And he was suddenly shot into an encounter of extraordinary incongruity with his thoughts and of extraordinary intensity. A voice accosted him. He was astounded, as if suddenly awakened out of heavy sleep, to see to where he had come. He was in the narrow old ways of Tidborough Old Town, approaching The Precincts, by the ancient Corn Exchange. A keen-looking young man, particularly well set up and wearing nice tweeds, was accosting him. Sabre recognised Otway, captain and adjutant of the depot, up at the barracks, of the county regiment, one of the crack regiments, famous as “The Pinks.”
Otway said, “Hullo, Sabre. How goes it? Are you going to this show to-morrow?”
He was pointing with his stick to a poster displayed against the Corn Exchange. Sabre read it. It announced that Field Marshal Lord Roberts was speaking there, under the auspices of the National Service League, on Home Defence—a Citizen Army.
“I hadn’t thought about going,” Sabre said. He wanted to get away.
Otway was staring at the poster as though he had never seen it before; but he had been staring at it when Sabre came along the street. “You ought to,” Otway said. “You ought to hear old Bobs. Of course the little chap’s all wrong.”
He seemed to be talking to himself, staring at the poster, more than to Sabre. Sabre, despite his preoccupation, was surprised. “All wrong? Good lord, I should have thought you of all people—” And immediately a torrent of Otway was let loose upon him, bursting into his thoughts like a stone chucked through a study window.
Otway spun around in his keen, quick way to face him. “All wrong in the way he’s putting his case, I mean. All these National Service chaps are. Home defence they talk about, nothing but Home Defence. It’s like chucking sawdust into a fire—the fire being all the bloody fools who are opposed to military training. Any fool can knock the bottom out of this Home Defence business. The Blue Water fools are champions at it. They say the only defence against invasion is the Navy and that half a million spent on the Navy is worth untold millions chucked away on this ‘Nation in Arms’ shout. And they’re damn right.”
“Well, then?” said Sabre. “What’s the argument? What’s the harm in knocking the bottom out of—this?” he nodded towards the poster.
Otway spoke with astonishing intensity. “Why, good God alive, man, don’t you see, we do want a nation in arms; we want it like hell. But we don’t want it for here, at home; we want it to fight on the Continent. That’s where we’ve got to fight,—out there. And that’s where we’re going to fight before we’re many years older.”
In his intensity he had extended his left hand and was beating his points into it with the handle of his stick. “See that?”
Sabre was not in the mood to see anything. He only wanted to be away.
“No, I’m dashed if I do. What are we going to fight on the Continent for—supposing we ever do have to fight anywhere?”