Sergt. Warren Comes Back from France
by Fisher Ames, Jr.
Immediately after voting, the Rev. Jeremiah Soule
stepped outside the town hall to fortify himself with
fresh air for the coming meeting. Several others had
done the same.
“Been a hard winter, Mr. Soule,” politely remarked
one of the loiterers about the door. He was clad for
the gusts of March like a sealer about to venture forth
upon an Arctic floe.
“And especially for the boys in the trenches,” said
“That’s a fact, sir. I didn’t mean we’d ought to
complain. We had our share of coal and wood, I guess,
if the wood was green and the coal mostly slate.”
“And we had the money to pay for it.”
The group of men stirred a little uneasily.
“Honestly made, I think you’ll admit that, sir,” said
Arthur Watts, a strapping fellow of thirty years, who
had been called in the first draft and rejected on account
of his poor teeth.
“I believe so—quite,” admitted Mr. Soule. “We
are making good rope for the government and our allies,
and no one is better pleased over it than I. I’m proud
of the cordage plant. Yes, since this dreadful war
had to be, the town has come honestly enough by its
The group felt that Mr. Soule had tactfully dodged
the real issue, and they were content to have it so. Just
then the polls were closed, and those who had brought
lunch boxes proceeded to consume the contents. Others
presented themselves at the anteroom, where George
Bassett was dispensing his famous chowder and coffee,
together with pickles and bread and butter.
“It frets the parson to see us keeping our money
instead of blowing it all out in charity,” remarked Watts,
across a steaming mug of strong coffee. He laughed
His friends did not echo his amusement. They
looked, if not exactly ill at ease, at any rate somewhat
The hall was packed when Joel Holmes, a massive
and imperturbable person, was chosen moderator for
the tenth successive time. Warrant in one large hand
and gavel in the other, he inscrutably stared upon the
expectant voters for a weighty minute.
“The meeting will please come to order,” he announced.
The gavel smote the desk resoundingly.
As usual, the first person to be recognized was fiery
little Mr. Abel Crabbe, who had a few withering remarks
to make concerning the warrant as a whole. He was
greatly applauded. As a conscientious objector
to everything, Abel was looked upon as an interesting
feature of town meeting.
A number of articles were then discussed and disposed
of without excitement until Henry Torrey rose.
He was as much of an objector as Mr. Crabbe, but he
dealt in irony rather than in blunt scorn. With a grim
smile he proceeded to ridicule the library directors.
When he had exposed them in their true colors, he
made an impassioned motion to halve the appropriation
they asked for in Article 6 of the warrant.
The motion was enthusiastically seconded, but on
being put to vote Torrey’s was the only ay. The crowd
enjoyed Torrey as they enjoyed Abel Crabbe, but they
had perfect faith in the library directors, the town
officers and the warrant.
Early in the proceedings it was evident that Article
No. 10 was to furnish the event of the day. It ran as
“That the sum of $25,000 be appropriated for the
improvement and embellishment of Farragut Square,
said improvement to include the removal of the four
old buildings now abutting upon it, the erection of a
flagpole and a suitable band stand and the widening of
Brig Street on the bay side of the square.”
When the article was reached, no disposition was
shown to dispose of it quickly. Fenville wished to hear
the report of the committee and the opinions and impressions
of each and every member thereon. The
plan had caught the popular fancy. Nearly every man
there was ready to back it firmly, even boastfully.
Pompous Mr. Baxter, the chairman of the committee,
sounded the keynote. He sketched the history of the
cordage plant, which had begun as an unaspiring rope-walk.
He compared it to the ugly duckling that became
a regal swan. And the swan, he said, pursuing the
simile, had not flown out of their hands in spite of the
great wings it had grown.
At this point the moderator’s voice and gavel were
called upon to quell a disturbance in the rear of the hall
apparently occasioned by the entrance of some late
When order was restored Mr. Baxter, continuing the
pæan to the town’s prosperity, spoke of the uniquely
local character of the cordage plant; of the fact that
virtually everyone, from the president down to the office
boy, concerned with it was a native of Fenville. And
besides a liberal salary everyone had a share in the
profits. Nearly every penny of the stock was owned
right in the town of Fenville. All of which was no news,
but everyone relished Baxter’s glowing phrases just the
The speeches of the other committeemen were in
the same tenor. Fenville had made money out of its
cordage; was still making money. It could afford to
pat its own back, and the pat might well take the form
of a renovated and beautified town square that would
advertise its business smartness to all beholders.
As the last of the committeemen sat down, some one
in the rear of the hall addressed the moderator.
“Mr. ——?” queried that official, unable to see the
speaker clearly. Like the old hall, recently destroyed
by fire, the new structure had made a concession to
the fair and inquisitive sex in the shape of a deep rear
An excited craning of heads followed, and even Joel
Holmes showed the human being beneath the armor of
“Miles Warren!” he ejaculated. Then his gavel
mechanically reminded him of his duties and he recalled
the meeting to order. It took vigorous rapping
to still the persistent murmurs and the eager
“I’d like to say a few words about Article 10,” said
the man under the low balcony.
“Well, I guess you can!” boomed the moderator.
He was preserving his self-control with difficulty. His
hands fidgeted and his circular face showed a deepening
crimson. “But we can’t hear what you say way back
there—or see you, either,” he added. “Please step a
little farther forward if you will, Mr. Warren.”
The storm of welcoming applause for the son who
had so unexpectedly returned to his native town after
two years of splendid service in the far-famed Foreign
Legion suddenly fell to a shocked silence. They saw
now why Sergt. Warren had come home. His father
stood beside him. Miles needed some one to guide
him up the narrow aisle—for he was blind.
Fenville had heard of the metal cross pinned to the
faded tunic and had shared the pride of John Warren
and his wife, Abigail; but it had not heard of the
scarred face and sightless eyes. Miles had gone forth
to fight for democracy “like a true knight of old,”
the Fenville Weekly Gazette had said. The townspeople
had not smiled at the phrase, for there had always
been something gallant in Miles; he had always
had a fearless and honorable outlook upon life.
“I’m not much use to them over there, so it seems
good to get home,” he said. “And on town-meeting
day. I knew father wanted to be here, and I did, too,
so we came right over from the depot.”
Sightless: thrown back into the discard. But there
was the same firm mouth and the same upright carriage
of the well-shaped head. Broken? Not a bit of
it. Everyone could see that. The old spirit was there,
just as gallant as when he had set out for the battlefields
“This Article No. 10,” continued the sergeant. “You
don’t know how strange it sounds. Because I’ve come
straight home from over there, you know. I was going
to say, without seeing anything on the way.” He
smiled. “And that’s true, too. What I mean is, I
haven’t had time to get adjusted to the change. It
wasn’t till just now that I said to myself, the war’s
thousands of miles off, way across the ocean. Not that
the ocean would stop Fritz from getting at us mighty
quick if he ever beats us over there. You may depend
“Some one has to make the things that are needed
and get paid for them. That’s of course. But I haven’t
been seeing that side. I’ve been seeing France and
England and our own boys with their backs to the wall.
I’ve been seeing new graveyards grow; bigger than big
towns—as big as cities. And cities that were nothing
but graveyards. Towns that were nothing but ash
heaps. Rich lands churned up into terrible deserts.
“And I’ve met men—met them all the time—who’d
been seeing the same and worse in Russia and Poland,
Serbia and Roumania—the whole Christian world
being battered and ripped to pieces.
“That is the way you think about it over there.
What can you do to stop it—how can you help the
millions that have lost their fathers or mothers, husbands
or wives, or children—that have no food or homes
or country? That is what you ask yourself day and
“You can never give them back what they have
lost. But if you had money, you could keep some
of them from dying of cold and hunger; little children
at least. That is about all money means to you over
“So when I come home to hear that Fenville has
grown rich, why, I can’t seem to sense it! And that
you want to fix up Farragut Square,—make it pretty,—buy
the town a kind of decoration because it has been
lucky enough and smart enough to make money—out
of the war. It’s like blood money to me—like blood
itself; a drop for every penny.”
Fenville had never tolerated criticism, but the man
in the faded uniform with the cross on his tunic and
his head up, and his poor, blind, scarred face, exerted a
strange influence over the audience. Even the least
imaginative man had his vision of what that figure symbolized.
“It was looking at him, as much as hearing him
speak—why, I seemed to get a sight right over to
France as clear as if I had been there,” explained Mr.
Totten afterwards. “France made Farragut Square
look kind of small.”
“I’ll say just one thing more,” Miles went on, and
you could have heard a pin drop in that hall. “If any
of our boys don’t come back,—Lem Chapman and
Frank Keeler and the others,—those that do, will they
think a prettified Farragut Square is the best monument
for the ones who died for us over there?”
The sergeant turned, and John Warren took hold of
his arm to lead him back. Mr. Chapman, Lem’s father,
was up like a flash.
“Hold on!” he shouted. “No, it ain’t, by Jupiter!”
Crash! Out came the handclapping like the rattle of
rifle fire. More than one shrewd old eye was moist,
and few were the hearts that did not beat with a more
“What can we do, Sergt. Miles?” asked Mr. Chapman.
“You have told us what we shouldn’t do, and I
for one thank you for it. We want to do the right thing.
Every man of us here does. Tell us what it is.”
“Let us dispose of Article 10 first,” said Dr. Shepard.
The house approved, and Mr. Chapman gave way.
The article was put in the form of a motion, was voted
upon, and defeated as if it had never had a friend in the
“Make a motion, Miles!” shouted a score of
“Do you want to know what I should do?” said the
soldier. “There are places in France and Belgium that
used to be towns. Some haven’t even the cellars left.
An American society has been formed to take hold of
the work of building up those places after the war.
We could write to that society and get the name of a
town that once was—a little one; one where perhaps
our own boys have fought. Fenville could put the
money she meant to spend on herself into helping to
make it a town again. It would help, don’t you worry
about that. So Fenville could feel, always, long after
our time, that that little French town was her camarade.
And it would be her bit; Fenville’s bit.”
When he could make himself heard, the Rev. Jeremiah
Soule made a motion, the gist of which was that
a committee be appointed to correspond with the
society with the object of learning the name of some
small devastated town in France or Belgium that would
be a worthy recipient of twenty-five thousand dollars
from Fenville’s treasury, the same to be expended toward
rebuilding the town at the end of the war.
A dozen voices seconded the motion, and on being
put to vote it was carried unanimously. Mr. Crabbe,
the conscientious objector, was one of the first to rise
on the ay vote. The fiery little man had his streak of
sentiment, after all.
So had Henry Torrey, who said gruffly that he was
glad to see the town’s money spent for a really useful
purpose for once.
“Three cheers for Sergt. Warren, then!” shouted Mr.
Chapman. “And make them rousers!”
“He and John went out,” said a voice in the rear
of the hall.
“Cheer him from the steps!” cried another.
The crowd filed out. The two Warrens were walking
down the road. The sergeant had his father’s arm;
but his head was up, and it was not he, but the older
man, that had the air of being led. For some reason
the crowd fell silent.
Finally some one said crisply, “Miles Warren always
could see straight. And I tell you he can see as
straight’s ever, even if he is blind.”
—Fisher Ames, Jr.