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THE COST

Permission of Everybody's Magazine, New York

Six o'clock when the homeward traffic of a city is heaviest from shops and offices. The street was crowded with people who, in their rush, bumped heedlessly against each other. Some smiled. Some went with fixed faces like masks. Motor-horns and car-bells blared and clanged in a medley of impatient sound. Through it all I wove my way—a little shuttle trailing my one frail thread through the pattern of the whole.

Then I heard him bawling of the wares he sold.

"Here you are!" he cried, his mouth incredibly big and twisted. "Here you are! Buy the American colors! Red! White! Blue! The colors that never run! Be a patriot! Buy your little Service-pin! Here you are!"

I stopped before him.

"How much are the Service-pins?" I asked.

"How many stars do you want on it?" said he, plunging his hand into the bag of them strung round his neck with a strap.

"Three," I told him proudly.

He held out the pin to me—a white square rimmed with red, three blue stars on its field; each star for one man of my blood who risks his life for America.

"It costs fifteen cents," said he; "a nickel a star."

Through a sort of haze I stared at him. "Fifteen cents!" he had said. "A nickel a star."

And suddenly I seemed to see the oldest of the three: a desk-bound man with straight and pleasant lips and the comfortable ways of one who is happy among simple things. There had been no yearning for adventure, no restlessness. Yet how quickly he had gone just the same. Like a child, who hears a loved one calling him, he had closed his books and risen to answer—at once. One long look into steady eyes very like his own. Only one question: "You want me to go. Mother?" And the cry in answer: "My boy!"

And the other one—the second; he who is so gentle that babies nod wisely at him, as though there were some secret between them. I remember the winter's night he brought the stray kitten home and fed it with warm milk, drop by drop. Already his comrades in the Signal Corps complain because his horse follows him inside their tent. A man so generous that his touch holds a kind of healing. Yet he too has gone—to kill! Gone with the warmth of his heart blazing white hot from his eyes. When last I saw him, it seemed to me he was an arrow strung back on the bow to the head. The change in him!

Then the last to go—the youngest, the tallest, the straightest; his brows a little knit—puzzled—not wholly understanding this thing that told him to put his boyhood behind him and become, too soon, a man. Still, eager, frightened, and very brave—he went.

These stars of mine "A nickel a piece; The three of them for fifteen cents!" I thought I laughed. But maybe not, for through the dusk the vender peered at me strangely. Then—

"Can't pay?" he asked. "Too much?"

I fastened my Service-pin to my breast.

"No," I said. "I can pay. It costs a lot, but—not too much."