"What do you mean ‘the good old days?’" Smithers asked as he lowered his snifter and looked through the blue haze at his long time friend. The smoke filled drawing room of the Bleaker Street Club was one of the most exclusive places in all of Boston, and the two men seated in wingback chairs were among its founding members. They had known each other for almost fifty years, been through war and politics together, each knowing he could trust the other with his life. But in all that time they never managed to agree on anything.
"There was no such thing as the good old days. You of all people should know that."
Masterson smiled, knowing the signs of the coming skirmish. He leaned back in his chair, took a long puff from his pipe and fired the opening volley, "How so?"
"Just look around you." Smithers said, passing his arm through the brume like a steamer through a North Atlantic fog, and pointed to the tall mahogany cases lining the room.
"These shelves are full of books - prose, verse, science and history; and at the base of all of it is the same story: strife, starvation and struggle. The world has known nothing but since man was first cast from The Garden. The history of our country is a perfect example."
Smithers turned and raised his arm again, this time to signal for the waiter.
"Go on." Masterson said.
"She was founded by people driven from their homes by religious persecution, and forged by pioneers who blazed trails through perils we can only dream of, only to be baptized by bloody and contentious revolution. By the turn of the nineteenth century she had fought in four major wars, including one against the country her soldiers had already bested, only to find herself, less that fifty years later, engulfed in civil war that killed hundreds of thousands, and almost destroyed her very foundation."
The waiter appeared, and the two men ordered another brandy.
"I begin to see your point." Masterson said, as he puffed on his pipe, attempting to re-light it. Smithers leaned over and offered him the flame from his lighter.
"Then came the assassination of Lincoln, followed by the dark years of reconstruction, not to mention political unrest, social upheaval, the massacre of the Indian Nations, and countless other difficulties that did nothing but dissipate the energies of an already exhausted nation."
"Seems rather bleak." Masterson replied, now contented by his smoldering tobacco.
"And what about you and me? Not twenty years ago were we not ankle deep in the mud of European trenches while German artillery and machineguns roared overhead? How many millions had to die before the world grew sated by that distress? The Great War, indeed! Now goose-stepping fascists are marching like morons, threatening those same countries millions have already shed their blood over, threatening to pull the world back over that same disastrous brink."
The waiter brought their drinks and walked silently away.
"No Masters, I tell you there is no such thing as the Good Old Days. Men of each time and epoch look back on the past with envious eyes because they have the benefit of hindsight. The uncertainty of the events that so freighted men of their times is wiped away by the assurance of knowledge. If we knew the events of the next twenty years, we too could stand here contented, free from the terror of the unknown. But we can not. Each of us is forced to live through as best we can with no such comfort."
The two sat in silence for several minutes. Then Masters asked, "What are men to do in the face of such a reality?"
"Do? We do what men of integrity have always done: we bear up. We stand firm in the face of adversity. And we trust in the Word of God. That is the only certainty we have, and a strong comfort it is."
"Here! Here! Masters said, raising his glass and taking a drink of his sweet brandy, slowly savoring the rich warmth of its taste.
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