“In a few years, fifty maybe, it won’t matter. Things will have taken their direction by then; but now it’s a question of the lead. The Americans think they’ve got it, and unless we get imperial federation of course they have. It’s their plain intention to capture England commercially.”
“We’re a long way from that,” said Hesketh.
“Yes, but it’s in the line of fate. Industrial energy is deserting this country; and you have no large movement, no counter-advance, to make against the increasing forces that are driving this way from over there—nothing to oppose to assault. England is in a state of siege, and doesn’t seem to know it. She’s so great—Hesketh, it’s pathetic!—she offers an undefended shore to attack, and a stupid confidence, a kindly blindness, above all to Americans, whom she patronizes in the gate.”
“I believe we do patronize them,” said Hesketh. “It’s rotten bad form.”
“Oh, form! I may be mad, but one seems to see in politics over here a lack of definition and purpose, a tendency to cling to the abstract and to precedent—’the mainstay of the mandarin’ one of the papers calls it; that’s a good word—that give one the feeling that this kingdom is beginning to be aware of some influence stronger than its own. It lies, of course, in the great West, where the corn and the cattle grow; and between Winnipeg and Chicago choose quickly, England!”
His companion laughed. “Oh, I’m with you,” he said, “but you take a pessimistic view of this country, Murchison.”
“It depends on what you call pessimism,” Lorne rejoined. “I see England down the future the heart of the Empire, the conscience of the world. and the Mecca of the race.”
The Cruickshank deputation returned across that North Atlantic which it was their desire to see so much more than ever the track of the flag, toward the middle of July. The shiny carriages were still rolling about in great numbers when they left; London’s air of luxury had thickened with the advancing season and hung heavily in the streets; people had begun to picnic in the Park on Sundays. They had been from the beginning a source of wonder and of depression to Lorne Murchison, the people in the Park, those, I mean, who walked and sat and stood there for the refreshment of their lives, for whom the place has a lyrical value as real as it is unconscious. He noted them ranged on formal benches, quiet, respectable, absorptive, or gathered heavily, shoulder to shoulder, docile under the tutelage of policemen, listening to anyone who would lift a voice to speak to them. London, beating on all borders, hemmed them in; England outside seemed hardly to contain for them a wider space. Lorne, with his soul full of free airs and forest depths, never failed to respond to a note in the Park that left him heavy-hearted, longing for an automatic distributing system for the Empire. When he saw them bring their spirit-lamps and kettles and sit down in little companies on four square yards of turf, under the blackened branches, in the roar of the traffic, he went back to Bloomsbury to pack his trunk, glad that it was not his lot to live with that enduring spectacle.