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The Blood Red Dawn   By: (1881-1943)

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To My Mother

Book I


The pastor's announcement had been swallowed up in a hum of truant inattention, and as the heralded speaker made his appearance upon the platform Claire Robson, leaning forward, said to her mother:

"What?... Did you catch his name?"

"A foreigner of some sort!" replied Mrs. Robson, with smug sufficiency.

For a moment the elder woman's sneer dulled the edge of Claire's anticipations, but presently the man began to speak, and at once she felt a sense of power back of his halting words, a sudden bursting fort of bloom amid the frozen assembly that sat ice bound, refusing to be melted by the fires of an alien enthusiasm. She could not help wondering whether he felt how hopeless it would be to force a sympathetic response from his audience. In ordinary times the Second Presbyterian Church of San Francisco could not possibly have had any interest in Serbia except as a field for foreign missionaries. Now, with America in the war and speeding up the draft, these worthy people were too much concerned with problems nearer their own hearthstones to be swept off their feet by a specific and almost inarticulate appeal for an obscure country, made only a shade less remote by the accident of being accounted an ally.

Claire, straining at attention, found it hard to follow him. He talked rapidly and with unfamiliar emphasis, and he waved his hands. Frankly, people were bored. They had come to hear a concert and incidentally swell the Red Cross fund, but they had not reckoned on quite this type of harangue. Besides, an appetizing smell of coffee from the church kitchen had begun to beguile their senses. And yet, the man talked on and on, until quite suddenly Claire Robson began to have a strange feeling of disquiet, an embarrassment for him, such as one feels when an intimate friend or kinsman unconsciously makes a spectacle of himself. She wished that he would stop. She longed to rise from her seat and scream, to create an outlandish scene, to do anything, in short, that would silence him. At this point he turned his eyes in her direction, and she felt the scorch of an intense inner fire. Instinctively she lowered her glance.... When she looked up again his gaze was still fixed upon her. She felt her color rise. From that moment on she had a sense that she was his sole audience. He was talking to her. The others did not matter. She still did not have any very distinct idea what it was all about, but the manner of it held her captive. But gradually the mists cleared, he became more coherent, and slowly, imperceptibly, bit by bit, he won the others. Yet never for an instant did he take his eyes from her . When he finished, a momentary silence blocked the final burst of applause. But Claire Robson's hands were locked tightly together, and it was not until he had disappeared that she realized that she had not paid him the tribute of even a parting glance.

The pastor came back upon the platform and announced that refreshments would be served at the conclusion of the next number. A heavy odor of coffee continued to float from the church kitchen. A red haired woman stepped forward and began to sing.

Already Claire Robson dreaded the ordeal of supper. The fact that tables were being laid further disturbed her. This meant that she and her mother would have to push their way into some group which, at best, would remain indifferent to their presence. When coffee was served informally things were not so awkward. To be sure, one had to balance coffee cup and cake plate with an amazing and painful skill, but, on the other hand, table less groups did not emphasize one's isolation. Claire had got to the point where she would have welcomed active hostility on the part of her fellow church members, but their utter indifference was soul killing. She would have liked to remember one occasion when any one had betrayed the slightest interest in either her arrival or departure, or rather in the arrival and departure of her mother and herself... Continue reading book >>

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