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The Hearing Ear
by [?]

There were three American boys from the region of Philadelphia in the dugout, “Somewhere in France”; and they found it a snug habitation, considering the circumstances.

The central heating system–a round sheet-iron stove, little larger than a “topper” hat–sent out incredible quantities of acrid smoke at such times as the rusty stovepipe refused to draw. But on cold nights and frosty mornings the refractory thing was a distinct consolation. The ceiling of the apartment lacked finish. When wet it dropped mud; when dry, dust. But it had the merit of being twenty feet thick–enough to stop any German shell except a “Jack Johnson” full of high explosive. The beds were elegantly excavated in the wall, and by a slight forward inclination of the body you could use them as fauteuils. The rats approved of them highly.

There were two flights of ladder-stairs leading down from the trench into the dugout, and the holes at the top which served as vestibules were three or four yards apart. It was a comfort to think of this architectural design; for if the explosion of a big shell blocked up one of the entrances, the other would probably remain open, and you would not be caught in a trap with the other rats.

The main ornament of the salon was a neat but not gaudy biscuit-box. The top of it was a centre-table, illuminated by a single, guttering candle; the interior was a “combination” wardrobe and sideboard. Around this simple but satisfying piece of furniture the three transient tenants of the dugout had just played a game of dummy bridge, and now sat smoking and bickering as peacefully as if they were in a college club-room in America. The night on the front was what the French call “relativement calme.” Sporadic explosions above punctuated but did not interrupt the debate, which eddied about the high theme of Education–with a capital “E”–and the particular point of dispute was the study of languages.

“Everything is going to change after the war,” said Phipps-Herrick, a big Harvard man from Bryn Mawr and a member of the Unsocial Socialists’ Club. “We are going to make a new world. Must have a new education. Sweep away all the old stuff–languages, grammar, literature, philosophy, history, and all that. Put in something modern and practical. Montessori system for the little kids. Vocational training for the bigger ones. Teach them to make a living. Then organize them politically and economically. You can do what you like, then, with England, France, and America together. Germany will be shut out. Why study German? From a practical point of view, I ask you, why?”

“Didn’t you take it at Harvard?” sarcastically drawled Rosenlaube, a Princeton man from Rittenhouse Square. (His grandfather was born at Frankfort-on-the-Main, but his mother was a Biddle, and he had penetrated about an inch into the American diplomatic service when the war summoned him to a more serious duty.) “I understood that all you Harvard men were strong on modern languages, especially German.”

Phipps-Herrick grunted.

“Certainly I took it. It was supposed to be a soft-snap course. What do you think we go to Harvard for? But that little beast, Professor von Buch, gave me a cold forty-minus on examination. So I dropped it, and thank God I’ve forgotten the little I ever knew of German! It will be absolutely useless in the new world.”

“Right you are,” said Rosenlaube. “My grandfather used to speak it when he was angry–a sloppy, slushy language, extremely ugly. At Princeton, you know, we stand by the classics, Latin and Greek, the real thing in languages. You ought to hear Dean Andy West talk about that. Of course a fellow forgets his Virgil and his Homer when he gets out in the world. But, then, he’s had the benefit of them; they’ve given him real culture and literature. There’s nothing outside of the classics, except perhaps a few things in French and Italian. Thank God I never studied German!”

The third man, who had kept silence up to this point, now gently butted in. It was little Phil Mitchell, of Overbrook, a University of Pennsylvania man, who had been stopped in his junior year by a financial catastrophe in the family, and had gone out to Idaho to earn his living as third assistant bookkeeper in a big mining concern. He took a few real books with him, besides those that he was to “keep.” Double entry was his business; reading, his recreation; thinking, his vocation. From all this the great war called him as with a trumpet.