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A CHARMED LIFE

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A CHARMED LIFE

RICHARD HARDING DAVIS

She loved him so that when he went away to a little war in which
his country was interested she could not understand nor quite
forgive.

As the correspondent of a newspaper Chesterton had looked on at
other wars; when the yellow races met when the infidel Turk
spanked the Christian Greek; and one he had watched from inside a
British square where he was greatly alarmed lest he should be
trampled upon by terrified camels. This had happened before he and
she had met. After they met she told him that what chances he had
chosen to take before he came into her life fell outside of her
jurisdiction. But now that his life belonged to her this talk of
his standing up to be shot at was wicked. It was worse than
wicked; it was absurd.

When the Maine sank in Havana harbor and the word "war" was
appearing hourly in hysterical extras Miss Armitage explained her
position.

"You mustn't think" she said "that I am one of those silly girls
who would beg you not to go to war."

At the moment of speaking her cheek happened to be resting against
his and his arm was about her so he humbly bent his head and
kissed her and whispered very proudly and softly "No dearest."

At which she withdrew from him frowning.

"No! I'm not a bit like those girls" she proclaimed. "I merely
tell you YOU CAN'T GO! My gracious!" she cried helplessly. She
knew the words fell short of expressing her distress but her
education had not supplied her with exclamations of greater
violence.

"My goodness!" she cried. "How can you frighten me so? It's not
like you" she reproached him. "You are so unselfish so noble.
You are always thinking of other people. How can you talk of going
to war--to be killed--to me? And now now that you have made me
love you so?"

The hands that when she talked seemed to him like swallows darting
and flashing in the sunlight clutched his sleeve. The fingers
that he would rather kiss than the lips of any other woman that
ever lived clung to his arm. Their clasp reminded him of that of
a drowning child he had once lifted from the surf.

"If you should die" whispered Miss Armitage. "What would I do.
What would I do!"

"But my dearest" cried the young man. "My dearest ONE! I've GOT
to go. It's our own war. Everybody else will go" he pleaded.
"Every man you know and they're going to fight too. I'm going
only to look on. That's bad enough isn't it without sitting at
home? You should be sorry I'm not going to fight."

"Sorry!" exclaimed the girl. "If you love me--"

"If I love you" shouted the young man. His voice suggested that
he was about to shake her. "How dare you?"

She abandoned that position and attacked from one more logical.

"But why punish me?" she protested. "Do I want the war? Do I want
to free Cuba? No! I want YOU and if you go you are the one who
is sure to be killed. You are so big--and so brave and you will
be rushing in wherever the fighting is and then--then you will
die." She raised her eyes and looked at him as though seeing him
from a great distance. "And" she added fatefully "I will die
too or maybe I will have to live to live without you for years
for many miserable years."

Fearfully with great caution as though in his joy in her he might
crush her in his hands the young man drew her to him and held her
close. After a silence he whispered. "But you know that nothing
can happen to me. Not now that God has let me love you. He could
not be so cruel. He would not have given me such happiness to take
it from me. A man who loves you as I love you cannot come to any
harm. And the man YOU love is immortal immune. He holds a
charmed life. So long as you love him he must live."

The eyes of the girl smiled up at him through her tears. She
lifted her lips to his. "Then you will never die!" she said.

She held him away from her. "Listen!" she whispered. "What you
say is true. It must be true because you are always right. I
love you so that nothing can harm you. My love will be a charm.
It will hang around your neck and protect you and keep you and
bring you back to me. When you are in danger my love will save
you. For while it lives I live. When it dies--"

Chesterton kissed her quickly.

"What happens then" he said "doesn't matter."

The war game had run its happy-go-lucky course briefly and
brilliantly with "glory enough for all" even for Chesterton.
For in no previous campaign had good fortune so persistently stood
smiling at his elbow. At each moment of the war that was critical
picturesque dramatic by some lucky accident he found himself
among those present. He could not lose. Even when his press boat
broke down at Cardenas a Yankee cruiser and two Spanish gun-boats
apparently for his sole benefit engaged in an impromptu duel
within range of his megaphone. When his horse went lame the
column with which he had wished to advance passed forward to the
front unmolested while the rear guard to which he had been forced
to join his fortune fought its way through the stifling
underbrush.

Between his news despatches when he was not singing the praises of
his fellow-countrymen or copying lists of their killed and
wounded he wrote to Miss Armitage. His letters were scrawled on
yellow copy paper and consisted of repetitions of the three words
"I love you" rearranged illuminated and intensified.

Each letter began much in the same way. "The war is still going
on. You can read about it in the papers. What I want you to know
is that I love you as no man ever--" And so on for many pages.

From her only one of the letters she wrote reached him. It was
picked up in the sand at Siboney after the medical corps in an
effort to wipe out the yellow-fever had set fire to the post-
office tent.

She had written it some weeks before from her summer home at
Newport and in it she said: "When you went to the front I thought
no woman could love more than I did then. But now I know. At
least I know one girl who can. She cannot write it. She can never
tell you. You must just believe.

"Each day I hear from you for as soon as the paper comes I take
it down to the rocks and read your cables and I look south across
the ocean to Cuba and try to see you in all that fighting and heat
and fever. But I am not afraid. For each morning I wake to find I
love you more; that it has grown stronger more wonderful more
hard to bear. And I know the charm I gave you grows with it and
is more powerful and that it will bring you back to me wearing new
honors 'bearing your sheaves with you.'

"As though I cared for your new honors. I want YOU YOU YOU--only
YOU."

When Santiago surrendered and the invading army settled down to
arrange terms of peace and imbibe fever and General Miles moved
to Porto Rico Chesterton moved with him.

In that pretty little island a command of regulars under a general
of the regular army had in a night attack driven back the
Spaniards from Adhuntas. The next afternoon as the column was in
line of march and the men were shaking themselves into their
accoutrements a dusty sweating volunteer staff officer rode down
the main street of Adhuntas and with the authority of a field
marshal held up his hand.

"General Miles's compliments sir" he panted "and peace is
declared!"

Different men received the news each in a different fashion. Some
whirled their hats in the air and cheered. Those who saw promotion
and the new insignia on their straps vanish swore deeply.
Chesterton fell upon his saddle-bags and began to distribute his
possessions among the enlisted men. After he had remobilized his
effects consisted of a change of clothes his camera water-bottle
and his medicine case. In his present state of health and spirits
he could not believe he stood in need of the medicine case but it
was a gift from Miss Armitage and carried with it a promise from
him that he always would carry it. He had "packed" it throughout
the campaign and for others it had proved of value.

"I take it you are leaving us" said an officer enviously.

"I am leaving you so quick" cried Chesterton laughing "that you
won't even see the dust. There's a transport starts from Mayaguez
at six to-morrow morning and if I don't catch it this pony will
die on the wharf."

"The road to Mayaguez is not healthy for Americans" said the
general in command. "I don't think I ought to let you go. The
enemy does not know peace is on yet and there are a lot of
guerillas--"

Chesterton shook his head in pitying wonder.

"Not let me go!" he exclaimed. "Why General you haven't enough
men in your command to stop me and as for the Spaniards and
guerillas--! I'm homesick" cried the young man. "I'm so damned
homesick that I am liable to die of it before the transport gets me
to Sandy Hook."

"If you are shot up by an outpost" growled the general "you will
be worse off than homesick. It's forty miles to Mayaguez. Better
wait till daylight. Where's the sense of dying after the
fighting's over?"

"If I don't catch that transport I sure WILL die" laughed
Chesterton. His head was bent and he was tugging at his saddle
girths. Apparently the effort brought a deeper shadow to his tan
"but nothing else can kill me! I have a charm General" he
exclaimed.

"We hadn't noticed it" said the general.

The staff officers according to regulations laughed.

"It's not that kind of a charm" said Chesterton. "Good-by
General."

The road was hardly more than a trail but the moon made it as
light as day and cast across it black tracings of the swinging
vines and creepers; while high in the air it turned the polished
...



 
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