The Second Generation
CASPER 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. Casper'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 Casper took the fever and posted to Washington. His father had never denied him anything, and this time all that Casper wanted was a little captaincy in the army, just a simple little captaincy.
The old man had just 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 whisky and boxes of cigars were still on the table in the sumptuous private parlour. 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, Casper?' 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 any one had told him that he was an ordinary damned 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, Casper,' he said slowly, 'I am of the opinion that they've got all the golf experts and tennis champions, and cotillion leaders, and piano tuners, and billiard markers 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 drank a neat whisky and 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.'
Casper fidgeted in the desire to answer that while 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, because 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 Casper.
'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 in him 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. Casper 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 Casper 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 seen 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. Individual to individual, American manhood overmatches the best in Europe; but manhood is only an essential part of a lieutenant, a captain, or a major. But at any rate it had all the logic of going to sea in a bathing-machine.
The senator found himself reasoning that Casper 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, Henery. 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 does not even yell. The huge force which carries an election to success looks reproachfully at the administration, and says, 'Give me a penny!' That is a very small amount with which to reward a colossus.
The Skowmulligan war-horse got his penny and took it to his hotel, where Casper was moodily reading war-rumours. 'Well, my boy, here you are.' Casper was a captain and commissary on the staff of Brigade-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 empty-headed 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. 'Casper, 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 fightin' to do, and you've got to do every damned one of 'em right up to the handle. I don't know how much of a shindy this thing is goin' 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 nothin' but a good-lookin' dude.'
He ceased, breathing heavily. Casper 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; I'll do my best with it.'
The senator had a marvellous ability of transition from one manner to another. Suddenly he seemed very kindly. '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 man of 'em every day. I know perfectly well you couldn't successfully run a boarding-house in Ocean Grove. How you goin' to manage for all these soldiers, hey? Thought about it?'
'No,' said Casper, injured. 'I didn't want to be a commissary. I wanted to be a captain of 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 them look after me,' cried Casper 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, Casper departed into the south to an encampment in salty grass under pine trees. Here lay an army corps twenty thousand strong. Casper passed into the dusty sunshine of it, and for many weeks he was lost to view.
'OF course, I don't know a damn thing about it,' said Casper, 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 Casper, '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 somewhere, I suppose. But I didn't know.'
The young man's face glowed with sudden humour. '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, Casper should have had frantic occupation; but men saw him wandering fecklessly 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 three whoops in Hades 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 grey 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 do the work of the incompetent part of the staff.
In time Casper 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 eatin' potted ham and crackers all by himself.' The officer was sent back into the bushes for Casper, and the General sent Casper 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 -- damn 'im.'
Casper wrote a letter:
-- I am sitting under a tree using the flattest part of my canteen as 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 underclothing. 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, class-mate to class-mate, in which rang a note of everything from Westpoint 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, fervour. 'There goes Gory Widgeon! Hello, Gory! Where you starting for? eh, Gory?'
Casper 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.
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 setting its share of a very bad ordeal. The old man's face was of the colour 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 behaviour 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 fronted, save by the 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 halfway up the hill. It was some pathetic fragment of the 6th United States Infantry. Chagrined, shocked, horrified, Reilly bellowed to his bugler, and the chalk-faced youth unlocked his teeth and 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 the others, perhaps. They went because no low-down, loud-mouthed, pie-faced lot of jail-birds, such as the 27th 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. 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 ditch-like 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 more 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-coloured 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 P company was behind us. Hell!'
'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. He's all right.'
'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 b'cause I thought it could be done. When we started, I ses to m'self: "Well, here goes a lot a' damned 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 'im, too. He done his stunt. As soon as I can git this piece of barbed-wire entanglement out a' me throat, I'll give 'im a cheer.'
'He ain't shot at all, b'cause there he stands there. See 'im?'
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 parlour, and smoked small brown weak cigars. These little whisps seemed utterly inadequate to console such a ponderous satrap.
It was the evening of the 1st 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 Casper.'
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 rumour of a big victory; there was rumour of a big defeat. In the corridors various watch-dogs 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 feverishly writing at a roller-topped 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 fox-like mind sprang wildly to a conception of overturned factions, changed friends, new combinations. The assurance which had come from a broad political situation suddenly left him, and he could not have been amazed if some one had told him that Senator Cadogan now controlled only six votes in the State of Skowmulligan. 'Well,' he stammered in his bewilderment, '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 Casper Cadogan was sailing through Hades on an ice-yacht.
Baker assailed 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 was Baker or Cholmondeley.
However, as he walked up the stairs to the senator's rooms, he continued to concentrate his intellect upon a manner of speaking.
The war-horse was still pacing his parlour 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 gawd dam 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 gawd dam 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 Casper 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 far out. Pennsylvania Avenue was gleaming silver blue in the light of many arc-lamps; the cable trains groaned along to the clangour 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 Scot!' 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 that hill; over a thousand men killed and wounded; the lines so thin that any strong attack would smash our army to flinders. The Spaniards have probably received reinforcements under Pando; Shafter seems to be too ill to be actively in command of our troops; Lawton can't get up with his division before to-morrow. We are actually expecting -- no, I won't say expecting -- but we would not be surprised -- nobody in the department would be surprised if, before daybreak, we were compelled to give to the country the news of a disaster, which would be the worst blow the national pride has ever suffered. Don't you see? Can't you see our position, senator?'
The senator, with a pale but composed face, contemplated the official with eyes that gleamed in a way not usual with the big self-controlled politician.
'I'll tell you frankly, sir,' continued the other. 'I'll tell you frankly that at this moment we don't know 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 devil 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 in a muddle; its 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 another 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 quarrelling 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 Jamson and Ripley, two captains in the 44th 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 Casper Cadogan, moaning. 'By gawd,' 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 gawd, I can't.'
Stanford, a lieutenant under Jamson, came stumbling along towards them. He was a lad of the class of '98 at Westpoint. 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. Jamson 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 Casper hesitated oddly for a second, and then, in a tone of deep regret, made answer: 'No, captain; not a mouthful.'
Jamson moved off weakly. 'You lay quietly, Stanford, and I'll see what I can russle.'
Presently, Casper 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 damn beast. Your canteen is full of water.'
Even then the apathy in their veins prevented the scene from becoming as sharp as the words sound. Casper strutted like a child, and at length merely said: 'No, it isn't.' Stanford lifted his head to shoot a keen proud glance at Casper, and then turned away his face.
'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, Casper made a desperate struggle to preserve the forms. He arose, 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 had 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.'
Casper 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 for ever 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. Casper went away.
'Here, youngster; here's your drink.'
Stanford made a weak gesture. 'I wouldn't touch a drop from his damned 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 Casper; 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-shingled 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 officers, who had raked him with broadsides describing the laws of quarantine, and they 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 Casper 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 would be no flowers and carriages when the other poor fellows got none. He should consider Casper 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 succouring Casper 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 Casper'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 dogcart's 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 hide 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 Casper, 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 Casper cheerfully. '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.
Casper 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, Casper, I suppose you did your duty?'
Casper 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 Casper uncommunicative and sulky. 'I did when there was anything to do,' he answered. 'But the whole thing was on the most unbusiness-like 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, then your superior officer would swoop down on you and ask you why in hell 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.'
Casper 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 afterwards, and say that you had done well? Didn't any of them see you?'
'Why, no-o-o, 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?'
Casper 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 his description. 'And you didn't flinch at all?'
'Well,' rejoined Casper 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 Casper, '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 it in the same way.'
'But weren't you encouraging them, and leading them on by your example?'
Casper 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, Casper, 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 face was flushed with enthusiasm, and he looked eagerly and confidently at his son.
But Casper 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 specially suits you. Well, then, go in and go at it hard. Go in to win. Go at it.'
'But -- ' began Casper.
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 Casper, wan, desperate, heroic, 'father, I don't care to stay in the army.'
The senator lifted his eyes, and his face darkened. 'What?' he said, 'what's that?' He looked at Casper.
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?'
Casper'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, Casper,' 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.'