KANSAS COLLECTION BOOKS
The Martial Adventures of Henry and Me by William Allen White


An excerpt from


CHAPTER I


IN WHICH WE BEGIN OUR SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY



BY rights Henry, being the hero of this story, should be introduced in the first line. But really there isn't so much to say about Henry-- Henry J. Allen for short, as we say in Kansas -- Henry J. Allen, editor and owner of the Wichita Beacon. And to make the dramatic personae complete, we may consider me as the editor of the Emporia Gazette, and the two of us as short, fat, bald, middle-aged, inland Americans, from fresh water colleges in our youth and arrived at New York by way of an often devious, yet altogether happy route, leading through politics where it was rough going and unprofitable for years; through business where we still find it easy to sign, possible to float and hard to pay a ninety-day note, and through two country towns; one
I




2--Martial Adventures of Henry and Me

somewhat less than one hundred thousand population, and Emporia slightly above ten thousand.

We are discovered in the prologue to the play in New York City wearing our new silk suits to give New York a treat on a hot August day. Not that we or any one else ever wears silk suits in any Wichita or Emporia; silk suits are bought by Wichita people and Emporians all over the earth to paralyse the natives of the various New Yorks.

In our pockets we hold commissions from the American Red Cross. These commissions are sending us to Europe as inspectors with a view to publicity later, one to speak for the Red Cross, the other to write for it in America. We have been told by the Red Cross authorities in Washington that we shall go immediately to the front in France and that it will be necessary to have the protective colouring of some kind of an army uniform. The curtain rises on a store in 43rd Street in New York--perhaps the "Palace" or the "Hub" or the "Model" or the "Army and Navy," where a young man is trying to sell us a khaki coat, and shirt and trousers for $17.48. And at that it seems a lot of money to pay for a rig which can be worn at most only two months. But we compromise by making him throw in an-



A lot of money...

And at that it seems a lot of money to pay for a rig
which can be worn at most only two months



(blank page follows)



We Begin Our Sentimental Journey--5

other shirt and a service hat and we take the lot for $17.93 and go away holding in low esteem the "pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war" as exemplified by these military duds. In our hearts as we go off at R. U. E. will be seen a hatred for uniforms as such, and particularly for phoney uniforms that mean nothing and cost $18.00 in particular.

And then, with a quick curtain, the good ship Espagne, a French liner, is discovered in New York harbour the next day with Henry and me aboard her, trying to distinguish as she crawfishes out of the dock, the faces of our waving friends from the group upon the pier.

The good ship Espagne is all steamed up and scooting through the night, with two or three hundred others of the cast of characters aboard; and there is Europe and the war in the cast of characters, and the Boche, and Fritzie and the Hun, that diabolic trinity of evil, and just back of the boat on the scenery of the first act, splattered like guinea freckles all over the American map for three thousand miles north, south, east and west, are a thousand replicas of Wichita and Emporia. So it really is not of arms and the man that this story is written, nor of Henry and me, and the war; but it is the eternal Wichita



6--Martial Adventures of Henry and Me

and Emporia in the American heart that we shall celebrate hereinafter as we unfold our tale. Of course, that makes it provincial. And people living in New York or Boston, or Philadelphia (but not Chicago, for half of the people there have just come to town and the other half is just ready to leave town) may not understand this story. For in some respects New York is larger than Wichita and Emporia; but not so much larger; for mere numbers of population amount to little. There is always an angle of the particular from which one can see it as a part of the universal; and seen properly the finite is always infinite. And that brings us back naturally to Henry and me, looking out at the scurrying stars in the ocean as we hurried through the black night on the good ship Espagne. We had just folded away a fine Sunday dinner, a French Sunday dinner, beginning with onion soup which was strange; and as ominous of our journey into the Latin world as a blast of trumpets opening a Wagnerian overture. Indeed that onion soup was threaded through our whole trip like a motif. Our dinner that night ended in cheese and everything. It was our first meal aboard the boat. During two or three courses. we had considered the value of food as a two-way commodity



We Begin Our Sentimental Journey--7

--going down and coming up--but later in the dinner we ordered our food on its merits as a one-way luxury, with small thought as to its other uses. So we leaned against the rail in the nightand thought large thoughts about Wichita and Emporia.

Here we were, two middle-aged men, nearing fifty years, going out to a ruthless war without our wives. We had packed our own valises at the hotel that very morning in fear and trembling. We realized that probably we were leaving half our things in closets and drawers and were taking the wrong things with us, and checking the right things in our trunks at our hotels in New York. We had some discussion about our evening clothes, and on a toss-up had decided to take our tails and leave our dinner coats in the trunks. But we didn't know why we had abandoned our dinner coats. We had no accurate social knowledge of those things. Henry boasted that his wife had taught him a formula that would work in the matter of white or black ties with evening clothes. But it was all complicated with white vests and black vests and sounded like a corn remedy; yet it was the only sartorial foundation we had. And there we were with land out of sight, without a light visible on the boat, standing



8--Martial Adventures of Henry and Me

in the black of night leaning over the rail, looking at the stars in the water, and wondering silently whether we had packed our best cuff buttons, "with which to harry our foes," or whether we might have to win the war in our $17.93 uniforms, and we both thought and admitted our shame, that our wives would think we had been extravagant in putting so much money into those uniforms. The admirable French dinner which we had just enveloped, seemed a thousand miles away. It was a sad moment and our thoughts turned naturally to home.

"Fried chicken, don't you suppose?" sighed Henry.

"And mashed potatoes, and lots of thick cream gravy!" came from the gloom beside him.

"And maybe lima beans," he speculated.

"And a lettuce salad with thousand island dressing, I presume!" came out of the darkness.

"And apple dumpling--green apple dumpling with hard sauce," welled up from Henry's heavy heart. It was a critical moment. If it had kept on that way we would have got off the boat, and trudged back home through a sloppy ocean, and let the war take care of itself. Then Henry's genius rose. Henry is the world's greatest kidder. Give him six days' immunity in Ger-



We Begin Our Sentimental Journey--9

many, and let him speak in Berlin, Munich, Dresden, Leipsic and Cologne and he would kid the divine right of kings out of Germany and the kaiser on to the Chautauqua circuit, reciting his wrongs and his reminiscences!

Henry, you may remember, delivered the Roosevelt valedictory at the Chicago Republican convention in 1912, when he kidded the standpat crowd out of every Republican state in the union but two at the election. Possibly you don't like that word kid. But it's in the dictionary, and there's no other word to describe Henry's talent. He is always jamming the allegro into the adagio. And that night in the encircling gloom on the boat as we started on our martial adventures he began kidding the ocean. His idea was that he would get Wichita to vote bonds for one that would bring tide water to Main Street. He didn't want a big ocean--just a kind of an oceanette with a seating capacity of five thousand square miles was his idea, and when he had done with his phantasie, the doleful dumps that rose at the psychical aroma of the hypothetical fried chicken and mashed potatoes of our dream, had vanished.






Voices 'Contents'     Go to W. A. White's book