That was the answer to it all. It was ignorance that kept a nation unaware of its own highest destiny; it was ignorance that fomented trouble among the peoples of the earth. Suffering, sickness, crime, tyranny, war, were all growths whose roots were buried in ignorance and sucked its vile nourishment.
An impetuous wave of loyalty towards his own country swept over Austin Selwyn at the thought. Other peoples had declared war on each other: America by her silence had declared war on Ignorance. He felt a sudden shame for his previous doubts. He saw clearly that his great continent-country was a rock to which the other baffled, despairing nations might cling when disaster overtook them.
And as he was joined by Elise Durwent, the American swore an eternal oath of vengeance against Ignorance.
With her arm in his, their subdued voices trembling with the repression of emotion, they retraced their steps. Back past the church with its white gravestones so curiously peaceful in the midst of it all; past the inn, jovial with light and the clamour of village oracles; past the forge, with its lifeless fires a presage of things to come; past the cross-roads, where the sign-post, silhouetted against the sky, seemed no longer a gibbet, but a crucifix; past cottages stirring with unaccustomed life, unconscious of the unbidden guest that was soon to knock with ghostly fingers at almost every door.
Along the quiet English lane they walked, but though the closeness of the girl beside him was ministering to the senses, his mind remained so clutched in the grip of thought that his head throbbed with pain with each step of his foot jarring upon the road.
They had reached the entrance to the estate and were nearing the house, when his reverie was broken by the sound of a quivering breath and a trembling of the hand on his arm. Like a conflagration that is already out of control, his brain flared into further revolt with the stimulus of a new resentment—he had not thought of woman’s part in the thing.
‘Elise,’ he cried, ’this is monstrous. It is only the vile selfishness of men that makes it possible. They are not giving a thought to the women, yet you are the real sufferers. Now I know what you meant when you said that women don’t have their place in the world. If they did, this never could have happened; for their hearts would never permit the men that are born of women to slaughter each other like bestial savages. Now is the time for you to speak. This is the hour for your rebellion. Let the whole world of women rise in a body and denounce this inhuman, insufferable wrong. If your rebellion is ever to come, let it come now.’
The hand on his arm was wrenched free, and Elise stood facing him with fury in her eyes.
‘Are you mad, Mr. Selwyn? Or is this your idea of a joke?’