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Anne Cleveland Cheney: All Ye Who Pass By

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

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Anne Cleveland Cheney
All Ye Who Pass By

[On a village street a lame wood-carver sits at work in his doorway. A little child makes a hobby-horse of the father’s crutch and plays around him. Not far from them a linden tree spreads its branches over a circular bench. As the father works and the child plays, a young man walks slowly, broodingly down the street and sits unnoticed under the tree.]

THE CHILD :
Why dost thou carve and carve but just one thing?

THE FATHER:
They must be for the churches, thou well knowest.

CHILD:
All for the churches?

FATHER:
Seldom any else.

CHILD [bending over the work]:
How canst thou do it? ‘Tis so Wonderful!
How fine those little thorns around the brow!
‘Tis cruel thou shouldst make them, oh, so sharp!
Nay, I’d not carve such wicked, sad, sad things.

[The man by the tree lifts his face as though listening.]

FATHER:
‘Tis that we must remember how He died,
And all He suffered to redeem the world;
Men might forget.

CHILD:
Aye, ’twas so long ago?
Father, how long ago?

FATHER:
Two thousand years.

CHILD:
And men remember still?

[A bugle sounds. A soldier hurries down the street, but stops short at sight of the man by the tree, and speaks low, urgently. The child draws near, staring.]

THE SOLDIER [scanning the man in amaze]:
These clothes! And thou still doubting, questioning now –
Now, when the last command hath come to arm?

THE MAN [bitterly]:
I arm? And make my creed of brotherhood
The bauble for a rich man to affect –
New button for his coat to keep him snug,
When class winds blew a little angrily!

THE SOLDIER [in utter scorn]:
That dream is done – the hour hath struck, I say!

THE MAN:
Years, fortune I have pledged to prove it true;
Think thou of all those youth, by me led on –

THE SOLDIER:
All now in battle, urging to the front!

THE MAN:
Those in that other land – my brothers, too!

THE SOLDIER:
At point of bayonet now! Brothers! – I pray,
Hast thou ne’er heard the one word patriot?

THE MAN:
My country is the world, my countrymen all –
All of mankind! this have I trumpeted forth
To all my young disciples – eager, brave,
Hanging upon my every word – and now –

[The bugle calls again.]

THE SOLDIER [beseechingly]:
Oh, friend, we are forming, and the moments fly –
Short shrift have they for all who flinch today –
Thy name is called – for God’s sake, up – to arms!

[The bugle sounds again. Conscripts hurry down the street and the soldier follows. The child, no longer mindful of the quiet man, brooding alone at the other side of the tree, rushes to his father.]

CHILD:
The soldiers – they are marching – let me go!

FATHER:
Nay, there is time! the regiment sets forth
No single step till noon.

CHILD:
And we will go
Down to the market square to see them off?

FATHER:
Give me but peace to finish out my task –
Look now, ’tis nearly done!

CHILD:
Aye, so it is?
But one more cruel spike! How canst thou do it?
Oh, such a suffering face!

[The man by the tree leans nearer, listening, listening.]

FATHER:
I told thee, child,
‘Tis for the churches, lest men should forget
How ’twas He died to save the world from sin.

CHILD:
Had He no soldiers brave enough to fight?
As thou didst for the King, until they were lame,
Or put in prison? – aye, or shot down dead?
Our King hath millions that can kill and kill
All day and night to help him have his way.

FATHER:
Sure thou must know, my child, ’twas He who said:
Thou shalt not kill; or hast thou clean forgot
All they strive hard to teach thee in the church?

CHILD:
Then if they hang this in the church for men
To see and to remember how He said –

FATHER:
Hush! for a minute – see – one last fine touch
Here at His wounded feet – so – it is done?
The best I ever wrought!

[The man by the tree has risen; catching sight of him, the child snatches the crucifix from his father’s lap and runs toward the stranger.]

CHILD:
Look, look, ’tis finished!

[The man seizes the cross, as soldiers rush toward him, headed by his friend.]

FRIEND [beseechingly]:
Thou goest?

THE MAN [raising the cross]:
I stay!

FRIEND:
Thou art mad!

ANOTHER [smiting him across the mouth]:
Coward!

AN OFFICER:
Thou’lt stay!

[The soldiers fall back; a shot is fired. The bugle sounds long and loud; many, many follow; but one stays; the child sees him lying prone, and with a piteous cry runs to him, lifting the cross from where it lies beside him.]

CHILD:
He held it high; they saw; and they forgot!

FATHER [taking it from him angrily]:
‘Tis for the priests to hold – not such as he!

CHILD [insistently, following toward the house]:
Why did they kill him, father? Tell me why?

[But never an answer comes. The cross is laid away, and the father leads his child to where the bugles are calling, calling.]

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