E-text prepared by Al Haines
ALL FOR A SCRAP OF PAPER
A Romance of the Present War
Author of "Dearer Than Life," "The Curtain of Fire," "The Path of Glory," Etc.
Hodder and Stoughton London —— New York —— Toronto MCMXVIII
JOSEPH HOCKING'S GREAT WAR STORIES
THE PATH OF GLORY THE CURTAIN OF FIRE DEARER THAN LIFE TOMMY TOMMY AND THE MAID OF ATHENS
OTHER STORIES BY JOSEPH HOCKING
Facing Fearful Odds O'er Moor and Fen The Wilderness Rosaleen O'Hara The Soul of Dominic Wildthorne Follow the Gleam David Baring The Trampled Cross
"I then said that I should like to go and see the Chancellor. . . I found the Chancellor very agitated. His Excellency began a harangue which lasted about twenty minutes. He said that the step taken by His Majesty's Government was terrible to a degree; just for a word, 'neutrality'—a word which in war time had also often been disregarded—just for a scrap of paper. . . . I protested strongly. . . . I would wish him to understand it was a matter, so to speak, of 'life and death' for the honour of Great Britain that she should keep her solemn engagement. The Chancellor said, 'But at what price will that compact have to be kept? Has the British Government thought of that?' I hinted to his Excellency as plainly as I could that fear of consequences could hardly be regarded as an excuse for breaking solemn engagements."—Extract of Report from Sir E. Goschen to Sir Edward Grey, August 8, 1914.
Events have moved so rapidly in our little town of St. Ia, that it is difficult to set them down with the clearness they deserve. We Cornish people are an imaginative race, just as all people of a Celtic origin are, but we never dreamed of what has taken place. One week we were sitting idly in our boats in the bay, the next our lads had heard the call of their country, and had hurried away in its defence. One day we were at peace with the world, the next we were at war with one of the greatest fighting nations in the world. At the end of July, little knowing of the correspondence taking place between Sir Edward Grey and the Ambassadors of Europe, we tended our flocks, prepared to garner our harvest, and sent out our fishing-boats; at the beginning of August we had almost forgotten these things in the wild excitement with which the news of war filled us. Placards headed by the Royal Arms were posted at public places, calling up Army and Navy Reserves, and fervent appeals were made to all our boys old enough to bear arms, to bid good-bye to home and loved ones, in order to help England to maintain her plighted word, and support her honour.
Not that we were in a state of panic, or fear, thank God. There was nothing of that. Neither were we in doubt as to the ultimate issue. We believed we had right on our side, and as our forefathers had fought in every stage of our country's history, we were prepared to fight again. But we Cornish are a quiet, Peace-loving people, and many of us hated, and still hate with a deadly hatred, the very thought of the bloody welter, the awful carnage, and the untold misery and suffering which war means.
But it is not of these things I have to write. My work is to tell the story of a lad I know, and love; the story, too, of a maid who loved him, and what this great war, which even yet seems only to have just begun, has meant to them.
It was on Monday, the twenty-ninth day of June in this present year, that Robert, or, as he is generally spoken of by his friends, Bob Nancarrow, got out his two-seater Renaud, and prepared to drive to Penwennack, the home of Admiral Tresize. Bob had but just "come down" from Oxford, and was now in great good spirits at the prospect before him.
This was scarcely to be wondered at, for Nancy Tresize had asked him to take her to Gurnard's Head, which, as all Cornish people know, is near to the town of St. Ia, and one of the most favoured spots in the county. Perhaps, too, the coast scenery around Gurnard's Head is among the finest in Cornwall, while Gurnard's Head itself, the great rock which throws itself, grim, black, and majestic, far out into the sea, challenges comparison with even Land's End itself.
But Bob was not thinking of scenery as he got out his car. His mind and heart were full of the thought that he was going to spend the afternoon with Nancy Tresize, the fairest girl in a county of fair women.
For years Bob had loved her—loved her with a love which seemed to him all the greater because it appeared to be hopeless. As far as he could remember, Nancy had never given him one shadow of hope, never by word or action suggested that she cared for him in any way other than that of a lifelong playmate and friend. But then, as Bob reflected, Nancy was not like other girls. She was just a bundle of contradictions, and was, as her brothers had often said, "always breaking out in new places."
"Of course she'll not give me a chance to tell her what is in my heart," he reflected, as the car spun along a winding lane, the hedges of which rose high above his head; "but then I shall be with her. That's something, anyhow."
Presently the grey, lichen-covered, weather-beaten walls of Penwennack, Nancy's home, appeared, and Bob looked eagerly towards it as though he were trying to discover something.
"I hope nothing has turned up to hinder her," he reflected. "I know that Captain Trevanion is coming to dinner to-night, and people have it that the Admiral favours him as—as a——"
But he would not, even in his mind, finish the sentence that was born there. It was too horrible to contemplate, for to Bob, Nancy was the only girl in the world. She might be wilful and unreasonable, she might change her mind a dozen times in a day, she might at times seem flippant, and callous to the feelings of others, she might even be "a little bit of a flirt"—it made no difference to him. He knew that she had not a mean fibre in her nature, and that a more honourable girl never lived. Besides, even if she were, what in his moments of anger and chagrin he called her, she was still Nancy, the only girl he had ever loved and ever could love.
"Of course there's no chance for me," he reflected. "Trevanion is always there, and any one can see he's madly in love with her. He bears one of the oldest names in England too, he's heir to an old title, and he's Captain in one of the crack regiments. And Nancy loves a soldier. She comes of a fighting race, and thinks there's no profession in the world worthy of being compared with the army."
Bob Nancarrow was the only son of Dr. Nancarrow, a man much respected in St. Ia, but whom Admiral Tresize regarded as a crank. For Dr. Nancarrow was a Quaker, and although he did not parade his faith, it was well known that he held fast by those principles for which the Society of Friends is known. For one thing, he hated war. To him it was utterly opposed to the religion which England was supposed to believe, and he maintained that it seemed to him an impossibility for Christianity and war to be reconciled.
Admiral Tresize and he had had many arguments about this, and when the Boer War broke out, the condemnation of the doctor was so strong that it seemed almost inevitable that he and the Admiral should quarrel. Indeed, a coolness did spring up between them, and but for the fact that Mrs. Nancarrow had been a Miss Trelawney, and a direct descendant of the most important family in the county, it is probable that the coolness would have ended in an estrangement.
Bob, although he inherited his mother's looks, was greatly influenced by his father's opinions. Dr. Nancarrow died when he was quite a boy, yet his father's memory became one of the most potent influences in his life.
His mother sent him to Clifton College, and although to please her he joined the Officers' Training Corps, he held by his father's opinion that war and Christianity were a direct contradiction to each other.
Bob was one of those boys who throw their hearts into everything they take in hand, and although soldiering as a profession was repugnant to him, he made such progress in the O.T.C. that he quite distinguished himself. Indeed, he did so well, that Captain Pringle, with whom he became very friendly, urged him to become a soldier.
"You would do well," urged the Captain; "you have the makings of a first-class soldier, and if a war broke out, you'd be a valuable man."
"Not a bit in my line, I assure you," was Bob's reply. "I went in for this thing only to please my mater, and, to tell the truth, I regard it as little more than waste of time."
"It wouldn't be waste of time if we went to war," said Captain Pringle.
"War! who are we going to war with?"
"We may be on the brink of it now."
"Excuse me, but I don't believe in all these war scares. We are not a military nation, and there's not a shadow of reason for believing that while our Statesmen have level heads we shall be so mad as to embroil ourselves."
"It may be forced upon us. Think of the Boer War."
Bob laughed. His father had often spoken of the Boer War as a crime against humanity. As something wholly unnecessary, as a waste of life and treasure, waged on behalf of Jew financiers rather than for any great principle. In the doctor's eyes it had been a violation of Christianity, and a disgrace to the country, and Bob, boy though he had been at the time, felt that his father was right.
"I think the less we say about that the better," was his reply. "Certainly I would never fight in such a war."
"You mean that?"
"Certainly, I do. I doubt if war can be justified anyhow; but that war!" . . .
"Anyhow, the Germans are aching to be at us," replied Captain Pringle, who, although he was regarded as a good officer, was not deeply versed in politics.
"Who says so?"
"Everybody. They are jealous of us, and they'll be at it on the slightest pretext."
"Don't you think the German bogey is very silly?" was Bob's retort. "I was in Germany last summer with my mother, and we had a great time. She knew some German families there, and we became great friends with them. They don't want war any more than we do. All they desire is to develop their own resources and to live their lives quietly."
"Then what is the meaning of their huge army? Why are they trying to build a navy that shall out-match ours?"
"Of course there is a large war party in Germany just as there is in England; but, as a people, they are as peace-loving as we are. Why, a war with Germany is unthinkable, and it would be the greatest crime in history to draw our sword against them. Even supposing we had a quarrel with them, nothing could be more revolting to humanity than to settle it by blood."
"I don't wonder that you will not go into the Army if those are your views," replied Captain Pringle. "You talk like a peace-at-any-price parson."
From Clifton Bob went on to Oxford, where he became known as a "reading man." His ostensible purpose was to read for the Bar, after taking his degree; but he secretly hoped to obtain a Fellowship at his college, and settle down to a scholastic life.
While he was at Oxford Bob became acquainted with a Professor, named Dr. Renthall, who had been an undergraduate there with his father. Professor Renthall was also a Friend, and it was perhaps this fact that first drew them together. For while Bob did not in any way profess adherence to the Society of Friends, he greatly admired those of that persuasion. In addition to this, too, his father's influence was still strong upon him. The boy revered his father's memory, and treasured in his heart those faiths by which Dr. Nancarrow had steered his life. Indeed, during his Oxford days he often declared that the Quakers were nearer to the ideal of Christianity than any other body.
"My father was logical at all events," he often reflected, "and as a consequence his life was a benediction. On the other hand, religion among most people, whether churchmen or nonconformists, seems to mean nothing. We attend so many 'chapels' as a matter of necessity, and are glad when they are over. As to religion having any effect on our lives, it seems to be out of the question."
Dr. Renthall had a great influence over Bob. Although he was nearing fifty, he was a keen sportsman. He played a scratch game at golf, and during the cricket season he could keep his end up with the best of the younger men. This appealed to the young fellow strongly. But, more than this, he was one of the greatest authorities on history in the University. He was a saint too, although he made little profession of Christianity. He went regularly to the Meeting House, but never spoke, while his theology was of too latitudinarian a nature, to be "sound."
Robert often went to Dr. Renthall's house, and it was during his many visits that his hatred of war grew.
"War," said the Professor to him more than once, "cannot obtain where there is real Christianity. That is why Christianity is dying in this country. We are being more and more filled with the spirit of militarism, which means the death of religion; while every new Dreadnought, which drains the nation of its treasure, is another nail driven into the Cross of Christ."
When Bob returned to St. Ia this summer, the influence of his father's life, and his association with Dr. Renthall, had done their work. He detested militarism, and he hated the thought of war. Not that the thought of war loomed largely in the horizon. The country was at peace, and as far as he could judge no war-cloud hung in the sky.
"Ah, there she is!" Bob exclaimed, as presently the car drew up in front of the door of the great house, and a few seconds later he was talking eagerly with old Admiral Tresize, at the same time casting fervent glances towards Nancy.
It was no wonder that Bob loved her, for no fairer or better girl lived in the land of Tre, Pol, and Pen. I, who have known her all her life, can testify to this, and as she stood there that day, young, happy, and beautiful, it was no wonder that his heart burned with a great love.
"You'll almost have time for a run to Land's End," said the Admiral, looking at his watch, "and it's a glorious afternoon."
"No, we are going to picnic in the good old-fashioned way," said Nancy. "We are going to have tea on the headland, after which we are going to quarrel about things generally. We always do."
The Admiral laughed. He had not the slightest hesitation about allowing Bob and Nancy to go to Gurnard's Head together. They had been playfellows and friends all their lives, as for their being anything else, the thought never occurred to him.
"Off you go," he said, "and mind you take great care of her, Bob."
Admiral Tresize liked Bob very much, and always welcomed him to Penwennack. He remembered that he had Trelawney blood in his veins, and, although his father had been a Quaker doctor, he made no secret of the fact that he liked the boy, and he often spoke of him as a nice, quiet, clever lad.
"Fine-looking chap too," he would add; "just the build for a soldier. Six feet in his stockings, and forty inches around the chest. But there, although he has the looks of a Trelawney, he has the views of his Quaker father, and it's no use talking about it. But it's a pity all the same, a great pity."
"Well, Bob, I hear you have done great things at Oxford. Astonished the professors, swept everything before you, and all that sort of thing," said Nancy, as presently they stood on the headland.
Bob laughed, and looked rather shamefaced. He was very sensitive about his scholastic achievements, besides which he knew that Nancy thought far more of a "blue" than of a classical scholar.
"You are fairly clever, you know, Bob," and the girl laughed as she spoke.
"That does not count much with you, Nancy."
"How do you know? It doesn't follow that because I don't like dressing like a frump, and because I love hunting and dancing, that I don't admire cleverness."
"It's not that at all, Nancy. I know you admire clever people. What I meant was," and he stammered painfully, "that—that it's—a matter of indifference to you whether I, personally, am dull or clever."
"What reason have you for saying that?"
"Hundreds," replied Bob. "That is—you see, you are always laughing at my desire to be 'a fusty bookworm,' as you call it, and—and, well, all that sort of thing."
"Does that prove indifference?" she replied, and Bob thought he noted a tremor in her voice.
"You know it does," he went on, hating himself for talking in such a fashion, and yet unable to control his words. "Only yesterday, when we were talking together at tea, and some one said that I should die an old bachelor, you said that I was far more likely to die an old maid. Then, although you saw you wounded me, you went off with Captain Trevanion."
"Hadn't you, just before, refused to stay the evening, although I went out of my way to persuade you? And you gave as your excuse that you had some reading to do. As though your—your books——"
"Did you want me to stay?" asked Bob eagerly. "Nancy—did you really care?"
The girl did not speak, but turned her eyes toward the great heaving sea.
Robert's heart beat wildly as he looked at her. Never did he love her as he loved her now, never had she seemed so fair to him. It was no wonder he had fallen in love with her, for he knew that, in spite of her love of pleasure, and her sometimes flippant way of talking, she was one of the sweetest, truest girls that ever breathed. Although she might be wilful, and passionate, and sometimes seemed careless whether she gave pain or pleasure, she would give her last farthing to help any one in difficulty.
He had been surprised when she suggested his motoring her to Gurnard's Head that afternoon, little thinking that she did it to atone for what she had said two days before.
"Nancy, did you want me to stay?" he repeated. "If—if I thought you really——"
"Did it vex you that I asked Captain Trevanion to show me his new horse?" she interrupted.
The flush on her face and the tremor of her lips set his heart beating more wildly than ever. All caution went to the winds. The mad passion which for years he had been trying to crush again mastered him. He knew that his hour had come, and that he must speak and know his fate.
"Nancy," repeated Bob, "you know what is in my heart, don't you? Know I've loved you for years?"
"You've never told me so," and there was a suggestion of a laugh in Nancy's voice.
"Because I was afraid. How could I dare to—to tell you—when—when you never gave a sign, and when—you seemed to like others better? Others have wanted you, I know that; fellows—better looking than I, more—more attractive than I, and with far better prospects. I am not your sort of fellow—I know that; but—you've known all along that I loved you. I've been afraid to tell you so, but I would willingly shed my life's blood for you."
"I hate a coward!" cried the girl.
"Yes, I've known that; but then, how dared I speak when a fellow like Trevanion, heir to a title, and captain in a crack regiment, would give his life to get you? What chance had I?"
"Then why do you tell me this now?"
"Because I can't help myself. Because—Nancy, is there any chance? I know your father would be mad, but I wouldn't mind that a bit. Nancy, is there any hope for me?"
Again the girl's lips became tremulous as she looked at the waves lashing themselves to foam on the great black rocks, while the sea-birds soared overhead. It was easy to see she was greatly moved, although it was her nature to hide her feelings.
"I don't know, Bob."
It did not seem like Nancy's voice at all. It was almost hoarse, and she had a difficulty in speaking.
"Don't know?" he repeated. "Then—then——"
"I want to speak plainly. Bob. I may hurt you, although—I'll try not to. Yes, I have believed that—you cared for me. I suppose I've seen it, and I expect I've been vexed that you've never told me. I—I wanted you to."
"Wanted me to!" cried Bob. "You have never given me a chance. And—and you always seemed to care for—for those other fellows."
"I wanted you to make your chances. If—if a man loves a girl, he should dare anything to get her. Anything. What do I care about Hector Trevanion? He hasn't a thought in his head above his latest horse and his newest uniform. But how could I help being friendly with him, when you—have always on the slightest pretext been ready to leave me with him."
"And you wanted me all the time!" There was a note of joy and triumph in his voice.
"I don't know," replied the girl. "I'll be absolutely frank with you, Bob. You are not the sort of man I wanted to love. Yes, I'll admit it—I wanted to love a soldier, a sailor, a man of action. I can never admire a man who will be content to spend his days in a library poring over old dusty books. That's why I have been angry when I've heard you glorifying these useless old fossils. And yet—oh, Bob!" and the girl concluded with a sob.
"Do you mean," and Bob's voice was tremulous, "that you cared for me all the time, although you—you didn't like my plans for my future? That you preferred me to Trevanion? Oh, Nancy!"
"As though a girl must care for six feet of flesh without brains because she isn't a blue-stocking. Why—why—couldn't you see, Bob?"
"And I say—oh, Nancy, does this mean that you care for me—love me?"
"I'm afraid I do," she half-laughed, half-sobbed.
"Yes, don't you see? You are not in the least like the man I wanted to love. You could have won your blue as a cricketer, but you wouldn't take the trouble to get it. A man in Oxford told me that you could be the best three-quarter in the 'Varsity Rugby team, but that you were too lazy to play. You've been a sort of negative creature, while I love a man of action. What are old shrivelled manuscripts worth to the world to-day? Who cares about the sayings of some old dead and forgotten German, or some obscure passages in Bede's Ecclesiastical History, when there's a great surging life all around us to-day? History is only a record of what took place in the past; I love the thought of a man who wants to make history, who sets his ideas to action. And you, Bob, you have told me again and again that you want to spend your life in historical research, or some such useless thing."
"But—but, Nancy, what does all that matter when I love you—love you with all my life? Besides——"
"I come of a race of fighters," cried the girl. "When Philip of Spain sent over his Great Armada, to rob us of our liberty, one of my ancestors fought the Dons. He gave ships and men to our country, and helped to save us from oppression. When Napoleon cast a shadow over Europe, and threatened to destroy our country, men of my name were among the foremost in fighting him. My grandfather represented St. Ia in Parliament, and he roused the country. While you—oh, Bob, forgive me, but your ideal seems to be to sit in a library in Oxford, wearing a dirty old dressing-gown and iron-rimmed spectacles, reading or writing books which will be of no use to any one! Is that a life for a man?"
"But if his mind is cast in that mould?"
"I haven't finished yet," went on the girl. "Forgive me, Bob, for talking so much. I wouldn't only—oh, Bob, can't you see? Why, at our last dance—when—when I had kept four for you, you never even asked for them. And I—I wanted to dance them too; but—but I had to sit them out, and when other men begged me to let them put their names down on my card, I said I was tired. Then, when I heard afterwards that you had gone into the library, and were reading some old book which hadn't been opened for years, I just—cried."
"Oh, Nancy, I never dreamt of such a thing! I—I never thought you wanted me. I was just aching for you all the time, but I thought—why, you've always laughed at my dancing. But there, now I know, I can do anything, be anything. And there's nothing I won't do for you?"
"You are not vexed with me, are you?"
"I couldn't be vexed with you, Nancy. I'd let myself be cut in bits for you. And you love me, don't you? Oh, it's too good to be true! but say you do, tell me that in spite of everything you love me?"
"Haven't I been telling you so all the time? And—and yet you haven't asked me to—to——"
"Oh, I do hate a coward!"
"But what haven't I asked you?"
"Bob, isn't there something you want very much?"
"Yes, there is," replied Bob. "Something—that—— Nancy, you won't be vexed with me if I ask you?"
"Risk my being vexed," laughed the girl.
"Then I want to take you in my arms, and kiss you—kiss you a hundred times."
"Then, why don't you?"
Bob looked around him, like one afraid. They were beneath the shadow of a great rock. At their feet was headland grass, wind-swept and grey, but peeping through the grass were thousands upon thousands of wild thyme, giving the little plateau a purple hue. They were hidden from the gaze of any who might be on the great rock. His heart beat so that his breath came with difficulty; he was trembling with a new-found joy—a joy so great that it almost gave him pain.
"Oh, my love!—my love!" he cried, as he took her in his arms, and his kisses were as pure as those with which a young mother lasses her firstborn.
"What haven't I asked you?" he said, a few minutes later.
They were sitting beneath the shadow of the rock now, and Nancy was rearranging her hat. She did not reply, but her eyes were full of gladsome mischief as she looked at him.
"I mean just now, when—when you said you had been telling me that you loved me, but I hadn't asked for something. What was it?"
"You've made up for it since," and there was a laugh in her voice.
"Do you mean that you wanted me to kiss you? Oh, you are right, Nancy, I am an awful coward, but I'll make up for lost time now."
The sea continued to roll on the great rugged rock, which threw its mighty head far out into its depths. Overhead the sea-birds hovered, sailing with graceful motion over the silvery waters, and uttering their mournful cry, while far out vessels ploughed their way up and down the Atlantic; but neither noticed. They were happy in each other's love. Nancy had forgotten the fact that Robert Nancarrow was not the kind of man she had meant to love, while he was far too happy to care for the lecture she had given him. Her kisses were warm upon his lips, her words of love rung in his ears. They were in the dreamland of happy lovers, while the sky of their lives was as free from clouds as the great dome of blue overhead. He was the only man she had ever loved, or ever could love, while to him the maid, wilful and passionate though she might be, was perfect. What were books, learning, and the fame of scholarship to him now? He had won the love of the girl whom for years he had loved, and ever despaired of winning. She, who had seemed so far away from him, so far above him, had come to his arms, willingly, gladly. She, with her proud old name, and almost lordly wealth, had chosen him, and forgotten everything in her choice.
It seemed too wonderful to be true, and he looked at her again and again in his wonder, proud beyond all words, yet almost afraid to believe in his good fortune.
"Oh, Nancy, you are beautiful!"
The light of joy flashed from her eyes. What girl is there beneath the all-beholding heavens who does not long to know that the man she loves thinks her beautiful?—Who does not long for him to tell her?
"And what a lovely dress you are wearing."
"I've worn it three times since you came down from Oxford, and you've never once mentioned it."
"I never saw it as I see it now. I never saw as I see you now. Nancy, there's no one like. Bless you, my love, for loving me."
But I must not dwell on that happy hour, much as I would love to. We who are older may laugh at "Love's young dream," and grow cynical about its transitory nature. We may say that lovers live in a fool's paradise, and that the dream of lovers ends in the tragedies of later years. Still, there's nothing sweeter or purer on God's green earth than the love of a clean-minded honest lad for the maid he has chosen from all others. It keeps the world young and hopeful; humanly speaking, it is life's greatest joy, and the man who can throw scorn upon its joys and utter cynical words about its reality has himself lost the pearl of great price. It is he who is to be pitied, and not the lovers. They hear the birds of paradise singing in the bowers of Eden, while he hears only the croaking of the raven.
They got back to realities presently. Bob's new-found joy had led him to the realisation of the future.
"I'm going to speak to your father to-night, Nancy. I know he'll be angry, but that I don't mind a bit."
"No, Bob, you must not speak to him—at least not yet."
"Because he'll refuse, and you mustn't speak to him until you can make him consent."
"I don't understand, Nancy."
"You see, he has exactly the same feeling that I have about men. He would never consent to my being the wife of a book-worm."
"Oh, I've thought that all out while I've been here," replied Bob confidently. "Yes, I know I've been unpractical—a dreamer, in fact. But I'm going to alter all that. Now you've told me—that—that you love me, I feel I must become a man of action. You've wakened something in me that I didn't know existed. I haven't been half alive. I've imagined that only thoughts, ideas mattered; now I know differently. I've lived only half-life. Mark you, I don't altogether go back upon my faith—I only add a new element to it. I've always said that we owe everything to thought. I've said that thoughts covered the seas with floating cities, and converted the world into a whispering-gallery. That thoughts have belted the globe with electric currents, and given us untold blessings. Now I know that I've stated only half a truth. The man who is simply a man of ideas, is like a bird trying to fly with one wing. There must be action to put the ideas into use. Oh, yes, I see it all."
"Yes, yes, Bob; and what are you going to do?"
"I'm going to study for the Bar. I'm going to set about it right away. And then I'm going into Parliament. I've big ideas, Nancy—big ideas about governments, and about reforms in our laws. There are great things that want doing, and I'm going to do them. I'm going to get at the helm of government, and destroy abuses. I am not going to be content by writing books about what is needed; I'm going to see that my ideas take shape in the laws of the country, and effect the betterment of the world."
Please do not smile at Robert Nancarrow's somewhat highfalutin talk, and set him down as a conceited prig. Every young fellow who has ever done or been anything in the world, has at some time in his life had such thoughts. Sad will it be for England as a nation when our boys do not dream impossible dreams, and think thoughts which wiseacres call foolishness.
"That's splendid, Bob!" cried Nancy, her eyes sparkling. "I should love you to go into Parliament—love to hear you speak in the House of Commons. Why, you might be elected for St. Ia! Dad has at great deal of influence there too, and could get you nominated. But what things would you advocate?"
"I know," cried Bob. "I am going to create a peace party in England. Yes, I know some of your people have been soldiers, while my mother glories in the fact that many of the Trelawneys have been and are in the Army. But think of the horrors of war. Even now Europe is said to be sitting on a powder-barrel. Every nation in Europe is being bled to death, in order to pay war taxes, even although at present there isn't a shadow of war in the sky. Money that might be spent, and should be spent, on the betterment of the lives of the people and destroying, the possibility of poverty and want, is spent in Dreadnoughts and weapons to kill. Hundreds of millions are being spent on the Army and Navy, while paltry sums are grudged for education and all those things which go to make up the manhood of the nation."
"Yes, I know war is terrible, ghastly. But how can you stop it? You wouldn't advocate the destruction of our Army and Navy. It would be madness, it would——"
"Not yet," interrupted Bob eagerly. "I would labour for a great European movement. Take Germany for example. The Germans are worse taxed than we are to pay for armaments, but the people don't want war. They are a peace-loving people. The Kaiser doesn't want war. He's said so a hundred times. The Czar of Russia doesn't want war. And yet hundreds upon hundreds of millions of money are being spent on war implements, while the people want bread. Besides, a ghastly, warlike, unchristian spirit is kept alive by this eternal talk about the possibilities of war. What is wanted is an agreement among the Governments of nations that there shall be no war. We want to create an anti-war spirit in the hearts of the people, and so kill the terrible thing at the fountain-head."
"Yes, yes," cried the girl, "if all the nations could be persuaded to disarm, it would be splendid! But, but——"
"It can be done," cried Bob. "I will give my life to it. Everybody hates war in the abstract, but no one seems to throw himself heart and soul into a great peace crusade. Even the Peace Society is half-hearted. The cause of Peace hasn't been voiced of late years. That's it," and Bob rose to his feet excitedly; "I see my work, Nancy. Neither your father nor any one else shall say that I'm unpractical, or that I sit still and do nothing. Think of the glory of such a cause! Think of destroying for ever the ghastly horrors of war, of helping to bring about universal peace."
"Yes," replied Nancy, "it would be glorious, simply glorious. I was only very little when the Boer War broke out, and when my eldest brother Roger went away to it, father gave a dinner, and all our friends came to bid him good-bye. Although I was only a kiddie, I was allowed to sit up to it, and I remember some of the speeches that were made. They promised him that he should be made a colonel and all that sort of thing, and there was such laughing and shouting. Every one imagined it would be over in a few weeks; it seemed such a little thing to crush a few Boer farmers. After that I used to watch dad's face as he read his newspaper, and wondered what he was so sad about. Then one day some one brought him a letter which almost killed him. I shall never forget it. He staggered as though some one had struck him a blow, and groaned as if he were in agony. Roger was killed. It added years to dad's life, and he's never been the same since."
"War is that kind of thing multiplied thousands of times," said Bob. "There were unnumbered homes in England, yes, and in South Africa too, desolated by that war, when—when it ought to have been avoided. Yes, my mind's made up. I'm going into Parliament, and I'm going to make war against war. The holiest and most Christlike work a man can undertake. Shan't I tell your father to-night, Nancy?"
"No, no, not yet. I'm afraid he might—— I'll prepare him little by little, and then, when the proper time comes, I'll tell you. But, Bob," and the girl laughed gaily, "I had almost to propose to you, hadn't I?"
"No," replied Bob. "I did the proposing, and you did the lecturing. That's what it'll be all our lives, I expect; but what do I care, as long as I have you?"
"I—I was afraid you were going to be a coward, though."
"And you don't like cowards?"
She became serious in a moment. "If there's anything I hate and despise, it's cowardice," she cried. "I think I could forgive anything but that. It's—it's beneath even contempt. Hark, what's that?"
They heard a rustling sound behind them, and saw, close by, a newspaper blown towards them by the light summer breeze.
Bob put out his hand and caught it. "It's to-day's paper," he said. "I haven't looked at mine to-day."
He read it almost mechanically. Neither dreamed that this paper, carelessly dropped by a man who had come to see the famous rock, contained news on which depended not only the future of their own lives, but which altered the destinies of nations, and which turned a great part of Europe into a shambles.
This is what he read:
TERRIBLE TRAGEDY IN BOSNIA.
ASSASSINATION OF THE HEIR PRESUMPTIVE TO THE AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN THRONE.
BOMB THROWN INTO THE CAR OF THE ARCHDUKE FERDINAND AND HIS CONSORT, THE DUCHESS OF HOHENBERG.
OVERWHELMING INDIGNATION IN VIENNA. GRIEF OF THE AGED EMPEROR.
These were the staring headlines which riveted the gaze of both, and for the moment made them silent.
"Good heavens, how terrible!" cried Nancy presently.
"Ghastly beyond words," was Bob's reply. "It has come like a thunderbolt. As I told you, I did not look at my paper this morning, and, as I have not been to St. Ia to-day, I saw no announcements."
"And our papers were late this morning. I have not seen them," rejoined Nancy. "Fancy the grief of the poor old Emperor! Who did it?—and why was it done?"
"Evidently it was done by two young men, both anarchists, and both said to be Servians."
"Aren't these anarchists terrible? No king or queen in Europe seems to be safe."
"This doesn't appear to have been done by anarchists in the usual sense of the term after all," said Bob, who hastily scanned the paper. "It seems there are suspicions of political causes. This paper suggests that these fellows were agents of the Servian Government, who have a special grudge against the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, who was heir-presumptive to the Austrian Throne. Are you interested in European politics, Nancy?"
"Not a bit. I always skip foreign news."
"If it is as this paper suggests, it might lead to serious complications. You see, it was hoped by the Servians that at the close of the Balkan War they would be able to obtain a naval port on the Adriatic, and it is said they would have got it but for the Archduke. It is also commonly believed that a School of Servian Patriots have for years been struggling to make Bosnia and Herzegovina part of Greater Servia, owing to the preponderance of Serb population. These two provinces, in spite of Russia, belong to Austria."
"I suppose the Servians are awful people. Always quarrelling and fighting, and that kind of thing," and Nancy crept closer to Bob as she spoke.
"It's a wonderfully interesting part of Europe, although it was so little known before the war of the Balkan States with the Turks. I say, Nancy, wouldn't it be fun to go there for our honeymoon?"
"It would be like going into a savage country."
"Oh, no, not so bad as that. I was talking a few weeks ago with a man who was a war correspondent during their squabble, and he told me a lot about Montenegro and Servia and Roumania. He fairly fired my imagination, and made me long to go. It would be great fun."
Nancy shook her head. "No, Bob," she said, with a blush, "when that time comes, we'll go to some lovely spot somewhere on the Rhine, where we shall be among civilised people, and where there will be no possibility of meeting these half-civilised races. But what do you think the Austrians will do?"
"Oh, of course, if this murder is simply a revolt of the anarchists, the murderers will be executed, and I suppose that will be the end of it; but if there is evidence which goes to show that they were emissaries of the Servian Government, it will lead to all sorts of complications."
"Well, of course, Austria will want an explanation from Servia, and if Servia doesn't give a satisfactory reply, there will be trouble. It's common knowledge that Austria doesn't like Slav influence, and she'll use this as an excuse for crushing all Slav ideals. It might end in Austria practically administering Servian affairs."
"That would be the best way, wouldn't it? Austria is a civilised country, while the Servians are savages. One of the girls I went to school with, spent a winter in Vienna, and she had a lovely time. She says that Vienna is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and the Austrians are such charming people."
"That would be easier said than done," replied Bob, smiling at her school-girl fashion of settling European difficulties. "You see, directly Austria tried to do this, Russia would step in. Russia is practically under a contract to protect the Servians, and to help them in need. Russia, which is a great Slav Empire, wouldn't stand by and see Austria swallow up Slav Servia."
"And then there might be a war between Russia and Austria? And Russia, with her countless hordes of men, would crush Austria?"
"That wouldn't suit Germany's book," was Bob's reply. "You see, there is a close alliance between Austria and Germany, and Germany wouldn't allow Austria to be put under."
"Oh, it would be horrible!" gasped the girl. "But there, we won't talk about it any more. It can't affect us, can it? England has nothing to do with Servians murdering an Austrian Archduke. I'm awfully sorry for the poor old Austrian Emperor, but—but——"
"It can't affect us, or our happiness," cried Bob, taking her outstretched hand. "No, thank God! but I say, Nancy, this is an awful commentary on what we were saying just now, isn't it? It makes me more than ever determined to throw myself into a movement that shall make war impossible. But oh, my dear girl, I do wish you'd let me speak to your father to-night! I want my happiness assured. I want everybody to know that I've won you—that you've promised to be my wife."
A thoughtful look came into her eyes. It might seem as though she were fighting a battle between inclination and judgment.
"No, Bob," she said at length, "it won't do. I'm sure dad wouldn't consent. The truth is——" she hesitated.
"What?" asked Bob eagerly.
"Dad's awfully fond of Captain Trevanion. I—I believe he's set his mind on it."
"On what? On your marrying him!"
"Now, don't be jealous."
"I'm not jealous. How could I be when"—he held her to him, and kissed her passionately—"when you've told me you love me."
"He'll be terribly mad when he knows at first. You see, he's always looked on you as a—well, to put it mildly, a useless bookworm. And he likes Hector Trevanion because, although he's a fool in many things, he's a good soldier. He says he's very young for a captain, and with his name and prospects—he'll be sure to be a major and afterwards a colonel in a very short time, especially if a war breaks out. And—and he's very ambitious for me. That's why I shall have to break it to him by degrees. I shall begin by talking about your successes at Oxford, and then I shall tell him that you are going to study for the Bar, as a preliminary to going into Parliament. You are so clever, that you won't be long before you are called to the Bar, will you?"
"I'll do it in record time," cried Bob. "There are a number of dinners to eat, and certain examinations to pass; but I can manage them all right. Don't think I'm conceited, Nancy; lots of the Professors told me that the Bar exams. would be comparatively easy to me."
"Of course they will be," said Nancy confidently, "and meanwhile you could be on the look out for a constituency, couldn't you?"
"Ye-es," replied Bob doubtfully. "Of course, I'd rather get called first, but it could be managed. As it happens, I'm comfortably off, and so I need not be dependent on my profession."
"Anyhow, we must say nothing about our—our——"
"Engagement," suggested Bob, as Nancy hesitated.
"Call it what you like, but we must keep it quiet for the present, and be very circumspect and all that. So, as we've been here for quite a long while, we had better be getting home."
Bob crumpled up the newspaper and threw it over the cliff.
"It's horrible, isn't it?" she said, as they watched it falling from rock to rock until it fell into the sea; "but it can't affect us, can it, Bob?"
"No," replied Bob, "it can't affect us. Nothing shall affect us, Nancy, and nothing shall come between us. I feel as though I could do anything now, and there's nothing I won't do to win a position worthy of you. I'll work like a slave. I'll map out my programme to the minutest detail, and I'll win all along the line. Edward VII was called a peacemaker, and everybody admired him for it. But I'll do more than he ever did. Just think of it! To be known throughout the country, and throughout the world, as the man who made war on war, and made it impossible. I'll give my life to it, Nancy—my whole life!"
"And where do I come in?" she asked, with mock sorrow.
"You! You come in everywhere. You are everything. You are my love, my inspiration; but for you everything would be impossible. One more kiss, Nancy, while no one can see us."
When Bob Nancarrow returned home that night he was the happiest man in Cornwall. More than he had ever hoped for had come to pass. Nancy had promised to wait for him because she loved him. She had preferred him to all others, and sacrificed brilliant prospects because of her love for him. The sky of his life seemed cloudless. Nothing, as far as he could see, stood in the way of his attaining his highest hopes. The plan which had so suddenly been born in his mind and heart grew in attractiveness. He had the most glorious objective in the world. He saw an outlet for his energies, while the cause for which he would stand appealed to all that was noblest within him.
War against war!
The thing had become a passion with him. Here was the great work which, unknown to himself, he had all along wanted. Even when he had dreamed of becoming an Oxford Don, and of spending his life in a kind of cultured seclusion, there had always been something wanting. He had fighting blood in his veins; the old fire for which the Trelawneys had been famous had constantly made its appeal. And now Nancy had shown him how his life could be a positive one. Now he could be true to the principles which he had inherited from his father, and to which he held with strong tenacity, and at the same time satisfy his desires to participate in the struggles and battles of the great world.
"A noble cause demands your zeal!"
He found himself humming the words as he turned on the lights. And he had a noble cause, the noblest, the most Christlike on earth. Warfare! Yes, in spite of his peace principles he loved warfare. Man was a fighting animal, and he was a man, every inch of him. And he was called on to fight—to fight the War-god which had lifted its head so arrogantly and brutally. But his warfare was to be for peace—the peace of the world. It was to be for man's salvation, and not for his destruction. Not for pillage, carnage, cruelty, mad hatred, overwhelming ambition, lust for blood; but brotherhood, kindliness, love, mercy. This was the battle of the Lord; this was the cause of Christ.
In this way he could be true to his father's teaching, true to the Christianity in which he believed; but more, he could by this means make himself worthy of Nancy, and make a place in the world, in which even her father would rejoice.
His heart beat with wild joy. Even now Nancy's kisses were warm on his lips, her words of love rang in his ears.
Yes, his plan of life was plain, his work arose before him, alluring, ennobling, inspiring. And Nancy loved him! What more could he desire?
He looked around the room with a long tremulous sigh of contentment. Life was indeed beautiful, glorious. Around him were thousands of books. His father had been an omnivorous reader, and had amassed a large library. Nearly every inch of wall-space was covered with book-shelves. Only one space, above the mantelpiece, was uncovered, and there hung what was even dearer than the books. It was an oil painting of his father.
Robert Nancarrow looked at it long and steadily, and as he did so his eyes became moist.
"Dear old father!" he murmured; "the noblest man that ever breathed."
It was a fine face he saw. Rather serious on the whole, but still with a smile lurking around the lips and shining in the eyes. The face of a good—almost a great man. No one could associate it with meanness or impurity. An intellectual face too, with a broad forehead and large, speaking eyes. A face which suggested conscientiousness, which proclaimed the fact that its owner must do whatever conscience told him to do, no matter what it might cost.
It seemed to Bob as he looked that his father smiled on him.
"Yes, it is what he would most desire," reflected the young fellow. "It was the passion of his life, and it shall be mine."
He went to a bookcase, and took therefrom a small volume. It was entitled Thoughts on the Boer War, by Robert Nancarrow, M.D.
The young man opened it, and began to read; but his mind was too full of his plans to concentrate his attention.
"Father would love Nancy," he reflected, and then he arose from his chair and went close to the picture. "He does love her," he reflected. "He is alive, he knows, and he is pleased. I feel as though he were here now, and giving me his blessing on my love, and on my work."
The house was very silent. Every one had long since gone to bed, and not a sound was to be heard. The night was almost windless too, and not even the murmur of the waves in the Bay of St. Ia, which could be faintly heard outside, reached him. He felt himself alone with his father.
"Good night, father," he said aloud, still looking the picture. "I love her as my life, and I am very happy. I have your blessing, haven't I?"
Again it seemed to him that his father smiled on him. He was sure he saw the quiet humour in his eyes which he remembered so well.
Bob was in a strange humour that night. The day had been eventful beyond all the days of his life. He had entered into a happiness of which he had never dreamed before; he had seen visions of the future of which hitherto he had been blind. He had been carried away by his love and his enthusiasm; his nature had been moved to its depths. Now the memory of it all, the quietness of the house, caused thoughts to come to his mind, and moved him to feelings to which he had been a stranger.
"It's what you would wish me to do, father, isn't it?" he still continued aloud. "To go into Parliament, and then work and fight for the peace of the world? To destroy the ghastly nightmare of war, to fight against the War-god, to put an end to this eternal making of implements of death. I have your consent, and your blessing, haven't I?"
Yes, he was sure his father was smiling on him, and giving him his blessing. There was something sacred, holy, in the thought.
He turned out the lights, but the beams of the moon streamed through the window, and rested on the picture.
"Good night, father," he said. "I'll try to be a true man," and then he left the room, feeling as if indeed he had been talking to his father.
"Is that you, Bob?"
He was passing his mother's bedroom door, as the words reached his ears.
"Yes, mother. I thought you would have been asleep hours ago."
"No, I couldn't sleep till I heard you come in. Come in, and kiss me good night."
Bob entered his mother's room, and went towards the bed. Mrs. Nancarrow was still a young woman, and looked almost like a girl as she lay on the snowy pillows.
"Whom was that you were talking to?"
"I—I was thinking, mother."
"Thinking? Thinking aloud?"
"I suppose so."
There was a silence for a few seconds. Both felt they were on sacred ground.
"Mother," said Bob, remembering what Nancy had said to him, "I want to tell you something. But you won't breathe a word, will you? It's a profound secret. I mean that you must not mention it to any one, must not speak about it to any one, under any circumstances."
"Of course I won't, if you don't wish it. What is it?"
"I'm engaged to Nancy Tresize."
Bob repeated the news.
"Aren't you pleased, mother?"
She lifted herself up in the bed and threw her arms around his neck.
"You don't mean it really, Bob? Why, I never dreamed that such a thing was possible."
"Neither did I until to-day. I—I—mother, what are you crying about? Aren't you pleased?"
"Of course I am; but oh, my dear boy! Oh, if only your father had lived!"
"He knows. I've been telling him," said Bob, who had a strain of the mystic in his nature. "I'm sure I have his blessing."
"Nancy is the finest, sweetest girl in Cornwall," she cried; "I couldn't have wished for anything better. I've always loved her. But I never thought that——"
"Neither did I," interrupted Bob. "It seems too good to be true, but it is true. I motored Nancy over to Gurnard's Head this afternoon, and—and it is all settled. She's the dearest girl in the world, mother."
"Of course she is," sobbed Mrs. Nancarrow. "There, wait a minute until I dry my eyes. I never expected such a thing, and—and oh, Bob, my dear, dear boy!"
"You mustn't imagine that you aren't still dear to me, mother, or that I love you one whit the less. I don't, you know, and Nancy loves you too."
"Yes, yes, I know that. It isn't that, my boy! But—but—you'll never know what a woman feels when she first learns that her only boy loves another woman better than he loves his mother. It isn't sorrow. Bob, oh no! I'm as glad as glad, and I couldn't wish for anything better. But what about the Admiral? Will he consent? I know he wants Nancy to marry Captain Trevanion."
For the next few days Bob lived in happy dreamland. It is true he did not see Nancy much alone, and no suggestion of their betrothal was made known. But he found an excuse for going to Penwennack every day, and Admiral Tresize, never imagining what was in his mind, always gave him a hearty welcome. Nancy had two brothers nearly of Bob's age, one of whom had been to Clifton with him; and although he was on the military side of the college, they saw much of each other. Dick Tresize was fond of Bob, in spite of the dissimilarity in their tastes, and as Bob evinced a sudden love and efficiency for tennis, he became in great demand. He also raised himself in the Admiral's estimation by challenging Captain Trevanion, who was a scratch man at golf, to a match on the Leiant Links.
"How many strokes do you expect me to give you?" rather scornfully demanded Trevanion, who had not been at all pleased at Nancy's constant disinclination for his society and her sudden preference for Bob's.
"Oh, we'll play level!" was Bob's reply.
"I like a game when I play," said the Captain who joined heartily in the laugh at Bob's expense.
"I'll try to give you a game," was Bob's reply.
"Good old Bob," cried Dick Tresize, "and the loser shall stand tea at the Club House for the whole bally lot of us. And it must be a good tea too. We'll have a dish of cream and all sorts of cakes. We can easily arrange it, for Thursday is a quiet day, and the crowds of visitors haven't made their appearance yet. Have you plenty of money with you, Bob."
"Oceans," replied Bob, pulling out a handful of change. "I'm only thinking about the state of Trevanion's finances."
"They are all right," replied Trevanion. "And I propose that we play for a box of balls into the bargain."
"How many of you are going?" asked Bob quietly.
Several hands went up, including that of the Admiral, who had become enthusiastic about forming what he called "a gallery."
"Good, Admiral. I'm glad you are going. That'll make twelve altogether. No, Trevanion, we won't play for the balls. The tea will be enough for you to pay for. I am told that the Army pays junior officers very badly."
"That's why I want to play for a box of balls. My stock is running low, and I want to get some on the cheap."
"Come, let's be off!" cried Dick. "I'll tell the men to bring out the cars, and we'll start right away. Where are your clubs, Bob?"
"They are in my locker at the Club. I haven't seen them since the Easter Vac."
"But you've played at Oxford?"
"No; been too busy."
Dick held up his hands in mock horror, at which several of the party laughed.
"Trevanion will wipe the floor with you," he said woefully. "He's on the links at least three days a week, and he plays a good scratch game."
"Aren't you in practice, Bob?" asked Nancy, when they had a few seconds alone together.
"Scarcely played for a year."
"Then why did you challenge Captain Trevanion?"
"Because I was mad," replied Bob. "He's been trying to raise a laugh against me all the morning and so—well, there it is."
"But he'll be sure to beat you?"
"No, he won't," and there was a confident ring in his voice.
Half an hour later they had reached the Club House, and much laughter and many pleasantries were exchanged as they teed their balls. Captain Trevanion's clubs were shining, while Bob's were rusty through disuse.
"They 'a'an't a bin clained for months," said the caddy, who was vigorously rubbing them with emery paper.
Captain Trevanion won the toss, and took the honour. He was a tall, athletic fellow, and showed by his practice swing that he was master of his tools. He hit his ball straight and clean, and it fell a few yards behind the great grass mound which guards the first green. Bob, on the other hand, felt nervous and awkward. He was out of practice, and knew his disadvantage. He played the ball badly, and while it cleared the rough, he had an awkward stance for his second. In playing the odd, too, he miscalculated the distance, and found himself in the rough, on the offside of the green. Captain Trevanion holed out in four and although Bob got a five, he lost the hole.
"One up to the Army," laughed the Admiral.
The second hole, which can easily be reached by a good iron shot, Captain Trevanion played perfectly. His ball soared over a high mountain of sand, and plumped down comfortably a few yards from the hole. Bob topped his ball, and it landed half way up the sand-hill in a bad place. Again it took him five to hole out, while Trevanion was down in three.
At the third the Captain drove a perfect ball, while Bob, who though he got just as far, landed in the churchyard, out of bounds. The result was that he lost this hole also.
"This is what I call a grand procession," remarked some one.
"Come, Bob," laughed the Admiral, "this looks as though you will have to pay for the tea."
"I hope it'll be a good one anyhow," replied Bob quietly. "I'm working up a fine appetite."
At the next hole Captain Trevanion drove short, and landed in the bunker guarding the green. Bob, on the other hand, sent his ball straight and true over the guiding-post.
"Fine shot," was the general remark.
"Too far," said Dick Tresize. "That ball's over the green and gone down the cliff. I'd rather be where Trevanion is."
He proved to be right. Bob had got into a well-nigh impossible place and lost another hole.
"Beastly luck," remarked Dick. "That's not a fair hole."
"Rub of the green," was all Bob said.
"Yes, but it makes you four down," said the Admiral. "Trevanion has done every hole in bogey so far, and he's not likely to make mistakes."
It seemed as though Bob were destined to bad luck, for although he seemed to play the next hole perfectly, he made too much allowance for the wind, and his second shot went over a high bank which guarded the green, and fell among the shingle, near which some old boats were lying.
"Five up to the Military," shouted the Admiral.
"The same grand procession," giggled a girl who was a great admirer of Trevanion.
"I say, Bob, I thought you were going to give Trevanion a game," said George Tresize, Nancy's younger brother.
Captain Trevanion laughed confidently. He felt certain of victory now, and regarded the match as a walk over.
"Five down is a big handicap," said Bob. "Still the match is young yet."
"He's had beastly luck at the last two holes," grumbled Dick Tresize, who was evidently deeply chagrined.
The next hole was halved in bogey. Bob got his four easily, but Trevanion only halved his by a long and uncertain putt.
"Five up at the sixth," shouted the Admiral. "Come, Bob, that's better, you've halved a hole at last."
Bob said nothing, but cast a look at Nancy, who was pale with excitement. He could see how anxious she was, and noted the confident air with which Trevanion approached the next tee. Although his position seemed almost hopeless, a feeling of confidence came into his heart. He had measured his opponent by this time, and he knew he had got to his old mastery of his clubs. He felt sure, too, that he could play the stronger game, even although he had lost hole after hole in succession.
Trevanion again drove, but this time his ball was off the line and landed in a huge basin of sand. Bob's, on the other hand, was perfectly straight. It carried the bunker a hundred and forty yards from the tee, and was well on its way to the green. As a consequence, although the bogey was five, Bob did it in four and won the hole.
"You played that well, Nancarrow," said Trevanion.
"The wind helped me," replied Bob.
The next hole was also a five bogey; but again Bob, who reached the green in two, got out in four, while Trevanion took five. He had reduced the difference between them to three. The ninth hole was halved.
"Three up at the turn for the Army," shouted the Admiral.
The tenth hole, as all who have played on the Leiant Links know, is very difficult. If the player has a long drive, he can, if he has a good second, land on the green in two; but in order to do so he has to carry a very difficult piece of country, which, if he gets into it, is generally fatal. Bob's drive was short, and it seemed impossible for him to carry the tremendous hazard with his second shot. Trevanion, on the other hand, was in an easy position. When he saw Bob's short drive he laughed contentedly.
"I'm wanting my tea badly," he said to Nancy.
"That's a pity," replied the girl. "It'll take another hour to play the next nine holes."
"It looks as though the match will be over before then," he replied confidently. "I'll bet you a box of chocolates that we shall finish at the fourteenth."
"Done!" cried the girl, and there was a flash of anger in her eyes.
"Of course Bob'll have to play short here," grumbled Dick Tresize. "He ought to have insisted on Trevanion giving him strokes. By George, he's surely not going to be such a fool as to risk a brassy!"
The next minute there was great cheering. Bob's ball had surely mounted all difficulties and apparently landed on the green.
"A magnificent shot!" cried the Admiral. "By gad, Bob, but Vardon couldn't have done it better!"
It was easy to see that Trevanion was annoyed as well as surprised at Bob's shot. The bogey for the hole was five, and Bob had to all appearance made a four possible by a very fine brassy shot. Trevanion had driven thirty yards further than Bob, but he had still a big sand-hill, covered with long grass, to carry. Whether Bob's shot had made him fear that, after being five up, he might yet be beaten, it is impossible to say, certain it is that he missed his ball, and Bob won the hole.
"Military down to two," cried the Admiral. "It's going to be a close match, after all."
The rest of the spectators became silent; they felt that things were becoming serious, and that they must not talk, especially as Trevanion had looked angrily at some one who had spoken as he was addressing his ball for the next drive. The eleventh and the twelfth holes were halved, and so the game stood at two up for Trevanion and six to play.
"I've won my box of chocolates, Captain Trevanion," Nancy could not help saying, as they walked to the thirteenth tee. "Even if you win the next two holes you can only be dormy at the fourteenth."
"I shall buy the chocolates with all the pleasure in the world," replied the Captain. "You see, I didn't reckon on that brassy of Nancarrow's at the tenth."
"I think you are going to have an expensive afternoon," she laughed.
Bob, who still retained the honour, addressed his ball. A strong cross wind was blowing, but he made up his mind to carry the green, although it was considerably over two hundred yards, and guarded by a high mound. If he could do so he stood a good chance of a three, and might rob his opponent of another hole. He hit the ball clean and true, and as it left his club the spectators gave a gasp. It looked as though it would strike the guiding-post, but to the relief of all, and especially of Nancy, it rose a foot above it, and was soon lost to sight.
"By gosh, Bob, I believe you've driven the green!" said Dick to Bob, in a whisper. "If you have, you stand a good chance. You drive a longer ball than Trevanion."
It was easy to see by the change that had come over the Captain's face that he was becoming anxious. He hit his ball with perfect precision, but it dropped on the tee side of the high mound. Dick Tresize turned towards the green.
"You are on, old chap," he said, as his friend came up. "It's at the corner of the green, but you should do it."
Trevanion played a good approach shot, and then Bob laid his approach putt dead. His three was safe. If Trevanion could not hole out, there would be but one hole between them. Trevanion did his best, but the ball did not reach the hole by a few inches, and was not quite straight.
"The Army down to one," said the Admiral.
By this time several people had been attracted by the news of the match, and among the new spectators was an amiable-looking gentleman who wore large, round spectacles. He had been seemingly much impressed by Bob's last drive, and had loudly expressed himself to that effect.
"I tell you," he said, "I haf seen Vardon, and Braid, and all ze rest of zem play, but I neffer saw a finer shot, neffer. It vas great."
He spoke so loudly that, when they were walking to the fourteenth tee, Trevanion, who was slightly ruffled, said:
"Excuse me, sir, but if you knew the etiquette of golf, you would know that it is bad form to talk while people are playing."
The stranger lifted his hat, and bowed profoundly. "I apologise, sir," he said; "nothing was further from my mind than to interfere with your play. I vill take much care not to offend again. I hope I did not offend you, sir," he added, bowing to Bob.
"Not the slightest," replied Bob.
The stranger bowed again, and from that time was silent, although he followed the party at a distance.
The next three holes were halved, and there remained but two more to play. Bob was very quiet, Trevanion looked grim and determined, the colour came and went on Nancy's face. It seemed to her as though Bob's future and her own depended on the result of the next few minutes.
"One up to the Military, and two to play," cried the Admiral.
"If you halve this, you'll be dormy, Captain Trevanion," said George Tresize, who seemed very anxious for him to win.
The Captain did not reply. Evidently he was in no mood for talk; as for the rest of the crowd, a deadly silence rested on it.
Like nearly all the holes on the Leiant Links, the seventeenth is blind, although it is just possible to see the top of the flag. It is not an easy hole to play, as I know to my cost. The green is guarded on the right by a hedge, which if you get over it, makes your case desperate. If you go too far, you are caught by a bunker; while if you play to the left, the ground is so hummocky, that it is very difficult to lay your ball dead. That is why, although the hole is barely two hundred yards long, the committee have given it a four bogey.
Bob took an iron, and played straight for the pin.
"Good shot, but a bit short, I'm afraid," whispered Dick, as Bob stood aside for Trevanion to drive. Trevanion also hit his ball clean, but it was a trifle to the left. A little later they saw that both balls were on the green, although Bob's was several yards the nearer. Trevanion examined the ground carefully. He felt that much depended on the approach putt. If he laid himself dead, he was sure he could not be beaten. Every one stood breathless while the ball ran over the hummocky ground.
"By gosh, it's too merry!" gasped George Tresize. But he had not accounted for a steep ascent. The ball rested less than two feet from the hole; Trevanion's three was safe.
Bob also carefully examined his ground, and then played his ball. It went to the lip of the hole, and then half-hanging over, stopped. For a second the little company held its breath, and then gave a gasp. The ball fell in.
"Beastly fluke!" muttered Trevanion, between his set teeth.
"A great putt!" cried Dick.
"All square and one to play," cried the Admiral.
Bob felt his heart bound as he addressed the ball for the last drive. What if after all he should miss it! A mist hung before his eyes. But no, he would not miss, and a second later he watched the ball as it soared over the hazard. Trevanion's was only a few yards behind. It required but a chip shot to reach the green, which lay in a hollow just over a turf-grown hedge, and guarded by a bunker. They had now reached the final stage of the game. One shot might win or lose the match.
Evidently Trevanion realised this as he took his mashie. More than one saw his cigarette tremble between his lips; there could be no doubt that he was greatly excited. Perhaps his nerves played him tricks, or perhaps in his anxiety he looked up before he hit his ball. Anyhow he missed it, and he found himself badly bunkered. Bob's chance had come, and he took advantage of it. His ball pitched over the hedge, and then rolled towards the hole. He had a possible three. Trevanion, on the other hand, failed to get out of the bunker at the first shot, and got too far with the second. Bob had won the match.
"Jolly hard luck, getting into the bunker, Trevanion," he said; but the other did not speak. For the moment he was too chagrined.
"Nancarrow wins the match on the last green; now for tea," shouted the Admiral. "Bob, my boy, you've played a great game. I congratulate you."
"A very fine game, Nancarrow," said Trevanion, who, like the sportsman he was, had got over his disappointment. "You played the last fourteen holes like a book."
"Pardon me," said a voice, "I hope I shall not be considered to indrude, but may I alzo congratulate you, sir. I am not English, I am sorry to say, but I take advantage of the Entente Cordiale. You haf given me much pleasure in watching you."
The stranger bowed as he spoke, and produced his card. "Allow me," he continued, as he presented it to Bob.
"Thank you, Count von Weimer," replied Bob, as he read the card. "It is very kind of you."
"Forgive me as a stranger in speaking to you," went on the Count, "but I felt I must. Never haf I seen such a feat of skill, and I cannot be silent. I take advantage of the Entente Cordiale. I bear a German name, but I am from Alsace, and my heart beats warm to you and your country," then with another bow he walked away.
"Who is that old buffer?" asked Dick.
"You know as much about him as I," replied Bob; "evidently he wanted to be friendly."
"What did you say he was called?" asked the Admiral.
"Count von Weimer, Chateau Villar, Alsace, and Continental Club, London," said Bob, reading the card.
"Von Weimer is a good name," said the Admiral, "and the Continental is a good club; I've been there several times. I shall be civil to him if I meet him again. But now for tea. By Jove, Trevanion, but the boy has given you a twisting!"
"Oh, Bob, I am glad!" whispered Nancy, as they went towards the Club House. "At one time I—I; oh, Bob, I am glad you've beaten him."
"So am I," replied Bob, "but I'm not thinking so much about the golf."
"Now for tea," said Trevanion, with a laugh. "You've won on this field of battle, but in the next my turn will come."
Bob was in great spirits at tea that day. He had won his match, and proved himself a stronger player than Trevanion. Nancy, who sat by his side, was radiant with smiles, while evidently the Admiral looked on him with greater favour than ever before.
"A remarkable feat, my boy," he said again and again. "To be five down to a man like Trevanion, and then to beat him, means not only skill, but nerve. That's the thing I like about it—the nerve, the pluck."
"A game is never lost until it's won, sir," said Bob sententiously.
"That's it, my boy. Stick to that. What did I hear about your plan to go into Parliament? Do you mean it?"
"If I have good luck, sir."
"A great career, my lad, and you should do well. I am so glad you've given up the idea of being a book-worm. Of course your scholarship will come handy to you in Parliament, so perhaps you've been wise to stick to your books. But the country wants men who can do things."
"I mean to do them too, sir."
"Trelawney blood," laughed the old man. "Well, there's no reason in the world why you shouldn't do big things. I always had hoped that Roger would go into Parliament; indeed, he was as good as nominated for St. Ia. But he was killed in the Boer War, poor fellow. A fine lad too, as fine a lad as ever stepped in shoeleather," and his eyes became moist. "Thank God we are at peace now!" he added.
"You are coming back with me to Penwennack?" he went on, when presently the party were leaving the Club House.
"I'd love to, sir, but I can't. I must get back. I promised mother."
"Ah well, stick to your mother. A lad who keeps his promise to his mother seldom goes wrong. But come up to dinner to-morrow night, and bring your mother with you."
"You may depend on me," cried Bob. "Thanks very much, Admiral, we shall be delighted."
"Bob," said Nancy, "you've done more to soften dad to-day, and to prepare the way for me, than if you had got ten fellowships. He loves a plucky fight, and hates a coward."
"And I'll fight," cried Bob, "because I shall fighting for you, Nancy."
"I wish you were going to spend the evening with us," she said ruefully. "I do want you with me."
"And don't I wish it too! But I told you how things stood. Till to-morrow then."
"Be sure to come early," cried Nancy, as she drove away.
Bob made his way over the Towans towards St. Ia, as happy as a king. Everywhere the sun seemed to be shining. At his feet the wild thyme grew in profusion. Acres upon acres were made purple by this modest flower. The sea was glorious with many coloured hues, the whole country-side was beautiful beyond words. What wonder that he was happy! He was young and vigorous, the best and most beautiful girl in the world loved him, and his future was rosy hued.
In order to reach his mother's house, he had to pass through St. Ia, and he had barely entered the little town when he saw Count von Weimer, who had expressed his congratulations so fervently on the golf links.
"Ah, this is lucky!" cried the Count. "I was wondering if I should haf the good fortune to meet you again. May I walk with you? That is goot!"
"You are a stranger to St. Ia," said Bob.
"Yes. I have been drawn here by the beauty of the place, and—and because I want peace." He still spoke in broken English, although I will no longer try to reproduce it.
"You love peace?" Bob ventured.
"Love it! Ah, young sir, you little know. I am one of those unfortunate men who are placed in an awful position. I am, although I bear a German name, French on my mother's side. I love France too, and am at heart a Frenchman. But then my house is in Alsace—Alsace, you understand. France under German Government. I can say here, what I could not say there. I hate Germany, I hate her government, her militarism, her arrogance. The Germans suspect my loyalty, and so I have come to England."
"And you like England?"
"Ah, who can help loving it? Your British flag means liberty, wherever it flies. It stands for peace, brotherhood, progress. That is why I think of buying a house near St. Ia, and settling down. Realising my position in Alsace, you can understand. Besides, what can be more beautiful than this?" and he waved his hand toward the sunlit bay.
"Yes, it's the most beautiful spot on earth!" cried Bob.
"It is indeed, and I love its peace. I love the quiet ways of the people. I saw a house yesterday which captivated, charmed me. Tre-Trelyon, yes, that's it; Trelyon, I was told it was called, and I hear it is for sale, or to let, I don't know which."
"Yes, it is, and it is one of the finest places in the district. Why, it belongs to Admiral Tresize, whom perhaps you saw on the links this afternoon."
"What, that stout, hearty, John Bull gentleman? Oh, yes, I saw him! What a splendid specimen of your British thoroughness. It belongs to him, eh?"
"Yes, it formerly belonged to his wife's family, the Trelyons. I'm sure he'd be glad of a good tenant."
"Ah, but that is pleasant. I could perhaps deal with him personally? I am, I suppose, what you would call a rich man, but I hate dealing with agents, and lawyers, and that kind of thing. He is—friendly, this, what do you call him, Admiral——"
"Oh, yes, he's most friendly."
"He's in the Navy, I suppose?"
"He's retired from active service, but he is still one of the most influential men in our Admiralty."
"Ah, yes, but I'm afraid I have but little knowledge of these things. I am a man of peace. I hate war of every sort. I am at one with what you English people call—Quakers. But ah, it looks like war again now."
"You mean the Servian trouble?"
"Yes. At first I thought the Austrians were going to be kind and reasonable. But they have Germany behind them, and now, I suppose, they've sent impossible demands to Servia. It is here in the evening paper. It seems, too, that Russia is going to back up Servia, and that will mean trouble."
"I am not an authority on European politics, but I am sure that if Russia espouses the cause of Servia, Germany will throw in her lot with Austria. Don't you see what follows?"
"You mean that Germany would declare war on Russia too?"
"Yes, and that is not all. France, my own country, although I am an Alsatian, is bound to be dragged in. And I am a man of peace. I hate war."
"I am with you there," cried Bob eagerly. "War was born in hell."
"Ah, you say so, and you are a young man! That is good! But still you need not fear. England, in spite of the Entente Cordiale, holds to her policy of splendid isolation. She will not be dragged into the turmoil?"
"No, I think that is impossible. You see we are not a military nation, in spite of a section of the community. Our Army is small, and will, I hope, remain small."
"Stick to that, my friend—stick to that. Big armies only breed war, and war is a crime. But about my desire to buy Tre-Trelyon—ah, your English names are hard to pronounce—do you, who know the owner, this bluff John Bull, Admiral—what do you call him?"
"Admiral Tresize, yes. Do you think it would be possible for me to see him?"
"I'm quite sure it would be," replied Bob, who remembered what the Admiral had said. "I'm dining at his house to-morrow night. I'll tell him what you have said."
"Ah, that is kind, friendly of you; but I must not detain you longer. Good evening."
"What a friendly old fellow," reflected Bob, as he walked away. "Yes, I can quite imagine how one who is a Frenchman at heart would be treated in Alsace," and then he forgot all about him.
As day followed day, disquieting news came from the Near East. It seemed as though the cloud which at first was no bigger than a man's hand was covering the whole Eastern sky. Disturbing news flashed across the Channel, even while it was generally felt that the tragedy of Sarajevo could never lead to open hostilities. About the middle of July, as all the world knows, it was believed that Austria had accepted Servia's assurance that her attitude towards the greater Power was altogether pacific, and that full justice should be meted out to all who had participated in the ghastly murders.
On July 24, even in the quiet neighbourhood of St. Ia, much apprehension was felt by many who took an interest in foreign affairs at the announcement of the presentation of the Austro-Hungarian Note to the Servian Government, especially when we read the terms of the Note. They were so brutal, so arrogant, that we could not see how any self-respecting people could accept them. Still, we reflected that Servia who had only lately been much weakened and impoverished by her war with Turkey, might be humble.
On the morning of July 25, Admiral Tresize received a letter from a friend who lived in Vienna, which caused him to be greatly perturbed.
"Things look very black here," ran the letter. "Many of us, until a day or so ago, believed that the Austro-Servian difficulty would be amicably settled. As a matter of fact, I know that Austria was prepared to let Servia down rather lightly, but since then new forces have been at work. I am in a position to state that Germany, and by Germany I mean the Kaiser and the War Party generally, whose word is, of course, law in Germany, has instructed the Emperor Franz-Josef to send Servia practically impossible demands. What is in the Kaiser's mind it is impossible to say, but, as is very well known, he has been using almost superhuman efforts in perfecting his army and navy, until Germany has become the greatest fighting machine in the world. It is well known, too, that the Kaiser believes that Russia is so impoverished and enfeebled by her war with Japan that she is no longer dangerous, and he considers France altogether unprepared for war. This being so, it is the general opinion in diplomatic circles that the Kaiser's purpose in sending Servia impossible conditions is intended to arouse hostilities. Only to-day I had a chat with a man who moves in the inner circle of things, and he told me, that if Russia defends Servia, as he hopes she will, and that if France prepares to help Russia, as she is sure to do, Austria can keep Servia and Russia busy, while Germany fulfils her long-held determination to bring France to her knees, and to make her practically her vassal. No one believes that England would interfere. My own belief is that Germany is using the present occasion as the first step towards carrying out her long-cherished ambitions. When once she has conquered France, and commands her sea-board and her navy, she will then be able to crush England, which is her ultimate aim."
When the Admiral showed me this letter, I suppose I smiled incredulously, for the old man broke out into violent language.
"I believe it's true," he cried. "The Kaiser, for all his pious hypocrisies, is a war devil. He hates the thought that England should be such a World Power, while Germany is only an European Power."
"But the Kaiser isn't such a fool," I replied. "He knows England and her strength."
"Yes, but he's drunk with pride and arrogance. He thinks Germany is destined to rule the world."
A day or so later news came that Servia had consented to all Austria's demands with the exception of two points, and suggested that these should be submitted to the mediation of the Great Powers.
"Ah, that clears the air!" I thought; "nothing can be more reasonable."
Much to the surprise of every one, news came on July 26 that Austria regarded Servia's answer as unsatisfactory, and that the Austro-Hungarian Minister, with the Legation Staff, had left Belgrade on the previous day.
On July 28 I called at Mrs. Nancarrow's house, where I saw Bob reading the newspaper with a smile on his face.
"This is fine," he cried—"just fine. What a splendid fellow Sir Edward Grey is! It was he who proposed a Conference in the Turco-Balkan difficulty, and now it is he again who is going to settle this."
"I am afraid the Turco-Balkan Conference didn't help much," I replied.
"Ah, but this will. After all, what's the heart of the quarrel? The murder of the heir to the Austrian throne. A ghastly affair, I'll admit, but everything can be settled."
"Has Admiral Tresize mentioned a letter which he received from Vienna a day or two ago?" I asked.
"Yes," replied Bob, "but of course it was pure imagination. Do you know, I admire the Kaiser. He's a good man, a religious man."
"Of course it is easy to imagine a case against him," he went on lightly; "but it has no foundation in fact. I told the Admiral so. We had quite an argument about it, and I maintained that whatever the circumstances, England had no occasion to be dragged in, and that it would be criminal on the part of our statesmen if they allowed it. Evidently Sir Edward Grey thinks the same. Of course you've seen that he has proposed a Conference. He has suggested that Germany, France, Italy, and Great Britain, who are not directly connected with the quarrel, should meet, and settle it."
"Will Germany accept?"
"Of course she will," replied Bob confidently, "we shall soon hear that the trouble is at an end."
"I hope you are right, but if the Kaiser holds the views expressed by the Admiral's friend, I very much doubt it," was my rejoinder.
When we read that a Russian Cabinet Council was held, and regarded the Austrian demands as an indirect challenge to Russia, and when we also read that Austria, without giving Servia any chance for further consideration, had declared war upon her, and seized certain of her vessels which happened to be on the Danube, we began to fear trouble, although even then we in St. Ia never seriously believed that England would be directly implicated in it.
I am stating these things here, not that they are not known to every one, but because they will help to make the story I am writing clearer to the reader, especially when it reaches the later stages.
Later the news came to us that there was partial Russian mobilisation along the Austrian frontier, and that as a consequence a Council was held in Berlin. Of course we knew nothing of what was said in that Council, but when we heard that Russia's partial mobilisation had become general, we began to shudder at the gradual darkening of the European sky.
As all the world knows now, Germany declared war on Russia on August 1, and I remember meeting Bob outside the St. Ia post office that day.
"You see you were not right about Germany," I said. "Both France and Italy accepted Sir Edward Grey's suggestion, and consented to join in a Conference; but Germany refused. Nothing can be plainer than that. If Germany had wanted peace, she could easily have secured it. Austria would not have opposed her in any case, but she would not even join in a Conference in order to secure peace."
Bob shook his head. "You know the reason Germany gave for refusing," he said.
"About the most arrogant, but the most characteristic possible. Fancy saying that Austria as a Great Power could not think of allowing mediation as though she were a small Balkan state."
"Yes, it's terrible enough," replied Bob. "But, thank heaven, we are not likely to be dragged into it."
"I hope and pray not," I replied.
"Why? Do you think it possible?" he cried.
"Anything is possible. You've seen that Germany has invaded Luxemburg. As you know, Luxemburg is a small neutral state, and has been promised the protection of the Powers. Germany was a party to this promise, and yet she has violated everything."
"That's only hearsay," was his reply.
"It is more than hearsay," I answered; but Bob did not appear to be convinced.
"I am almost glad dear old father is dead," he went on presently. "The Boer War nearly broke his heart, while this business threatens to be so ghastly, that it would have driven him mad. It is simply hellish."
After this we almost feared to open our newspapers, and events followed so rapidly that we were unable to keep count of them.
Never shall I forget the look on Admiral Tresize's face when he read Sir Edward Grey's momentous speech. His ruddy face became almost pale, and his hands trembled.
"Sir Edward has done all mortal man can do," he declared. "Whose ever hands are clean of this bloody business, his are. He has simply laboured night and day for peace."
"Seemingly all in vain," was my reply.
"I have been informed on unimpeachable authority that the Kaiser, in spite of his pious harangues, has been preparing for this, planning for this, for years."
"Still there is no necessity for us to be dragged in," I urged.
"Of course there is the Entente between ourselves and France," he replied. "France will be bound to help Russia on account of their alliance, and the question will naturally arise as to whether we can stand aside while the German fleet bombards France's shores and while German armies cross her frontier."
"But think of war, Admiral."
"Yes, God knows I think of it. I didn't sleep last night for thinking of it. I know what war is, know of its bloody horrors. War is hell, I know that; but I would rather that my country should go through hell, than allow a Power like Germany to crush her."
"But Germany couldn't crush us. She has no desire to crush us."
The Admiral looked at me angrily, but did not speak for some seconds.
"I cannot say all I know," he said presently, "but, mark my words, in a few days you will know by the most incontestable proofs that all this is a part of Germany's plans; that she has used these Sarajevo murders as a pretext for causing European war, that she thinks we shall do nothing, and that her ultimate plan is to crush England, and to dominate the world."
Every one knows the thrill that went through England when war was declared. The shadow of war had closed the Stock Exchange, and paralysed business, but the declaration of war moved the nation to its very depths.
Bob Nancarrow was at Penwennack when the call came to the young men of England to rise and help their country in her need. Several young people had met there for a tennis party, and Bob was among them.
"I'm going to send in my name," cried George Tresize. "I was in the O.T.C. at Rugby."
"I shall join my regiment right away," said Dick quietly. "Trevanion's gone. Of course you'll join, Bob?"
"No," replied Bob quietly, "I shall not join."
"Not going to join! Why, you were in the O.T.C. while you were at Clifton! Not going to join!"
Bob's face was very pale, but he shook his head.
"You are joking, man! Haven't you read Kitchener's call? He wants half a million men. It's said he'll need a million before long. You can't stand out. No decent fellow can. You don't mean it!"
"Yes, I mean it."
"I'm afraid I couldn't make you understand."
"No, I don't think you could," and there was a sneer in George Tresize's voice.
It happened at that moment that the girls had gone into the house, and had not heard the conversation, but the half-dozen young men who were there looked at Bob as though he were a kind of reptile.
"I say, Bob," said Dick Tresize, who had been always his close friend, "you can't mean it! You are joking. Have—have you read the papers? Have you read what led up to our being in it? Have you seen the white paper?"
"Yes, I've read everything."
"Then you must know that the war is right."
"No war is right," was Bob's answer. "It's opposed to every law, human and divine. How can a fellow who is trying to be a—a Christian," his voice trembled as he spoke, "deliberately enlist for the purpose of killing his fellow-man? If I have a quarrel with a man, and I murder him, I am guilty of the most terrible deed a man can be guilty of. If I did it, I should be branded with the mark of Cain, and you would shudder at the mention of my name. A nation is a combination of individuals, and if nations in order to settle their quarrel go to war, and murder, not by ones, but by thousands, does it cease to be the crime of Cain? Does it cease to be murder?"
"Yes, of course it does," replied a young fellow, named Poldhu, who had arranged to leave for his regiment on the following morning.
Poldhu was silent for a moment, then he cried out, "Is a hangman a murderer, for hanging a devil? Is a judge a murderer for condemning a fellow like Crippen to death?"
"And you mean to say you are going to funk it?" There was something ominous in Dick Tresize's voice.
"I am not going to enlist."
"I say, you fellows," said Dick, looking towards the others, "the climate's not healthy here. What do you say to a stroll?"
Without a word each one walked away, leaving Bob alone. They had gone only a few steps when there was a sound of many voices at the front door, and a bevy of girls appeared in their light summer dresses. A few seconds later the girls and boys were talking eagerly together, and before long were casting furtive looks towards Bob, who, miserable beyond words, sat watching them.
"No," he heard one say, "I'm not going to play with him."
"Oh, but there's a mistake somewhere! He's all right."
"Is he? Then what did he mean by——"
Bob got up and walked to the other end of the lawn; he had been playing the part of an eavesdropper in spite of himself. He knew what they were talking about—knew that in the future he would be treated as a pariah. They were good fellows, all of them. Clean-minded, healthy young Englishmen. Tom Poldhu, Dick and George Tresize, Harry Lorrimer, and the others were among the best products of English public schools, and although they had their failings, each had his code of honour which is generally held sacred by the class to which he belonged. All of them, too, had been reared in a military atmosphere. Most of them, I imagine, would, with a certain amount of reservation, drink to the old toast, "My country. In all her relations with other nations, may she be in the right. But right or wrong, my country." They did not trouble about the deeper ethics of international quarrels. It was enough for them to know that England was in danger; for them, forgetful of everything else, to offer their lives, if need be, for the land of their birth.
They could not understand Bob. They simply could not see from his point of view. Only one thing was plain to them. Their country was at war. The King's soldiers were going to defend their nation's word of honour, and to crush a Power, which they had no doubt meant to rob England of her glory, and conquer her. Beyond that they troubled little. Neither of them understood much about the cause of the trouble. But that did not matter. They had heard the call, "Your King and Country need you," and that was enough. To remain quietly at home after that was the act of a poltroon and a coward.
"Bob, are you there?"
He had gone from the lawn into a shrubbery, where he was completely hidden. He felt as though he must get out of the sight of every one.
It was Nancy's voice, and every nerve in his body thrilled as he heard it. Yes, Nancy would understand him; he could make everything plain to her.
"Yes, Nancy." He tried to speak cheerfully, but his heart was like lead.
"Bob," and there was a tone in her voice which he had never heard before. "What Dick has been telling us isn't true, is it?"
She had reached his side by this time, and, in spite of her pallor, and the peculiar light in her eyes, he had never seen her look so beautiful.
"What has he been telling you?" he asked, feeling ashamed of himself for asking the question. He knew quite well.
"That—all the rest of them have offered themselves for their country, and you—you——"
"Let me explain, Nancy," he cried eagerly. "Let me tell you why I can't——"
"I don't want any explanations," and there was anger in her voice. "Lord Kitchener has called for volunteers. He has asked for half a million men, so that we may stand by our word of honour, and save our country. What I want to know is, are you going to play the coward?"
"You know my principles, Nancy. You know what we said to each other down at Gurnard's Head, and——"
"I don't want to hear anything more about that," she interrupted impatiently. "I want to know what you are going to do. Please answer me."
She had ceased to be pale now, although her lips quivered and her hands trembled. A pink spot burnt on each cheek, and her eyes burned like fire. Bob knew that she would not be satisfied with subterfuges, or contented with evasions. Neither, indeed, did he wish to shelter himself behind them.
"I'm going to do nothing," he replied. "That is I'm going to carry out the plan we agreed on. Look here, Nancy——"
But again she interrupted him. She was angry beyond words, but she kept herself in check.
"That's all I wanted to know. Thank you. We are not going to play tennis for a little while. We are all going for a walk. Good afternoon."
"You mean that you do not wish me to go with you."
"I do not think you—you would enjoy coming. You see the others——"
She did not complete the sentence, but hurried away, leaving him alone.
Bob felt as though the heavens had become black. He had expected to be misunderstood, sneered at, despised; but he had never dreamed that Nancy would turn from him like this. He knew she hated war. He remembered her telling him about her eldest brother who had been killed in the Boer War, and how it had darkened her home, and added years to her father's life. She had encouraged him in the career he had marked out too; she had agreed with him that the work he had at heart was the noblest any man could do. As a consequence, he thought she would understand him, sympathise with him.