The Recruit's Story

By Frank Luther Mott

Last Sunday afternoon I wandered into Smith Park and sat down on a bench near the fountain. It was a fine day. The sun shone warmly and I was one of many men who lounged on those benches and luxuriated in the grateful warmth of the early spring sunshine.

Men of many kinds were there. There were a few old men, but many were young, or middle-aged. Unless I am a very poor observer, not a few of them were drifters.

As I sat there I watched the play of the water falling in the fountain. I observed the bronze figures of women sitting in the center, musing over who knows what great world problem; and I saw, surmounting all, the towering figure of a soldier of the Civil War. There he stood in his quiet power—apotheosis of the common soldier in the war for the Union. He wore the great-coat and military cape of the old uniform. He stood at ease, his left foot advanced, and the butt of his gun resting on the ground in front of him, while he held the gun-barrel with his left hand and rested his forearm on the muzzle. He gazed a little past me, steadfastly, toward a corner of the park. On his face was the look of the man who is ready—the man undaunted by any emergency—the man unafraid in the quiet strength of soul and body.

"He it was," I reflected, "who leaped to the colors when Father Abraham called, and by the might of his loyalty and sacrifice saved his country in the hour of her greatest need."

Glancing across the park, I saw a poster glaring from the great window of a salesroom. I could make out three words, printed in giant type:

MEN WANTED NOW!

Again I looked about me at the men lounging, as I was lounging, there on the benches in the sunlight, some of them asleep. I too felt the soporific influence of the May sun, and might soon have lapsed into unconsciousness myself had it not been for a strange thing that happened just then.

I saw the Union soldier turn his head a little and look directly at me.

I am not given to illusions, being generally considered a matter-of-fact young man. But, as I live, I saw that Union soldier turn his head! And more than that, I knew just why he did it.

I had read the papers, and knew my country's need. I had read the flaming posters calling for men to enlist in her armies. I had read President Wilson's classic-to-be concerning America's purpose in our greatest war for liberty. I had not meant to be a slacker; but, some way, I had not been strongly moved. I was letting the other fellow fill up the ranks, intending hazily to rally to the colors myself when the need seemed greater. Even now, I was inclined to argue the matter.

I leaned back in my seat and said, in a conversational tone:

"Now look here, Mr. Union Soldier, the need was greater when you joined the colors. The Union was threatened; the very existence of the nation was at hazard. I too will answer the call if worse comes to worst in this war."

"Young man," replied the soldier, his eyes fixed on mine and his voice deep and calm, "young man, your country's call is your country's call. This time it is no question of union; thank God, the states stand indivisible forever. But this time the crisis is even greater, the need of vision and sacrifice even more vital. This time the liberty, not of the black man alone, but of the world, is in the balance. Are you deaf to the call?"

"But listen," I answered. "This is not our war. Nobody has crossed the sea to strike us."

"Have they not?" he countered. "By spies, by intrigue, by a treacherous diplomacy, by an unscrupulous policy of world subjugation, the enemy has invaded our shores. Yet it is not that alone. As I have stood here, I have heard the cries of the people of ravished Belgium; I have heard the despairing screams of men and women sinking in watery graves; the wails of perishing Armenia assail my ears. Do you say it is not our war? It is! Just as the fate of the black man touched the hearts of us Northerners, just as the misfortune of the traveler to Jericho touched the heart of the Samaritan, just as the suffering Christ on the cross has touched the heart of the world—just so must the woeful cry of a world perishing to-day touch the heart of America…. And yet I look about me here! These men drowsing in the sunshine! Are these Americans? From the field I rushed when Lincoln called, scarcely pausing to bid my mother good-bye; and I braved cold, and heat, and sickness, and privation, and terrors by day and night, and rain of shot and shell, and wounds and suffering and death—all because my country called!"

As he spoke his voice rose to a commanding resonance. He raised his right arm from the muzzle of the gun where it had rested—raised it high in impassioned appeal. At last I was moved; tears ran down my cheeks.

I started—awoke. I had been asleep, and the water from the fountain was blowing in my face. But was it the spray from the fountain alone that made my cheeks wet?

I looked up at the bronze figure surmounting the fountain. There the soldier stood at rest, left foot advanced, arm resting on his gun. His eyes looked steadfastly toward the corner of the park. But did I not see a glow of passion on that bronze face—a passion for the Liberty of the World?

I turned to my neighbor on the bench at my left. His eyes were half shut, drowsily.

"Pardon me, brother," I said. "Can you tell me where the nearest recruiting station is located?"