Caspar Cadogan resolved to go to the tropic wars and do something. The air was blue and gold with the pomp of soldiering, and in every ear rang the music of military glory. Caspar’s father was a United States Senator from the great State of Skowmulligan, where the war fever ran very high. Chill is the blood of many of the sons of millionaires, but Caspar took the fever and posted to Washington. His father had never denied him anything, and this time all that Caspar wanted was a little Captaincy in the Army — just a simple little Captaincy.
The old man had been entertaining a delegation of respectable bunco-steerers from Skowmulligan who had come to him on a matter which is none of the public’s business.
Bottles of whiskey and boxes of cigars were still on the table in the sumptuous private parlor. The Senator had said: “Well, gentlemen, I’ll do what I can for you.” By this sentence he meant whatever he meant.
Then he turned to his eager son. “Well, Caspar?” The youth poured out his modest desires. It was not altogether his fault. Life had taught him a generous faith in his own abilities. If anyone had told him that he was simply an ordinary fool he would have opened his eyes wide at the person’s lack of judgment. All his life people had admired him.
The Skowmulligan war horse looked with quick disapproval into the eyes of his son. “Well, Caspar,” he said slowly, “I am of the opinion that they’ve got all the golf experts and tennis champions and cotillon leaders and piano tuners and billiard markers that they really need as officers. Now, if you were a soldier — ”
“I know,” said the young man with a gesture, “but I’m not exactly a fool, I hope, and I think if I get a chance I can do something. I’d like to try. I would, indeed.”
The Senator lit a cigar. He assumed an attitude of ponderous reflection. “Y — yes, but this country is full of young men who are not fools. Full of ‘em.”
Caspar fidgeted in the desire to answer that, though he admitted the profusion of young men who were not fools, he felt that he himself possessed interesting and peculiar qualifications which would allow him to make his mark in any field of effort which he seriously challenged. But he did not make this graceful statement, for he sometimes detected something ironic in his father’s temperament. The Skowmulligan war-, horse had not thought of expressing an opinion of his own ability since the year 1865, when he was young, like Caspar.
“Well, well,” said the Senator finally, “I’ll see about it. I’ll see about it.” The young man was obliged to await the end of his father’s characteristic method of thought. The war horse never gave a quick answer, and if people tried to hurry him they seemed able to arouse only a feeling of irritation against making a decision at all. His mind moved like the wind, but practice had placed a Mexican bit in the mouth of his judgment. This old man of light, quick thought had taught himself to move like an ox cart. Caspar said “Yes, sir.” He withdrew to his club, where, to the affectionate inquiries of some envious friends, he replied: “The old man is letting the idea soak.”
The mind of the war horse was decided far sooner than Caspar expected. In Washington a large number of well-bred, handsome young men were receiving appointments as Lieutenants, as Captains, and occasionally as Majors. They were a strong, healthy, clean-eyed, educated collection. They were a prime lot. A German Field-Marshal would have beamed with joy if he could have had them — to send to school. Anywhere in the world they would have made a grand show as material, but, intrinsically, they were not Lieutenants, Captains and Majors. They were fine men, though manhood is only an essential part of a Lieutenant, a Captain or a Major. But at any rate, this arrangement had all the logic of going to sea in a bathing-machine.
The Senator found himself reasoning that Caspar was as good as any of them, and better than many. Presently he was bleating here and there that his boy should have a chance. “The boy’s all right, I tell you, Henry. He’s wild to go, and I don’t see why they shouldn’t give him a show. He’s got plenty of nerve, and he’s keen as a whip-lash. I’m going to get him an appointment, and if you can do anything to help it along I wish you would.”
Then he betook himself to the White House and the War Department and made a stir. People think that Administrations are always slavishly, abominably anxious to please the Machine. They are not; they wish the Machine sunk in red fire, for by the power of ten thousand past words, looks, gestures, writings, the Machine comes along and takes the Administration by the nose and twists it, and the Administration dare not even yell. The huge force which carries an election to success looks reproachfully at the Administration and says: “Give me a bun.” That is a very small thing with which to reward a Colossus.
The Skowmulligan war horse got his bun and took it to his hotel where Caspar was moodily reading war rumors. “Well, my boy, here you are.” Caspar was a Captain and Commissary on the staff of Brigadier-General Reilly, commander of the Second Brigade of the First Division of the Thirtieth Army Corps.
“I had to work for it,” said the Senator grimly. “They talked to me as if they thought you were some sort of emptyheaded idiot. None of ‘em seemed to know you personally. They just sort of took it for granted. Finally I got pretty hot in the collar.” He paused a moment; his heavy, grooved face set hard; his blue eyes shone. He clapped a hand down upon the handle of his chair.
“Caspar, I’ve got you into this thing, and I believe you’ll do all right, and I’m not saying this because I distrust either your sense or your grit. But I want you to understand you’ve got to make a go of it. I’m not going to talk any twaddle about your country and your country’s flag. You understand all about that. But now you’re a soldier, and there’ll be this to do and that to do, and fighting to do, and you’ve got to do every d — d one of ‘em right up to the handle. I don’t know how much of a shindy this thing is going to be, but any shindy is enough to show how much there is in a man. You’ve got your appointment, and that’s all I can do for you, but I’ll thrash you with my own hands if when the Army gets back the other fellows say my son is ‘nothing but a good-looking dude.’”
He ceased, breathing heavily. Caspar looked bravely and frankly at his father, and answered in a voice which was not very tremulous: “I’ll do my best. This is my chance.”
The Senator had a marvelous ability of transition from one manner to another. Suddenly he seemed very kind. “Well, that’s all right, then. I guess you’ll get along all right with Reilly. I know him well, and he’ll see you through. I helped him along once. And now about this commissary business. As I understand it, a Commissary is a sort of caterer in a big way — that is, he looks out for a good many more things than a caterer has to bother his head about. Reilly’s brigade has probably from two to three thousand men in it, and in regard to certain things you’ve got to look out for every matt of ‘em every day. I know perfectly well you couldn’t successfully run a boarding-house in Ocean Grove. How are you going to manage for all these soldiers, hey? Thought about it?”
“No,” said Caspar, injured. “I didn’t want to be a Commissary. I wanted to be a Captain in the line.”
“They wouldn’t hear of it. They said you would have to take a staff appointment where people could look after you.”
“Well, let ‘em look after me,” cried Caspar resentfully; “but when there’s any fighting to be done I guess I won’t necessarily be the last man.”
“That’s it,” responded the Senator. “That’s the spirit.” They both thought that the problem of war would eliminate to an equation of actual battle.
Ultimately Caspar departed into the South to an encampment in salty grass under pine trees. Here lay an Army corps twenty thousand strong. Caspar passed into the dusty sunshine of it, and for many weeks he was lost to view.
“Of course I don’t know a blamed thing about it,” said Caspar frankly and modestly to a circle of his fellow staff officers. He was referring to the duties of his office.
Their faces became expressionless; they looked at him with eyes in which he could fathom nothing. After a pause one politely said: “Don’t you?” It was the inevitable two words of convention.
“Why,” cried Caspar, “I didn’t know what a Commissary officer was until I was one. My old Guv’nor told me. He’d looked it up in a book, I suppose; but I didn’t know.”
The young man’s face glowed with sudden humor. “Do you know, the word was intimately associated in my mind with camels. Funny, eh? I think it came from reading that rhyme of Kipling’s about the commissariat camel.”
“Yes. Funny, isn’t it? Camels!”
The brigade was ultimately landed at Siboney as part of an army to attack Santiago. The scene at the landing sometimes resembled the inspiriting daily drama at the approach to the Brooklyn Bridge. There was a great bustle, during which the wise man kept his property gripped in his hands lest it might march off into the wilderness in the pocket of one of the striding regiments. Truthfully, Caspar should have had frantic occupation, but men saw him wandering footlessly here and there crying: “Has any one seen my saddle-bags? Why, if I lose ‘em I’m ruined. I’ve got everything packed away in ‘em. Everything!”
They looked at him gloomily and without attention. “No,” they said. It was to intimate that they would not give a rip if he had lost his nose, his teeth and his self-respect. Reilly’s brigade collected itself from the boats and went off, each regiment’s soul burning with anger because some other regiment was in advance of it. Moving along through the scrub and under the palms, men talked mostly of things that did not pertain to the business in hand.
General Reilly finally planted his headquarters in some tall grass under a mango tree. “Where’s Cadogan?” he said suddenly, as he took off his hat and smoothed the wet, gray hair from his brow. Nobody knew. “I saw him looking for his saddle-bags down at the landing,” said an officer dubiously. “Bother him,” said the General contemptuously. “Let him stay there.”
Three venerable regimental commanders came, saluted stiffly and sat in the grass. There was a pow-wow, during which Reilly explained much that the Division Commander had told him. The venerable Colonels nodded; they understood. Everything was smooth and clear to their minds. But still, the Colonel of the 44th Regular Infantry murmured about the commissariat. His men — and then he launched forth in a sentiment concerning the privations of his men in which you were confronted with his feeling that his men — his men were the only creatures of importance in the universe; which feeling was entirely correct for him. Reilly grunted. He did what most commanders did. He set the competent line to doing the work of the incompetent part of the staff.
In time Caspar came trudging along the road merrily swinging his saddle-bags. “Well, General,” he cried as he saluted, “I found ‘em.”
“Did you?” said Reilly. Later an officer rushed to him tragically: “General, Cadogan is off there in the bushes eating potted ham and crackers all by himself.” The officer was sent back into the bushes for Caspar, and the General sent Caspar with an order. Then Reilly and the three venerable Colonels, grinning, partook of potted ham and crackers. “Tashe a’ right,” said Reilly, with his mouth full. “Dorsey, see if ‘e got some’n else.”
“Mush be selfish young pig,” said one of the Colonels, with his mouth full. “Who’s he, General?” “Son — Sen’tor Cad’gan — ol’ frien’ mine — dash ‘im.” Caspar wrote a letter:
“Dear Father: I am sitting under a tree using the flattest part of my canteen for a desk. Even as I write the division ahead of us is moving forward and we don’t know what moment the storm of battle may break out. I don’t know what the plans are. General Reilly knows, but he is so good as to give me very little of his confidence. In fact, I might be part of a forlorn hope from all to the contrary I’ve heard from him. I understood you to say in Washington that you at one time had been of some service to him, but if that is true I can assure you he has completely forgotten it. At times his manner to me is little short of being offensive, but of course I understand that it is only the way of a crusty old soldier who has been made boorish and bearish by a long life among the Indians. I dare say I shall manage it all right without a row.
“When you hear that we have captured Santiago, please send me by first steamer a box of provisions and clothing, particularly sardines, pickles, and light-weight underwear. The other men on the staff are nice, quiet chaps, but they seem a bit crude. There has been no fighting yet save the skirmish by Young’s brigade. Reilly was furious because we couldn’t get in it. I met General Peel yesterday. He was very nice. He said he knew you well when he was in Congress. Young Jack May is on Peel’s staff. I knew him well in college. We spent an hour talking over old times. Give my love to all at home.”
The march was leisurely. Reilly and his staff strolled out to the head of the long, sinuous column and entered the sultry gloom of the forest. Some less fortunate regiments had to wait among the trees at the side of the trail, and as Reilly’s brigade passed them, officer called to officer, classmate to classmate, and in these greetings rang a note of everything, from West Point to Alaska. They were going into an action in which they, the officers, would lose over a hundred in killed and wounded — officers alone — and these greetings, in which many nicknames occurred, were in many cases farewells such as one pictures being given with ostentation, solemnity, fervor. “There goes Gory Widgeon! Hello, Gory! Where you starting for? Hey, Gory!”
Caspar communed with himself and decided that he was not frightened. He was eager and alert; he thought that now his obligation to his country, or himself, was to be faced, and he was mad to prove to old Reilly and the others that after all he was a very capable soldier. tug
Old Reilly was stumping along the line of his brigade and mumbling like a man with a mouthful of grass. The fire from the enemy’s position was incredible in its swift fury, and Reilly’s brigade was getting its share of a very bad ordeal. The old man’s face was of the color of a tomato, and in his rage he mouthed and sputtered strangely. As he pranced along his thin line, scornfully erect, voices arose from the grass beseeching him to take care of himself. At his heels scrambled a bugler with pallid skin and clenched teeth, a chalky, trembling youth, who kept his eye on old Reilly’s back and followed it.
The old gentleman was quite mad. Apparently he thought the whole thing a dreadful mess, but now that his brigade was irrevocably in it he was full-tilting here and everywhere to establish some irreproachable, immaculate kind of behavior on the part of every man Jack in his brigade. The intentions of the three venerable Colonels were the same. They stood behind their lines, quiet, stern, courteous old fellows, admonishing their regiments to be very pretty in the face of such a hail of magazine-rifle and machine-gun fire as has never in this world been confronted, save by beardless savages when the white man has found occasion to take his burden to some new place.
And the regiments were pretty. The men lay on their little stomachs and got peppered according to the law, and said nothing as the good blood pumped out into the grass; and even if a solitary rookie tried to get a decent reason to move to some haven of rational men, the cold voice of an officer made him look criminal with a shame that was a credit to his regimental education. Behind Reilly’s command was a bullet-torn jungle through which it could not move as a brigade; ahead of it were Spanish trenches on hills. Reilly considered that he was in a fix, no doubt, but he said this only to himself. Suddenly he saw on the right a little point of blue-shirted men already half-way up the hill. It was some pathetic fragment of the Sixth United States Infantry. Chagrined, horrified, Reilly bellowed to his bugler and the chalked-faced youth sounded the charge by rushes.
The men formed hastily and grimly, and rushed. Apparently there awaited them only the fate of respectable soldiers. But they went because — of the opinions of others, perhaps. They went because — no loud-mouthed lot of jailbirds such as the Twenty-seventh Infantry could do anything that they could not do better. They went because Reilly ordered it. They went because they went.
And yet not a man of them to this day has made a public speech explaining precisely how he did the whole thing and detailing with what initiative and ability he comprehended and defeated a situation which he did not comprehend at all.
Reilly never saw the top of the hill. He was heroically striving to keep up with his men when a bullet ripped quietly through his left lung and he fell back into the arms of the bugler, who received him as he would have received a Christmas present. The three venerable Colonels inherited the brigade in swift succession. The senior commanded for about fifty seconds, at the end of which he was mortally shot. Before they could get the news to the next in rank he, too, was shot. The junior Colonel ultimately arrived with a lean and puffing little brigade at the top of the hill. The men lay down and fired volleys at whatever was practicable.
In and out of the ditchlike trenches lay the Spanish dead-lemon-faced corpses dressed in shabby blue and white ticking. Some were huddled down comfortably like sleeping children; one had died in the attitude of a man flung back in a dentist’s chair; one sat in the trench with its chin sunk despondently to its breast; few preserved a record of the agitation of battle. With the greater number it was as if death had touched them so gently, so lightly, that they had not known of it. Death had come to them rather in the form of an opiate than of a bloody blow.
But the arrived men in the blue shirts had no thought of the sallow corpses. They were eagerly. exchanging a hail of shots with the Spanish second line, whose ash-colored entrenchments barred the way to a city white amid trees. In the pauses the men talked.
“We done the best. Old E Company got there. Why, one time the hull of B Company was behind us.”
“Jones, he was the first man up. I saw ‘im.”
“Did you see ol’ Two-bars runnin’ like a land-crab? Made good time, too. He hit only in the high places.”
“The Lootenant is all right, too. He was a good ten yards ahead of the best of us. I hated him at the post, but for this here active service there’s none of ‘em can touch him.”
“This is mighty different from being at the post.”
“Well, we done it, an’ it wasn’t because I thought it could be done. When we started, I ses to m’self: Well, here goes a lot of blanked fools.’”
“‘Tain’t over yet.”
“Oh, they’ll never git us back from here. If they start to chase us back from here we’ll pile ‘em up so high the last ones can’t climb over. We’ve come this far, an’ we’ll stay here. I ain’t done pantin’.”
“Anything is better than packin’ through that jungle an’ gettin’ blistered from front, rear, an’ both flanks. I’d rather tackle another hill than go trailin’ in them woods, so thick you can’t tell whether you are one man or a division of cav’lry.”
“Where’s that young kitchen-soldier, Cadogan, or whatever his name is? Ain’t seen him to-day.”
“Well, I seen him. He was right in with it. He got shot, too, about half up the hill, in the leg. I seen it. He’s all right. Don’t worry about him. He’s all right.”
“I seen him, too. He done his stunt. As soon as I can git this piece of barbed-wire entanglement out of me throat I’ll give him a cheer.”
“He ain’t shot at all, because there he stands, there. See him?”
Rearward, the grassy slope was populous with little groups of men searching for the wounded. Reilly’s brigade began to dig with its bayonets and shovel with its meat-ration cans.
Senator Cadogan paced to and fro in his private parlor and smoked small, brown, weak cigars. These little wisps seemed utterly inadequate to console such a ponderous satrap.
It was the evening of the first of July, 1898, and the Senator was immensely excited, as could be seen from the superlatively calm way in which he called out to his private secretary, who was in an adjoining room. The voice was serene, gentle, affectionate, low.
“Baker, I wish you’d go over again to the War Department and see if they’ve heard anything about Caspar.”
A very bright-eyed, hatchet-faced young man appeared in a doorway, pen still in hand. He was hiding a nettle-like irritation behind all the finished audacity of a smirk, sharp, lying, trustworthy young politician. “I’ve just got back from there, sir,” he suggested.
The Skowmulligan war horse lifted his eyes and looked for a short second into the eyes of his private secretary. It was not a glare or an eagle glance; it was something beyond the practice of an actor; it was simply meaning. The clever private secretary grabbed his hat and was at once enthusiastically away. “All right, sir,” he cried. “I’ll find out.”
The War Department was ablaze with light, and messengers were running. With the assurance of a retainer of an old house, Baker made his way through much small-calibre vociferation. There was rumor of a big victory; there was rumor of a big defeat. In the corridors various watchdogs arose from their armchairs and asked him of his business in tones of uncertainty which in no wise compared with their previous habitual deference to the private secretary of the war horse of Skowmulligan.
Ultimately Baker arrived in a room where some kind of a head clerk sat writing feverishly at a roll-top desk. Baker asked a question and the head clerk mumbled profanely without lifting his head. Apparently he said: “How in the blankety-blank blazes do I know?”
The private secretary let his jaw fall. Surely some new spirit had come suddenly upon the heart of Washington — a spirit which Baker understood to be almost defiantly indifferent to the wishes of Senator Cadogan, a spirit which was not even courteously oily. What could it mean? Baker’s foxlike mind sprang wildly to a conception of overturned factions, changed friends, new combinations. The assurance which had come from experience of a broad political situation suddenly left him, and he would not have been amazed if someone had told him that Senator Cadogan now controlled only six votes in the State of Skowmulligan. “Well,” he stammered, “well — there isn’t any news of the old man’s son, hey?” Again the head clerk replied blasphemously.
Eventually Baker retreated in disorder from the presence of this head clerk, having learned that the latter did not give a — — if Caspar Cadogan were sailing through Hades on an ice yacht.
Baker stormed other and more formidable officials. In fact, he struck as high as he dared. They one and all flung him short, hard words, even as men pelt an annoying cur with pebbles. He emerged from the brilliant light, from the groups of men with anxious, puzzled faces, and as he walked back to the hotel he did not know if his name were Baker or Cholmondeley.
However, as he walked up the stairs to the Senator’s rooms he contrived to concentrate his intellect upon a manner of speaking.
The war horse was still pacing his parlor and smoking. He paused at Baker’s entrance. “Well?”
“Mr. Cadogan,” said the private secretary coolly, “they told me at the Department that they did not give a cuss whether your son was alive or dead.”
The Senator looked at Baker and smiled gently., “What’s that, my boy?” he asked in a soft and considerate voice.
“They said — ” gulped Baker, with a certain tenacity. “They said that they didn’t give a cuss whether your son was alive or dead.”
There was a silence for the space of three seconds. Baker stood like an image; he had no machinery for balancing the issues of this kind of a situation, and he seemed to feel that if he stood as still as a stone frog he would escape the ravages of a terrible Senatorial wrath which was about to break forth in a hurricane speech, which would snap off trees and sweep away barns.
“Well,” drawled the Senator lazily, “who did you see, Baker?”
The private secretary resumed a certain usual manner of breathing. He told the names of the men whom he had seen.
“Ye — e — es,” remarked the Senator. He took another little brown cigar and held it with a thumb and first finger, staring at it with the calm and steady scrutiny of a scientist investigating a new thing. “So they don’t care whether Caspar is alive or dead, eh? Well, . . . maybe they don’t. . . . That’s all right. . . . However, . . . I think I’ll just look in on ‘em and state my views.”
When the Senator had gone, the private secretary ran to the window and leaned afar out. Pennsylvania Avenue was gleaming silver blue in the light of many arc-lamps; the cable trains groaned along to the clangor of gongs; from the window, the walks presented a hardly diversified aspect of shirt-waists and straw hats. Sometimes a newsboy screeched.
Baker watched the tall, heavy figure of the Senator moving out to intercept a cable train. “Great Scott!” cried the private secretary to himself, “there’ll be three distinct kinds of grand, plain, practical fireworks. The old man is going for ‘em. I wouldn’t be in Lascum’s boots. Ye gods, what a row there’ll be!”
In due time the Senator was closeted with some kind of deputy third-assistant battery-horse in the offices of the War Department. The official obviously had been told off to make a supreme effort to pacify Cadogan, and he certainly was acting according to his instructions. He was almost in tears; he spread out his hands in supplication, and his voice whined and wheedled.
“Why, really, you know, Senator, we can only beg you to look at the circumstances. Two scant divisions at the top of whether we are a-foot or a-horseback. Everything is in the air. We don’t know whether we have won a glorious victory or simply got ourselves in a deuce of a fix.”
The Senator coughed. “I suppose my boy is with the two divisions at the top of that hill? He’s with Reilly.”
“Yes; Reilly’s brigade is up there.”
“And when do you suppose the War Department can tell me if he is all right? I want to know.”
“My dear Senator, frankly, I don’t know. Again I beg you to think of our position. The Army is in a muddle; it’s a General thinking that he must fall back, and yet not sure that he can fall back without losing the Army. Why, we’re worrying about the lives of sixteen thousand men and the self-respect of the nation, Senator.”
“I see,” observed the Senator, nodding his head slowly. “And naturally the welfare of one man’s son doesn’t — how do they say it? — doesn’t cut any ice.”
And in Cuba it rained. In a few days Reilly’s brigade discovered that by their successful charge they had gained the inestimable privilege of sitting in a wet trench and slowly but surely starving to death. Men’s tempers crumbled like dry bread. The soldiers who so cheerfully, quietly and decently had captured positions which the foreign experts had said were impregnable, now in turn underwent an attack which was furious as well as insidious. The heat of the sun alternated with rains which boomed and roared in their falling like mountain cataracts. It seemed as if men took the fever through sheer lack of other occupation. During the days of battle none had had time to get even a tropic headache, but no sooner was that brisk period over than men began to shiver and shudder by squads and platoons. Rations were scarce enough to make a little fat strip of bacon seem of the size of a corner lot, and coffee grains were pearls. There would have been godless quarreling over fragments if it were not that with these fevers came a great listlessness, so that men were almost content to die, if death required no exertion.
It was an occasion which distinctly separated the sheep from the goats. The goats were few enough, but their qualities glared out like crimson spots.
One morning Jameson and Ripley, two Captains in the Forty-fourth Foot, lay under a flimsy shelter of sticks and palm branches. Their dreamy, dull eyes contemplated the men in the trench which went to left and right. To them came Caspar Cadogan, moaning. “By Jove,” he said, as he flung himself wearily on the ground, “I can’t stand much more of this, you know. It’s killing me.” A bristly beard sprouted through the grime on his face; his eyelids were crimson; an indescribably dirty shirt fell away from his roughened neck; and at the same time various lines of evil and greed were deepened on his face, until he practically stood forth as a revelation, a confession. “I can’t stand it. By Jove, I can’t.”
Stanford, a Lieutenant under Jameson, came stumbling along toward them. He was a lad of the class of ‘98 at West Point. It could be seen that he was flaming with fever. He rolled a calm eye at them. “Have, you any water, sir?” he said to his Captain. Jameson got upon his feet and helped Stanford to lay his shaking length under the shelter. “No, boy,” he answered gloomily. “Not a drop. You got any, Rip?”
“No,” answered Ripley, looking with anxiety upon the young officer. “Not a drop.”
Here Caspar hesitated oddly for a second, and then in a tone of deep regret made answer, “No, Captain; not a mouthful.”
Jameson moved off weakly. “You lay quietly, Stanford, and I’ll see what I can rustle.”
Presently Caspar felt that Ripley was steadily regarding him. He returned the look with one of half-guilty questioning.
“God forgive you, Cadogan,” said Ripley, “but you are a beast. Your canteen is full of water.”
Even then the apathy in their veins prevented the scene from becoming as sharp as the words sounded. Caspar sputtered like a child, and at length merely said: “No, it isn’t.” Stanford lifted his head to shoot a keen, proud glance at Caspar, and then turned away.
“You lie,” said Ripley. “I can tell the sound of a full canteen as far as I can hear it.”
“Well, if it is, I — I must have forgotten it.”
“You lie; no man in this Army just now forgets whether his canteen is full or empty. Hand it over.”
Fever is the physical counterpart of shame, and when a man has had the one he accepts the other with an ease which would revolt his healthy self. However, Caspar made a desperate struggle to preserve the forms. He arose and, taking the string from his shoulder, passed the canteen to Ripley. But after all there was a whine in his voice, and the assumption of dignity was really a farce. “I think I would better go, Captain. You can have the water if you want it, I’m sure. But — but I fail to see — I fail to see what reason you have for insulting me.”
“Do you?” said Ripley stolidly. “That’s all right.”
Caspar stood for a terrible moment. He simply did not have the strength to turn his back on this — this affair. It seemed to him that he must stand forever and face it. But when he found the audacity to look again at Ripley he saw the latter was not at all concerned with the situation. Ripley, too, had the fever. The fever changes all laws of proportion. Caspar went away.
“Here, youngster; here’s your drink.”
Stanford made a weak gesture. “I wouldn’t touch a drop from his blamed canteen if it was the last water in the world,” he murmured in his high, boyish voice.
“Don’t you be a young jackass,” quoth Ripley tenderly.
The boy stole a glance at the canteen. He felt the propriety of arising and hurling it after Caspar, but — he, too, had the fever.
“Don’t you be a young jackass,” said Ripley again.
Senator Cadogan was happy. His son had returned from Cuba, and the 8:30 train that evening would bring him to the station nearest to the stone and red shingle villa which the Senator and his family occupied on the shores of Long Island Sound. The Senator’s steam yacht lay some hundred yards from the beach. She had just returned from a trip to Montauk Point, where the Senator had made a gallant attempt to gain his son from the transport on which he was coming from Cuba. He had fought a brave sea-fight with sundry petty little doctors and ship’s officers, who had raked him with broad- sides describing the laws of quarantine and had used inelegant speech to a United States Senator as he stood on the bridge of his own steam yacht. These men had grimly asked him to tell exactly how much better was Caspar than any other returning soldier.
But the Senator had not given them a long fight. In fact, the truth came to him quickly, and with almost a blush he had ordered the yacht back to her anchorage off the villa. As a matter of fact, the trip to Montauk Point had been undertaken largely from impulse. Long ago the Senator had decided that when his boy returned the greeting should have something Spartan in it. He would make a welcome such as most soldiers get. There should be no flowers and carriages when the other poor fellows got none. He would consider Caspar as a soldier. That was the way to treat a man. But, in the end, a sharp acid of anxiety had worked upon the iron old man, until he had ordered the yacht to take him out and make a fool of him. The result filled him with a chagrin which caused him to delegate to the mother and sisters the entire business of succoring Caspar at Montauk Point Camp. He had remained at home, conducting the huge correspondence of an active national politician and waiting for this son whom he so loved and whom he so wished to be a man of a certain strong, taciturn, shrewd ideal. The recent yacht voyage he now looked upon as a kind of confession of his weakness, and he was resolved that no more signs should escape him.
But yet his boy had been down there against the enemy and among the fevers. There had been grave perils, and his boy must have faced them. And he could not prevent himself from dreaming through the poetry of fine actions, in which visions his son’s face shone out manly and generous. During these periods the people about him, accustomed as they were to his silence and calm in time of stress, considered that affairs in Skowmulligan might be most critical. In no other way could they account for this exaggerated phlegm.
On the night of Caspar’s return he did not go to dinner, but had a tray sent to his library, where he remained writing. At last he heard the spin of the dog-cart wheels on the gravel of the drive, and a moment later there penetrated to him the sound of joyful feminine cries. He lit another cigar; he knew that it was now his part to bide with dignity the moment when his son should shake off that other welcome and come to him. He could still hear them; in their exuberance they seemed to be capering like school children. He was impatient, but this impatience took the form of a polar stolidity.
Presently there were quick steps and a jubilant knock at his door. ‘Come in,” he said.
In came Caspar, thin, yellow and in soiled khaki. “They almost tore me to pieces,” he cried, laughing. “They danced around like wild things.” Then as they shook hands he dutifully said, “How are you, sir?”
“How are you, my boy?” answered the Senator casually but kindly.
“Better than I might expect, sir,” cried Caspar cheer- fully. “We had a pretty hard time, you know.”
“You look as if they’d given you a hard run,” observed the father in a tone of slight interest.
Caspar was eager to tell. “Yes, sir,” he said rapidly. “We did, indeed. Why, it was awful. We — any of us — were lucky to get out of it alive. It wasn’t so much the Spaniards, you know. The Army took care of them all right. It was the fever and the — you know, we couldn’t get anything to eat. And the mismanagement. Why, it was frightful.”
“Yes, I’ve heard,” said the Senator. A certain wistful look came into his eyes, but he did not allow it to become prominent. Indeed, he suppressed it. “And you, Caspar? I suppose you did your duty?”
Caspar answered with becoming modesty. “Well, I didn’t do more than anybody else, I don’t suppose, but — well, I got along all right, I guess.”
“And this great charge up San Juan Hill?” asked the father slowly. “Were you in that?”
“Well — yes; I was in it,” replied the son.
The Senator brightened a trifle. “You were, eh? In the front of it? or just sort of going along?”
“Well — I don’t know. I couldn’t tell exactly. Sometimes I was in front of a lot of them, and sometimes I was — just sort of going along.”
This time the Senator emphatically brightened. “That’s all right, then. And of course — of course you performed your Commissary duties correctly?”
The question seemed to make Caspar uncommunicative and sulky. “I did when there was anything to do,” he answered. “But the whole thing was on the most unbusinesslike basis you can imagine. And they wouldn’t tell you anything. Nobody would take time to instruct you in your duties, and, of course, if you didn’t know a thing your superior officer would swoop down on you and ask you why in the deuce such and such a thing wasn’t done in such and such a way. Of course I did the best I could.”
The Senator’s countenance had again become sombrely indifferent. “I see. But you weren’t directly rebuked for incapacity, were you? No; of course you weren’t. But — I mean — did any of your superior officers suggest that you were no good,’ or anything of that sort? I mean — did you come off with a clean slate?”
Caspar took a small time to digest his father’s meaning. “Oh, yes, sir,” he cried at the end of his reflection. “The Commissary was in such a hopeless mess anyhow that nobody thought of doing anything but curse Washington.”
“Of course,” rejoined the Senator harshly. “But supposing that you had been a competent and well-trained Commissary officer? What then?”
Again the son took time for consideration, and in the end deliberately replied: “Well, if I had been a competent and well-trained Commissary I would have sat there and eaten up my heart and cursed Washington.”
“Well, then, that’s all right. And now about this charge up San Juan? Did any of the Generals speak to you after- ward and say that you had done well? Didn’t any of them see you?”
“Why, n — n — no, I don’t suppose they did . . . any more than I did them. You see, this charge was a big thing and covered lots of ground, and I hardly saw anybody excepting a lot of the men.”
“Well, but didn’t any of the men see you? Weren’t you ahead some of the time, leading them on and waving your sword?”
Caspar burst into laughter. “Why, no. I had all I could do to scramble along and try to keep up. And I didn’t want to go up at all.”
“Why?” demanded the Senator.
“Because — because the Spaniards were shooting so much. And you could see men falling, and the bullets rushed around you in — by the bushel. And then at last it seemed that if we once drove them away from the top of the hill there would be less danger. So we all went up.”
The Senator chuckled over this description. “And you didn’t flinch at all?”
“Well,” rejoined Caspar humorously, “I won’t say I wasn’t frightened.”
“No, of course not. But then you did not let anybody know it?”
“Of course not.”
“You understand, naturally, that I am bothering you with all these questions because I desire to hear how my only son behaved in the crisis. I don’t want to worry you with it. But if you went through the San Juan charge with credit I’ll have you made a Major.”
“Well,” said Caspar, “I wouldn’t say I went through that charge with credit. I went through it all good enough, but the enlisted men around went through in the same way.”
“But weren’t you encouraging them and leading them on by your example?”
Caspar smirked. He began to see a point. “Well, sir,” he said with a charming hesitation. “Aw — er — I — well, I dare say I was doing my share of it.”
The perfect form of the reply delighted the father. He could not endure blatancy; his admiration was to be won only by a bashful hero. Now he beat his hand impulsively down upon the table. “That’s what I wanted to know. That’s it exactly. I’ll have you made a Major next week. You’ve found your proper field at last. You stick to the Army, Caspar, and I’ll back you up. That’s the thing. In a few years it will be a great career. The United States is pretty sure to have an Army of about a hundred and fifty thousand men. And starting in when you did and with me to back you up — why, we’ll make you a General in seven or eight years. That’s the ticket. You stay in the Army.” The Senator’s cheek was flushed with enthusiasm and he looked eagerly and confidently at his son.
But Caspar had pulled a long face. “The Army?” he said. “Stay in the Army?”
The Senator continued to outline quite rapturously his idea of the future, “The Army, evidently, is just the place for you. You know as well as I do that you have not been a howling success, exactly, in anything else which you have tried. But now the Army just suits you. It is the kind of career which especially suits you. Well, then, go in, and go at it hard. Go in to win. Go at it.”
“But — ” began Caspar.
The Senator interrupted swiftly. “Oh, don’t worry about that part of it. I’ll take care of all that. You won’t get jailed in some Arizona adobe for the rest of your natural life. There won’t be much more of that, anyhow; and besides, as I say, I’ll look after all that end of it. The chance is splendid. A young, healthy and intelligent man, with the start you’ve already got, and with my backing, can do anything — anything! There will be a lot of active service — oh, yes, I’m sure of it — and everybody who — ”
“But,” said Caspar, wan, desperate, heroic, “father, I don’t care to stay in the Army.”
The Senator lifted his eyes and darkened. “What?” he said. “What’s that?” He looked at Caspar.
The son became tightened and wizened like an old miser trying to withhold gold. He replied with a sort of idiot obstinacy, “I don’t care to stay in the Army.”
The Senator’s jaw clinched down and he was dangerous. But, after all, there was something mournful somewhere. “Why, what do you mean?” he asked gruffly.
“Why, I couldn’t get along, you know. The — the — ”
“The what?” demanded the father, suddenly uplifted with thunderous anger. “The what?”
Caspar’s pain found a sort of outlet in mere irresponsible talk. “Well, you know — the other men, you know. I couldn’t get along with them, you know. They’re peculiar, somehow; odd; I didn’t understand them, and they didn’t understand me. We — we didn’t hitch, somehow. They’re a queer lot. They’ve got funny ideas. I don’t know how to explain it exactly, but — somehow — I don’t like ‘em. That’s all there is to it. They’re good fellows enough, I know, but — ”
“Oh, well, Caspar,” interrupted the Senator, then he seemed to weigh a great fact in his mind, “I guess — ” He paused again in profound consideration, “I guess — ” he lit a small, brown cigar, “I guess you are no — good.”