By Helen Sherman Griffith
It was in the spring of 1915 that Margaret Durant came back to her home
in Greenfield, Iowa, from a visit to friends in the East, and brought
with her a clear, shining flame of patriotism, with which she proceeded
to fire the town. Margaret had always been a leader, the foremost in
civic betterment, in government reform, and in the activities of her
church and woman's club. She was a born orator, and loved nothing
better than haranguing—and swaying—a crowd.
A fund was started for the purchase of an ambulance, which, Margaret
insisted, must be driven by a Greenfield man. And she expressed sorrow
on every occasion—particularly in the hearing of the mothers of young
men—that she had no son to offer. The Red Cross rooms became the
centre of Greenfield social activity, and the young people never
dreamed of giving an entertainment for any purpose save to benefit the
Red Cross, the British Relief or the Lafayette Fund. This last became
presently the object of Margaret's special activities, since her
husband, Paul, some four generations previously, had come of French
blood. "So that it is almost like working for my own country," Margaret
said proudly. And she glowed with gratification whenever the French
So complete and self-sacrificing was her enthusiasm that she announced,
as the spring advanced, her intention of taking no summer vacation, but
to dedicate the money thus saved to the Lafayette Fund, and to work for
that organization during the entire summer.
Her friends were thrilled with admiration at Margaret's attitude, and
some of them emulated her heroic example. To be sure, staying at home
that summer was a popular form of self-denial, since a good many
families, even in Greenfield, Iowa, were beginning to feel the pinch
One summer afternoon, Margaret strolled home from an animated meeting
of the Lafayette Fund, exalted and tingling with emotion. She had
addressed the meeting, and her speech had been declared the epitome of
all that was splendid and noble. She had moved even herself to tears
by her appeal for patriotism. She entered the house, still mentally
enshrouded by intoxicating murmurs of "Isn't she wonderful!" "Doesn't
she make you wish you were a man, to go yourself!" and so forth.
Softly humming the Marseillaise, she mounted the steps to her own room,
to remove her hat. She stopped short on the threshhold with a sudden
startled cry. Her husband was there, walking up and down the room, and
also humming the Marseillaise. It was half an hour before his usual
home-coming time, but that was not why Margaret cried out.
Paul was dressed in khaki! He was walking up and down in front of the
cheval glass, taking in the effect from different angles. He looked
around foolishly when he heard his wife.
"Just trying it on," he said lightly. "How do you like me?"
"But Paul—what—what does it mean?"
"Just what you have guessed. I've signed up. I'm to drive the
Greenfield ambulance," he added with justifiable pride.
Margaret stared, gasped, tottered. She would have fallen if she had not
sat down suddenly. Paul stared, too, astonished.
"Why, old girl, I thought it was what you wanted! I—you said——"
"Paul, Paul! You! It can't be! Why—why, you are all I have!"
"That is one reason the more for my going—we have no son to send."
"But Paul—it—I—the war is so far away! It isn't as if—as if we were
"Almost—'France is the land of my ancestors'—your very words,
"I know, but——"
"'And the cause is so just.'"
"But, Paul, I did not mean——"
"Did not mean what!" Paul turned and faced her sternly. "Margaret, your
eloquence has sent a good many young men to the front. I wonder—" He
paused, and a new expression dawned in his eyes; an expression that
Margaret could not bear: an accusation, a suspicion.
Margaret cowered in her chair and hid her face.
"Oh, Paul, not that, not that! Leave me a moment, please. I—I want
time to—to grasp it."
When she was alone she sat upright and faced the look she had seen in
"I am a canting hypocrite. I see it now, plainly. I read it in Paul's
eyes. But I will show him he's mistaken. God! is hypocrisy always so
cruelly punished? Merciful God, have pity upon me!"
Rising to her feet, Margaret staggered to the door and called. The
enthusiasm, the exaltation, had faded from her face, leaving it pinched
and gray. But in her eyes a new expression had been born, which lent a
soft radiance to her features, the light of complete self-denial. Paul
entered, gave one look, then knelt at his wife's feet.
"Forgive me, my love, for misunderstanding you. The fault was mine.
You've been afraid I would not make good, and were testing me. Ah, my
For one terrible moment Margaret hesitated. Then she whispered:
"No, Paul, you were right at first; but love has conquered. Not
our love, but a greater, nobler sentiment: love of Right and
Justice. Do you remember the verse: 'Though I speak with the tongues of
men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass or
a tinkling cymbal.' I—I am not a tinkling cymbal, Paul. I—Oh,
Paul, take me with you! I can be of some use over there. We will go
Paul rose and embraced her.
"My precious one! How Greenfield will honor you!"
Margaret winced and hid her face in his breast.
"No, Paul, no, no. Don't let them know! Let us go away quietly, in the
night. Please, please, Paul. I—I could not bear any other way!"
Durant kissed her and said no more. And if he understood, he never let
her know that he did.