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VII A PLAGUE ON NAMES!
Once more I measured my man. Celerity, valor, endurance, they were his iridescent neck and tail feathers. On a certain piece of road where we went more slowly I mentioned abruptly my clerkship under Major Harper and watched for the effect, but there was none. Did he know the Major? Oh, yes, and we fell to piling item upon item in praise of the quartermaster's virtues and good looks. Presently, with shrewdest intent, I said the Major was fine enough to be the hero of a novel! Did not my companion think so?

Yes, he thought so; but I believed the glow in his tone was for novels. I extolled the romance of actual life! I denounced that dullness which fails to see the poetry of daily experience, and goes wandering after the mirages of fiction! And I was ready to fight him if he liked. But he agreed with me most cordially.

"And yet," he began to add,--

"Yet what?" I snapped out, with horse eyes.

"Doesn't a good story revive the poetry of our actual lives?" He wiped the rim of his cap with a handkerchief of yellow silk enriched at one corner with needlework.

"Um-hm!" I thought; "Charlotte Oliver, eh?" I responded tartly that I had that very morning met four ladies the poetry of whose actual, visible loveliness had abundantly illustrated to me the needlessness and impertinence of fiction! By the way, did he not think feminine beauty was always in its ripest perfection at eighteen?

Well, he thought a girl might be prettiest at eighteen and handsomest much later. And again I said to myself, "Charlotte Oliver!" But when I looked searchingly into his eyes their manly sweetness so abashed me that I dropped my glance and felt him looking at me. I remembered my fable and flinched. "Isn't your name--" I cried, and choked, and when I would have said Ferry, another word slipped out instead. He did not hear it plainly:

"Cockerel, did you say?"

A sweet color was I. "Yes, that's what I said; Cockerel. Isn't your last name Cockerel?"

"No," he said, "my last name is Durand." He gave it the French pronunciation.

"Mine is Smith," I said, and we galloped.

A plague on names! But I was not done with them yet. We met other scouts coming out of the east, who also gave reports and went on westward, sometimes through the trackless woods. At a broad cross-road which spanned the whole State from the Alabama line to the Mississippi River stood another sergeant, with three men, waiting. They were the last.

Again we galloped alone; and as our horses' hoofs beat drummers' music out of the round earth our dialogue drifted into confessions of our own most private theories of conduct, character and creation. Now that this man's name was not--Cockerel, my heart opened to him and we began to admit to each other the perplexities of this great, strange thing called Life. Especially we confessed how every waking hour found us jostled and torn between two opposite, unappeasable tendencies of soul; one an upward yearning after everything high and pure, the other a down-dragging hunger for every base indulgence. I was warmed and fed. Yet I was pained to find him so steeped in presumptuous error, so wayward of belief and unbelief. The sweet ease with which he overturned and emptied out some of my arguments gave me worse failure of the diaphragm than a high swing ever did. Nevertheless I responded; and he rejoined; and I rejoined again, and presently he gave me the notion that he was suffering some cruel moral strain.



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