They smoked in silence for a few minutes.
‘No, sir,’ resumed the groom, pushing his hat back in order to scratch his head, ’he never whimpered, did milord; but I saw when he got opposite Mas’r Dick’s old mare Princess that he felt kind o’ bad, and he didn’t say much for the better part o’ a minute. Mr. Selwyn, I’m a bit creaky in my jints and ain’t as frisky as I were, but I’d be werry much obliged to be sent over to this ’ere war and see if I couldn’t put a bullet or two in some o’ them there sausage-eaters.’
‘Well,’ said the American moodily, ‘you may get your chance.’
’Thank ‘ee, sir. I hope so, sir.’
’Good-night, sir. Thank ‘ee, sir.’
Selwyn moved off into the network of shadows. Looking back once, he saw the weather-beaten groom with hands on his hips, tilting himself to and fro in benicotined enjoyment of some odd strain of philosophy. Good heavens! was that the way men went to war,—as if it were a hunt with an equal chance of being the hound or the hare? ’Sausage-eaters’—what a phrase to describe those eagle-helmeted supermen of Prussia’s cavalry! And this little island of pipe-smoking, country-side philosophers and pampered, sport-loving youth—this was the country, heart of a crumbling empire, that had ordered the gray torrent of Germany to alter its course and flow back to its own confines. It was absurd. It was grotesque. It was a sporting thing to do, but would it mean the collapse of the sprawling, disjointed British Empire, linked together by a flimsy tradition of loyalty to the Crown?
Scotland would be faithful, not so much to England as to her own instincts. Even if England were the heart of things, Scotland was the brain, and more than any other part supplied the driving-power for the wheels of empire. But what of rebellious Ireland and the distant Dominions isolated by the seas? Would they seize this moment of Britain’s mad impetuosity and declare for their own independence? It was the history of nations—and did not history repeat itself?
Canada, of course, would be governed in her actions by the mighty neighbouring Republic. That was inevitable when the young Dominion’s life was so dominated by that of the United States. But what of the others? . . .
Thus for half-an-hour queried the man from America. He was about to turn into the house, when he glanced once more in the direction of the stables. It was too dark to distinguish anything, but there was the glow from Mathews’s pipe as it faintly lit the surrounding darkness.
He had been sitting in the library talking to Lord Durwent, but the latter had just left the room to answer a phone-call from London. Elise, who had been playing the gramophone in the music-room, shut the instrument off and hurried to the American’s side.