In the year 1920, the student and the statesman saw many indications that the social, financial and industrial troubles that had vexed the United States of America for so long a time were about to culminate in civil war.
Wealth had grown so strong, that the few were about to strangle the many, and among the great masses of the people, there was sullen and rebellious discontent.
The laborer in the cities, the producer on the farm, the merchant, the professional man and all save organized capital and its satellites, saw a gloomy and hopeless future.
With these conditions prevailing, the graduation exercises of the class of 1920 of the National Military Academy at West Point, held for many a foreboding promise of momentous changes, but the 12th of June found the usual gay scene at the great institution overlooking the Hudson. The President of the Republic, his Secretary of War and many other distinguished guests were there to do honor to the occasion, together with friends, relatives and admirers of the young men who were being sent out to the ultimate leadership of the Nation's Army. The scene had all the usual charm of West Point graduations, and the usual intoxicating atmosphere of military display.
There was among the young graduating soldiers one who seemed depressed and out of touch with the triumphant blare of militarism, for he alone of his fellow classmen had there no kith nor kin to bid him God-speed in his new career.
Standing apart under the broad shadow of an oak, he looked out over long stretches of forest and river, but what he saw was his home in distant Kentucky—the old farmhouse that the sun and the rain and the lichens had softened into a mottled gray. He saw the gleaming brook that wound its way through the tangle of orchard and garden, and parted the distant blue-grass meadow.
He saw his aged mother sitting under the honeysuckle trellis, book in hand, but thinking, he knew, of him. And then there was the perfume of the flowers, the droning of the bees in the warm sweet air and the drowsy hound at his father's feet.
But this was not all the young man saw, for Philip Dru, in spite of his military training, was a close student of the affairs of his country, and he saw that which raised grave doubts in his mind as to the outcome of his career. He saw many of the civil institutions of his country debased by the power of wealth under the thin guise of the constitutional protection of property. He saw the Army which he had sworn to serve faithfully becoming prostituted by this same power, and used at times for purposes of intimidation and petty conquests where the interests of wealth were at stake. He saw the great city where luxury, dominant and defiant, existed largely by grace of exploitation— exploitation of men, women and children.
The young man's eyes had become bright and hard, when his day-dream was interrupted, and he was looking into the gray-blue eyes of Gloria Strawn—the one whose lot he had been comparing to that of her sisters in the city, in the mills, the sweatshops, the big stores, and the streets. He had met her for the first time a few hours before, when his friend and classmate, Jack Strawn, had presented him to his sister. No comrade knew Dru better than Strawn, and no one admired him so much. Therefore, Gloria, ever seeking a closer contact with life, had come to West Point eager to meet the lithe young Kentuckian, and to measure him by the other men of her acquaintance.
She was disappointed in his appearance, for she had fancied him almost god-like in both size and beauty, and she saw a man of medium height, slender but toughly knit, and with a strong, but homely face. When he smiled and spoke she forgot her disappointment, and her interest revived, for her sharp city sense caught the trail of a new experience.
To Philip Dru, whose thought of and experience with women was almost nothing, so engrossed had he been in his studies, military and economic, Gloria seemed little more than a child. And yet her frank glance of appraisal when he had been introduced to her, and her easy though somewhat languid conversation on the affairs of the commencement, perplexed and slightly annoyed him. He even felt some embarrassment in her presence.
Child though he knew her to be, he hesitated whether he should call her by her given name, and was taken aback when she smilingly thanked him for doing so, with the assurance that she was often bored with the eternal conventionality of people in her social circle.
Suddenly turning from the commonplaces of the day, Gloria looked directly at Philip, and with easy self-possession turned the conversation to himself.
"I am wondering, Mr. Dru, why you came to West Point and why it is you like the thought of being a soldier?" she asked. "An American soldier has to fight so seldom that I have heard that the insurance companies regard them as the best of risks, so what attraction, Mr. Dru, can a military career have for you?"
Never before had Philip been asked such a question, and it surprised him that it should come from this slip of a girl, but he answered her in the serious strain of his thoughts.
"As far back as I can remember," he said, "I have wanted to be a soldier. I have no desire to destroy and kill, and yet there is within me the lust for action and battle. It is the primitive man in me, I suppose, but sobered and enlightened by civilization. I would do everything in my power to avert war and the suffering it entails. Fate, inclination, or what not has brought me here, and I hope my life may not be wasted, but that in God's own way, I may be a humble instrument for good. Oftentimes our inclinations lead us in certain directions, and it is only afterwards that it seems as if fate may from the first have so determined it."
The mischievous twinkle left the girl's eyes, and the languid tone of her voice changed to one a little more like sincerity.
"But suppose there is no war," she demanded, "suppose you go on living at barracks here and there, and with no broader outlook than such a life entails, will you be satisfied? Is that all you have in mind to do in the world?"
He looked at her more perplexed than ever. Such an observation of life, his life, seemed beyond her years, for he knew but little of the women of his own generation. He wondered, too, if she would understand if he told her all that was in his mind.
"Gloria, we are entering a new era. The past is no longer to be a guide to the future. A century and a half ago there arose in France a giant that had slumbered for untold centuries. He knew he had suffered grievous wrongs, but he did not know how to right them. He therefore struck out blindly and cruelly, and the innocent went down with the guilty. He was almost wholly ignorant for in the scheme of society as then constructed, the ruling few felt that he must be kept ignorant, otherwise they could not continue to hold him in bondage. For him the door of opportunity was closed, and he struggled from the cradle to the grave for the minimum of food and clothing necessary to keep breath within the body. His labor and his very life itself was subject to the greed, the passion and the caprice of his over-lord.
"So when he awoke he could only destroy. Unfortunately for him, there was not one of the governing class who was big enough and humane enough to lend a guiding and a friendly hand, so he was led by weak, and selfish men who could only incite him to further wanton murder and demolition.
"But out of that revelry of blood there dawned upon mankind the hope of a more splendid day. The divinity of kings, the God-given right to rule, was shattered for all time. The giant at last knew his strength, and with head erect, and the light of freedom in his eyes, he dared to assert the liberty, equality and fraternity of man. Then throughout the Western world one stratum of society after another demanded and obtained the right to acquire wealth and to share in the government. Here and there one bolder and more forceful than the rest acquired great wealth and with it great power. Not satisfied with reasonable gain, they sought to multiply it beyond all bounds of need. They who had sprung from the people a short life span ago were now throttling individual effort and shackling the great movement for equal rights and equal opportunity."
Dru's voice became tense and vibrant, and he talked in quick sharp jerks.
"Nowhere in the world is wealth more defiant, and monopoly more insistent than in this mighty republic," he said, "and it is here that the next great battle for human emancipation will be fought and won. And from the blood and travail of an enlightened people, there will be born a spirit of love and brotherhood which will transform the world; and the Star of Bethlehem, seen but darkly for two thousand years, will shine again with a steady and effulgent glow."