Behind the Wall
Author of “Kleath,” etc.
England, March 3, 1918.
DEAR DEAN,—Your rare intuitive ability aided by the Canadian press will have advised you of the fact that I have been plucked—not feloniously relieved of money, you know —but gathered by the military authorities from the sacred precincts of the bank, as Professor Emery used to gather speciments of flora when he conducted our “nature tramps” many years ago. In other words, I was drafted and am now in England.
“At last,” you say. “It was time.” Perhaps. I am in no mood to argue the point. I will only say that your tactful silence on the subject of what you considered my duty since 1914 has been duly noted and appreciated. At the same time, I have not been insensible to your opinion of an able-bodied man who felt no shame at being deaf to the Empire’s call, a man who preferred to thumb hundreds of dollars in a teller’s cage daily rather than to fight. I know that your friendship for me has been strained almost to breaking and that for the first time in our long association you envied me with what might be termed a sort of hatred. What would you, strapped indefinitely to a wheel chair, have not given to possess my strong body as a casing for your patriotic soul?
However, here I am, a regular devil of a fellow in khaki and a helpless victim to a system which owns me as wholly as though I were a galley slave, two thousand years ago. So everybody is joyful and the goose hangs high, eh, what? The result as far as I am concerned is the same as though you had been successful in sending me to France months ago by the power of suggestion (unless we dwell on the invigorating thought that I might, in this latter event, have been residing indefinitely in the land of the fleur-de-lis.)
I left our small hamlet without saying good-by to a soul. That’s the way I felt about it. Didn’t write to any one on shipboard either, and have not touched a pen until now. What’s the good? I can’t say a lot of heroic stuff I don’t feel, and no one wants to hear how fine I think Canada, nor that my opinion of heaven is that it is precisely like a teller’s cage, do they?
T HAVE been busy, though, fitting myself for the state of butcherhood to which I shall presently attain. I can now count on killing a Hun with a machine gun, a bomb, a bayonet or just a plain knock-out blow with the fist. This morning they turned me on to a pioneer course, whatever that may be, and I doubt not that before the coast of France heaves into my vision I shall have been through a spell of Home Cooking, V.A.D., Germhunting and Deep Sea Scouting. Indeed, nothing in this war surprises me. I am likely to be kept here as Milk Inspector and given a distinction for neglecting my job!
Well, that’s the way I feel. The weather is beastly and my hands are cold.
Hands, I said—not feet I am not and never have been afraid. I simply feel that the capitalists might have settled this dispute amongst themselves without blighting so many blossoms like myself.
It is probably no news to you to learn that I have had stacks of letters from your little neighbor,
Joan W h i tmore. Wasn’t she the little kid I used to take paddling when I was stationed i n your town? It appears that the instant she saw I had been drafted, she sat right down to install the proper soldier-
0 f-t h e-K i n g spirit into this calloused husk.
It further appears that she had been looking for the announcement of my enlistment almost as assiduously a s you, yourself.
Her letters are not too bad, for a child. I have not answered
any of them. Don’t know what to say. Always found it hard to talk to a flapper without being a bit patronizing, and they hate that, the little dears. Indeed, I can’t remember Joan very well. Isn’t it four
years since I left W-? Is she a tiny,
babyish blond, with rather good eyes and a pleasing manner? Of what use are those girls now, I ask you? As man to man, they make me sick, Jack. They can’t do a thing, unless one dignifies a little cooking by the name of housekeeping. They simply knit and sip tea and powder their noses. Most of ’em are like butterflies when they are young and spiders when they are old. By Jove, I almost prefer the thumping public-speaker type.
But to go back to Joan. Will you thank her for her letters and say that I find them most acceptable, or something like that, you know? She probably belongs to a dozen clubs and “circles” whose laudable object is to cheer up the boys at the front. Fine! Only explain to her that I haven’t time to join one over here and do anything in the reciprocity line. And
1 say, Jack, thank her for the candy, too. It was great to get maple sugar. I must
try to write her to-morrow if they don’t put me on to a course in aeroplanechasing or some other fool pastime.
I won’t grumble at any amount of letters you may write, old man, and I’ll: promise to be more cheerful next time.
March 19, 1918.
CALAAMS, old Jock!
^ Still here, hanging about and waiting for orders that don’t come. Have had my kit packed for days and I’ve a bad case of jumps. Feel like one of those silly little dancers you attach to the record of a gramophone, dancing and dancing and never getting anywhere. I wouldn’t have believed it possible to care so much whether one went or stayed, but somehow now that I’ve got so far, I’d like to go the whole way and see what I can do when I sniff the powder.
There’s plenty of powder here, by theway, only it is of another sort. You should just see the youngsters (female) dipping into their camouflage outfits-
They are worse than with us, positively. Why, it’s amazing!
Does that little Joan carry one about? But of course she does. She’s just the kind for that sort of thing. You surprised me by putting down her age as twenty-two. Perhaps I ought to call her Miss. I feel quite hoary and senile, by Jove. Will you use the enclosed to buy her a nosegay, or a box of chocolates or something girlish and romantic? Thanks, old boy.
Tell her I am busier than a hive in August and can’t write her myself.
Entrenching Batn., France,
March 25, 1918.
I am in France and knew you would like to be told the news.
Fear nothing, old sportiboy, this is not going to be a war letter ! I know how fed up with them all of you are at home; columns in the papers, articles in the magazines, and whole books devoted to “My Experiences at the Front.” Then the returned men, lucky devils, can sometimes be prodded into telling what war is like, so I will spare you, for which you may give fervent praise.
Matter of fact, so far I have had no experiences. The whole show has been a most gentlemanly picnic — lovely country, crops growing, hens laying and the kind of sunset made particularly for lovers. A few shell holes and architectural ruins are too trivial to mention. This village runs half way up a hill, then like a tired child, sits down to rest. At the end of the street stands an old grey church. It has been doing business for five hundred and thirty years, I am told. Remarkable, don’t you think?
We came through rather messed up country, without any churches, country torn so that it looked like a huge pockmarked face. Peasants stared at us with tragedy in their eyes as we went past. Their looks were not vastly inspiriting.
However, I am enjoying the peace while it lasts and when my hour strikes, I’ll cock my steel helmet at a saucy angle and have at ’em with dirk and scimitar. What, ho! for the bloody battle !
You should see the star shells Fritz sends up at night all the time we are out working. Remind one of 24th of May and happy childhood. I can close my eyes, now, and see you sitting in your chair, flinging Roman candles and rockets into the air while I cheered your efforts from cover. I say, Jack, I wonder if I am a white-livered coward . . some
more ennobling suggestion, please.
T ATER. It didn’t seem worth while mailing the above, so I waited, hoping something would happen. Nothing has. I’ve had working parties out at night and take back all I said about the star shells. They looked pretty to me at first, but of all the silly, monotonous sights— As long as they were making them wouldn’t you think they would have made a variety? Something to give pleasure to the eye? I’ve a mind to write about it to the Berliner Tageblatt.
What do you think? The Polite Little Letter Writer, I mean Joan, of course, sent me a couple of squash racquets and a box of balls. Wasn’t that clever of her? We rigged up a miniature tennis court at one end of the parade ground and have ferocious sport. There’s nothing like a game to keep one’s mind off this darned business.
Tell it not in Gath, but there’s a beautiful farmer’s daughter in the vicinity ... no, the farmer is not beautiful, I mean the daughter. Also, she has a kind heart and interests herself in our welfare, making me two pillow cases for my air cushion and sewing on various and sundry buttons. Further, she has joined places which man rent asunder. Ostensibly we converse in Flemish, French and English, but giggling and gestures play a very important part. Really, though, she is a beauty, and I only pray that a gas attack is not made on us during the progress of a call. A fellow does look an awful ass in a gas helmet.
March 30, 1918.
NEWS, old chum!
I have been under heavy fire. The Germans treated us to a sudden and unprovoked bombardment which lasted all afternoon and I am still digesting my experiences.
You must be laughing because I remember distinctly stating that you would not be inflicted with war letters from me. And yet, after all, what else have I to tell about? Burn the masterpieces, Dean, and rest assured there will be no hard feeling. I only seek a mode of expressing feelings to violent to restrain.
Mad? Halleluia! When that first shell burst overhead and covered us with sand and dirt, I was so mad I was blind! My most vivid sensation was one of rage against imprisonment in a trench, so that I could not get out and fly at the throat of some fiery-eyed Hun. Probably, had he been ugly or much bigger than I, fright would have paralyzed me and I would have died on the spot without a blow being struck.
But the shelling—we were wrangling about the dulness of our knives, I remember. A little Englishman, fine little fellow who calls himself ’Orton, and who has constituted himself my private bodyguard, insisted upon going up to sharpen them. We argued with him but without success.
He had hardly left us when the explosion came. We looked at one another silently, not caring to put our thoughts into words.
“Who will come with me?” I asked. “We may be of some help.” A chap called Finney came, grumbling all the way. “Any fool knows better than to go out in broad daylight,” he kept repeating. “I didn’t want my knife sharpened, anyway. Has he a wife or anything like that?”
I didn’t think so.
“There’s a girl at home,” Finney went on sourly, “who’s collecting souvenirs from the front. She sells ’em to the Red Cross or something. I hope Horton had plenty of buttons on his clothes. Buttons are easy to send.”
Imagine what we saw! Horton, standing absolutely without cover and watching with upturned face the cloud of shells flying over his head. His hand were full of knives.
“Jack Johnson,” he said, as one struck and raised a flurry of dust, behind us. “A whizz bang! Couple of Fritzes. . . . Oh, ho, a dud! There’s a seventy five. . . Rlimey, sir,” he complained as we dragged him down, “the blarsted rotters are sendin’ heverythink but grindstones!”
I have tried to teach him not to boast about his invulnerability, but it is useless. Finney, who has been in the game
since the first, told me about a fellow who did that, and who is now snending his spare time in a grave near Vimy. In his working hours, if there is any truth in spiritualism, he is doubtless telling Sir Oliver Lodge where Aunt Melissa has mislaid the store-room keys.
In reading your last letter more carefully, I see that you speak of Joan as having come to England. Nursing? It isn’t possible! Don’t mind admitting, just for honesty’s sake, that I have missed her letters like Billy-be-darned! They are probably working her to death at the hospital, too. You know, young girls like that have no business to go in for nursing. In the first place it’s bad for their health ; it must be. And besides, a nurse knows
so dmuch. I’d like my wife to be
innocent enough to blush when I told her a story that some of the boys told me! Of course, this has nothing whatever to do with Joan, I only mentioned the way I feel. Of course, it’s awfully patriotic and all that, but I am distinctly sorry little Joan is a nurse.
A Very Hot Corner, France, Apr. 3, 1918
P\EAR old Jack,
Heine has been kicking up the devil of a row lately and word has come that, at last, we are going to retaliate. Our casualties have been heavy but the Red Cross arrangements are magnificent. It gives a fellow a comfortable, warm sensation instead of a cold trickling one, down his spinal column when he thinks of that.
We are going to relieve the —th. They have been standing it for a good long spell. Made me feel all queer to be safe back here while some other chap was fighting for me. I’m glad it’s my turn to go in. . . .
Almost midnight, and a great gold moon is shining. The Big Bear and Orion fairly glitter and sparkle. There seems something unreal about warfare just at the moment, in spite of the fact that the guns send a horrible vibration through the air which actually tortures the ears, while the ground at each shot quivers sufficiently to send a shock through one’s head. A good many casualties are coming in. I have seen sights not good to see. This is no time for selfanalysis, but so much any man says to his inmost being: “I hope I get it good or not at all. I don’t care much about being messed up like”
If they get me, old boy, do you take a generous tankard and quaff a deep draught to my memory. If I come through safely, I will lose no time in pledging you!
P.S.—Give my kindest regards to Nurse Joan when you write. I don’t know how a thought of her happened to pop into my mind just now. Perhaps, after all, I may be glad to know that some kind Fate sent her to England. Cheer-0 !
JOHN Dean, Esq.,
J 352 First Ave.,
Dear Mr. Dean,
Some time ago I promised Radcliffe, D. Company, —th Battn., that in the event of his being wounded, I would notify you. It is with regret that I now
fulfill my promise. He is, as the heading indicates, in England.
Radcliffe was knocked out in the performance of the highest form of irallantry —saving the lives of his companions at the risk of his own. We had been sent forward to relieve the 1—th, and were settling for the night in comparative safety, when a grenade of some sort, dropped from somewhere, right in the midst of us.
Without a second’s hesitation, Radcliffe flung himself toward the thing, intending to smother it with his body. But the damned invention exploded just as he was going down, and he got the force of it in the face. Notwithstanding the sights I have seen, the memory of that is too horrible to dwell upon.
Feeling that I speak to a friend of his, 1 can say without fear of being thought a mawkish sentimentalist that there isn’t a man jack of us who is not cut to pieces over the affair. Rad was by long odds the most popular man in the company. He never failed to cheer the down-hearted in his inimitably quizzical way; he never failed to boost the spirits of the men to •such a pitch that one felt that the making of cannon fodder and shrapnel mince was the finest kind of a lark. Even under fire, he had time to punctuate explosions with his ready humor. I have heard the groans of “stretcher cases” merge into a pretty good imitation of a laugh when he played nurse, as he called it, for a few minutes. Do you know, Dean, some of the boys called him the Undertaker? He was called more often than the parson when fellows knew they were “going west.” He had a queer way about him— a womanish sort of sympathy, a sort of intuitive power to anticipate their “last
requests,” and he kept them happy right till the end. God, 1 am sorry this thing has happened! Wouldn’t have minded half so much if he had been biffed for fair. There are several of our men here with him. All of us got more or less scratched.
He has never stopped raving since he was hit. They took him off to operate this a.m. I will write again shortly. In the meantime, send anything along that will keep him diverted. Isn’t there any girl?—you know what I mean. If a fellow can get interested, things don’t look so bad.
Sorry I have no better news, but I felt you might want to know the worst.
J. D. FINNEY, per Sister J. E.
Apr. 8, 1918.
R. John Dean,
352 First Ave.,
Excuse the liberty I take in addressing you, but it’s about Mr. Radcliffe, D. Company, —th Battn., the finest soldier that ever wore khaki, that’s straight. If they don’t give him a V.C. for wot he done, I’m ready to quit the Service.
You have likely read about us in the papers, so I wont repeat. Wot I got in me mind, is to sort of prepare you, sir, for some letters that are bound to come. Mr. Radcliffe don’t give me no peace as far as writing you is concerned and to keep him quiet I give him me promise to send you a line. But it wont make delightful reading, sir, believe me.
They operated on him yesterday morning. Seemed as if he was under Hie dope for years. I hope to God, sir, I never put in another day like that! The ward was cleared of everything that could move— the boys found it hard enough to listen to his ravings when he was crazy; they didn’t relish listening to wot he had to say when he was right—if you get me. But Finney and me stood by, waiting for
At last he came. Just a bundle of cotton from the shoulders up. Head looking like a white balloon. Not a feature showing. The nurse was crying. . . .
Finney sits on one side of him, me on the other. We don’t look at each other. He is moaning and muttering . . . the kind of stuff he used to say to cheer the boys.
By and by he lies real still for a minute. Finney lets out a curse under his breath. I tightens up my muscles.
“’Orton,” he says, feeble-like,” are you there?”
“Here, sir,” says I, very prompt. You note he called for me.
“Where the devil are we?” he says. “There’s a ton of sand bags on my head.”
“You’re all right sir,” I tells him. “Keep still and lie doggo.”
“Got to keep still,” he groans. “Tied hand and foot. Are we prisoners and what time is it?”
“Don’t rightly know the hour, but we’re out of range of fire, sir,” says I. “We got kind of messed up with gunpowder and they say bandages help considerable. A little nap, sir, please.”
“But where are we? In a shell hole?”
“We’re in hospital, Rad,” pipes in Mr. Finney. “You and ’Orton and I. This
is the life .... such nice smells, eh, what?”
“Am I wounded in the head?” asks R. “Why can’t I see?”
“Nobody making mica bandages, so far,” I assures him. “And transparent gauze aint no good without wads of cotton wool.”
He stays quiet a spell and tries to make a whistling tune, and stuffs a smoke in his lips.
■ “Are you boys wounded?” he asks, pressit of a scratch,” I say.
“I remember,” he talks in jerks. “The grenade—in the trench—hit me in the face—clouds of hot sparks, blistering my eye balls—feel ’em yet. . . Boys!” his
voice swelled into a scream, sir. “Boys, I know ... I am blind! My God, I am blind!”
Somehow, although his hands were bound against his body, he tore them free and clawed with their clumsy wrappings at his head and face. Before we could stop him, he had his eyes uncovered, his torn flesh all laid bare. He shrieked frightfully, the whole time, till a couple of the boys outside began to yell their
own heads off. The place was like H-,
sir, and all the demons let loose.
Well, that’s all I’ve got to say. He’s blind and there aint no sweet resignation about him, either. He wants me to write and tell you. I have given my promise and I’ll do it. But don’t be down-hearted, sir; anybody is bound to feel it a bit at first. I know I am going to miss my leg some, having got used to carrying it about with me all these years, but, bad as I feel, it’s nothing compared to Mr. Radcliffe losing his eyes. We’ll do the best we can to cheer him up, sir, and anything yoH can do will be much appreciated, so oblige,
Apr. 9, ’18,
I am blind. Not the temporary, paralyzed-nerve sort of blindness that a sudden shock or the violet ray will cure, but stone blind for life ! Can you picture me feeling my way from spot to spot with a cane and a dog—and maybe a cup, who knows?—an object of children’s curiosity, men’s consideration, old ladies’ sympathy and young ladies’ pity? Can you realize that the rest of my life—and God grant it be short!—may be spent cluttering up the corner of some institution where a couple of hundred like me wait dully for the hour of their release
Resigned? Think of the heroism? Glad to have given my eyes to my countrv? No! A million times, NO! I am shouting this at the top of my lungs and cursing Horton because he can’t make it stronger. I’ll never get used to it, never be happy . . . never. ...
I don’t want sympathy; I don’t want to learn Braille and chair-seating; I always hated woven baskets. 1 want to seel I want to see the iridescent spray on the crest of a breaker, I want to see great banks of smoke-edged wind-clouds piled up against a saffron sky. I long for a sight of the sumach, mirrored in the still waters of a tiny lake, and for the dying night fire out in the woods. Woods? I could scream. . . am I never again to know the delight of tramping through our friendly forests, alone save for the company of the Old Comforter and a fishing rod?
Helpless! A miserable useless clod,
that’s what I am! And if you think I intend to endure this torture or inflict myself upon the world any longer than necessary, you are wrong. No one would have felt the least horror had I been left “out there” on the field of France, if for lack of attention I had snuffed out before the Red Cross or Field Ambulance got me. No one need feel any horror if I snuff out now, wounded more grievously, by far, than many a chap who has “paid the supreme price” as the papers grandly put it. What can be more supreme a price than this, will you tell me? Nothing! I scream it. . . . NOTHING can be worse than to live in eternal night. . .
night, without the stars !
There is amongst my belongings a will. This is merely an observation, you understand. A blind man does not feed himself, nor shave himself, and is deprived of convenient cutlery. But I can’t be kept forever in hospital. I am bound to get loose some day, and they say taxi drivers are damned careless.
I shall not write you again, and there is no need for you to write to me. It only means a bother for some one else to interpret. So here’s to you, old Jack Dean. Waste no thought on the chap who wouldn’t even try to be a blooming “ ’ero.” ARTHUR RADCLIFFE,
Per J. H.
P.S.—Don’t pay no attention to this letter, sir. He’ll come around all right. He’s too fine a soldier to lay down under anythink.
MR. John Dean,
352 First Ave.,
Apr. 18, ’18.
In answer to your cable just rec’d, I am glad to report that Mr. R. aint no worse. His face is healing O.K. and won’t be wot you might called disfigured much. He was considerably cheered by your cable, too, sir, although he wouldn’t let me read it to him for some time. Said messages that had to be printed on bill boards for everybody to see didn’t mean nothink. But and bye, he kind of left it in my way, and I managed. He got a couple of letters, forwarded from France, that he won’t let me read to him. Just keeps fingering them and pulling them out of his pocket. Looks like a lady’s handwriting, sir, if I might take the liberty of mentioning it, though he aint asked me to communicate with no one outside of yourself.
I have asked him if he won’t keep me amused by giving me letters to write for him, but he says that being hemmed in by a great black wall, there’s nothink he knows that would interest anybody else.
He don’t rave no more, sir. That were not like him, anyhow. He just sits quiet as if he was overly tired. For a while it was hard to get him to eat, because he wouldn’t let no one feed him, and he wouldn’t feed himself. Said it always made him sick to see people slobber their food about. But yesterday and to-day, he’s picked up considerable. ...
As I live sir, if he ain’t letting the new Sister read his letters to him! ! They are out in the garden, she leaning against his chair, kind of like a little child would do.
She seems to take a special interest in R.; they all do, but this little Sister
even more than the rest. She has only been here a couple of days. Come into the ward one morning after he had his dressings and was asleep. She looks around quick and almost frightened-like, walking from bed to bed, then she stops beside him and looks down at the bundle of bandages with just his nose peeping through.
“Who is this?” she says to me.
“Radford,” says I. “D Company, —th Battn.”
She turns as white as the sheet and sways a little.
“Not his eyes,” she whispers.
“Gone,” says I.
“Good God,” she breathes and takes his head in her arms just like a mother takes her baby.
He stirred but didn’t wake. Just lay there against her heart as peaceful and quiet as though he’d never heard of war. And she dropping shiny tears on that wad of cotton all the time ! I tell you, sir, I’d heap ruther see a fellow wounded on the field than to see a little yellow-haired girl breaking her heart, that way.
But you couldn’t never tell how she felt by listening to her, she’s that cheerful. She makes him eat—indeed, sir, she comes pretty near to making him eat out of her hand, without giving him the least suspicion. She’s a wonder, that little yellow-haired Sister, God bless her!
No more for now, sir, and thank you
Apr. 25, ’18,
OH, Jack, dear!
There is no use pretending that my heart is not heavy, for you would either read the truth between the lines or think that the months of nursing I have put in over here had turned my heart to flint and dried up all the sympathetic springs of my being. Sometimes, I almost wish this were so. You will see that I am at
theHospital. I went to General
S-as soon as I got your cable and he
had me transferred. I found Arthur in a state of mental and physical exhaustion which resulted naturally from days of maniacal raving. There were times when I despaired of raising him from the abyss of melancholy into which he had sunk; life, plainly, held nothing but endless days of unbroken blackness for him. Gradually, he passed into a stage of extreme sensitiveness—how extreme, words will not tell you—and although I had found it difficult to cope with his state of melancholy, I found this phase a million times harder. It was as though he had been turned inside out, as though every nerve was lying exposed on the surface to be tortured by the gentlest touch and to see him quiver and shrink from everyone—me included—was almost more than I could bear.
I remember one afternoon some people from the theatre came down to give a concert on the lawn. Arthur said he did not want to hear them at all, that he never had been able to make out what people were singing about if he couldn’t see them. But I persuaded him to come by striking at the root of his objections and telling him that we could seat ourselves early, by which he understood that he would not be noticed stumbling around and hanging to my hand. We had been seated some time when a lady of worthy intentions but sluggish understanding
Continued on page 93
Behind the Wall
Continued from page 18
came out and sat in front of us. Suddenly, she turned to Arthur and said in a loud voice,
“Can you see over my hat?”
I felt him quiver as though every atom of him had been stung by cactus, and he flung off my hand as though it had been a scorpion, but his voice was brave and steady as he answered.
"I assure you, madam, your hat does not disturb me in the least!”
But he did enjoy the concert, Jack, and soon after that, he began to find himself in a world of whose existence he had never dreamed and into which his excursions now hold much of excitement and pleasurable adventure. I don’t believe he ever had a happier moment than that when he discovered his ability to distinguish between the different denomination of coins, English, Canadian and American. Why, he was like Balboa discovering the Pacific!
And after he had done the trick successfully for me, he had to show Horton, a splendid little Englishman who was in his company, who adores him and who punctiliously calls him “Mister Rydecliffe." Then Finney had to see and presently all the boys in the ward were invited to the performance.
I took the crystal off an ordinary watch and taught him to teil the time. He is no longer afraid to fill and light his pipe unaided, and does not go dead white when he makes a mistake.
Oh, if I can only go on helping him, Jack! What would I not give for your quiet power and depth of understanding! It terrifies me to think that I may shrivel his poor bruised soul by too much sympathy, or too much cheerfulness—or not enough! It is so difficult, to tell how he will take things. . . When I am with him, I always shut my eyes so that I can feel as he feels, sense with his vision and ache with his pain.
He does not know who I am yet. Need I defend myself and explain this deception? Need I point out to you that as a stranger I have made far more rapid progress in gaining his confidence in a few weeks than Joan Whitmore could have made in as many months? No; you will understand.
I want nothing but his trust and his love. Jack. That is much, you wii! say. Of course. It is aii the world, it is life itself to me. But in teaching him to need me, I have to try so hard not to teach him the wrong, the harmful kind of dependence. He will be happy only when he has learned to stand alone, when he has learned that the world needs him and
that, there is work for him to do, and I do feel so miserably unfitted to teach him these great big things. 1 rehearse hundreds of noble, inspirational speeches a day—and bury them unsaid. They sound so awfully like the canting phrases of the narrow-minded person who declares, “Life is real; life is earnest and the grave is not its goal 1”
Please write me, Jack, old friend, and tell me what to say to him,
Surrey. .1 une 3, 1918. /GREETINGS, good John Dean!
VJ 1 can conceal it from you no longer. 1 am a certified and qualified typist of considerable speed and accuracy, making an honest living by doing work for the Government, for private individuals and for the public who are taking a flattering interest in my stories. If you are not surprised to learn all this, then an archtraitor has betrayed me!
You ought to try to use a machine, not only for your own sake but for the sake of your friends! 1 don’t know that you would acquire deftness quite as quickly as I did, for you will be handicapped by wanting to look at your fingers all the time and that is fatal. But if you stick to it, you’ll get there, and typing is so much easier than chasing a pen laboriously across a sheet of paper.
This time last year I never could have learned ; I was too dependent upon my eyes, but of course people do learn, and doubtless you can.
I have discovered that most seeing people waste their faculties other than sight by using them too little. They hear with their eyes, smell and touch with their eyes which of course makes the other senses grow torpid. That is why so many people are afraid of being blind. Now, I know a trick or two and am learning new ones every day; I hear first and see afterward, or I smell first or touch first, as the case may be. That is the proper way, the most satisfactory. Mere material things, I do not see, but you may believe me or not, my vision is so broadened that I feel my sight is only just now developing and that for all these years I have been blind! But have done with moralizing. Let me pick up the thread at the knotty place which expressed itself in my last turgid letter to you. It goes without saying that I am abjectly ashamed of it, Jock. Many a time I have wanted to tell you so but I would not dictate again and had to wait therefore until I could write and pour out all the things I have hoarded for you myself.
When that letter was sent I did not know who my nurse was. I only knew that she was an angel whose presence never jarred, whose touch (metaphorical and actual) was like a healing balm to sore, raw wounds, whose words, softspoken, were like wings lifting one out of darkness and despair. I never pretended to be a blooming hero, Jack, but as Good hears me, I never expected to plumb the depths of cowardice as shamelessly as I did at the-Hospital!
It used to delight me to crush any spark of hope or courage; I gloried in my misery, not wanting sympathy from any one, but wearing an air of “There! This is what you have done by making me fight!” I demanded the privilege of silently accusing everybody by my melan-
One morning the little nurse dropped into a chair near me and sighed.
“Blue?” I asked expecting her to deny it.
“Kind of discouraged,” she said.
This was so surprising an attitude that I enquired the trouble.
“It's those two dear boys, Finney and Horton,” she told me. “Finney has both arms off to the elbow, practically helpless, and Horton is suffering the agony of an active man forced to a life of sitting still. One leg is gone and the other is quite weak. Yet they are both such bricks, never complaining and never seeming to envy the chaps who are better off.” She caught her breath. “I’d rather hear them grumble.”
“Oh, I don’t know that they’ve so much to grumble about,” I muttered.
“You don’t?” asked Jean, sharply. “How would you like to know' that you could never paddle a canoe, again? Or swim, or walk or pick up an object—how would you like to hop from place to place, or clump there on a heavy, uncomfortable wooden leg? How would you like, instead of hands, a pair of—of—flippers?
“No doubt they think that 1 am better off” said I, the hero, sourly.
“Oh, Mr. Radcliffe, if they only could; they would be so glad. They keep themselves wretched by worrying over you. Truly, I am at my wits’ end to know what to do for them and the doctor scolds me so, when he finds my patients despon-
This set me thinking. I got jolly hot over it, too. There was something revolting in the thought that a couple of armlegs, legless incapables who could neither walk nor run, play tennis nor cricket, who couldn’t even pick up objects and feed themselves should lord it over me with their mushy sympathy to the extent of being despondent. “By Gad,” thought I, "I'll show ’em.”
That night when the boys were singing, I interrupted them to remark that bearing Horton croak, anyone would imagine he had lost his ear instead of his leg, and the w'hole crowd roared as though I had said something funny. Then the little nurse slipped her hand in mine and w’hispered a word of thanks. “You don’t know how you could help me,” she said.
I squeezed her hand and got quite sentimental thinking of Finney who could never hold a girl’s hand, poor devil.
It was by way of “helping” her that I determined not to lie down while time counted ten. Added to which was a suspicion that something worth while lay behind the wall of blackness I had thought impenetrable. The suspicion grew to a certainty with the discovery that I had to learn how to see without eyes. The lesson is only as difficult as one makes it for himself.
To-day the pictures I see are so vivid in their beauty as to make those apparent to the material vision seem like poor reflections, and you w'ould be surprised to know how difficult it is for me to picture ugliness. Indeed, I can’t picture it, I can only remember it, and that memory is fading, like the memory of pain fades. Every day I thank God that I didn’t lose my hearing. Imagine being cut off from life in a hell of enforced silence! One can picture a sunset or a waterfall, but one can’t visualize a contralto voice or an organ recital. But here I am raving about everything except the one I want to write about.
For weeks I did not know the identity of my little nurse. It was a part of my policy of damned cussedness to pretend a magnificent disinterest toward all my
surroundings. Vaguely I gathered that she was Sister White. But one day when we were walking down a quiet, fragrant lane, merciful Providence jolted me out of my stupidity.
“There is a rumor that I am soon to lose my patient,” she said breaking a long silence full of deepest companionship and understanding.
“Not me?” I cried and stumbled.
“Why not?” she asked. “This place full of invalids and incapables is no place for you who are so strong and fit and capable. I know at heart that you are keen to go out into the world and do things; you probably are longing to get back to Canada, brave as you have been in suppressing any suggestion of homesick-
Dean, you can’t imagine what I felt! That horrible aloneness in the suffocating, impenetrable dark, without a light, a hand, a voice—one voice.
“Where are you, Little Sister?” I put out my hand to touch her. “The world is dark and big and I am very much afraid. Don’t leave me, just yet, for a little while.”
She seized' my hand and held it to her face. My knees suddenly wobbled and I sat down, dragging her down beside me.
“As long as you need me.” she said, “I shall stay with you, and after—well, we will write one another jolly long letters for I am not going to let you forget me.”
“Forget you?” I laughed grimly, “I will remember every atom of you all my life! I will remember your lovely golden hair.”
She gave a gasp.
“How do yo know it is golden?”
I couldn’t tell how I knew, but I did!— “and your pansy blue eyes so heavily veiled, and your silly little nose and curved red lips. And I’ll remember the dimple in your chin—”
“Arthur,” she cried, just here, “can you see me?” Her voice was tense and strained. She wriggled her hand trying to get it free, but I held it tight and wondered how I came to say all that. Suddenly, I knew I had described the only girl of whom I ever thought.
“Can yoxi see me?" she persisted.
“No, but I don’t have to see you. I love
you, love you, love you—Joan Whitmore!”
I heard her sob as I drew her into my arms and crushed her almost to death. Finney, the poor devil without hands, couldn’t have done that. And I stood up and lifted her up, right up off her feet, holding her so that I could cover her beloved face with kisses, until she cried out that I was hurting her. ’Orton, the good little h-ass, couldn’t have done it, and I felt as though I could hew my way and hers through the world, blindfold—a giant in strength and resource.
She promised to marry me. She did. Not to take care of me but because she loves me and has faith in my ability to take care of her.
So here we live in a corner of Paradise which on the map is called Surrey, and Finney and Horton live with us. The former styles himself my amanuensis, reading my mail, dictating from my rough drafts and that sort of thing. Horton is —well, Horton is a combination orderrlygardener-major domo who “does for” Finney and me, and would for Joan, if I let him, the officious, loyal little beg"ar!
The world, for me, then, good friend of many years, is dripping over with happiness and whatever inconveniences there may be as a result of my los11 sight, are amply compensated for V an added breadth and depth of vision It is true, that I cannot sort mail in a post office, but then I never wanted to sort mail, you know, and scarcely a day passes that I am not impressed with the fact that the hand of God lies in our untried capacity as surely as in our accomplished success. Why, last year I was only a miserable bank teller, and to-day I am an expert typist and—the husband of Joan!
I wish that you might join our happy family; indeed, I look forward to your making us a visit of indefinite length for until then you will never know what a real home is. In the meantime, write me often and I will reply in kind. And you need not remind me that I am the luckiest man living. Haven’t I been trying through all these pages to tell that to you?