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The Deserter   By: (1864-1916)

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When Mr. Davis wrote the story of "The Deserter," he could not possibly have foreseen that it was to be his last story the last of those short stories which gave him such eminence as a short story writer.

He apparently was as rugged and as vigorous as ever.

And yet, had he sat down to write a story which he knew was to be his last, I do not think he could have written one more fittingly designed to be the capstone of his literary monument. The theme is one in which he has unconsciously mirrored his own ideals of honorable obligation, as well as one which presents a wholesome lesson to young soldiers who have taken an oath to do faithful service to a nation.

It is a story with a moral so subtly expressed that every soldier or sailor who reads it will think seriously of it if the temptation to such disloyalty should enter his mind. This story of the young man who tried to desert at Salonika may well have a heartening influence upon all men in uniforms who waver in the path of duty especially in these days of vast military operations when a whole world is in arms. It belongs in patriotic literature by the side of Edward Everett Hale's "The Man Without a Country." The motif is the same that of obligation and service and loyalty to a pledge.

In "The Deserter" Mr. Davis does not reveal the young soldier's name, for obvious reasons, and the name of the hotel and ship in Salonika are likewise disguised. It is part of the art of the skilful story writer to dress his narrative in such a way as to eliminate those matter of fact details which would be emphasized by one writing the story as a matter of news. For instance, the Hotel Hermes in Mr. Davis's story is the Olympos Palace Hotel, and the Adriaticus is the Greek steamer Helleni . The name of the young soldier is given as "Hamlin," and under this literary "camouflage," to borrow a word born of the war, the story may be read without the thought that a certain definite young man will be humiliated by seeing his own name revealed as that of a potential deserter.

But the essentials of the story are all true, and its value as a lasting influence for good is in no way impaired by the necessary fictions as to places and identities.

It was my privilege to see the dramatic incidents of the story of "The Deserter" as they unfolded during the time included in Mr. Davis's story. The setting was in the huge room chamber, living room, workroom, clubroom, and sometimes dining room that we occupied in the Olympos Palace Hotel in Salonika. William G. Shepherd, of the United Press, James H. Hare, the veteran war photographer, and I were the original occupants of this room, which owed its vast dimensions to the fact that it formerly had been the dining room of the hotel, later the headquarters of the Austrian Club, and finally, under the stressful conditions of an overcrowded city, a bedroom. Mr. Davis joined us here in November of 1915, and for some days shared the room until he could secure another in the same hotel.

The city was seething with huge activities. We lived from day to day, not knowing what moment some disaster might result as a consequence of an incongruous military and political situation, in which German and Austrian consular officials walked the streets side by side with French and British officers. Men who had lived through many strange situations declared that this motley of tongues and nationalities and conflicting interests to be found in Salonika during those last weeks of 1915 was without a parallel in their experiences.

Into this atmosphere occasionally came the little human dramas that were a welcome novelty beside the big drama that dominated the picture, and it was thus that the drama of the young soldier who wished to desert came into our lives as a gripping, human document... Continue reading book >>

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