"I guess you'll go back to your profession, all right," Claude remarked, in the unnatural tone in which people sometimes speak of things they know nothing about.
"Not I. Of course, I had to play for them. Music has always been like a religion in this house. Listen," he put up his hand; far away the regular pulsation of the big guns sounded through the still night. "That's all that matters now. It has killed everything else."
"I don't believe it." Claude stopped for a moment by the edge of the fountain, trying to collect his thoughts. "I don't believe it has killed anything. It has only scattered things." He glanced about hurriedly at the sleeping house, the sleeping garden, the clear, starry sky not very far overhead. "It's men like you that get the worst of it," he broke out. "But as for me, I never knew there was anything worth living for, till this war came on. Before that, the world seemed like a business proposition."
"You'll admit it's a costly way of providing adventure for the young," said David drily.
Claude pursued the argument to himself long after they were in their luxurious beds and David was asleep. No battlefield or shattered country he had seen was as ugly as this world would be if men like his brother Bayliss controlled it altogether. Until the war broke out, he had supposed they did control it; his boyhood had been clouded and enervated by that belief. The Prussians had believed it, too, apparently. But the event had shown that there were a great many people left who cared about something else.
The intervals of the distant artillery fire grew shorter, as if the big guns were tuning up, choking to get something out. Claude sat up in his bed and listened. The sound of the guns had from the first been pleasant to him, had given him a feeling of confidence and safety; tonight he knew why. What they said was, that men could still die for an idea; and would burn all they had made to keep their dreams. He knew the future of the world was safe; the careful planners would never be able to put it into a strait-jacket,--cunning and prudence would never have it to themselves. Why, that little boy downstairs, with the candlelight in his eyes, when it came to the last cry, as they said, could "carry on" for ever! Ideals were not archaic things, beautiful and impotent; they were the real sources of power among men. As long as that was true, and now he knew it was true--he had come all this way to find out--he had no quarrel with Destiny. Nor did he envy David. He would give his own adventure for no man's. On the edge of sleep it seemed to glimmer, like the clear column of the fountain, like the new moon,--alluring, half-averted, the bright face of danger.
When Claude and David rejoined their Battalion on the 20th of September, the end of the war looked as far away as ever. The collapse of Bulgaria was unknown to the American army, and their acquaintance with European affairs was so slight that this would have meant very little to them had they heard of it. The German army still held the north and east of France, and no one could say how much vitality was left in that sprawling body.
The Battalion entrained at Arras. Lieutenant Colonel Scott had orders to proceed to the railhead, and then advance on foot into the Argonne.