The young man laid down his bag and took her hand awkwardly. "I sure would be glad to oblige you," he said, "only I guess you could get one that was lots nicer. I am just a sort of a bo-hunk from the North Country."
"You'll do me," said the old lady, whom I recognized at once as my former train companion,—"you'll do me fine. Tell me your name and number, and I'll be your war-mother,—here's my card, I have it all ready,—I knew I'd get some one. Now, remember, I am your Next of Kin. Give in my name and I'll get the cable when you get the D.S.O., and I'll write to you every week and send you things. I just can't keep from sending parcels."
"Gee! This is sudden!" said the boy, laughing; "but it's nice!"
"I lost my boys just as suddenly as this," she said. "Billy and Tom went out together—they were killed at Saint-Eloi, but Frank came through it all to Vimy Ridge. Then the message came ... sudden too. One day I had him—then I lost him! Why shouldn't nice things come suddenly too—just like this!"
"You sure can have me—mother," the big fellow said.
The conductor was giving the last call. Then the boy took her in his arms and kissed her withered cheek, which took on a happy glow that made us all look the other way.
She and I stood together and watched the grinding wheels as they began to move. The spirit of youth, the indomitable, imperishable spirit of youth was in her eyes, and glowed in her withered face as she murmured happily,—
"I am one of the Next of Kin ... again, and my new boy is on that train."
We stood together until the train had gone from our sight.
"Let me see," I said, "how many chickens did you tell me that Biddy hen of yours had when the winter came?"
"Twenty-two," she laughed.
"Well," I said, "it's early yet."
"I just can't help it," she said seriously; "I have to be in it! After I got the word about my last boy, it seemed for a few days that I had come to the end of everything. I slept and slept and slept, just like you do when you've had company at your house,—the very nicest company, and they go away!—and you're so lonely and idle, and tired, too, for you've been having such a good time you did not notice that you were getting near the edge. That's how I felt; but after a week I wanted to be working at something. I thought maybe the Lord had left my hands quite free so I could help some one else.... You have played croquet, haven't you? You know how the first person who gets out has the privilege of coming back a 'rover,' and giving a hand to any one. That's what I felt; I was a 'rover,' and you'd be surprised at all I have found to do. There are so many soldiers' wives with children who never get downtown to shop or see a play, without their children. I have lots to do in that line, and it keeps me from thinking.
"I want you to come with me now," she went on, "to see a woman who has something wrong with her that I can't find out. She has a sore thought. Her man has been missing since September, and is now officially reported killed. But there's something else bothering her."
"How do you know?" I asked.
She turned quickly toward me and said, "Have you any children?"
"Five," I said.
"Oh, well, then, you'll understand. Can't you tell by a child's cry whether it is hungry, or hurt, or just mad?"
"I can, I think," I said.
"Well, that's how I know. She's in deep grief over her husband, but there's more than that. Her eyes have a hurt look that I wish I could get out of them. You'll see it for yourself, and maybe we can get her to tell us. I just found her by accident last week—or at least, I found her; nothing happens by accident!"
We found her in a little faded green house, whose veranda was broken through in many places. Scared-looking, dark-eyed children darted shyly through the open door as we approached. In the darkened front room she received us, and, without any surprise, pleasure, or resentment in her voice, asked us to sit down. As our eyes became accustomed to the gloom, we wondered more and more why the sunshine was excluded, for there was no carpet to fade, nor any furniture which would have been injured. The most conspicuous object in the room was the framed family group taken just before "her man" went away. He was a handsome young fellow in his tidy uniform, and the woman beside him had such a merry face that I should never have known her for the sad and faded person who had met us at the door. In the picture she was smiling, happy, resolute; now her face was limp and frazzled, and had an indefinable challenge in it which baffled me. My old friend was right—there was a sore thought there!
The bright black eyes of the handsome soldier fascinated me; he was so much alive; so fearless; so confident, so brave,—so much needed by these little ones who clustered around his knee. Again, as I looked upon this picture, the horrors of war rolled over my helpless heart.
My old friend was trying hard to engage the woman in conversation, but her manner was abstracted and strange. I noticed her clothes were all black, even the flannel bandage around her throat—she was recovering from an attack of quinsy—was black too; and as if in answer to my thoughts, she said:—
"It was red—but I dyed it—I couldn't bear to have it red—it bothered me. That's why I keep the blinds down too—the sun hurts me—it has no right to shine—just the same as if nothing had happened." Her voice quivered with passion.
"Have you any neighbors, Mrs. C——?" I asked; for her manner made me uneasy—she had been too much alone.
"Neighbors!" she stormed,—"neighbors! I haven't any, and I do not want them: they would only lie about me—the way they lied about Fred!"
"Surely nobody ever lied about Fred," I said,—"this fine, brave fellow."
"He does look brave, doesn't he?" she cried. "You are a stranger, but you can see it, can't you? You wouldn't think he was a coward, would you?"
"I would stake everything on his bravery!" I said honestly, looking at the picture.
She came over and squeezed my hand.
"It was a wicked lie—all a lie!" she said bitterly.
"Tell us all about it," I said; "I am sure there has been a mistake."
She went quickly out of the room, and my old friend and I stared at each other without speaking. In a few minutes she came back with a "paper" in her hand, and, handing it to me, she said, "Read that and you'll see what they say!"
I read the announcement which stated that her husband had been missing since September 29, and was now believed to have been killed. "This is just what is sent to every one—" I began, but she interrupted me.
"Look here!" she cried, leaning over my shoulder and pointing to the two words "marginally noted"—"What does that mean?"
I read it over again:—
"We regret to inform you that the soldier marginally noted, who has been declared missing since September 29, is now believed to have been killed!"
"There!" she cried, "can't you see?" pointing again to the two words. "Don't you see what that means?—margin means the edge—and that means that Fred was noted for being always on the edge of the army, trying to escape, I suppose. But that's a lie, for Fred was not that kind, I tell you—he was no coward!"
I saw where the trouble lay, and tried to explain. She would not listen.
"Oh, but I looked in the dictionary and I know: 'margin' means 'the edge,' and they are trying to say that Fred was always edging off—you see—noted for being on the edge, that's what they say."
We reasoned, we argued, we explained, but the poor little lonely soul was obsessed with the idea that a deep insult had been put upon her man's memory.
Then my old friend had an idea. She opened her purse and brought out the notice which she had received of the death of her last boy.
We put the two notices side by side, and told her that these were printed by the thousands, and every one got the same. Just the name had to be filled in.
Then she saw it!
"Oh!" she cried, "I am so glad you showed me this, for I have been so bitter. I hated every one; it sounded so hard and cold and horrible—as if nobody cared. It was harder than losing Fred to have him so insulted. But now I see it all!"
"Isn't it too bad," said the old lady, as we walked home together, "that they do not have these things managed by women? Women would have sense enough to remember that these notices go to many classes of people—and would go a bit slow on the high-sounding phrases: they would say, 'The soldier whose name appears on the margin of this letter,' instead of 'The soldier who is marginally noted'; it might not be so concise, but it is a heap plainer. A few sentences of sympathy, too, and appreciation, written in by hand, would be a comfort. I tell you at a time like this we want something human, like the little girl who was put to bed in the dark and told that the angels would keep her company. She said she didn't want angels—she wanted something with a skin face!—So do we all! We are panicky and touchy, like a child that has been up too late the night before, and we have to be carefully handled. All the pores of our hearts are open and it is easy to get a chill!"
As we rode home in the car she told me about the letter which had come that day from her last boy:—
"It seemed queer to look at this letter and know that I would never get another one from the boys. Letters from the boys have been a big thing to me for many years. Billy and Tom were away from me for a long time before the war, and they never failed to write. Frank was never away from me until he went over, and he was not much of a letter-writer,—just a few sentences! 'Hello, mother, how are you? I'm O.K. Hope you are the same. Sleeping well, and eating everything I can lay my hands on. The box came; it was sure a good one. Come again. So-long!' That was the style of Frank's letter. 'I don't want this poor censor to be boring his eyes out trying to find state secrets in my letters,' he said another time, apologizing for the shortness of it. 'There are lots of things that I would like to tell you, but I guess they will keep until I get home—I always could talk better than write.' ... But this letter is different. He seemed to know that he was going—west, as they say, and he wrote so seriously; all the boyishness had gone from him, and he seemed to be old, much older than I am. These boys of ours are all older than we are now,—they have seen so much of life's sadness—they have got above it; they see so many of their companions go over that they get a glimpse of the other shore. They are like very old people who cannot grieve the way younger people can at leaving this life."
Then I read the boy's letter.
"Dear Mother," it ran, "We are out resting now, but going in to-morrow to tackle the biggest thing that we have pulled off yet. You'll hear about it, I guess. Certainly you will if we are successful. I hope that this letter will go safely, for I want you to know just how I feel, and that everything is fine with me. I used to be scared stiff that I would be scared, but I haven't been—there seems to be something that stands by you and keeps your heart up, and with death all around you, you see it is not so terrible. I have seen so many of the boys pass out, and they don't mind it. They fight like wild-cats while they can, but when their turn comes they go easy. The awful roar of the guns does it. The silent tomb had a horrible sound to me when I was at home, but it sounds like a welcome now. Anyway, mother, whatever happens you must not worry. Everything is all right when you get right up to it—even death. I just wish I could see you, and make you understand how light-hearted I feel. I never felt better; my only trouble is that you will be worried about me, but just remember that everything is fine, and that I love you.
AT THE LAST!
O God, who hears the smallest cry That ever rose from human soul, Be near my mother when she reads My name upon the Honor Roll; And when she sees it written there, Dear Lord, stand to, behind her chair!
Or, if it be Thy sacred will That I may go and stroke her hand, Just let me say, "I'm living still! And in a brighter, better land." One word from me will cheer her so, O Lord, if you will let me go!
I know her eyes with tears will blind, I think I hear her choking cry, When in the list my name she'll find— Oh, let me—let me—let me try To somehow make her understand That it is not so hard to die!
She's thinking of the thirst and pain; She's thinking of the saddest things; She does not know an angel came And led me to the water-springs, She does not know the quiet peace That fell upon my heart like rain, When something sounded my release, And something eased the scorching pain. She does not know, I gladly went And am with Death, content, content.
I want to say I played the game— I played the game right to the end— I did not shrink at shot or flame, But when at last the good old friend, That some call Death, came beckoning me, I went with him, quite willingly! Just let me tell her—let her know— It really was not hard to go!
THE BELIEVING CHURCH
The gates of heaven are swinging open so often these days, as the brave ones pass in, that it would be a wonder if some gleams of celestial brightness did not come down to us.
We get it unexpectedly in the roar of the street; in the quiet of the midnight; in the sun-spattered aisles of the forest; in the faces of our friends; in the turbid stream of our poor burdened humanity. They shine out and are gone—these flashes of eternal truth. The two worlds cannot be far apart when the travel from one to the other is so heavy! No, I do not know what heaven is like, but it could not seem strange to me, for I know so many people now who are there! Sometimes I feel like the old lady who went back to Ontario to visit, and who said she felt more at home in the cemetery than anywhere else, for that is where most of her friends had gone!
These heavenly gleams have shown us new things in our civilization and in our social life, and most of all in our own hearts. Above all other lessons we have learned, or will learn, is the fallacy of hatred. Hatred weakens, destroys, disintegrates, scatters. The world's disease to-day is the withering, blighting, wasting malady of hatred, which has its roots in the narrow patriotism which teaches people to love their own country and despise all others. The superiority bug which enters the brain and teaches a nation that they are God's chosen people, and that all other nations must some day bow in obeisance to them, is the microbe which has poisoned the world. We must love our own country best, of course, just as we love our own children best; but it is a poor mother who does not desire the highest good for every other woman's child.
We are sick unto death of hatred, force, brutality; blood-letting will never bring about lasting results, for it automatically plants a crop of bitterness and a desire for revenge which start the trouble all over again. To kill a man does not prove that he was wrong, neither does it make converts of his friends. A returned man told me about hearing a lark sing one morning as the sun rose over the shell-scarred, desolated battlefield, with its smouldering piles of ruins which had once been human dwelling-places, and broken, splintered trees which the day before had been green and growing. Over this scene of horror, hatred, and death arose the lark into the morning air, and sang his glorious song. "And then," said the boy, as he steadied himself on his crutches, "he sang the very same song over again, just to show us that he could do it again and meant every word of it, and it gave me a queer feeling. It seemed to show me that the lark had the straight of it, and we were all wrong. But," he added, after a pause, "nobody knows how wrong it all is like the men who've been there!"
Of course we know that the world did not suddenly go wrong. Its thought must have been wrong all the time, and the war is simply the manifestation of it; one of them at least. But how did it happen? That is the question which weary hearts are asking all over the world. We all know what is wrong with Germany. That's easy. It is always easier to diagnose other people's cases than our own—and pleasanter. We know that the people of Germany have been led away by their teachers, philosophers, writers; they worship the god of force; they recognize no sin but weakness and inefficiency. They are good people, only for their own way of thinking; no doubt they say the same thing of us.
Wrong thinking has caused all our trouble, and the world cannot be saved by physical means, but only by the spiritual forces which change the mental attitude. When the sword shall be beaten into the ploughshare and the spear into the pruning-hook, that will be the outward sign of the change of thought from destructive, competitive methods to constructive and cooeperative regeneration of the world! It is interesting to note that the sword and spear are not going to be thrown on the scrap-heap; they are to be transformed—made over. All energy is good; it is only its direction, which may become evil.
It is not to be wondered at that the world has run to blind hatred when we stop to realize that the Church has failed to teach the peaceable fruits of the spirit, and has preferred to fight human beings rather than prejudice, ignorance, and sin, and has too often gauged success by competition between its various branches, rather than by cooeperation against the powers of evil.
At a recent convention of a certain religious body, one sister, who gave in her report as to how the Lord had dealt with the children of men in her part of the vineyard, deeply deplored the hardness of the sinners' hearts, their proneness to err, and the worldliness of even professing Christians, who seemed now to be wholly given over to the love of pleasure. She told also of the niggardly contributions; the small congregations. It was, indeed, a sad and discouraging tale that she unfolded. Only once did she show any enthusiasm, and that was in her closing words: "But I thank my Lord and Heavenly Master that the other church in our town ain't done no better!"
The Church is our oldest and best organization. It has enough energy, enough driving force, to better conditions for all if it could be properly applied; but being an exceedingly respectable institution it has been rather shy of changes, and so has found it hard to adapt itself to new conditions. It has clung to shadows after the substance has departed; and even holds to the old phraseology which belongs to a day long dead. Stately and beautiful and meaningful phrases they were, too, in their day, but now their fires are dead, their lights are out, their "punch" has departed. They are as pale and sickly as the red lanterns set to guard the spots of danger on the street at night and carelessly left burning all the next day.
Every decade sees the people's problems change, but the Church goes on with Balaam and Balak, with King Ahasuerus, and the two she-bears that came out of the woods. I shudder when I think of how much time has been spent in showing how Canaan was divided, and how little time is spent on showing how the Dominion of Canada should be divided; of how much time has been given to the man born blind, and how little to a consideration of the causes and prevention of that blindness; of the time spent on our Lord's miraculous feeding of the five thousand, and how little time is spent on trying to find out his plans for feeding the hungry ones of to-day, who, we are bold to believe, are just as precious in his sight.
The human way is to shelve responsibility. The disciples came to Christ when the afternoon began to grow into evening, and said, "These people haven't anything to eat, send them away!" This is the human attitude toward responsibility; that is why many a beggar gets a quarter—and is told to "beat it"! In this manner are we able to side-step responsibility. To-day's problems are apt to lead to difficulties; it is safer to discuss problems of long ago than of the present; for the present ones concern real people, and they may not like it. Hush! Don't offend Deacon Bones; stick to Balaam—he's dead.
In some respects the Church resembles a coal furnace that has been burning quite a while without being cleaned out. There form in the bottom certain hard substances which give off neither light nor heat, nor allow a free current of air to pass through. These hard substances are called "clinkers." Once they were good pieces of burning coal, igniting the coal around them, but now their fire is dead, their heat is spent, and they must be removed for the good of the furnace. Something like this has happened in the Church. It has a heavy percentage of human "clinkers," sometimes in the front pews, sometimes in the pulpit. They were good people once, too, possessed of spiritual life and capable of inspiring those around them. But spiritual experiences cannot be warmed over—they must be new every day. That is what Saint Paul meant when he said that the outer man decays, but the inner man is renewed. An old experience in religion is of no more value than a last year's bird's nest! You cannot feed the hungry with last year's pot-pies!
This is the day of opportunity for the Church, for the people are asking to be led! It will have to realize that religion is a "here and now" experience, intended to help people with their human worries to-day, rather than an elaborate system of golden streets, big processions, walls of jasper, and endless years of listless loafing on the shores of the River of Life! The Church has directed too much energy to the business of showing people how to die and teaching them to save their souls, forgetting that one of these carefully saved souls is after all not worth much. Christ said, "He that saveth his life shall lose it!" and "He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it!" The soul can be saved only by self-forgetfulness. The monastery idea of retirement from the world in order that one may be sure of heaven is not a courageous way of meeting life's difficulties. But this plan of escape has been very popular even in Protestant churches, as shown in our hymnology: "Why do we linger?" "We are but strangers here"; "Father, dear Father, take Thy children home"; "Earth is a wilderness, heaven is my home"; "I'm a pilgrim and a stranger"; "I am only waiting here to hear the summons, child, come home." These are some of the hymns with which we have beguiled our weary days of waiting; and yet, for all this boasted desire to be "up and away," the very people who sang these hymns have not the slightest desire to leave the "wilderness."
The Church must renounce the idea that, when a man goes forth to preach the Gospel, he has to consider himself a sort of glorified immigration agent, whose message is, "This way, ladies and gentlemen, to a better, brighter, happier world; earth is a poor place to stick around, heaven is your home." His mission is to teach his people to make of this world a better place—to live their lives here in such a way that other men and women will find life sweeter for their having lived. Incidentally we win heaven, but it must be a result, not an objective.
We know there is a future state, there is a land where the complications of this present world will be squared away. Some call it a Day of Judgment; I like best to think of it as a day of explanations. I want to hear God's side. Also I know we shall not have to lie weary centuries waiting for it. When the black curtain of death falls on life's troubled scenes, there will appear on it these words in letters of gold, "End of Part I. Part II will follow immediately."
I know that I shall have a sweet and beautiful temper in heaven, where there will be nothing to try it, no worries, misunderstandings, elections, long and tedious telephone conversations; people who insist on selling me a dustless mop when I am hot on the trail of an idea. There will be none of that, so that it will not be difficult to keep sweet and serene. I would not thank any one to hand me a sword and shield when the battle is over; I want it now while the battle rages; I claim my full equipment now, not on merit, but on need.
Everything in life encourages me to believe that God has provided a full equipment for us here in life if we will only take it. He would not store up every good thing for the future and let us go short here.
In a prosperous district in Ontario there stands a beautiful brick house, where a large family of children lived long ago. The parents worked early and late, grubbing and saving and putting money in the bank. Sometimes the children resented the hard life which they led, and wished for picnics, holidays, new clothes, ice-cream, and the other fascinating things of childhood. Some of the more ambitious ones even craved a higher education, but they were always met by the same answer when the request involved the expenditure of money. The answer was: "It will all be yours some day. Now, don't worry; just let us work together and save all we can; it's all for you children and it will all be yours some day. You can do what you like with it when we are dead and gone!" I suppose the children in their heart of hearts said, "Lord haste the day!"
The parents passed on in the fullness of time. Some of the children went before them. Those who were left fell heir to the big house and the beautiful grounds, but they were mature men and women then, and they had lost the art of enjoyment. The habit of saving and grubbing was upon them, and their aspirations for better things had long ago died out. Everything had been saved for the future, and now, when it came, they found out that it was all too late. The time for learning and enjoyment had gone by. A few dollars spent on them when they were young would have done so much.
If that is a poor policy for earthly parents to follow, I believe it is not a good line for a Heavenly Parent to take.
We need an equipment for this present life which will hold us steady even when everything around us is disturbed; that will make us desire the good of every one, even those who are intent upon doing us evil; that will transform the humblest and most disagreeable task into one of real pleasure; that will enable us to see that we have set too high a value on the safety of life and property and too trifling an estimate on spiritual things; that will give us a proper estimate of our own importance in the general scheme of things, so that we will not think we are a worm in the dust, nor yet mistake ourselves for the President of the Company!
The work of the Church is to teach these ethical values to the people. It must begin by teaching us to have more faith in each other, and more cooerdination. We cannot live a day without each other, and every day we become more interdependent. Times have changed since the cave-dwelling days when every man was his own butcher, baker, judge, jury, and executioner; when no man attempted more than he could do alone, and therefore regarded every other man as his natural enemy and rival, the killing of whom was good business. Cooeperation began when men found that two men could hunt better than one, and so one drove the bear out of the cave and the other one killed him as he went past the gap, and then divided him, fifty-fifty. That was the beginning of cooeperation, which is built on faith. Strange, isn't it, that at this time, when we need each other so badly, we are not kinder to each other? Our national existence depends upon all of us—we have pooled our interests, everything we have is in danger, everything we have must be mobilized for its defense.
Danger such as we are facing should drive the petty little meannesses out of us, one would think, and call out all the latent heroism of our people. People talk about this being the Church's day of opportunity. So it is, for the war is teaching us ethical values, which has always been a difficult matter. We like things that we can see, lay out, and count! But the war has changed our appraisement of things, both of men and of nations. A country may be rich in armies, ships, guns, and wealth, and yet poor, naked, and dishonored in the eyes of the world; a country may be broken, desolate, shell-riven, and yet have a name that is honorable in all the earth. So with individuals. We have set too high a value on property and wealth, too low an estimate on service.
Our ideas of labor have been wrong. Labor to us has meant something disagreeable, which, if we endure patiently for a season, we may then be able to "chuck." Its highest reward is to be able to quit it—to go on the retired list.
"Mary married well," declared a proud mother, "and now she does not lift a hand to anything."
Poor Mary! What a slow time she must have!
The war is changing this; people are suddenly stripped of their possessions, whether they be railroad stock, houses, or lands, or, like that of a poor fellow recently tried for vagrancy here, whose assets were found to be a third interest in a bear. It does not matter—the wealthy slacker is no more admired than the poor one. Money has lost its purchasing quality when it comes to immunity from responsibility.
The cooerdination of our people has begun, the forces of unity are working; but they are still hindered by the petty little jealousies and disputes of small people who do not yet understand the seriousness of the occasion. So long as church bodies spend time fighting about methods of baptism, and call conventions to pass resolutions against church union, which would unquestionably add to the effectiveness of the Church and enable it to make greater headway against the powers of evil; so long as the channels through which God's love should flow to the people are so choked with denominational prejudice, it is not much wonder that many people are experiencing a long, dry spell, bitterly complaining that the fountain has gone dry. Love, such as Christ demonstrated, is the only hope of this sin-mad world. When the Church shows forth that love and leads the people to see that the reservoirs of love in the mountains of God are full to overflowing, and every man can pipe the supply into his own heart and live victoriously, abundantly, gloriously, as God intended us all to live, then it will come about that the sword will be beaten into the ploughshare and the spear into the pruning-hook, and the Lord will truly hear our prayer and heal our land.
THE LAST RESERVES
To-day I read in one of our newspapers an account of a religious convention which is going on in our city. It said that one of the lady delegates asked if, in view of the great scarcity of men to take the various fields, and the increased number of vacancies, the theological course in their colleges would be opened to women? And the report said, "A ripple of amusement swept over the convention."
I know that ripple. I know it well! The Church has always been amused when the advancement of women has been mentioned right out boldly like that. There are two things which have never failed to bring a laugh—a great, round, bold oath on the stage, and any mention of woman suffrage in the pulpit. They have been sure laugh-producers. When we pray for the elevation of the stage in this respect, we should not forget the Church!
I have been trying to analyze that ripple of amusement. Here is the situation: The men have gone out to fight. The college halls are empty of boys, except very young ones. One of the speakers at the same session said, "We do not expect to get in boys of more than eighteen years of age." Churches are closed for lack of preachers. What is to be done about it? No longer can Brother M. be sent to England to bring over pink-cheeked boys to fill the ranks of Canada's preachers. The pink-cheeked ones are also "over there." There is no one to call upon but women. So why was the suggestion of the lady delegate received with amusement? Why was it not acted upon? For although there were many kind and flattering things said about women, their great services to Church and State, yet the theological course was not opened.
The Church has been strangely blind in its attitude toward women, and with many women it will be long remembered with a feeling of bitterness that the Church has been so slow to move.
The Government of the Western Provinces of Canada gave full equality to women before that right was given by the Church. The Church has not given it yet. The Church has not meant to be either unjust or unkind, and the indifference and apathy of its own women members have given the unthinking a reason for their attitude. Why should the vote be forced on women? they have asked. It is quite true that the women of the Church have not said much, for the reason that many of the brightest women, on account of the Church's narrowness, have withdrawn and gone elsewhere, where more liberty could be found. This is unfortunate, and I think a mistake on the part of the women. Better to have stayed and fought it out than to go out slamming the door.
Many sermons have I listened to in the last quarter of a century of fairly regular church attendance; once I heard an Englishman preaching bitterly of the Suffragettes' militant methods, and he said they should all "be condemned to motherhood to tame their wild spirits." And I surely had the desire to slam the door that morning, for I thought I never heard a more terrible insult to all womankind than to speak of motherhood as a punishment. But I stayed through the service; I stayed after the service! I interviewed the preacher. So did many other women! He had a chastened spirit when we were through with him.
I have listened to many sermons that I did not like, but I possessed my soul in patience. I knew my turn would come—it is a long lane that has no tomato-cans! My turn did come—I was invited to address the conference of the Church, and there with all the chief offenders lined up in black-coated, white-collared rows, I said all that was in my heart, and they were honestly surprised. One good old brother, who I do not think had listened to a word that I said, arose at the back of the church and said: "I have listened to all that this lady has had to say, but I am not convinced. I have it on good authority that in Colorado, where women vote, a woman once stuffed a ballot-box. How can the lady explain that?" I said I could explain it, though, indeed, I could not see that it needed any explanation. No one could expect women to live all their lives with men without picking up some of their little ways! That seemed to hold the brother for a season!
The Church's stiff attitude toward women has been a hard thing to explain to the "world." Many a time I have been afraid that it would be advanced as a reason for not considering woman suffrage in the State. "If the Church," politicians might well have said, "with its spiritual understanding of right and justice, cannot see its way clear to give the vote to women, why should the State incur the risk?" Whenever I have invited questions, at the close of an address, I have feared that one. That cheerful air of confidence with which I urged people to speak right up and ask any question they wished always covered a trembling and fearful heart. You have heard of people whistling as they passed a graveyard, and perhaps you thought that they were frivolously light-hearted? Oh, no! That is not why they whistled!
When the vote was given to the women in our province and all the other Western provinces, I confess that I thought our worst troubles were over. I see now that they were really beginning. A second Hindenburg line has been set up, and seems harder to pierce than the first. It is the line of bitter prejudice! Some of those who, at the time the vote was given, made eloquent speeches of welcome, declaring their long devotion to the cause of women, are now busily engaged in trying to make it uncomfortably hot for the women who dare to enter the political field. They are like the employers who furnish seats for their clerks in the stores, yet make it clear that to use them may cost their jobs.
The granting of the franchise to women in western Canada, was brought about easily. It won, not by political pressure, but on its merits. There is something about a new country which beats out prejudice, and the pioneer age is not so far removed as to have passed out of memory. The real men of the West remember gratefully how the women stood by them in the old hard days, taking their full share of the hardships and the sacrifice uncomplainingly. It was largely this spirit which prompted the action of the legislators of the West. As Kipling says:—
Now and not hereafter, while the breath is in our nostrils, Now and not hereafter, ere the meaner years go by, Let us now remember many honorable women— They who stretched their hands to us, when we were like to die!
There was not any great opposition here in western Canada. One member did say that, if women ever entered Parliament, he would immediately resign; but the women were not disturbed. They said that it was just another proof of the purifying effect that the entrance of women into politics would have! Sitting in Parliament does not seem like such a hard job to those of us who have sat in the Ladies' Gallery and looked over; there is such unanimity among members of Parliament, such remarkable and unquestioning faith in the soundness of their party's opinion. In one of the Parliaments of the West there sat for twelve years an honored member who never once broke the silence of the back benches except to say, "Aye," when he was told to say, "Aye." But on toward the end of the thirteenth year he gave unmistakable signs of life. A window had been left open behind him, and when the draft blew over him—he sneezed! Shortly after, he got up and shut the window!
Looking down upon such tranquil scenes as these there are women who have said in their boastful way that they believe they could do just as well—with a little practice!
Women who sit in Parliament will do so by sheer merit, for there is still enough prejudice to keep them out if any reason for so doing can be found. Their greatest contribution, in Parliament and out of it, will be independence of thought.
Women have not the strong party affiliations which men have. They have no political past, no political promises to keep, no political sins to expiate. They start fair and with a clean sheet. Those who make the mistake of falling into old party lines, and of accepting ready-made opinions and prejudices, will make no difference in the political life of the country except to enlarge the voters' list and increase the expenses of elections.
Just now partyism is falling into disfavor, for there are too many serious questions to be fought out. There are still a few people who would rather lose the war than have their party defeated, but not many. "When the Empire is in danger is no time to think of men," appeals to the average thinking man and woman. The independent man who carefully thinks out issues for himself, and who is not led away by election cries, is the factor who has held things steady in the past. Now it seems that this independent body will be increased by the new voters, and if so, they will hold in their hands the balance of power in any province, and really become a terror to evil-doers as well as a praise to those who do well!
Old things are passing away, and those who have eyes to see it know that all things are becoming new. The political ideals of the far-off, easy days of peace will not do for these new and searching times. Political ideals have been different from any other. Men who would not rob a bank or sandbag a traveler, and who are quite punctilious about paying their butcher and their baker, have been known to rob the country quite freely and even hilariously, doctoring an expense sheet, overcharging for any service rendered. "Good old country," they have seemed to say, "if I do not rob you, some one else will!"
This easy conscience regarding the treasury of the country is early shown in the attitude toward road-work, those few days' labor which the municipality requires men to do as part payment of their taxes. Who has not noticed the languorous ease of the lotus-eating road-workers as they sit on their plough-handles and watch the slow afternoon roll by?
Politics too long has been a mystical word which has brought visions of a dark but fascinating realm of romantic intrigue, sharp deals, good-natured tricks, and lucky strikes. The greatest asset a politician can have is the ability to "put it over" and "get something for us." The attitude of the average voter has been that of expectancy. If he renders a public service, he expects to be remunerated. His relation to his country has not been, "What can I do?" but, "What can I get?" His hand has been outstretched palm upward! Citizenship to us has not meant much; it has come too easy, like money to the rich man's son! All things have been ours by inheritance—free speech, freedom of religion, responsible government. Somebody fought for these things, but it was a long time ago, and only in a vague way are we grateful! These things become valuable only when threatened.
There hangs on the wall, in one of the missions in the city of Winnipeg, a picture of a street in one of the Polish villages. In it the people are huddled together, cowering with fear. The priest, holding aloft the sacred crucifix, stands in front of them, while down the street come the galloping Cossacks with rifles and bayonets. Polish men and women have cried bitter tears before that picture. They knew what happened. They knew that the sacred sign of the crucifix did not stay the fury of the Cossacks! These are the people, these Polish people, who have been seen to kiss the soil of Canada in an ecstasy of gladness when they set foot upon it, for it is to them the land of liberty. Liberty of speech and of action, safety of life and of property mean something to them; but we have always enjoyed these things, and esteem them lightly.
The first blow between the eyes that our complacency received was Belgium!—that heroic little country to whose people citizenship was so much dearer than life or riches, or even the safety of their loved ones, that they flung all these things away, in a frenzy of devotion, for the honor of their country and her good name among nations. This has disturbed us: we cannot forget Belgium. It has upset our comfortable Canadian conscience, for it has given us a glimpse of the upper country, and life can never be the same again. It is not all of life to live—that is, grow rich and quit work.
The heroism of the trenches is coming back to us. It is filtering through. It is the need for heroism which is bringing it out. We are playing a losing game, even though we are winning. There is only one thing more disastrous than a victory, and that is a defeat. I do not need to enumerate what we are losing—we know. What can we do to make good the loss? Some of our people have always done all they could: they have always stood in the front trench and "carried on"; others have been in the "stand-to" trench, and have done well, too, in time of stress. Many have not yet signed on, but they will: they are not cowards, they are only indifferent. This has been true of the protected woman in the home, who has not considered herself a citizen.
We have come to the place now when our full force must be called out. The women are our last reserves. If they cannot heal the world, we are lost, for they are the last we have—we cannot call the angels down. The trumpets are calling now in every street of every town, in every country lane, even in the trackless fastnesses of the North Country. The call is for citizens,—woman citizens,—who, with deft and skillful fingers, will lovingly, patiently undertake the task of piecing together the torn mantle of civilization; who will make it so strong, so beautiful, so glorified, that never again can it be torn or soiled or stained with human blood. The trumpets are calling for healers and binders who will not be appalled at the task of nursing back to health a wounded world, shot to pieces by injustice, greed, cruelty, and wrong thinking.
The sign of the Red Cross is a fitting emblem for the Order, worn not only on the sleeve, but in the heart; red to remind its wearer that God made all people of one blood, and is the Father of all; and the Cross which speaks of the One whose mission on earth was to save; who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. Every one who signs on does so for "duration," and must consider herself under orders until the coming in of that glad day
"When men shall brothers be And form one family The wide world o'er!"
It often happens that people die At the hand of that they loved the best; One who loves horses all his days By a horse's hoof is laid to rest!
The swimmer who loves on the waves to lie Is caught in the swell of a passing boat, And the thing he loves breaks over his head And chokes the breath from his gasping throat.
And the Christ who loved all men so well That he came to earth their friend to be, By one was denied, by one betrayed, By others nailed to the cursed tree!
And more and more I seem to see That Love is the world's great Tragedy!
Love is a terrible thing—quite different from amiability, which is sometimes confused with it. Amiability will never cause people to do hard things, but love will tear the heart to pieces!
It was because the people of Belgium loved their country that they chose to suffer all things rather than have her good name tarnished among the nations of the earth. It has been for love, love of fair play, love of British traditions, that Canada has sent nearly four hundred thousand men across the sea to fight against the powers of darkness. Canada has nothing to gain in this struggle, in a material way, as a nation, and even less has there been any chance of gain to the individual who answered the call. There are many things that may happen to the soldier after he has put on the uniform, but sudden riches is not among them.
Some of the men, whose love of country made them give up all and follow the gleam, have come back to us now, and on pleasant afternoons may be seen sitting on the balconies of the Convalescent Homes or perhaps being wheeled in chairs by their more fortunate companions. Their neighbors, who had an amiable feeling for the country instead of love, and who therefore stayed at home, are very sorry for these broken men, and sometimes, when the day is fine, they take the "returned men" out in their big cars for a ride!
There are spiritual and moral dead-beats in every community who get through life easily by following a "safety-first" plan in everything, who keep close to the line of "low visibility," which means, "Keep your head down or you may get hit"; who allow others to do the fighting and bear all the criticism, and then are not even gracious enough to acknowledge the unearned benefits. The most popular man in every community is the one who has never taken a stand on any moral question; who has never loved anything well enough to fight for it; who is broad-minded and tolerant—because he does not care.... Amiability fattens, but love kills!
Amiable patriots at the present time talk quite cheerfully of the conscription of life, but say little of the conscription of wealth, declaring quite truthfully that wealth will never win the war! Neither will men! It will take both, and all we have, too, I am afraid. Surely if the government feels that it can ask one man for his life, it need not be so diffident about asking another man for his wealth. The conscription of wealth might well begin with placing all articles of food and clothing on the free list and levying a direct tax on all land values. Then, if all profits from war-supplies were turned over to the government, there would be money enough to pay a fair allowance to our soldiers and their dependents. It does not seem fair that the soldier should bear all the sacrifices of hardship and danger, and then have the additional one of poverty for his family and the prospect of it for himself, when he comes back unfit for his former occupation. Hardship and danger for the soldier are inevitable, but poverty is not. The honest conscription of wealth would make it possible for all who serve the Empire to have an assurance of a decent living as long as they live.
If equal pay were given to every man, whether he is a private or a major, equal pensions to every soldier's widow, and if all political preference were eliminated, as it would have to be under this system; when all service is put on the same basis and one man's life counts as much as another's, there would be no need of compulsion to fill the ranks of the Canadian army. We know that there never can be equality of service—the soldier will always bear the heavy burden, and no money can ever pay him for what he does; but we must not take refuge behind that statement to let him bear the burdens which belong to the people who stay at home.
Heroism is contagious. It becomes easier when every one is practicing it. What we need now, more than anything, are big, strong, heroic leaders, men of moral passion, who will show us the hard path of sacrifice, not asking us to do what they are not willing to do themselves; not pointing the way, but traveling in it; men of heroic mould who will say, "If my right eye offend me, I will pluck it out"; men who are willing to go down to political death if the country can be saved by that sacrifice. We need men at home who are as brave as the boys in the trenches, who risk their lives every day in a dozen different ways, without a trace of self-applause, who have laid all their equipment on the altar of sacrifice; who "carry on" when all seems hopeless; who stand up to death unflinchingly, and at the last, ask only, that their faces may be turned to the West!—to Canada!
We have always had plenty of amiability, but in this terrible time it will not do. Our country is calling for love.
Sing a song of the Next of Kin, A weary, wishful, waiting rhyme, That has no tune and has no time, But just a way of wearing in!
Sing a song of those who weep While slow the weary night hours go; Wondering if God willed it so, That human life should be so cheap!
Sing a song of those who wait, Wondering what the post will bring; Saddened when he slights the gate, Trembling at his ring,—
The day the British mail comes in Is a day of thrills for the Next of Kin.
When the Alpine climbers make a dangerous ascent, they fasten a rope from one to the other; so that if one slips, the others will be able to hold him until he finds his feet again; and thus many a catastrophe is averted! We have a ring like that here—we whose boys are gone. Somebody is almost sure to get a letter when the British mail comes in; and even a letter from another boy read over the 'phone is cheering, especially if he mentions your boy—or even if he doesn't; for we tell each other that the writer of the letter would surely know "if anything had happened."
Even "Posty" does his best to cheer us when the letters are far apart, and when the British mail has brought us nothing tells us it was a very small, and, he is sure, divided mail, and the other part of it will be along to-morrow. He also tells us the U-boats are probably accounting for the scarcity of French mail, anyway, and we must not be worried. He is a good fellow, this "Posty"!
We hold tight to every thread of comfort—we have to. That's why we wear bright-colored clothes: there is a buoyancy, an assurance about them, that we sorely need! We try to economize on our emotions, too, never shedding a useless or idle tear! In the days of peace we could afford to go to see "East Lynne," "Madame X," or "Romeo and Juliet," and cry our eyes red over their sorrows. Now we must go easy on all that! Some of us are running on the emergency tank now, and there is still a long way to go!
There are some things we try not to think about, especially at night. There is no use—we have thought it all over and over again; and now our brains act like machines which have been used for sewing something too heavy for them, and which don't "feed" just right, and skip stitches. So we try to do the things that we think ought to be done, and take all the enjoyment we can from the day's work.
We have learned to divide our time into day-lengths, following the plan of the water-tight compartments in ships, which are so arranged that, if a leak occurs in one of these, the damaged one may be closed up, and no harm is done to the ship. So it is in life. We can live so completely one day at a time that no mournful yesterday can throw its dull shadow on the sunshine of to-day; neither can any frowning to-morrow reach back and with a black hand slap its smiling face. To-day is a sacred thing if we know how to live it.
I am writing this on the fourth day of August, which is a day when memory grows bitter and reflective if we are not careful. The August sunshine lies rich and yellow on the fields, and almost perceptibly the pale green of the wheat is absorbing the golden hue of the air. The painted cup has faded from rosy pink to a dull, ashy color, and the few wild roses which are still to be seen in the shaded places have paled to a pastel shade. The purple and yellow of goldenrod, wild sage, gallardia, and coxcomb are to be seen everywhere—the strong, bold colors of the harvest.
Everything spoke of peace to-day as we drove through the country. The air had the indescribably sweet smell of ripening grain, clover-blooms, and new hay; for the high stands of wild hay around the ponds and lakes are all being cut this year, and even the timothy along the roads, and there was a mellow undertone of mowing machines everywhere, like the distant hum of a city. Fat cattle stood knee-deep in a stream as we passed, and others lay contentedly on the clover-covered banks. One restless spirit, with a poke on her neck, sniffed at us as we went by, and tossed her head in grim defiance of public opinion and man-made laws. She had been given a bad name—and was going to live up to it!
Going over a hill, we came upon a woman driving a mower. It was the first reminder of the war. She was a fine-looking woman, with a tanned face, brown, but handsome, and she swung her team around the edge of the meadow with a grace and skill that called forth our admiration.
I went over and spoke to her, for I recognized her as a woman whom I had met at the Farm-Woman's Convention last winter. After we had exchanged greetings, and she had made her kind inquiry, "What news do you get from the Front?" and had heard that my news had been good—she said abruptly:—
"Did you know I've lost my husband?"
I expressed my sorrow.
"Yes," she said, "it was a smashing blow—never believed Alex could be killed: he was so big, and strong, and could do anything.... Ever since I can remember, I thought Alex was the most wonderful of all people on earth ... and at first ... when the news came, it seemed I could not go on living ... but I am all right now, and have thought things out.... This isn't the only plane of existence ... there are others; this is merely one phase of life.... I am taking a longer view of things now.... You see that schoolhouse over there,"—she pointed with her whip to a green-and-white school farther down the road,—"Alex and I went to school there.... We began the same day and left the same day. His family and mine settled in this neighborhood twenty years ago—we are all Kincardine people—Bruce, you know. Our road to school lay together on the last mile ... and we had a way of telling whether the other one had passed. We had a red willow stick which we drove into the ground. Then, when I came along in the morning and found it standing, I knew I was there first. I pulled it out and laid it down, so when Alex came he knew I had passed, and hurried along after me. When he came first and found it standing, he always waited for me, if he could, for he would rather be late than go without me. When I got the message I could not think of anything but the loneliness of the world, for a few days; but after a while I realized what it meant ... Alex had passed ... the willow was down ... but he'll wait for me some place ... nothing is surer than that! I am not lonely now.... Alex and I are closer together than plenty of people who are living side by side. Distance is a matter of spirit ... like everything else that counts.
"I am getting on well. The children are at school now, both of them,—they sit in the same seats we sat in,—the crops are in good shape—did you ever see a finer stand of wild hay? I can manage the farm, with one extra hired man in harvest-time. Alex went out on the crest of the wave—he had just been recommended for promotion—the children will always have a proud memory.
"This is a great country, isn't it? Where can you find such abundance, and such a climate, with its sunshine and its cool nights, and such a chance to make good?... I suppose freedom has to be paid for. We thought the people long ago had paid for it, but another installment of the debt fell due. Freedom is like a farm—it has to be kept up. It is worth something to have a chance to work and bring up my children—in peace—so I am living on from day to day ... not grieving ... not moping ... not thinking too much,—it hurts to think too hard,—just living."
Then we shook hands, and I told her that she had found something far greater than happiness, for she had achieved power!
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There is a fine rainbow in the sky this evening, so bright and strong that it shows again in a reflected bow on the clouds behind it. A rainbow is a heartsome thing, for it reminds us of a promise made long ago, and faithfully kept.
There is shadow and shine, sorrow and joy, all the way along. This is inevitable, and so we must take them as they come, and rejoice over every sunny hour of every day, or, if the day is all dark, we must go hopefully forward through the gloom.
To-day has been fine. There was one spattering shower, which pebbled the dusty roads, and a few crashes of rolling thunder. But the western sky is red now, giving promise of a good day to-morrow.
A PRAYER FOR THE NEXT OF KIN
O Thou, who once Thine own Son gave To save the world from sin, Draw near in pity now we crave To all the Next of Kin. To Thee we make our humble prayer To save us from despair!
Send sleep to all the hearts that wake; Send tears into the eyes that burn; Steady the trembling hands that shake; Comfort all hearts that mourn. But most of all, dear Lord, we pray For strength to see us through this day.
As in the wilderness of old, When Thou Thy children safely led, They gathered, as we have been told, One day's supply of heavenly bread, And if they gathered more than that, At evening it was stale and flat,—
So, Lord, may this our faith increase— To leave, untouched, to-morrow's load, To take of grace a one-day lease Upon life's winding road. Though round the bend we may not see, Still let us travel hopefully!
Or, if our faith is still so small— Our hearts so void of heavenly grace, That we may still affrighted be In passing some dark place— Then in Thy mercy let us run Blindfolded in the race.
The Riverside Press CAMBRIDGE . MASSACHUSETTS U.S.A.
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