EXTRA MEN (1918)
By Harrison Rhodes
from The best short stories of
edited by Edward J. O'Brien: Small, Maynard & Co.,
originally from Harper's Magazine
Copyright, 1918, by Harper and Brothers.
Copyright, 1919, by Harrison Rhodes.
THE pretty, peaceful Jersey farm-land slopes gently up
from the Delaware River to the little hill which Princeton
crowns. It is uneventful country. The railway does not cross
it, nor any of the great motor trunk roads. On the river
itself there is no town of considerable size, though on the
map you read the quaint name of Washington Crossing for a
little hamlet of a few houses. This will remind you of the
great days when on these sleepy fields great history wag
made. But the fields have lain quiet in the sun now for more
than a century, and even the legends of Revolutionary days
are for the most part forgotten along these country roads.
As for modern legends, the very phrase seems
proof of their impossibility. And in spite of her spacious
and repunding past, New Jersey's name now seems to mean
incorporations and mosquitoes and sea-bathing and
popcorn-crisp rather than either legend or romance. But with
the coming of the Great War strange things are stirring in
the world, and in the farthest comers of the land the earth
is shaken by the tramp of new armies. In the skies by day
and night there is a sign. And the things one does not
believe can happen may be happening, even in New Jersey.
The small events on the Burridge Road which,
are here set down cannot even be authenticated. There are
people down by the river who say they saw a single horseman
go through the village at dusk, but not one seems to know
which way he came. There is no ferry at Washington Crossing
and the bridge at Lambertville had, since three that
afternoon, been closed for repairs. What facts are set down
here and indeed they are scarcely facts were acquired
because a chauffeur missed the road and a motor then broke
down. What story there is and indeed there is perhaps not
much story has been pieced together from fragments
collected that afternoon and evening. And if the chronicle
as now written is vague, it urged that, though it all
happened so recently as can be last year, it is already as
indeterminate and misty as a
We may however, begin with undisputed facts.
When her grandson enlisted for the war old Mrs. Buchan
became very genuinely dependent on the little farm that
surrounded the lovely old Colonial house on the Burridge
Road. (Meadows, and horses, and hay and the quality and
price of it, have much to do with our story as, indeed,
befits a rural chronicle.) The farm had been larger once,
and the hospitality which the old house could dispense more
lavish. Indeed, the chief anecdote in its history had been
the stopping there once of Washington, to dine and rest on
his way to join the army in New York. Old Mrs. Buchan, who,
for all her gentleness, was incurably proud, laid special
stress on the fact that on that night the great man
had not been at an inn which was in the twentieth century
to cheapen his memory by a sign-board appeal to automobile
parties but at a gentleman's house. A gentleman's house it
still was; somehow the Buchans had always managed to live
like gentlemen. But if George, the gay, agreeable last one
of them, could also live that way, it was because his
grandmother practised rigid heart-breaking economy. The
stories of her shifts and expedients were almost fables of
the countryside. When George came home he had a small
position in a New York broker's office there was gaiety and
plenty. He might well have been deceived into thinking that
the little he sent home from New York was ample for her
needs. But when he went back his grandmother lived on
nothing, or less than that. She dressed for dinner, so they
said, in black silk and old lace, had the table laid with
Lowestoft china and the Buchan silver, and ate a dish of
corn-meal mush, or something cheaper
if that could be found!
George Buchan's enlistment it was in the
aviation service had been early. And very early he was
ordered to France to finish his training there. Two days
before he expected his ship to sail the boy got a few hours'
furlough and came to the Burridge Road to say good-by to his
What was said we must imagine. He was all the
old lady had left in the world. But no one ever doubted that
she had kissed him and told him to go, and to hold his head
high as suited an American and a Buchan. Georgie would
perhaps have had no very famous career in Wall Street, but
no one doubted that he would make a good soldier. There had
always been a Buchan in the armies of the Republic, his
grandmother must have reminded him. And by Georgie, kissing
her, had reminded very like her that there had always been a
Buchan woman at home to wish the men God speed as they
marched away, and told her too to hold her old head high.
There must have been some talk about the
money that there wouldn't be now; without his little weekly
check she was indeed almost penniless. It is quite likely
that they spoke of selling the house and decided against it.
Part of the boy's pay was of course to come to his
grandmother, but, as she explained, there were so many war
charities needing that, and then the wool for her
knitting She must manage mostly with the farm. There was
always the vegetable-garden, and a few chickens, and the
green meadow, which might be expected to yield a record crop
We may imagine that the two old lady and
boy stepped out for a moment into the moonlit night to look
at the poor little domain of Buchan that was left. Under the
little breeze that drifted up from the Delaware the grass
bent in long waves like those of the summer seas that
Georgie was to cross to France. As the Buchans looked at it
they might have felt some wonder at the century-old
fertility of the soil. Back in the days of the Revolution
Washington's horse had pastured there one night. Then, and
in 1812, and during the great battle of the States, the
grass had grown green and the hay been fragrant, and the fat
Jersey earth had out of its depths brought forth something
to help the nation at war. Such a field as that by the old
white house can scarcely be thought of as a wild, primeval
thing; it has lived too long under the hand of man. This was
a Buchan field, George's meadow, and by moonlight it seemed
to wave good-by to him.
"You aren't dependent on me now,
dear," he may have said, with his arm around his
grandmother. "I just leave you to our little garden
patch and our chickens and the green meadow."
"You must n't worry, dear. They'll take
care of me," she must have answered.
So George went away; and the night after, the
night before he sailed, the horseman and his company came.
It was at dusk, and a gossamer silvery mist
had drifted up from the Delaware. He had hitched his horse
by the gate. He was in riding-breeches and gaiters and a
rather old-fashioned riding-coat. And in the band of his hat
he had stuck a small American flag which looked oddly enough
almost like a cockade. He knocked at the door, quite
ignoring the new electric bell which George had installed
one idle Sunday morning when his grandmother had felt he
should have been at church. As it happened, old Mrs. Buchan
had been standing by the window, watching the mist creep up
and the twilight come, thinking of Georgie so soon to be
upon the water. As the horseman knocked she, quite suddenly
and quite contrary to her usual custom, went herself to the
His hat was immediately off, swept through a
nobler circle than the modern bow demands, and he spoke with
the elaboration of courtesy which suited his age; for,
though his stride was vigorous, he was no longer young. It
was a severe, careworn face of a stem, almost hard, nobility
of expression. Yet the smile when it came was engaging, and
old Mrs. Buchan, as she smiled in return, found herself
saying-to herself that no Southerner, however stern, could
fail to have this graceful lighter side. For his question
had been put in the softer accents of Virginia and of the
states farther south.
"I've lost my way," he began, with
the very slightest, small, gay laugh. But he was instantly
serious. "It is so many, many years since I was
Mrs. Buchan pointed up the road.
"That is the way to Princeton."
"Princeton, of course. That's where we
fought the British and beat them. It seems, strange, does it
not, that we now fight with them?"
"We must forget the Revolution now, must
we not?" This from Mrs. Buchan.
"Forget the Revolution!" he flashed
back at her, almost angrily. Then more gently:
"Perhaps. If we remember liberty!" He glanced an
instant up the road to Princeton hill and then went on.
"They fought well then, madam. As a soldier I am glad
to have such good allies. But I was forgetting. Yonder lies
Princeton, and from there there is the post-road to New
York, is there not? I must be in New York by morning."
Mrs. Buchan was old-fashioned, but she found
herself murmuring amazedly something about railroads and
motor-cars. But he did not seem to hear her.
"Yes," he continued, "I must
be in New York by morning. The first transport with our
troops sails for France."
"I know," she said, proudly.
"My grandson, George Buchan, sails for France."
"George Buchan? There was a George
Buchan fought at Princeton, I remember."
"There was. And another George Buchan in
the War of Eighteen-twelve. And a John in the Mexican War.
And a William in eighteen sixty-three. There was no one in
the Spanish War my son was dead and my grandson was too
young. But now he is ready."
"Every American is ready," her
visitor answered. "I am ready."
"You?" she broke out. And for the
first time she seemed to see that his hair was white.
"Are you going?"
"Every one who has ever fought for
America is going. There is a company of them behind me.
Down the road there was faintly to be heard
the clatter of hoofs.
"Some joined me in Virginia, some as we
crossed the Potomac by Arlington, where there is a house
which once belonged to a relative of mine. And there were
others, old friends, who met me as we came through Valley
Forge in Pennsylvania. You would not now know Valley
Forge," he finished, half to himself.
The river mist had crept farther up and was a
little thicker now. The moon had risen and the mist
shimmered and shone almost as if by its own light. The world
was indeed of the very substance of a dream. The hoof-beats
on the road grew nearer, and at last, while old Mrs. Buchan
stood in a kind of amazed silence, they came into sight,
even then mere shadowy, dim, wavering figures behind the
gossamer silver veil which had drifted there from, the
lovely Delaware. The horses looked lean and weary, though
perhaps this was a trick of the moonlight. Yet they dropped
their heads and began eagerly to crop the short, dusty grass
by the roadside. The moonlight seemed to play tricks with
their riders, too. For in the fog some of them seemed to
have almost grotesquely old-fashioned clothes, though all
had a sort of military cut to them. Some few, indeed, were
trim and modem. But the greater part were, or seemed to Mrs.
Buchan to be, in shabby blue or worn gray. The chance
combination of the colors struck her. She was an old woman
and she could remember unhappy far-off days when blue and
gray had stood for the fight of brother against brother.
Into her eyes the tears came, yet she suddenly smiled
through them a pair of quite young men lounged toward the
fence, and then stood at ease there, the blue-clad arm of
one affectionately and boyishly thrown around the other's
"These go with you?" asked old Mrs.
Buchan, still held by her memories.
"Yes. They are of all kinds and all
ages, and some of them were not always friends. But you
see " He smiled and pointed to the lads by the fence.
"One of them is from Virginia and the other from Ohio.
Virginia and Ohio fought once. But I only say that I can
remember that Ohio was part of Virginia once long ago. And
is not Virginia part of Ohio and Ohio part of Virginia again
now? I should be pushing on, however, not talking. It is the
horses that are tired, not the men."
"And hungry?" suggested Mrs.
"The horses, yes, poor beasts!" he
answered. "For the men it does not matter. Yet we must
reach New York by morning. And it is a matter of some
"Rest a half-hour and let the horses
graze. You can make it by sunrise."
Mrs. Buchan went a little way down the path.
It was lined with pink and white clove-pinks and their
fragrance was sweet in the night.
"Open the gate there to the left,
men," she called out, and her voice rang, to her,
unexpectedly strong and clear. "Let the horses graze in
my green meadow if they will."
They gave an answering cheer from out the
mist. She saw the meadow gate swing open and the lean horses
pass through, a long, long file of them.
"But they will spoil your hay
crop," objected the horseman. "And it should be
worth a fair sum to you."
Mrs. Buchan drew herself up. "It is of
no consequence," she answered.
He bowed again.
"But I don't understand," she
almost pleaded, staring again at his white hair and the
little flag in his hatband that looked so oddly like a
cockade. "You say you sail to-morrow with my boy?"
"I think you understand as well as any
"Do I?" she whispered. And the
night suddenly seemed cold and she drew her little shawl of
Shetland wool more tightly about her shoulders. Yet she was
Her guest stooped and, rising, put one of her
sweet-smelling clove-pinks in his button-hole.
"If you permit, I will carry it for your
boy to France. We are extra men, supercargo," he went
on. "We shall cross with every boat-load of boys who
sail for France we who fought once as they must fight now.
They said of me, only too flatteringly, that I was first in
peace. Now I must be first in war again. I must be on the
first troop-ship that goes. And I shall find friends in
France. We have always had friends in France, I imagine,
since those first days. Of course, madam, you are too young
to remember the Marquis de la Fayette."
"Yes, I am too young," answered old
Mrs. Buchan. And she smiled through her tears at the thought
of her eighty years.
"You're a mere chit of a girl, of
course," he laughed one of the few times his gravity
was relaxed. "Shall I know your boy, I wonder?"
Then, without waiting for her answer, "The George
Buchan who fought at the battle of Princeton was about
twenty-two, slim and straight, with blue eyes and brown hair
and an honest, gallant way with him, and a smile that one
"You will know my boy," she told
him. "And I think he will know you, General."
Even now she swears she does not quite know
what she meant by this. The magic of the June night had for
the moment made everything possible. Yet she will not to
this day say who she thinks the horseman may have been. Only
that George would know him, as she had.
"I want them all to know that I am
there," he had replied. "They will know. They will
remember their country's history even as we remember. And
when the shells scream in the French sky they will not
forget the many times America has fought for liberty. They
will not forget those early soldiers. And they will not
forget Grant and Lee and Lincoln. The American eagle, madam,
has a very shrill note. I think it can be heard above the
whistle of German shrapnel."
He drank a glass of sherry before he went,
and ate a slice of sponge-cake. Perhaps altogether he
delayed a scant quarter of an hour. The lean horses came
streaming forth from the green meadow, a long, long file;
and while the moon and the river mist still made it a world
of wonder, the company, larger somehow than she had thought
it at first, clattered off up the Princeton road toward New
York and salt water and the ships.
The mist cleared for a moment and the great
green meadow was seen, so trampled that it seemed that a
thousand horses must have trampled it. Al Fenton, dignified
by Mrs. Buchan as "the farmer," had now belatedly
roused and dressed himself. He stood by the old lady's side
and dejectedly surveyed the ruin of the hay crop. He is a
sober, stupid, serious witness of what had happened. And
this is important; for when the sun rose, and Mrs. Buchan
opened her window, the breeze from the river rippled in long
green waves over a great green meadow where the grass still
pointed heavenward, untrampled, undisturbed. The Buchan
meadow could still, as George had believed it would, take
care of his grandmother.
This is the story, to be believed, or not, as
you like. They do as they like about it in Jersey. But old
Mrs. Buchan believes that with each American troop-ship
there will sail supercargo, extra men. And she believes that
with these extra men we cannot lose the fight. George, too,
writes home to her that we shall win.