’You see, a chap can’t help looking at it a bit like a game, for there’s Belgium doing an absolutely sporting thing, and there isn’t one of us that isn’t straining at the bit to get over and give them a hand.’
With a slight blush at this admission of fervour, the Englishman grasped his collie-dog by the forepaws and rolled him on his back.
‘But,’ said Selwyn, unwilling to let the bone of discussion drop while there was one shred of knowledge clinging to it, ’supposing that Britain were in the wrong and you fellows knew it, yet you were ordered to war—what then?’
His companion laughed and thrust his hands in his pockets.
’Oh, we’d fight anyway; and after we had knocked the other chap out we’d tell him how sorry we were, then go back and hang the bounders who had brought the thing on. But then, you see, you’re riding the wrong horse, because soldiering’s my job, and I was always an awful muff when it came to jawing on matters I don’t know anything about. You had better get hold of some of our politician johnnies; they’ve always got ideas on things.’
A little later the Honourable Malcolm Durwent left Roselawn in a motor-car.
As it rounded the curve in the drive he turned and waved at the little group who were standing in the courtyard, and then he was lost to sight. And in the hearts of each of the three there was a poignant grief. Lord Durwent’s head was bowed with regret that at Britain’s call he had been able to give one only of his two sons. Dry-eyed, but with aching heart, Elise stood with an overwhelming remorse that she had never really known her elder brother. And Lady Durwent, free of all theatricalism, was dumb with the mother’s pain of losing her first-born.
And as the heir to Roselawn went to war, so did the sons of every old family in the Island Kingdom. In something of the spirit of sport, yet carrying beneath their cheeriness the high purpose of ageless chivalry, the blue-eyed youth of Britain went out with a smile upon their lips to play their little parts in the great jest of the gods.
Not with the cry of ‘Liberty!’ or ‘Freedom!’ but merely as heirs to British traditions, they took the field. Of a race that acts more on instinct than on reason, they were true to their vision of Britain, and asking no better fate than to die in her service, they helped to stem the Prussian flood while home after home, in its ivy-covered seclusion, learned that the last son, like his brothers, had ‘played the game’ to a finish.
Let the men who cry for the remodelling of Britain—and progress must have an unimpeded channel—let them try to bring to their minds the Britain that men saw in August 1914, when catastrophe yawned in her path. That picture holds the secret for the Great Britain of the future.