The electric light above his head shone brightly on the gold of the second lieutenant’s bars on his shoulders. Lieutenant Pearson, he thought, — Lieutenant Frank Pearson — Lieutenant Frank Richmond Pearson of the Infantry.
When he got to the door of the dining room he paused. Somehow he had expected that Helen and Shirley would both be there, but the room was empty. He could hear Helen still talking to the cook out in the kitchen. He stood looking toward the kitchen door. After what seemed a long time it opened and Helen came in, looking flushed and annoyed. She drew out her chair and sat down and dropped two pieces of bread into the toaster.
‘I’m terribly sorry, Frank,’she said, ‘but of course the girl had to go and run out of coffee without saying a word about it to me till just now. We’ll have to have tea.‘
‘Oh,’ he said.
She looked up.
‘Do you mind awfully? Of course I know how you hate tea for breakfast, but . . .’
‘No,’ he said. ‘No, that’s all right.’
‘Of all the stupid things!’
He stood by the door looking down at her as she straightened the things on the table in front of her.
‘Where’s Shirley?’ he asked.
A piece of toast popped up out of the toaster and Helen took it and began to butter it.
‘Shirley? Oh, she’s sleeping. She went to a dance last night.’
‘Oh, I see.’
She looked up at him.
‘Goodness, don’t you look nice!’
He smiled and said, ‘It feels like old times.’
He came over to the table.
‘Is it much too tight for you?’ she asked, as she cut the piece of toast in two.
‘Tight?’ he said quickly. ‘No, why should it be tight?’
He stood up straighter.
‘Oh, I didn’t know. I thought it might be a little, that’s all.’
He sat down and looked down at his coat before he pulled the chair in to the table.
‘I guess it’s shrunk a little, at that,’ he said. ‘Wool shrinks, sort of, does n’t it?’
‘Oh, yes, wool always shrinks a lot if you are n’t careful.’ She handed him a cup of tea. ‘I’m awfully sorry about the coffee.’
‘That’s all right.’ He took a sip of the tea. ‘This is n’t bad. By the way, where are you going to be for the parade? You know Doc McKim said you could watch it from his office if you wanted to.’
‘Oh,’ she said. ‘Oh, yes, that might be a good idea.’
She looked around the table.
‘What are you looking for?’ he asked.
‘I just . . . oh, here it is.’
She took the cover off the pot of jam and took out a spoonful.
‘You better get down in plenty of time, though,’ he said, ‘or else you’ll have a hard time finding a place to park. And you better get Shirley up soon, too, because you know how long she takes to get all fixed up.’
‘I hate for her not to get enough sleep,’ she said.
‘Well, of course . . .’
‘Oh, I’ll get her up in plenty of time.’
He shook his head.
‘She stays out too darn late, anyway. How do we know . .
‘Shirley’s eighteen, Frank. After all . . .’
‘I know, but how do we know . . .’
She smiled at him and said: ‘Goodness, that uniform’s becoming. It makes you look ten years younger.’
He looked down at his chest and then up at her and smiled.
‘Really,’ she said.
He laughed and said: ‘Say, you ought to see the surprise we’re going to have for you to-day. Something really new.‘
‘What is it?’
He shook his head.
‘I can’t tell you. But wait till you see. This is really something.’
‘I can’t imagine . . .’ she began.
‘Oh, you’d never guess.’ He laughed again. ‘And listen, after the parade you come right over to the Post Headquarters, will you?’
‘The Post Headquarters?’
‘Yes, there’s going to be something going on there. I can’t tell you what it is, but you and Shirley come right over. ’
‘Well, you’ve certainly roused my curiosity.‘
‘ You ’ll see,’ he said.
As he drove away from home with the windows of the sedan down, he felt the early morning air warm against his face and was conscious of the good aroma of his first cigar of the day. The streets seemed clean and freshly washed and the houses looked modern and comfortable. In front of many of them flags were flying, and when people that he passed looked at him in his uniform, with the forage cap set rakishly over one eye, he felt a proud connection between himself and the flags that flew above the green of the well-kept lawns.
These were the lawns and the houses that they had fought to protect; these were the houses that, but for them, might now be lying in ashes; these were the lawns whose soft green might, but for them, have been forever blighted by the iron heel of war. Sometimes you wondered what it was all about, and there were days when it all seemed pretty pointless, but that was only because in time of peace you got soft and forgot the stern necessities of war and the times that tried men’s souls. A lot. of people were clever talkers and knew how to shoot off their mouths when there was no danger, but it was the silent men who perhaps did n’t make much of a hit at a pink tea or a poetry reading who had made the country what it was and who, when the time had come, had offered up their lives in its defense. Lieutenant Pearson, he thought — Lieutenant Frank Pearson — Lieutenant Frank Richmond Pearson, of the Infantry. And what if he had never seen any actual fighting? That was n’t his fault. He had been ready to fight whenever they said the word. And if it had n’t just happened that the Armistice was signed the week after they landed he would have been in some pretty ugly fighting. And in the infantry, too, by God, where you meet your man face to face.
He began to hum to himself: ‘The infantry, the infantry, with dirt behind their ears . . .’
He drove past the station and up to the freight yard. Some of the boys were already there and they waved to him as he got out of the car and hurried across to the freight shed.
As he came up to the platform several of them snapped to attention and saluted. Although he knew it was only done as a joke, it made him feel good to touch his cap negligently and say, ‘At ease,’ especially when he looked around at them and saw that he was the only commissioned officer there and that even Charlie Potter, who was one of the biggest real-estate men in the whole state, only had a corporal’s chevrons.
Charlie came up to him and held out his hand and said: ‘I want to congratulate you, Pearson, for having worked this. I understand it was your idea, too.’
‘Well, yes,’said Frank. ‘I guess it was.’
‘Well, I think you’ve been mighty smart, and I’ll tell you there are n’t many towns in this country that have a souvenir of the war that’s as valuable and . . . and unique as this is.’
‘Well, I knew this fellow that works in a bank in Paris,’ said Frank, ‘and he fixed it up — although it was some time before he could get ahold of one.’
They went into the shed and there it was: the real Marne taxicab that had helped save France and that they had just been able to get over in time for the Memorial Day parade.
They all stood there for a few moments without saying anything, looking at the car. Frank felt proud and embarrassed at the same time.
‘Gosh,’ he said finally, ‘they certainly are small.‘
’That’ll be something to show our children and our grandchildren,’said Charlie Potter. ‘A real Marne taxi that saved France when the Germans were at the gates of Paris, threatening . . .’
’Gallieni was the boy,’ said Marty Hughes.
They all nodded their heads.
‘Yes,’ said Charlie Potter, ‘but if von Kluek had n’t gone and . .
They started arguing about the strategy of the Marne. Frank stood in front of the car, looking at it, and hearing the fine forgotten names, sonorous and glorious with past history, names that meant something, that were connected with world-shaking events in which he had played a part: Gallieni, Joffre, St. Denis, von Biilow, von Kluck, Vitry-le-François — and on from there to Mons, Soissons, St. Mihiel, the Argonne and Belleau Wood. Those were the days!
‘Say,’ said Art Stallknecht, ‘who’s going to drive this bus, anyhow?’
‘Why, Frank Pearson, of course,’ said Charlie Potter. ‘It was his idea and he got it for us, so . . .‘
Frank flushed and said: ‘Oh, hell, why pick on me?’
‘No, you’re the boy,’ said Charlie. ‘You’re elected.’
Marty Hughes looked at the car and then at Frank and said: ‘I don’t know if he can get behind the wheel, though. There’s not much room.’
They all laughed and Art Stallknecht said: ‘Pull in that bay window, shavetail.’
‘That’s all right,’ said Frank. ‘I’ll show you.’
He got. into the car and squeezed behind the high steering post.
‘O you Barney Oldfield!’ Marty called to him.
Somebody got in front of the car and cranked it. Frank turned on the ignition and the engine started, sputtering and choking. He raced it, then stalled several times until he found the correct gearshift, and finally drove it slowly down the incline from the freight shed to the yard.
A lot more men had come up and now they all gathered around the car, looking at it and joking and talking to Frank. He felt proud and happy.
‘Hey,’ someone called, ’we’re due to form in ten minutes.’
‘Have a drink and forget about it,’ said Marty Hughes.
He passed the bottle up to Frank.
’Say, gee, I don’t know . . .’ Frank began.
‘Come on, shavetail,’ said Art Stallknecht.
Frank took a drink out of the bottle and handed it back.
The whiskey fell with a thump, hot and golden in his empty stomach, making him expand his chest, gilding the clear warm morning.
A group of men with their arms around each other’s shoulders began singing ‘Mademoiselle from Armentières.’
Charlie Potter looked at his wrist watch and said: ‘Come on, men — zero hour.’
Half a dozen men climbed into the car and a bottle was pushed across to Frank. He hesitated, then took another drink, It tasted even better than the last one.
The men in the back seat went on singing ‘Mademoiselle from Armentières,’ and as he tugged at the stiff left-handed notch gearshift and slowly let in the clutch, Frank came in on the chorus, ‘Rinky-dinky-parley-voo. ’
People in the street stared at them and then cheered as they moved slowly, jerkily along. When they got to the place where the parade was forming, a crowd quickly gathered around the machine, and all the faces, good-natured and smiling, looked up admiringly at Frank as he sat behind the wheel, the bright sun shining on the gold lieutenant’s bars, the whiskey golden and warm in his stomach, gilding the warm clear day and the high white rainless clouds that floated slowly past overhead. The grinning good-natured faces yelled things up at him and people called him Lieutenant and his friends yelled ‘Hey, shavetail,’ out of the corners of their mouths, — respectable decent friendly people making believe to act tough, — and somebody passed him another drink, and golden rye whiskey gilded the warm morning. Bugles called and drums began to beat, making the blood run faster through your veins, and once again you were alive and not just existing, going on from day to day, to the office and back home, home and back to the office — the maid forgot to order coffee — Shirley stays out too late. The hell with it, and he came in strong on ‘Rinky-dinky-parley-voo! ’
The parade began to move slowly down the street, the bugles calling and the drums beating, and it no longer looked like Main Street, but the outskirts of Paris, with Lieutenant Frank Pearsort, trusted adviser to Gallieni, — Captain Frank Pearson, savior of France, — driving the first taxicab out of Paris, through St. Denis, across the war-menaced fields to the Marne — Major Frank Pearson, ‘ Rinky-dinky-parley-voo.’
There were two blocks more before the Chambers Building where Doc McKim had his office and where Helen and Shirley would be sitting in the window watching him, surprised and proud, waving at him as he passed, driving the Marne taxi, with Gallieni himself in the seat next to him, Colonel Frank Pearson.
There was one block more before the sensation of the parade would come into view, the Marne taxicab, driven by General Frank Pearson, with a bloodsoaked bandage around his head, telling Gallieni not to worry, everything would be all right, for ‘the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming.’
There were a lot of faces at the window of Doc McKim’s office and he could only glance up a few times as they approached and then passed the building. He did n’t see Helen or Shirley up there, but he might easily have missed them, there were so many faces jammed in there together.
He turned to Art Stallknecht, sitting in the seat beside him, and said: —
‘Did you see Helen or Shirley up there? I could n’t get a really good look when we went past.’
Art looked back over his shoulder.
‘No, I did n’t notice them.’
‘I guess maybe they got there late and had to stand in the back,’ Frank said.
‘Boy,’ said Art, ‘I bet they got a kick out of Poppa driving a real Marne taxi.’
Frank laughed and shook his head.
‘Maybe they did n’t get up there, at that. Yes, I should n’t wonder if maybe they had to watch it from the sidewalk, account of the crowds.’
‘There’s certainly a jam,’ said Art, looking around.
‘I told them they better be on time,’ said Frank. ‘But you know how women are, especially the kids. They take all night to get ready.’
‘Isn’t, that a fact, though! Why, I remember . . .’
‘I don’t see what they can do that takes that long,’ said Frank.
‘I remember the last time we took a trip in the car it was always the same old story: everybody ready to start, the baggage all strapped on, and then half an hour cooling our heels waiting for Joanie to powder her face or God knows what.’
They came up to the red-white-and-blue-draped reviewing stand and a cheer went up and the bass drummer in the band beat his drum.
‘Some turnout,’ said Art.
Frank looked toward the stand.
’I guess maybe they had to get a scat there,’ he said. ‘I don’t see them, though.’
The cheers kept up. He smiled at the people in the reviewing stand and bent down low over the wheel, like a racing driver.
‘Old Barney Oldfield,’ said Art.
The boys in the back seat came in strong on the chorus, ‘Rinky-dinky-parley-voo.’
After the reviewing stand there were only a few more blocks before they got to their Post Headquarters, where they were to disband and where the car was to be officially presented to the city. Back to Paris, slowly, after the victory of the Marne, Colonel Frank Pearson drove his taxi, with his old friend Art Stallknecht Gallieni in the seat next to him, tired and battle-stained, but with a sense of duty well done — Major Frank Pearson.
‘By the way,’ said Frank, ‘how is Joanie? Shirley said she had the flu last winter or something.’
‘Yes, she had a pretty tough time for a while, but she’s all right now.’
‘Bad thing, flu,’ said Frank. ‘Helen had it winter before last, too.’
‘It leaves you all washed out,’ said Art.
Frank drove the car into the yard of their headquarters.
‘O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,’ Marty Hughes called from the back seat when the car had stopped and Frank had shut off the engine.
They all climbed out of the car and somebody started to wave a bottle and sing, ‘You’re in the army now.’
Charlie Potter came up, looking worried.
‘Go easy, fellows. Remember there are going to be ladies present.’
‘That was no lady — that was my wife,’ somebody called from the back of the crowd, and everybody laughed.
As the people began to arrive, Frank watched them carefully, waiting for Helen and Shirley, but he did n’t see them, and presently the official ceremony of presentation began.
Charlie Potter made the speech for the Post, and the mayor made a speech of acceptance in which he thanked all the members who had contributed to the purchase of this battle-scarred relic of glory which would live forever as a reminder of the glorious war record of their town and serve as a reminder — nay, an inspiration — to future generations, to their children and their children’s children, of the times that tried men’s souls, and cause all who saw it to pause for a moment in their daily round of duties and activities to give a thought to the men who had given their All and made the Supreme Sacrifice that Justice, Civilization, and Democracy might live, and that, in the words of another Great Martyr, Freedom might not perish from the earth.
’Good speech,’ said Art Stallknecht, and Frank nodded, looking around at the crowd to see who was there.
‘Good night!’ said Art. ‘Charlie’s going to start in all over again. Look!’
Charlie had jumped up and was waving his arms for attention.
‘And now, before we leave,’ he said, “there is just one more thing that I would like to say. In all this we have neglected to mention one thing, and that is the name of the man to whose interest and — uh — initiative we owe the presence to-day in our midst of this priceless relic of the glorious days when Civilization stood with its back to the wall and gave its All that . . .’ He suddenly stopped and looked around at his audience with a grin. ‘Don’t worry, folks, I’m not going to try and compete with Hizzoner, here. I just want to draw your attention to the fact that the man who is responsible for all this, whose idea it was in the first place to get ahold of this — this relic, is none other than our esteemed fellow citizen and shavetail, Frank Pearson. Frank, step up here and say a few well-chosen words to the assembled company.’
There were loud cheers and whistles, and Frank was pushed toward the platform, blushing and trying to resist, and conscious all the time that Charlie Potter, who was one of the biggest realestate men in the state, had just called him by his first name.
’Come on now, Frank,’ said Charlie Potter as Frank stood on the platform and the crowd became quiet. ‘Just a well-chosen word or two, that’s all. Just a well-chosen word.’
Frank took off his forage cap and held it tightly in his hands, and looked around at the people below. There seemed to be a great many of them. Perhaps, he thought, Helen and Shirley were somewhere in the back. You could n’t really tell.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘I suppose I ought to start out by telling a story about a couple of Irishmen, but I don’t seem to be able to remember any, so . . . well, all I can say is, I’m glad you’re all so pleased with the idea of having this . . . this relic. I sort of thought it would be a good idea and act as an inspiration and ... an inspiration to those who are too young to remember what it was all about during . . . in those days . . . and well, I guess that’s all. I thank you.’
He turned and ran off the platform to the sound of laughter and cheers.
’Yea, Demosthenes,’ Marty Hughes called as he went past, and slapped him on the back.
‘Some speech, Frank,’ said Art.
‘Come on,’ said Frank, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand and putting on his forage cap. ‘Let’s get out of here.’
They got into Art’s car and began driving back down Main Street toward the station, so that Frank could get his car, which he had left down in the freight yard.
’Yes, sir,’ said Art with a grin, ‘ quite a speech.’
‘I never was much good at giving a spiel,’ said Frank. ‘I don’t know.’
‘Me either. It’s too bad, though, that Helen and Shirley were n’t there to hear you. They would of got a kick out of it.’
‘It’s a good thing they weren’t,’ said Frank.
‘What do you suppose happened to them? Did n’t they know we were going to have the presentation?’
’I just told them to come around,’ said Frank. ‘I did n’t say what for. I thought it would be more fun if they got a surprise.’
‘It’s too bad they did n’t make it.’
‘Oh, Shirley probably stalled around until it was too late. Anyway, she was out late to a dance last night.’
“Is n’t it the damnedest thing the way kids stay up all night nowadays? Why, in our day . .
‘ That ’s what I think. But it does n’t do any good to kick about it. They just don’t pay any attention.’
They were silent for a time, then Frank said: —
‘You ever have any trouble with your oil burner, Art? Ours went out of commission twice last winter.’
Art shook his head. ’No, I never had any trouble with mine. What kind have you got?’
‘I’ve got a Silent Sentinel.’
‘Why, I’ve got a Sentinel, too,’ said Art. ’I don’t see why you should have any trouble with yours. I never had any with mine.’
‘That’s funny, is n’t it?’ said Frank.
‘I’ll tell you what I’ll do, Frank,’ said Art. ‘I’ll come over one of these days and take a look at it. I ’ve fooled around a good deal with those things in my spare time and maybe I can see what’s wrong with it.’
‘Thanks, Art, that would be fine if you’d do that. Anyway, we ought to try and see more of each other, Art. We ought to have some of those poker games we used to have.’
‘That’s a fact, Frank. We’ll have to try and do that.’
‘They used to be a lot of fun,’ said Frank. ‘We ought to try and do that, Art.’
Art drew up at the freight shed and Frank got out. They shook hands and Art said: ‘Well, I certainly enjoyed that speech, Frank.’
They both laughed and Frank said: ‘Well, I’ll be seeing you. Thanks for the lift.’
He stood for a few moments watching Art as he backed his car around and drove away. Then he unlocked his own car and got in and drove off.
He went down Main Street in the direction in which the parade had gone. The street was almost empty now. After the crowds which had been in it only a little while ago it seemed quite deserted. He drove slowly. The day was still clear and warm, but the sun was higher and the air did not feel as fresh as it had earlier in the morning. His mouth felt dry from the whiskey and the four cigars that he had smoked. Usually he allowed himself only two cigars before lunch.
As he passed the reviewing stand men were already beginning to take it apart, piling up the timbers in trucks that were standing by the curb. Red-white-and-blue streamers and shreds of crêpe paper were scattered over the sidewalks and clinging to the rough surface of the wood of which the stand was constructed.
Then he left the centre of town behind him and drove along the smooth clean streets of the residential sections. Flags were flying in front of many of the houses, above the smooth, wellkept lawns.
Lieutenant Frank Pearson, he thought — Second Lieutenant Pearson — Frank Pearson.