My dear Page:
I left England last week after having stopped with the Pores at Grantley Grange for ten days or so. Say, Page, the old one ain't half bad! If you could have heard him swear when the beasts crowded in the life-boats ahead of the women, you would have forgot the grouch we had on about the way he has always done Annie. Say, that man can swear! I wonder where he has kept it all these years.
Of course, if a fellow ever is going to swear, it will be at a time like that, and if he doesn't swear some, it is because he is dumb. It is the kind of time when some women pray and some weep and most men swear. They don't mean anything, but it is just a kind of safety valve. Annie says I swore like a trooper, but I wasn't conscious of it at all. It just popped out of me. You see I had to intimidate the men who were behaving like cads, and the only way I knew how to do it was to swear, unless it was to biff them one with the oars, and I did not want to do that except as a last resort. The swearing worked.
It was a very terrible experience and one I hope never to have to undergo again. It was not only terrible to think that all of those people might be at the bottom of the ocean in a short while, but it was almost worse to see the way people can be so scared that they think only of themselves. I reckon a fellow ought not to blame them. It seemed just blind animal instinct for self-preservation. My Annie was a trump. She was as calm and quiet as though shipwrecks had been an every-day experience with her. She looked out for a little child and its sick mother and helped people and quieted women and men, and after we had been afloat in our life-boat for hours and it was cold and rainy and the poor sick woman and an old Irish chambermaid began to despair and the kid began to cry, what should my Annie do but begin to sing "Abide With Me." I have never heard her sing better than she did out in the middle of that dirty sea. It did all of us good, and before you knew it, a little fishing smack almost ran us down in the darkness and then had the decency to stop and haul us aboard.
I reckon you think I'm pretty gaully to be saying "my Annie" so glibly. She's not really my Annie but she is going to be if I can make good. Of course I know she is too young to make her give an answer to me yet, but this war is going to age all of us, and when it is over I'll be a steady old man with white whiskers, and if Annie likes 'em, I'm going to get her answer then. I don't want to tie her up but leave her free. She might see a handsome Johnny that will put crimps in my plans and I want her to take him if she likes him, but I tell you, Page, I'm going to pray every day and all day from now until the war is over that she will like me best.
The old man likes me. It seems I earned his undying gratitude by waiting on him when he was seasick and the doctor on board had made light of his ailment. I made out he was sick unto death and worked my fool fat self to a shadow fetching and carrying for him. Then when the explosion came and I did my best to keep order, he kind of cottoned to me more. I believe when I come back from the wars and beg an answer from Annie that His Nibs will be willing.
He is much more attractive in his English setting. He really isn't half bad. His sisters are making a lot over Annie and now he is kind of getting stuck on her himself. 'Tain't so bad to be a woman in England now. Folks are thinking a good deal of women, and I tell you they should do so. Annie says he has always been sore that she was not a boy. Looks as though he had a hunch that he might inherit the title some day. I call him the old man right to his face, as somehow I can't school myself to say Sir Arthur. It is too story booky for me.
I am here in France waiting to be sent out with the Red Cross. I may drive an ambulance and I may just be a stretcher bearer. I will do whatever they see fit to put me to doing. There is plenty to do, they tell me, and they welcome every American who comes over with joy and gratitude. I wish we were in it as a nation. I believe we will end there, and if we do, I tell you someone else can drive the ambulance, as I mean to get in the game without a red cross on my sleeve.
You don't know what I feel towards all of you girls, all of Annie's friends. I have lived to bless the day that I met you, although on that day I did anything but bless it. You remember how you bundled me up in the soiled clothes ready to send me to the laundry? I'll never forget it! Also, I'll never forget that you and the Tucker twins never told the rest of the fellows about it. That was sure white of you! Please put in a good word for me when you write to Annie, my Annie.