Christmas day of the year of our Lord, 1916, dawned on a world which seemed
to have forgotten the Man of Peace. In Asia Minor the Allies celebrated it by the
capture of a strong Turkish position at Maghdadah. The Germans spent it
concentrating at Dead Man's Hill; the British were ejected from enemy positions
near Arras. There was no Christmas truce. The death-grip had come.
Germany, conscious of her superiority in men, and her hypocritical peace offers
unanimously rejected, was preparing to free herself from the last restraint of
civilization and to begin unrestricted submarine warfare.
On Christmas morning Clayton received a letter from Chris. Evidently it had
come by hand, for it was mailed in America.
"Dear Clay: I am not at all sure that you will care to hear from me. In fact, I have
tried two or three times to write to you, and have given it up. But I am lonelier
than Billy-be-damned, and if it were not for Audrey's letters I wouldn't care which
shell got me and my little cart.
"I don't know whether you know why I got out, or not. Perhaps you don't. I'd been
a fool and a scoundrel, and I've had time, between fusses, to know just how
rotten I've been. But I'm not going to whine to you. What I am trying to get over is
that I'm through with the old stuff for good.
"God only knows why I am writing to you, anyhow - unless it is because I've
always thought you were pretty near right. And I'd like to feel that now and then
you are seeing Audrey, and bucking her up a bit. I think she's rather down.
"Do you know, Clay, I think this is a darned critical time. The press, hasn't got it
yet, but both the British and the French are hard up against it. They'll fight until
there is no one left to fight, but these damned Germans seem to have no
breaking-point. They haven't any temperament, I daresay, or maybe it is soul
they lack. But they'll fight to the last man also, and the plain truth is that there are
too many of them.
"It looks mighty bad, unless we come in. And I don't mind saying that there are a
good many eyes over here straining across the old Atlantic. Are we doing
anything, I wonder? Getting ready? The officers here say we can't expand an
army to get enough men without a draft law. Can you see the administration
endangering the next election with a draft law? Not on your life.
"I'm on the wagon, Clay. Honestly, it's funny. I don't mind telling you I'm darned
miserable sometimes. But then I get busy, and I'm so blooming glad in a rush to
get water that doesn't smell to heaven that I don't want anything else.
"I suppose they'll give us a good hate on Christmas. Well, think of me sometimes
when you sit down to dinner, and you might drink to our coming in. If we have a
principle to divide among us we shall have to."
Clayton read the letter twice.
He and Natalie lunched alone, Natalie in radiant good humor. His gift to her had
been a high collar of small diamonds magnificently set, and Natalie, whose throat