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I stooped to pick up a stone that lay on the walk.
Eight months ago the woman who lives next door to my house, with the light of gratified love in her eyes and unspeakable pride, told me that her boy, the only child left under the home roof, had volunteered to go into the army. It was several weeks before I saw her again, and then she said, with a sad look in her eyes and in a way that gave me the idea that she was half glad, “They would not take my boy. Said he had a weak heart and weak lungs. It is good to know he is not going to die on a foreign battlefield.”
Every now and then, from my window, I observed her puttering about the yard, fixing up the flowers, and every now and then the boy, in his machine, would start out of the yard, the machine roaring with the cut-off open. Then one day she followed a chicken that had escaped from her yard into ours, and I went out to help her round up the vagrant. Then she told me the boy had been drafted. “But how could he be drafted if he was rejected when he volunteered?” “I don’t know,” she said. Then the boy went away to Fort Leavenworth and a week ago, one delightful sunshiny day, she was out in her yard again, and I spoke to her over the hedge. “I just heard my boy is sick — pneumonia. I don’t see why they took him if his heart and lungs were not fit,” she said, worryingly.
A summer yellow bird piped its note and trilled a lay. I stooped to pick up a stone that lay on the walk. A messenger boy, harbinger of evil, walked up the steps and over the lawn and said, Does ‘Mann’ live here? I got a message.” While I scribbled the signature on the book with feverish, shaking fingers she tore open the yellow envelope and stood staring at the unfolded message — staring with startling eyes. Dazed, crushed, her hands drew apart; the message fell to the ground. She turned and went into the house. I stooped and picked up the message. All it said, and yet that all was all in the world to her, was : “Private Arthur Mann died this morning of pneumonia.”
ex News and Comment,
Coast Banker and California Banker 21:5 (San Francisco; October 1918) : 326 : link
same (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign copy, via hathitrust) : link