The merchant was dressed in black morning coat and black tie, and looked in every way a very respectable merchant. He was full of respectable hopes. But when we spoke of a long war he drew a long face and talked lugubriously of dislocated trade and strain upon capital—doubted how long the industry could stand it, and shook his head.
Whenever one thinks of that worthy man one is overcome with a great anger. What he meant was that if the war went on he might be broken, and that was a calamity which he could not be expected to face. We thought of all those fellows in France—British, Australians, Canadians—cheerfully offering their lives for an ideal at which this worthy citizen shied because it might cost him his fortune. Suppose it did, suppose he had to leave his fine home and end his days in a villa, suppose he had to start as a clerk in someone else’s counting-house, what was it beside what these boys were offering? I think of a fair head which I had seen matted in red mud, of young nerves of steel shattered beyond repair, of a wild night at Helles, when I found, stumbling beside me in the first bitterness of realisation, a young officer who a few yards back had been shot through both eyes. And here was this worthy man shaking his head for fear that their ideals might interfere with his business.
As to which, one can only say that, if the British nation, or the Australian nation, because it shirks interference with its normal life, because it is afraid of State enterprise, because of any personal or individual consideration whatever, lets this struggle go by default, and by inconclusive peace, to the people which is organised body and soul in support of the grey tunics behind the opposite parapet, then it is a betrayal of every gallant heart now sleeping under the crosses on Gallipoli, and of every boyish head that has reddened the furrows of France.
There are good reasons for saying that the struggle is now with the British Empire. With your staying power you can win. But in Heaven’s name, if you wish to win, if you have in you any of the ideals for which those boys have died, cast your old prejudices to the winds and organise your staying power. Organise! Organise! Organise!
IN A FOREST OF FRANCE
France, May 26th.
It was in “A forest of France,” as the programme had it. The road ran down a great aisle with the tall elm trees reaching to the sky, and stretching their long green fingers far above, like the slender pillars of a Gothic cathedral. Down the narrow road below sagged a big motor-bus, painted grey, like a battleship; and, after it, a huge grey motor-lorry; and, in front and behind them, an odd procession of motor-cars of all sizes, bouncing awkwardly from one hollow in the road to another.
Out of the dark interior of the motor-bus, as we passed it, there groped a head with a grey slouch hat. It came slowly round on its long, brown, wrinkled neck until it looked into our car. “Hey, mate,” it said, “is this the track to the races?” Then it smiled at the landscape in general and withdrew into the interior like a snail into its shell. In this bus was an Australian Brass Band.