American soldiers, marching along a road in Flanders, head for the battlefront in France.Bettmann/Corbis

The night before the boys went, a farewell prayer meeting was held for them, at which some among us … drew such a picture of the horrors of war, that some of the boys’ relatives went wild with grief. Not so the little brown mother whose two boys are going. She stood firm amid all the waves of emotion and stoutly declared that she was proud to have men to send. Only readers who know something of the crowd-hysteria of a shouting prayer meeting can have any idea of what she—accustomed all her life to that type of religion—withstood at that moment for the sake of her sons. And those sons will have something fortifying to remember, something heroic on which to anchor their souls in the face of a night assault or of a gas attack.

And what about the rest of us? Is that mother the only one among us who has shown a great spirit to match the greatness of the times? …

Here on this ridge, at the first house, is a young fellow who volunteered, but could not pass the physical examination. He honestly wanted to go for the sake of France, and also, he hoped, if he was taken, it might excuse his younger brother. What shy and touching bits of affection between brothers, usually so jealously hidden, war drags into the light! At the next house on this ridge, a mile and a half away, there lives another man who, though over age and having a wife and child, has declared his intention of volunteering if he finds that his younger brother has done so …

Leaving this ridge and descending into a branch of the Big Draft [tributary], one comes to a cabin from which one of our four volunteers has gone. Jumping across a ridge from there, is a house where two little people of about 10 and 12 have asked their mother to give them corn bread for dinner for the sake of the saving of wheat flour …

And what about the boys themselves? Well, they all look different to me in these days. Boys whom, a few short years ago, I looked upon somewhat askance … are all seen now through the glamour of the great adventure. But I am a spectator, and perhaps a sentimentalist. How do the boys look to themselves, I wonder, there in that golden haze? Why, very much as usual, I should say. If they are aware of a golden haze, they doubtless see it just beyond themselves—over there in France, no doubt. If there is any great thrill of excitement running through them, they keep it for the most part to themselves. Yet I suspect, when they lie together in little knots under the trees, that fighting in France is the main topic of conversation. How did Joey, for instance, who milks our cow and grooms our Ford, take last Saturday, the day on which the numbers of the conscripted men were out? Why, with the utmost calmness. If his pulses went a beat or two faster, or if he wondered whether he had not been drawn, there was certainly nothing in his outward manner to suggest it.

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