‘Have a gasper, Selwyn?’ he asked.
’Thanks very much. I suppose it will be some time before the British Army will get into action?’
‘I don’t know, I’m sure,’ answered Durwent, holding a match for the other, ’but three weeks at the outside ought to see us over there and ready.’
‘The Germans have a tremendous start.’
’Yes, haven’t they? Damned plucky of Belgium to try to hold them up, isn’t it? Though, of course, you can’t expect the Belgian johnnies to keep them back more than a few days.’
‘You think, then, that she will be conquered?’
‘Ra-ther. That’s a cert. But I don’t think it will be for long.’
‘You mean that the British will drive the Germans back?’
’Not all at once, but sooner or later. Of course, I’m an awful muff on strategy—always was—but the general idea seems to be that we go over now and stop the bounders, and then our dear old citizens gird up their loins, train themselves as soldiers, and chase the Germans back to Berlin.’
’But—isn’t it an open secret that your regular army is very small? Can you seriously expect to stop that huge force once it sweeps through Belgium?’
The Englishman picked up a stone and sent it hurtling across the lawn for the collie to chase.
‘Ever play “Rugger"?’ he asked.
‘Then you’ve often seen a little chap bring a big one an awful cropper.’
‘That is true, but the cases are hardly parallel.’
‘Perhaps not,’ said the other, rather relieved at not having to maintain the analogy any further; ’but, then, the beauty of being a junior officer is that one doesn’t have to worry. I wouldn’t be in old man French’s shoes for a million quid, but for us subaltern johnnies it looks as if we’ll have some great sport.’
As the two young men, almost of an age, stood on the rich carpet of the lawn with their figures outlined against the open background of the fields, they presented a strange contrast. The Englishman was dressed in a rough, brown tweed, and though there was a looseness about his shoulders that almost amounted to slouchiness, they gave a suggestion of latent strength that could be instantly galvanised into great power. When he moved, either to throw something for his dog or just to break the monotony of standing, his movements were slow and deliberate, and he took a long pace with a slight inclination towards the side, as is the habit of cavalrymen and sailors. His eyes were a clear, unsubtle blue, and though his skin was tanned from exposure to the elements, its texture was unspoiled. His hair was light brown, and, while closely cropped, in keeping with military tradition, was naturally of thick growth; in the centre where it was parted there was more than a tendency towards curls. From his lip a slight moustache was trained to point upwards at the ends, and beneath the tan of his face could be seen the glow of health, token of a decent mode of living and a life spent out of doors.