The Project Gutenberg eBook of Yellow Butterflies

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Title: Yellow Butterflies

Author: Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews

Release date: October 10, 2021 [eBook #66502]

Language: English

Original publication: United States: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1922

Credits: paracelsus8 and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive)




















Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews

“An Unknown American who
gave his life in the World War.”

Charles Scribner’s Sons

Copyright, 1922, by

Copyright, 1922, by THE CURTIS PUBLISHING CO.

Printed in the United States of America

Published December, 1922




Throughout this story there are sentences and paragraphs quoted, taken bodily from a press account of the coming of the American Unknown Soldier. If other sentences or phrases occur for which proper credit has not been given, it is because the story-teller’s mind was so saturated with the beauty of this account that its wording seemed the inevitable form.

For such borrowed grace the writer offers grateful acknowledgment to the young reporter who, given what is surely the most thrilling episode in all history to write about, has made what has been well-called “the finest bit of newspaper work ever done.” Acknowledgment and thanks to Mr. Kirk Simpson.

 Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews.


Out from the door of the house burst the laughing, shouting little lad. He raced across the grass and halted by the tulip-bed; there, with yet more shouts of full-throated baby laughter, he turned to look back at his young mother, racing after him, standing now in the doorway. His head was yellow as a flower, almost as yellow as the tulips, and the spun-silk, glittering hair of five years old curled tight in a manner of aureole. As the girl gazed at him, glorying in him, suddenly the sun came brilliantly from under a cloud, and, as if at a signal, out of the clover-patch at the edge of the lawn stormed a myriad of butterflies and floated about the golden head.

“Oh, the butterflies take you for a flower, Dicky,” cried the girl.

The little chap stood quite still, smiling and blinking through the winged sunshine, and then, behold, three or four of the lovely things fluttered down on his head. The young woman flashed out and caught him and hugged him till he squealed lustily.

“Don’t, muvver,” remonstrated Dicky. “You’ll scare my ’ittle birds. They ’ike us, muvver.”

“It’s good luck to have a butterfly light on you,” she informed him, and then, in a flash of some unplaced memory, with the quick mysticism of her Irish blood: “A butterfly is the symbol of immortality.”

“’Esh,” agreed Dicky gravely. “’Esh a ’sympum—” and there he lost himself, and threw back his head and roared rich laughter at the droll long word.

“It must have looked pretty,” the boy’s father agreed that night. “I wonder what sort they were. I used to collect them. There’s a book—” He went to the shelves and searched. “This is it.” There were pages here and there of colored pictures. “No. 2,” he read, and pointed to a list. “The Cloudless Sulphur. Were they solid yellow?” He turned a page. “‘The Cloudless Sulphur,’” he began reading aloud. “‘Large, two and a half inches. Wings uniform bright canary color. Likely to light on yellow flowers; social; it flies in masses and congregates on flowers. Habit of migrating in flocks from Southeast to Northwest in the spring and from Northwest to Southeast in the autumn. Food, cassia, etc. Family, Pieridæ.’ That’s the fellow,” decided the boy’s father, learned in butterflies. “A Pierid. ‘Many butterflies hide under clover,’” he read along, “‘and down in grasses—pass the nights there. Some sorts only come out freely in sunshine.’ Didn’t you say the sun came?”

“All at once. They flew up then as if at a command.” She nodded. “That’s exactly the creature. And where it says about lighting on flowers of the same color—they did take Dicky’s head for a flower, didn’t they, Tom?”

“It certainly seems as if they did.” The man smiled. “Kentucky is likely on the line of their spring migration Northwesterly. I reckon Dicky’s friends are the Cloudless Sulphur.”

Dicky’s father died when the boy was eleven. The years ran on. Life adjusted itself as life must, and the child grew, as that other Child twenty centuries back, in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. There might have been more boys in America as upstanding in body and character, as loving and clever and strong and merry, as beautiful within and without as her boy, the woman considered, but she had never seen one. His very faults were dear human qualities which made him more adorable. With his tenderness and his roughness, his teachableness and his stubbornness, his terror of sentiment and his gusts of heavenly sweet love-making, the boy satisfied her to the end of her soul. Buoyancy found her again, and youth, and the joy of an uphill road with this gay, strong comrade keeping step along it. Then the war came. All his life she had missed no chance to make her citizen first of all things an American. And now that carefully fed flame of patriotism flamed to cover all America.

“We must go in, mother. Gosh! it’s only decent. We could bring peace. We must go in,” he raged. He was too young to go across and he raged more at his youth. His mother gloried in and shivered at his rage. At last America was in, and the boy, who had trained in his university, could not fling himself fast enough into the service. The woman, as hundreds of thousands of other American women, was no slacker. There was a jingle in the papers:

“America, he is my only one,
My hope, my pride, and joy;
But if I had another
He should march beside his brother,
America, here’s my boy!”

The jingle hit straight at armies of women in those days.

No officers’ training-camp for Dick; he would go as an enlisted man with the rank and file of American men.

“But you’re officer material,” complained his mother. “Aren’t you wasting power that the country may need?”

“If I can win shoulder-bars, honey, hooray!” said Dick. “Otherwise, me for a dough-boy.”

So as a dough-boy he went to Camp Meade, but in three months wore the stripes of a sergeant. Radiant, he tumbled in at home a week later, such a joyful lad that he sputtered ecstasy and slang. Tremendous he looked in his uniform, fresh colored from cold barracks and constant exercise and in an undreamed pink of condition.

“I never considered you a delicate person,” the woman spoke up to the six feet two of him, “but now you’re overpowering, you’re beefy.”

“Couldn’t kill me with an axe,” assented Dick cheerfully, and back in her brain a hideous, unformed thought stirred, of things that were not axes, that could kill easily even this magnificent young strength.

They were as gay together as if all the training and the uniform and the stir and panoply of war were merely a new and rather thrilling game. She saw to it that there were theatres and dances and girls doing, and the lad threw himself into everything with, however, a delicious grumble after each party:

“I don’t get a chance to see you at all.” That was music.

And then the short, gay leave was done and Dick back at Meade again. The winter months went, with letters thickly coming and going. And late in May he wrote that he had leave once more for two days, and instantly he was there. There was no word as to what the sudden leave meant, but they knew. When it was possible our soldiers due to sail were given this short flying visit to their homes. Transports were going all the time now; great ship followed great ship till it seemed as if the Atlantic must be brown with khaki. And not the nearest of any must know when his time was, for this was one bit of the national patriotism, to guard the knowledge of sailing ships from the enemy. So the boy told nothing, but his eyes embraced her with a burning word unspoken. And her eyes met them with certain knowledge.

“Let’s cut out the girls and balls this time,” he said. And one day, apropos of nothing: “You’re a peach.”

She smiled back cheerfully as women were smiling at boys all over the United States at that date. “I couldn’t bear it if you weren’t in the service,” she said.

In a few minutes—it appeared—the two days were over. “Run across for one second and say good-by to Lynnette,” she suggested, when the racing hours were within three of their end. Lynnette was the girl next door who had grown up in the shadow of Dick’s bigness, a little thing two years younger, shy and blunt and not just a pretty girl, but with luminous eyes and a heart of gold. Dick had to be prodded a bit to be nice to Lynnette.

“I don’t want to miss one second of you, honey,” he objected.

“Don’t you dare stay over a second. But a glimpse would mean a lot to her, and she’s a darling to me.”

“Oh, all right,” agreed Dick. “Because she’s a darling to you—” and he swung off.

“Dick—” as he sprang from the gallery. He turned. “Kiss her good-by, Dick.”

“What sort of a mother——!”

“She’ll object, but she’ll like it.”

“You little devil,” Dick chuckled, “can’t you let a fellow handle his own kissing?” And started again, easy, elastic, made of sliding muscles.

“Oh, Dick!” called his mother once more, and once more the brown figure halted. “Now, then, woman?”

“Don’t peck, Dick; kiss her a thorough one.”

Dick’s laughter rang across the little place. The echo of that big laughter in the woman was not a quickened pulse of gladness as it had been all his days; a sick aching answered the beloved sound, and the stab of a thought—would ever Dick laugh across the garden again? With that he was back, grinning.

“I did it,” stated Dick. “It’s not often a chap’s commanding officer sends him out with orders for a kissing attack, so I put my elbows into it and made a good job. She’s kissed to pieces.”


“Well, now! It’ll teach you to go careful how you start a man on them tricks. Lynnette’s a worthy child, but I’d never have thought of kissing her. Yet it wasn’t so bad. Rather subtle.” He licked his lips tentatively.

“Dicky! Vulgar, vulgar boy!”

“You know, I believe she did like it,” confided Dick.

Then very soon, in the middle of the sunshiny, warm morning he went. In the hall, where they had raced and played games long ago, she told him good-by, doing a difficult best to give him cheer and courage to remember, not heart-break. Something helped her unexpectedly, reaction, maybe, of a chord overstrained; likely the good Lord ordered it; His hand reaches into queer brain-twists. She said small, silly things that made the boy laugh, till at last the towering figure was upon her and she was crushed into khaki, with his expert rifleman’s badge digging into her forehead. She was glad of the hurt. The small defenses had gone down and she knew that only high Heaven could get her through the next five seconds with a proper record as a brave man’s mother. In five seconds he turned and fled, and with a leap was through the door. Gone! She tossed out her arms as if shot, and fled after him. Already he was across the lawn, by the tulip-bed, and suddenly he wheeled at the patch of color and his visored cap was off, and he was kissing his hand with the deep glow in his eyes she had seen often lately. It was as if the soul of him came close to the windows and looked out at her. His blond hair in the sunlight was almost as yellow as on that other day long ago when—What was this? Up from the clover in the ditch, filling all the air with fluttering gold, stormed again a flight of yellow butterflies, the Cloudless Sulphur on their spring migration. The boy as he stood looking back at her shouted young laughter and the winged things glittered about him, and with that two lighted on his head.

“Good luck! It’s for good luck, mother,” he called.

She watched, smiling determinedly, dwelling on details, the uniform, the folds of brown wool puttees, the bronze shine on his shoes, the gold spots of light flickering about his head. He wheeled, stumbling a bit, and then the light feet sprang away; there was no Dick there now, only a glimmering, moving cloud of yellow—meaningless. The tulip-bed—sunshine—butterflies—silence. The world was empty. She clutched at her chest as if this sudden, sick, dropping away of life were physical. His triumphant last word came back to her, “It’s for good luck, mother”; then other words followed, words which she had spoken years ago.

“And for immortality.”

Immortality! She beat her hands against the wall. Not Dick—not her boy—her one thing. Not immortality for him, yet. Not for years and years—fifty—sixty. He had a right to long, sweet mortal life before that terrible immortality. She wanted him mortal, close, the flesh and blood which she knew. It was not to be borne, this sending him away to—Oh, God! The thousands on thousands of strong young things like Dick who had already passed to that horrible, unknown immortality. The word meant to her then only death, only a frantic terror; the subtle, underlying, enormous hope of it missed her in the black hour.

A letter came next day from camp, and the next, and every day for a week, and she pulled herself together and went about her busy hours minute by minute cheerfully, as one must. She disregarded the fact that inside of her an odd mental-moral-spiritual-physical arrangement which is called a heart lay quite defenseless, and that shortly a dagger was going to be struck into it. So when the dagger came, folded in a yellow Western Union envelope, it was exactly as bad as if there had been no preparation at all. Dick had sailed. She spun about and caught at a table. And then went on quietly with the five hundred little cheese-cloth “sponges” which she had promised to have at the Red Cross rooms to-morrow. Ghastly little things. So the boy went, one of two million to go, but yet, as most of the others were, the only one. And two weeks later, it might be, came another telegram; a queerly worded thing from the war office:

“The ship on which I sailed has arrived safely in port.”

What ship? What port? After what adventures? But the great fact remained; he was, at least, overseas, beyond the first great peril. She flung herself into war work and wrote every day a letter with its vague military address ending in A. E. F. And got back many letters full of enthusiasm, of adventure, of old friends and new, of dear French people who had been good to him—but everybody was good to this boy. Of hard training, too, and a word of praise from high quarters once or twice, passed on secretly, proudly to the one person to whom a fellow could repeat such things. It was a life crowded with happiness and hardship and comradeship and worth-while work. And then, soon, with danger. Through all sordidness and horror it was a life vitalized by enormous incentive, a life whose memory few of those who lived it would give up for everything else that any career might offer. The power of these gay, commonplace, consecrated boys’ lives reached across oceans and swung nations into consecration. Dick’s mother moved gladly in the huge orbit, for war work meant to her Dick. The days went. He was in action at times now, and wrote that his life was a charmed one, and that he walked safe through dangers; wrote also the pitiful bit of statistics which boys all told to their mothers, about the small percentage of killed and wounded; wrote as well the heroic sweet thoughts which came from depths of young souls which had never before known these depths.

“If I’m killed, darling child, honey, after all it’s not much different. It wouldn’t be really long before we’d be playing together again. And I’ve had the joy and the usefulness of fifty years of living in these last months. What more could you ask? The best thing to do with a life is to give it away—you taught me that—and this certainly is the best way to give it, for our America. And don’t worry about my suffering if I’m wounded; there’s not much to that. Things hurt and you stand it—that happens in every life—and we wiggle and get through. It hurt like the dickens when I had pneumonia, don’t you remember? So, behold the straight dope of the wise man Dick, and follow thereby. Nothing can happen that’s unbearable; keep it in your mind, precious. Live on the surface—don’t go feeling any more than you can help.”

Thousands of others found the sense of that sentence a way out of impossibility, as this woman did. She slept nights and worked days and wrote letters and rejoiced in getting them, and shunned like poison thoughts that thronged below the threshold, thoughts she dared not meet. Weeks wore on, months; the Germans were being pushed back; with a shivering joy she heard people say that the war could not last long; he might—he might come home safe. She knew as that shaft of golden hope winged across her brain, from the reeling rapture of it she knew how little hope she had ever had. But she whispered Dick’s wise sentence once in a while, “Nothing can happen that’s unbearable,” and she held her head high for Dick. Then the one thing which had never entered her mind happened. Dick was reported among the missing.


Let any mother of a boy consider what that means. Anything. Everything. “Nothing can happen that’s unbearable,” said Dick. But this was. A woman can’t stay sane and face that word “missing”—can she? This woman gasped that question of herself. Yet she must stay sane, for Dick might come back. Oh, he might even come back safe and sound. They did come through prison camps—sometimes—and get back to health. Prison camps. She fell to remembering about nights when she had crept into his room to see that he was covered up. Mines. But that thought she could not think. And the difficult days crawled on, and no news came and no more gay letters, with their little half-sentences of love-making, shining like jewels out of the pages, pages each one more valuable than heaps of gold. No letters; no news; swiftly and steadily her fair hair was going gray. The Armistice arrived, and then, after a while, troops were coming home. Because Dick would have wanted it, because she herself must honor these glorious lads who were, each one, somehow partly Dick, she threw herself into the greetings, and many a boy was made happy and welcome by the slim, tall, still-young woman with the startling white hair, who knew so well what to say to a chap. Outwardly all her ways stayed the same. No one of her friends noticed a difference except that sometimes one would say: “I wonder what keeps her going? Does she hope yet that Dick may come back?” Surely she hoped it. She would not wear black. Till certainty came she must hope. Still, little by little, as drop by drop her heart’s blood leaked, she was coming to believe him dead; coming nearly to hope it. At the same time in the tortured, unresting brain, the brain that held so large an area of mysticism from Irish forbears, in that cave of weaving thoughts there was still hope of a miracle. The child next door, Lynnette, not realizing to what a dangerous borderland of sanity she was urging desperate footsteps, helped her frame her vague theory of comfort.

“Nothing is sure yet. They don’t begin to know about all the missing,” argued Lynnette, dark eyes shining. “Dick may have been carried to the ends of the earth; he may not know even now that the war is over. He’s so strong, nothing could—could hurt him,” stammered Lynnette, and went scarlet with a stab of knowledge of things, things that even Dick’s splendid body could not weather.

“Miracles do happen. Do you know, Lynnette, it’s as if somebody whispered that to me over and over. ‘Miracles do happen—miracles do happen.’ My brain aches with that sentence.” She was still a moment. “I saw what you were thinking. Of the—otherwise. I can’t face the—otherwise.” Her voice thinned to a whisper. “It’s worse than death, any possible otherwise, now. When all the prisoners are freed and all the soldiers are coming—home. Lynnette—I hope he’s dead.”

The girl tossed up a hand.

“Yes, child. But suffering—I can’t have him suffering—long pain. It can’t be. Oh, God, don’t let it be that!”

Lynnette’s brown head dropped on the woman’s two hands and she kissed them with passion.

“I’ve got another thought, honey-child, and I’ll try to tell you, but it’s complicated.” She was silent again, reviewing the waves of the ocean of her theory. The aching, unending thoughts had been busy with this theory. Harmlessly, unnoticed, the mind overwrought had been developing a mania. Peace. Had her boy, had all the boys, died for nothing? They went, the marching hundreds of thousands, with an ideal; no one who talked to any number of soldiers of our armies could fail to know that latent in practically all was an unashamed idealism. The roughest specimen would look you in the eye and—spitting first likely—make amazing statements about saving the world, about showing ’em if Americans would fight for their flag, about paying our debt to France, and, yes—in a quiet, matter-of-fact way—about dying for his country.

“To every man a different meaning, yet
Faith to the thing that set him at his best,
Something above the blood and dirt and sweat,
Something apart. May God forget the rest.”

The woman, appealing and winning, had seen this side of the enlisted man more than most; she had brooded over it, and over what was due to four millions of boys giving themselves to save the peace of the world. Shouldn’t peace, after such sacrifice, be assured? Should the great burnt offering fail? Should the war-to-end-war lead to other wars? God forbid. By infinite little links she came to tie her boy’s coming home to the coming of world peace. What more typical of America could there be than Dick? An enlisted man—she rejoiced in that now; of the educated classes, but representing the rank and file as well as the brains and gentle blood of this land; not too poor, yet not rich; in his youth and strength and forthgoing power the visible spirit of a young, strong, eager country. She put all this into halting yet clear enough words to the girl.

“I see,” Lynnette picked up the thread. “Dick is America. He’s a symbol. Nobody else could combine so many elements as Dick.”

“I think you understand. It’s wonderful to be able to tell it to some one who understands. It has eaten my soul.” She breathed fast. “Listen—this is what, somehow, I believe, and nothing could change my belief. Dick is going to bring peace to his country and to the world. God has chosen him—Dick. Alive or dead his coming will mean—peace. Peace!” The visions of many generations of mystic Gaels were in her eyes as they lifted and gazed out at the branches which swayed slowly, hypnotically across a pale sky. The girl’s twisting hands holding hers, she went on to unroll the fabric which had woven itself on the unresting loom of her brain, a fabric which was, judged by a medical standard, madness. The chain of crooked logic was after this fashion: America was the nation to bring at the last peace; Dick was the typical American; with his home-coming peace would come home to the country, and so to the world. Till Dick came home there could be no surety, no rest for the flag which he served. Other women died or went mad; this one alone, perhaps, fashioned her sorrow into a vigil for the salvation of her land.

Then one day Lynnette flew across the lawn and stood before her. “You’ve seen the paper?”

“I went to the Red Cross early. I haven’t read it.” Her pulse stopped. “Lynnette! Not—Dick?”

“Oh, no—oh, no!” Lynnette went crimson painfully. Another girl would have had her arms around the woman, but not this one. To show feeling was like pulling teeth to Lynnette. “It’s not that,” she said. “But—there’s to be a peace conference. You know. And they want to bring back for us at that time, Armistice Day, an unknown soldier.”

“The two things.” Yes—the two things. What could the two things mean but her vision, her hope for the world. Dick was coming. He was to be the unknown soldier. Dick was coming, carrying peace in his dead hands. Who else could it be? People, mere people, could not see how that was fitting and inevitable; but she saw it; she knew it; God would take care of it. The unknown soldier would be Dick. He would bring, mystically, certainly, success to the gathering in Washington. And the Lord God would give her a sign. Each day she rose hoping the sign might be that day. Each night she lay down sure of its coming, willing to wait.

“Lynnette, I’ll wear—those clothes, now.”

And when the girl came across the lawn and found her a few days later in new black, with the dramatic gold star on her arm, Lynnette dropped suddenly in a heap.

“Oh,” the woman cried. “You hadn’t given up hope.” And then: “Lynnette—you loved Dicky, too.”

With that Lynnette was standing before her, her head high, a trembling smile on her face. “I always loved him. And now I may tell you—he loved me.” The woman stared. “Yes,” Lynnette said. “I didn’t dream it till that last morning, when he ran across—and he kissed me. He’d never kissed me before. It—it wasn’t just a little kiss to—an old playmate.” The words came difficultly. “It—would be impossible to tell it except to you. But it was—a long kiss. He—didn’t say anything. I’ve thought it over and over and I think he—believed he shouldn’t. Somehow. But that kiss—said it. For me. I know Dick—loved me.”

The woman caught the small figure so that the wet eyes could not see her.

“My Lynnette!” Never on earth should the child know the true story of Dick’s kiss.

Then it was November and she went to Washington. It meant saving money for months, but there was no question; the journey was as inevitable as death. Likely the Lord waited in Washington with that sign which she would know when it came. Many American women are tall and slender, with lines of distinction; this was one of them. In her sombre dress with sheer white at neck and wrists, with the shadowy veil falling and lifting about her shoulders and accenting her white hair, with her lithe young movement, and with that touch of mysticism, of other-worldness in eyes that shone jewel-gray from a carved face, she was an arresting person. In great Washington, packed with all human sorts, people turned to look at her.

“The gold star! The black—the veil! What a face of tragedy!” Such things they said; more than once a man’s hand crept to his hat, and he stood bareheaded as she passed, as before the dead. But she who had lived for three years facing an unthinkable word drifted through the crowd unconscious, uncaring.

A newspaper had printed a composite photograph of twenty-nine young soldiers, one from each of the combat divisions in France, and at breakfast in the hotel a woman whom she had never seen stepped across and laid it, the picture folded out, by her plate.

“It’s your boy, too,” the woman spoke gently, and was gone.

Dick’s mother stared at the vague, lovely face of an uncommonly handsome lad, dreamy, deep-eyed, steady-mouthed, a face rather short from brow to chin, with a wide facial arch between the cheek-bones—such as was Dick’s face. The sweet extreme of youth was like Dick, but a certain haunting, ethereal quality was not like him; yet, even so might her boy look at her through the veil of another world. There was in fact a manner of likeness, and to the woman whose soul was at white heat the likeness was the voice of Heaven saying “Amen” to her possessing thought. Yet this was not the sign. She would know that when it came. This was but an incident, making sure faith surer.

All the steps of his journey home she had watched Dick—the Unknown. When the papers had told how Sergeant Younger, over there in France at Châlons-sur-Marne, on October 24th, would be sent into a room of the city hall alone, to choose one of four nameless dead boys lying, each so helpless to plead his cause, in four earth-stained coffins, she had known well, even then, which one. Over Dick’s quiet heart the Sergeant would lay the white roses. The French town decked with the colors of the Allies; troops about the city hall; an American flag at half-mast; an unseen band playing on muffled trumpets—all this while the Sergeant walked slowly through the still room where the dead boys waited, and walked slowly back and turned and went to the farthest on the right. Dick. He bent and laid down the white French roses—over Dick. She was sorry about the other boys, yet Dick meant all of them. It was ordered. Dick was the Peace Bringer. She read how the inscription carried the words: “An Unknown American who gave his life in the World War.” She smiled a little to think how she alone in the world knew the Unknown; how among more than two thousand unidentified soldiers buried on the battlefields where they fell, chosen by chance so that even the field where he had fallen might never be placed—she smiled to think how through this mist of circumstance she knew Dick. The woman was mad, it might have been said, had any one known her full thought; who among us, with imagination, but hides a small corner of madness from the world?

Flower-heaped, carrying the cross of the Legion of Honor, moving like the mightiest king through weeping throngs, Dick came to the gray old cruiser Olympia, where Dewey had once said: “You may fire now, Gridley, if you are ready.” And they carried him on board, and a General was his escort home, and a guard of his comrades stood about him day and night as he slept among the flags, his faded French roses above his breast. The cruiser had steamed out from Havre through dipped flags and firing guns, and all the way across the Atlantic she was saluted by all ships large and small which sailed within vision. Because she carried Dick. With that it was November 9th and a raw, foggy, rainy day, but the woman went out from city noises, in the wet, where it was quiet, to listen for something. After a while she heard it—a far boom of guns—salutes to the Olympia as she came slowly up the Potomac. The fog hid her, but fort after fort, post after post, took up the tale and thundered its solemn welcome to the nation’s dead boy. The boy’s mother was at the Navy Yard when the ship swung into dock. She saw the crew, standing high up, in dark-blue lines, stiff, at attention; astern, under the muzzle of a gun that had rung into history that May morning in Manila Bay, was an awning; beneath it something flag-draped—Dick. The woman shook in a tearless sob. Dick. What was it all—all the glory that the nations, that America could heap on him, when—ah, Dick! She seemed to see his eyes and the deep look in them as he turned by the tulip-bed and kissed his hands to her—as the Cloudless Sulphurs stormed up from the clover around his blond head. Dick! Her little, laughing Dick—her big, loving Dick. Then she was aware of a gun crashing, a band playing a dirge—the gun crashing again into the music; it was the “minute-guns of sorrow” they were firing. And then suddenly—a shrill sound and a heart-stirring—as they lifted the coffin to the gangway, the boatswain, in the old ceremony of the sea, “piped his comrade over the side.” Step by slow step they carried the lad down and the boatswain’s whistle called piercingly again as Dick, high on the shoulders of eight uniformed men, reached shore. Dick was home. The coffin wound between the lines of troops and marines, toward the gun-carriage, and the rigid young bluejackets far above watched still at attention, and with that a bugler blew flourishes and the band broke into the “Star-Spangled Banner,” the nation’s hymn. And still the minute-guns crashed through. And packed thousands of plain American citizens waited bareheaded for hours in the cold rain to see this beloved boy of America carried by.

Many people remarked the slender, tall woman in her billowy black veil with the gold star on her arm. Some spoke of her. “A wonderful face,” they said, and: “Her eyes are burning her up.” And more than one thought: “Who knows? It may be her boy.”

After that she stood hour after hour in a shadowy doorway of a large chamber and watched a marvellous procession file past, four abreast. Hour after hour. Without ceasing they came; it was as if the country poured itself out in one draft of love. Sometimes a group halted and there was a short ceremony. She saw the President place the silver shield with its forty-eight gold stars; she saw the Boy Scouts, fresh-faced, sturdy lads such as Dick had been five or six years ago, form and recite their oath by Dick’s coffin; she saw the embassies of England, of France, and Italy bring wreaths for Dick; she saw the ancient Indian fighters, led by General Miles, and the Belgians with their palm, and the old man of ninety-one who wore his old Victoria Cross, and Pershing, laying down his wreath and stepping back to salute his soldier, and the Chinese and the Japanese with their antique bowing, and the white-turbaned Hindus, and ever and ever the plain Americans in their thousands, “his own people from every nook of the nation, who gave him his reward.”

The short gray day faded and night came and still the crowds poured, and Dick’s mother stood, still, unconscious of fatigue, and saw, as in a dream, the pageant, till the last ones allowed to come in had passed out and the swaying woman in black went also, and the boy was alone with his guard of five comrades, “his head eastward toward France and at his feet the twinkling lights of Washington.” Far above him on the great dome of the Capitol the brooding figure of Freedom, his comrade also, watched.

Shortly after daylight next morning the tramp of marching men and clatter of hoofs and grinding of wheels before the Capitol told that the greatest parade of American history was forming, and the khaki tide rolled into ordered ranks. The woman saw this beginning, very early in the morning. She was there before the bugle sounded attention across the plaza and the cavalrymen snapped out their sabres and the infantrymen came to present and the officers to salute and the colors were dipped—and the sun sent a beam to Freedom on the dome and another to a casket moving through the doorway. She saw it carried down the long steps by the bravest of the brave, all decorated men, and placed on the black-draped caisson with its black horses, and its soldiers sat on their scarlet saddle-cloths. She saw that, and she saw the President and “Black Jack” Pershing, Commander-in-Chief of the A. E. F., following as chief mourners—Pershing wearing, of all his decorations, only the Victory Medal to which every American soldier has a right—the caisson where lay—Dick. She saw the crowds dense up Pennsylvania Avenue, the historic road “where the tramping ghosts of Grant’s legions marked a course.” She saw the silent, attentive thousands who packed the sidewalks, standing there to take their part in what was theirs, the glory of the American people. “Out in the broad avenue was a simple soldier, dead for the honor of the flag. In France he had died as Americans have always been ready to die, for the flag and what it meant.” The woman saw the massed, reverent faces, and read this in them.

“It’s Dick,” she said.

Later, not remembering very much how she had come, she found herself at Arlington, at the Amphitheatre, with yet more thousands. There were bright colors of foreign dress uniforms and masses of khaki and light and shadow and the snowy gleam of columns against a background of trees. Later there was distant, solemn music through the trees. From the direction of the fort the dim color of troops came nearer and nearer, clearer and clearer; the marine band, half-step to the throb of drums, swung out and circled the colonnade. The caisson rolled up where a white-surpliced choir waited, and men in uniform with medals on their breasts lifted Dick, and the choir sang “The Son of God Goes Forth to War.” They carried him past the troops with rifles at “present,” past the bareheaded people, through the pillared colonnade, with the white choir and the clergy leading them, the great of many lands awaiting him. They placed him on a catafalque, flower-covered, and the great audience, all the thousands, rose and stood as he passed in—Dick—with Pershing still following, Pershing who had trudged seven miles from the Capitol behind his soldier.

The coffin rested on its base as if held up by a mound of blossoms—and suddenly the woman felt stabbed with a knife, a frantic, unbearable feeling. Her boy lay there with no sign of her near him. The nation had heaped him with honor, but Dick would not be satisfied with the nation, missing his mother. In her hand was a bunch of roses; she wondered where she had gotten them, and vaguely recalled a florist’s shop on the way out. She sprang toward a guard, a soldier, and the man stared at her as people did.

“Put these—put these—right close to him,” she begged in sliding Southern speech. “He’s—he’s my boy.” The soldier little guessed how literal the words were to her, but they went direct to his heart. A boy of hers lay in France; this one stood for him; so he understood it. “Yes, ma’am,” he said gently.

He took the flowers and went away with them and in a moment she saw them laid on the coffin, their white heads against a gorgeous wreath of red roses. The President’s red roses—but the woman did not know that. The man came back then and found her a place in one of the first rows of the curving line of seats where were only men and women in black.

The mighty service went on. The woman going through it with the others seemed aware of it through another’s senses, as if she were removed where her consciousness could not make contact with anything earthly. This was Dick’s funeral, but she was not sad. Only fused to a hazy exaltation. Maybe Dick’s light-hearted spirit was there, hovering over all this and lifting her spirit with him. In any case her flowers lay close to him, clinging whitely against that blood-red wreath. They must be, she was guessing, just above where the withered little French roses rested still on Dick’s dear cold heart. To see them there brought a manner of comfort to her. And the service went on. As Bishop Brent’s voice ended, the bells over in Washington were ringing noon, and sharply the clear, high notes of a trumpeter blew attention. She stood up with the thousands, the millions, the nation. For the nation paused during two minutes then to honor—Dick. All over America, in churches, in marketplaces, on railway lines, the rushing life of the country stopped and the populace stood silent with bowed heads for that tremendous moment, honoring the men who had died.

Then it was over; a minute-gun boomed across the river at the base of the Washington Monument; led by the band the stirred multitude swung into “America.”

“My country, ’tis of thee,” the people sang. And the woman sang with them. She could; she was dry-eyed and calm; this was Dick’s funeral, her little boy Dick, her splendid, big son. Yet she seemed to feel nothing. The Lord God was going to give her a sign that it was Dick. She was anxious about that. Certain, yes, of course; but a sign was to come. Nervousness caught her as the President began to speak; she wished the Lord God would hurry; it would do at any time, surely, yet this strain of waiting was difficult. It was hard to listen to the President while one was watching every moment for the sign. And with that his voice had slipped into words as familiar as her own name, words which she had taught to Dick.

“Our Father which art in Heaven——”

There was a soft, many-rustling sound of thousands rising, and all the voices took up the age-old words:

“Hallowed be Thy Name—Thy will be done.”

Yes, indeed. The Lord God knew that she had bowed to His will, even as to that word “missing.” She supposed it was His will. She had borne it, somehow. But now that Dick was dead, and carried home all these miles, bringing peace in his quiet hands, now the Lord God ought to give her the sign. He ought, really. With that a quartet was singing something about how

“Splendid they passed, the great surrender made
Into the light that nevermore shall fade.”

Oh, yes. But one doesn’t care so much about splendor and unfading light—when one misses Dick. The comforting thing was that Dick was to bring peace—peace forever. He would care about that; that would make him glad. And there was going to be a sign that this boy, this Unknown Soldier coming from his grave in France at the very moment of the Peace Conference—that this boy was Dick. How could she be otherwise than restless till the sign came?

Back of the carved, calm face in which the gray Irish eyes glowed such thoughts were seething. Lawyers weighing evidence would hardly have found her argument valid. The desperate brain which made them more than half knew the sophistry. But the brain was desperate. One cannot face the word “missing” for many months and keep coolly logical. This was the last straw to hold her to sanity—that Dick was the Peace Bringer; that this boy was Dick. These things she must believe. Must.

Quietly she gazed as minute by splendid minute passed, each crowded with such things as America has never seen before. She watched an officer in uniform, a “Sam Browne” belt across his breast, step forward. What were they going to do now? The officer shifted the flowers toward the foot, and she gasped as the President’s great red wreath was moved; her roses were next; it was too bad to take her roses away from Dick. But see—they were left. The officer touched them, and left them; the little sheaf was not in the way. But what was going to happen? He rolled back the flag with its heavy gold fringe, and with that the President stood there and was reading something—citations—reverently, in his incisive voice; then he bent and pinned two precious things to the black cloth of the coffin—the Distinguished Service Cross and that which Americans believe the highest decoration in the world, the Congressional Medal of Honor. How pleased Dick would have been!

“Won in mortality to be worn in immortality,” spoke the President.

Was Dick’s gay spirit maybe even now hovering, watching it all, smiling the sweet, half-shy, one-sided smile she knew, laughing at himself a bit for being the centre of this stupendous ceremony? In quick succession one brilliant uniform succeeded another by the narrow box, each fastening to the black cloth an honor which men have died to win. Something contracted her throat with a short sob when General Jacques, the Belgian, unpinned from his own coat the Cross of War which his King had put there and placed it on Dick’s coffin. And was not that Foch who swept off his white-plumed Marshal’s hat before the presence of—Dick? How Dick would have taken in the scarlet baldric, the gold sash, and red trousers! Dick had an enormous enthusiasm for Foch; once he had seen him—a solemn old fellow in a faded horizon-blue uniform and very muddy boots, the letter said. Smoking a pipe.

Medal after medal; such an array as the greatest soldier on earth had never worn. They rolled back the flag over it all till the judgment day, and Sergeant Woodfill and the seven other heroes lifted Dick again and carried him down the marble steps. The band was playing “Our Honored Dead”; she raised her eyes and saw the city across the river; the dome of the Capitol under which Dick had slept last night; where only dead Presidents had ever slept before; nearer was the yellow of ploughed Virginia fields and the green of winter wheat; about them the snowy white of the great Amphitheatre, and directly beneath the boy as they carried him around was “a great splash of black—thousands of Americans with hats held in their hands.” Between these and the Amphitheatre was a white place with a hole in it. Dick’s grave. She moved dreamily toward that place, and people stood back for the black, lonely figure with its gold star. Unconscious of them, she passed till she was close enough to see everything.

“It will be now, I think,” she was saying. “The Lord God will send His sign when they put Dick——”

The rest of the words couldn’t be framed. Of course Dick’s soul wasn’t there; it was somewhere about, above, close—much interested and a good deal amused as well as thrilled; she felt that. This was only Dick’s body they were putting away covered with medals and flowers, laid on that priceless earth brought from France, scattered down for him to rest on. It was only his body. But such a precious, dear body; it had been so warm and strong—Oh, God! She alone out of the thousands knew that it was Dick, and even she—The Lord God certainly was slow about sending His sign.

The beautiful church service was read; Dick’s soul was committed to God and his body to the grave. Some one touched a silver bar and the coffin sank slowly; a man in uniform placed a final wreath—from all the men of all our fighting armies. Then an old Indian in magnificence of chief’s feathers hobbled up and took off his sweeping war-bonnet, whose white feathers trailed to his moccasins, and laid it with a sort of stick across the open tomb. It was the last tribute. The warrior of ancient America saluted America’s warrior of to-day. A salvo of artillery. Another salvo—and another. The woman stared about. Dick would bivouac to-night in great company. All around him were monuments cut with names that were echoes of thunder of guns. There lay Porter and Crook; yonder lay Dewey. The slope carries along innumerable headstones; over the ridge are the grass ramparts of old Fort Myer, graves thick about them; she sensed these things as the guns rang the salvoes.

The guns had stopped; a bugler, standing out, was playing “Taps”—the soldier’s good night. With the final silver note the artillery broke into the roar of the national salute of twenty-one guns. The crowds moved, shifted, thinned. The bright uniforms scattered and disappeared. But the tall, black figure stood there, conscious of the people only as a swimmer in deep water is conscious of the waves. She was in them, of them, but they had no personality for her. Slowly the huge audience spread away through the trees. The pageant was over. The pageant—what matter was that? Dick; Dick was dead and buried, and she stood by the grave of an Unknown Soldier and reproached God. He had sent her no sign that this boy was hers. Down among the new white crosses in the cemetery below moved figures; there are always figures moving among those crosses—but the woman felt herself alone. All the pomp and ceremony being finished, she was alone with her boy. She knelt near the new grave; the black veil blew about her, covering and uncovering the gold star on her sleeve.

“God,” she whispered, “bless the men to-morrow who are trying to bring peace. I don’t know whether they know that it’s Dick who’s bringing it or not. I don’t care. I know, God, and You know. Only let Dick be the Peace Bringer, and let an American speak the master word. I thought the sign would be to-day, but I’ll be patient if it isn’t to be to-day. But, mighty God, don’t fail me in the end. You know how I couldn’t bear that. It means having Dick again—ever—somehow—I can’t say it well, but you’re God and You know how those things are tied together. Peace and Dick’s immortality and the sign. Be merciful; give it to me.”

A week later in Kentucky blunt little Lynnette was reasoning with her. “You can’t expect to set a date with the Almighty,” reasoned Lynnette. “I think it will come—I do think so, though I don’t know why I think it. Only that such a longing as yours focussed on one thing must be a psychological force. And, whatever God is, He does answer prayer somehow.”

“Yes, He does,” said the woman. “Wasn’t Hughes’ word sent straight as lightning from heaven? It came the day after the funeral—Dick’s funeral. It came out of Dick’s tomb. I can’t help believing the good Lord did plan, along with the salvation of the nations, to make Dick His Peace Bringer.” She waited a moment, eyes glowing with deep light. Then: “‘Whatsoever ye ask in My name, believing, ye shall receive it.’” A thousand times she had repeated that.

Lynnette nodded practically. “Uh-huh, that says it. God certainly did stir up Hughes when he got off that proposition. Why shouldn’t we believe it was partly, anyhow, the huge emotion of the Unknown Soldier that pushed him? The sign may come in some shape you’re not dreaming. Likely it will—but it’ll come. I’m sure.”

“I can’t imagine in what shape—that terrifies me at times. It seems so impossible. And if it shouldn’t come!”

“You mustn’t think that,” rebuked Lynnette. “It depends so much on psychology, and your will may be a big part. You don’t have to imagine what it will be. Yet I—do imagine things.”

“You do? What?”

“Oh, well,” Lynnette answered slowly, “nothing definite. Sometimes I fancy that the identity wasn’t lost to everybody, over in France. That maybe the soldiers who—who brought the four boys from the cemeteries found something to mark them, or one of them, and just said nothing about it. Maybe one of those soldiers might come to you. Why,” exploded Lynnette, “two or three times when I’ve seen a young, military-looking chap coming down this street my heart has been in my mouth. I’ve said: ‘He’s the sign.’”

“You have?” cried the woman. And then, with her arms reaching: “You little Lynnette! You loved Dick.”

Lynnette nodded. “And Dick—loved me,” she whispered.

She sprang up, and was gone. Outside she stopped a moment, staring at the sodden, round spot, half filled with snow, which had been a bed of dancing tulips.

“I wonder if it’s a crime,” she reflected. “The engine skips. There’s no logic anywhere. But she’d go raving mad. And I love her.” Little, aggressive Lynnette flushed all by herself. “Dick left me, in a sort of way, to his mother. He said: ‘Be sweet to her, Lynnette.’ Well,” Lynnette ended defiantly, “I reckon I can lie a good while longer, if it helps her.”

It is queer, considering what a small accident and what a second of time may end a life, that so many lives weather appalling shocks and years of heart-break. The woman, going softly with an ear alert always to catch a message, found that winter was past and spring coming in overnight jumps to her Southern land. With it the restlessness of spring crystallized into an overwhelming necessity to see the white tomb at Arlington. It was imperative, that desire. There was no money for travelling expenses, but some old mahogany went to a dealer, and on an April day she started. Spring comes easily in the South. It is much as if the lover you doubted turned all at once his face toward you lighted with the fire unmistakable, and you wondered in the warm flood of happiness if ever you did doubt. So in the turn of a hand in that God’s country there are vivid colors of tulips and jonquils and hyacinths—gold and purple and pink—and the hedges are dim with mists of juicy color, and the lawns have sprung to emerald, and the sunlight stipples the ground with gold laughter through the lace of boughs. And one wonders if ever there was melting snow and cold wind. Out at Arlington the sunlight played gaily on the headstones among the trees, dancing about the solemn things as if to say that, after all, life is only a moment; that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country, and that these light-hearted dead should be kept in bright memory. Till it came to the snow of the Amphitheatre and the white tomb on the terrace, and there the sunlight seemed to pour itself out in full-hearted golden tide. Dreamily, mystically, smilingly it wrapped in its arms the grave of America’s boy. All about the tomb the grass seemed greener, and the air of a richer sweetness. Fold on fold the calm hills dropped away to the Virginia horizon; the mast of the Maine brought from Havana shot its slender spire beyond the Amphitheatre; the old house of history, the pillared, porticoed house of the Lees, peered out from the woods like a big, gentle, dumb creature, watching in its old age its family who had fought and come through to Peace.

The woman scattered a quantity of yellow tulips on the grave till it was all golden with them. “God,” she prayed, kneeling close—closer than she could be in November—“God, I’ve come such a long way. I’ve waited such a long time. Only You can give what I’ve come for. I want it so. Give me Your sign.” A long time the black figure knelt amidst the whiteness and greenness and spring gaiety. Many things she prayed, and at the last for power to give up hope. For there was yet no sign. Perhaps there never would be. Sobbing a little, she bent and kissed the yellow tulips, and turned to go.

As she drifted away step by step suddenly the bells over in Washington were ringing the noon-hour, and she faced about, remembering. As she turned, up from the grass below, over the white edge of the terrace, stormed a fluttering mass of bright wings, and filled all the air with beckoning gold. A moment they hung, twinkling over the tomb, and then fell, brilliant, incredible, and lighted on the gold cups of the tulips, and flickering, dancing, gathered the sunlight into their myriad wings.

The Cloudless Sulphurs; Dick’s butterflies; the symbol of immortality. The sign.

Transcriber’s Note

No corrections were made to the text as printed.

While original copyright information has been retained, this book is in the public domain in the country of publication.

The cover was created by the transcriber using elements from the original publication and placed in the public domain.