It is the problem of population that is being worked out now, not the mere spontaneous and ephemeral struggle of a few dominating personalities.
It is well-nigh ludicrous to think that Sally Bishop—quiet, virtuous, chaste Sally Bishop, the very opposite of a revolutionary—is one in the ranks of a great army who are marching, they scarcely know whither, to a command they have scarcely heard, strained to a mighty endurance in a cause they scarcely understand. She seems too young to be of service, too frail to bear the hardships of the way. How can she stand out against the forced marches, the weary, sleepless camping at night?
There are going to be many in this great campaign who will drop exhausted from the ranks—many who, under cover of night, when the sentinel is drowsy at his post, will slip out into the darkness, weary of the fatigue, regardless of the consequences—a deserter from the cause that is so ill-understood. There are going to be many who, through a passing village where all is peace and contentment, will hear the tempting whisper of mutiny. What is the good of it all—to what does it lead, this endless forced march towards a vague encounter with the enemy who are never to be seen? If only they might pitch tents there and then—there and then dig trenches, make positions, occupy heights—put the rifle to the shoulder and fire—into hell if need be. But no—this endless, toilsome marching, marching—always onward, yet never at the journey’s end.
Who blames them if they fall by the way? Even the sergeant of the division, passing their crumpled bodies by the roadside, becomes a hypocrite if he kicks them into an obedience of their orders. In his heart he might well wish to drop out as they have done. Who blames them, too, if they slink off, hiding behind any cover that will conceal their trembling bodies until the whole army has gone by?—who blames them if they sham illness, lameness, anything that may be put forward as an excuse to set them free?—who blames them if a wayside cottage offers them shelter and, taking it, they leave the other poor wretches to go on? Who blames them then? No one—no one with a heart could do so. The great tragedy lies in the fact that they are left to blame themselves.
And this—this is the way that Nature wages war—a civil war, that is the worst, the most harrowing of all. She fights her own kith and kin; she gives battle to the very conditions which she herself has made. There is very seldom a hand-to-hand encounter. Only your French Revolutions and your Russian Massacres mark the spots where the two armies have met, where blood has flowed like wine from the broken goblets of some thousands of lives. But usually it is the forced marches, with the enemy ever retreating over its own ground. And in this position of women, it is the army of Nature that has begun to move. Not the mere rising of a rebellious faction, but the entire unconquerable force of humanity whose whole existence is threatened by the invading power of population.