Tinkling Cymbals

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 were praised.

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 of war.

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 at war."

"Almost—'France is the land of my ancestors'—your very words, Margaret."

"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 Paul's eyes.

"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 love."

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 together."

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.