He rolled the names round his tongue with obvious relish.
“If it was a list of first-class battleships, and armoured cruisers and destroyers and airships that you were reeling off, there would be some comfort and hope in the situation,” said Yeovil; “the loyalty of the colonies is a splendid thing, but it is only pathetically splendid because it can do so little to recover for us what we’ve lost. Against the Zeppelin air fleet, and the Dreadnought sea squadrons and the new Gelberhaus cruisers, the last word in maritime mobility, of what avail is loyal devotion plus half-a-dozen warships, one keel to ten, scattered over one or two ocean coasts?”
“Ah, but they’ll build,” said the fisherman confidently; “they’ll build. They’re only waiting to enlarge their dockyard accommodation and get the right class of artificers and engineers and workmen together. The money will be forthcoming somehow, and they’ll start in and build.”
“And do you suppose,” asked Yeovil in slow bitter contempt, “that the victorious nation is going to sit and watch and wait till the defeated foe has created a new war fleet, big enough to drive it from the seas? Do you suppose it is going to watch keel added to keel, gun to gun, airship to airship, till its preponderance has been wiped out or even threatened? That sort of thing is done once in a generation, not twice. Who is going to protect Australia or New Zealand while they enlarge their dockyards and hangars and build their dreadnoughts and their airships?”
“Here’s my station and I’m not sorry,” said the fisherman, gathering his tackle together and rising to depart; “I’ve listened to you long enough. You and me wouldn’t agree, not if we was to talk all day. Fact is, I’m an out-and-out patriot and you’re only a half-hearted one. That’s what you are, half-hearted.”
And with that parting shot he left the carriage and lounged heavily down the platform, a patriot who had never handled a rifle or mounted a horse or pulled an oar, but who had never flinched from demolishing his country’s enemies with his tongue.
“England has never had any lack of patriots of that type,” thought Yeovil sadly; “so many patriots and so little patriotism.”
Yeovil got out of the train at a small, clean, wayside station, and rapidly formed the conclusion that neatness, abundant leisure, and a devotion to the cultivation of wallflowers and wyandottes were the prevailing influences of the station-master’s life. The train slid away into the hazy distance of trees and meadows, and left the traveller standing in a world that seemed to be made up in equal parts of rock garden, chicken coops, and whiskey advertisements. The station-master, who appeared also to act as emergency porter, took Yeovil’s ticket with the gesture of a kind-hearted person brushing away a troublesome wasp, and returned to a study of the Poultry Chronicle,