Publication date: June 1998 in hardcover
Copyright © 1998 by Harry Turtledove
Use of this excerpt from THE GREAT WAR: AMERICAN FRONT by Harry Turtledove may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: copyright ©1998 by Harry Turtledove. All Rights Reserved.
1914 George Enos was gutting haddock on the noisome deck of the steam trawler Ripple when Fred Butcher, the first mate, sang out, "Smoke off the starboard bow!" That gave George an excuse to pull the latest fish off the deck, gut it, toss it down into the icy, brine-smelling hold, and then straighten up and see what sort of ship was approaching.
His back made little popping noises as he came out of this stoop. I'm getting too old for this line of work, he thought, though he was only twenty-eight. He rubbed at his brown mustache with a leather-gloved hand. A fish scale scratched his cheek. The sweat running down his face in the late June heat made the little cut sting.
He followed Butcher's pointing finger with his eyes. "A lot of smoke," he said, whistling low. "That's not just another Georges Bank fishing boat, or a tramp freighter, either." His Boston accent swallowed the r's in the final syllables of the last two words. "Liner, I'd guess, or maybe a warship."
"I think you're right," Butcher said. He was little and skinny and quick and clever, his face seamed by wind and sun and spray till he looked to have ten more years than the forty-five or so he really carried. His mustache was salt and pepper, about evenly mixed. Like Enos, he grew it thick and waxed the ends so they pointed toward his eyes. Half the men in the United States who wore mustaches modeled them after the one gracing Kaiser Wilhelm's upper lip.
Captain Patrick O'Donnell came out of the cabin and pressed a spyglass to his right eye. "Warship, sure enough," he said, his Boston mixed with a trace of a brogue. "Four-stacker--German armored cruiser, unless I'm wrong."
"If you say it, Captain, we'll take it to the bank," Fred Butcher answered. That wasn't apple-polishing. O'Donnell had spent years in the U.S. Navy, rising to chief petty officer, before he retired and went into business for himself. He'd seen German warships at a lot closer than spyglass range; he'd exercised alongside them, out in the middle of the Atlantic, and maybe in the Pacific, too.
"She's going to pass close to us," Enos said. He could see the great gray hull of the ship now, almost bow-on to the Ripple. The plume of black coal smoke trailed away behind.
Captain O'Donnell still had the telescope aimed at the approaching ship. "Imperial German Navy, sure enough," he said. "I can make out the ensign. Now--is that the Roon or the Yorck?" He kept looking, and finally grunted in satisfaction. "The Yorck, and no mistaking her. See how her cranes are pierced? If she were the Roon, they'd be solid."
"If you say so, Captain. You're the one with the spyglass, after all." Enos' chuckle suited his wry sense of humor. He took another naked-eye look at the oncoming Yorck. The cruiser was nearly bow-on. When he spoke again, he sounded anxious: "We see her, Captain, but does she see us?"
The question was anything but idle. As the Yorck drew near, she seemed more and more like an armored cliff bearing down on the steam trawler. The Ripple was 114 feet long and displaced 244 gross tons. That made her one of the bigger fishing boats operating out of Boston harbor. All at once, though, Enos felt as if he were in a rowboat, and a pint-sized rowboat at that.
"How big is she, Captain?" Fred Butcher asked. The huge hull and great gun turrets gave him pause, too.
"At the waterline, 403 feet, 3 inches," O'Donnell answered with the automatic accuracy of the longtime Navy man he was. "She displaces 9,050 tons. Four 8.2-inch guns, ten 6-inchers, crew of 557. Four-inch armor amidships, two-inch belts at the ends. She'll make twenty-one knots in a sprint."
"If she runs us down, she won't even notice, in other words," Enos said.
"That's about right, George," O'Donnell answered easily. He took pride in the strength and speed of naval vessels, as if having served on them somehow magically gave him strength and speed as well. Even so, though, his glance flicked to the American flag rippling atop the foremast. The sight of the thirty-four-star banner rippling in the brisk breeze must have reassured him. "They'll see us just fine. Here, if you're still worried, I'll send up a flare, that I will." He dug a cigar out of his jacket pocket, scraped a match against the sole of his boot, and puffed out a cloud almost as malodorous as the coal smoke issuing from the Yorck's stacks.
As if his cigar had been a message to the German cruiser, signal flags sprouted from her yards. O'Donnell raised the telescope to his eye once more. The cigar in his mouth jerked sharply upward, a sure sign of good humor. "By Jesus, they want to know if we have fish to sell!" he burst out. He turned to Butcher. "Tell 'em yes, and don't waste a second doing it."
The affirmative pennant went up almost as quickly as the order had been given. The Yorck slowed in the water, drifting to a stop about a quarter-mile from the Ripple. Then everyone aboard the steam trawler whooped with delight as the German cruiser let down a boat. "Hot damn!" yelled Lucas Phelps, one of the men minding the trawl the Ripple had been dragging along the shallow bottom of Georges Bank. "The Germans, they'll pay us better'n the Bay State Fishing Company ever would."
"And it all goes into our pockets, too," Fred Butcher said gleefully. On fish that made it back to Boston, the crew and the company that owned the boat split the take down the middle. Butcher went on, "We're light five hundred, a thousand pounds of haddock, that's not ever gonna get noticed."
The happy silence of conspiracy settled over the Ripple. Before long, the eight men in the Yorck's lifeboat came alongside the trawler. "Permission to come aboard?" asked the petty officer who evidently headed up the little crew.
"Permission granted," Patrick O'Donnell answered, as formally as if he were still in the Navy. He turned to Enos. "Let down the rope ladder, George."
"Right." Enos hurried to obey. He liked extra money as well as anybody.
Dapper in their summer whites, alarmingly neat, alarmingly well shaved, the German sailors looked out of place on the untidy deck of the Ripple, where some of the haddock and hake and cusk and lemon sole that George hadn't yet gutted still flopped and writhed and tried to jump back into the ocean. Blood and fish guts threatened the cleanliness of the sailors' trousers.
"I will give you for six hundred kilos of fish forty pfennigs the kilo," the petty officer said to O'Donnell in pretty good English.
O'Donnell scowled in thought, then turned to Butcher. "Would you work that out, Fred? You'll do it faster 'n' straighter than I would."
The first mate got a faraway look in his eyes. His lips moved in silent calculation before he spoke. "Two hundred forty marks overall? That makes sixty bucks for ... thirteen hundred pounds of fish, more or less. Nickel a pound, Captain, a hair under."
"Herr Feldwebel, we'll make that deal," O'Donnell said at once. Everybody on board did his best not to light up like candles on a Christmas tree. Back in Boston, they'd get two cents a pound, three if they were lucky. Then O'Donnell looked sly. "Or, since it ain't like it's your money you're playing with, why don't you give me fifty pfennigs a kilo--you can tell your officers what a damn Jew I am--and we'll throw in a bottle of rum for you and your boys." He turned and called into the galley: "Hey, Cookie! Bring out the quart of medicinal rum, will you?"
"I've got it right here, Captain," Charlie White said, coming out of the galley with the jug in his hand. He held it so the German sailors on the Ripple could see it but any officers watching from the Yorck with field glasses couldn't. The smile on his black face was broad and inviting, although George expected the rum to be plenty persuasive all by itself. He was fond of a nip himself every now and then.
The petty officer spoke in German to the seamen with him. The low-voice colloquy went on for a minute or two before he switched back to English: "Most times, I would do this thing. Now it is better if I do not. The bargain is as I first said it is."
"Have it your way, Feldwebel," O'Donnell answered. "I said I'd make that deal, and I will." His eyes narrowed. "You mind telling me why it's better if you don't take the rum now? Just askin' out of curiosity, you understand."
"Oh, yes--curiosity," the petty officer said, as if it were a disease he'd heard of but never caught. "You have on this boat, Captain, a wireless telegraph receiver and transmitter?"
"No," O'Donnell told him. "I'd like to, but the owners won't spring for it. One of these days, maybe. How come?"
"I should not anything say," the petty officer answered, and he didn't anything say, either. Instead, he gave O'Donnell the 240 marks he'd agreed to pay. O'Donnell handed the money to Butcher, who stuck it in his pocket.
The captain of the Ripple kept on trying to get more out of the German sailor, but he didn't have any luck. Finally, in frustration, he gave up and told George Enos, "Hell with it. Give 'em their fish and we'll all go on about our business."
"Right," Enos said again. Had he got the extra ten pfennigs a kilo, he would have worked extra hard to make sure the Yorck got the finest fish he had in the hold. Some of the haddock scrod down there, the little fellows just over a pound, would melt in your mouth. When Charlie fried 'em in butter and bread crumbs--he got hungry just thinking about it.
But the young fish would also bring better prices back at the docks. He gave the Germans the bigger haddock and sole the trawl had scooped up from the bottom of the sea. They'd be good enough, and then some.
The Germans didn't raise a fuss. They were sailors, but they weren't fishermen. Their boat rode appreciably lower in the water when they cast off from the Ripple's rail and rowed back to the cruiser from which they'd come. The Yorck's crane lifted them out of the water and back on deck.
More flags broke out on the signal lines as the Yorck began steaming toward Boston once more. "Thank you," Captain O'Donnell read through the spyglass. "Signal 'You're welcome,' Fred."
"Sure will, Captain," the mate said, and did.
George wished he had a good tall tumbler of Cookie's rum. Moving better than half a ton of fish out of the hold was hard work. With that on his mind, he asked Lucas Phelps, "Ever hear of a sailor turning down the jug?"
"Not when you stand to get away with it clean as a whistle, like them squareheads did," Phelps answered. "Wonder what the hell was chewin' on their tails. That's good rum Cookie's got, too."
"How do you know?" Enos asked him. Phelps laid a finger alongside his nose and winked. By the veins in that nose, he knew rum well enough to be a connoisseur. George Enos chuckled. Sure enough, he'd wheedled a shot or two out of Charlie himself. It helped compress the endless monotony of life aboard a fishing boat.
They hauled in the trawl full of flipping, twisting bottom fish. Once the load had gone into the hold, Captain O'Donnell peered down in there to see how high the fish were stacked. They could have piled in another couple of trawlfuls, but O'Donnell said, "I think we're going to head for port. We're up over twenty tons; the owners won't have anything to grouse about. And we'll have some extra money in our pockets once Fred turns those marks into dollars at the bank."
Nobody argued with him. Nobody would have argued with him if he'd decided to stay out another day or two and fill the hold right up to the hatches with haddock. He made his pay by having the answers.
Enos went into the galley for a mug of coffee. He found Fred Butcher in there, killing time with the Cookie. By the rich smell rising from Butcher's mug, he had more than coffee in there. Enos blew on his own mug, sipped, and then said, "Bet we'd be out longer if that petty officer hadn't got the captain nervous."
"Bet you're right," the mate said. "Captain O'Donnell, he doesn't like not knowing what's going on. He doesn't like that even a little bit." Cookie nodded solemnly. So did George. Butcher's comment fit in well with his earlier thought about the captain: if he didn't have the answers, he'd go after them.
The Ripple puffed back toward Boston. At nine knots, she was most of a day away from T Wharf and home. Supper, near sunset, was corned beef and sauerkraut, which made the sailors joke about Charlie White's being a German in disguise. "Hell of a disguise, ain't it?" the cook said, taking the ribbing in good part. He unbuttoned his shirt to show he was dark brown all over.
"You must be from the Black Forest, Charlie, and it rubbed off on you," Captain O'Donnell said, which set off fresh laughter. Enos hadn't heard of the Black Forest till then--he'd gone to work when he was a kid, and had little schooling--but from the way the captain talked about it, he figured it was a real place in Germany somewhere.
They rigged their running lamps and chugged on through the night. The next day, they passed between Deer Island Light and the Long Island Head Light, and then between Governor's Island and Castle Island as they steamed toward T Wharf.
On the north side of the Charles River, over in Charlestown, lay the Boston Navy Yard. Enos looked that way as soon as he got the chance. So did Captain O'Donnell, with the spyglass. "There's the Yorck, all right, along with the rest of the western squadron of the High Seas Fleet," he said. "Doesn't look like anything's wrong aboard 'em, any more than it does on our ships. All quiet, seems like." He sounded annoyed, as if he blamed the Germans and the Americans--easily distinguishable because their hulls were a much lighter gray--for the quiet.
Fred Butcher had his eye on profit and loss: he was looking ahead to T Wharf. "Not many boats tied up," he said. "We ought to get a good price at the Fish Exchange."
They tied up to the wharf and came up onto it to get their land legs back after more than a week at sea. An old, white-bearded man awkwardly pushing a fish cart with one hand and a hook mounted on the stump of his other wrist folded his meat hand into a fist and shook it at Charlie White. "You go to hell, you damn nigger!" he shouted in a hoarse, raspy voice. "Wasn't for your kind, we wouldn't have fought that war and this here'd still be one country."
"You go to hell, Shaw!" Enos shouted back at him. He turned to the Cookie. "Don't pay him any mind, Charlie. Remember, his family were mucky-mucks before the damn Rebels broke loose. They lost everything after the war, and he blames colored folks for it."
"Lots of white folks do that," Charlie said, and then shut up. It was hard for the few Negroes in the United States to get away from the scapegoat role that had dogged them for more than fifty years now. Compared to their colored brethren south of the Mason-Dixon line, they had it easy, but that wasn't saying much. The Rebels didn't have nigger hunts through the streets, either--those were an American invention, like the telegraph and the telephone.
"You're jake with us, Charlie," Lucas Phelps said, and all the fishermen from the Ripple nodded. They'd proved that, in brawls on the wharf and in the saloons just off it. George Enos rubbed a scarred knuckle he'd picked up in one of those brawls.
T Wharf was chaos--horse-drawn wagons and gasoline trucks, pushcarts and cats and dealers and screeching gulls and arguments and, supreme above all else, fish--in the wagons, in the trucks, in the carts, in the air.
Shouting newsboys only added to the racket and confusion. George didn't pay them any mind till he noticed what they were shouting: "Archduke dies in Sarajevo! Bomb blast kills Franz Ferdinand and his wife! Austria threatens war on Serbia! Read all about it!"
He dug in the pocket of the overalls he wore under his oilskins for a couple of pennies and bought a Globe. His crewmen crowded round him to read along. A passage halfway down the column leaped out at the eye. He read it aloud: "President Roosevelt stated in Philadelphia yesterday that the United States, as a member of the Austro-German Alliance, will meet all commitments required by treaty, whatever the consequences, saying, 'A nation at war with one member of the Alliance is at war with every member.'" He whistled softly under his breath.
Lucas Phelps' finger stabbed out toward a paragraph farther down. "In Richmond, Confederate President Wilson spoke in opposition to the oppression of small nations by larger ones, and confirmed that the Confederate States are and shall remain part of the Quadruple Entente." Phelps spoke up on his own hook: "England and France'll lead 'em by the nose the way they always do, the bastards."
"They'll be sorry if they try anything, by jingo," Enos said. "I did my two years in the Army, and I wouldn't mind putting the old green-gray back on, if that's what it comes down to."
"Same with me," Phelps said.
Everybody else echoed him, sometimes with profane embellishments, except Charlie White. The Negro cook said, "They don't draft colored folks into the Army, but damned if I know why. They gave me a rifle, I'd shoot me a Confederate or three."
"Good old Charlie!" George declared. "'Course you would." He turned to the rest of the crew. "Let's buy Charlie a beer or two." The motion carried by acclamation.
From the heights of Arlington, Sergeant Jake Featherston peered across the Potomac toward Washington, D.C. As he lowered the field glasses from his eyes, Captain Jeb Stuart III asked him, "See anything interesting over there in Yankeeland?"
"No, sir," Featherston answered. His glance slipped to one of the three-inch howitzers sited in an earthen pit not far away. "Time may come when, if we do see anything interesting, we'll blow it to hell and gone." He paused to shift the chaw of tobacco in his cheek and spit a stream of brown juice onto the red dirt. "I'd like that."
"So would I, Sergeant; so would I," Captain Stuart said. "My father got the chance to hit the damnyankees a good lick thirty years ago, back in the Second Mexican War." He pointed over the river. "They repaired the White House and the Capitol, but we can always hit them again."
He struck a pose intended to show Featherston he was not only a third-generation Confederate officer but also as handsome as either his famous father--hero of the Second Mexican War--or his even more famous grandfather--hero of the War of Secession and martyr during the Second Mexican War. That might even have been true, though the mustache and little tuft of chin beard he wore made him look more like a Frenchman than a dashing cavalry officer of the War of Secession.
Well, Featherston had nothing against handsome, though he didn't incline that way himself. Though he was a first-generation sergeant, he had nothing against third-generation officers ... so long as they knew what they were doing. And he certainly had nothing against Frenchmen. The guns in his battery were copies of French 75s.
Pointing over to the one at which he'd looked before, he said, "Sir, all you got to do is tell me which windows you want knocked out of the White House and I'll take care of it for you. You can rely on that."
"Oh, I do, Sergeant, I do," Captain Stuart answered. A horsefly landed on the sleeve of his butternut tunic. The British called the same color khaki, but, being tradition-bound themselves, they didn't try to make the Confederacy change the name it used. Stuart jerked his arm. The fly buzzed away.
"If they'd had guns like this in your grandfather's day, sir, we'd have given Washington hell from the minute Virginia chose freedom," Featherston said. "Not much heavier than an old Napoleon, but four and a half miles' worth of range, and accurate out to the end of it--"
"That would have done the job, sure enough," Stuart agreed. "But God was on our side as things were, and the Yankee tyrants could no more stand against men who wanted to be free than King Canute could hold back the tide." He took off his visored cap--with piping in artillery red--and fanned himself with it. "Hot and sticky," he complained, as if that were surprising in Virginia in July. He raised his voice: "Pompey!" When the servant did not appear at once, he muttered under his breath: "Shiftless, worthless, lazy nigger! Pompey!"
"Here I is, suh!" the Negro said, hurrying up at a trot. Sweat beaded his cheeks and the bald crown of his head.
"Took you long enough," Stuart grumbled. "Fetch me a glass of something cold. While you're at it, bring one for the sergeant here, too."
"Somethin' col'. Yes, suh." Pompey hurried off.
Watching him go, Stuart shook his head. "I do wonder if we made a mistake, letting our British friends persuade us to manumit the niggers after the Second Mexican War." He sighed. "I don't suppose we had much choice, but even so, we may well have been wrong. They're an inferior race, Sergeant. Now that they are free, we still can't trust them to take a man's place. So what has freedom got them? A little money in their pockets to spend foolishly, not a great deal more."
Featherston had been a boy when the Confederacy amended the Constitution to require manumission. He remembered his father, an overseer, cussing about it fit to turn the air blue.
Captain Stuart sighed again. He might have been thinking along with Featherston, for he said, "The amendment never would have passed if we hadn't admitted Chihuahua and Sonora after we bought them from Maximilian II. They didn't understand things so well down there--they still don't, come to that. But we wouldn't have our own transcontinental railroad without them, so it may have been for the best after all. Better than having to ship through the United States, that's certain."
"Yes, sir," Featherston agreed. "The Yankees thought so, too, or they wouldn't have gone to war to keep us from having 'em."
"And look what it got them," Stuart said. "Their capital bombarded, a blockade on both coasts, all the naval losses they could stand, their cities up on the Great Lakes shelled. Stupid is what they were--no other word for it."
"Yes, sir," the sergeant repeated. Like any good Southerner, he took the stupidity of his benighted distant cousins north of the Potomac as an article of faith. "If Austria does go to war against Serbia--"
It wasn't changing the subject, and Captain Stuart understood as much. He picked up where Featherston left off: "If that happens, France and Russia side with Serbia. You can't blame 'em; the Serbian government didn't do anything wrong, even if it was crazy Serbs who murdered the Austrian crown prince. But then what does Germany do? If Germany goes to war, and especially if England comes in, we're in the scrap, no doubt about it."
"And so are they." Featherston looked across the river again. "And Washington goes up in smoke." His wave encompassed the heights. "Our battery of three-inchers here is a long way from the biggest guns we've got trained on 'em, either."
"Not hardly," Stuart said with a vigorous nod. "You think Cowboy Teddy Roosevelt doesn't know it?" He spoke the U.S. president's name with vast contempt. "Haven't seen him south of Philadelphia since this mess blew up, nor anybody from their Congress, either."
Featherston chuckled. "You don't see anybody much there when it gets hot." He wasn't talking about the weather. "The last thirty years, they find somewheres else to go when it looks like there's liable to be shooting between us and them."
"They were skedaddlers when we broke loose from 'em, and they're still skedaddlers today." Stuart spoke with conviction. Then his arrogant expression softened slightly. "One thing they always did have, though, was a godawful lot of guns."
Now he looked across the Potomac, not at the White House and Capitol so temptingly laid out before him but at the heights back of the low ground by the river on which Washington sat. In those heights were forts with guns manned by soldiers in uniforms not of butternut but of green so pale it was almost gray. The forts had been there to protect Washington since the War of Secession. They'd been earthworks then. Some, those with fieldpieces like the ones Captain Stuart commanded, still were. Those that held big guns, though, were concrete reinforced with steel, again like their Confederate opposite numbers.
"I don't care what they have," Featherston declared. "It won't stop us from blowing that nest of damnyankees right off the map."
"That's so." Captain Stuart's gaze swung from the United States back to his own side of the river and Arlington mansion, the Doric-columned ancestral estate of the Lee family. "That won't survive, either. They'd have wrecked it thirty years ago if their gunnery hadn't been so bad. They aren't as good as we are now"--again, he spoke of that as if it were an article of faith--"but they're better than they used to be, and they're plenty good enough for that."
"'Fraid you're right, sir," Featherston agreed mournfully. "They hate Marse Robert and everything he stood for."
"Which only proves what kind of people they are," Stuart said. He turned his head. "Here's Pompey, back at last. Took you long enough."
"I's right sorry, Marse Jeb," said the Negro; he carried on a tray two sweating glasses in which ice cubes tinkled invitingly. "I's right sorry, yes I is. Here--I was makin' this here nice fresh lemonade fo' you and Marse Jake, is what took me so long. Ju-ly in Virginia ain't no fun for nobody. Here you go, suh."
Featherston took his glass of lemonade, which was indeed both cold and good. As he drank, though, he narrowly studied Pompey. He didn't think Stuart's servant was one bit sorry. When a Negro apologized too much, when he threw "Marse" around as if he were still a slave, odds were he was shamming and, behind his servile mask, either laughing at or hating the white men he thought he was deceiving. Thanks to what Jake's father had taught him, he knew nigger tricks.
What could you do about that kind of shamming, though? The depressing answer was, not much. If you insisted--rightly, Featherston was convinced--blacks show whites due deference, how could you punish them for showing more deference than was due? You couldn't, not unless they were openly insolent, which Pompey hadn't been.
In fact, his show of exaggerated servility had taken in his master. "Get on back to the tent now, Pompey," Stuart said, setting the empty glass on the Negro's tray. He smacked his lips. "That was mighty tasty, I will tell you."
"Glad you like it, suh," Pompey said. "How's yours, Marse Jake?"
"Fine," Featherston said shortly. He pressed the cold glass to his cheek, sighed with pleasure, and then put the glass beside the one Stuart had set on the tray. With a low bow, Pompey took them away.
"He's all right, even if I do have to get down on him," Stuart said, watching the Negro's retreat. "You just have to know how to handle niggers, is all."
"Yes, sir," Featherston said once more, this time with the toneless voice noncommissioned officers used to agree with their superiors when in fact they weren't agreeing at all. Stuart didn't notice that, any more than he'd noticed Pompey laying the dumb-black act on with a trowel. He was a pretty fair officer, no doubt about it, but he wasn't as smart as he thought he was.
Of course, when you got right down to it, who was?
Cincinnatus stepped on the brake as he pulled the Duryea truck up behind the warehouse near the Covington docks. He muttered a curse when a policeman--worse, by the peacock feather in his cap a Kentucky state trooper--happened to walk past the alleyway and spy him.
The trooper cursed, too, and loudly: he didn't have to hide what he thought. He yanked his hogleg out of its holster and approached the Negro at a swag-bellied trot. Pointing the revolver at Cincinnatus' face, he growled, "You better show me a pass, or you is one dead nigger."
"Got it right here, boss." Cincinnatus showed more respect than he felt. He pulled the precious paper out of his passbook and handed it to the state trooper.
The man's lips moved as he read: "Cincinnatus works for Kennedy Shipping and has my leave to drive the Kennedy Shipping truck in pursuit of his normal business needs. Thomas Kennedy, proprietor." He glowered at Cincinnatus. "I don't much hold with niggers drivin', any more'n I do with women." Then, grudgingly: "But it ain't against the law--if you're really Tom Kennedy's nigger. What do you say if I call him on the tellyphone, hey?"
"Go ahead, boss," Cincinnatus said. He was on safe ground there.
The trooper stuck the pistol back in its holster. "Ahh, the hell with it," he said. "But I tell you somethin', an' you better listen good." He pointed north toward the Ohio River. "Just across there it's the You-nited States, right?" He waited for Cincinnatus to nod before going on, "Any day now, all hell's gonna break loose between us and them. Some people, they see niggers like you down here by the docks or anywhere near, they ain't gonna ask to see your pass. They gonna figger you're a spy an' shoot first, then stop an' ask questions."
"I got you, boss," Cincinnatus assured him. The trooper nodded and went on his way. When his back was turned, Cincinnatus allowed himself the luxury of a long, silent sigh of relief. That hadn't turned out so bad as it might have, not anywhere near. He was resigned to playing the servant to every white man he saw; if you didn't want to end up swinging from a lamppost, you did what you had to do to get by. And the state trooper had even given him what the man meant as good advice. That didn't happen every day.
As far as Cincinnatus was concerned, the fellow was crazy, but that was another matter. Keep all the black folks away from the Covington docks? "Good luck, Mr. Trooper, sir," Cincinnatus said with a scornful laugh. Every longshoreman and roustabout on the docks was colored. White men dirty their hands with such work? Cincinnatus laughed again.
Then, all at once, he sobered. Maybe the state trooper wasn't so crazy after all. If war came, no riverboats would come down the Ohio from the United States or up it from the Mississippi and the heart of the Confederacy. Both sides had guns up and down the river trained at each other. Without that trade, what would the dockworkers do? For that matter, what would Cincinnatus do?
He looked toward the Ohio himself. One thing he wouldn't do, he figured, was try to run off to the United States, no matter how the trooper worried about that. In the Confederacy, there were more Negroes around than whites wanted (except when dirty work needed doing), so the whites gave them a hard time. In the United States, which had only a relative handful of Negroes, the whites didn't want any more--so they gave them a hard time.
"Shit, even them big-nosed Jews got it better up there than we-uns do," Cincinnatus muttered. Somebody could doubt whether you were a Jew. Wasn't any doubting about whether he was black.
Wasn't any doubt he'd spent too long daydreaming in the truck, either. A big-bellied white man in overalls and a slouch hat came out of the warehouse office and shouted, "That you out there, Cincinnatus, or did Tom Kennedy get hisself a real for-true dummy for a driver this time?"
"Sorry, Mr. Goebel," Cincinnatus said as he descended. For once, he more or less meant it. He knew he had been sitting when he should have been working.
"Sorry, he says." Goebel mournfully shook his head. He pointed to a hand truck. "Come on, get those typewriters loaded. Last things I got in this warehouse." He sighed. "Liable to be the last Yankee goods we see for a long time. I ain't old enough to remember the War of Secession, but the Second Mexican War, that was just a little feller. This one here, it's liable to be bad."
Cincinnatus didn't remember the Second Mexican War, he was within a year either way of twenty-five. But the newspapers had been screaming war for the past week, troops in butternut had been moving through the streets, politicians were ranting on crates on every corner ... "Don't sound good," Cincinnatus allowed.
"If I was you, I'd get out of town," Goebel said. "My cousin Morton, he called me from Lexington yesterday and said, Clem, he said, Clem, you shake your fanny down here where them cannons can't reach, and I reckon I'm gonna take him up on it, yes I do."
White folks take so much for granted, Cincinnatus thought as he stacked crated typewriters on the dolly and wheeled it out toward the Duryea. If Clem Goebel wanted to get out of Covington, he just upped and went. If Cincinnatus wanted to get out of town and take his wife with him, he had to get written permission from the local commissioner of colored affairs, get his passbook stamped, wait till acknowledgment came back from the state capital--which could and usually did take weeks--then actually move, reregister with his new commissioner, and get the passbook stamped again. Any white man could demand to see that book at any time. If it was out of order--well, you didn't want to think what could happen then. Jail, a fine he couldn't afford to pay, anything a judge--bound to be a mean judge--wanted.
The typewriters were heavy. The stout crates in which they came just added to the weight. Cincinnatus wasn't sure he'd be able to fit them all into the bed of the truck, but he managed. By the time he was done, the rear sagged lower on its springs. Sweat soaked through the collarless, unbleached cotton shirt he wore.
Clem Goebel had stood around without lifting a finger to help: he took it for granted that that sort of labor was nigger work. But he wasn't the worst white man around, either. When Cincinnatus was done, he said, "Here, wait a second," and disappeared into his little office. He came back with a bottle of Dr Pepper, dripping water from the bucket that kept it, if not cold, cooler than the air.
"Thank you, sir. That's right kind," Cincinnatus said when Goebel popped off the cap with a church key and handed him the bottle. He tilted back his head and gulped down the sweet, spicy soda water till bubbles went up his nose. When the bottle was empty, he handed it back to Goebel.
"Go on, keep it," the warehouseman said. Cincinnatus stowed it in the truck after thanking him again. For once, he felt only half a hypocrite: he'd gladly pocket the penny deposit. He cranked the engine to start it, got the truck in gear, and headed south down Greenup Street toward Kennedy's storerooms.
A policeman in gray uniform and one of the tall British-style hats that always reminded Cincinnatus of fireplugs held up a hand to stop him at the corner of Fourth and Greenup: a squadron of cavalry, big, well-mounted white men with carbines on their shoulders, revolvers on their hips, and sabers mounted on their saddles, was riding west along Fourth. Probably going to camp in Devon Park, Cincinnatus thought.
People--white people--cheered and waved as the cavalry went by. Some of them waved Maltese-cross battle flags like the one that flapped at the head of the squadron, others Stars and Bars like the sixteen-star banner above the post office across the street from Cincinnatus. The cavalrymen smiled at the pretty girls they saw; a couple of them doffed their plumed hats, which looked much like the one the Kentucky state trooper had worn but were decorated with the yellow cord marking the mounted service.
After the last horse had clopped past, the Covington policeman, reveling in his small authority, graciously allowed north-south traffic to flow once more. Cincinnatus stepped on the gas, hoping his boss wouldn't cuss him for dawdling.
He'd just pulled up in front of Tom Kennedy's establishment when a buzzing in the air made him look up. "God almighty, it's one o' them aeroplanes!" he said, craning his neck to follow it as it flew up toward the Ohio.
"What are you doing lollygagging around like that, goddamn it?" Kennedy shouted at him. But when he pointed up into the sky, his boss stared with him till the aeroplane was out of sight. The head of the shipping company whistled. "I ain't seen but one o' those before in all my born days--that barnstorming feller who came through town a couple years ago. Doesn't hardly seem natural, does it?"
"No, sir," said Cincinnatus, whose acquaintance with flying machines was similarly limited. "That wasn't no barnstormin' aeroplane, though--did y'all see the flag painted on the side of it?"
"Didn't even spy it," Kennedy confessed. "I was too busy just gawpin', and that's a fact." He was a big, heavyset fellow of about fifty, with a walrus mustache and ruddy, tender Irish skin that went into agonies of prickly heat every summer, especially where he shaved. Now he turned a speculative eye toward Cincinnatus. He was a long way from stupid, and noticed others who weren't. "You don't miss much, do you, boy?"
"Try not to, sir," Cincinnatus answered. "Never can tell when somethin' you see, it might come in handy."
"That's a fact," Kennedy said. "You're pretty damn sharp for a nigger, that's another fact. You aren't shiftless, you know what I mean? You act like you want to push yourself up, get things better for your wife, the way a white man would. Don't see that every day."
Cincinnatus just shrugged. Everything Kennedy said about him was true; he wished he hadn't made his ambition so obvious to his boss. It gave Kennedy one more handle by which to yank him, as if being born white weren't enough all by itself. Sometimes he wondered why he bothered with ambitions that would probably end up breaking his heart. Sure, he wanted to push himself up. But how far could you push when white folks held the lid on, right above your head? The wonder wasn't that so many Negroes gave up. The wonder was that a few kept trying.
Seeing he wasn't going to get anything more than that shrug, Kennedy said, "You pick up the whole load of typewriters all right?"
"Sure did, sir. They was the last things left in Goebel's warehouse, though. He ain't gonna be left much longer his own self--says he's headin' down to Lexington with his cousin. This war scare got everybody jumpy."
"Can't say as I blame Clem, neither," Kennedy said. "I may get out of town myself, matter of fact. Haven't made up my mind about that. Wait till it starts, I figure, and then see what the damnyankees do. But you, you got nowhere to run to, huh?"
"No, not hardly." Cincinnatus didn't like thinking about that. Kennedy had more in the way of brains than Clem Goebel. If he didn't think Covington was a safe place to stay, it probably wasn't. He understood Cincinnatus was stuck here, too. Sighing, the laborer said, "Let me unload them typing machines for you, boss."
That kept him busy till dinnertime. He lived down by the Licking River, south of Kennedy's place, close enough to walk back and forth at the noon hour if he gulped down his corn bread or salt pork and greens or whatever Elizabeth had left for him before she went off to clean white folks' houses.
A shape in the river--a cheese box on a raft was what it looked like--caught his eye. He whistled on the same note Tom Kennedy had used when he saw the aeroplane. By treaty, the United States and the Confederate States kept gunboats off the waters of the rivers they shared and the waters of tributaries within three miles of those jointly held rivers. If that gunboat--the Yankees called the type monitors, after their first one, but Southerners didn't and wouldn't--wasn't breaking the treaty, it sure was bending it.
Cincinnatus whistled again, a low, worried note. More people, higher-up people, than Goebel and Kennedy thought war was coming.
"Mobilize!" Flora Hamburger cried in a loud, clear voice. "We must mobilize for the inevitable struggle that lies before us!"
The word was on everyone's lips now, since President Roosevelt had ordered the United States Army to mobilize the day before. Newsboys on the corner of Hester and Chrystie, half a block from the soapbox--actually, it was a beer crate, filched from the Croton Brewery next door--shouted it in headlines from the New York Times and the early edition of the Evening Sun. All those headlines spoke of hundreds of thousands of men in green-gray uniforms filing onto hundreds of trains that would carry them to the threatened frontiers of the United States, to Maryland and Ohio and Indiana, to Kansas and New Mexico, to Maine and Dakota and Washington State.
Just by looking at the crowded streets of the Tenth Ward of New York City, Flora could tell how many men of military age the dragnet had scooped up. The men who hurried along Chrystie were most of them smooth-faced youths or their gray-bearded grandfathers. The newsboys weren't shouting that the reserves, the men of the previous few conscription classes who'd served their time, were being called up with the regulars--they wouldn't reveal the government's plan to the Rebels or to the British-lickspittle Canadians: their terms. But Flora had heard it was so, and she believed it.
The papers told of pretty girls rushing up and kissing soldiers as they boarded their trains, of men who hadn't been summoned to the colors pressing twenty-dollar goldpieces into the hands of those who had, of would-be warriors flocking to recruiting stations in such numbers that some factories had to close down. The Croton Brewery was draped in red-white-and-blue bunting. So was Public School Number Seven, across the street.
The entire country--the entire world--was going mad, Flora Hamburger thought. Up on her soapbox, she waved her arms and tried to bring back sanity.
"We must not allow the capitalist exploiters to make the workers of the world their victims," she declared, trying to fire with her own enthusiasm the small crowd that had gathered to listen to her. "We must continue our ceaseless agitation in the cause of peace, in the cause of workers' solidarity around the world. If we let the upper classes split us and set us one against another, we have but doomed ourselves to more decades of servility."
A cop in a fireplug hat stood at the back of the crowd, listening intently. The First Amendment remained on the books, but he'd run her in if she said anything that came close to being fighting words--or maybe even if she didn't. Hysteria was wild in the United States; if you said the emperor had no clothes, you took the risk of anyone who spoke too clearly.
But the cop didn't need to run her in; the crowd was less friendly than those before which she was used to speaking. Somebody called, "Are you Socialists going to vote for Teddy's war budget?"
"We are going to do everything we can to keep a war budget from becoming necessary," Flora cried. Even three days earlier, that answer to that question had brought a storm of applause. Now some people stood silent, their faces set in disapproving lines. A few booed. One or two hissed. Nobody clapped.
"If war comes," that same fellow called, "will you Socialists vote the money to fight it? You're the second biggest party in Congress; don't you know what you're doing?"
Why weren't you mobilized? Flora thought resentfully. The skinny man was about twenty-five, close to her own age--a good age for cannon fodder in a man. Few to match him were left in the neighborhood. Flora wondered if he was an agent provacateur. Roosevelt's Democrats had done that sort of thing often enough on the East Side, disrupting the meetings not only of Socialists but also of the Republicans who hadn't moved leftward when their party split in the acrimonious aftermath of the Second Mexican War.
But she had to answer him. She paused a moment to adjust her picture hat and pick her phrases, then said, "We will be caucusing in Philadelphia day after tomorrow to discuss that. As the majority votes, the party will act."
She never would have yielded so much a few days before. Here in New York City, sentiment against the war still ran strong--or stronger than most places, anyhow. But many of the Socialists' constituents--the miners of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, the farmers of Minnesota and Dakota and Montana--were near one border or another, and were bombarding their representatives with telegrams embracing, not the international brotherhood of labor, but rather the protection of the American frontier.
Almost pleadingly, Flora said, "Can we let the madness of nationalism destroy everything the workers not just here in the United States but also in Germany and Austria and in France and England and even in Canada and the Confederacy?--yes, I dare say that, for it is true," she went on over a chorus of boos, "have struggled shoulder to shoulder to achieve? I say we cannot. I say we must not. If you believe the sacred cause of labor is bound up in the idea of world politics without war, give generously to our cause." She pointed down to a washed-out peach tin, the label still on, that sat in front of her crate. "Give for the workers who harvested that fruit, the miners who by the sweat of their brow dug out the iron and tin from which the can is made, the steelworkers who made it into metal, the laborers in the cannery who packed the peaches, the draymen and drivers who brought them to market. Give now for a better tomorrow."
A few people stepped up and tossed coins into the peach tin. One or two of them tossed in banknotes. Flora had plenty of practice in gauging the take from the racket the money made. She would have done better today working in a sweatshop and donating her wages to the cause.
She thanked the small crowd less sincerely than she would have liked, picked up the can, and started down the street with it toward Socialist Party headquarters. She'd gone only a short way when a beer wagon full of barrels pulled by a team of eight straining horses rattled out of the Croton Brewery and down Chrystie Street. It got more applause than she had--seeing a load of barrels was supposed to be good luck--and would make far more money for its firm than Flora had for the Socialists.
The thought depressed her. The Party had been educating the proletariat all over the world, showing the workers how they could seize control of the means of production from the capitalists who exploited their labor for the sake of profit. They'd made progress, too. No civilized government these days would call out troops to shoot down strikers, as had been commonplace a generation before. Surely the revolution, whether peaceful or otherwise, could not be far away. What sort of weapon could the plutocrats devise to resist the united strength and numbers of the working classes?
Her lips thinned into a bitter line. How simple the answer had proved! Threaten to start a war! All at once, you estranged German workers from French, English from Austrian, American from Confederate (though the Rebels also called themselves Americans). Few Socialists had imagined the proletariat was so easily manipulated.
Tenth Ward party headquarters was on the second story of a brownstone on Centre Market Place, across the street from the raucous market itself. A kosher butcher shop occupied the first story. Flora paused for a moment in front of the butcher's plate-glass window before she went upstairs. Some of her dark, wavy hair had come loose from the bobby pins that were supposed to hold it in place. With quick, practiced motions, she repaired the damage. Inside the shop, the butcher, aptly named Max Fleischmann, waved to her. She nodded in reply.
Fleischmann came out and looked down into the peach tin. He shook his head. "You've made more," he said in Yiddish, then reached into his pocket and tossed a dime into the can.
"You didn't have to do that." Flora felt her face heat. Her eyes flicked to her reflection in the window. She couldn't tell if the flush showed. Probably not, not with her olive skin. "You're not even a Socialist."
"So I voted for Roosevelt? This means my money isn't good enough for you? Feh!" Fleischmann's wry grin showed three gold teeth. "If you people go bankrupt and have to move out from upstairs, who knows what kind of crazy maniacs I get right over my head?"
"When we moved in, you called us crazy maniacs--and worse than that," Flora reminded him. She stared down into the can of peaches. That charity dime made the day's take no less pathetic. Shaking her head, she said, "The whole world is going crazy now, though. We're the ones who are trying to stay sane, to do what needs doing."
"Crazy is right." Fleischmann clenched a work-roughened hand into a fist. "The Confederates, they're moving all sorts of troops to the border, trying to get the jump on us. And the Canadians, their Great Lakes battleships have left port, it says in the papers. What are we supposed to do, what with them provoking us from all sides like this?"
Flora gaped at the butcher in blank dismay. The bacillus of nationalism had infected him, too, and he didn't even notice it. She said, "If all the workers would stand together, there'd be no war, Mr. Fleischmann."
"Oh, yes. If we could trust the Rebels, this would be wonderful," Fleischmann said. "But how can we? We know they want to fight us, because they've fought us twice already. Am I right or am I wrong, Flora? We have to defend ourselves, don't we? Am I right or am I wrong?"
"But don't you see? The Confederate workers are saying the same thing about the United States."
"Fools!" Max Fleischmann snorted. Realizing the argument was hopeless, Flora started upstairs. The butcher's voice pursued her: "Am I right or am I wrong?" When she didn't answer, he snorted again and went back into his shop.
The Socialist Party offices were almost as crowded as the tenements all around: desks and tables and file cabinets jammed into every possible square inch of space, leaving a bare minimum of room for human beings. Two secretaries in smudged white shirtwaists tried without much luck to keep up with an endless stream of calls. They mixed English and Yiddish in every conversation--sometimes, it seemed, in every sentence.
Herman Bruck nodded to her. As usual, he seemed too elegant to make a proper Socialist, what with his two-button jacket of the latest cut and the silk ascot he wore in place of a tie. His straw boater hung on a hat rack near his desk. He looked so natty because he came from a long line of tailors. "How did it go?" he asked her. Though he'd been born in Poland, his English was almost without accent.
"Not so good," Flora answered, setting down the can with a clank. "Do we know what's what with the caucus?"
Bruck's sour expression did not sit well on his handsome features. "A telegram came in not half an hour ago," he answered. "They voted eighty-seven to fourteen to give Roosevelt whatever money he asks for."
"Oy!" Flora exclaimed. "Now the madness is swallowing us, too."
"On theoretical grounds, the vote does make some sense," Bruck said grudgingly. "After all, the Confederacy is still in large measure a feudal economy. Defeating it would advance progressive forces there and might lift the Negroes out of serfdom."
"Would. Might." Flora laced the words with scorn. "And have they declared Canada feudal and reactionary, too?"
"No," Bruck admitted. "They said nothing about Canada--putting the best face on things they could, I suppose."
"Putting the best face on things doesn't make them right," Flora said with the stern rectitude of a temperance crusader smashing a bottle of whiskey against a saloon wall.
Bruck frowned. A moment before, he'd been unhappy with the delegates of his party. Now, because it was his party and he a disciplined member of it, he defended the decision it had made: "Be reasonable, Flora. If they'd voted to oppose the war budget, that would have been the end of the Socialist Party in the United States. Everyone is wild for this war, upper class and lower class alike. We'd have lost half our members to the Republicans, maybe more."
"Whenever you throw away what's right for what's convenient, you end up losing both," Flora Hamburger said stubbornly. "Of course everyone is wild for the war now. The whole country is crazy. Gottenyu, the whole world is crazy. Does that mean we should say yes to the madness? How wild for war will people be when the trains start bringing home the bodies of the laborers and farmers the capitalists have murdered for the sake of greed and markets?"
Bruck raised a placating hand. "You're not on the soapbox now, Flora. Our congressmen, our senators, are going to vote unanimously--even the fourteen said they'd go along with the party. Will you stand alone?"
"No, I suppose not," Flora said with a weary sigh. Discipline told on her, too. "If we don't back the caucus, what kind of party are we? We might as well be Democrats in that case."
"That's right," Bruck said with an emphatic nod. "You're just worn out because you've been on the stump and nobody's listened to you. What do you say we walk across the street and get something to eat?"
"All right," she said. "Why not? It has to be better than this."
Bruck rescued his boater from the hat rack and set it on his head at a jaunty angle. "We'll be back soon," he told the secretaries, who nodded. With a flourish, he held the door open for Flora, saying, "If you will forgive the bourgeois courtesy."
"This once," she said, something more than half seriously. A lot of bourgeois courtesy was a way to sugar-coat oppression. Then, out in the hall, Bruck slipped an arm around her waist. He'd done that once before, and she hadn't liked it. She didn't like it now, either, and twisted away, glaring at him. "Be so kind as to keep your hands to yourself."
"You begrudge bourgeois courtesy, but you're trapped in bourgeois morality," Bruck said, frustration on his face.
"Socialists should be free to show affection where and how they choose," Flora answered. "On the other hand, they should also be free to keep from showing affection where there is none."
"Does that mean what I think it means?"
"It means exactly that," Flora said as they started down the stairs.
They walked across Centre Market Place toward the countless stalls selling food and drink in a silence that would have done for filling an icebox. From behind the butcher-shop counter, Max Fleischmann watched them and shook his head.
All of Richmond streamed toward Capitol Square. Reginald Bartlett was one more drop of water in the stream, one more straw hat and dark sack suit among thousands sweating in the early August sun. He turned to the man momentarily beside him and said, "I should be back behind the drugstore counter."
"Is that a fact?" the other replied, not a bit put out by such familiarity, not today. "I should be adding up great long columns of figures, myself. But how often do we have the chance to see history made?"
"Not very often," Bartlett said. He was a round-faced, smiling, freckled man of twenty-six, the kind of man who wins at poker because you trust him instinctively. "That's why I'm on my way. The pharmacist told me to keep things running while he went to hear President Wilson, but if he's not there, will he know I'm not there?"
"Not a chance of it," the accountant assured him. "Not even the slightest--Oof!" Someone dug an elbow into the pit of his stomach, quite by accident. He stumbled and staggered and almost fell; had he gone down, he probably would have been trampled. As things were, he fell back several yards, and was replaced beside Bartlett by a colored laborer in overalls and a cloth cap. Nobody would be asking the Negro for a pass, not today. If he got fired tomorrow for not being on the job ... he took the same chance Bartlett did.
There weren't many Negroes in the crowd, far fewer in proportion to the mass than their numbers in Richmond as a whole. Part of the reason for that, probably, was that they had more trouble getting away from their jobs than white men did. And part of it, too, was that they had more trouble caring about the glorious destiny of the Confederate States than whites did.
The bell in the tower in the southwestern corner of Capitol Square rang the alarm, over and over again. Clang, clang, clang ... clang, clang, clang ... clang, clang, clang. Most often, those three chimes endlessly repeated meant fire in the city. Today the alarm was for the nation as a whole.
Bartlett nimbly dodged round carriages and automobiles--some Fords imported from Yankee country; a Rolls full of gentlemen in top hats, white tie, and cutaways; and several Manassas machines built in Birmingham--that could make no headway with men on foot packing the streets. Even bicycles were slower than shank's mare in this crush.
He rounded a last corner and caught sight of the great equestrian statue of George Washington in Capitol Square. Washington, in an inspiring gesture, pointed south--toward the state penitentiary, wags said whenever scandal rocked the Confederate Congress.
The bronze Washington also pointed toward an even larger, more imposing statue of Albert Sidney Johnston. He and the bronze warriors in forage caps who stood guard at the base of the pedestal he topped memorialized the brave men, prominent and humble alike, who had fallen for freedom in the War of Secession.
Just to one side of the Johnston Memorial, a team of carpenters had hastily run up a platform to set dignitaries above the level of the common throng. The pine boards of the platform were still bright and yellow and unweathered. The same could not be said for the men who sat in folding chairs upon it. A lot of the graybeards had seen service not merely in the Second Mexican War but also in the War of Secession. Nor were the beards all that was gray: there side by side sat Patrick Cleburne and Stephen Ramseur wearing identical uniforms of the obsolete color more like what the Yankees wore nowadays than modern Confederate military dress. Aging lions, though, could wear what they pleased.
As everyone else was doing, Bartlett wiggled as close to the platform as he could. If the crush on the street had been bad, that within Capitol Square was appalling. Not twenty feet from him, somebody shouted in outrage: he'd had his pocket picked. Sneak thieves were probably having a field day, for people were packed so tight, they couldn't help bumping up against one another, and accidental contact was hard to tell from that made with larcenous intent.
The few ladies in the crowd were bumped and jostled almost as much as their male counterparts--not intentionally, perhaps, but unavoidably. "Beg your pardon, ma'am," Bartlett said after being squeezed against a pretty young woman more intimately than would have been proper on a dance floor. He couldn't tip his hat; he hadn't room to raise his arm to his head.
She nodded, accepting his apology as she'd probably accepted a dozen others. The remembered feel of her body pressed to his made him smile as the motion of the crowd swept them apart. He'd been polite--that came automatically as breathing to a well-raised young man--but his thoughts were his own, to do with as he would.
By dint of stubbornness worthy of what folks said about New England Yankees, Bartlett slithered and squirmed up to within a few yards of the ring of butternut-clad soldiers who held the crush away from the platform with bayoneted rifles. "Don't you take a step back, Watkins, damn you," the officer in charge of them shouted. "Make them do the moving."
Bartlett wondered if the guards would have to stick someone to make the crowd stand clear. The pressure behind him was so strong, it seemed as if the people could crush everything between themselves and the platform.
A high mucky-muck--not a graybeard but a portly, dapper fellow with a sandy, pointed beard like that of the King of England--leaned down over the railing and spoke to that officer. After a moment, Bartlett recognized him from woodcuts he'd seen: that was Emmanuel Sellars, the secretary of war. Was he giving the command for a demonstration against the crowd? Bartlett couldn't hear his orders. If he was, it would be pandemonium. Bartlett got ready to flee, and hoped the stampede wouldn't run over him.
The officer--a captain by the three bars on either side of his collar--shouted to his men. Bartlett couldn't make out what he said, either, but fear ran through him when some of the guards raised the rifles to their shoulders. But they aimed up into the air, not at the people, and fired a volley. Bartlett hoped they were shooting blanks. If they weren't, the bullets were liable to hurt somebody as they fell.
Into the sudden, startled silence the gunshots brought, a fellow with a great voice shouted, "Hearken now to the words of the President of the Confederate States of America, the honorable Woodrow Wilson."
The president turned this way and that, surveying the great swarm of people all around him in the moment of silence the volley had brought. Then, swinging back to face the statue of George Washington--and, incidentally, Reginald Bartlett--he said, "The father of our country warned us against entangling alliances, a warning that served us well when we were yoked to the North, before its arrogance created in our Confederacy what had never existed before--a national consciousness. That was our salvation and our birth as a free and independent country."
Silence broke then, with a thunderous outpouring of applause. Wilson raised a bony right hand. Slowly, silence, or a semblance of it, returned. The president went on, "But our birth of national consciousness made the United States jealous, and they tried to beat us down. We found loyal friends in England and France. Can we now stand aside when the German tyrant threatens to grind them under his iron heel?"
"No!" Bartlett shouted himself hoarse, along with thousands of his countrymen. Stunned, deafened, he had trouble hearing what Wilson said next:
"Jealous still, the United States in their turn also developed a national consciousness, a dark and bitter one, as any so opposed to ours must be." He spoke not like a politician inflaming a crowd but like a professor setting out arguments--he had taken the one path before choosing the other. "The German spirit of arrogance and militarism has taken hold in the United States; they see only the gun as the proper arbiter between nations, and their president takes Wilhelm as his model. He struts and swaggers and acts the fool in all regards."
Now he sounded like a politician; he despised Theodore Roosevelt, and took pleasure in Roosevelt's dislike for him. "When war began between England and France on the one hand and the German Empire on the other, we came to our allies' aid, as they had for us in our hour of need. I have, as you know, asked the Congress to declare war upon Germany and Austria-Hungary.
"And now, as a result of our honoring our commitment to our gallant allies, that man Roosevelt has sought from the U.S. Congress a declaration of war not only against England and France but also against the Confederate States of America. His servile lackeys, misnamed Democrats, have given him what he wanted, and the telegraph informs me that fighting has begun along our border and on the high seas.
"Leading our great and peaceful people into war is a fearful thing, not least because, with the great advances of science and industry over the past half-century, this may prove the most disastrous and terrible of all wars, truly a war of the nations: indeed a war of the world. But right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for those things we have always held dear in our hearts: for the rights of the Confederate States and of the white men who live in them; for the liberties of small nations everywhere from outside oppression; for our own freedom and independence from the vicious, bloody regime to our north. To such a task we can dedicate our lives and our fortunes, everything we are and all that we have, with the pride of those who know the day has come when the Confederacy is privileged to spend her blood and her strength for the principles that gave her birth and led to her present happiness. God helping us, we can do nothing else. Men of the Confederacy, is it your will that a state of war should exist henceforth between us and the United States of America?"
"Yes!" The answer roared from Reginald Bartlett's throat, as from those of the other tens of thousands of people jamming Capitol Square. Someone flung a straw hat in the air. In an instant, hundreds of them, Bartlett's included, were flying. A great chorus of "Dixie" rang out, loud enough, Bartlett thought, for the damnyankees to hear it in Washington.
Someone tapped him on the shoulder. He whirled around--and stared into the angry face of Milo Axelrod, his boss. "I told you to stay and mind the shop, dammit!" the druggist roared. "You're fired!"
Bartlett snapped his fingers under the older man's nose. "And this here is how much I care," he said. "You can't fire me, on account of I damn well quit. They haven't called up my regiment yet, but I'm joining the Army now, is what I'm doing. Go peddle your pills--us real men will save the country for you. A couple of months from now, after we've licked the Yankees, you can tell me you're sorry."