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The Journalist’s Story
by [?]

IN A RAILWAY STATION

THE TALE OF A DANCER

On Friday night, just as we were finishing dinner–we had eaten inside–the Divorcee said: “It may not be in order to make the remark, but I cannot help saying that it is so strange to think that we are sitting here so quietly in a country at war, suffering for nothing, very little inconvenienced, even by the departure of all the men. The field work seems to be going on just the same. Every one seems calm. It is all most unexpected and strange to me.”

“I don’t see it that way at all,” said the Journalist. “I feel as if I were sitting on a volcano, knowing it was going to erupt, but not knowing at what moment.”

“That I understand,” said the Divorcee, “but that is not exactly what I mean. I meant that, in spite of that feeling which every one between here and Paris must have, I see no outward signs of it.”

“They are all about us just the same,” remarked the Doctor, “whether you see them or not. Did it ever happen to you to be walking in some quiet city street, near midnight, when all the houses were closed, and only here and there a street lamp gleamed, and here and there a ray of light filtered through the shuttered window of some silent house, and to suddenly remember that inside all these dark walls the tragedies of life were going on, and that, if a sudden wave of a magician’s wand were to wipe away the walls, how horrified, or how amused one would be?”

“Well,” said the Lawyer, “I have had that idea many times, but it has come to me more often in some hotel in the mountains of Switzerland. I remember one night sitting on the terrace at Murren, with the Jungfrau rising in bridal whiteness above the black sides of the Schwarze-Monch, and the moon shining so brightly over the slopes, that I could count any number of isolated little chalets perched on the ledges, and I never had the feeling so strongly of life going on with all its joys and griefs and crimes, invisible, but oppressive.”

“I am afraid,” said the Doctor, “that there is enough of it going on right here–if we only knew it. I had an example this afternoon. I was walking through the village, when an old woman called to me, and asked if I were the doctor from the old Grange. I said I was, and she begged me to come in and see her daughter-in-law. She was very ill, and the local doctor is gone. I found a young, very pretty girl, with a tiny baby, in as bad a state of hysteria as I ever saw. But that is not the story. That I heard by degrees. It seems the father-in-law, a veteran of 1870, now old, and nearly helpless, is of good family, but married, in his middle age, a woman of the country. They had one son who was sent away to school, and became a civil engineer. He married, about two years ago, this pretty girl whom I saw. She is Spanish. He met her somewhere in Southern Spain, and it was a desperate love match. The first child was born about six weeks before the war broke out. Of course the young husband was in the first class mobilized. The young wife is not French. She doesn’t care at all who governs France, so that her man were left her in peace. I imagine that the old father suspected this. He had never been happy that his one son married a foreigner. The instant the young wife realized that her man was expected to put love of France before love of her, she began to make every effort to induce him to go out of the country. To make a long story short, the son went to his mother, whom he adored, made a clean breast of the situation, and proposed that, to satisfy his wife, he should start with her for the Spanish frontier, finding means to have her brother meet them there and take her home to her own people. He promised to make no effort to cross the frontier himself, and gave his word of honor to be with his regiment in time. He knew it would not be easy to do, and, in case of accident, he wished his mother to be able to explain to the old veteran. But the lad had counted without the spirit that is dominant in every French woman to-day. The mother listened. She controlled herself. She did not protest. But that night, when the young couple were about to leave the house, carrying the sleeping baby, they found the old man, pistol in hand, with his back against the door. The words were few. The veteran stated that his son could only pass over his dead body–that if he insisted, he would shoot him before he would allow him to pass: that neither wife nor child should leave France. It was in vain that the wife, on her knees, pleaded that she was not French–that the war did not concern her–that her husband was dearer to her than honor–and so forth. The old man declared that in marrying his son she became French, though she was a disgrace to the name, that her son was a born Frenchman; that she might go, and welcome, but that she would go without the child, and, of course, that ended the argument. The next morning the baby was christened, but the tale had leaked out. I suppose the Spanish wife had not kept her ideas absolutely to herself–and the son joined his regiment. The Spanish wife is still here, but, needless to say, she is not at all loved by her husband’s family, who watch her like lynxes for fear she will abduct the child, and she has developed as neat a case of hysterical mania of persecution as I ever encountered. So you see that even in this quiet place there are tragedies behind the walls. But I seem to be telling a story out of my turn!”